Butterflies Are Still Here

by Donna Lewis

Can you believe it is almost what us Texans would consider the end of summer? It is HOT!!! I would like to know when the humidity will go down and the temperatures lighten up just a tad.

Gulf Coast fritillary

For those of you who don’t know me, I hate cold weather. But now that I have matured (a nice way of saying I’m older),  I do like it to be in the middle somewhere, say 70 to 80 degrees with no humidity.

Today as I walked through my garden, there were so many butterflies everywhere trying to find the last flowers of summer that  were still blooming.  I have sulphurs, queens, pipe vines, Gulf Coast fritillaries, black swallowtails, tiger swallowtails and an assortment of small skippers.                             

Common buckeye (by SA Kendall)

The zinnias are tired and ready to go back  to Mother.  The salvia are looking ragged. The cosmos, mist flowers, sunflowers, daisies , coneflowers and lots more are just pooped out.  Now, the vines are at their best.  Passion flowers, cypress vine, coral honeysuckle, and others like it hot. The milkweed also likes it hot and dry.  I still have some of it, just no monarchs right now. I guess my little beauties will be with me to the end.  I hope they are here a little longer, I love them so.

Drink a little nectar and carry on.

Garden Spiders: Photo Essay

by Pamela Neeley

Suddenly, in last two weeks, the garden spiders are out.

I went on a walk, around my house, and found all of these lovely yellow-and-black spiders. They have carved out distinct territories for themselves and are working on their signature web patterns. This one is on the carport.

The photo with shadow may be my favorite house spider photo. Many of the spiders look like dancers caught in mid-leap.

This next one is dancing under the eaves on north side of house. Her distinct patterns and colors are so fresh.

This one is the biggest and fattest. She set up her kingdom between buildings, but on the west side of my tool shed. That’s the best setup for dramatic photos.

Where do the garden spiders live the rest of the year? Why are they here now (hopefully the answer is grasshoppers) instead of July? I only found one spouse spider “shell,” by the way.

Here’s a minute-long YouTube video I found of a garden spider spinning her web.

And here’s a video Sue Ann Kendall made of one wrapping up a grasshopper for dining on later (39 seconds).

Milkweed Project Update

by Donna Lewis

The Milkweed Project a few of our El Camino Real Chapter Master Naturalists started last year is still ongoing.  We were given a grant to obtain these.  Chapter member, Cathy Johnson, applied for the grant for us.

No matter what the weather throws at us, we love it.  We actually want the conditions to be as close as they can to nature, and we all know the Mother can be unpredictable. If we provide too much help, we can not call them natural.   

I had planted four areas of Zizotes.  Weather and critters have taken out three of the areas, with one remaining. I have never watered the plants this year. I wanted them to be on their own.

I also have some Antelope Horn plants that started growing on our drive shell driveway from seeds I planted some time ago.  I want to have an open buffet for the Monarchs!!!!

 Thryothorus ludovicianus, Carolina wren. Photo (c) Joseph F. Pescatore – used with permisison.

Just another note: while I was looking at all the milkweed today, I heard some interesting chatter on some of the milkweed plants and some other native cowpen daisies.  I stayed still for a moment, and saw that there were two Carolina wrens upside down going after insects on the plants.

These are interesting little birds.  We had four sets of babies this year in our barn. They are so tiny at birth. 

So many many wild things to see, so little time. By the way, one of the best books I have for Monarchs is the book  Milkweed, Monarchs and More by Ba Rea, Karen Oberhauser, and Michael A. Quinn.

Closing Down the Martin Houses

by Donna Lewis

So, the sad day has finally arrived for purple martin landlords. Our friends have gone to their winter home in Brazil.  It is so quiet now without their beautiful song and chatter.

The martin houses must be cleaned, closed, and information about what was in the nest after they left recorded.

Normally, I just have poop and dead bugs in the houses. But, surprise, surprise, there was a little more this time (in the apartment house, not the gourds).

Ready for anything.

I opened the first slot that opened four compartments and yellowjackets came flying out at me.  Oh boy. I managed to only let one sting me on my hand, which got really swollen.

So, how do I get the little devils out? First of all, never use pesticides in a bird house of any kind. The residue could hurt newborn babies who have no feathers.  They are pink and blind like baby mice, very vulnerable. What I do is I take tongs and yank out the nest, then run like heck. Well, maybe not run anymore, just walk real fast. Then I wait for the adults to move on.

This year there were two red wasp and two yellowjacket nests in my apartment house. It took me six hours to get them all out.  I will close up the gourd house another day.

I left the apartment house open for now until I can safely clean it out with the wet vac, then wipe it with a wet cloth. I let it completely dry. Then, I put a cover over it till next February, when the martins return.

The main thing is to be careful when you look in the houses, and secondly not to use pesticides .I will miss my friends and hope they survive to visit me again.

What’s in the Hole?

by Donna Lewis

Early in the morning on Saturday, August 14, I was looking for my friend the Gulf Coast Toad that I say hi to on most mornings.  She is a big girl that lives under the faucet where I had put a flat rock for her to hollow out her house. It is always damp so she likes it there.

I like frogs and toads. They are gentle and sweet. I didn’t see her pop her head out to see me this morning. Instead another head with a yellow mouth outline looked up at me. Oh no, I think something got my friend, I thought. 

I could only see about an inch of its head. It looked like a lizard of some kind. Well, I am not afraid of lizards so I decided to take a photo of it.  You can see the first photo I took, before anyone poked their head out.

The hole under discussion

So I tossed a little rock in the hole to encourage it to come out for me so I could take a photo.  I leaned down pretty close to the hole. Woo boy!!! Something came out alright, but it wasn’t a lizard. 

You don’t see any second photo because I jumped back as fast as I could. It was a black snake with a yellow mouth and belly. It shot out that hole and came at me really fast!! 

Donna asked Suna to find a picture for her, so here’s one from iNaturalist, © tom spinker, used with permission.

I must admit it scared me.  I am surprised I could move that fast. After looking through my snake guide I learned that it was a Yellowbelly (or plain belly), a non venomous water snake.  The guide also said it was a vigorous biter. I am glad I didn’t find out how vigorous.

So, I am sad about my toad friend…life outside.