Gulf Coast Toad

Although the new pond attached to the garden house isn’t ready for fish or plants, wildlife has already discovered it. Feral cats and grackles both drink from it. Dragonflies or damselflies (I can’t tell them apart yet) hover over it, alighting on potted plants nearby. And the last two nights we’ve heard the deep croaking of some toad.

While skimming leaves from the surface, I discovered this stringy ick, which AJM (raised in far wetter clime than I) recognized immediately as toad spawn. This morning I saw a toad creep out of the pond and hop off to the back forty. It was barely dawn so I couldn’t get a very good photo. I think it is Bufo valliceps, the Gulf Coast Toad.

Gulf Coast Toad

When I Googled “frog spawn” I got a lot of sites in the UK. Do Americans call it something else? The UK sites are aimed at helping children protect frogs and toads and raise them to release. One site said that toads only mate where they are spawned. But that can’t be true since this toad mated in a pond that didn’t exist a year ago.

Lizard Trap

I went out to check on the tomatoes. So far we’re not having very good luck. The very first fruits were munched on by caterpillars when they were about the size of a cherry.

A month later, as the first ‘Black Krim’ tomato started to change color, we covered the plants with bird-netting. However the day we decided the first ‘Black Krim’ was going to be ready, we went out to pick it and something (probably raccoons) had beaten us to it. I don’t see how they got in and out of the netting without making a mess or getting tangled up in it but they did. A couple of days later we picked a semi-ripe tomato and let it ripen inside. Maybe we ate it too early, but we weren’t much impressed with its flavor.

‘Black Krim” tomatoes ripening.

That was a couple of weeks ago. Now a lot more are starting to ripen and we’re licking our lips. So I went out to check on them this afternoon and saw a lizard (Tree Lizard, I think, or maybe a Texas Spiny Lizard). Unfortunately it saw me too and made dash for it, right into the bird-netting.

Luckily it didn’t thrash around but held very still even when I got close to try to free it. It had somehow managed to get half its quite large body through the 1/2 inch square mesh. I got some manicure scissors and carefully cut the netting away from its delicate claws and arms. It held very, very still. Then as carefully as I could, I tried over and over to get the scissors under the mesh that was wrapped around its body. When I snipped my final snip, it dashed past me faster than I could see it. Whew! I was glad it held still long enough for me to free it. I’d be very upset if the birds or fire ants had gotten there first.

Now how did it manage to get under the netting in the first place?

Where’s Waldo?

Saturday morning the designer from Floribunda is coming over to assess whether we can afford his services to design and construct a screened-porch house to replace our falling down shed. After booking the appointment, I looked around my yard and panicked. I haven’t mown the lawn yet this year and the weeds are about a foot high. Garden tools and hoses are scattered about giving witness to my short attention span. Only the imaginative eye can discern the wildflower garden hidden in the among the dandelions, thistle and chickweed.

And inside the shed! Of course he’ll have to go in the shed to measure and check the foundation. Myself? I haven’t been in the shed in over a year. During our kitchen remodel we just kept stacking boxes and torn out pieces of house in there until it was impossible to get one more thing in. Last summer the paper wasps took over and we let them have their way with it.

So, I spent the day trying to make the place look less like we lived here and more like “important clients whom you might want to include in your portfolio” lived here.

I didn’t get much done though because I kept getting distracted by spring. I spent a lot of time taking photos of the Narcissus ‘Hawera’ in bloom. Then I had to lie down on my belly and admire the Muscari racemosum (or is it M. neglectum?)

Muscari racemosum replaced with 20070314. Not my garden.
Grape hyacinth aka starch hyacinth aka M. racemosum aka…

I found one bluebonnet bud that had finally blued up and opened. And lastly when I was watering the magnolia (which you might notice is not cleaning the shed) I saw another anole, the third this week, basking itself among the Mexican plum blossom. Trying to get a photo of the anole ate up a good portion of an hour. (Mostly I just sat and talked to it.)

I stopped and looked at everything so the garden doesn’t look like much of anything–I did manage to build a garden sculpture out of bricks I found in the shed. I’d been meaning to do that for several years now.

Munch Crunch

This week I’m still working on turning over my mulch pile. I have to take it slow because even at dusk the temperatures are hovering at 100. Tonight I noticed the large lizard that I’ve seen before hanging out around the mulch. When I exposed a rather dried out section of the pile scores of beetles and roaches ran for shelter. That lizard was on them like a duck on june bug.

We were both smiling after his meal. (Anything that will eat cockroaches has my seal of approval.)

I think the lizard’s a Texas Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus). He’s too fast for me to get a photo or even a good look. But he does race up a tree if he thinks I’m threatening him and he blends well against the color of the tree trunks. And he’s quite big–easily 6 to 8 inches long.

Our Friends the Fire Ants?

When those enemies of biodiversity, the fire ants, came marching in they cleared Texas pastures of chiggers and ticks, our suburbs of fleas and cockroaches. However, fire ants like moisture and our recent years of drought have driven them underground resulting in a such a resurgence of ticks that some Texas ranchers are wondering how to bring back the fire ants.

Of course, fire ants don’t just ravage populations of insects that humans find pesky. They kill young bird and reptile hatchlings and eat up wildflower seeds. They aren’t too kind to electrical wiring either.

In defense of the fire ants is Messina Hof Winery owner, Paul Bonarrigo, who says that having fire ants in the vineyards means he doesn’t have to use as much pesticide to protect his vines as he once did.

Entomologist John Ruberson is studying how fire ants loosen the soil with their many tunnels. Compacted soils make it difficult for plants to get optimum water and oxygen to their roots, which is why gardeners have embraced our friends the earthworms. But, our friends the fire ants? As the Dixie Chicks would say, “I’m not ready to make nice.”

— Via incandragon. The original article appeared in the June 12, 2006 edition of The Wall Street Journal. A reprint is available here.

April Showers Bring Question Marks

We had wild storms last night and good soaking rain. Today I spent all afternoon enjoying weeding in the garden. It’s not a chore when the ground is so moist and giving. All sorts of butterflies were out, too.

I’m ashamed to say that I know almost no butterflies by name. Nor do I find the internet a good tool for learning about them because the sites I visited assume that you’re starting with a name.

So I can’t pay homage to butterflies as I should. To know something’s name is to distinguish it from all else. Butterflies remain to me more of a general idea than groups of specific instances. The only way I can “see” what I’m looking at is to take a photo.

Maybe one of you can tell me this ones name, so that when next I see it, I’ll smile in recognition.

Urban Nature

What do the following things have in common?
1. Famous venue for redneck rock (progressive country) music.
2. Texas state mammal (small).
3. Free bus system in downtown Austin.
4. Mascot for the Statesman Capitol 10,000.

Monarch Butterfly

Ever since Sunday (3/12), half a dozen monarch butterflies have been hanging out in my yard. They like the Texas mountain laurel and Meyer lemon best. It was exciting to look out my kitchen window while washing dishes and see two or three of them flitting around the lemon tree. I don’t have Valerie’s patience or skill for insect photography and am not pleased with any of my shots. Unlike flowers, butterflies don’t hold still for the camera.

Monarch butterflies migrate through Austin in the fall on their way to their winter homes in Mexico. Several of my neighbors in north Austin see them regularly each fall, but I rarely do. Does the migrating horde avoid downtown? or is it just me?

Unfortunately I don’t have any milkweed planted.

Update: 2017-10-18

Getting a better camera helps. A tool might not make an artist but good tools certainly bring out the best in our efforts regardless of artistic talent. My latest camera is a Sony a6000. It has a high-speed capture feature and a real telephoto lens that helps a lot in photographing the movable garden.

photo: Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly on white boneset.


This could explain why I haven’t seen any robins this winter.