Sunday, December 30, 2007

Birds at Los Ebanos Nature Preserve

This is a common yellow-throat feeding in the reeds next to the resaca.

Here's a long-bill thrasher pushing its way through the leaves for a snack.

This is (my best guess) an orange-crowned warbler.

Here's an ovenbird.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Roseate Spoonbills

Check out the roseate spoonbills on the resaca at Los Ebanos Nature Preserve on Highway 100.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Trip to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin

People are mulling around looking for plants to buy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Saturday.

In the front falling over the wall is Gregg dalea (Dalea greggii), to the right and not blooming is Gregg salvia (Salvia greggii), the rosettes on the ground are big red sage (Saliva penstemonoides), the misty like grass behind the Gregg dalea is gulf coast muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and behind that is Lindheimer muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri).

This is a plant that should be listed on the Endangered Species List called Texabama croton (Croton alabamensis var. texensis). It was not discovered until 1989, similar to a variety in Alabama and Tennessee. The botanist I talked to thinks the Texas variety is a new species, not just a variety. The Texas variety has a silvery underside to its leaves and it can come back from being burned to the ground, something the ones in Alabama and Tennessee can't do.

This weekend I went to the annual fall plant sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. It is a great native plant sale. I got several wildflowers (and a grass) that I hope do well in my area, including Lindheimer senna, Copper Canyon daisy, Wright's yellowshow, Antelope horn milkweed, Gregg dalea, tree morning glory, skeleton plant, Missouri primrose, blue shrub sage and switch grass. I was hoping to pick up a madrone, but those were all bought during the members' only sale on Friday. I had a good time walking around the wildflower center, talking to an old Austin friend, Dean. If you ever visit Austin (or live there), the wildflower center has a great variety of trails and plants to enjoy and learn about. Being good stewards for nature means we all should fill our gardens up as much as possible with native plants. They are just as beautiful as any plants in the world, but because they are from here, they use fewer resources to keep them thriving, and they are important to the survival of all kinds of wildlife. It would help, however, if we didn't destroy so much of it in the first place. Why can't homebuilders not flatten every square inch. Why does Bermuda grass need to replace little bluestem and prairie flowers or areas of native shrubs and trees?

Trip to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin

Here is a stand of purple coneflower. It appears to be Echinacea purpurea rather than E. angustifolia, which would be the variety native to this part of Texas.

This looks like spread-leaf aster (Aster patens).

This is one of my favorite Central Texas flowers, eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii).

I'm not sure which critter is on this Maximilian sunflower (Helianths maximiliani), but my wife mentioned longnose in passing.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Parrots ahoy

You know when a flock of parrots are nearby with the racket they make. This guy, who is in our neighbor's pecan tree, is a member of a flock of red-crowned parrots.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Blooming in the garden

You know I love my rain lillies. Ah, there is nothing quite like Zephyranthes sp. 'Grandjax'. It is perhaps the most floriferous rain lilly I've been around.

This wispy plant, called Baja fairy duster or Calliandra californica, grows from California to Texas. I love it.

This is a native volunteer plant we call cowpen daisy, Verbesina encelioides. It is an annual, but it comes back every year. As you can see, it is a star among butterflies.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Yummy in my tummy

This mango comes from my first crop off of one of my trees. I'm not sure I ever thought a mango would taste better from my own tree than from a grocery store. The reason I thought that is many tropical fruits ripen off the tree, including mangoes. With this mango, called 'Carrie,' I waited to harvest it until it literally just fell into my hands after touching it. No mango I've ever bought in a grocery store matched up to the 'Carrie' mango I tried this weekend. It really is just a flavor explosion. The mango is mostly green and light yellow on the outside when it is ripe. Maybe that's why my mango is better than the ones in the grocery store. The grocery stores are looking for varieties they think people associate with being good, the red-skinned types. Well, let me tell: You are missing a great culinary experience if you don't look for the more odd looking fruits. The grocery stores also probably pick the fruits weeks before they are ready to be picked.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My sweet mangoes

I'm so excited that my two 'Carrie' mangoes on my young tree are close to being ready for harvest. Supposedly, it is one of the better tasting varieties of mangoes. We shall see soon. I also have a larger 'Tommy Atkins' that produced one fruit earlier in the season. Unfortunately, we never got to try it. It smelled great, but it got rotten because my wife and I kept waiting to be together to try it. When I cut it open, it was all rotten, but it still omitted a divine smell. Sigh. This is what living in the tropics is all about.

Bringing down the Arizona ash

It has been a long time since I last made a post. We've been getting lots of rain. Normally, we don't get much during the summer expect when a hurricane makes an appearance in the Gulf of Mexico. It certainly is a strange weather season. Unfortunately, all this rain we are getting is coming in large gulps. More than an inch or two at a time is not really that beneficial. In my front yard, I've been working on getting rid of this nasty Arizona ash tree, which is an unpleasant nonnative tree that developers plop in the ground when they build homes. This one, which was 30 feet tall when I cut it down, was planted much later. These trees grow very fast. My grandfather planted some Arizona ashes at the home he had built in 1955. These monsters were 60 feet tall and falling apart from disease when my 80-plus-year-old grandfather climbed up in at least one of the trees and cut it down branch by branch. That's pretty much how I cut my ash tree. Now, I'm digging up the bulk of its main roots. Eventually, I'm going to get rid of all the grass in this part of the front yard and make it just one large planting bed of mostly native plants. Near the ash tree, I have two 'Mission' olive trees planted. I'm hoping to one day squeeze some of my own olive oil. I read that you can use a cider press to do that. First, the trees have to produce olives.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

More smiles from the rain lilies

Zephyranthes citrina

Zephyranthes grandiflora

Zephyranthes sp. "Grandjax"

Zephyranthes sp. "Prairie Sunset"

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

In Uvalde

On Sunday, my wife and I drove up to Uvalde. My parents and grandparents each own two acres next to each other on the Nueces River northwest of Uvalde. I hadn't visited the property since the mid-1980s when we tubed down the Nueces as a family. The property was quite difficult to find. Access to it was by a measly dirt road that had several side roads, and the end that I needed to get to was blocked by a gate. I eventually found the property on Monday with the help of the people who sold the property to my parents. Whew. It was quite a relief to finally find the spot. It was so beautiful. It is amazing what nature can do when humans don't interfere. I don't think my parents had been there in close to 15 years. The terrain was full of mountain laurel, Texas persimmon, oaks, an occasional pecan, Texas walnut, cenizo, sotol, agarita (one had berries 1/2-inch long!), prickly pear, Ashe juniper, a few oaks, little-leaf sumac, flax-leaf bouchea, coreopsis, prairie larkspur and many others. The riverbanks were in such good condition. There were no invasives in sight. It was mostly carex and desert willow holding up the integrity of the banks. The river was quite swollen and moving fast because of all of the recent rains. I saw so many colorful birds. I'm not a birder. The only one I can tell with certainty that I saw near the property was a vermillion flycatcher. In Laredo on the way up, we saw a hooded oriole and and Western kingbird. I posted many pictures around the property below. Each are titled "In Uvalde."

In Uvalde

Mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea)

In Uvalde

Little-leaf sumac (Rhus microphylla)

In Uvalde

A vermillion flycatcher

In Uvalde

A pretty cluster of oaks on a small mound.

In Uvalde

Pearl milkweed vine (Matelea reticulata)

In Uvalde

Cardinal feather (Acalypha radians)

In Uvalde

This is bearded swallow-wort (Cynanchum barbigerum) with a butterfly and assassin bug.

In Uvalde

On the bottom of the picture, there's green thread (Thelesperma filifolium), in the middle there's flaxleaf bouchea (Bouchea linifolia), prickly pear (Optunia sp.) and Texas sotol (Dasylirion texanum), and at the top, there's desert willow (Chilopsis linearis).

In Uvalde

Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)

In Uvalde

I'm not sure which kind of Mormon tea (Ephedra sp.) this is. It is more vining than I'm used to and is full of berries.

In Uvalde

Prairie larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum ssp. vimineum)

In Uvalde

Scarlet musk flower (Nyctaginia capitata)

In Uvalde

White rock lettuce (Pinaropappus roseus)

In Uvalde

Fragrant mimosa (Mimosa borealis)

In Uvalde

Catclaw acacia (Acacia gregii)

In Uvalde

American basket flower (Centaurea americana)

In Uvalde

Ccenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

And it rains some more

After getting between 6-7 inches of rain on Friday, I thought surely, this is it with the rain for a while. Nope. On Sunday, we got another 2 inches of rain, and I had some more mulch and compost loses for my plants along the street. Since the streets don't have drainage underneath them, the roadway can become a small river with enough rain. This is getting ridiculous. We live in an semi-arid climate with an average of about 27 inches of rain a year. In a three-day period, we got a third of our yearly allotment of rain? Most of that water was simply runoff. The ground can only absorb so much in a short period of time. Sigh. Anyway, on the positive side, I didn't lose any plants -- yet. Our Zephranthes sp. "Labuffarosa," as you can see from the picture above, is going nuts over all this extra moisture.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

When it rains, it pours

When I left for work on Friday, I was ecstatic. We got just less than 1.5 inches of rain after months without much. I left the water in the rain gauge to see if we collected any more during the day. Boy, did it ever! The gauge reads up to 5 inches, and it overflowed while I was gone. At Valley International Airport in Harlingen, they recorded 6.73 inches. I'm sure it was pretty close to that total at the house. My plants fared pretty well considering. The street in front of our home became a small river for a while, ripping off the mulch and some top soil of the plants along the curb. The recently planted roses (pictured above) used to have a nice layer of mulch and compost around them. I had to make an emergency visit to the home improvement store to buy mulch. The pond overflowed, but it is fine. Lizard tail (Saururus cernuus) can be seen blooming in the pond. Overall, I'm glad it rained, but why do we need a fifth of our yearly total in one day? At least we weren't in Central Texas. Many lost their lives there from the flooding.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rain at last!

We finally got our first decent rain in months in the wee hours of this morning. I can't tell you how relieved I am. It's so hard getting used to only sporadic rain in the springtime at best. This is when the plants want the moisture most -- at least the plants not indigenous to this area. I have five recent rose transplants and several others, including a few natives, that I'm trying to get established. The ground has been so hard and dry lately that I feel like when I'm watering those new plants, I'm just barely keeping them going until a refreshing rain comes along. Now, I'm breathing a little easier. I was so excited when I woke up. I rushed to the rain gauge, and it registered almost 1 1/2 inches -- a very good pour indeed! Since the rain lifted my spirits, I got out my camera and took a few shots before I had to head off to work. The top picture is of an Amorpha fruticosa bloom. The middle picture of Salvia darcyi, which is growing beneath an Acacia wrightii, and the last one is a papaya.