Recently in habitat steward Category

Driving Home with a Giant Silk Moth


This weekend's habitat event was helping install wildlife-friendly native plants to create a beginning wildlife garden at the Austin Groups for the Elderly building, known locally as the AGE building. This non-profit organization "empowers caregivers, the elderly and their families through education, advocacy, resources and support" and is a daytime care and resource facility for older members of our community.

AGEhabitatf03-04-12.jpg Habitat volunteers from the City of Austin, Travis Audubon, and NWF, along with friends and family and AGE staff, got right to work. The first task was scraping out clover and grass from the future beds.

AGEhabitatd03-04-12.jpg Next, volunteers watered the soil a bit, then placed a carefully arranged layer of cardboard, which also was made wet.


AGEhabitate03-04-12.jpg On top of that, we layered soil where necessary, and topped it all with single-shred mulch, kept thin under the trees. This method of lawn reduction is effective and remarkably simple.


The final step was adding plants, including Mexican Buckeye, Shrubby Boneset, Texas Mulberry, Evergreen Sumac, Turk's Cap, Crossvine, and others. The plants were small, but small is all it takes!

AGEhabitat03-04-12.jpgThe garden is a favorite sitting area for many AGE members, and the new habitat will attract many butterflies and birds for visitors' viewing pleasure. The building also houses our Travis Audubon office -- so we're extra glad to have a new habitat right outside!

polyphemusaa03-04-12.jpgAs we were getting ready to leave, my husband called me over to see a creature hanging upside-down from the car of a volunteer. It turned out to be a gorgeous Lepidopteran.

The volunteer was quite concerned, and to be honest, from a distance it really did look like a bat was hanging from his window. But I rushed right over to rescue it, and it proved to be a stunning, yet frail, Polyphemus moth. Those bushy antennae you see are an indication that this moth also happened to be male.


There are a number of threats to this beautiful species, but at least they have a variety of host plants, as well as those spectacular and "scary" eye spots, to give them a better chance at making it. The tiny little upper spots on the forewings are actually transparent. We checked.

polyphemusc03-04-12.jpgPolyphemus moths have an average wing span of about 6 inches. As adults, they also have reduced mouth parts, meaning that they can't eat, so they have one job to focus on: reproduction. The feathery antennae of the males are used to detect the scent of unmated females. Whether the antennae also make the male moths look sexy to females, I cannot attest. But for this female, I think they look pretty cool. Not getting to eat means something else -- the moths have a short lifespan of less than a week.

As it had trouble flying, It seemed to me that this little (big) moth was on its last wing, so to speak, so I gently kept it protected and decided to bring it home with us. As it turns out, the moth wasn't as frail as we thought.

polyphemusd03-04-12.jpgPerhaps because it was darker in the car, the moth came to life once we got moving on the road. By the time we were on the highway, it was fluttering all about, making for quite an interesting drive home. At one point, the Polyphemus moth decorated my husband as a bowtie.

For its own safety, we didn't want to release the moth until we actually arrived home to our wooded habitat, but in the meantime, it kept us busy in the car, as we had to make sure it stayed safe there, too.

polyphemusb03-04-12.jpgFor quite a bit of the drive, the moth seemed particularly fond of my husband (who was under strict orders not to react to the tickling sensation, nor to panic and cause a wreck). My husband replied, "Finally, there's an animal who's not afraid of me!" How my husband manages to seem fearsome in our happy zoo is beyond me, but our skittish cat Cricket in particular still gives him the wary eye. Not many men can boast that they've had a Polyphemus moth rest on their Adam's Apple, but my husband can. Let me just add that driving in a car with a fluttering giant silk moth is perhaps a "Don't Try This at Home in Your Car" scenario.

polyphemuse03-04-12.jpgUpon our return home, I carefully gathered up the Polyphemus moth, bid it a fond farewell and good luck, and opened my hands to the sky. The moth flew up to the ash tree above, where it rested for much of the afternoon. What an adventure we all had!

Help Keep Austin Wild As a Habitat Steward


hummerflameacanthusc2010.jpgIf you love nature as much as I do, and you live in the Austin area, I cordially invite you to register for the 2011 Wildlife Austin Habitat Stewards Training. This program is a co-project of Willdlife Austin and National Wildlife Federation, and through the program you will become part of a great team of volunteers who are really making a difference in Austin's environment. l can tell you from experience that the class is fun and the training is outstanding. You'll learn about some of the most wildlife-friendly native plants, go in-depth with soil and compost knowledge, take on invasive plants, learn multiple aspects of wildscaping design principles, planting, and maintenance, and so much more. Our wonderful Habitat Stewards then educate and assist others in creating and restoring habitat in neighborhoods, parks, schoolyards, and other community places to help Keep Austin Wild!

My experience as a Habitat Steward has been incredibly rewarding, and I continue to strive for more ways to help protect our natural habitat and keep Austin green and wildlife-friendly. My fellow Stewards are an inspiration, and I love seeing all their habitat efforts across the city!

The training is only $40, and classes are held on Thursday evenings and Saturdays from September 8 to October 6, 2011. Details and registration information can be found at the Wildlife Austin site. I hope you will join us!

Our New Schoolyard Habitat


It astounds me that a simple idea can turn into a phenomenal event just a few short months later. We decided that our school should be certified as a schoolyard habitat with the National Wildlife Federation, and with that was born the idea of creating a rather big butterfly-hummingbird garden filled with drought-hardy native TX plants. And after much planning, donation-gathering, more planning, and incredible hard work by volunteer crews of individuals, families, school neighbors, and Habitat Stewards, we have our new habitat.


This arbor was created by one of our parents, and it's such a beautiful welcome into the habitat. Eventually we'll have a sign showing the habitat name.

  schoolhabitatb03-27-10.jpg Many plants and supplies were donated, and the rest were purchased through fundraising.

schoolhabitatc03-27-10.jpg Labels identify the plants -- these will eventually reflect which plants are caterpillar host plants, hummingbird plants, sensory plants, etc.

schoolhabitatd03-27-10.jpgWe can't wait for the plants to fill in and grow big. On our big planting day, we saw our first two butterflies! The next phase is to install a big water collection system. Nothing's over yet!

The Habitat Mom


It seems I became a Habitat Steward and hit the ground running. My approach to our elementary school to become a Schoolyard Habitat, a simple enough task in that we already qualified except for needing a birdbath, turned into quite the endeavor. Soon I was leading a Habitat Team, working on a new butterfly-hummingbird garden design, creating guidelines for a new Legacy of Giving environmental project for two of our grades related to habitats, starting a new school garden blog, and, oh, what seems like a thousand other tasks. I have to say that, while it as been hard and non-stop work, I am loving it. The rewards as a parent, a community member, and a Habitat Steward have been simply so many that I can't count them, and all of them make this little green heart swell.

The past 3 days I've been speaking to all the 3rd- and 4th-graders about habitats in central Texas. I've been giving PowerPoint presentations to back-to-back classes -- today's last and final class will make nine total. I think I know this slide show pretty well now! The kids have all been interactive and fascinated and loving all the photos. But it's no surprise that the biggest reactions come from the giant swallowtail caterpillar that looks like bird poop!

ppt02-19-10.jpgI want to thank all my fellow Austin Garden Bloggers who generously sent me photographs of wildlife in their garden so that I could put together a very unique and special presentation. As I go through the slide show each time, I know where each photograph came from, and I feel as though all these wonderful people are right there with me helping our students love and appreciate nature. Thank you, my friends!  

Sustainable -- Loving and Living It


"Sustainable" -- it's the new catchword and the new black. It's a word I'm trying to reiterate over and over again with my family, and now that I'm leading a big habitat project at our elementary school, it's a term I'm making sure our students know, as well.

Doves, mind you, don't seem to understand the word "sustainable" nor the word "reduce," the little wasteful gluttons. But on occasion, they do lend themselves out for a nice winter picture, so for the moment I'll forgive them.

dove02-10-10.jpgIt warms my heart to see how many bloggers are spreading the word about environmental care by encouraging fellow bloggers to think, act, and make lifestyle changes in regard to taking care of Earth. Suzy at HipMountainMama is leading One Small Change, Dee at RedDirt Ramblings recently hosted a reel mower giveaway, and Jan at Thanks for Today has established the Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project.

sustainableliving.jpgThis post is multi-purpose. One, I need to report on my One Small Change progress for January and February. Two, I want to partake in Jan's Sustainable Living Project, and three, I want to share all these bird photos I just got this morning! I've been trying to find woodpeckers in the trees for months, and I was shocked to finally see one -- at our birdfeeder!

rbwoodpkr02-10-10.jpgTaking all these shots, I was reminded that our kitchen window could really stand a good vinegar wash. 

 In my own garden, as many know, I'm dedicated to planting as many drought-hardy Texas native plants with organic methods as I can. My plants are like my children -- I want to nurture them when they are young, help them grow up big and strong, and guide them to being able to make it on their own. Someday, we might move away from this house, and if my plants aren't able to survive without care, they might not make it. I also long to be lazy -- the better my plants can establish, the less I'll have to do... one day.

My biggest project at the moment is guiding our elementary school to become a Certified Schoolyard Habitat. We're putting in a new butterfly-hummingbird garden as Phase 1, and the list of Phase 2 environmental projects is growing -- we'll be putting a water collection system and more. Co-existing with this habitat project is another project for the 3rd- and 4th-graders -- learning about wildlife habitats and then teaching the community about them through 3-D murals. The excitement over habitats is spreading fast, and I feel so good helping our students become environmental stewards.

rbwoodpkrb02-10-10.jpgOn my sidebar, I call myself green-blooded. While my blood might *look* red, especially when I cut myself on a thorny spine or do some other clumsy thing in the garden, my heart and soul are always thinking about ways to protect the environment, and so my blood really runs green. If you put on your special Super-Enviro-Power goggles, you'll be able to see it. If you don't have any, then I'll just raise my hand in a Vulcan greeting. 

In January, for One Small Change, I did three primary acts for the environment: I removed all remaining nandinas from my property, sending the bushes to city mulch and throwing away the berries. I also took all our old leftover chemical products, bleach, and paint from our past to the Austin Hazardous Waste Facility, and some from two of our neighbors. We've been using natural cleansers for a long while now, and finally the evidence from our former lifestyle is gone, gone, gone. And finally, I've been learning many different organic products to help gardeners stay green. I feel more knowledgable about offering green solutions to problems in the yard. Understanding the soil food web was a big part of this. It all begins in the earth, and truly everyday is Earth Day in my book. (Officially, Earth Day is celebrated on April 22).


This month, my son asked us to make something for the wildlife for our February change. We are going to make a bee box or two and a screech owl house. Looking ahead to March, I think I want to train my family to open blinds daily to let the light shine in, and I want to strategically place mirrors to help get more natural light across our house without having to turn on artificial lights. There's a tendency in this family to become inert in regard to opening/closing the blinds, and the result is way more "turning on the lights" than should be necessary. Right now my study blinds are open, and the cats are on my desk watching the birds outside, and the puppy is occasionally growling and barking at the hanging plant hovering outside. No, pup, it's not an evil threat, but it would look nicer if the plant in it hadn't died this winter.

I feel so hopeful this year that Earth is finally getting the kind of attention it so needs and deserves.

Take care of yourselves and our wonderful Earth this spring, and always. And live long and prosper. 




School Habitat Project officially underway!


With students, teachers, and parents on board, my son's elementary school is officially getting focused on wildlife habitats. We've got a community project planned for the third- and fourth-graders for the Legacy of Giving program, and if all goes well we'll have a new butterfly and hummingbird garden planted in the spring, culminating in dedicating the school as a certified Schoolyard Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation on Earth Day.


schoolhabitatboardb.jpgI've really been thrilled with the enthusiasm everyone has had about the habitat project. What makes me happiest is seeing how excited the kids are. Just wait until the wildlife finds about it!

The Bulla Wildscape


As a special treat on Halloween, other recent Habitat Steward graduates and I had the honor of visiting the award-winning and very beautiful wildlife habitat of Dale and Pat Bulla here in Austin. 

bullahabitat10-31-09.jpgI had heard a lot about their spectacular wildscape, so when our Habitat Steward group was given the opportunity to have a tour, you know I jumped at the chance!

bullas10-31-09.jpgDale (left) and Pat (center) are also both Habitat Stewards with NWF, and preserving native Texas plant life is exceptionally important to them. They are leaders in conservation efforts in Austin and Texas, and they were a primary force in helping their neighborhood win Austin's Community Wildlife Habitat challenge in 2008 with the highest number of certified wildlife habitats.

bullahabitatc10-31-09.jpgPat and Dale have lived on their property since 1998, building their home on a rocky limestone slope overlooking the Balcones Canyonland Preserves. Their efforts to create a natural landscape since then have paid off -- paths of natural materials such as mulch, rock, and cedar lead visitors through peaceful woods and past pocket seeps.

cedarpath10-31-09.jpgMany of the plants were placed there by the Bullas, but many more were delivered by birds and other creatures. The result is a wonderland of native Texas species.


bullahabitate10-31-09.jpgmexbushsage10-31-09.jpgesperanza10-31-09.jpgPat told me that the plants on their property are about 95% native, with the remaining being well adapted plants such as rosemary and winter-blooming germander.


shrubbyboneset10-31-09.jpgmexolive10-31-09.jpgchilepequin10-31-09.jpg goldeneye10-31-09.jpg germander10-31-09.jpg It being the end of October, we were able to see many species just beginning their fall fruit or fall color stages.

evergreensumac10-31-09.jpgrustyblackhaw10-31-09.jpgtxbarberry10-31-09.jpg carolinabuckthornb.jpg silktassel10-31-09.jpgAs we toured the Bulla wildscape, Dale and Pat identified many of their favorite trees, shrubs, and perennials, sometimes sharing stories about certain plants. We tasted the leaves of a Toothache Tree (Zanthoxylum hirsutum), and after a couple of minutes I felt my gums tingle, as if they were going numb. I want one of these trees for the pure fun of it.

The Bullas are fortunate to have many rare or unusual plants, such as the Lindheimer's Crown-Beard (Verbesina lindheimeri), a plant so rare and special that the Wildflower Center collected seeds from the Bulla plants and sent them to the Millennium Seed Bank in London. Other plants, not necessarily considered rare, can still quite difficult to find in nurseries. 



brickellbush10-31-09.jpgThe Bullas study the soil, light, and water conditions of their property in order to best place plants. With a combination of rocky slopes, natural seeps, sun, shade, woods, and open areas all on their property, it seemed to me that they had an advantage in being able to plant a little bit of everything!

Bluebonnet seedlings, Tropical Sage, Little Bluestem, and other plants were interspersed in the Buffalo grass of the Bullas' front yard mini-prairie.


Amazingly, the habitat is home to six different kinds of native Texas passionflower vines.

passionflowerlutea10-31-09.jpg passiflorac10-31-09.jpg passiflorad10-31-09.jpg The Bullas have a knack for creating functional habitat features that blend in with the natural setting, including a manmade seep-like water source, beebox (with nesting holes for solitary bees), and rock man.


beebox10-31-09.jpg statue10-31-09.jpg Dale and Pat's home serves as an example to others about how to minimize their carbon footprint. Not only is their carbon footprint exceptionally low due to natural paths, water collection systems, zero lawn, and minimal water usage, the Bullas also use solar panels that produce enough electricity to actually return some back to the city.

bullasolar10-31-09.jpgAnd of course, the wildlife love the Bullas' habitat, too. Unfortunately for the Bullas, however, this includes destructive feral hogs that visit the property from the BCP during the night, occasionally tearing up pathways and plants while looking for grubs, roots, and tasty vegetation. Deer prevent Dale and Pat from planting certain delectable species and veggies, too. But birds, butterflies, lizards, and other creatures call the Bullas' habitat home. We enjoyed watching the Queens and Monarchs fluttering about, but I was truly mesmerized by this Buckeye. I have yet to see a Buckeye in my yard!

buckeye10-31-09.jpgIt's no wonder the Bullas' habitat is designated as a Green Garden by the City of Austin. An award well deserved!

Reflections on the First Year


Has it really only been a year? So much progress has been made in our first year of gardening that it's hard to believe it happened in a mere 365-ish days. Hey, I only about destroyed my back and my husband had to have knee surgery, but what does that matter when our yard is such a pleasant place to be now? (Ok, my husband just pointed out that we can't really blame gardening for our failing bodies, but it sounded good.)

What started it all? The felling of one very dead hackberry that was dangerously leaning over our house.

reflections2009x.jpgWhen that tree fell, I had no idea that I was about to embark on a gardening endeavour of massive proportions. But I looked around my yard and hated what I saw. It was time, after 13 years of doing nothing, to do something. Even if I had no clue whatsoever about what to do. 

But apparently I figured a few things out. The rest will come when I figure those out.

Here are a few tidbits of how our outdoor world has changed. Now be warned, the overgrown state has to do with all the rain we've finally been getting -- I haven't been able to clean anything up. At least things look more green...

The backyard, before and after:


reflections2009zh.jpg The pond, before and after:

reflections2009zc.jpgreflections2009zg.jpg The back porch, before and after:

reflections2009f.jpg reflections2009zl.jpg The front garden bed, before and after:

reflections2009v.jpg reflections2009zza.jpgThere's a lot more to our yard than what you see here, and I invite you to see more. We have a long way to go, but it's fun to take a look at how far we've come. You can also hear more about the story that got us on our gardening journey.

Upcoming: Inaugural Texas Native Plant Week Oct 19-23

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I'll try post about this again at the appropriate time, but I wanted to announce that the third week of October is now being recognized as Texas Native Plant Week. Here is the information passed on to me from Keep Austin Wild; more details can be found on the City of Austin site at the link below. There will even be designated Plants of the Day throughout the week, with certified habitats hosting activities.


Texas Native Plant Week October 19th-23rd

In June 2009 Governor PerrOn June 16, 2009 Governor Perry signed a bill into law that will recognize the third week in October as Texas Native Plant Week. The bill is intended to emphasize the role of native plants in conservation efforts and to be used as incentive for the Texas education system to teach school children about the importance of native plants. The Native Plant Society of Texas teamed with State Representative Donna Howard to present the bill to the State Congress. The bill passed unanimously in both houses.

To mark this inaugural Texas Native Plant Week the City of Austin, in partnership with State Representative Donna Howard's Office, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the Native Plant Society of Texas, will host activities and educational opportunities for the public to learn more about our amazing Texas native plants.


Thursday, October 15th, 5:30pm
Event: City Council Proclamation to announce Texas Native Plant Awareness Week. Mayor Lee Leffingwell will present Native Plant Society of Texas with proclamation.

Location: Austin City Hall Council Chambers, 301 W. Second Street Austin, TX 78701


Monday, October 19, 10:00am:
Event: Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) demonstration habitat garden certification ceremony and media kick off for Texas Native Plant Week. Habitat Garden Tour to follow press conference.


The Parks and Recreation Department's main office demonstration habitat garden will be recognized by the National Wildlife Federation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as a Best of Texas Habitat site.  This is the highest level of wildlife habitat certification in Texas and is bestowed upon landscapes that use a majority of native plants, provide wildlife food and water sources year round, and practice at least six resource conservation measures.  PARD's main office habitat is the first City of Austin habitat site to receive this more stringent level of certification.


This demonstration habitat garden serves as a place people can come to learn about what wildlife habitat is and how to create a place for butterflies, songbirds, and hummingbirds at their own homes using beautiful native plants. Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, State Representative Donna Howard, Parks and Recreation Department Director Sara Hensley, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Executive Director Susan Rieff and others will participate in the habitat certification ceremony and native plant week kick off celebration.


Location: City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department Main Office, 200 S. Lamar Blvd, 78704.


For more information visit or call the Parks and Recreation Department's Wildlife Austin Program at 512-327-8181x29.


Please help us spread the word about Texas' first Native Plant Week!


If you live in Austin, consider attending one or both events, and if you live in Texas, support our beautiful state by planting native plants!


One of Those Days


Didn't sleep well last night, had to drop a kid off at school at 7am, car broke in the bus lane at school (fortunately I got moving before the buses arrived), $700 repair fee at the dealer, forgot to get my husband to move the heavy birdbath so I could grout it, my dogs are wreaking havoc on my garden, and aphids are wreaking havoc on my plants. BUT.. other than that it's a fine day.

Look what I discovered this morning! Know what these are? I just learned what they are at a lecture by a local entomologist last night, and lo and behold I found some in my garden the very next day. Life works in funny ways, doesn't it?

greenlacewingeggs09-25-09.jpgThese are the eggs of green lacewings. As larvae, they are voracious aphid eaters. Yay, another ally in the garden! I need them because the aphids are worse than ever. I seem to have least three species now --- I'll call them green, yellow, and beige. The green I'm sure are corn leaf aphids. I have got to get out and tackle them TODAY. My veggies, my milkweed, and now my firebush plant are all having an aphid problem. The little pests took advantage of my time away from the garden during the rainy week and bred like rabbits. I'm starting to think that it's the other way around, and rabbits breed like aphids. Today I'm seeing wings on some. Gah, more colonization!


yellowaphids09-25-09.jpgSo I've got new lacewings arriving soon, and of course I've got ladybugs. More spiders are arriving, as are earthworms. The bees are getting plentiful, and I don't even have to do the veggie porn thing to pollinate my plants anymore. I truly love the way nature just naturally (ha) balances its ecosystems. Got organic wastes? Happy earthworms move in. Got flowers? Let's pollinate. Overpopulation of something? Here come the predators. And here come the predators to eat the other predators. Oh look, birdie treats. And then snakes. And hawks. Whee, life is grand.

I call these my bees because I'm so fond of them, but of course they are wild. They get a little drunk-like in their flying when they are heavily loaded with pollen -- it's fun to watch. The pumpkin flowers were all abuzz this morning with bees about, and as I took pictures, I realized that there was some hostility going on. It seems at least one other colony has found our garden, and apparently different bee colonies don't play nicely with others.


Know what else I learned from the entomologist? Feral honeybees in Texas and other states of the Southwest have all been Africanized in some way. Only beekeepers are able to keep sound European colonies because of their control of the queens.


FYI, in case I've scared anyone, bees in your garden are not a threat -- don't rush out and kill them, please! They are not in stinging mode when they are out pollinating -- that's quite counter-productive to their hive's needs. Africanized honeybees, or any bees really, are a danger only when you threaten their hive (allergies aside), and apparently they'll give a warning by buzzing around your head or actually bonking you on the head, believe it or not. If you find yourself near a wild hive, RUN -- don't walk away. Like fire ants, the Africanized honeybees give word to others in their colony by pheromones, and you need to put immediate distance (at least 200 yards) between you and the hive. Other than their defensiveness in protecting their hive, Africanized bees are not really any different from other bees. And actually there have been positive changes in their aggressiveness, too, depending on factors of colony age and breeding with European bees. It's all good. No worries. As with anything, just be aware, not necessarily beware. Ooh, I like that.


By the way, have you hugged a beekeeper today? Not only do they raise pollinators and help with honey production, they are helping tremendously by keeping domestic European bee colonies intact, as well as helping breed gentler stocks of Africanized bees by culling out aggressive queens. Hug!

Thanks to my bees, I have several pumpkins growing. One is approaching the size of a soccer ball now (it's been a week since I discovered female buds in bloom). Another is growing in the dead tree. And more are scattered here and there -- finding them is like going on an Easter Egg hunt. There's one! There's another one! Again, how I love nature.


pumpkinb09-25-09.jpgWith the rain this week, the yard is a big mudfest for the dogs, and they took advantage of it -- digging where they shouldn't, trampling through the butterfly garden, and taking turns leaping over the pumpkin vines. I'm out there yelling, "This is not your playground!" And then I realized my neighbor must think I'm nuts, because of course it IS their playground. If I can manage it, I'll try to get a picture of the husky leaping in full gallop over the massive pumpkin plants (in between my yelling at him, of course). It really is a sight to behold. 

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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