Wednesday, June 6, 2007


This year we have a hummingbird nest at eye-level in our creek, so it was easy getting close. The nest is about the size of a golf ball--smaller than what appears on your screen--made of lichen woven with spider webs. It has been fun to watch.

These are Eastern Phoebe nestlings that fledged yesterday. This is the second year we've had them above our front door. Only one set is reared. I'm already having empty nest syndrome.

Here are the baby Barn Swallows living above our kitchen door. Mom takes them for practice flights around the well house. Soon they will be gone and she will begin another family, as she has for the past four years. Last year we had three sets. We also had a house wren nest between our screen and bedroom door, so it's been a a sweet spring.

Saturday, June 2, 2007


Who would've thought the Knifty Knitter would be so Komfy Kozy?

A Car for Avo

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hookah-smoking Caterpillar Discovered

Nature never fails to amaze and entertain. I can almost hear strains of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly in the background (a song said to have actually been 'In the Garden of Eden' but slurred by who knows what substance in the 60's).

Thanks to another inquisitive local mind (Gale) Debbie's unusual caterpillar has been identified as the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia). I've seen and photographed the moth in my front yard before, and it is huge, apparently the largest moth in North America with a wingspan of 5 to 6 inches. According to what I've read they are often referred to as silkworm moths and are in the family Saturniidae.

The creature is eating a Vitex (Vitex agnus castus) tree. That's trippy enough as the plant is used in many pharmaceuticals today for a variety of illnesses. Also called the Chaste Berry tree, in folk medicine the berries help women with a number of female disorders, and the leaves used in a tea reportedly work as an anti-Viagra for men.

A Rose is a Rose

[ Except, of course, when it's the blossom of a Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia engelmanii).]

Another moist spring day, not what we usually expect but are grateful for nonetheless. I cannot get Avo's video to load, but I'll keep trying. Perseverance seems to be the secret to posting any video to the blog.

Since the Blow Dry episode, Avo the rooster has begun courting me with the wing and peck dance as he does Phoebe the blind sheep. I suppose in his mind my little act of kindness has given me passage into his harem.

Today I saw a flower blooming in my creek that I don't recognize. It's always nice to be a botanist and be stumped by something new, especially from your own place. Also, a neighbor introduced me to a yet-to-be-identified psychedelic-looking caterpillar that I photographed yesterday. I'll post those photos as soon as I know what they are.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Avo at the Salon

We've been having numerous thunderstorms, heavy rains, hail, and tornado watches over the past three weeks. During one of these Avo decided to sit on the gate and wait for us to put him up instead of seeking shelter. He was one bedraggled, wet chicken. This is the second time I've brought him in to dry him off. Both times he has acted as if a rooster getting a blow dry was the most commonplace event. Maybe all chickens secretly enjoy going to the salon, but my only experience is with this crazy one. For those of you with something beyond a wood-burning modem, I'll post a video of this for your enjoyment.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Finch Scarf

This is my first bird scarf, approximately 8 inches wide and 54 inches long, already sold. It's actually done with dye--not paint--which means I used a resist to contain the colors, then washed the resist out and used black to paint over the white batik lines. This lends suppleness to the piece that paint would not allow.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Impressing Empress

Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) are in full force in our meadow now. This is the state flower of Texas, and won out over cotton, thankfully. Oklahoma chose Mistletoe. What kind of people would choose a parasitic plant for their state flower?

This striking butterfly showed up the kitchen garden today. It looks like an Empress Antonia (Asterocampa antonia) because of the two eyespots on the forward wing, but I'll have to check with someone for positive identification. I am just learning my butterflies, and bring only an eye for detail from botanical study to the lepidoptera field guide.

In 2000, Robert Michael Pyle and I were speakers in the same hall at a nature festival, and he kindly signed a copy of his Field Guide to North American Butterflies to me, saying: may butterflies adorn your days & flowers. They surely have!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dew-Due Day

Finishing our taxes almost killed me, and the dog, too. I accidentally knocked a shoebox full of cancelled checks off my desk onto the Senior Wiener. He trembled for half an hour, but I knew he was OK when he sought comfort at the kitty litter box. At 17 he still gets into trouble.

So how appropriate that the big Due day was also a big Dew day. I took breaks from disheveling my office in search of our W-2's (which were found, ironically, in the Income Tax folder I'd already set up in the file cabinet) to photograph the moist landscape.

The first one is the Ratany (Krameria lanceolata), a sort of sprawling plant that makes seeds resembling those Medieval weapons that are balls with spikes all over them. You don't want to walk barefoot anywhere near this plant after it has finished flowering.

The things that look like petals are really colorful sepals, and those five smaller protrusions inside them are the true petals. Krameria is the only genus in the Krameriaceae family. Sort of a loner. Of course if you went around brandishing a bunch of maces you might be all by your lonesome too.

The Prairie Verbena, also called Dakota Vervain, (Verbena bipinnatifida), is a popular butterfly nectar plant. The Pink Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa) is one of several primroses growing here. These are our treasures. Thankfully, not taxable.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Scarlet Leather

Today was just too beautiful for wrestling with taxes. Why doesn't the IRS change the due date to the middle of winter when there are no flowers or butterflies or gardens to distract? Sure, skiers would probably complain, but the serious ones can afford a CPA.

Down in the creek the native Scarlet Leather Flower (Clematis texensis) is blooming. According to the most popular field guides and recognized botanists this is a rare plant, indigenous to only a few counties in the Texas hill country--ours not even listed but adjacent to one that is.

The flower texture is more like rubber, and this is as open as it gets. Lovely, isn't it?

Another neat plant that is in flower is the Balsam Gourd, or Snake Apple (Ibervillea lindheimeri), a native vine. It will develop a leathery, scarlet fruit that fits perfectly in the palm of my hand. But the flower being small and greenish yellow is often overlooked. It also has an interesting leaf.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tornado Watch

In the hill country, a sunny day can be taken over by other weather in a matter of moments. That's exactly what happened yesterday. I knew by the strange light when I went out to feed the animals it was tornado weather. Rick was already packing up his tools where he was building raised beds in our vegetable garden.

We snapped a few photos before our second chance this year to practice the drill of getting everybody and everything to safety: animals, plants, cars, ourselves. (Fortunately our chickens were smart enough to put themselves in the coop). After checking the weather on the Internet the half inch hail predicted began falling. Only after we were safely inside did I read the numerous emergency emails about tornados around us. Rick says it's exciting to be so close to the weather in our homesteading life, something you don't experience living in a big city.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Hummingbird International Airport

Be sure to have your sound turned up for full effect.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Many Small Wonders

Today is just the kind of day that makes me wait until after the [seemingly late] last possible freeze date before I set out our vegetable seedlings, which are still cozy inside the house or in the cold frames we just built. Yes, the beautiful flower & butterfly days of earlier this week have given way to pelting sleet and imminent freeze.

Still, there can be odd snippets of natural wonder on such grey days. Today, there were many small wonders!

Our region is a hummingbird flyway because of all the rivers and riparian nectar plants it has to offer. I have assisted at several local hummingbird banding events. Banded hummingbirds that get caught again are often found at the exact feeder on the same day and time. Isn't that amazing? To think, maybe I've held some of these birds before in my hand. It's difficult to see a banded leg without catching the hummer, as the band rings are so small come stacked on safety pins. The professional bander must use a lupe to find the almost microscopic identification number on them.

It seems with the sudden change of weather these flying jewels are needing even more feeding, probably to just to keep warm. When I went out to refill the feeder today they did not fly away as usual, but instead continued to wizzzz and wrrrrr around me with great fervor. Look for the video I'll post next.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Avo courts his fuzzy hen

What more could a blind rescue sheep ask for than the attention of the resident rooster?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Strange Romance

Besides having plenty of beauty here on the homestead, we have a good dose of daily comedy as well. My predilection for finding animals in the middle of the highway combined with a love for chickens has created a peculiar association between Avo the rooster and Phoebe the blind Barbados Blackbelly rescue sheep.

The courtship dance has become a morning ritual ever since the day my husband wrestled the poor thing into the back of my SUV. (Lots of folks try to give me animals, but I always tell them if one is meant for me the Infinite Spirit puts it in the middle of the highway).

I'd passed her by for three days, looking the other way. First, I had no idea what it was, which certainly gives one a disadvantage to proper care. Secondly, why would an animal stand still for so long on a road so busy that it extends from Canada to Mexico? I began to worry about the creature going without water for so long and decided if it was still there on the fourth day I would take it home.

It was.

I stopped and discovered whatever it was, it was blind, appearing to be the devil incarnate with a black coat and only the whites of its eyes showing. In retrospect, I don't recommend wrestling wild, horned beasts resembling Beelzebub into your best vehicle. But, those of you who rescue know you've just got to do what has to be done.

Little did we know we were rescuing two beings that day. After a month, I'd cleared up Phoebe's pink eye, which was so horrible it permanently scarred her eyes. At least she didn't look so frightening. She began to calm down, and find her way around the pen. Her emaciated body began filling out. We thought it was the kibble.

Then, one day she swished her tail and we noticed milk sacs! My husband and I exchanged glances. The rooster grinned (or at least looked very proud of himself). By now it was December, and my friend Sara who raises wool sheep in Kentucky told me sheep lamb in January. (That would be normal sheep). I ordered a book on managing my ewe and lamb from Amazon, but Finley came before the book.

I will save that story for another post, as it's a good one. The butterflies are calling.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


The moonlight kept me awake all night and today I did not feel like working (although it's hard to define work when one is self-employed and simultaneously spiraling in a handful of directions). Instead, I let the spirit lead me around the land to show me things, intensely beautiful things.

There is an abundance of Menodora heterophylla blooming. Commonly known as Rebud (but not to be confused with the local tree of the same name), it is a small yellow flower that clings to the ground and gets its name from the color of its closed buds, which are best seen in the early morning. It's actually in the Olive family.

Wind Flowers, which announce our spring, have begun to set seed. Everything about Anemone hetrophylla says air: soft petals the colors of the sky, slender stems with feathery involucral bracts, fuzzy seeds--even its name.

The real gems of the day were the butterflies which seemingly posed for my camera. First, in the creek near our Sky Chairs, a blue Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) was sunning itself on a Texas Persimmon (Diospyros texana). It was so perfect it had to be newly out of the chrysalis, not yet tattered by birds. Simply breathtaking.

I also found its caterpillars in the shortgrass prairie munching away on its host, Aristolochia, Pipevine. The flower is interesting--shaped as a long, bending pipe--but hard to find as it blends in with the grasses. Usually it is easier to get down on one's belly and look for the distinctive rust-black caterpillars with red spines to locate the plants, which are quickly consumed.

Next, a Tiger Swallowtail (Pterourus glaucus) appeared, nectaring on a Prairie Verbena (Verbena bipinnatifida), followed by what I thought at first was a Red Admiral, but on closer inspection appeared to be a Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia), which I'd never seen before.

I wonder what winged beauties will visit tomorrow?
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