May 27, 2016

Butterflies and Host Plants

A newly planted butterfly garden at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was aflutter with butterflies last Saturday.

Common Buckeye on Indian Blanket
A Common Buckeye posed nicely for me on an Indian Blanket flower, which happens to be one of its host plants. 

Host plants are important in attracting butterflies to your garden. Each variety of butterfly has specific types of plants that it will lay its eggs on. That plant then become food for the caterpillars when the eggs hatch.

Palamedes Swallowtail on Cowpen Daisy
The Cowpen Daisy, also known as Golden Crownbeard, was the most popular flower in this garden. It was attracting dozens of Palamedes Swallowtails as well as other butterflies and pollinators. Based on what I saw, this is a flower that I should add to my own garden.

Palamedes Swallowtail
I'd love to attract the Palamedes Swallowtail to our garden, though I've never seen any in our area. Perhaps we are out of its range, however it wouldn't hurt to try by planting one of its hosts, Sweet Bay, which is also a host plant of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail which we see frequently.

Duskywing on Cowpen Daisy
Also attracted to Cowpen Daisy for its nectar was a small butterfly which I think is called Horace's Duskywing. Oaks are its host plants. 

This butterfly was a little bit faded and missing the tip of one of its forewings, but it was still going strong. I've observed butterflies far more tattered than this one maneuvering in flight like they were newly emerged from the chrysalis. I've learned that butterflies are tougher than they look.

Bordered Patch Caterpillars on Cowpen Daisy
Soon we began to notice clusters of caterpillars on the Cowpen Daisies. A plant that is a great source of nectar and a caterpillar host is a bonus in any butterfly garden. I'm definitely planting this flower as soon as I can locate a source.

We later identified the caterpillars as the larva of the Bordered Patch butterfly. I wish I would have been able to get a picture of one. There were probably some around, judging from all the caterpillars we saw.

The butterfly garden at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was just planted this year in April, but it's off to a great start.

May 25, 2016

Gardener's Windowsill

If you have ever grown your own tomatoes, then my kitchen windowsill will probably look familiar to you.

Right now, it's loaded down with tomatoes—cherries and slicers. They're coming in quicker than we can eat them, which is such a good problem to have.

Today I plan to take a little time and turn these red, ripe beauties into salsa or maybe marinara sauce, I haven't decided yet. All I know is I don't want to waste a single one.

May 23, 2016

The May Garden

The Knockout roses are finishing up their first flush of the season. I spent some time one evening snipping away the spent blossoms and they look neat and tidy now.

This is Bee Balm, but imagine it's a photo of a neat and tidy bed of Knock Out roses.
We allow the chickens to forage in the garden and I think they've been a real help in keeping the weeds down. But because they turn the mulch over so frequently, it's broken down quickly and we've had to add more.

Bee Balm again...but you can imagine a freshly mulched butterfly garden, can't you?
The real challenge of gardening with chickens is figuring out how to protect new plants from being dug up by all their scratching. I bought new milkweed and purple coneflower several weeks ago that need to go in the ground, but I've been holding off until I could come up with a good plan. I recently read that adding large stones around the base of new plantings will help. I think I'll try that and maybe add a wire cage for good measure.

You guessed it...Bee Balm...imagine whatever photo you think should be here.
The best of the flowers right now is the Bee Balm. It's been a literal bright spot in our garden during a week of clouds and rain. It teased us with buds for weeks and explosion of color!

Bee imagination necessary.
Smile, it's Monday!

May 20, 2016

Birding Nature Center :: Other Things

The other things we saw on our nature hike at Matagorda County Birding Nature Center (MCBNC) included creatures both great...

An American Alligator slides stealthily into the water without making a sound.

and small...

An American Bullfrog sits on a log in a pond covered in duckweed.

And one creature with with long ears and a fluffy white tale that can swim if need be...

A Swamp Rabbit, one of the largest members of the cottontail family, crosses the trail.
I know, I was also surprised when I read that, too!

We also saw beautiful scenery, so diverse, you might not think that all of these photos were taken in the same park, but they were.

Swampy Wetlands

Colorado River View

Pretty Pond
And finally, I was delighted to see a few wildflowers hanging on.

Faded Texas Bluebonnets

Wild Daisies


I know you won't be surprised to learn that after our nature hike at MCBNC, we purchased a family membership pass. Who knows what kinds of things we'll see the next time we visit?

May 18, 2016

Birding Nature Center :: Feathered Wings

The boardwalk through the wetlands at Matagorda County Nature Birding Center leads to a bird blind.

However, we found that the thick vegetation provides plenty of cover on its own. 

We had to be careful though, because some of those vines are Poison Ivy! I'm happy to say that neither one of us came home with a rash.

From the boardwalk we were able to observe a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. I like the preening action in this photo, though all that swamp muck (technical term) seems to be defeating the purpose.

From swamp to open prairie, there were all kinds of birds to see and photograph.

John heard it first and I zoomed in quickly for a shot. It was a cute-as-can-be Black-capped Chickadee. This is where the new zoom lens came in handy. I never could have gotten this shot without it.

And just because it's so cute, here's another picture to enjoy.

Along the edge of one of the ponds on the property was a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. I had to look this one up in the bird guide book, since John is at work and I couldn't remember what he told me it was. I don't think he got as specific as Yellow-crowned, though he was right on with Night-Heron.

A nest in a fig tree was easy to spot. A female Northern Cardinal was sitting on eggs (we assumed). I hope to go back soon and find babies, though I might need a step ladder to get a good look.

By far, the real birding treat of the day was seeing a Great Kiskadee and its nest! It's a rare occurrence for these birds to be this far north. We think this one is a male, hopefully of a mated pair, and that he is perched near the nest to guard it. We never saw the female. Maybe she was in the nest incubating eggs.

I guess nest guarding can be a real bore sometimes, because we caught this guy sleeping on the job. Yes, he was snoozing away with his head down and his eyes closed. His closed eyes showed up better in some of my other shots, but they were too blurry to share.

I hope you enjoyed the feathered wings portion of our nature hike in this beautiful place.

May 16, 2016

The Garden of My Dreams :: Little Wings

One visit to Matagorda County Birding Nature Center was all it took for me to fall in love with the place.

The park is 34 acres of natural beauty situated on the Colorado River in Bay City, Texas. Within its boundaries are wetlands, native prairies, and woodlands which provide habitat for a large variety of birds and wildlife.

Standing in the fruit orchard searching the woods and sky for birds.
Armed with a brand new zoom lens and inspired by the beautiful scenery, I found something to photograph at every turn.

A post of nails for hanging orange halves for the birds, especially Orioles, conveniently located near the orange tree.
For the most part, John and I had the place to ourselves and I began to think of it as our own private garden—the garden of my dreams! If I owned 34 acres, I would want it to be just like this.

The peaches are almost ripe.
It would include a small fruit orchard, a wildflower meadow, and flower gardens planted specifically for hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators.

There were several cooperative little wings, as I'm calling them, that posed nicely for the camera as we explored the grounds and gardens.

Tawny Emperor Butterfly

Dusky Wing Butterfly

Pearl Crescent Butterfly



Not only did we see little wings, but feathered wings, and other things, too. I hope you'll join me next time for more photos of our nature hike.

May 13, 2016

Bird Bath

Everyone knows a bird bath is for wild birds like this Blue Jay.

Everyone that is, except our Princess.

She thinks I keep the bowl filled just for her.

"What...I'm not supposed to be up here?"

Princess likes the bird bath for a quick drink of water, but all her real bathing is done in a tub of sand...and how dare I interrupt her.

She's always doing something that makes us laugh.

May 11, 2016

The Black Swallowtail Butterfly Story

A couple of weeks ago I happened to notice a large Black Swallowtail caterpillar munching away on the dill in our garden.

I was happy to know that at least one caterpillar had made it to its final instar. We had seen many more in their earlier stages and then they were gone. We suspected they were killed by the wasps that were hanging out in the garden.

If there was one survivor, there might be more, so I searched and found another fully grown caterpillar in the fennel. I made a mental note to come back the next day to check for chrysalises.

It was probably more like a couple of days when I remembered to go look. First I searched around the dill, but couldn't find the caterpillar or a chrysalis. But in the fennel, right in the spot where I had last seen the caterpillar, was a beautiful green chrysalis.

It was well hidden—buried in the fennel fronds and perfectly colored for camouflage. I might not have noticed it if I hadn't been looking for it. In the photo above, I lifted the stem it was attached to so I could see the underside. Notice the way it is attached with two stands of thread at the top.

I began to check it daily, watching for signs of color change, hoping to catch it when the butterfly would emerge. John was the one that noticed it looked a little darker on Saturday. Then on Sunday afternoon, he called me to come quickly and to bring the camera.

There he was, a fresh-from-the-chrysalis Black Swallowtail butterfly. You can see how deep in the fennel he was, his empty chrysalis shell beneath him.

I pinched away some of the fennel fronds for a better look. The large size of the yellow band of spots indicates that this butterfly is a male. If it had been a female, I could hope to see it again laying eggs in our garden.

In no time at all this handsome butterfly was ready to go. He flew up and out of the fennel, like he had been flying all his life, and fluttered over the fence. I suppose he's off to find a lady butterfly to keep this cycle of egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly going.

I wish him well.

May 9, 2016

Garden Goodness

Our vegetable garden is producing something good for us to eat every day.

The cherry tomatoes are coming in by the dozens. They are great in salads, or course, but they also jazz up a pan of scrambled eggs. And if I get hungry between meals, I just a pop a couple in my mouth—a burst of pure sunshine from the vine.

It looks like there are plenty more cherry tomatoes on the way and the slicing tomatoes are just beginning to ripen. I'm looking forward to that first BLT.

The zucchini and yellow squash are producing well, but it won't be long before the squash beetle takes over. Until then we're eating squash every week. I'm trying out new recipes and found a couple of winners. I can recommend this cheesy squash casserole and this recipe for stuffed zucchini is very similar to the one I used.

We planted a variety of peppers, but poblano are my favorite. They are spicy, but not too hot. I like to use them in place of bell peppers when I want to kick it up a notch. I just so happens I used up all of my frozen poblano peppers from our previous season's garden, so these peppers are arriving just in time. I picked a large one for our pot of chili the other night and it was so good!

The cucumbers are coming in, too. We planted a pickling variety, but not enough to make pickles. I just love how crisp and fresh tasting a homegrown cucumber is. We've been adding sliced cucumbers to our green salads and eating them just as they are.

We're still waiting on the eggplant, but the blossoms indicate we won't have to wait very long.

It's amazing how much goodness can be grown in two 4' x 8' garden boxes!