Fall is a sad time of year for some. I had garden spiders arrayed around my house again this year. One picked a low spot between the porch and skirting. It was a good spot at first and she grew quickly. There were lots of suitors while she was the only show in town, including some from the other species.
About that time, she wasn’t catching anything and looked like she might be starving to death, so I started throwing differential grasshoppers into her web. After a while she was doing OK on her own, so I stopped. In all she produced six egg sacs. No other spider came close and most never produced a single sac. After the last sac, she caught no more grasshoppers and died about a week after the photo was taken.
Many people in the chapter have probably heard about my continuing war on Johnsongrass. Here’s a shot from out in the yard of an area that was once overrun. You can see bunches of native grass which grow to about 4′, drifts of goldenrod, and a poverty weed. It’s about 30′ from the bunchgrass to the house. Although the initial Johnsongrass pulling was taxing, maintaining the area got easier with time. After several years it has dwindled to pulling scatted seedlings once or twice a year. The native plants were already there and just needed sunlight to thrive.
What do I do with all the pulled Johnsongrass? I decided to build haystacks to provide shelter for various animals. This one is conveniently located near the powerline that various raptors were hunting from last winter. The canes are arranged with the roots on the outside so they dry out and die, and the seed heads are on the inside where they won’t spread and germinate. The stack is about 12′ in diameter and 4′ tall now.
Last Saturday, it was hot and windy, so it was hard to get photos of butterflies when the plants were swaying in the breeze. But I did the best I could. There were several species of butterflies in my garden today: Gulf Coast Fritillaries, Pipevine Swallowtails, Clouded Sulphurs, and the big Giant Swallowtails.
This is very late in the year for these huge butterflies to be here. I think the extended hot weather has brought about this event.
Giants are so graceful and beautiful. You can recognize them by the two bands of yellow spots across its open wings, and the small eyes at the bottom of their hind legs. They can be as big as six inches across. They love citrus tree leaves and may defoliate small trees. It will not kill the tree.
They love Rue, Butterfly Bushes, Coneflowers, Sunflowers, and Zinnias.
Their host plant is the Prickly Ash. They lay their little orange eggs on top of the leaves. As it hatches into a caterpillar, it changes its appearance to look like bird droppings. Who would want to eat that?
The chrysalis stays in place through the winter.
So, if you see something that looks nasty on a leaf, leave it! It may be a beautiful butterfly next spring.
Progress is being made in the Milam Wildscape in preparation for Nature Days, which will be held every Saturday in November from 9:00-12 noon. Enjoy visiting Master Naturalists and visitors in a beautiful Autumn setting.
There will be refreshments, gifts, and native plants. If you participate as a Master Naturalist, hours are available.
I see some pretty cool things on my walks around my ranch. I think part of my poor posture comes from looking down all the time, in case I see something. But that’s a small price to pay. I’ve been doing a lot more aural observation lately, and that’s come in really handy when I’m looking for new species to add to my collection on iNaturalist. I have almost 600 species identified since I started, 62% of my 1600+ observations are research grade. I’m trying to get a good picture of what can be found in this little piece of the Earth.
Yesterday and today I’ve put my listening skills to a test. I can’t take a picture of something if I can’t find it, and sounds often lead me to something interesting. For example, I went to check the mail, which is a third of a mile walk from my house. I often stop to observe in the pond and arroyo I go by. That’s hard right now since the pond is being dug up to make it deeper if it ever rains, and our gate emits an annoying beep that I once accidentally identified as a South American bird via an app. But yesterday I was alarmed to hear what sounded like someone talking in the stream. It sort of sounded like, “Help, help!” So I put down my mail and went searching.
I followed the eerie sounds and got closer to where our “spring” starts. I didn’t want to get my feet wet, so I was careful. At one point it seemed like I was right on top of whatever it was, but I couldn’t see anything, so I stomped my feet. That caused something to move and gave me a focus for my eyes. Finally I saw something.
Now I know why my friend’s orange and black water hose spooks the horses. That Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus) sure looked like a garden hose. I was not inclined to grab it to get a better photo. But what was the sound?
I knew right away that it was a cricket frog, since that’s the kind of frogs I hear all the time from that location (I learned how they sound from one of our Chapter Meetings). I guess it’s now a former cricket frog, thanks to the circle of life. So, my aural observation skills clued me in without even having to see the frog. I was happy to learn from reading about these ribbon snakes that they hang out on the edges of wet areas (check) and primarily eat…of all things…cricket frogs! I also learned that the one we have here at the ranch is the orangestripe subspecies, T. proximus proximus, which is why it didn’t look like the one in the main photo on iNat, which had originally confused me.
By the way, I am only seeing ribbon snakes and coachwhips lately. I haven’t seen a rattlesnake or a rat snake in a month or two (the hens are glad about that). The coachwhip in this picture climbed into my son’s cabin and was hanging out on the ceiling. Luckily, he’s had pet snakes before, so he just knocked it into a laundry basket and took it outside (then sealed the hole the snake came in).
Back to my observations. Today was the same story. I was putting mail in the box to be picked up, this time. I kept hearing a sharp chirp, and it wasn’t the broken gate. It was coming from the black willow trees on our dam, which no, I’m not cutting down, because they are native and feed lots of things. I looked and looked, trying to home in on where the chirps were coming from. To the bird’s credit, it didn’t stop chirping until it began making tapping sounds. Aha. Now I knew to stop looking in the branches and look at the trunks of the trees instead.
Sure enough, there was a perky little ladder-backed woodpecker (Dryobates scalaris), pecking away and chirping during rests. There are a lot of woodpeckers around here (they like the grapevines to hide in and are especially fond of the telephone pole across the road), but I mostly see larger ones. Neither I nor the bulldozer grinding away behind this bird deterred it one bit from its mission.
I’m glad I keep listening when I go outside. I might have missed both of these interesting observations and new species!