Welcome to my world!

Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

In our neighborhood we seldom see Trick or Treaters knocking on doors and asking for candy. But when I look closely, I see that Nature itself has done a pretty good job of celebrating Halloween.  In fact, here are quite a few spooky characters I've seen around the yard.

Can you tell what's making this scary face?  It's a pomegranate hanging from a bush in the yard.  (I flipped the photo upside down so that you can appreciate the Halloween mask. )

Cactus blooms can also make faces worthy of Halloween!

This Fungus Face was hiding on an old tree stump--

Talk about disguises:  the Walking Sticks in the photo below came to the party as, well...walking sticks!

What's a Halloween party without a few well-dressed spiders?

Another Silver Argiope is spinning her web.

(A flash from the camera lights up this Wolf Spider's creepy eyes.)
(What's in this web--is it spider or prey? No matter, the web is a masterpiece, a fine Halloween decoration!)
(Click to enlarge:  you'll see the hundreds of baby spiders creepy-crawling out of their pod.)
Other guests at the Halloween costume party:  a butterfly dressed in ghostly garb...

and another appropriately named the Funereal Duskywing, just perfect for Halloween haunting...

Some little goblin  (bee or butterfly?) dressed up in a Flower costume:

and a Black Witch Moth (yes, that's really its name) flew with five-inch wingspan into our house and slept on the curtains:

Last, but never least,  a night-time owl prowls the neighborhood on Halloween night:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Color an Osprey Sky

Finally, it is autumn on the Arroyo Colorado.

We really do have four seasons, though first-time visitors sometimes think it's just one long summer.  (I thought so, too, that first disorienting year we were here, twenty-one years ago.)  The leaves of only a few trees change color. Our Rio Grande Ash, for example, sheds yellow leaves sometime after Thanksgiving and is budding by Valentines' day, and Mesquites sprinkle leaves on the ground in a windy cold front--here one day and gone the next. Many of the trees keep leaves all year; flowering shrubs and wildflowers bloom almost continually.

But small things mean a lot here, and for that reason I like the subtly changing seasons, and especially autumn when that first "cool" day is such a relief.  

That first hint of coolness crept in this week.  Tuesday morning we awoke to low humidity and temperatures in the 60's!  One step onto the back porch reminded me that it was autumn indeed, not just on the calendar.  A familiar bird call made me look up:  against the clear cool blue sky, an osprey glided over the river, home from his northern summer.  Our autumn and winter skies are seldom without an osprey and his loud whistle as he soared was musical and welcome. 

Ospreys are not the only birds above the river these days.  Cattle Egrets fly low over the water, especially in the evenings;  small shore birds fly with short direct wing beats,  moving too quickly to identify.   (An occasional Spotted Sandpiper stops to teeter-totter along the dock, the slower movement making him just about the only sandpiper I can ID for sure.  Here's one that stopped by yesterday. His spots are gone, another sign that autumn is here.)

Long lines of larger shore birds are also a sign of fall.  I haven't seen returning ducks or geese yet, and the White Pelicans are still up north, but today a line of dark ibises flew by, silhouetted against another blue blue sky. 

White-faced Ibises fly in groups of all-dark birds, not the mixed dark and light of the White Ibises with their darker juveniles.  The sky in this picture is lovely. When I saw this photo, and the Osprey sky above,  I  starting wondering just what shade of blue "Sky Blue" would be on one of those little  wheels or cards that paint companies display at building supply stores. I can't pass by that aisle in Lowe's without browsing through the color palettes.

Because color intrigues me,  one of my favorite  Iphone apps is Sherwin-Williams'  "Color Snap."  You can snap a picture with your Iphone, or use a photo you have already saved, and learn what Sherwin-Williams paint color a certain area of the photo matches.  Now, of course, I know that photos vary from printer to printer and the world has many more colors than a computer or camera has, but let's forget all that and pretend that a sky really can be matched through a photo to a paint chip.  According to my Iphone app, the Osprey sky and Ibis sky are both Danube, color # 6803.  Or at least the upper right part of the Osprey sky is Danube.  The bottom left is Jacaranda, #6802 and the part that is covered with wispy clouds just above the Osprey is Notable Hue, #6521.  Certainly it is notable as well as beautiful.  I may just paint the ceiling of  my porch Danube or Jacaranda or Notable Hue.

Okay, this is getting fun.  I'm sending photos via email from my computer to my phone and color-snapping away.  I tried this photo of a Tropical Kingbird that perched on a palm tree in the yard.  Yesterday I snapped a dozen pictures, marveling at the clear colors in the cool morning, and now I am curious about labels for those colors.  (In another life maybe I'll be one of those people who make up color names for paint companies.)

 Again, the sky is Jacaranda.  The lovely shade of yellow on the  kingbird's breast is part Jonquil and part Daisy.

Here's another colorful photo.  The butterfly is a Two-banded Flasher, its back appropriately labeled Flyway on the color chart.  The butterfly is like one my neighbor  carried over from the Esperanza shrub between our houses.  It flew away before I answered the door, but when we returned to the Esperanza, others were there along with  three different species of long-tailed butterflies.

This Flasher looks stunning on the yellow petals of the Turnera diffusa (Mexican Damiana), a small shrub  that blooms randomly along the walkway, wherever it can find a patch of sun, and folds its petals as dusk approaches.

Below is a  Long-tailed Skipper sporting a lovely shade of green (Rook Wood Dark Green) that nicely complements its brown wings (Rock Garden).

My handy Color-Snap app would identify complementary colors for any color in my palette, but I think Nature does the best job of that.  What could be more complementary than the yellow hues of the kingbird's breast against the blue of the sky,  or the blue of the flasher against the bright blossoms of the Turnera?  I'm inspired to paint my porch ceiling Jacaranda and my porch swing Daisy--a lovely combination.  Nature is a pretty good exterior decorator.

My last post (a month ago! I apologize for being lazy about writing) chronicled the abundance of late summer in the yard.  I thought then the hummers were thick around our feeders and nectar plants, but this first week in October seems the height of their migration. We have mostly Ruby-throated with a few Black-chinned and the resident Buff-bellied Hummingbirds. 

The colors of these hummers look washed out in the photo because it was late in the day, and I used a flash, which disturbed the hungry little birds not a bit.  They ravenously drink the feeder dry in just a day and a half.  All of these are female or immature Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  I haven't seen an adult male for a couple of weeks.  I'm reminded of Emily Dickinson's description of the fleeting brilliance of a hummingbird: 

 A Route of Evanescence
 With a revolving Wheel --
 A Resonance of Emerald --
A Rush of Cochineal --

 I just checked Color Snap to see if Sherwin-Williams uses Emily's labels for their colors (by chance, of course).  But no, the hummer's throat is Vermillion, not Cochineal. (Another wonderful color, vermillion:  I'm anxiously awaiting the return of our winter Vermillion Flycatchers. I'll let you know if a photo of the male matches S-W's vermillion.)

Out of curiosity, I just looked up cochineal on the web.  I knew it denoted red, another word for carmine.  What I didn't know is that it is a red made from natural dyes created from smashed up cochineal bugs!   The tiny bugs live on nopal prickly pear cacti.  In the fifteenth century the dye was extremely valuable, second only to silver as the most valuable export from Mexico. (I'm pretty sure we have those little bugs here in the Rio Grande Valley.  I'll have to check with a bug expert.)

Once again, Emily Dickinson has chosen a perfect word to describe the ruby throat of the hummingbird, accurate in color and connoting a sense of treasure as well.  The photo here does not begin to show the glittering iridescence of its ruby throat, but Dickinson's poem almost does.

Finally, here's a photo that I think captures the color of one tiny bit of the yard.  I won't even try to label its colors with Sherwin-Williams' clever marketing tool.  Indeed, the colors may exist only in my mind. You may not see them as I do.  What I'm trying to say, as I look at this perfect bee, is what I think Emily Dickinson means in another brief but memorable poem:

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,---
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.

This bee and fiddlewood are not of the prairie, but are a small corner of  what botanists call the Arroyo Colorado brush.  Like Emily's prairie,  I can "make" the brush in my mind by evoking the colors of the golden-winged honey bee and the green/white petals of the native fiddlewood.  I can snap photos and look at the brush from my deck if I'm here--but if I'm away from home, I can make a little patch of South Texas brushland and the Arroyo Colorado with the colors in my mind.  Reverie will do.


I wrote this entry a week ago and then forgot to post it, but  I'll go ahead and date it as though I posted it then.  The weather continues to be lovely and the skies are just as blue. Hummers have decreased in number but still swarm the nectar a dozen or so at a time, competing with bees and each other. 

The Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society had its "Big Sit!" here on Sunday and counted 86 species of birds, including some I hadn't yet seen this fall--Merlins, Kestrels, Gray Catbird, White Pelicans to name a few.  I'll write about the Big Sit later.  Right now I hear  the unmistakable call of an osprey.  I am going right out to sit in a lawn chair under the blue (Jacaranda or perhaps Danube) Osprey sky!