Red-bellied House Builder

Cleaning-up from Texas’ recent snowpocalypse is on-going and eye-opening.   Well over 90% of my garden is pruned back or will be soon.  That being said, while I’m probably going to lose a few, most of my plants will return from their roots or leaf out from their limbs.  Sadly, it will take a chunk of the growing season before there are choices for the pollinators and fruits-n-berries for the birds and mammals.  The garden is resilient and demonstrated its worth in the face of extreme cold.

In my front garden, my non-native Arizona ash tree relieved itself of a large branch when the ice and snow became too much to bear.

I caught this photo as the temperature had warmed a bit, but before the snow and ice melted. It was five more days before it was pleasant enough to tackle the limb and its branches, cutting the material to bin-appropriate lengths and widths. I was grateful that little damage occurred to the Burford holly, where the tree mess landed. As an aside, during the snowy-icy days, Cedar Waxwings and Robins swooped in and devoured those berries; I’m tickled that an excellent food source was available for the hungry birds during the frigid days.

As we worked that Sunday morning, the Hub puzzled a fix for the metal bird bath which suffered a career-ending injury when the limb crashed down. Under the weight and power of the tree limb, the pedestal snapped in two pieces, the small bowl popped free. The pedestal isn’t fixable, so into recycling it goes, but I can easily hollow out a small area in the garden for the bowl to sit in comfortably. The birds, lizards, and toads will like that.

As we trimmed and tidied that first warm day and in the days since, we’ve enjoyed listing to and observing the nest building efforts of this male Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus.

His rhythmic tap tap tap has served as a percussion accompaniment to the pruning of our mushed and freeze-dried plants.

Dad-to-be woodpecker is annoyingly shy. I’ve had a tough time catching a photo of him at work; he flits away as soon as he’s sure I’m set for a shot, camera lens adjusted. But I’ve managed few photos, when he was too engrossed with designing the kids’ bedrooms to notice the weirdo below him.

The large limb which landed in the garden broke off from this perforated section of the tree.

Hmm–wonder why it broke so easily? Arizona ash trees are notoriously weak-wooded, but even less stable when a woodpecker adds its formidable beak work to the wood. We’ll keep a keen eye on this limb during the coming spring storms for potential problems; falling logs add nothing to a garden’s charm. I’ll need a consult from an arborist on removal of this section, but for now and the coming few months, we’ll leave it alone: baby woodpeckers will soon be in residence.

This storm was destructive in countless ways and distressingly, leadership in this state is lacking. As for my tiny plot of Texas, I’m saddened at what the deep freeze delivered to my garden and fret over the damage done. Even so, I welcome exposure to the garden’s bare bones. This sort of destruction makes clear poor plant choices or placement, and allows some re-thinking of the garden and its purpose. The garden will recover, in time, in one form or another.

The impacts on wildlife may be devastating, though urban wildlife are likely to fare better than their rural counterparts. Flora and fauna continue their lives: plants grow, flower and seed; animals grow, mate, parent. Like my Red-bellied Woodpecker buddy and his building of a nest to woo a mate and create a nursery for his offspring, there is meaning in continuity and hope in survival.

29 thoughts on “Red-bellied House Builder

  1. Beautifully written, Tina. You and others have been through so much. I’m glad you and the little woodpecker are okay. I hope that your garden, in its renewal, offers some lovely surprises in the coming months.

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    • Thank you, Jane. I love seeing the woodpecker, he’s an example of resilience and ‘getting on with things’! I do worry about the lack of food for wildlife in these next months as plants recover, but will do what I can in my plot of Texas.

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  2. Did you catch your alliteration with r and l in “return from their roots or leaf out from their limbs”? The “meaning in continuity” that you mentioned at the end is the benefit that nations, as well smaller groups of people, get from maintaining traditions. It’s why the rapid and wanton discarding of traditions contributes to disunity.

    From what you say, your garden will prove resilient. You seem to have had less tree damage than we did. Our tree folks were here yesterday from late morning till dusk and are returning in a couple of hours to finish up. In addition to having them remove broken limbs from Ashe junipers, I had them cut back others that overhung the roof. That included cutting down a few leaning Ashe junipers altogether to avoid them crashing down on the house in a future storm.

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    • I planned that alliteration! It flowed well, I thought!

      I’m sorry you had so much damage to your trees. It seems the Ashe junipers really didn’t do well with the ice/temperatures. They get a bad rap, but I love those trees, they have so much character. My arborist (who is quite a character) retired, so I don’t have anyone that I trust to consult about my tree. Eventually, the Arizona ash will need to come down, but not right now. A nice squirrel or bird planted a gorgeous Red/Shumard oak about 6 feet from the base of the ash and when I discovered it about 3 years ago, I left it to grow. I’ll never see it as a mature tree, but someday, it will be a beauty. I was pleased with my Red oaks in the back garden and even the American sycamore at the side of my house. They all weathered this event well. Good luck with your trees; I hope you took some photos, as their issues might make a good post or two for you.

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  3. You wrote, “This sort of destruction makes clear poor plant choices or placement, and allows some re-thinking of the garden and its purpose. The garden will recover, in time, in one form or another.” I agree. I am re-thinking all of my plant selections for the future. My southern wax myrtle died and will be replaced by a Carolina Buckthorn, which is hardy down to zone 6b (the temperature range we fell to in east Texas). If the pomegranate is dead, and it looks like it is, it will be replaced with a dwarf persimmon also hardy in zone 6b. (Supposedly, I’m in zone 8b.) While I know some don’t believe in climate change, I do, so I will keep this in mind for the future highs and lows because it’s heartbreaking to lose plants you have been growing for years. (I have my fingers crossed that the Turk’s Cap will come back from its roots.)

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    • I agree–those USDA growing zones don’t mean much these days. Your replacement choices are excellent–happy planting with those!

      I think most everything in my garden will recover–in time, but will wait to see. While I’m a huge proponent of native plants, I certainly grow plenty of non-natives. I try to avoid the fad plants that come into play, as so often, they don’t handle these kinds of events well. That said, I’ve been lulled into a false sense of what’s appropriate and may have to replace. Sigh.

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  4. It is a big job to clear the frozen vegetation. I only got to the mushy stuffy and the rest will get cut later. In a way, the freeze is helping with making the decision to replace aging front yard landscaping. I wanted to tell you that I seem to be supporting a hive a bees that drink about 4 oz of sugar water a day. The hummers have to fight them to get a drink.

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    • Poor hummers and bees–there is absolutely nothing for them to eat right now. Be sure to keep your pantry stocked with sugar for the next few months! Like you, I’m removing some things right now, waiting until a little later for others–there’s no hurry, they’re not going anywhere.

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  5. My shade trees – one native, one not – are also prone to losing limbs in bad weather. When it happens it always seems like a small disaster, but the garden recovers. I’m sure yours will as well. Is Texas going to abolish wind power now that they are pretending that it’s the cause of the systemic power failure? I would expect not, given all the landowners and the utilities who make money off of it, but who knows these crazy days.

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    • Haha–well, we do have some real morons in charge. Funnily enough, our house has both solar and wind power. We didn’t lose power, except for the very first day of cold temps (Thursday 2/11) and then, only briefly. It wasn’t the solar or wind, necessarily, but still, I find that ironic.

      I’m pretty confident that most of my garden will recover, it’ll just take some time.

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  6. Tina your plants have been strong in the extreme cold. Although you are going to lose some, the rest, after pruning more than 90% of your garden -what a great job-, they will be reborn and grow from their roots and branches; but this year they will not give flowers, fruits, berries: the animals will not have food and neither will the pollinators. Tina I beg you to have water with sugar for pollinators, monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, and a lot of variety of seeds for birds: please feed them well, your garden has many trees where the birds and the pond will take refuge with its waterfall and its container, and all the troughs where they go to drink and bathe. A large branch of your non-Arizona native ash tree collapsed from the weight of snow and ice – a shame. Poor metal birdbath that broke the pedestal: but the metal bowl you are going to put in a place in the garden that the animals will love, I love it. The male red-bellied woodpecker building his nest is wonderful, new life – I love it. Tina your huge storm swept away everything, leaving everything in its path destroyed, including your garden that with time will recover completely. As for the lack of leadership in your State, the same happened in Spain when the storm Filomena passed almost two months ago. The wildlife is going to have a very bad time and many will starve. But wildlife and nature follow their course and in the end the flora and fauna will survive: they always have after great natural disasters. Tina the important thing is that you and your husband are in good health and safe. I send you all my support and encouragement, my friend. Have hope, little by little everything will return to normal. Warm hugs from my Mother and me. Take good care of both of you. I send you my best wishes. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

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      • Thank you, Tina, for thinking of my Mother and me. You don’t have to thank me and worry about your health, you are a friend. I also think of you and send my best wishes to you and your husband. Have a nice and happy weekend. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

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  7. Life does go on, doesn’t it? I’m glad you are looking at the silver lining, Tina, a chance to do a thorough deep clean of the garden. Are you finding the native plants fared better overall?

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    • Yes it does, Eliza. I have found that the native plants are doing pretty well. I expect to have some columbine blooms in a week or two and all the other spring natives seem ready to get back to business!

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  8. Oh it’s sad to see the damage and stressful for you. It seems appropriate you find time to monitor the woodpecker. Best wishes for restoring, restructuring, reimagining your garden. Peace.

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  9. I just left a comment for you at my place about the woodpecker that I found hammering away this morning. I’m eager to find it in an area where I can get a photo. It’s interesting that all three times I’ve seen or heard one, it’s been on one of our palms. I wonder if there’s something especially good to eat there?

    We don’t have the Ashe juniper, but our certain palm species really took a hit, and many have been cut down already. On the other hand, a few seem just fine. In another week, they may not look so good;it’s been interesting to see how plants that seemed to have survived are slowly, slowly fading and falling.

    Out in the hill country, on the game ranches, it’s been the introduced species that didn’t fare well at all. The Axis deer and the Nilgai (Indian antelope) just couldn’t survive. It’s been interesting to track some of the discussions; there may be some benefits, harsh as it sounds. The Axis deer have been escaping those ranches and out-competing our native White-tailed deer. The cold culling them may turn out to be beneficial.

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    • Saddens me that the non-native deer died, but then again, I’m glad that the white-tailed might have a better chance. I never really mind when a non-native plant can’t hack it, not sure why my values towards the deer would be different. 🙂

      Yes, the Ashe juniper really did take a hit. We don’t have many (any?) in our immediate area, but they’re certainly too common around Central Texas. I hope your native palms persevere, but it will be a few weeks more before we know the full extent of the damage.

      My low growing, spring-blooming, native wildflower are ready to take on the world! (Or, my garden, at the bare minimum!). The foliage is lush and I’ll be welcoming my first columbine somethin this next week. Woo-hoo!!! I have a little blue-eyed grass that pokes up and out from a crack in my limestone back patio each winter, blooming in early-to-mid spring. I thought it might be a goner, but nope–it’s up, green and grassy and I look forward to seeing its blue-eyes!

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  10. The weather surely did a number in some people’s yard and I suppose you were lucky that you didn’t suffer more damage. I lost the pedestal of a concrete bird bath when tree limb fell on top of it during a spring rain storm. I don’t know about plants that you might have lost but I lost a number of things. I am a bit worried if there were will be an adequate plant inventory this spring.

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    • It’s been pretty devastating. I will say that I’m not sorry to see that so many agaves are mush right now. I like them, in the right spot, but they were WAY over planted here in Austin. So long, suckers! I hope those spiky monsters are replaced with something more pollinator, wildlife, and human friendly. 🙂 Rant over.

      I agree that the inventory will be slim pickins’ and probably for quite a while. The growers were hurt, just like everyone else.

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  11. We had a Papa-to-be working in the woods near us as well. Busy during the snow and ice but happily so.

    So much mush! So much pruning! With my usual interplanting and constant sowing/harvesting, it’s rare that I see big patches of bare earth in my food beds but here we are. Fresh starts for fresh starts or some such 🙂

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    • I guess the best face on this is that with all that bare ground, new horizons. That storm really took out so much! I had some errands today and drove into south and west Austin and so many plants are just brown and dead. Ugh, not a pretty look at all. Good luck with your spring/summer veggie planting.

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  12. I’ve been surprised at the resilience in some of the plants. I thought for sure some of my salvia cultivars would be dead (and truth be told, I’m still waiting in a couple) but several are already returning. I’m afraid I’ll be waiting until May to find out about the brugs.

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    • Like you I’m surprised and pleased, though for the moment, it’s grim in the garden. I feel for the pollinators, there’s just a whole lot of nuttin’! Good luck with yours–keep me posted.

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