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There are toads singing at all three ponds these days. Oh, how I love it! Their deep songs are my nighttime lullaby. I believe there's six males at the moment, and when they really go at it, each singing at a different pitch, it's almost orchestral.

toad05-11-12.jpgWe also seem to have a sneaky frog that I saw hanging out in the waterfall this evening. But when I went to get the camera, he disappeared. But my return to the pond meant that at least I captured a picture of one of our singing sextet.

It's funny -- the toads were so competitive in their singing that they pretty much ignored the photographer and the flashlight-holder. We took a few pictures and then let them get back to their romantic calling.

toad05-03-12.jpgSpeaking of toads, look at this cute female we found while our tree guys were here last week. All snug as a bug in a rug! I put her near the front pond for safety, away from the commotion.

Creature Features


This drought has been crazy. Aside from birds, I'm just not seeing the usual wildlife species that hang around the garden -- most notably butterflies are absent. I think it's just too ridiculously hot. That being said, I'm seeing all sorts of other cool creatures around, and happily so.


We came home one day to a stick insect not-so-camouflaged on our garage door. I moved it over to a tree where it seemed much more at home. Pictures got harder, though.


Check out its scorpion-like display:


Clearly I liked it more than it liked me.

Our front pond has been busy with aquatic life. Apparently, it's become THE place to lay eggs.

croakingtoad07-1-11.jpgThe male toads are singing each night, doing their best to entice a female for a dip in the pond.

toadpair07-01-11.jpg Sometimes one even gets lucky!

toadeggs07-01-11.jpg Toad eggs are laid in long gel-like tubes. The eggs are laid in mass quantity.

toadembryos07-01-11.jpg Within just a day or two, the eggs become blobs, also known as embryos.

Here's a closer view:


Soon the blobs/embryos become the tadpoles we know and love.

tadpoles07-01-11.jpgDespite the great numbers of eggs laid, very few make it to adulthood to live the life of a toad. They become food for other creatures, including the one below.

dragonflynymphb07-1-11.jpgEwww, you say? I say not! That, my friends, is a dragonfly nymph, and who doesn't love dragonflies? Other than the bugs they devour, I mean.

dragonflynympha07-1-11.jpgWe find these nymphs -- damselfly nymphs, too -- in our ponds all the time. It turns out that dragonfly nymphs can play dead. They stay very still if briefly removed from the water, but --whoosh!-- they'll zip back to the water depths the moment they feel that water surround them again.


Here's the exoskeleton left behind after an adult dragonfly emerged and flew away. Those weird-looking white strings are actually tracheal tubes that once transported oxygen. I'm so curious what kind of dragonfly completed its life cycle in our little pond. I'll never know, I suppose, but I have seen a Neon Skimmer flying around the pond. Who knows... maybe!

Back in the back, our hackberry has these nifty little leaf galls. It turns out that these are caused by Celticesis midges.


The adult midges, which are little flies, lay eggs on the underside of a hackberry leaf, and the plant tissue forms galls around them. The larvae have a miniature habitat inside the gall, where they eat and develop.

In other news, we had an sssstupendous set of ssssnake sightings last weekend. On a hike at Walnut Creek park, we decided to take paths less traveled for a change. Within moments we discovered this beauty:


It's an Eastern Hognosed Snake, flattening its head and hissing something fierce. While I didn't disturb it more than to take a picture with my camera phone, if I'd gotten much closer, this snake would have flipped upside-down and played dead. Part of me wishes I could have witnessed that, but I just don't like to stress out wildlife (more than is required for a quick photo op, that is).

In a different area of the park, we found a little snake traveling along dried-up sections of the creek.

racersnake06-11.jpgCamera phones and wild snakes just don't work well together. I really should at least carry a pocket camera on these hikes. But I think this might be a juvenile Yellow-Bellied Racer. It was very small and quickly found a hole to curl up into.

Just seeing these two snakes had already made our day, but when we returned home, we found a little snake in our hallway!

tantillasnake07-1-11.jpgWe rescued it and took it outside. I tried to get a picture, but that little snake moved to hide in the leaves as fast as its little no-legs could carry it. The best I can tell you is that it is possibly a snake in the Tantilla genus (perhaps Flathead or Plains Blackhead), or perhaps it is a Rough Earth Snake.

Just a few days later, my friend Diane shared a picture of a molted skin left behind by a friend's pet snake her family was snake-sitting. She didn't know the species, but from her description, it sounded like it might be a corn snake.


Have you ever seen a snake skin include the head and eye areas? Holy moly, now THAT'S a creature feature.

And the harvestmen are back, this time congregating in the highest eave on my house, making it nearly impossible for me to (get my husband to) kindly move them back to the greenbelt behind the house. Hopefully visitors to my house won't look up. I'm not taking a picture. Hey, even a wildlife lover can have something to cringe about! They're good garden predators, so I don't *really* mind them. In some ways, harvestmen, a.k.a. daddylonglegs, are even kind of cool. But they do creep me out. It has something to do with discovering thousands of them bobbing inches above my head (and my big mass of hair) when I was crawling through a cave.

Instead of harvestmen, I'll end with a skipper, one of the few butterflies we do get to see from time to time even in this horrible drought.


skippera06-11.jpgNo legs, two legs, four legs, six legs, more -- they put the wild in this wildlife garden!

If you build it, they will come....

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School got out for the summer yesterday, and the boys look forward to a summer of relaxing and doing whatever. But I do want to encourage them to work on their writing skills -- with all this era's wonderful computer and Internet advantages, the good old-fashioned "sit with a pencil and write" seems to have been lost, at least with my kids. So this summer, with journals in hand, we are going to write a little each day. Stories, poems, books, thoughts -- whatever inspiration leads us to. Remarkably, the boys haven't groaned too much about it!

And after school let out yesterday, we welcomed new visitors to our yard. We've seen many a toad in the yard from time to time, but yesterday the male toads found the new pond. Three of them set up at strategic spots on the pond rocks and croaked. And croaked. And croaked. We saw two of them -- the third was clever enough to croak AND stay out of sight. We didn't witness any mass migration of female toads to them, but those males sure tried to entice them. I really like how all three toads croaked at different pitches. I fell asleep with the window open, just listening to them...

For our morning journals, we decided to all write garden poems. I'll admit we were all sort of groggy when we attempted this...


Call of the Summer Wild, zinnia06-04-09.jpg
by Meredith

Sun rising
Birds chirping
Good morning, summer, all

Kids running
Playing hard
Will their mom stay sane

Dogs wrestling
In the yard
Splashing in the dog pond

Flutter by
Flowers growing tall

bull-toad1.jpgGet off of
My zinnias RIGHT NOW

Sun is hot
Ack, more weeds
Compost, cactus happy

In the night
Bull-toads croak
Seeking their true love

And eating mosquitoes. YAY.






Garden poem, by Nolan

Birds, birds flap their wings
Birds can do almost anything

Our pond is great
We found toads that might mate
We cannot wait

Butterflies, butterflies everywhere
But we care






My backyard, by Logan

Birds flitter past,2dogs.jpg
While my dogs run fast.
The garden's filled with plants,
The perfect home for the
   common ant.
When the dogs meet a skunk
    it really
Sprays them well,
And when the dogs do come in
I really hate the smell.
My backyard's a habitat
For animals thin and small
But watch out when it's dark,
For the dogs might startle you
With a sudden bark.


A green thumb? Mine's covered in dirt

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Just like my mother, I thrive on projects. My latest project has turned out to be one that will keep me busy for years to come. It's time to finally turn our scorched dead yard into something pretty and useful, so I am planting plants, some for landscaping and some for pure enjoyment. Sure, I've planted a handful of things from time to time, but the task of transforming the large yard was daunting and the desire to fully commit to it just hadn't stuck. Well, I finally found my green thumb, or at least my perpetually dirty fingernails and feet. Welcome to my young garden.

This all started with the deliberate falling of a dead tree in our front yard. We beat it to the punch -- the old hackberry was destined to fall on the house (specifically our son's bedroom) with the next strong wind. Somehow the process of removing it got me inspired to plant a few things. And suddenly a little project became a full property focus.

I started on the entryway, where three beds of almost complete dirt had sat empty (except one yew and some annoying weeds) for far too long. Now they are filled with small shade plants that will someday be big plants. The beds have room to change -- in fact one change was made today to save a new plant. We've had rain for the past 24 hours, and it turns out the water running off the roof was bombarding my poor little wood violet, trying to drown it in the process. The wood violet is now safely tucked away in a different bed, and I have buckets collecting any additional runoff. On our project list is adding gutters and rain barrel, when money allows. But in the meantime my wood violet may yet live, and for now that is what matters.

Our dogs and newly-adopted cats have been my gardening companions. When I'm in the front yard with the cats, the dogs are jealous and whiny. When I'm in the backyard with the dogs, the cats want to come outside. But they each have their area, and the cats are chaperoned (no hunting allowed).

Tooga the Gardener

Tooga loves to garden with me, and she insists on coming outside whenever she sees me heading out there. Any hole I dig in the front yard, she is right there to test it out and make sure it is just right.

Even skittish Cricket, our kitten, has found her adventuresome side, though she still scurries back to the house or garage at every noise.


Tooga doesn't notice toads if they act like garden rocks. The toads prefer it that way.

Tooga ignores toad

The garden is bringing in all sorts of wildlife already -- toads, butterflies, lizards, skinks, caterpillars, wasps, birds, and squirrels. A few pest bugs have arrived, too, but nothing to bring alarm (well, except for the goldenball leadtree that was filled with fire ants).

I found an itty-bitty monarch caterpillar on the milkweed:

Baby monarch caterpillarAs one of my plant purchases, I chose a baby Dutchman's pipevine, only to discover the next morning that it was half gone thanks to a big pipevine swallowtail caterpillar! That hungry caterpillar was awfully cute though.

Pipevine caterpillar on pipe weedBut I didn't have enough plant to support it, so I took the caterpillar back to Natural Gardener's so it could feast on their pipevine. And wow, was it happy. But my poor pipevine then got dragged by the dogs through the yard before I managed to get it planted -- amazingly it's actually growing, and it seems quite happy now.

Pipevine catA toad made use right away of the toad bath we made .

Toad hallBelow is a view of the butterfly garden before I put in the edging -- the butterfly shape is at our kids' request. I'm not going to overdo the edging in the yard, but I wanted to make sure the butterfly shape stayed. It was a pain to get those wings even! You can see the original and much smaller bed in the butterfly shape. The area along the fence and house, separated by a line of bricks, will be a bed we prepare for spring planting.

Butterfly bed

Next is the garden with the edging and some of the plants put in place. Michael helped dig out the bed, but I did the edging and the planting, giving myself a bit of tendonitis in my right elbow during the process. 

Michael in the gardenTurning our old wheelbarrow into a planter, I planted herbs and colorful annuals. I used some of that basil just this evening! Yum.

Wheelbarrow of herbs and flowersEastern tiger swallowtails came to visit this weekend, and two danced and went off together.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

All in all, it's been fun. I seem to be spending most of my waking hours thinking about plants. The yard is officially certified as a wildlife habitat, and now I'm trying to bring in as many native Texas plants as I can to help get the yard certified as a Texas Wildscape and a Best of Texas habitat. Someday our yard will look very different. Right now it's in its baby stages.

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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