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Garden Firsts


It's a funny thing how nature works. Last year we had one of the worst droughts in recorded Texas history, and this year we have some of the best wildlife viewing. In fact, 2011 was so empty of caterpillars, butterflies, and other insects that I had great concern for many of our birds, spiders, reptiles, and other wildlife that are dependent on such invertebrates. But this year, after having a reasonable amount of fall and winter rain, we've seen an amazing number of caterpillars of all species and with them a tremendous explosion of butterflies and moths. What that means is that we'll also have lots of baby birds this season, all things considered, and hopefully lots of other creatures. Needless to say, I'm having fun in the wildlife garden - so much to watch!

yellowwaterlilyb05-06-12.jpgYellow Water Lily

This spring has marked a number of firsts for our relatively young garden (I'm going to call it young until it has reached its fifth birthday). Our native Yellow Water Lily is blooming at last. I have waited such a long time for it to do so, though to be fair, it's certainly possible that it has bloomed without me knowing it. My White Water Lily still hasn't bloomed yet, as far as I know, but I shall remain hopeful!

opuntiabloomb05-07-12.jpgSpineless Prickly Pear

We were getting worried that our Spineless Prickly Pear would never bloom, but lo and behold, it's in bloom right now. Sure enough, bees and flies and other insects are getting drunk on that delicious Opuntia nectar!



Horsemint, Coreopsis, Black-eyed Susan, and Pincushion  Daisy are all in bloom in the garden for the first time. Were those in seed mixes I'd spread around? Or did the birds deliver them? I'd think the first, except that Horsemint and Coreopsis also happen to be growing at the entrance to our subdivision. Hmmmm. The other two are probably just all me.


Sleepy Orange caterpillar -- I love how it blends with the fuzzy Lindheimer's Senna leaves

Caterpillars I've longed for but hadn't yet seen munching on the plants we'd planted for them are at last here. With luck, they'll return as adults to lay more eggs. Pipevine caterpillars, previously present only from eggs brought home on nursery plants, have officially appeared as the result of a visiting female Pipevine Swallowtail. Sleepy Orange caterpillars have been munching on our Lindheimer's Senna, but with all the other Sulphur butterflies fluttering about, I expect there will be more.


Snowberry Clearwing caterpillar on White Honeysuckle

Butterfly caterpillars aren't the only ones in great numbers. Snowberry Clearwing caterpillars, complete with the "horns" consistent with their family, have been happily grazing on the White Honeysuckle Shrub. Lots of unnamed but equally welcome moth caterpillars have been seen in trees, on shrubs, on grasses, on veggies, and perennials. That means it should be a good food year for bats and owls and swallows and the like!

The Monarchs and Queens have returned, as have the Black Swallowtails, I report with relief. I'll feel much better once I see Giant Swallowtails and Tigers again, along with other Swallowtail species of which I am quite fond. And I think we've all been impressed by the showing of Red Admirals this year! Painted Ladies, Buckeyes, Question Marks, Checkerspots, Gulf Fritillaries - oh the list goes on.


Downy Woodpecker collecting insects

Our Mama Eastern Screech Owl returned to our backyard, and last night I saw an owlet shyly peering down at me from its nesting box. Baby birds are starting to fledge right and left, and we're watching parent birds teaching  their young how to find food. The toads are singing their nightly mating calls. And today for the first time, I watched a Downy Woodpecker feed insects from an old limb to another Downy Woodpecker on a nearby branch. Cute as can be! It's a good spring. Thank goodness!

Even though we were well on our way back home from Florida, we couldn't resist making an additional stop or two in Louisiana before the final home stretch to Texas. Beignets, check. Gumbo, check. Wildlife refuge, check.

 binocularsa03-16-12.jpgWe wanted to visit a wildife refuge in Louisiana to get an idea of environmental differences between it and Florida -- and if we had an opportunity, to sneak in a glimpse of the coast. The answer -- the Creole Nature Trail, a long wildlife-scenic highway route south of Lake Charles. The trail took us to the Cameron Prairie Wildlife Refuge, as well as several other viewing spots.


Cameron Prairie Wildlife Refuge's primary purpose is to support migratory birds, such as wintering waterfowl, as well as many other animal species with its 9,621 acres of marsh, coastal prairie, and old rice fields.

grebeandcoots03-16-12.jpg A Pied-Billed Grebe swims among American Coots

binoculars03-16-12.jpgA boardwalk and observation deck make it easy to look search for water-loving birds, and we observed White Ibises, different species of ducks, Great Egrets, Coots, Grebes, Great Blue Herons, and others.

bee03-17-12.jpgCarpenter Bee -- it's very difficult to capture an image of this fast-flying insect!

turtles03-17-12.jpg Of course, many other wildlife species live at or visit the refuge -- turtles, lizards, butterflies, insects, and, of course, alligators.

easternpondhawk03-17-12.jpgEastern Pondhawk

granole03-17-12.jpgGreen Anole, Shedding

scope03-16-12.jpgThe boys, throughout our entire trip, were quite the naturalists, and they were excellent at both finding and IDing wildlife species -- Louisiana was no exception.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds were the most plentiful birds we saw in southwestern Louisiana. Great numbers of large flocks were spotted time and again throughout the marshland and agricultural areas we visited.

rwblackbirdfemale03-17-12.jpgFemale Red-Winged Blackbird


bnstilt03-17-12.jpg Black-Necked Stilt

Leaving the refuge, we continued toward the coast, the roads taking us past miles and miles of marshland.Often we could see alligators along the road's edge, where marsh waters attracted a smorgasbord of animals on which an alligator might feast. Unfortunately, this also meant that we occasionally saw dead alligators along the road, a car or truck likely their source of doom. One deceased alligator looked to be at least ten feet long, and it was a very sad sight.

cows03-16-12.jpgAh, but we had adventures yet to come. We found that the maps we had and the roadway signs left something to be desired as we traveled that day in Louisiana. Trying to visit a particularly spot along the trail, we made a wrong turn, through no fault of our own (seriously), and after driving a bit we found ourselves on a road lined with curious cattle who splashed through the marshland to come over to see us. In moments lots of cows surrounded our Civic Hybrid, and those big cows made our little car seem smaller than ever.

I snapped a picture of a cow just outside my window but it apparently decided that it wanted nothing to do with us or my camera, and it ran, which startled another cow running, and another, and before we knew it, we were in the middle of a stampede of some 25 startled cows rushing toward, around, and past us and our little vehicle. cowsb03-16-12.jpgI had no choice but to keep moving my car in the same direction, very slowly, but it wasn't until we began to pass a few of them that one mooed a "Hey, it's okay" moo and the cows started to slow and calm down. The experience was a first for us, indeed, and in moments the cows just stared at us calmly again as if nothing had happened.

LAgullsb03-17-12.jpgBack on the proper road, we continued to discover more reasons to gripe about the maps and lack of decent road signs, but eventually we found ourselves at a ferry, which takes cars across a ship channel to another portion of the highway. Even there at the ferry, we had sign issues. There was a sign and painted road marks showing where to stop to await the ferry, but there was no sign telling us that after 5pm you needed to drive over to another place in order to get on the ferry. So the driver of the car in front of us waited at the posted place, and we waited behind him, and time tick-tocked and tick-tocked, until a local resident drove up and said, "Hey, after 5pm you have to go over THERE to get on the ferry," pointing to some place not visible from where we sat. Thank goodness he said something or we might still be at that stop sign waiting for the ferry.

LAgullsc03-17-12.jpgOn the plus side, the boys hadn't been on a ferry in a very long time, so far back they couldn't remember the experience, so it was nice to be able to drive our car onto a boat, then get out and walk around for a few minutes as we crossed the channel. The gulls and pelicans flying all around us made it even more exciting.

LAgulld03-17-12.jpgThe gulls in particular followed the ferry en masse, hovering just off the back as the waters churned around us. Perhaps they hoped some people would toss them food, but they honestly didn't seem interested in the humans on the ferry -- maybe instead they were hoping to spot some fish in the waters behind the boat.

LAgulls03-17-12.jpgLAbeach03-17-12.jpgSoon after the ferry ride, we found ourselves driving along the beach. We pulled over to look for shells and found them we did -- many were huge!

fulvouswhistlingducks03-17-12.jpgFulvous Whistling-Ducks

The Louisiana coast was so different from the coasts of Florida's peninsula, but it reminded me much of the familiar coasts of Texas. Clearly we were close to home! 


The sun went down as we finished our drive along the Creole Trail, and thousands of Red-Winged Blackbirds silhouetted against the sun's vibrant setting colors marked the final wildlife viewing of our vacation. It was time to get home to see Texas once again.

Thanks for joining us on our journey across the southern states to Florida and back. It created many memories of a lifetime for me and my boys, and we can't wait to go back!

Florida Bound: Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park


On our way home to Austin from the Everglades, we decided to visit one more state park along Florida's western coast, the Homosassa Wildlife State Park. This 210-acre park is a rescue facility for many bird and animal species native to Florida. Most of these animals cannot survive in the wild, but their home at the park is as close to their natural habitat as possible. That draws in many other animal species to take up residence, as well. The state park, with is spring-fed waters, is also a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned West Indian manatees, who eventually are released back to the wild.


Great Horned Owl

Because I have a lot of photos to show, I'm going to keep text to a minimum and only show my favorite images or ones that tell a good story. You'll see mostly birds and reptiles here, mainly because the mammals, including the endangered Florida Panthers and Red Wolves,  were too far away to allow for a good picture.


Wood Ducksbarredowl03-16-12.jpgBarred Owl


American Alligator



alligator03-16-12.jpg flamingod03-16-12.jpg Flamingos

grheron03-16-12.jpgThis Green Heron has a severe wing injury, and lucky for it, it has a home at the state park.

anhingasa03-16-12.jpgI watched a male Anhinga work several minutes to pull a section of leaves from a tree I was standing under. Once he pulled the short branch away, he flew over to the nest where his mate rested. She dictated where she wanted him to put it, and it was clear that she wanted it "just so." My husband might recognize this scenario.

anhingasb03-16-12.jpgEventually he got the branch in an acceptable spot.


Nolan and I sat down to sketch this beautiful alligator, sparking the interest of others who came over to watch us. The alligator seemed to appreciate our attention, and it kept moving ever closer to us. I'm sure that's the reason, right?

alligatorfeet03-16-12.jpg alligatortail03-16-12.jpg amercroc03-16-12.jpgBaby American Crocodile -- note the distinguishing "zipper" teeth characteristic. American Crocodiles are endangered.


For juvenile comparison, a baby American Alligator (to better see the jaw difference, look to the big guys above)


Brown Anole, showing his dewlap. This is an invasive species.


White Ibises, Juvenile and Adult


Great Egret

whiteibis03-16-12.jpg White Ibisredshhawk03-16-12.jpg     Red-Shouldered Hawk


flamingob03-16-12.jpgFlamingos, mildly bickering


Brown Pelicans, wonderful parents to their little baby. I watched the father add sticks to the nest, and both parents shared the responsibility of feeding their baby.

brpelicansc03-16-12.jpg Here is an image of the feeding process, made interesting by the very large bills of the parents.

whoopingcrane03-16-12.jpg Whooping Crane, Endangered

amerpelicans03-16-12.jpg American White Pelicans, with their visible "horns." These horns will be shed after breeding season.

rspoonbill03-16-12.jpg Roseate Spoonbill

sandhillcranes03-16-12.jpg Sandhill Cranes

skink03-16-12.jpg Broad-headed Skink, perhaps?

burrowingowls03-16-12.jpg Burrowing Owls

amereagle03-16-12.jpg Bald Eagle

louhippo03-16-12.jpgLu the African Hippopotamus. Part of the previous privately-owned attraction at Homosassa Springs since 1964, Lu the hippo was given special Florida citizenship in order to allow him to stay at the State Park's native wildlife refuge.

It was time at last to officially leave Florida and travel west toward Texas. Just to offer full disclosure about our Florida trip, we did sneak in two days at Orlando -- Epcot and Universal Studios. A detour, I admit, from the wildlife we focused on the rest of the time, but we wanted to have some butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Without going into details here, I'll just say that we had a glorious time, and butterbeer is yummy.

A Bounty of Big, Beautiful Pine Cones


After the squirrels dragged off my last peanut-butter pine cone, I had to come up with alternative peanut-butter feeders for the birds, as there was not a plain pine cone to be found in our area, not even for purchase. Oh, I used our old peanut-butter perch, and my husband made me a new log feeder (seen in images below), but I bemoaned the loss of our pine cones, such fun little feeders, and I scolded those naughty nabbers, the ever-getting-fatter bushy-tailed pigs squirrels.


To my great delight, Marilyn K., who blogs at Adventures of a Vagabond Volunteer, offered to send me some pine cones, as she was surrounded by them at her current location in California. Marilyn is volunteering at different national wildlife refuges around the country while seeing some of most beautiful flora, fauna, and landscapes nature has to offer. Well, send me those pine cones she did, and within a few days about a gazillion pine cones arrived on my doorstep. I'm just giddy! They are the most gorgeous pine cones I have ever seen!  


Seriously, this is the mother lode of pine cones. And there are enough pine cones to last me a very long while, especially as I intend to go back to wiring them so those sneaky squirrels can't sneak them off to their sneaky hiding spots. But the biggest and bestest of them all was this Godzilla pine cone, dropped by a gray or ghost pine. Check out the size difference:

coulterpine.jpgI know there are too many pine cones in this wonderful bounty for one wildlife-loving family to use. I'll likely share some with the kids I work with and with other wildlife gardeners, so they can make their own feeders. I've decided, though, that the giant pine cone shall remain peanut-butter free. It will be too much fun to show it to kids at a nature talk.

yrwarbler01-12-12.jpgI am indebted to Marilyn, who took time from the holiday season and all her adventures to mail me pine cones from across the country. Marilyn, let me speak on behalf of all the wildlife back in Texas who will benefit from your act of kindness -- thank you so very much! The birds are already delighted, and they work their way through our peanut butter/corn meal blend incredibly fast. The squirrels aren't shy about trying again, either -- but if they can't steal away the pine cones, they're content to at least eat what they can.


This Bewick's Wren feasted with determination.

And possibly this was the reason --  another Bewick's Wren was squawking from the nearby perch, impatiently waiting his turn. Hey, it's not my fault all the peanut butter on the perch was gone!


My husband has been enjoying all the wildlife visitors and captured some wonderful images of his own. The Red-Bellied Woodpecker below is one of the birds we'd actually made the log feeder for, and I'm glad it approves.


This little warbler kept playing peek-a-boo.

warbler01-12-12.jpg And if there was any doubt about whether a squirrel would have a problem going up a shepherd's hook, let us show you:


squirrelb01-09-12.jpg squirrelc01-09-12.jpg squirreld01-09-12.jpgSuch clever little tricksies, them squirrelsies....


300 Vultures in a Pear Tree


Okay, it's not really a pear tree, but it doesn't matter because this newly modified last line to "12 Days of Christmas" is now stuck in my head, so the tower might as well BE a real pear tree. Maybe I'll just modify the whole song and go with it forevermore.


I've got so much to share and had a hard time deciding what to show first -- our two new snakes, gigantic pine cone gifts, wintering birds, clay birds, or 300 vultures  -- plus, I've got 4 days left to post our third-year update if I want to show it in 2011. Well, you can see what won out, mainly because I can't get the lyric out of my head. Maybe it will get stuck in yours, too. Then we all win. Merry Christmas.


The Far-Away Shot

We were driving out to Nacogdoches for Christmas Eve when we came upon the tower/pear tree, decorated for the holidays with lots of living bird ornaments (and probably lots of smelly poop). The kids didn't even bat an eye when I made an almost-immediate u-turn and drove back to document this awesome Christmas sight. They are so used to this from me -- how many times have I driven back for a must-have picture, sometimes turning around after miles of driving along wondering whether I should turn around? They only raise a fit when we are traveling and I see a little local garden nursery that I want to stop at. Oooh, a nursery -- can we stop? NO, they say. I have yet to stop at a nursery while traveling with my boys, but SOMEDAY I WILL. Mark my words.


Getting closer. I'm so sneaky, as if 300 vultures wouldn't notice a 4-passenger car with headlights on as it approaches on a misty evening at dusk.

No, they are not great pictures, as they were taken through a car window lest the 300 vultures get startled by my presence and get all panicky and either start pooping on me or throwing up on me, as vultures are known to do. Well, they're not known to that to ME, as clearly I take precautions (like staying in the car), but it actually is their defensive response to those things that might threaten them, not that I was doing anything more than taking pictures and wishing them happy holidays. Just never, ever walk up and say "Boo" to a vulture. That's all I'm saying. vulturesc12-24-11.jpg

When one leans out a window over her teenage son, this is the kind of shot she gets.

Anyway, the tower/pear tree was filled with more vultures than I could count, though I did my best estimate. Know what the collective term for vultures is? Committee, or wake (also, colony). Well, this was the biggest dang committee of vultures I'd ever seen, and the biggest dang wake of vultures, too. Anyone else thinking about our political system right now?

vulturese12-24-11.jpgHere's Great Stems' 12 Days of Christmas song, inspired by our Winter 2011 wildlife:

On the 12th day of Christmas, nature gave to me,
12 hungry white wings,
11 juncos landing,
10 titmice squawking,
9 chickadees answering, 
8 sleeping lizards,
7 planted dill plants,
6 wintering species that won't fit in the song,
4 pine cone thieves (squirrels),
3 dogs after them,
two sneaky snakes,
and 300 vultures in a pear treeeeeeeee!


Cheers to all -- I hope you are having the best of holidays!

Pine Cone Thief


I must have done something right if wildlife loves my pine cone treats so much that they steal them away in broad daylight. I'd covered the pine cones in a mixture of natural peanut butter, corn meal, cranberries, and quality seed (black oil sunflower, safflower, thistle, peanuts) -- yummy energizing goodness that's rich in fat, protein, and carbs for birds trying to stay warm in the cold.

pineconetreats12-9-11.jpgNormally, I'd have these pine cones hanging from a branch or hook, but the wire broke on both of them, and I got lazy and put them in a saucer outside my entryway window, it being a great spot to see our avian visitors. Maybe that's not being lazy -- maybe it's just clever! Well, except that they're getting stolen by creatures that CLIMB, so I'll go so far as to say it's a good idea that needs a little tweaking.

Well, within a day, one peanut-butter delight was whisked away to some cozy little cubby hole. Some naughty squirrel has been having quite a feast, I dare say.


Bewick's Wren

I've been hovering around, keeping my eye on the remaining pine cone. Even so, on day two there was an attempt to steal said pine cone, but I found it below the gate. On day three, I thought the pine cone was lost for good, but I happened to spot it in the middle of the yard. At least now I have a clue as to which greedy squirrels it might be -- they appear to be trying to take it toward the trees in the next yard, where they have a nest.


 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

But I keep rescuing the pine cone and putting it back. In the meantime, I'm trying to find a source of more plain pine cones, but looking for them in the Christmas season is not the easiest of endeavors, I must say. I'm going to have to gather quite a collection of them next time I find myself in a pine forest.


Carolina Wren

By the way, we have a new homemade feeder at the house, and I love it!


My husband made me this wonderful log peanut-butter feeder, using a 1 1/4" spade bit and an electric drill. We filled the holes with Wild Birds Unlimited BugBerry Bark Butter that has tasty mealworms in it. I know there are birds visiting it, but so far I've only seen evidence of some food missing from the holes, and one glimpse of a bird taking flight as I approached the window. One day I'll have a picture of a bird enjoying the feeder! I suspect it will be most popular with woodpeckers and creepers.

I guess I best get out there and smear peanut butter on the birds' favorite perch from last year. I might not have pine cones left much longer!

To the Coast and Back


My oldest son had a swim meet in Corpus Christi this weekend, and I was happy to get to head down there to watch (he did great!). Of course, he had to be at the team bus by 4:30am, which meant I was on the road in my own car in the wee hours of the morning. That part was less wonderful than wonderful, admittedly, but at least I had company -- I got to migrate south with several flocks of birds.


American White Pelicans in V formation

And when I arrived, my father-in-law treated me to a morning of coastal birding before the swim meet began. What a wonderful way to start the day, at least if you exclude having to get up before 4am to get out there, mind you.


A boardwalk at the Hans and Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge let us walk fairly close to birds gathered in a small inlet. The Great Blue Herons commanded attention, of course, and ducks and White Pelicans were plentiful in number.

While we watched, a Great Egret speared and flew off with a fish. It had to get away from the other nearby Egrets lest they ask for  demand a share.


greategret11-17-11.jpg The Egret walked for a short while keeping the fish speared through its beak, and then it released it, grabbed hold again, and swallowed it headfirst to make sure the fish bones were in the proper direction.


Ducks in flight -- always breathtaking to watch

blackneckedstilt11-17-11.jpgBlack-Necked Stilt


I think my favorite birds of the morning were the Black Skimmers, which flew low to the water's surface while letting their lower mandibles dip into the water. Somehow they manage to catch fish this way, apparently.

leasttern11-18-11.jpgA Least Tern periodically hovered in the sky near us. It was quite vocal, too.

whitepelicanandducks11-18-11.jpgDucks don't seem that small until you compare them to an American White Pelican, which can have a wingspan of up to about 9 feet across.

yrwarbler11-18-11.jpg Walking back, we saw a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, which completely ignored us from the boardwalk until we got a little too close.

yrwarblerb11-18-11.jpg Guess how I knew it was a Yellow-Rumped Warbler?


The butterflies were numerous, especially the Queens, Monarchs, and Sulphurs. Above, a White Peacock rests on Trailing Lantana.

Just to prove that we did manage to stop birding and get to the pool in time to watch my son swim, here's a photo of our family fish.

swimmeet11-17-11.jpgI told him he better swim extra fast if he didn't want a Giant Egret to catch him.

A big thanks to my dad-in-law for a very pleasant visit in Corpus Christi!

Moving In, Moving Out


First of all, cheers and congratulations to Austin's newest Habitat Steward Volunteers -- the 2011 training just finished up last week! Second, everyone please be sure to go out and support your favorite local nurseries this month as an extra helpful boost for them this October. Oh and one more thing -- next week is Texas Native Plant Week. You know what I'll be doing, starting with the plant sale at the Wildflower Center this weekend. I should probably let my family know that, uh, instead of Family Game Night we'll likely be having Family Gardening Weekend.  

Thank goodness fall has arrived, and with it we're seeing butterflies and caterpillars again. I'll let you in on a little secret -- if you watch Central Texas Gardener this week, you might just learn about some of my personal favorites.

twotaileda10-11-11.jpgI was thrilled last week to finally get to release three Two-tailed Swallowtails from the Caterpillar Hotel. The caterpillars formed their chrysalises last spring and then underwent diapause, or a period of dormancy, over the summer. Finally, when the weather cooled a bit, the beautiful butterflies emerged.

Here's a picture of one of the caterpillars last May -- it was munching on Wafer Ash, which is also the host plant for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.


But wait -- who's munching from behind this next leaf?

monarchcata10-11-11.jpgMonarchs are here! I've been busily keeping several caterpillars of all sizes feasting upon milkweed, safely housed inside the Caterpillar Hotel (also known as a large mesh laundry basket).


We have 2 chrysalises newly formed today, and I expect three more will be there tomorrow -- the caterpillars have already selected their metamorphosis locations.


Next up is another sweet creature on milkweed, a ladybug nymph.


It's a fierce predator of those naughty aphids you can see farther back on the plant, and as an adult ladybug, it will still feast away on the aphid pests. Whenever I see an adult or nymph ladybug, I leave aphids on the plant for it to eat.

I'm trying to ID this next bug -- if anyone knows it, please help me out.


I've got three of them patrolling the top of my Caterpillar Hotel, trying to find a way in. They look like some sort of weevil. Could they want the milkweed? I don't know of weevils that eat caterpillars, but I only saw them on the mesh tent where the caterpillars are, not on the rest of the milkweed out in the garden. There's nothing else inside the mesh that could possibly interest them. Hmmmm...


Most of the hummingbirds have moved on, but I saw one out there yesterday.


At our peak about 3 weeks ago, we had 15 hummingbirds visiting flowers and feeders all at the same time -- I'm only just now able to show some of the pictures.

hummersb09-18-11.jpgThe feeder below was the favorite of most of the birds. At one point we counted 7 sharing the feeder at the same time, but first they had to calm their territorial instincts.



Of course, the other feeders got plenty of visitors, too.


I do miss all the hummingbirds, but they'll be back. For those birds still trying to make their way south, the flowers and feeders are still here for them (in fact I always keep at least one feeder up all winter just in case there's a hummer that didn't find its way south before the cold gets here).

The brief bit of rain last week has done the garden good. What a pleasure it is to be back outside again!

Conversations at the Water Cooler


I've come to realize that our backyard pond is one of our greatest assets. From the get-go, it's been a wildlife attractor -- the sound of the waterfall has called to toads, frogs, birds, dragonflies, and the like. But the raised pond, formerly someone's discarded hot tub, also provides a type of wildlife protection that regular in-ground ponds don't.


It is a pond with a view, allowing birds and other creatures to drink safely while avoiding ambush. Furthermore, the deeper water stays cool in the hot summer, and we have minimal evaporation (as well as minimal maintenance) all year long. Win-win!


    Nashville Warblers

Granted, it's migration season right now, but I've never seen so many birds in our yard all at one time. I'm saving hummingbird photos for the next post, because the warblers have me obsessed right now -- not that I don't love my little hummingbirds, but they got the attention last time!


Can you spot the Nashville Warbler in the Lindheimer's Senna?

So far I've seen at least four warbler species, and at least a couple of vireos. The Nashville Warblers are the most numerous. They have an insect buffet in the Lindheimer's Senna and nearby plants, and then they move over a few feet to have a (cool-water) hot-tub party.




Sometimes they invite friends.


Yellow warbler, maybe?



Wilson's Warbler

How about a size comparison?


Seeing a warbler in the trees can be very misleading -- they are much smaller than one might realize. Since most of us know cardinals, and because a cardinal and warbler both decided to pose for me in a moment of gracious cooperation, let's compare. A Northern Cardinal is about 21-23 cm long and 42-48 g, while the Nashville Warbler is about 10-12 cm long and weighs a mere 7-12 g. That the cardinal is considered "mid-sized" is plainly obvious in the image.


A female cardinal then took a turn as a model. For whatever reason, the lady Cardinals have all had their crest feathers in a pronounced up-do lately. Did they all go to the same salon?


Black-Throated Green Warbler?


migrating09-27-11.jpg Hmmm -- this one has me stumped. Could it be a Warbling Vireo, maybe?


Likewise, here.

At least I know this next one, a Bewick's Wren. Seemed less skittish than my Carolina Wrens, so I got far more Bewick's pictures in 2 minutes than I've ever gotten of all my Carolinas put together (not including babies in a nest that couldn't fly away from my camera). I'll just show one, though.


I just love watching the way wrens look for insects in their very efficient, no-nonsense manner.

Other new visitors to the garden have been a White-Eyed Vireo, a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, a Broad-Winged Hawk, and another much more speckled hawk that the Blue Jays aggressively chased away, but all I have to show for all of them is one rather sucky picture of the gnatcatcher that I'm not bothering to post (actually, several very, very sucky pictures of the gnatcatcher, with only one picture slightly less sucky than the rest). Needless to say, you get nada, zero, zip.


But I promise to hop out there to try again.


Black-Crested Titmouse

Enough chattering! Get back to work!

You Are Not an Oriole


With all the devastating fires going on around Texas and the near-miss we had ourselves today with a brushfire near our house, I feel the need to report something more heartwarming.

Yesterday I was ecstatic to see a Baltimore Oriole couple visiting one of our hummingbird feeders. The hummingbirds were completely at a loss about what to do with these giant birds (giant to them, that is) on their feeders. Of course, the camera was nowhere nearby, and I missed capturing a picture. But I did rush out with a pitiful offering to my newest avian visitors: one small Clementine orange. Guess who showed up instead?


You naughty squirrel! I roll my eyes at you!


Also arriving to tease me but still thrill me was this Nashville warbler. Peekaboo!


The female Oriole later came back, and I ran and got the camera and ran right back, snapping a ton of pictures. Then I realized that idiot me left the compact flash card back in the computer.

In the end, I finally got this pitifiul picture of the male Baltimore Oriole staying just far enough away to allow for any sort of decent image.


Well, it still counts, Mr. Oriole!

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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