Garden Habitat Journal (Central Texas, 1/8 acre residential lot)

October 24, 2003  For the past 3 days I've been watching a preying mantis (not all day of course!) but I had fun taking some pictures of it eating a bee and other insects.

Click here for more preying mantis pictures
We had at least one cute little cricket frog this summer at the pond (I'm just guessing that's what it was since it was soooooo tiny and we hear them at Meadow Lake, but I'm not really sure), but I didn't get pictures of it.  It was dark colored and would hop around on the mulch around the pond so you could hardly see it without looking closely for movement.

July 8, 2003  Here's an anole that seems to be checking out the habitat.  We have lots of anoles, so I see young anoles and the adults sometimes fight too.

 

April 9 and 10, 2003  I came home from work at 5:15 and was on my way into the house (I was in a hurry since I needed to get to my 6pm Chinese lessons), but stopped for a very quick look at the pond and found a newly emerged dragonfly.  Click on the photo for a full sequence of photos, including what she/he looked like the next morning.

 

Sorry for the long gap in photos since last July.  I was distrought after neighbors vandalized the pond by coming into my yard and pouring chicken fat all over the top (I assume they thought the pond was creating mosquitos).  Little did they know that the chicken fat just killed 2000 or more tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs, and even a few fish.  Had they had a better education, they would have known that they just killed all the mosquito predators in a pond that was in balance, but took a while to reestablish after the unfortunate incident.  The adult frog is also now gone.  Even though it's been nearly a year, I'm still quite sad after the death of so many beautiful creatures.
 

July 10, 2002  Julia came over today to visit, and she got some frogfruit and a milkweed plant for her yard.  She asked about the wood nests I put up for the bees.  I haven't been watching them much so I wasn't sure if any were staying there or not.  After she left, I watched a little and found that they are being used!  Here are a few pictures:




The bees appear to be carrying crepe myrtle blossoms into the nest.  It's really neat!  I now want to make some more bee homes right away!  It's really easy to make them, since I just bought the 2"x2"x18" wood pieces that they sell at Lowes or Home Depot for a couple of dollars.  Make sure the wood isn't treated or pressurized, since the pesticides will kill the bees.  I use a jigsaw (regular saw is fine too) to cut the wood into 5" pieces and then drill the holes into the wood from the side (ideally 4" long holes).  I attach the wood to dowels that can be stuck into the ground, so that the nests are about 1ft to 3ft above the ground.  Ideally the holes should point down a little to keep rain out.
There are so many little tadpoles in the pond now, and it's really fun to watch them all swimming around eating.  Some were eating rolly pollies that had died after crawling into the pond.
9:30pm - I got home tonight and found that the southern leopard frog was back(at least I assume it's the same one), and another frog or toad leaped into the pond when I approached to go past the pond and enter the house.  I watched for awhile, and at one point the leopard frog had been sitting motionless on a log for a long time (see picture) and then all of a sudden leaped almost vertically into the air a great distance.  I didn't even see where it went since I was using my binoculars and it leaped out of the view to fast to follow it.
"Frog on a log"

July 8, 2002  There are tons of tiny tadpoles in my front yard pond now.  There are also several dragonfly larva in the pond still.  The southern leopard frog appears to have left the pond during that rainy spell we had, so maybe it decided to move on to another pond.

July 7, 2002  At Meadow Lake, I finally got some pictures of the painted bunting while it was singing.

July 4, 2002  I took some pictures of Baltimore Orioles that I've never seen before at Meadow Lake.  I also got some pictures of a redbellied woodpecker family and of course lots of dragonfly photos.

July 2, 2002  Meadow Lake is above the outfall elevation today, so the pipe was discharging a large amount of water downstream of the dam.  There were lots of frogs/toads that I haven't heard before in that area.  The male painted bunting is still singing on top of the dam near the outfall, and I recorded his song today on my hand-held tape recorder.  I watched common green darner dragonflies in tandem today while the female laid eggs in some vegetation near the Meadow Lake dam.  It was really neat to watch her work.  I called the police to come remove a leaking boat battery that someone had left on the dam.  The police man was really nice and said he used to fish on Meadow Lake years ago.  There was a juvenile water bird standing on a log near the outfall (probably a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron), but it flew off before I could get a better look.  There were lots of turtles around the edges, and some interesting floating fire ant mounds in the location where a neighbor puts out food for the ducks.  The fire ants were swarming on top of the water like floating mats.  At Gina's house, we taught Andrew to listen to the Gulf Coast Toads outside their house.  There were toads in the street, and tons of toads as I drove home along 1431.  Unfortunately many had been run over by cars, but I watched closely for live toads so I could avoid them.  Rob said he was listening to the toad in our front yard calling for a mate.  By the time I got home, two toads were mating in the pond next to the waterfall and I quickly took their picture and then went back in the house to avoid disturbing them.
Gulf Coast Toads mating

July 1, 2002  The Gulf Coast Toads are calling loudly from the lake tonight, and the one in our front yard was calling for awhile around 10pm.  I saw the frog again in my pond today, so I'm glad it's still here too.  I hope the toad or frog attracts a mate so I can see some eggs in the pond soon.  That would be really cool.

June 30, 2002  It rained all night and all day today, which was wonderful.  I went out mid-day and watched a Reakirt's Blue butterfly nectaring at blackfoot daisy, frogfruit, snake herb, and other small flowers.

There was a water scorpion (I've been told it is: family Nepidae, order Hemiptera) on a lily pad today, and I noticed lots of small snails in the pond, and some dragonfly larva.  The original mosquito fish I put in the pond are now getting pretty big, and there are lots of little baby fish swimming around.  I didn't see the frog today.  The young doves are gone now so I'll probably be spending more time outside next week.  For the past 2 weeks I haven't gone out much since I didn't want to disturb the little mourning doves and their parents.

I read a very interesting portion of Darwin's Journal today, where he talks about seeing vast numbers of butterflies several miles offshore from the Rio Plata in South America.  One evening when they were 10 miles from the Bay of San Blas, butterflies extended as far as the eye could range.  "Even by the aid of a telescope it was not possible to see a space free from butterflies.  More species than one were present , but the main part belonged to a kind very similar to, but not itentical with, the common English Colias edusa."  After reading this, which he wrote on Dec 6th, 1832, I decided to look up information on migration of Colias butterflies.  I found the Cloudless Sulpher ranges down to Argentina, but I'm sure there must be many others that are in that area.  In a photo trip report from January 2002 visitors mention clouds of mainly white and yellow butterflies and fields of wildflowers. www.photoman.pavc.com/pub/albums/public/Argentina_Chile_200201/canvas/20020102_141238_5605.htm
I looked at the locations they visited on a map of South America, and these wildflowers and butterflies were seen along the road travelling from Foz de Iguacu and Salta, as they crossed the pampas.  Interestingly, they took pictures of what looks like a type of thistle, which is one of the two main species described by Darwin when he was somewhere near Buenos Aires (Darwin spelling Buenos Aryes) between Montevideo and Mercedes (along the Rio Negro) and he said "The geological nature of this part of the province was different from the rest, and closely resembled that of the Pampas.  In consequence, there were immense beds of the thistle, as well as of the cardoon: the whole country, indeed, may be called one great bed of these plants." - Nov 21, 1832
I enjoyed the photos of the Jan 2002 trip to Argentina, especially the cactus that looked like saquaros.  I searched on the internet and found that they are Trichocereus pasacana.  Here is another amazing plant they saw that looks like moss but is hard, which now faces extinction. When they go back to the pampas, they took pictures of the butterflies.  They have many other wonderful trip photos, such as their journey to Pantanal.  Here's more info on Pantanal.

June 24, 2002  Both mourning dove parents were observed feeding the fledglings today.  They all bobbed up and down together, seemingly attached at the beak.  It was still very interesting to watch.  The house finches were eating the seeds of the mealy blue sage again today.  They really love those seeds!  It makes me wonder what they taste like.  I read some of Walden tonight and then took a nice walk at the lakeside by myself.  The lake level is very low so I could get down close to the water without being in the vegetation.  There were some neat clear-white looking fish with a black spot near the tail and one near the front fin.  One large fish was guarding his territory of gravel very consistently.  I started thinking about how oblivious the fish is to the things in the world out of his particular territory, especially to the human interactions with the lake that could harm him/her.  There was a really neat damselfly with a green and black striped thorax and head, and a brilliant turquoise-blue on the lower part of the abdomen.  I looked it up on the internet and found it it was a male Ischnura ramburi.  Another much tinier damselfly was perched nearby and didn't mind me grabbing the vegetation it was perched on and twisting it for a better look.  It was so tiny, about 3/4 of an inch in total length, and very skinny.  It was basically a brownish color without distinct coloration or markings.  It was really so tiny that I could have used a magnifying glass for it.

June 23, 2002  There are still two little doves in the front yard beneath the oak and cedar elm tree in the shade.  They never fly away when I come up near them, so I started wondering if they were fledglings.  They look like tiny mourning doves, but without an eye ring.  And they look like they don't have all their head feathers yet.  There are white borders on their wing feathers, sort of like the white borders on the purple martin fledglings.  When the parent mourning dove comes over to the babies on the ground, she starts bobbing her neck and head up and down and the babies do the same (with some wing quivering) and appear to be drinking from next to her beak on her face.  Maybe they are drinking from the inside corners of her beak, one on each side of her beak.  It's really neat looking and I hope to find out what exactly they're doing.  I read that doves feed their young "crop-milk" that is gradually mixed with seeds as they get older.  Here's a picture of the two young doves:
fledgling mourning doves
parents of the fledglings

Here's another couple of stories about mourning doves that I found on the internet:
http://www.matthewjcook.com/personal/dove.shtml
http://pw1.netcom.com/~my.email/

Three blue dasher male dragonflies were fighting over a female dragonfly that visited the pond around 3:30pm.  The female mated with a male and then began depositing eggs in the pond.  Here's a picture of the female hovering over the pond just before depositing eggs:
Female Blue Dasher, flying
Female Blue Dasher, perched
blue dasher dragonfly maleMale Blue Dasher (click here for full size close-up)

Here's a picture of the two bee nesting blocks I put up today (one at a couple feet high and the other closer to the ground).  The picture also shows one of the parent mourning doves at the bird bath, and one of the upside down pots I put on the ground for the frogs and toads.  Between the pot and the water saucer is a buried plastic dish that holds sand kept moist for the butterflies to drink water and salts.  I haven't seen any drink at it yet, but haven't had it there very long yet.bee nesting blocks  mourning dove frog toad home water wildlife habitat
Some of the blooming flowers in this picture include elderberry, prairie verbena, rock rose, blue bells, blackfoot daisy, sunflowers, mexican hat, lantana, frogfruit, flame acanthus, pitcher sage, horse mint, and salvia greggii.  The fledgling mourning doves are to the left of this picture, beneath the oak and cedar elm trees in the shade.  That area is bordered by lots of shrubs on all sides (Texas mountain laurel, salvia greggii, elderberry, lantana, and yellow bells), providing a protective area for them to hide.

We took a bird walk with the Travis Audubon Society at Meadow Lake, and I saw my first ever male painted bunting.  We heard it singing first, and then spotted it perched on a wood fence post.  We also got a really close-up look at a yellow-crowned night heron.  I've seen them at the lake in previous years, with my first view being a juvenile that had such huge beautiful eyes that it kept my attention for a very long time.

June 22, 2002  I saw some tiny fish in the pond today, so I suppose the two mosquito fish already had babies.  I don't want a lot of fish, since they'll eat the tadpoles and dragonfly larva, so if there are lots of fish in the pond, I'll give some away.  The butterflies hanging out lately have been a gulf fritillary, a gray hairstreak, and a giant swallowtail, but I haven't been looking for butterflies the past few days, so there are likely others as well.

June 21, 2002  Early this morning there was a neat dragonfly or damselfly by the pond, with a very skinny abdomen, sort of a brown color.  It was so thin I couldn't really see it well enough to try and identify it.  The frog is in the pond again, so I guess maybe he/she gets out occasionally like yesterday.  I watched an anole lizard jumping from bush to bush as it puffed out it's red throat.

June 20, 2002  I watched the frog jump out of the pond today, so I hope he/she doesn't leave.  The sparrows and finches are loving the little pond waterfall.  They drink and splash almost all the time.  At one point I counted 11 birds all on the top level of the waterfall where the water first runs across the top rock.  The rock is only about 1 ft in diameter, so there was a little bit of fighting for the best position on the rock.

June 19, 2002  In the evening, I looked out the window and watched a Gulf Coast Toad hopping across the walkway into the flower bed near the house.  I wonder if he's using either of the upside down flower pots I put out there for a little frog/toad house.

June 18, 2002  When I left for work this morning, I didn't see the frog, but the little butterfly (Little Yellow) was still hanging motionless beneath the salvia greggii where it was last night.  When I got home around 2:30pm, the Little Yellow was gone, and there were 2 dragonflies above the pond (Widow Skimmer and Blue Dasher, both males).  The blue dasher occasionally perched and raised his abdomen high in the air, I assume in defense of his territory.  The frog was beneath the yellow water lily flower that's been blooming the past few days:

When I approached the pond, he quickly went down beneath the surface.  I put water in an old trash can we had, so that when the chlorine escapes from the water into the air, I can put the water in the pond, since the level is dropping from evaporation.  A neighbor suggested that I put a little tube from the container into the pond to let it slowly seep out, to avoid disrupting any of the creatures now living in the pond.  I think that's a great idea.  I saw the tadpole that I put into the pond on June 9th, and he/she's grown quite a bit.  I didn't see any limbs yet, but he/she was very tiny when I put him in on the 9th.

June 17, 2002  We got back from our Florida vacation yesterday, and today I had to work, but took a little time to watch the pond.  A frog has taken up residence in the pond.  It looks like a Southern Leopard Frog, but I'm not sure what it is.  Here's a picture:

If you know for sure what type of frog this is, please let me know at jenny@geckodance.com.  I hope it stays and does a breeding call so I can try to identify it using the frog calls I found on the internet.  While I was watching the frog, 3 female dragonflies were laying their eggs in the pond by hovering over the water and tapping their abdomens down on the water surface to deposit the eggs (12:45pm).  I took a picture of the tiny eggs (lots of little white ones):

I looked in my Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America, and it said the eggs may hatch in around 10 days, but possibly as soon as 5 days.  I can't wait!!  I am not sure what type of dragonflies the females were since they wouldn't perch on anything, but the males I've seen today have been a blue dasher and a western pondhawk.

Here's a picture of one female:

While the dragonflies were hovering near the water surface, the frog suddenly jumped about 6 inches out of the water in attempt to capture a dragonfly.  I couldn't really tell if it got one or not.  I can't believe there's all this activity in the tiny pond when it's only about a week old!

There was a female black swallowtail feeding at the butterfly bush for quite awhile.

I went out in the evening between 6 and 7pm, and watched a Little Yellow butterfly for awhile.  It fluttered around feeding at many various native flowers, including Prairie Fleabane, Blackfoot Daisy, Mealy Blue Sage, Frogfruit, and a tiny yellow flower I rescued on a native plant rescue recently.  Here are some pictures of the butterfly at several different plants.  Every once in awhile it would flutter around the lower leaves of a Salvia Greggii plant, but there were no flowers that low, so I couldn't tell what it was doing.  Around 7pm or a little earlier, it hung from the underside of a tiny salvia branch/leaf, and was motionless for awhile.  I wondered what it was doing, so I looked really closely at it and it didn't fly away.  I was laying on the ground watching it for awhile, but it didn't move at all.  I finally realized it had gone to sleep for the night.  I took my husband out to see it when he got home around 9pm.  Sure enough, it was still there in the exact same position.

Little Yellow, hanging for the night on a salvia greggii plant.

While I watched the Little Yellow hanging from the salvia greggii plant, a bee came to take nectar from the flowers.  Instead of using the nectar tube like a hummingbird does, the bee took nectar by probing into the nectar from the side of the flower.  If anyone knows what type of bee this is, please let me know at jenny@geckodance.com.  I've heard some flower flies mimic bees, so I'm not even totally sure it's a bee.

 

June 16th, 2002  An odd thing happened today when I heard something banging into a window in the kitchen.  I went over and found our male cat sitting there with his face up near the window, and a mockingbird was outside repeatedly banging into the window to try and get our cat.  I was worried that the mockingbird would hurt itself, so I pulled the cat from the window and we'll be leaving the blind down on that window from now on.  Our other windows already have the blinds pulled down.

June 11, 2002  The sparrows are already using the waterfall area to take a bath.  They stand on top of the rock where the water first comes out of the hose, and then splash around.  It's fun to watch!  A water strider has also found the pond.

June 10, 2002  Now the plants are all in, and instead of using the fish fountain that came with the kit, I turned it into a small waterfall.  Dragonflies visited the pond today.  A blue dasher dragonfly was the first I noticed.

June 9, 2002  I called a friend that I met at the Wildflower Center, and she said to come over and get some plants from her pond to use in my new pond.  She gave me a nice big water lily, and several other plants, including 2 mosquito fish and a tiny tadpole.  I was hesitant to get 2 fish, since they might breed and end up with too many fish for my small pond.  I mainly want to attract frogs and dragonflies, and the fish will eat the tadpoles and dragonfly larva.  If the fish breed, I'll probably give some away.

June 8, 2002 (journal started today)  I constructed a small pond today (4 ft x 6 ft x 1.4 ft deep, with sloping sides), which was much much easier than I expected.  First I went to Home Depot and bought the small pond kit.  When I got home I noticed it said I needed something to pad the pond liner, but I read on the internet that I could use old carpets.  We had several old small carpets that were cluttering our driveway, so I finally got to use them for something.  I started digging the pond around mid-morning, but the ground was too hard since it hasn't rained much lately.  I dug a couple tiny holes and then ran the hose there for awhile to saturate the ground.  Then I waited a couple of hours to let the water settle.  I went out every 30 minutes or so (it was hot) and dug a little at a time.  By around 6pm, it was done and I padded the ground with carpets, and then the liner from the kit.  I filled it with water from the garden hose, and it looked pretty neat.  I was too excited to wait to get rocks to put around the pond, so I drove out to work to gather limestone rocks from a neighborhood they're constructing, where the ground will get bull-dozed soon.  I'd rescued some lace cactus and antelope horns there recently, and knew there were plenty of rocks available in that area.  I grabbed as many flat rocks as I could find (usually about 1 to 1.5 ft across and a couple of inches in width), and put them in my truck to take home.  When I got home it was pretty much dark, but I put the rocks around the pond right then anyway, since I couldn't wait to have it finished.  My husband got home that night and was impressed to see our new pond.