Scissor-tail Beauty

by Donna Lewis

I am sure all of you have noticed the numerous little mini flocks of scissor-tails lately around the county.   They are a bird even amateurs can identify.

Male and female. Photo by Martin Hall on iNaturalist.

We drive to our destination and everyone in the truck says look, look, a scissor-tail!

They have something to say! Photo by the late Greg Lasley on iNaturalist.

So, why do these birds have this tail?  This bird is a flycatcher, so it needs to be agile and able to turn quickly on a dime and in mid-air.  To catch an insect you have to be fast.

She caught a fly! Photo by Judy Gallagher on iNaturalist.

Its tail splits in two to redirect its flight.  Pretty handy.

Scissor-tailed flycatchers (Tyrannus forficatus) are beautiful birds with a pearly gray head and chest, and dark wings and tail. They can be found all over Texas and Oklahoma.

Photo by HD Cooper on iNaturalist.

During the winter they will migrate south to Mexico and even South America. That is what they are doing now. Otherwise you would not see them in a flock.  They like to be solitary, except at night when they may roost together as a community.  A sleepover with your friends.

Photo by Lena Zappia on iNaturalist.

In some places they are known as the Texas bird of paradise.

Females (who don’t have as long of a tail as the males do) lay three to six eggs that are white or cream colored with some dark red on them. Lovely to see.

Keep your eyes up and you will see them now.


All photos are some rights reserved (CC BY-NC) and authorized for nonprofit use and were selected by Sue Ann Kendall to go with Donna’s narrative.

Donna’s Garden in October

by Donna Lewis

Can you believe it’s October!   A crazy year for sure.

I have not done very much to the garden the last few weeks. I like to let  her go to sleep slowly for the winter months.

My back also needs the rest. Any gardener will know what I mean.

Salvia

The fall loves salvia. It is everywhere in the garden. 

Salvia up close
Two colors of salvia

The last butterflies are fighting over the best nectar spots, and chasing the hummers out of the garden. It’s every man or woman for themselves.

Then the flame acanthus are on fire with blossoms .The orange Celeste tree is also blooming now.

Cowpen daisies are proliferating as usual, and autumn sage is putting out its last blast of flowers.

Then there is the lovely and dainty coral vine. Bees and butterflies alike love her sweet pink blooms.

I’d say pretty nice for a little stroll through the garden.

The secret garden…

Dead Trees Are Very Valuable for Our Wildlife

by Donna Lewis

Trees that have died  and are still standing (snags), and trees that have fallen provide many homes and food for wildlife. Here are some examples.

  • Excavated cavities provide homes for woodpeckers.
  • When they leave a cavity, secondary nesters move in. These include chickadees, titmice, wrens, and bluebirds. 
  • The hollow part of limbs also house owls, raccoons, squirrels, and some bats.
  • Many invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals live in or on fallen trees. 
  • Fireflies use decaying logs to complete their life cycle. 
  • The hollow trunks provide homes for skunks, foxes, mice, and weasels, to name a few.

That’s a ton of uses as a tree finishes its life. It helps coming and going….as a fallen tree decomposes it provides nutrients back to the forest floor.

So, you might think twice before cutting a grand old tree that has died down. Of course there are times when you have to remove one, like being too close to a structure or fence. But if it’s a safe distance, then save it for our wildlife.

Everything has a purpose. Hug a tree today.

It’s Ragweed Season

by Donna Lewis

Got a headache, coughing and sneezing?

If you have some or all of these you probably have Giant Ragweed ( Ambrosia trifida). I certainly don’t think it’s ambrosia…it’s awful! I don’t see how you could  make rags out of it. Where do these names come from?

Ragweed

So are they good for anything?  As it turns out, I looked in my reference book, Medicinal Plants by Peterson and found out that the native Americans did use it for certain ailments. They used it as an astringent, to stop bleeding, dysentery, and insect bites to name a few. Today it is commercially harvested for the treatment of ragweed allergies.

It’s everywhere!

So, yes it has a few saving characteristics.

The flowers are pretty, though.

Also out in the pastures right now is a very valuable plant that our migrating monarchs use.  It is in the Sunflower family: goldenrod. 

Goldenrod

The native Americans used this for many medical issues: roots for burns, flower tea for fevers and snakebites, crushed flowers for sore throats, and some other ailments.

Both these plants can cause severe allergic reactions, so don’t try any for medical ailments unless you have asked your doctor first.

Always something interesting to learn out there.

Lots of Hummers

by Donna Lewis

So we have tons of hummingbirds here in Milam County right now. I have predominantly Ruby-throated hummers,  Archilochus colubris. They love many of our native flowers, which you should provide if you want a lot of them to visit you.   

The nectar feeders are great, but should not be their only source of food. Some of our native Texas plants that they like are;  Flame Acanthus, Coral Honeysuckle, Red Yucca, Turk’s Cap, Zinnias, Autumn Sage, Morning Glory, and many other nectar plants.

I took these photos of the hummingbirds through the window on my front porch. If they see motion they take off, so I have to be slow.  I have two more feeders in my garden. I like the flat feeder you see in the first photo the best. It is easy to clean.

Hummingbirds also need protein, so they eat caterpillars, spiders and other insects. A big hunk of watermelon set out can sometimes lure them to its nectar. That’s, of course, if I can give it up.

Water is another important resource they need. Put out a sprinkler near a fence or perching area in late afternoon and everybody’s up for a bath!

The other species that are here in Central Texas is the Black-chin Hummingbird. It’s hard to tell them apart, especially if you do not have the sun shining on the male’s throat. Beautiful and fiesty little birds, gotta love them.