Nature Near Me

I love all things Texas, including the native Texas plants and wildlife.

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Eastern Giant Swallowtail on Lantana in October

Slowly I have removed the invasive plants from our yard and replaced them with Texas natives.  It takes time to see the rewards of the change.  But this fall the native plants are in bloom at just the right time for the migrating butterflies, birds, and moths to feed from as they pass through.

On a warm, breezy day in October I decided to document just a few of the things I saw feeding on the plants in the yard.  Trying to catch a good photo of a butterfly is slow work, but worth the effort.  It is easy to get lost in the vibrance of life while watching these tiny creatures flutter from one flower to the next, then be cast away by the breeze. Joining in the mix of butterflies are all sorts of moths, bees, dragonflies and other insects.

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Butterfly on Mexican Bush Sage

The native plants are the foundation for creating a space that attracts wildlife.  They feed the insects, and the insects attract the birds, lizards, toads, and mammals. Different plants attract different insects.  For example milkweed attracts monarch butterflies- the state insect.  Monarchs have been in serious decline in part because of a drastic loss of milkweed along its migration routs as it follows the eternal summer from Mexico to Canada.

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The tiny Gray Hairstreak on Mexican Bush Sage.

The scarlet salvia attracts the cloudless sulphur butterflies, although they enjoy other flowers too.  Lantana attacks all sorts of pollinators as it blooms in late summer and fall.  The hardy lantana is easy to maintain in yards and gardens of central Texas. The bees seem to prefer the Plateau Golden-eye that came up on its own in the very back part of the yard.

The well timed blooming of the native plants help fuel the migrating insects on their journey south.  Habitat loss is something all species, other than humans, are feeling. Food can often be scares for these tiny travelers.  Especially in times of drought. I invite you to find out more about what native plants would work best in your yard so you can aid them as they pass through.

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Gulf Fritillary

I’m not a plant expert, but have found what works for the rocky soil of our yard through trial and error.  A few plants I recommend for north Austin are: Scarlet Salvia, Mexican Bush Sage, Purple Sage, Turks Cap, Plateau Golden-eye, Lantana, Rock Rose.

Some of the flying and crawling things I observed on this day in October are:

Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, Clouded Skipper Butterfly, Gray Hairstreak Butterfly, Gulf Fritillary, Zebra Longwing, Eastern Giant Swallow Tail, Honey bee, two types of lizards and some dragonflies that I don’t know the names of.

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The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth enjoying the Lantana

One of the other fun thing that has occurred since we don’t put herbicides or pesticides on our lawn is that the Fireflies of have come back in droves.  It makes me happy to see them twinkling a dusk from May to September.

All photos were take in my yard in October. I think I was most excited about seeing the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.  It looks like a bumble bee, but is closer in size to a hummingbird, but has clear wings like a dragonfly.  Very cool species.

I help biologist understand what is in the area by using iNaturalist, eBird and Texas Nature Trackers.

 

 

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Yard Make Over at 20 Paws Ranch

 

20 Paws Ranch

20 Paws Ranch

When we moved into our house the yard was filled with non-native plants, grass and some amazing trees. None of the plants bloomed and few offered any resources for wildlife. Over the past year and ½ I have systematically removed all the invasive and non-native plants (accept the grass.) This summer I decided to start replacing the plants with native plants that bloom and offer a food source to birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.                                                                                                                                It hasn’t been easy! Removing invasive plants is a lot of work. More often than not they come back unless they are sprayed and I don’t like to use herbicide. So I have to hack at them several times or totally remove their roots. But it’s totally worth it- I love Texas and I only want Texas plants in my yard!

This summer I ordered 1 ton of limestone and 2 yards of pea gravel to complete my flowerbeds. This afternoon I completed the second flowerbed. It has lots of native plants that will grow into the space, a place for me to coil up my water hose (finally!) and I installed a birdbath with a drip.

The birdbath with a drip is key to attracting birds in the front yard. It sits on a rock pile that I built to cover an old tree stump. The layered rocks provide places for toad and lizards to live- which in turn cuts down on insects.

The before photo- big hedges and no flowers

The before photo- big hedges and no flowers

I also have started mowing the large lawn in sections to the fireflies have habitat.  They love longer, moist grasses and plants. The results of that experiment have been amazing.  We have tons of fireflies every night. Oh- and another thing I did for the fireflies was eliminate all outdoor lighting.  The outdoor lights now only come on when someone passes by instead of always flooding the property.

In May I certified our yard as a Wildlife Habitat and Bird Habitat with National Wildlife Federation. The certification means that our yard has the following elements:

Water– we have 2 birdbaths and now a drip, plus a wet weather creek.

Food– we have large trees that produce acorns, pecans, and seeds, plus we now have a variety of native plants that provide nectar and seeds. We have bird feeders with seed and hummingbird feeders.

Birdbath, rock pile and gnom

Birdbath, rock pile and gnom

Shelter– we have large trees, log pile and rock piles.

Chemicals– we don’t use any chemicals on the lawn.

I purchase all my plants at Barton Creek Nursery – locally owned and locally grown.

The birdbath and other bird feeders come from Wild Birds Unlimited– also locally owned.

We also added gutters and rain barrels this spring to capture the water to use on the yard and plants.  They’ve been a big help this year.

 

Rain Barrel

Rain Barrel

Installing the plants, rock and gravel

Installing the plants, rock and gravel

Wildlife Behind the House- July 2015

It gives me a thrill to look at the photos from the wildlife camera we have set up just outside the fence behind out house. I love seeing the types of wildlife we share this small space with, what time they are active, and even knowing the temperature. On some days I can remember what I was doing, or how the dogs reacted to something.

For example on this last reel of photos a random chicken shows up, then five days later a coyote enters the frame. The coyote looks thin and thirsty which is not surprising since we are now in the driest July on record. We had a very wet spring, but July has been dry and hot. The coyote also might have been attracted to the feral cats that frequently cruise through. (I secretly hope the coyote eats the cats since they are not a native species to North America. And they kill millions of birds each year.)

I made a short slideshow with the images from the camera as it was fixed in one location from April to mid-July. Activity speeds up as the summer gets drier and I toss a watermelon on the ground. A very industry raccoon snacks on the watermelon for almost 4 hours one morning.

In this very small space of about 8 square feet that the camera is able to record images, there are approx. 10 species of animals and birds that pass through. Many are frequent visitors.

Thank you to William Orbit for the music in the video.

 

 

Wildlife in the Woods

Our nephew helping us move the game camera.

Our nephew helping us move the game camera.

A year ago, my husband and I moved around the corner from our old house into the home we are in now. One of the main reasons we moved was because the property of our new house is buffered on 2 sides by greenbelt with a little wet weather creek and thick woods. Even though we are in the City of Austin, we feel like we are in the country within the confines of our little sanctuary.

In January we decided to document the wildlife that lives in the small greenbelt that buffers the neighborhood and connects up with Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. We installed a game camera on a tree that was near the little path that the animals made in the woods.

Grey Fox walking through the woods at night.

Grey Fox walking through the woods at night.

In the first two days we found that the woods have a ton of wildlife. The first photo was of an armadillo, then a fox, possum, deer, feral cat, squirrel, birds, a big buck, mouse, and finally kids playing in the woods.

Since then we have moved the camera to several different spots to see if we can capture photos of any other species of animals wandering through. So far we don’t have a photo of a cotton-tailed rabbit, jackrabbit or a coyote, but we’ve heard coyotes on more than one occasion. However, I don’t think we have bobcat this close into the city.

When the weather gets warmer, we will move the camera closer to the creek to see if we can document any type of reptiles. We have also documented over 25 species of birds that live in the area or migrate through.

Here is a list of all the wildlife we’ve seen so far in the yard or in the woods behind the house.

Game Camera hiding in plain sight.

Game Camera hiding in plain sight.

Mammals:

Armadillo, Fox, Raccoon, Squirrel, Mouse, Deer, Possum

 Birds:

Great Horned Owl, Screech Owl, Red Shoulder Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Crested Cara Cara, Carolina Wren, White Wing Dove, Mourning Dove, Red Bellied Wood Pecker, Downy Wood Pecker, Ladder Back Wood Pecker, Chimney Swift, Purple Martin, Cedar Waxwing, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Great Tailed Grackle, American Gold Finch, House Finch, Lessor Gold Finch, Blue Grey Gnatcatcher, Tennessee Warbler, House Sparrow, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Black Chinned Humming Bird, Back Crested Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee.

Transforming Our Yard

We moved into our new house in February of 2014 and I quickly started documenting what birds and other wildlife frequented the yard. My goal is to turn it into a certified wildlife habitat and restore it to a more native state.  We live in what was once the edge of Austin, TX, but is now part of the heart of the city. From our back porch we can hear I-35 raging in it’s dramatic hurry day and night, yet our house feels in many ways like a remote park.

Red shoulder hawk in the morning

Red shoulder hawk in the morning

We chose the house because it is surrounded on two sides by a greenbelt and the house sits on .5 acres on a small hilltop in the middle of a neighborhood that was once a massive live oak forest. Before many of the older oaks died from oak wilt, there were trees that were 300-400 years old lining the small wet weather drainage areas that twist down to Walnut Creek. In the parking lot of the motorcycle dealership across I-35 there is an ancient oak tree that was a sapling when Christopher Columbus sailed for the America’s; the tree sits alone, walled in by asphalt with a single historic marker that tells of its life.

Understanding how my little yard fits into the greater scheme of the ecosystem that surrounds me is important so I can make choices that have a positive impact rather than a negative one. The new house has a good foundation for changing the landscape to something that will really attract birds, butterflies, toads, lizards, deer and other wildlife that might move through the area.

green lizard 2014 Through out the spring and summer I have observed what naturally occurs in the yard, studied how the light changes during the seasons, and how the water flows. The observations will be my guide as I start the journey of removing the traditional yard to replace it with native plants, add bird feeding stations, and provide water sources for avian, mammal and reptile species.

Once the fall bird and butterfly migration has ended in December, I will have a pretty good understanding of the baseline from which I can start my documentation of the changes that occur as I alter the food and water sources. Currently, the yard has very few flowering native plants- so it wont take long to increase the butterfly, moth and hummingbird population. Stopping the bi-monthly pesticide treatments that the person that lived here before subscribed to has already increased the lizard and toad populations- they are more effective at killing bugs anyway.

This is my journey to return .5 acres of urban yard to a more native space that uses less water and attracts more wildlife.

Current trees: Live oak, Pecan, Shin Oak, Red Oak, Hackberry

Current shrubs: Yaupon, Boxwood (not native), Nandina (not native), Mountain Laurel, Jade Bush (not native), Lantana, two other’s that I’m not sure about.