Lichens, Mushrooms, and More

by Donna Lewis

The day before the snowstorm I took a little walk in our five-acre woods.

After all the rain we just had, lots of beautiful things were emerging.

I cannot identify most of them, but they are so cool.  Some of you might know what they are. I love to touch the green moss that was back there with all the other interesting things.

So many things to see, so little time.

Nature quietly waits for us to come and look.

Soon It Will Be Time for Purple Martin Scouts to Arrive

by Donna Lewis

I’ve been out all last week taking advantage of the warm weather to get the housing ready to open for the returning Purple Martins. Martin Landlords everywhere are getting excited and waiting for that first magical song of the first scout seeking this year’s home. The scouts are the older birds who want first pick of the accommodations.

The first photo is the Gourd Rack. It has the gourds and owl guards attached now, and I have plugged the entrance’s with cloth. I will not raise it nor open any gourds until the scouts start arriving. Then I only open a few at a time, hopefully preventing non-martins from taking over the gourds. House sparrows, blue-birds, starlings, barred owls, and snakes would like to get in. Most will eat or just kill the martins for their nests. Only the sweet little blue-birds are just there looking for a home.

Ready to accept new friends, repelling all enemies.

I will also have to install the racoon baffle, the decoys and the snake guards soon.

Yes, it’s a lot of work.  Our friends the martins are on just about everyone’s menu.

The second photo is of the plastic decoys used to make the martins think their friends are there also. I call the decoys Heckle and Jeckle. They also serve as a target for owl attacks.

Heckle and Jeckle, all ready to attract friends.

The third photo shows one decoy attached.

That must be Heckle.

The last photo is the apartment rack. It is lowered for adding the nest boxes with fresh pine-needles and again blocking the entrance holes off till the martins arrive.

All cleaned out and ready for new tenants.

The houses were cleaned at the end of the year and plugged. I used the wet/dry vacuum to get any spider webs or other insects out.

I’ll raise the house as the scouts arrive. How exciting!

How do I know when the scouts are here?  They fly around the structures and call. Anyone would know when they have arrived.

It’s a wonderful event.

Alternatives to Feeding Sugar Water to Honey Bees

by Donna Lewis and Mary M Reed, Chief Apiary Inspector, Texas Apiary Inspection Service

You may have read Donna’s recent post about feeding honeybees on her property. She got to wondering if the sugar water she was putting out was a good idea, so she contacted Mary Reed at Texas A&M, who has spoken to our chapter before, for more information. It’s so great that we Master Naturalists can contact credible resources like Mary Reed when we have questions. Their email exchange starts below the beautiful image of a bee.

Sue Ann Kendall

Image from @Wire13 via Twenty20

Donna

I wanted to ask about something I thought was OK, but after looking at some web sites, I may be wrong. I do not want to give incorrect information out on our blog.

So, is putting out sugar water for honey bee’s bad?

Mary

Thanks for reaching out! Feeding sugar to honey bees is a method beekeepers use to strengthen their colonies as needed. It gives honey bees the energy they need to generate wax to build the comb, conduct tasks in the hive, and forage for resources in the surrounding area. 

It is recommended that if a beekeeper is going to feed their hives sugar water that they use in-hive feeders rather than open feeding. In-hive feeders help prevent robbing behavior from other colonies, and it cuts down on the possibility of disease transmission. Open feeding (i.e., placing sugar water out in a bucket, tray, etc.) increases the likelihood of disease transmission amongst hives in the area. 

Beekeepers know what they’re doing! Image from @photovs via Twenty20.

It’s also possible to see a flurry of bees coming to this open resource at certain times of the year when other nectar resources are not available. This can be alarming to some and is a potential public safety issue. 

If your readers are interested in providing a resource for bees, my best recommendation is to plant a variety of flowering plants that bloom in succession over the year. The successive blooming periods provide bees a reliable food source throughout the year. It’s fairly common in Texas to have nutritional dearths, meaning there are periods of time where there is little to no natural resources for bees to feed on, so having a succession of blooms available really helps. 

Bees like chive blossoms as much as we do, and they can appear when it’s chilly out. Image from @Anyra via Twenty20.

The other benefit to having a variety of flowering plants is that it also provides a diversity of nutrients to bees. The nutritional content of pollen can vary from plant to plant, and bees need this variety for their overall health.

I probably went way beyond what you were expecting for this question, but I hope this information is helpful.  If you need anything else, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Donna

I think I will discontinue with the sugar water and just do what I always do and provide lots of shallow water containers for them.

In the near future I hope we can meet again and share more knowledge about our pollinator friends with our chapter and the public.

Mary

No problem! I’m happy to help out any time.  To be honest, providing a consistent water resource for bees is one of the best things you can do. We don’t often think about how insects need and utilize water for their own survival, but for bees it’s especially important when it comes to thermoregulating their hive. 

Yum! Photo by @billyves12 via Twenty20.

I like to provide some type of water resource year round, but especially in the warmer months when bees are using the water to cool down their hives.

The Last Bumblebee for Autumn

By Donna Lewis

The last week in November, I found this bumblebee on a fall aster in my garden.

After looking at the bee chart, I believe it to be a Bombus variabilis.

If someone is better at identifying bees, let me know if I am incorrect.

I asked it to move its wings so I could look at its body, but I guess I can’t speak bee language. Anyway, it was a beauty as far as bees go.

It has since gotten cooler, so I am only seeing honeybees right now. I have been putting out some sugar water for them, since there are no flowers still in the pasture or my garden. They are also in need of water, since we are still in a drought.

Honeybees enjoying their treats

All creatures need water. So just the simple act of keeping water out can help our nature friends. We are all charged with caring for the wild things.

The Little Sparrow Hawk

by Donna Lewis

This beautiful falcon (American Kestrel, Falco sparverius) was sitting on top of my Martin House pole this past week. It was cold and windy. He hovered over the ground and came up with a small rodent and then perched on the fence to have lunch. When I went outside to get a better photo, he took off.

Vigilant sparrow hawk
American kestrel (sparrow hawk). (c) chrisvt used with permission

However, he has been back every day this week. Must like the mice here.

The nickname of Sparrow Hawk is a misnomer.  He is not a hawk and rarely eats sparrows. The kestrel prefers rodents, reptiles, frogs, insects and the smaller bats like the Mexican Free Tailed Bat. 

If you can get a closer look at him, he is beautiful!!!  Some of the Egytian drawings on tombs show many hawks, cranes, ducks and falcons. One God was  Re-Horakhty the lord of the sky; he looked like a Falcon.

This bird is common all over the US and likes open fields.

Right now you can see them perched on the overhead wires looking for a meal.