Here Come the Martins

by Donna Lewis

Believe it or not, the first Purple Martins have already landed in Florida as of December 27, 12021! Wow, that’s pretty early. Whether that is good or bad, I couldn’t tell you.

Ready for cleaning

But, if you are a Martin landlord you need to get your housing in shape and ready. Here are my guidelines:

  • Do not open any apartments or gourds yet.  Block them off or other bird species will go in, and the Martins will be left out in the cold.
  • The housing should be clean, with extra pine needles in them (if you do that).
  • Be ready to raise the housing up as soon as you hear a Martin or February 1, just to be safe.
  • You never open all the entrances at once, just a few at a time.

The Martins here in Milam County have historically arrived around Valentine’s Day. Last year I did not have any till March, however. So, as the earth’s weather changes, wildlife changes also.

I opened my apartment house today to see if it was still clean like I had left it last summer when I closed it for the year. I had taped over the entrance holes for the first time to see if it would keep out the spiders, lady-bugs and wasps. 

It worked pretty good, but there were still lots of spiders near all the corners. The spider webs are difficult to remove. Here’s a tip that I use to get them out easy and fast:

Spider web

Get a stick and twirl the web around it. They come out fast. Then, pitch the stick.

Stick magic

Secondly, I use a wet/dry vac to get anything else out that might be in there. I wipe out anything nasty with a damp paper towel or sponge and let everything dry for a day or so.  You need the apartments to be dry. I will do that later and take photos of it. For now it is so much easier to prep your houses while it’s not cold outside. Much better on your hands.

Time to vacuum!

Our friends are coming!

My Woods in Winter

by Sue Ann Kendall

I’d planned a fun nature walk with my family for Christmas, but thanks to COVID, I ended up on a solo walk. I explored a part of the woods that’s near the house, but not often visited. It was warm and sunny, but still a winter wonderland to me. I thought maybe some of my Master Naturalist friends would enjoy a walk along with me.

A dream in green

The green you see is a mix of rye grass and chickweed.

And mushrooms!

I went over to the tank/pond on the other side of the woods from the one behind our house. It’s the most attractive one and is always full of life.

Cows love it, but they haven’t pooped all the life out of it.

It’s often hard to get to from our place, because there’s a fence marking a property line that ends in a place that stays damp for a long time after it floods. But, the recent tree-killing knocked it down in a spot, so I could explore the pond while it’s full.

We only have a couple of months when the trees have no leaves. You can see more!

This pond has lots of aquatic plants in it. Some are blooming. I forget what they are, but it’s pretty.

The water looks brown, but there are lots of fish.

It always smells nice and earthy around the pond when it’s wet. Admittedly, some parts smell more cattle-y. It smelled fresh today.

Looking towards the dam.

The highlight of my little walk was checking out where the water comes into the pond, which I’d never seen from this side while the stream was flowing.

Coral berry lines the little stream.

The stream had dozens of minnows in it. It was fun to watch them dart around. In the photo you see their shadows better than them! I also figured out that the stream comes out of a spring at the base of our pond. It doesn’t seem to drain our pond, or if it does, it’s slow.

I felt like an explorer in my own back yard. I found a freshly dug hole where some animal lives.

And I encountered an ant swarm on a log. Probably fire ants but still cool to watch. I didn’t stick my fingers in there to check.

Can you see the ones with wings?

It is always refreshing to hang out in nature, no matter what time of year. It’s healing and reminds you of the big picture. None of us is alone. Please enjoy more images of our small, green wonderland.

Frozen Birdbaths in Winter

by Donna Lewis

Sooner or later you know this warm weather will turn to cold and icy conditions.

I will hate that. Probably our wild friends will hate it too. Last year, you may have had the horrible thing I had in my garden, frozen bird baths for days. I was very upset that I could not do anything to fix it.

photo by @ssc via Twenty20

Every living thing needs water even in the wintertime. Sometimes people forget about the wild things outside and I hear them say, “They will be OK.” Not so when the weather breaks records.

I decided this winter I would try to be more prepared if and when it happened. I read everything I could find on how to fix the ice issue for the birds and creatures that live here with me on our property. I have not tried any of these suggestions, so it will be a learning experience for me also.

The first thing I learned is that some bird baths are made of materials that crack more easily during freezing temperatures. Sadly, they are also the most common things used to make bird baths with. 


The less likely materials to crack are made of

Reinforced Plastic

Some locations are better for cold weather.  Protected areas like porches, areas that the sun can get to during the daytime, and areas protected from cats.

Photo by @defrosters via Twenty20

There are also many products especially made to go in bird baths that heat the water.  They will require extension cords, so that makes it hard for many reasons. These products are also not cheap.  But they do work. You have to be careful and follow all the safety rules when using them.

I also read where people have put items in the water that move if the wind blows. Some of these were ping pong balls, tennis balls, and wine corks. I have my doubts that these work, but who knows?  They would be easy to do. I will probably try them out.

Solar would be great, except that in the winter you may not have enough sunlight to keep them powered.

You can get this heater on Amazon.

Last but not least, is that you should NEVER put chemicals in the water that prevent freezing. These include antifreeze, salt, sugar, alcohol, or glycerin/glycol. This could kill the birds.  Certainly, would defeat the purpose!

Also remember that if the water is deeper than two inches, put a brick or rock in the middle, so small birds do not drown.

I hope these at least get you to thinking about our outdoor friends when it gets cold. Now is the time to get ready.

Donna’s Garden in December

by Donna Lewis

Hi everyone, this is the last photo essay of the year for my pollinator garden here in Milam County.

As you may know, we have had one overnight freeze to date. That’s pretty unusual, but we all know there is no normal for the climate lately. We just go with what happens today.  Always a surprise.

As you can see, the blanket of leaves is starting to cover my friend over. The winter blanket that Mother Earth provides her plant and animal creatures. Last year it looked sparser than it does this year. It was about 58 degrees today when I took these photos. That’s crispy for me.

I do not do cold well.

My garden is a living friend of mine.  She looks different every year, an amazing feat by any standard.  I have planted almost all native plants here in the 14 years or so before she was born. I am always anxious to see what she will look like in the next year.

Sometimes she has more yellow and orange highlights, or some years there is more purple and red. It depends on her mood.

The colors call to the butterflies and birds that come to it for everything they want: water, shelter, food, and nectar depending on their individual needs.

I do my best to learn as much as I can so I can provide what they come for. They also provide me with what I need.  Peace and beauty.

By the way, “Sly,” one of my neighbors’ horses, is always waiting near the corner of the garden on his side for his daily apple or carrots. He likes peace also.

What’s That Sound?

by Donna Lewis

You know that sound without looking. It’s the Snow Geese returning from the arctic tundra and northern parts of Canada to stay in the Southern parts of the U.S. and along the coastlines.

They make a sound that people from around here remember from childhood, and it’s one of the few good things I remember that are still here. I hope it will always be here for me and those who come after.  It’s comforting in a primal way.

Photo by Andy Wilson on iNturalist.

I saw a flock of about thirty-five geese this morning around 10:00 am. I was so happy I just wanted to share the moment with someone. 

Lucky for me, Rusty was by my side, and I pointed them out to him. Rusty is one of our dogs.  He seemed to understand. Well maybe?

The Snow Goose actually comes in two colors.  The experts call that a morph. There is the traditional white morph and a second dark morph, sometimes called the blue morph. The blue Snow Goose is gaining in numbers, because the white goose is an easier target for both predators and hunters.

Both morphs. Photo by Paul Donohue on iNaturalist.

The geese flock to marshes, farm fields and edges of coastal wetlands. Many of these marshes are being drained for housing projects now. So sad. If you look up at them passing over in their V grouping you can see the long necks, mostly white bodies, and black wing edges.  The dark morphs are harder to identify, at least by me.

The geese make more of a honking call, while the Sandhill Cranes make more of a trilling sound.  They came through a few weeks ago. I hope you go outside while the weather is still warm and clear and look to the skies. The geese are here.  Winter is on our doorsteps.