Orchard Oriole – A New Visitor

New visitors have come to the garden and they are a family of Orchard Orioles.  These birds spend their time in the trees, so I was really lucky to have one land outside my kitchen window.  I took the shot with my phone in between the blind slats.  It was good enough to Identify the bird as an immature male Orchard Oriole.  He was not alone and had sisters and parents with him.

The mature males have a black head and chestnut body and the mature females are yellowish green. The birds are fast moving, but were interested in feeding on the nectar of the  Bottle Brush that was blooming near the window.   I checked my bird lists from neighboring parks and they were listed as rare and uncommon in this area.  They winter in Mexico and Central America. Hopefully, the Orchard Orioles will come back next year to nest.

Meanwhile, all the other baby birds had to come around to see what the fuss was with the Orchard Orioles.  Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Chickadees came to check out the plants for something to eat.  The three hummingbirds were getting territorial with the Orchard Orioles drinking their nectar.  All of this provided lively entertainment during my lunch.


The Babies Have Arrived and Other Lunchtime Amusements

While eating my lunch, I noticed some activity outside my kitchen window.

Baby Cardinals just out of the nest were having a nice mud bath in my flower bed.

Dad was keeping a watchful eye on the kids.

As soon as Cardinal family left, this Green Anole hopped on the sill to do some bug hunting on my window.

Yup, I know that window needs to be cleaned, it always does.

All the photos were taken through the kitchen window.  I planted the bed with flowering plants that attract all kinds of backyard critters and there’s a feeder for Hummingbirds.  I am always entertained while I dine.

Visiting Birds

The advantage of living in the South, is that we have plenty of winter visitors.  Goldfinches have returned after not stopping by in about two years.  I quickly went out to buy fresh Niger seeds as soon as they arrived.

The resident Cardinals don’t seem to mind sharing sunflower seed with the visitors.

A small flock of Sparrows have also been frequenting the garden.

Every year there seems to be a hummingbird in the yard and one finally showed up after Christmas.  I believe this is a Rufous Hummingbird, but it really does not have much color.  I have been trying to get a photo for days and I finally pulled a chair into the backyard and waited.  It didn’t take too long to snap this one from a distance.

The day was sunny and the sky was Texas blue.  When this photo is enlarged, leaf buds can be seen.  Here in Texas spring is not far away and plants will be leafing out next month.

Unfortunately, the sunny day inspired this yellow Cloudless Sulphur butterfly to hatch out.  I’m not sure it can take the cold nights to come.

This was written 3 days ago.  See the update on the next post.



Birds Hate It

I recently got a new birdbath.  It is clear, yellow, looks great in the garden and can be seen from my kitchen window.  It is a replacement for an old one,  that the birds loved.  As it turns out, the birds hate this one.  I thought it was because of being clear, so I added some stones.  Not one bird has stopped by.

The new birdbath is easy to keep clean and always has fresh water in it, but that does not seem to be enough to entice the birds. The very cute Carolina Wrens prefer a bath in this toad station that is always dirty.

Or sometimes they use the rim of  the upside down fire pit when it holds water.

The wrens, Frick and Frack will even take a soak in plant saucers, which are not clean at all. Even the Cardinals prefer the water from the dirty saucers.

I found evidence of the Wrens enjoying a couples’ spa day.  After a soak they finished with a mud bath in the planter (notice two dents).  Sometimes we can try to do what we think wildlife would like, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  I guess the new birdbath will just have to please me and not the birds.

PS  I am shopping for a new one that they will like and I have another one that the rabbits and squirrels enjoy along with the birds.

Ilex vomitoria


Notice the second part of this tree’s botanical name.  What does that word bring to mind?  Yes, the name comes with a big warning.  If you eat the berries, the result is not pretty.

We know this tree as Yaupon Holly and is another native of the Piney Forest. Yaupons usually have skinny trunks and grow just about anywhere, as between these two pines. Like the American Tree Holly in the previous post, it makes tiny flowers in the spring with the berries forming quickly.  It is a small tree and will spread by root.  Most consider it a weed tree.


But it has many hidden secrets, besides what happens when humans eat the berries.  Its flowers are a food source for bees.  Cardinals dine on the berries and  flocks of Cedar Waxwings devour them.  Now for humans, we can make tea from the leaves which contain caffeine and antioxidants (make sure you do research before eating it). With a name like vomitoria, I think I will skip the tea!

I’ve Created a Monster!


This morning Patch, the rabbit, came charging out of nowhere straight for my feet and scared the bejeebers out of me.  I put down the seed and ran.

Yes, I do enjoy watching the rabbits and we usually think of them as helpless prey animals.  Do any of you remember Jimmy Carter, the boat and rabbit story?  I swear I once saw a rabbit kill a Copperhead snake.  Well, from a distance.  The rabbit was jumping oddly up and down, and when I checked it out I saw a dead snake and a bloody rabbit.  I definitely respect wild rabbits.


Mr. Cardinal was not happy with the rabbit getting the seed intended for his breakfast, so I headed back to the garage to get him his share.

Winter Visitors Are Back

DSC_0684Sugar bird is back!  This is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and I am sure it is the same Kinglet that has been visiting the garden every winter for a few years. The Kinglet hangs out in the bed outside the kitchen window and picks at the Camellias removing scale and over-wintering eggs from the shrubs.  The bird then heads for the hummingbird feeder for a sweet treat.  This is a different feeder from last year, but its tiny beak can fit right in.

The rest of the winter visitors have arrived and include, Sparrows, Goldfinches, Yellow Rumps and a Rufous Hummingbird.  A Robin has been hanging out in the yard too, but won’t pose for a photo.  The year-round birds have also been feasting from the feeders.  Some are Titmice, Chickadees, Red Bellied Woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens, Hawks, Doves and Cardinals.  (These are the birds found around the feeders.  Many others are passing by or gathering in the trees.)

DSC_0696What a difference a year makes.  Last year there was silence in the yard as most of the birds were missing.  It was happening everywhere in the area.  It was so shocking that people were writing to the papers.  Theories were that hawks had taken all our beloved birds.  But, there would need to be a lot of hawks to clean out such large area.  Some thought the birds were poisoned.  Well, that would have had to be a massive amount spread everywhere.  The most likely explanation is that the drought had finally ended and the woods were full of natural food that had been in low supply the last few years and the birds were feeding elsewhere.

Now the garden is full of Cardinals again.  There has been up to 10 feeding at a time and the males are busy chasing each other around the yard.  All is well in the garden again!



Today’s project was to save the Bulbine frutescens.  The plants are in severe decline this year and have spilled over the rocks that line the bed. The photo is from better days.

DSC_0229Rain Lilies were planted behind the Bulbine and they have also moved toward the edge of the bed.

IMG_3117The Rain Lilies had to be dug up.  There were hundreds or thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands. Or at least it seemed that way as they were transplanted. The bulbs pictured in the tub are only the ones that had to be moved from another bed. The rest were just piled up near where they were dug.

DSC_0504The bulbs were replanted in a long a row and should reproduce and move forward to fill in the bed.

DSC_0499And when I thought I was finished, I found another pile of Rain Lily bulbs to plant.

While working, an unfamiliar bird started calling and popped out of the trees revealing itself as a Brown Thrasher (no photo) arriving for the winter.  Next the Cardinals, Chickadees and Titmouses (wouldn’t pose for photo) came to check out the stranger and then filled up on birdseed.

DSC_0505Finally, I got to my original task of planting the Bulbines back in the soil above the rocks.  They look a little sad right now, but hopefully with a new start, they will rebound.

Silent Fall/Winter Ended


Smart Girl, my favorite cardinal from 2012.

Smart Girl, my favorite cardinal from 2012.


This Fall and Winter were unusually silent.  Most of the birds were gone.  Not only in the Automatic Garden, but all over the area.  People had actually written to the city and community papers wondering what happened to the birds.  The weeks and months rolled on and the yard was mostly silent.  A local bird expert explained that the birds may be changing their territories.  All of them?

This last week the bird activity finally started to change.  The birds are slowly coming back.  This morning the garden was filled with the usual variety of local birds along with winter visitors.  There was quite a ruckus in the trees and four Red-Tailed Hawks were spotted.  It is unusual to see them, especially as a group. They may have been migrating.  Shortly after the hawks moved on, there was another ruckus on the other side of the fence.  The Barred Owl was out and was being chased by a Bluejay.


One winter visitor is the Ruby Crowned Kinglet.  This is an old photo, but there is a Kinglet poking around the shrubs looking for bugs.  I hurriedly put some sugar water out for him.  It is reassuring to finally have the trees filled with the calling and singing sounds of birds again.

Demanding Animals


Over the years there have been some intelligent, stand-out wild animals that have come through the garden.  This is the case of the rabbit and cardinal in the photo.  The male cardinal figured out that I was the source of his morning feeding.  He would start hopping around on the back porch waiting for me to come out.  Next he would wait on the porch roof and fly over my head to a tree near the feeder, waiting impatiently for his breakfast.  As time went on the cardinal would fly beside me on the way to the feeder and the ultimate fearless feat was flying through the porch just a few feet from me, demanding that I  hurry up.

It wasn’t long until the rabbit caught on.  More than once he came charging across the yard when he saw me with the seed, stopping at an uncomfortable (for me) proximity to my feet.

The ultimate pressure came one morning when the cardinal was perched on a porch chair and the rabbit was waiting on the sidewalk to the porch.  Who is training who?