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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Down but not drought

Even the most casual news follower is likely aware of the serious storms that have been moving through Central Texas the past few days.  There has been significant damage caused, much loss of life as well as property.  I feel quite fortunate that so far, family and friends living in the path of the storm systems have reported in they are soggy, but safe.  That is and has not been anything to take for granted recently.

Yesterday I went out prior to the arrival of the heaviest rains to see what was blooming despite the rain, and who was making their rounds besides the happy happy snails.

Jewels of Opar, Althea, Polk Salad plant and Cannas are not waiting for the sun to shine.

I caught a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar just as it had attached to a branch and was preparing to form a chrysalis.
Three minutes later it seemed to be slightly less colorful, and had assumed a "J" shape.
Not quite twenty-four hours later, after weathering some hail and over four inches of wind driven rain, the protective casing seems complete.  Great camouflage job don't you agree? Now it looks like nothing more than a withered leaf.
On the fennel, waterlogged and leaning over to touch the ground, several swallowtail caterpillars continue to work the fronds, albeit with a lot more company than is usual.
I passed on taking a picture, but ease of access has opened up the banquet table to all sorts of less ambitious climbers.  Two kinds of snails and a host of pillbugs of varying sizes were all joining the cats in nibbling on the well washed fennel fronds.
Finally, a shot of some Mammatus clouds that appeared yesterday evening as the sun was setting.  As striking as these clouds are in combination with weirdly colored skies, they are harbingers of significantly severe weather.  No kidding mammatus clouds, we were already copied on that memo.
For the moment our immediate area is in the clear weather wise, though the death, injury and property damage tolls are still climbing as the storm systems continue moving to the north and east.  Population areas towards the low end of all runoff lines are flooding and can expect that to continue for days, if not weeks to come.

Area lakes are now half full, moving our area from what might be considered an agricultural drought more towards a hydrological drought, still affecting future municipal water supplies.  People living around Lake Travis reported a heavy layer of debris accumulating, as the runoff after heavy rains acted like a wildly inconsiderate power washer, moving small docks, jet skis and all manner of loosely anchored material into the water.

I am deeply grateful for the safety of friends and loved ones, relieved to have escaped significant property damage, and on a much smaller scale, happy to note that despite winds, a bit more hail and torrential rains, the smallest inhabitants of our garden seem to be staying calm and carrying on.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bug nuts

It has been raining here, quite a lot, in amounts unusual even for May in Central Texas. The good news is the oak pollen is not only off the trees, but has been washed away well out of breathing range for those of us sensitive to its grainy gifts. The not as good news is, with all this rain, the garden has been too soggy for me to knock all the leftover chores off my list.  There is one job I have not neglected, rain or shine.  Pest patrols simply will not wait for good weather.

It is caterpillar season, and though I gave up trying to properly identify most of what I found creep-crawling around the garden in between rain showers, I feel certain each of these caterpillars knows just what to do, what to eat, and exactly what it is shaping up to become.
Chevron Striped Whatchamacallit
TeeWeeny Tiny Yellow Thingie
Sphinx Moth Cat on Fennel
In one of those contradictions that seems to define my gardening efforts, though I keep parsley and fennel around precisely so they can be eaten by the caterpillars of moths and butterflies I admire, I was not at all satisfied with leaving certain other larvae alone to decimate their targeted plant hosts.

An infestation of Colorado Potato Beetle larvae was alarmingly sudden, but fortunately close enough to the house to trigger my awareness and ongoing response.  Once I realized the numbers I was dealing with, the soapy bath of death came into play, and I am optimistic I put a significant dent in this large but very localized population.  I don't grow potatoes, but have been known to toss a sprouted tuber into the ground covers out back for the occasional flowers they provide.  I'm not sure if one of those vines pulled these bad players into our beds, but lesson learned.  I won't be so careless with future spud rejects - they will all go straight into the compost bin.
Colorado Potato Beetle Larvae - two different hatches
In larval form, I found their lumbering shapes and varying sizes, each representing a differently timed batch of hatched eggs, to be oddly appealing. The damage they cause is not appealing at all however, so I made repeat visits back to the area where they first appeared until I couldn't find a single one of any size.  I'm pretty sure I'll reflexively check for them everywhere until the shock of their showing up by the dozens fades.
Another unwelcome (though admittedly attractive) visitor is this Aztec Spur-throated Grasshopper, first instar stage.  When they are this tiny I try to catch and squish, but they are lightning fast and this little guy escaped to eat another day.  Seeing him I know there will be more, many more, so grasshopper patrols have been duly reinstated for the season.

A new (to me) visitor recently was this master of mimicry.  A Large Maple Spanworm Moth took refuge on the tiles close to our front door.  I was out sweeping leaves away from the house and it would be hard to say who was more startled.  Me, when the leaf I was sweeping literally flew across the porch, or this nocturnal moth, who figured it had secured a good spot to wait out the return of night.
Pretty good camouflage.  Once I saw it fly I could easily tell it apart from the oak leaves, but up until then it completely escaped my notice.

Of course if I'm going to feature creatures that blend in, there's no escaping including these photo bombers.
Nobody here but us heartleaf skullcap leaves, boss.

Begging your indulgence, I must include what is for me an obligatory Honeybee on Opuntia blossom shot.  Rain or shine, the flowers on the spineless opuntia are putting on quite the show this year.  Given any reasonable break in the cloud cover, the bees are quick to take advantage.
And who could blame them?  I find even the tightly wrapped buds attractive.

Finally, the Poppa and Momma mockingbird who set up shop across the street have successfully fledged at least one baby this year.  They have relaxed just a little, finally allowing most regular street traffic to pass unmolested.

There is one particular male squirrel that seemed to take pleasure in being chased, going out repeatedly and keeping a fairly precise distance ahead of his pursuers.  Days of rain seem to have interrupted the antics, but I have a feeling this bird and that squirrel have formed a chase challenge bond that will be playing out all summer long.
The mockingbird and I, we are keeping a close eye out for trouble makers of all sorts.  Vigilance, that's the key.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Parents in the Wild - Happy Mother's Day!

For the past few years, one particular male mockingbird has been serenading the neighborhood's sleepless in his quest for a female.  Recently, noting the absence of three AM operatics, I began to wonder if Mr. LonelyWings had found his mate at long last?

Apparently so.  The proud new Mockingbird Mom and Pop have been frenzied in their attempts to forestall tree traffic coming anywhere near their nest. Their efforts have been all encompassing as they work to keep the nearby canopy emptied of lingering squirrels, paying special attention to assertive blue jays.

It must be exhausting, dive bombing so many, so often, fuss-fuss-fussing as they go.  All that night-long singing must have really gotten Poppa Mock in good shape.  I tried grabbing photos but the velocity and ferocity of his defense left me with nothing more than a series of varied blurs.  I'll keep trying, but no photo [here] means you'll simply have to take my word.  It is quite a show.

Mr./Ms. Mockingbird aren't the only new parents around.  Poppa and Momma Wren have been out singing songs about the best wren babies ever! They've been raising young in a craft store birdhouse I hung on an upper deck to reflect on windows and deflect white winged doves who were otherwise intent on crashing through.  I never expected it to actually house nesting birds, but expectations are apparently made to be defied, at least when it comes to wild parents.
My babies are so sweet! So sweet! So sweet!
Soon to be new Momma white-tailed deer have been slowly, steadily, munching their way across the front garden beds for several mornings now.

These does are experienced grazers. They rarely bother the plants that are resistant classics due to aromatics or textural defenses.  The more random chomp-pull-and-spit action will come into play soon enough once youngsters are weaning and learning what is nice to eat for themselves.  For now, Momma knows best, and the usual suspects are fair game.
Heavy with young, these pregnant does aren't going anywhere fast.  It won't be long now...
In the "almost but not quite" category, a female black chinned hummingbird began constructing a nest on an oak tree branch visible from my kitchen window.

At first I was absolutely beside myself with joy at the thought of watching her build a nest and raise young right before my eyes.
Then I began to second guess her choice.  Wasn't this nest way too near our house? Wouldn't all our comings and goings, along withThe Hub's regular blowing off the nearby sidewalk send her packing?  The hummingbird apparently came to the same conclusions at about the same time. By the third day it became clear she was still in the area, but she had abandoned her little nest-with-a-view/er.
I was being soooo quiet - do you think she noticed me?  Yeah, I think she did too...
Only partially completed, the little nest remnant remains securely in place, a tribute to a master Momma builder and to two of the most exciting days I've ever had bird watching.

To change things up from recent posts, I thought I'd show some winged visitors that are anything but butterflies. We've seen a lot of pollinator action, and though butterflies often grab most of my attention, they are by no means the only attractive action in flower town.

Flies, moths and bees are all equally beautiful in their own way, if you take time to really look closely.
Condylostylus/Asian long legged fly posing on Pavonia leaf.
Syrphid fly, bee mimic, on Daisy.
Green on green, a Lucilia, or green blow fly, reflecting the morning sunshine.
Speaking of green on green, there are Agapostemon - the sweat bees, with their metallic coloring.  They come in all sizes, and always look stunning while nectaring, like so many little brooches attached to the blossoms.
What goes with purple?  A tiny agapostemon decked out in deep emerald green.  
Looking equally well accessorized, a Pink Evening Primrose with a slightly larger agapostemon.
...and not to be outdone, Coreopsis joins the fashion parade.
Tree cricket  Katydid nymphs are brightening their tiny corner of the world, decked out in spots and stripes both.
Unspecified bush Katydid nymph, looking pretty dapper on Winecup.
Carpenter bees bring their own blue-eyed bling to bonnets.

Another color match, this time Southern Pink Moth on Evening Primrose.

Proving you don't have to be colorful to be beautiful, delicate all-white Stemorrhages costata moth on blanket flower buds.
And that about wraps it up for this May's Wildlife Wednesday.  If you garden, when you garden, you are a mother (or father) to masses.  I hope you'll take a moment this coming Sunday when the US celebrates Mother's Day, and pat yourself on the back for helping nurture life in the wild.  We are all in this together.  For humans it may take a village, but for wildlife, it sure helps to find a friendly garden.
Take a bow and say so long!
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Thanks as always to blogger extraordinaire, Tina, of My Gardener Says, for hosting this most fascinating monthly meme.  Be sure to check out all the other posts linked to in the comments section of her Wildlife Wednesday post for this month.  You'll want to see who and what's shaking in wild spots from all around.