An Obligatory ‘ It Snowed!’ Post

I only half believe most of the weather forecasts that I read or listen to. I generally take a broad view, assuming that the predictions are more ball park suggestions of what might happen day-to-day in my part of the world. Long-term forecasts seem more accurate than the dailies, but meteorology is an inexact science, which makes it fascinating to follow and keeps gardeners on their toes. Sometimes, those are frozen toes.

The forecast for Sunday was 100% rain, possibly turning to snow, with temperatures remaining a smidge above freezing. With the forecast of possible snow for Sunday, I was piqued, but realistic: nah, not gonna happen.

Mea culpa, I’m glad I was wrong! It did snow!

Throughout the day, the pond waterfall lent its melody to the garden during the quiet of snowfall.

Snowfall is rare here in Austin, Texas. In past decades, we’d receive snow at intervals less than yearly, roughly every-other-year. In these climate change times, we’re much more likely to experience ice storms rather than snowfall. Yesterday, the white stuff began falling mid-morning and didn’t stop until late afternoon. My garden received an 1.5 inches of snow and was a welcome sight and wonderful change.

We prepared the beehives for the next few days of wet and cold conditions, mixing up a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water, just in case the bees have eaten through their honey stores (unlikely, but still…). So far, in these cold temperatures, the bees haven’t slurped the sweet stuff, but sugar water is ready for them in the next few days if they need it.

The bottle with sugar water stands in a holder, lid facing downward. The lid has holes where the sugar water drips and the honeybees sips.

When the snowfall began, I assumed it would be a short event, turning to rain within an hour or so. As the temperature hovered just above freezing, I assumed the whatever snow fell would melt immediately, or nearly so, which proved accurate in the first hour. After a couple of hours of light to heavy snowfall, with no slow-down of snow fall, I donned a coat, hat, and gloves and commenced covering the few cold-sensitive plants in my garden. The only thing I regularly protect from our limited bouts of frosty winter weather are the several groups of Dianella or Flax Lily, Dianella tasmanica. A great plant for our hot summers and one of my favorites, as it’s beautiful in shady conditions, it’s the only plant that suffers true damage during cold temperatures. I really like this plant, so I’m committed to covering.

This little ceramic owl braves the snow and looks dashing with its snow hat. Its two owl buddies were underneath the blanket covering a group of Flax Lily, therefore no snow hats or photos of them!

This morning sees clear skies and melting snow. It’ll warm a bit today, but a hard freeze is forecast for tonight; it’s January, it’s expected.

So for Monday, we say so long! to our brief snowy show and appreciate the distraction from the craziness of the world we live in.

Maneki-neko welcomes all weather conditions!

Kicked to the Curb

I suspect I’m not alone when I say that I’m ready to kick — and kick hard — 2020 to the curb.

What a year this was, resulting in grief for the many who’ve died and sorrow for all whose lives have been upended in monstrous ways, too many to count or fully comprehend. I don’t have words to express my horror about this past year: utter disbelief at the callous indifference of leaders and the amoral selfishness of fellow citizens. The layers of good manners were ripped off; we now know what we are and what we must repair, given strong, high-minded leadership and implementation of values rooted in decency and fair play promoted in society.

As awful as this past year has been, I look forward to a new year, to wipe the slate clean, to a renewal of hope, and with heart-felt gratitude for the principled acts that became the glue in the midst of chaos. Included in those righteous acts are remarkable achievements in science and medicine and the commitment and compassion demonstrated by health care workers and first responders facing daunting tasks and terrible odds at each shift. Keeping everything working smoothly relied on the dedication of purpose demonstrated by a variety of essential workers, most of whom aren’t well-compensated for their worth in our world. And touching our future as they do, teachers revamped and revised continually throughout the year, always with students’ needs the highest priority.

I admit that some fear, some trepidation, remains; my hope is tempered. Trauma wields lessons and I long for our knowledge gained, ready and prepared for the next, and continuing, challenges. Regardless, my shoulders are squared and my feet are firmly planted as the old year ends and the new one emerges.

So, good riddance to you, 2020. Take your pandemic, your sorry leadership, your self-serving ignorance–don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

You won’t be missed.

Winter Texans

There’s a term for northern folks who come to Texas to enjoy a milder winter: winter Texans, also known as Snowbirds.

Some actual birds are winter Texans too, and in my Austin garden they’re unlikely to see snow (not impossible, but less common in these past few decades). Nonetheless, these winter birds are here for rest and good food sources, and to gear up for spring/summer breeding season. In my garden, they enjoy the pond and its surrounding trees and shrubs.

No snowbirds here, but the warblers are warbling and the phoebes are phlying.

Groan. That was bad. Really bad. Apologies.

As these winter Texans settle in for the next months, joining local, year-round birds, they’ve been active in their everyday lives, which thankfully provides nice a distraction for my everyday life.

I’ve seen a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula, and have observed one–or more–Orange-crowned Warblers, Leiothlypis celata. But the stars of my wildlife garden show recently have been a crew of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata. I’ve counted as many as 8 at a time, all fluttery and flighty in the trees and zippy around the pond. They come, hang out, and eventually make their way to the public bath–a favorite spot for birds of all kinds. It’s hard to count the Yellow-rumps as they’re in nearly constant motion, but I have been lucky with the camera a few times, capturing some brief, quite moments in between the winged energy that defines these busy birds.

I was excited when I downloaded this photo. It’s a nice capture of an adorable little Yellow-rumped Warbler face, avian colors complementing arboreal hues. But what interested me is the shading of the throat.

There are two subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warblers: Audubon’s and Myrtles. Audubon’s have a yellow throat, Myrtles’ throats are white. I’ve seen both kinds of Yellow-rumps in the past, but in winter and spring, it’s the Myrtles I see around here. I thought that the shading might indicate that this one is a juvenile Audubon’s, the yellow coloring just beginning. Yellow-rumps here during winter and lack their breeding plumage, so they’re softer in coloring, less showy than during the spring and summer when they’re attracting a mate. After looking at photos on Cornell’s site, I’ve decided that this one is a Myrtle and probably a juvenile, its adult white throat not quite established.

It’s a cute face, though–and Myrtle or Audubon’s–nothing changes that! Until my Red Oak tree loses its leaves (soon!), the little warblers are hard to see. It’s movement I look for, and I was pleased to follow this one as it darted, hither and thither, in the tree. Once it landed, I trained the camera to its perch.

This one waited in the wings for a dip in the pond, but landed closer to its target as it checked out the surroundings for crafty cats or other dangers. Two years ago I planted a Rough-leaf Dogwood, Cornus drummondii, by my pond and, while still only shrub sized, it’s proven itself as a good stopping-off point for birds going to and from the pond.

Here we are–arrived at the pond and rocking the yellow rump! The yellow dab of feathers, noticeable at a quick glimpse when the birds are in flight, are more challenging to see once the bird lands. Unless they turn just so, I don’t always see their namesake.

I like these three bathing beauties, each with their yellow highlights, under the wings and at the rump.

I think the one at the left is a mature female, mostly because of white streak along her eye and patch of beige across its cheek. The one at the bottom/middle is probably a juvenile female. She looks similar to the first one, but lacks the eye streak and defined beige ear patch. All I know about the one on the right is that she has a yellow butt.

Butter butts. That’s what wacky birders call Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Not that I’m a wacky birder.

Here’s a couple with differing views. The female, looks left and the male, looks right.

The male is definitely not in its breeding colors; his dark eye patch would be more obvious and dramatic. He’s probably another juvenile, spending his winter here as he matures. As much as I like to see the yellow side patches and yellow rumps, I like this shot because none of those spots of butter yellow are visible on either bird. One may appreciate their pretty faces, graceful forms, and dark/light markings.

This adult male Myrtle Yellow-rump Warbler splashed with vigor and fluffed his feathers with fanfare.

While he’s not in full breeding regalia, you can see that his plumage is richer in color than the other birds of these photos, females and juveniles all.

The Yellow-rumped Warblers enjoy the pond, but they also bop along the branches of trees and shrubs, nibbling insects as they go. They’re known as birds who catch insects as they fly (both the birds and the insects). Impressive as their aerial antics are, they’re outmatched by the flycatcher acrobatics of the Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe. One of these has been looping about my garden, diving here, perching there, for several days.

I often see one or two during spring migration, but have never had one in my garden at any other time of year. The maps suggest that Central Texas is in the ‘nonbreeding’ area, bordering the ‘year-round’ region, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m thrilled to see this swooping charmer and even happier when he rests. Then, aside from admiring his flying skills, I can appreciate his good looks.

I hope you find time to go outside, weather permitting, or just look out the window. Even in this dark time of year, as plants go dormant, days grow shorter, and we all hunker down, it’s remarkable how much wildlife activity there is in the garden. That activity wants only observation.

This post ends my garden blogging meme, ‘Wildlife Wednesday’. I’ll still post-n-photograph wildlife in the garden, but not necessarily on a first-Wednesday-of-the-month schedule or as a formalized garden meme, but rather, as I’m inspired.

I hope that hosting this meme was enjoyable and educational for participants and readers alike. I hope that learning how easy and gratifying bringing nature to your own garden inspired some gardeners to abandon dependence on chemicals and limit turf in favor of a healthier ecosystem. How, by gardening with native plants and plants which increase and sustain diversity of life, the novice and experienced gardener helps heal the world.

Thanks for reading!!