Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Adapting to August

Faced with folks complaining about June or even July's heat, native Texans can be a bit dismissive. "You think it's hot now - wait until August!" we hoot with equal measure of scorn and delight.

Frankly, the last weeks of August are discouraging for even the most enthusiastic local boosters.  A typical August in Texas does not provide much of what most would consider tolerable, much less pleasant. Challenging, sure, but enjoyable? That's a tough row to hoe.
Grocery store rose, replanted in a garden bed.  Bless their hearts, they don't know any better.
The weather parses out into an all too familiar pattern.  It is hot, it has been hot, it will stay hot.  It is dry, it has been dry, it will stay dry.
The Hub's plethora of potted Plumeria.  August is their time to shine.
As we wait out August, people and plants alike can get a little bedraggled. While locals hunker down, banking energy for September and beyond when it eventually cools and we get some much needed rain, it falls to resilient yet oft disparaged non-natives, our relative newcomers, to provide some late summer flair.
Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon or Althea, in common use here but actually the national plant of Korea.
Speaking of bedraggled, my attitude matched my landscape.  End of summer heat or no, my chore list had narrowed down to one last task:remedial weeding. Due to previous neglect, weed seed banks in the soil of our beds and paths were well financed. Completely clearing the paths this year as a starting point had taken sequential weeks of work. Keeping the paths clear was going to take many subsequent sessions.  Including the last few days of August.
As the weed's numbers reduced, I worked to make the best of my enforced August experience.  My focus shifted from the square foot in front of my sweaty face to the general ambience of being out in our garden spaces.  I savored the coolness of the morning hours relative to the afternoon's heat to come.  I took time to appreciate the slightly gentler nature of the angled light before the sun rose to brutal height.  As I looked and listened, a certain repetitive sound began to filter into my active attention.

It sounded a bit like a finch.  It was similarly high pitched but less a song and more a call.  I don't know how to explain this other than it sounded bigger. The calls were coming from close by, behind me, and continued until a raucous scold of jays arrived. The calls were first drowned out, and then ceased altogether.

Over the next span of days as I scouted for reappearing weeds I heard the calls again and again. When I finally caught a glimpse of the source it was obvious why they sounded bigger than a finch.  My calling bird was a hawk!
A real beauty, majestic in flight, impressive at rest, and yet conveying a certain immaturity in demeanor.
When unmolested by jays it routinely perched atop a nearby power pole spending the better part of an hour each morning, looking first one direction, calling, then rotating a quarter turn, looking out and calling again.
I had trouble identifying what type hawk this was, and turned for help to local naturalist/bird blogger/photographer extraordinaire Mikael Behrens of Birding on Broadmeade.  He reassured me that hawks can be particularly tricky to differentiate but what he thought I was seeing and hearing was a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus).
Though the officially recorded range maps for broad-winged hawks don't currently include our area, Behrens confirmed these hawks are showing up in Austin more and more as summer residents.  Folks, please greet another well adapted non-native into the fold.

I realized, as temperature patterns shift, our previously fixed ideas of who and what are considered "native" to Texas will require shifting as well. Turns out Lyle Lovett was prescient when he famously sang, "That's right, you're not from Texas - Texas wants you anyway!".

Who knew weeding could lead to so much delight and unexpected beauty? August may be the month Texans love to hate, but given the chance, this August revealed it had a few surprises yet in store.

Nerd Out: Behrens graciously pointed me towards two remarkable resources for those of us interested in understanding and identifying local (for now) wildlife.  iNaturalist ,which hosts information and spectacular photographs of sightings of all sorts of fauna, and a site specifically for reporting bird sightings,  eBird.


Tina said...

Oh, Deb. Such beautiful photos and especially of that gorgeous, young adult male! It's good you mention that as our "temperatures shift" what we think of as "natives" will shift according ingly--for both good and not-so-good. That hawk was a treat for you! Thanks for sharing him.

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Thank you! I'm gratified to be able to share these visits with such an appreciative audience. They are indeed a treat for me. I've felt honored to be this young hawk's audience each and every time.

Travis Heights Garden Mama said...

Gorgeous hawk! So glad your sweaty work brought a great reward..

TexasDeb said...

THGMama: I am totally smitten with hawks. I've loved watching them wheel around the skies above Austin since I was a little girl. Having one perch nearby seems like some sort of favorable portent.

As to cleared paths? I'm about to go out and weed some more today. Weeding work is one of those gifts that just keep on giving...

debra said...

Oh! He is beautiful. I hope he decides to be your neighbour for a very long time. Is the plumeria scented? I think I might welcome the weeding if I could hang out with a hawk and smell tropical flowers. Austin is one tricky place for thinking about temperature changes and what might move in and what might no longer fit. All it takes is one normal winter to take out the borderline hardy but the summers are consistently hotter and drier. Too hot for some zone 8s but not warm enough for zone 9.

TexasDeb said...

Debra: The hawks are migratory but I sure hope he likes our area well enough to come back. I'd love to hear him singing every summer!

The plumeria are wonderfully scented, yes. That said? They provide no nectar for pollinators so I feel obligated to make sure everything else in our spaces makes up for that little trick they play. And boy - you hit the nail on the head. Austin feels like a huge test lab for the effects of temperature change. Hopefully no pop quizzes this winter!

Anonymous said...

That's a cool hawk...I miss seeing the ones I used to see at my old house, so often. August - glad we don't generally have your August! We're again heating up to the mid-90's, but drier...fall is closing in, though.

I'd share some, but I don't think it moves your way for a while.

TexasDeb said...

DHB: Hawks are amazing. And I don't think you'll have to share your slightly cooler weather. It is beginning to look like September's arrival will take care of that. (relatively speaking). Yay!

Pam/Digging said...

What an observant and philosophical post, Deb, and with fantastic hawk pictures too! I so enjoy your musings about gardening -- and just being outside -- in Texas.

TexasDeb said...

Pam: As shucks, lady, now you've made me blush a little. I am general more successful at musing than gardening, so I appreciate your comment a great deal.

Rock rose said...

When I travel I rely on posts such as yours to keep me in touch with life back home. Wonderful post and photography.

TexasDeb said...

RockRose: Travel well and come home safely Ms. Jenny! I look forward to reading about your adventures on the road. We are getting a bit of rain and it is cooling off ever so slightly. Your garden spaces are going to look great when you get back.