Winter Birds: Woodpeckers, Foggy Cranes and Cardinals

Now that the leaves have dropped, I can see all the pretty winter birds that don’t migrate south for winter. I’m still learning how to use my telephoto lens and caught these woodpeckers and cardinals on a foggy day. Fog wasn’t my friend when taking these photos of the birds. Low light, fast-moving birds and low contrast makes it hard to get a good crisp shot of them. A more skilled photographer could use the fog to increase dramatic effect (plus they would probably have more sophisticated equipment with a faster shutter speed.)

 

There is a mating pair of cardinals that live somewhere in our alley. I try to keep my feeders full for them.

Cardinal pair. female on the left.

 

Cardinal male is on patrol. His mate is in the same tree but so very well hidden.

Cardinal: On guard.

 

 

I saw the red bellied woodpecker again but today’s bonus sighting is this downy woodpecker.

Downy woodpecker enjoying a feast on the insects in my slow-dying tree.

 

Downy woodpeckers look just like hairy woodpeckers, except for their shorter bill.

It’s possibly a hairy woodpecker but the guidebook lists the size of the bill as the only difference between these two species. In this shot it looks like a short bill.

 

And then there was this death-defying squirrel. he navigated all throughout the cable and rural electric infrastructure.

 

Then there were honking cranes circling for a landing. I could hear them long before I could see them (it was really foggy).

 

When the sun came out in the afternoon I tried to photograph the woodpecker again, but he’s just so darn fast. When I looked closer, I think it’s a third species—a golden fronted woodpecker. This means that the tree in our yard, that is dying a slow death, is also full of insects, which is feeding all these woodpeckers.

Golden fronted woodpecker.

 

All About Roses

I’m studying up on roses. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my Canadian friend gave me a bunch of her books about roses. She instructed me on how to propagate roses from soft wood stems, which I’m attempting to do with the flowers from my grandmother’s funeral.

When I was 16 years old I planted a Peace Rose in my mother’s front flower bed for a project in my home economics class. It was my first attempt at flower gardening. That rose grew for nearly 20 years before a drought and grasshoppers got it. One fall it had such big, beautiful blossoms it could be seen from 100 yards away.

It’s amazing how many varieties, cultivars and classifications of roses there are. I’m just now reacquainting myself with the vast varieties of roses available.

But I’m excited to start learning more about roses and experimenting with them in my garden. More to come…
IMG_0229.JPG

Images of Arcadia

Occasionally, I get to stand in for my dad and play cowgirl on the family ranch. I love being outside, tending to the critters. When you are doing something, you usually can show something for it. Here are a few highlights from the last seven days. It demonstrates how extreme the weather cycle can be here in North Texas. 79 degrees down to 18 then back to 68, a dusting of snow, a light rain and one blustery day with winds gusting upwards to 40mph.

A week ago it was a very cold night on top of a light dusting of snow. The bitter cold nipped back even the hardiest of the winter vegetables.

 

A few days later it was sunny and 60 degrees. This is a funny picture of the cows at chow time.

A new baby in the pasture. It’s always so sweet to see a new calf, especially a pretty and healthy one like this. My boy named her Marney (like Barney but with an “M,” he says.)

 

Yesterday we got a little over an inch of desperately-needed rain. As soon as the rain stopped, the chickies went looking for waterlogged worms.

A Good Egg

“And a big white hen standing on one leg. And under the hen was a quiet egg,” a line from one of our most treasured board books, The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown.

Today was a momentous day for our little backyard flock of four hens. It was a day we’ve been waiting for… for 21 weeks since they hatched.

Someone laid the first egg, ever!

It was a small, perfectly shaped, light brown egg. I’m fairly certain it came from Dexter since she is the only one squatting and singing a clucking, egg-laying song. But there were both red and black feathers in the nesting box, so it could be Tollie, our one red chicken.

The first egg ever!

 

Experiment: Propagating Roses

I am experimenting with rose propagation. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I have read about it and gotten advice from my rose-expert friend, who has successfully propagated roses clipped from bar ditches and yards with a caved-in houses.

According to the internet and my friend, a stem that is about the diameter of a #2 pencil with multiple nodes is ideal. It’s recommended to use a seed starter mix, perlite or vermiculite as the medium and rooting hormone.

These roses came from the flowers at my grandmother’s funeral. They were beautiful and smelled amazing, so I figured I’d give it a go and see what happens. I can’t identify these roses (although they are technically not roses, but rather floribundas,) and I don’t know if they are GMO freaks or their growing history. I’m sure they were bombed with all kinds of chemicals and preservatives.

1. Since it’s off season, I got what they had at the hardware store, putting the starter mix into a tub and watering thoroughly. Water, stir, water, wait, water, stir.

2. Once the starter mix is sufficiently moist, I packed it into a couple pots.

3. Made planting holes several inches deep with my handy chopstick.

4. Clipped the roses down to use just the stems with multiple nodes.

5. Dipped the stems into water, then into the rooting hormone so it would stick, and placed each stem into the holes.


6. Covered with plastic sacks to create a mini greenhouse. I left the pots on the ground in the greenhouse in a partially sunny spot.

Now we wait and hope.

The last time I tried this it didn’t work, but it was July, in Texas, during a drought, and we left for vacation, etc. A north Texas November and a commercially grown floribunda may not work either, but I figure it’s worth a try.

November Gardening: Playing with Frost

November is here and with it comes the first frost for my garden. I live in north central Texas in USDA zone 7b with an average first frost around November 10.

But I always flirt with danger, hoping to extend my garden season for a few warm season plants. With the impending doom lurking with the first freeze, I will be spending my weekend preserving what I can for the winter.

What’s thriving in my garden at the moment:

 

Fall okra. No kidding. I planted okra at least a year ago, but it’s just now coming up. [soon to be killed by frost]

Cucumbers … another one waiting to be bitten by the frost… Maybe I can make a makeshift vertical row cover… I had bad luck with my summer cucumbers because the aphids and mites sucked them dry.

Of course my favorite volunteer Porter tomatoes, god love them, they are tenacious, if anything.

 

Tomatillos. My first endeavor with this plant. I had no idea it would go all over the place. It’s growing habit is more like pumpkins with how it spreads and takes over.

And the ever-resilient Swiss chard. This stuff is hardy and fairest of all. It grows in the winter, spring, summer and fall. It tastes the best in early spring and late fall. It’s frost tolerant to about 25 degrees, which makes it a perfect choice for my winter garden! It’s also delicious, bright and beautiful.

 

Extreme Hulabaloos, Blue Northers & Snowpocalypses

[Editor’s note: it’s been far too long since I posted to the blog. No time like the present.]

The Blue Norther commeth …

Extremes are the normal with North Texas weather. There is constant clashing of warm moist air with cool dry air. The dry air sweeps across the western U.S., over the Caprock then down the draw known as the Llano Estacado and collides with warm moist air coming up from the Gulf.

There is a diagonal  250 mile-wide strip where these prevailing winds smash into each other.

I live is in the center of this strip, so it’s common to have a 40 degree temperature change in a few hours. Friday, November 22, 2013 was one of those days. (it was also the 50-year anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.)

It was still, warm and humid with a high in the 70s. Then what is called a Blue Norther showed up. The wind picked up suddenly and the temps dropped 20 degrees in 30 minutes.

My tree before the wind.
My tree 12 hours later, after the wind.

These days, any form of moisture is welcome, even if it comes in frozen pellets of rain or snow. In a day or two the weather will warm up and the frozen moisture will thaw into ground-soaking water—something we need desperately in North Texas.

It is ridiculous when you think about the hullabaloo made over winter weather in North Texas. Every year winter shows up, freezes and ices everything, then is gone as quickly as it came. Yet we are bombarded with severe weather reports and warnings to bundle up, be safe on the roadways, and bring outdoor pets inside.

Everyone is hopefully anticipating a day to blow off school and work. However it is the opposite for nurses, doctors, insurance claims processors, wreckers, firemen, police and ranchers and farmers. Don’t forget the U.S. Postal Service always delivers – rain, snow, sleet or shine.

There is ever-increasing hyperbole and drama surrounding the extreme weather. Handy Husband always jokes with the next door neighbors that we will resort to cannibalism since “snowpocalypse” is forcing everyone inside for three days. Now after two days inside … I think I’ll emulate the Canadians and go outside even with a 100% chance of snow. Because I, like the Canadians, have cabin fever, and must go outside weather be damned (seriously, it’s only 30 degrees –I have wool socks and thermal underwear, it’ll be ok.)