Saturday, May 24, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
My neighbor doesn't understand why I don't keep this remnant of 'weeds' mowed. Long ago he seeded his side with a monoculture of invasive exotic Bermuda grass and uses a lot of fossil fuel to keep it manicured for no apparent purpose other than he likes it that way. Many people don't realize that the American prairie is more endangered than the rain forests of the Amazon. Most of them have sadly been turned into subdivisions.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I've never seen a squirrel at my window before. They are usually content scampering around in the front yard trying to remember where in the lawn or among the potted plants they hid last year's crop of native pecans. I'm sure every one of our towering pecan trees owes its start to the forgetfulness of his ancestors.
Monday, May 12, 2008
I suspect this is due to having the headwaters of many of the state's rivers originating within a few miles of our farm, the incredible diversity of terrain, and one of the longest county rosters of endemic plants (and there certainly are a lot of counties in Texas). Diversity begets diversity.
I know I post a lot about birds, but I'm not a birder, OK? By training, I am a botanist. There are many advantages. Studying plants does not require getting up at the crack of dawn, owning an optical bigger than a hand lens, or keeping a competitive "life list". Plants do not move around--you can usually count on them being in the same place tomorrow or next year.
As the years pass, I have to describe myself as a botanist (and a gardener) very interested in birds and butterflies. It's impossible to look past a beautiful butterfly or interesting bird to study a flower: they are all interrelated.
This week, there were two exciting bird observations at the homestead. First, I had just read in Sibley's field guide to birds that male hummingbirds do acrobatic airshow patterns to attract their mates, and the very next day I witnessed my first one. From the short grass prairie overlook to the creek, this little, determined fellow did several swoops back and forth, starting above the majestic live oaks and diving toward the limestone ledge and soaring to the other side above the trees.
Since then, I've noticed several of these performances each day. Some hummers make a "J" pattern. Each display is accompanied by a particular whirring sound. I realized that this has been going on around me all along, and I just had not been observant to what was causing the sound before now. I find that it is easier to bird by ear, even though I am a visual person. It helps me know what I'm looking for in the tree or bush.
The second observation was a male Hooded Oriole at the hummingbird feeder. I heard a ka-thunk and looked up from my computer work, and there he was trying to disassemble the feeder to get to the sugar water. I decided to help by unscrewing the top plate to reveal an open reservoir of nectar. Soon he and his girlfriend were taking turns drinking from the sweet fount and entertaining me with their antics. (Too bad our windows have screens as they blur the photography, although we appreciated their ability to keep out mosquitoes). These photos were taken a couple of feet away.
Before they land, they sing a couple of bittersweet notes, followed by some squawky chatter that seems to tell the hummingbirds to clear the deck, they're coming in for a landing. Ka-thunk! I've learned his song, and can now find him wherever he is on the property. This morning he woke us up tapping on the feeder and scolding because the feeder was dry.
I don't want to admit I'm a birder. No, I'm just a botanist willing to get up early on a weekend morning to make sugar water.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
The momma bird built and used it last year, then took off for the summer. A large wolf spider moved in. By fall, the spider was gone and the wren was back. She spent the winter sleeping in it, head first. It is right under our porch light, so we could see her breathing in slumber.
As the nights began to warm in early spring, she took to sleeping in the pecan tree. We were able to use her to forecast the occasional nightly freeze--on those nights she was back in the nest as soon as the setting sun hit the trees. How is it that Nature innately knows what we must build machines to tell us? Living in the country I have begun to relearn what people have forgotten by living in cities.
We knew she was setting eggs when she started sleeping with her head facing out. She gave us an inconvenienced look every time we passed in and out, so we tried not to make eye contact. Complete strangers at the door, however, would be surprised when she escaped within inches of their faces. That's pretty neat that she knows and trusts us.