Monday, July 21, 2014

A mystery out back and other signs of summer

I was sitting at my computer this morning, writing a post for this blog, appreciating the faster loading speeds of a new internet provider.  As I sipped coffee I acknowledged the improved turnaround times and enhanced software and hardware for our television and phones were indeed fair trade for the hassles of ditching a long-standing email address.

The Hub came in from his morning rounds outside and asked if I would do him a favor?

"As long as I can do it in my robe..." I answered.  "No problem" he replied, "could you just go out and see if you can figure out what damaged the hibiscus plants last night? Especially the one on the far right.".
I walked over, looked out the window and was shocked to see denuded branches revealing significant defoliation. I rushed out to take a closer look.
The damage occurred from just above the level of the planters up to a certain height where it abruptly stopped. I carefully examined the dirt in the planters, checked the undersides of the remaining leaves, looked all around in the ground cover surrounding the planters.  I found nothing.  No frass, no cocoons, no rolling, no webs, no signs of anything in either size or numbers that could cause so much damage in such a short amount of time.

In fact, if this hadn't happened in our fenced in back yard, I'd swear this sort of devastation could only be caused by browsing deer.  So what in the world could have done this to The Hub's prized hibiscus plants?

The Hub came out to hear my assessment.  I told him I was stumped.  That unless whatever it was had eaten and moved on, we should go out with flashlights tonight and see if we can catch the culprits in action.

"No need" he told me.  Take a look at the dirt in your garden beds and see if that helps you identify what attacked the plants.".  I did as he directed and had to scratch my head.
Deer tracks, leading right over to the hibiscus.  I was shocked. "But how did they get in?".

"We forgot to close the gate last night after the cable installation technician finished up", he said.  And apparently that was all it took. One night, one slip up, one gate left open and a deer considered that all the invitation it needed to casually stroll into our previously protected back yard to help itself to a generous treat of hibiscus leaves.

Mystery solved. (Pilot error.) Deer bugs!  Back to the post in progress.

I wrote recently about the appearance (visually and aurally) of annual cicadas, sure signs that summertime has hit its stride in Central Texas.  Other signifiers of the season?  The mockingbird favorites, berries ripening on the poke salat plants (Phytolacca americana)
and not quite so far along, berries on the beautyberry bushes (Callicarpa americana).
In another ritual of summer we watch for the reappearance of two hummingbirds that thrill us with their aerobatics, consistently vying for dominance of the feeders out back.  

Interesting fact about hummingbird feeders.  Some of the first were designed by and for photographers who desired feeders without a perch to better capture the more visually interesting "hovering" shots of birds sipping nectar. I'm not after action shots so the feeders I favor feature a perch for the hard working little birds to sit and take a load off if they so desire.
Regardless of my intentions, when the two hummingbirds that routinely fight over our feeders are in combat mode, they sip on the fly.  It is only occasionally one of them will have enough solo time to relax and sit while feeding.   I like that.

Even more rarely, one of them will set up a lookout perch on the nearby hanging bells.  That makes me ridiculously happy, because, awwww.

When I see one of these tiny birds perched, I forget for a moment how aggressively fierce they are when establishing or defending what they feel is "their" territory.  At rest, they remind me of sleeping toddlers.  They look deceptively innocent and even sweet.
Happy summer, all!