Hummingbird Breezes on My Skin

We’re up to somewhere between a dozen and 15 hummingbirds at the feeders now. I’m not sure whether our resident hummers are still here, but the rest are certainly in migration from up north and are gathering energy for their trip farther south and soon thereafter across the Gulf of Mexico. The birds are starting to share the feeders more and more, mostly because there are so many hummers now that individuals don’t really have a chance to defend their territory.

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I know I have taken (and shared) lots of hummingbird pictures in the past, but it’s hard not to — the birds beckon me with their spirited antics, and I enjoy sitting out there absorbing their happy, frenzied presence. But if I find myself outside without my camera, I long for it, so mostly I just bring it along and try to get a great shot. Then, of course, I feel obligated to share.

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Most of the time I use my zoom lens with hummingbirds, because it enables me to get shots like this lucky tongue image.hummE09-15-13

I also can capture pollen on a hummingbird’s bill. If you ever wondered whether a hummingbird is an effective pollinator, there’s proof.

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With the zoom, I can also get close enough to get feather details on the little birds and yet not disturb them.hummF09-15-13

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The downside to the zoom is that it gets tougher to capture the interaction between birds (when they really get their speed going). But it’s doable.

Today, however, brought a most enjoyable experience, all thanks to an annoying tilt of the shepherd’s hook holding two of our feeders. I couldn’t resist trying to fix it during a momentary lull in hummingbird activity. I had scarcely put my hand on the shepherd’s hook when suddenly I was surrounded by fast-moving, buzzing hummingbirds. There I was, inches from two feeders, and birds were swarming me. At first they circled me, periodically hovering in front of my face to see whether I was friend or foe, and since I didn’t move a muscle (other than to softly talk to them), they decided I was friend, or at least safe enough. Just inches from my face, they sat, drank, hovered, checked me out, drank some more, and even had their usual feisty spats. The breeze from their wings felt great upon my skin, and it was impressive how much air movement there was.

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During another lull of activity, I quickly went inside to grab a regular lens, hoping to get a picture (the zoom wouldn’t have worked that close to my subjects). But I soon learned that while the hummingbirds did not mind me, they were less fond of my camera. Perhaps the lens looked like a large gaping mouth. Whichever feeder my face was near, the birds sat and drank without concern. Whichever feeder my camera faced, the birds were hesitant to linger at the feeder, and only a couple did fly-by drinking. Needless to say, it was a challenge to actually take a picture with a hummingbird in it, but I managed a couple. The above is my favorite.

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Of course, once I realized how unperturbed the hummingbirds were by my presence, I encouraged my family to experience the thrill of being so close to the zooming birds. I can report that the hummingbirds did not mind Nolan’s small point-and-shoot camera. I think the “big lens = big mouth” theory might be close to the truth.

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If you have visiting hummingbirds, especially in large numbers, I highly recommend you give it a try. Perhaps you’ll get to experience those lovely hummingbird breezes on your skin, too.

September Hummers

September is one of my favorite months, for the hummingbirds are moving through Texas in large numbers at this time, and it means my garden is busy with little bird antics left and right (and up and down).

hummersa09-04-13 The sounds of the feisty little birds draw me outside. The hummingbirds are usually so focused on defense and territoriality and getting nectar that they hardly noticed the humans taking pictures, dogs running amok, and thunder or other noises in the background. Such was this evening’s setting.hummersc09-04-13hummersb09-04-13 Occasionally hummingbirds will settle down and share a feeder. In fact, as more hummers appear during migration, they will share more and more, as the need to build up energy stores for long-distance travel becomes more pressing.hummerse09-04-13 During migration season, the vast majority of the hummingbirds I see in my Austin garden are Ruby-throats. The males have the iridescent gorget, which seems truly vibrant when the light is just right (but otherwise it looks dark).

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Because the male’s gorget often appears dark, Ruby-throats are often confused with Black-chinned hummers. But take a look at how this male’s feathers light up with just a slight change to its body position. The color you see is actually a function of feather structure and the refraction of light at particular angles and is not a result of pigmentation.

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Don’t be fooled into thinking this hummingbird, almost hidden among the leaves, is remarkably big, given the pomegranate nearby as a size comparison. That’s actually a small pomegranate (the big pomegranates have weighed their respective branches down much closer to the ground, and no hummingbirds ever hang out down there).

Aside from the feeders, our backyard trees are territorial zones for many of the hummingbirds, who stake claim not just to particular trees but to very specific branches on said trees. The bird above was the only one using that spot on the Pomegranate — he drove away any other hummer that came too close. Likewise, the Mexican Redbuds were claimed by a few hummingbirds, likely because they were close to three feeders. The nearby Oak trees offered higher vantage points, so some hummingbirds used those instead.

Hummingbird at Flame Acanthus

Of course, native plants offer the best nectar of all, but I always put out feeders during migration because it can be hit or miss whether any of my natives are blooming in the hot Texas summer. Often, I’m relying on my trusty Flame Acanthus to be in bloom while summer is still blazing. Indeed, my Flame Acanthus is blooming right now, but I’m cheating and showing a picture I took last year. And actually, fyi, I keep feeders up year round, though perhaps not as many in the winter. You never know when a slowpoke hummingbird will desperately be seeking food sources in the cold.

If you have feeders, be sure to use a ratio of 1 part Table Sugar to 4 parts water — don’t add coloring.

Hummingbird feeder cleaning supplies

And always keep your feeders clean! Replace the sugar-water every 2-3 days to prevent fermentation, and use that opportunity to scrub out the feeders thoroughly. I use vinegar to clean mine (and small brushes). Don’t let any black yucky stuff build up in those nooks and crannies!

For those of you up north who are saying a seasonal goodbye to hummingbirds, thank you for taking good care of them. They’ll be back in the spring to say hello before you know it!

Helping Migrating Hummingbirds

It’s time for my annual hummingbird migration post, for fall migration is definitely underway! Whether you live up north or down south, you can help hummingbirds fuel up for travel. Here are tips to help them do so safely, all the while enjoying all you can of these fun little birds.Hummingbird

Hummingbirds love a variety of native nectar plants, such as Flame Acanthus above, but they will readily go to feeders as well. I provide both, and often I’ll see a hummer go back and forth between blooms and feeders’ sugar-water. If you don’t already have native plants to offer, go ahead and plant some (here in Texas, fall planting is the best time to plant). In the meantime, get a feeder outside to start attracting hummers to your yard.Hummingbird at Flame Acanthus

 

One of the reason I love Flame Acanthus is that it blooms despite the summer heat and despite our Texas drought. When the hummingbirds need it most, it provides. It also has two features hummingbirds love: tubular blooms and a red color. That doesn’t mean hummers won’t visit blooms that are flat or other colors — what they love is nectar, and while they might more frequently visit the classic red blooms, they’ll visit many other flowers as well.Flame AcanthusI have Flame Acanthus in two colors — red and orange. Other native Texas plants I grow for hummingbirds include Turk’s Cap, Standing Cypress, Autumn Sage, Tropical Sage, Crossvine, Coral Honeysuckle, Red Yucca, Texas Lantana, Purple Coneflower, Yellow Bells/Esperanza, Texas Betony, Lindheimer’s Morning Glory, and more.

Hummingbird feederBut I always have feeders out, even in the winter. For a variety of reasons a hummingbird might not be able to migrate as far as it is expected to, and having a feeder available when no blooms are present in winter just might save its life.

The following recipe is the standard for safe hummingbird nectar: 4 parts water to 1 part white table sugar. Don’t use food coloring or another additive, and do not use turbinado, raw sugar, honey, or brown sugar. Some people boil their sugar-water first, and that’s fine.

Hummingbird feedersWhen selecting a hummingbird feeder, I look for three primary things — does it only show red (no white or yellow parts), is it made of plastic or glass, and is it easy to keep clean? I avoid feeders with white or yellow flowers because bees are attracted to these colors, and I avoid metal feeders because they can so easily rust, and the heavy iron can kill hummingbirds.

Hummingbird feeder cleaning suppliesCleaning feeders regularly is vital to hummingbirds’ health. I replace the sugar-water every 3 days, scrubbing out the feeders with a vinegar wash and small bottle brushes. If you don’t have a tiny brush for the little holes, try a pipe cleaner. Be sure to include any little nooks and crannies, hunting down and scrubbing any black growth. Don’t let your feeders get yucky!

HummingbirdHow else can you help our little hummer friends? Keep your garden free of pesticides, for hummingbirds need insects and spiders for protein. They’ll eat aphids, fruit flies, midges, and even mosquitoes! They also love shallow running water and mists.

Snowberry ClearwingOf course, don’t be fooled if some other “hummingbirds” come to visit — this little Snowberry Clearwing Moth has well earned its nickname of Hummingbird Moth. It flies and hovers and zips about to feast on the nectar of daytime-blooming flowers. You might do a double-take, for it can look like a hummingbird if you catch just a glimpse.

Happy hummingbird migration! If you live north, don’t fret — these little beauties are going to refuel in the warmer winter regions and will be on their way back to you in just a few months!

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.

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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).

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

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

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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.

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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…

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

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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.

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

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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!

The Hummer’s Tongue

Hummingbirds are once again in migration! Ruby-Throated hummers and Black-Chinned hummers are building up their energy stores as they head south, and I’m really loving the activity in the backyard right now.

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Did you know that a hummer’s tongue is quite long, very flexible, and forked? The tip separates just as the tongue enters the nectar. The tongue is also covered in hairlike extensions called lamellae, which trap the nectar as they roll inward when the hummingbird draws back its tongue from the flower or feeder. The hummingbird also can flick its tongue into the nectar about 20 times per second! No wonder it can get nectar so easily from long tubular flowers and and reach that last bit of sugar-water from almost-depleted feeders.

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 With hummingbirds on the move, be extra sure to have your feeders out, clean, and filled with clear sugar-water in the ratio of 4 parts water to 1 part table sugar. Native blooms are scarce in Texas right now because of the severe drought and wildfires, and properly-used feeders are especially important this year to help the migrating hummers make it to the coast and their winter grounds. If you’d like more tips about helping hummingbirds, please visit these earlier posts:

Tips on Hummingbird Feeder and Cleaning

Ways to Help Hummers and Other Wildlife During the Drought

FYI, the Rockport Hummingbird Festival is this weekend!

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Go, go, hummingbirds! You can do it!

Hummingbirds Are on the Move — Feeding Tips

It’s that time of year again — hummingbirds are already flying toward their winter destinations. If you live anywhere south, it’s the perfect time to make sure your gardens are extra welcoming to the little zoomers. I’m seeing lots of Ruby-Throats right now, males and females both.

hummera09-02-10.jpgHummingbirds love both nectar plants and feeders in the garden. If you can provide both, you’ve got a great chance to attract the little cuties. I always say that you should get your native plants in the ground right away but use feeders to help the hummingbirds find your garden faster.

hummerb09-02-10.jpgHummingbirds are very much attracted to tubular flowers in the red and orange color range, but some visit a variety of nectar plants. Some of the hummingbird favorites I plant in my garden include:

* Signifies native to Texas 

  • Flame Acanthus (shown) *
  • Turk’s Cap *
  • Firebush
  • Cigar Plant
  • Standing Cypress *
  • Autumn Sage *
  • Tropical Sage *
  • Other Salvias
  • Crossvine *
  • Coral Honeysuckle *
  • Red Yucca *
  • Lantana, Texas *
  • Zinnias
  • Purple Coneflower *
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Yellow Bells *
  • Texas Betony *
  • Red Columbine * 

Hummingbirds also eat insects and small spiders for their protein, so it is important to avoid using pesticides in your hummingbird garden. Mosquitoes, gnats, aphids, fruit flies, midges, and more provide important nutrients in the hummer diet – what wonderful garden helpers hummingbirds are!

 

Birdbaths

Hummingbirds love shallow running water. I have a variety of water features at my house for birds in general, but today I decided that it is my new goal to put in a special birdbath created especially with hummingbirds in mind. I’ll put it in the backyard garden they frequent the most. I want to get a picture of a hummer taking a bird bath in a birdbath!

 

Feeders

When choosing a feeder, the top priorities are:

  • Is it easy to clean, including the inside of the basin? See below for more info on cleaning.
  • Does it have an all red basin? See the info about bees below.
  • Is it made of a safe material? (in other words, no metal)

My favorite hummingbird feeder is the Hummzinger — it has a little perch for the hummers and it is oh so easy to clean. A built-in ant moat keeps ants from reaching the feeder.

hummerd09-02-10.jpgThe company also makes a window version — my parents love using one on their camper. We keep ours on the kitchen window. It uses little suction cups, and it lets you watch the little flyers up close.

hummerf09-02-10.jpgFeeders don’t have to be gorgeous. You really want them to be functional, and that means easy to clean and red in color. Pretty simple really.

hummerg09-02-10.jpgAnd no metal parts — iron from rust and iron that leeches from metal can kill hummingbirds in a short amount of time.

badfeeder08-17-10.jpgFilling the Feeder

The following recipe has become the standard for safe hummingbird nectar:

Nectar Water Recipe

4 parts water to 1 part white cane sugar

 

  • Never use food coloring or another additive, and do not use turbinado, raw sugar, honey, or brown sugar — these can be dangerous or even deadly.
  • It is not necessary to boil the water first.
  • It is okay to change this recipe to 5 parts water in the hot summer and 3 parts water in the cold winter, but if in doubt, stick to 4:1 recipe.
  • You don’t need to fill the feeder to full each time — put in an amount that is likely to be used in that short time period.

Bees, Wasps, and Ants

Bees and wasps are attracted to the color yellow, so they are drawn to feeders that have little yellow flower parts. If you are having trouble with bees or wasps and your feeder has yellow flowers, either remove the yellow part or replace your feeder with one that has an all-red basin.

Ants can be avoided by using a feeder with a built-in ant moat or by purchasing an ant moat that hangs above the feeder. Use plain water in the moat and never add anything to it, since small birds sometimes like to drink water from the moat.

Cleaning Your Feeder

Be sure to clean your feeder every 3 days and replace the sugar water. This prevents the growth of black mold and the spread of disease between hummingbirds.

To clean, open the feeder up and use a bottle brush to scrub out the inside. Be sure to get all the potential hidden spots that some feeders seem to have — if you can’t clean it, I promise you that mold will start to grow there. If using a mild dishwashing detergent, make sure that rinse the feeder very thoroughly. And every few weeks, use vinegar to give a good cleaning.

To scrub the tiny holes, use a small brush as shown below. These are very inexpensive and available online or at many stores that sell feeders.

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Enjoy Your Hummingbird Visitors

When the hummingbirds arrive, be prepared for some feisty behaviour. They don’t like to share with each other much, so you’ll get to hear them fuss at each other as they try to keep other hummers from using the feeders or plants. I’m sure they are quite serious in their endeavours, but to humans it seems pretty cute.

hummere09-02-10.jpgHere in the South, I keep my feeders up year-round. There is always the chance that a straggler hummer will be in need of an energy source, and if plants are not blooming, I want to provide for them.

Welcome, little birdies, to our hummingbird haven. And good luck with the hummers in your own haven!

Humming a Tune in the Garden

I’m so pleased — the hummingbird feeders have been getting a lot of birdie traffic!

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Do you see the pollen on the little hummingbird’s beak above? Someone has been visiting flowers! Hurray for our flying, humming pollinators.

I’ve tried again and again to get a good picture of a hummingbird visiting one of our blooms — usually they come out blurry because the birds dart off so fast. And then this morning…

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The little lady usually doesn’t let me get too close when she’s at a bloom — she is much more tolerant when she’s at the feeder. Perhaps she’s getting used to me and will let me get more flower shots, given the progress above. She used to visit the Salvias, but when the Standing Cypress started blooming, it became her favorite.

The Cinnamon Sun has produced a lovely bouquet. All the flowers are still above the roofline, though. I’m waiting for the lower buds to open up so I can really study the blooms easily.

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We’ve had a bit of rain with the tropical systems happening in the Gulf of Mexico — it made for a pleasant relaxed time in the garden. This male Queen butterfly took a long rest on a lantana.

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How do you ID a Queen, and a male from female? Many people often mistake Queens for Monarchs, easy to do because they really are lookalike cousins. Soldiers make it even more confusing, and then there are the mimic Viceroys, too! Take a look at the photo again, this time with labels.

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If you’d like more info on IDing the lookalike cousins, click here.

Also resting on the Lantana was this handsome damselfly. I’m needing a nap, just watching these guys. Perhaps the overcast day has something to do with that, too.

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We’ve had another butterfly release from the Caterpillar Hotel! A black swallowtail emerged and took its time resting and drying its wings. I hope it came from the brown chrysalis from awhile back — I was worried about it taking too long. Now I’ve got so many chrysalises that I can’t tell which came first.

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Soon the swallowtail headed over to the butterfly bush for a longer rest. Within a few minutes later, it flew away for its grown-up adventures.

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I’m eagerly watching for the Giant Swallowtails to emerge. How can they fit in such a tiny shape?

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Good news on the tomato front. Over several days we devoured tons of homegrown Romas in homemade spaghetti sauce, and now the Brandywines are starting to produce.

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Is that crown an indication of how big the tomato will become? I won’t eat these myself — but I hope they’ll turn out so I can give them to friends and neighbors. I’m a cooked-tomato kind of girl.

I’m also a pomegranate kind of girl! Lookee, lookee!

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Fun morning in the garden. Had me humming like the hummingbirds. Hoping for more rain, though!

I Should Apologize Now For All My “Cinns”

I might as well apologize now, because it’s just possible that the rest of my photographs for the remainder of the fall and summer might all be of this, my new favorite flower.

cinnamonsunflower06-24-10.jpgThe Cinnamon Sun sunflower is now blooming, and I can barely draw myself away.

cinnamonsunflowerc06-24-10.jpgI had a little trouble getting the pictures I really wanted, because this bloom is the first on the plant, and it’s about 10 feet off the ground. I had to stand on a ladder. Oh, but there are so many more blooms getting ready to open… and they are much more accessible.

 
cinnamonsunflowerd06-24-10.jpgNot only is the bloom gorgeous, but the colors are exactly the same as those on my house, not that you can tell from the back of the house. But might it be too matchy-matchy to have a flower match my house? I think not.

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cinnamonsunflowere06-24-10.jpgAt times during the day, the flower appeared almost black — in fact, the gloominess of the dark flower early this morning almost had me worried that I’d made a poor choice. Then the sun came up a bit more, and wow. Take a look at this next photo, where the flower appears dark. See what else showed up?

cinnsunspiderc06-24-10.jpgThat’s a Green Lynx spider. I guess when I got so excited about it being Pollinator Week, the spider did, too — but for a different reason. The last time I saw a Green Lynx spider, it was much better camouflaged.

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But then Ms. Spider today moved to the back of the sunflower, and there was her camouflage. I’m impressed with her capture, even if it is one of my bees. Can you see her?

cinnsunspiderb06-24-10.jpgI did manage to pull myself away from the sunflower long enough to capture a quick picture of a hummingbird before my battery died. I also successfully managed to take the picture without falling off the ladder. Must be my newfound ladder skills from painting the exterior of my house…

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I also caught a hummingbird today visiting the new blooms on the Standing Cypress. I always get a thrill of justification when I see hummingbirds at my flowers instead of just at the feeder — like it was all worth it, this gardening stuff. Alas, I had no camera in hand at the time. But here are the blooms.

standingcypress06-24-10.jpgThis morning, over at the Gregg’s Mistflower, I saw that this patch of flowers is becoming quite the spider hangout. Not too long ago a spider caught one of my beloved dragonflies in this popular insect hangout. Today I found another kind of spider waiting patiently on its zig-zag recliner. I think it’s a male Argiope spider.  Edit: Having later found a larger Banded Garden Spider, I now wonder whether this is a juvenile female, species Argiope trifasciata.

spidera06-24-10.jpgI think that if I were an orb spider, I’d go for this kind of web. That zig-zag is called a stabilimentum. It just looks extra secure and comfortable. On the other hand, the spider is probably more noticeable, but the rest of the web could barely be seen. Maybe that’s a plus for the spider — if the prey avoids the visible spider by flying to the side, it gets caught by the invisible web. Anyway, it worked, because the next thing I knew there was frantic movement going on in the web — a grasshopper had made an unfortunate jump. Try focusing with a zoom lens on a spider that’s moving and spinning and wrapping its prey — what a challenge!

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spiderd06-24-10.jpgNow this time I can say yay for the spider — it caught one of my nuisance grasshoppers. It can have all the grasshoppers it wants. I’m sure the green lynx spider eats grasshoppers, too, but so far I keep catching it with its paws in the honey jar, so to speak.

Enough spider pictures. Let’s go back to the Cinnamon Sun, shall we? Oh to be a bee visiting that sunflower… well, preferably without the spider there, too.

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Pollinator Power! It’s Pollinator Week, June 21-27, 2010

Happy National Pollinator Week, June 21-27! All this week (and everyday the rest of the year), let’s celebrate our peppy pollinators and all that they do. Without them, many flowers, trees, fruits, veggies, and other plants would be in serious trouble! Did you know that 80 percent of the world’s crops require pollination to set seed? And many, many pollinators are in decline due to the use of pesticides and to habitat loss. We must take care of these little guys, who in turn are OUR caretakers.

For more information on pollinators and this special dedication week, be sure to visit Pollinator Partnership.

I for one love to use this week’s dedication to go out and buy a new plant for our pollinators. What will it be? A new caterpillar larval host plant for the butterflies? A bee’s favorite bush? A new hummingbird plant? I’ll let you know!

Let’s give a cheer for… butterflies!

gulffritillary06-21-10.jpgBees!

beeonmistb10-07-09.jpg Hummingbirds!

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Hoverflies!

 
hoverflyc10-07-09.jpgBats, geckos, opossums, beetles, wasps, flies, and more!

Some of my favorite plants for pollinators include Purple Coneflower, Milkweed, Greg’s Mistflower, Cardinal Flower, any number of Salvias, Mealy Blue Sage, Firebush, Goldenball Leadtree, Kidneywood, Texas Lantana, Sunflower, Pumpkins and Squashes, and oh so many more. Think native when you can, and stay organic! Pesticides kill the GOOD guys, too — not just the bad ones.

Speaking of sunflowers, the Cinnamon Sun is taller than ever — now past the roof’s edge of our house. It is threatening to burst out with blooms any day now.

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Don’t forget about putting out a bee box for our solitary native bees to show we love them!

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Earth-Friendly, Homemade

Homemade gifts just make the heart swell with love, and happy memories of making or receiving them abound, not to mention how economically wise they can be. This year, the family and I decided to make environmentally friendly gifts for Christmas, and not only were the gifts made from the heart, the satisfaction of staying green AND discovering that the four of us could work as a team equaled a total win-win.

fishart12-09.jpgThe kids decided that for grandparents they wanted to make seed mosaic art, and it was truly a family affair. The boys made the drawings and did a bunch of the gluing, with Mom giving guidance and filling in where necessary. Dad made the frames with old branches from our yard.

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This fish is a rainbow trout, fly fishing being my dad’s favorite outdoor pasttime.

fishartb12-09.jpgAnd, of course, hummingbirds seemed the perfect choice for other art subjects, because all our kids’ grandparents love hummingbirds!

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We used all sorts of beans and seeds, including kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, white beans, pumpkin seeds, safflower seeds, millet, flax seed, black beans, lentils, and green split peas. These we glued onto a thick piece of off-white paper with good old-fashioned white glue, following a lightly pencilled outline of our drawing. Next we glued the paper onto a slightly larger wood board, and to that we attached the frame pieces my husband had carefully cut. To ensure the frame dried how we wanted it, we carefully clamped the pieces in place after the glue was applied. And prior to all the gluing, we nailed a small picture hanger on to the back of the board.

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Ah yes, we added in a little popcorn for color variation.

birdartc12-09.jpgFor other family and friends, we tried our hand at making seed ornaments, as often in the past we’ve enjoyed giving purchased seed gifts for others, to hang out for the birdies.

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We used a recipe that I found online — it used unflavored gelatin as the ingredient to stick together the black oil sunflower seeds, safflowers, peanuts, corn, cranberries, raisins, thistle, flax, and other bird-happy foods, hopefully holding the intended shape. The best cookie cutter I had for the project was a large star, and we used it to shape most of the ornaments. We also used some round plastic storage containers for larger seed wheels — these were much easier to shape, but much worse for drying time! Twine through the ornaments served as the hangers.

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I want to say that the birdseed ornaments were a success, and in some ways they were. Once dry, the ornaments held their shape fairly well, but the key was definitely to let them dry fully, flipping when necessary. Overall I didn’t allow enough dry time, thanks to the recipes I looked at being vague. They weren’t just vague in dry time, they also were vague in the gelatin/seed ratio and recipe. Any of the ornaments that didn’t get to air-dry well quickly turned to moldy ick, so I couldn’t give more than a few out. SO… I’ll need to work on this to perfect it. The idea was good! Once I improve on the project, I’ll post details of the new and better recipe.

We attempted one other earth-friendly project for kids’ gifts, but they were far more time-consuming than we expected. So this secret project will be on hold for next year!

I’d love to hear what you made for gifts this year, or what you’ve done in the past. We’re already looking forward to our next projects!