When I’m in the garden, even if I have a plan to execute and am organized for that undertaking, I am often (and easily) persuaded by whimsy, or sometimes necessity, to focus attention on a scene or event unplanned for.  Such it was on a lazy afternoon of summer backyard bird-watching last weekend.  It’s dog-days here in Austin, Texas, hot and muggy is the norm for now, but the covered patio offers shade and an ideal spot to watch my resident birds go about their enterprises in the garden.  In recent weeks, I’ve enjoyed the antics of a Black-crested TitmouseBaeolophus atricristatus, family. Chipper little things, the youngin’ has been learning to navigate the trees, the seeds on perennials, and the sunflower seeds in the bird feeder which I make available to all who are interested.   I hoped to catch photos, or at least a photo, of either parent or teen as they twittered in the tree and flitted to the feeder.  Alas, they were all too quick for me and nothing but camera blur resulted.

While plopped in the chair, hot and disgruntled and slightly frustrated with the birds, the camera, and myself, I noticed this:

The seed heads of the spring-blooming Brazos PenstemonPenstemon tenuis, almost–though not quite–echo in both color and form, a triad of ceramic stacked spheres. Additionally, in the above shot and at the background, I like the parallel of the tree trunk with the carved pedestal of the bird bath–color and texture notwithstanding.

But it was the seed heads and spheres that made me sit up and smile.

The spheres lack the sharp peaks that the seed heads employ to distribute their DNA and are limited to the toasty color rendered from months of development.   The ceramic balls enjoy more color, a permanent fixture of their existence.

I’ll continue to watch the Titmice, because they’re fun and part of the fabric of the garden. Maybe I’ll even get a good shot or two of one of them.  Soon–very soon, I’ll prune the seed heads and distribute the seeds throughout my garden.  The evergreen rosette of the Brazos Penstemon will disappear under the evolving late summer garden, but the spheres will remain–in watchful guardianship of seasonal change.

I’m joining in for the first time with Anna’s charming Flutter and Hum as a contributor, rather than just as a reader.  Please pop over to Wednesday Vignette to enjoy other gardeners’ view of plants, gardens, life.

Boarded Up

After our disappointing winter/spring with no resident Eastern Screech Owls living in the nest box–wooing, mating, and tending offspring–we moved on to other concerns and projects. Personally, I missed the show, though I suspect the owls didn’t miss my oooing and aahing at their antics. And I know that an owl pair raised a family nearby, so that’s a consolation. Mama stopped by for a visit one day to show off the owlets, and occasionally I hear and see one or two at sundown.

Once owl nesting season is done and the family has moved on, I typically don’t pay much attention to the nest box as it sits unoccupied and unadorned in the Red Oak tree. But in late June, and just out of curiosity, I plugged in the owl cam cable into the computer.  Expecting nothing more than a placid scene of lonely leaves and discarded grass, I was surprised to see this: two snoozing Virginia OpossumsDidelphis virginiana.  

Two?  The second is underneath the top–opossum bunk-bed style–but there are definitely two hairless tails, so unless there was an alien invasion of two-tailed opossums, there were two owl house interlopers on that particular day.

Over the next couple of weeks, I checked the cam daily.  Sometimes a sleeping marsupial filled the box, sometimes the box was sans opossum.  I assume the cuddling two are juvenile siblings, but I only saw them together that one (first) time.  All other nest box peeks have delivered just the one opossum, but I’ll bet it’s one of the pair. Usually, he/she has been asleep, breathing peacefully; once, I viewed a very cat-like grooming session.

Because we built the nest box for the owls and the last thing we need is a repeat of a nesting mama possum settled in the box like last winter’s squatter (which you can read about here), we’ve boarded up the place for the season.

Closed for summer.  Will reopen in December, 2017.

If I could convince the opossums that this is only a summer home for them and I knew they’d vacate prior to the owls looking for their winter/spring nesting place, I wouldn’t object too much to hosting a nest box time-share. However, opossums are notoriously difficult to engage rationally and I suspect that my protestations at their presence and ultimate threats of expulsion would go unheeded. Therefore, the nest box will remain boarded up and none but a few ants and the like will be allowed!

I see a juvenile opossum once or twice each week in the back garden, usually when flip on the outdoor lights to let my girl cat inside for the night.  Kitty Astrud watches the marsupial movements, unimpressed and uninterested, showing no desire to follow.  The individual(s) scurry through the garden to avoid detection; no doubt the opossum is pleased when the light goes off and once again he/she has unfettered access to insects from the garden and partially composted goodies in the compost bin.

Fatal Attraction

Sultry and steamy are the norm for July summer mornings in Austin, but the open blooms of Jimsonweed, Datura wrightii, deliver a dose of cooling bloom to the garden.

Large and glowing, Jimsonweed flowers open at night and close by mid-day.

These two petulantly refused to greet me as I trundled along the path for closer look and a breath of their intoxicating fragrance.

What is this?

A Green Lynx spider, Peucetia viridans rested on the creamy expanse, clutching what looked like a breakfast tidbit.  As I leaned in for a look, Ms Lynx skittered to the underside of the petal, prey in hand.   We briefly played photographer/spider hide-n-seek, but I succeeded in snagging a couple of photos of her–and her intended meal.

The wings of the victim are visible and I suspect the spider’s snack is some sort of small fly.

I didn’t figure out what she captured; it was probably a small bee, gnat, or fly, but she certainly wasn’t going to share with me, nor did she want to dine while I was loitering around her choice of dining establishment.

The spider proved lethal for its winged prey, but Jimsonweed (also known as Sacred Thorn Apple, Thorn Apple, Angel Trumpet, and Sacred Datura) has always been recognized for its toxic properties–all parts of this tough native are poisonous. Southwestern Native Americans utilized the narcotic qualities of Jimsonweed for religious ceremonies, but if prepared improperly (I don’t know what improperly means in this context), the dosage is fatal.

Reveling in the heat of arid summer, my one shrub blooms from July until September, typically with 5-10 flowers each week.  If Jimsonweed grows in full, blasting sun, the plant flowers more, and for a longer period of time.

I’ll need to pop out at night during the next set of blooms and perhaps I’ll observe a pollinating moth.  Until then, I’ll stick with coffee and some fruit for my breakfast and leave the spiders to their own meals.