Saturday, June 21, 2014

Backyard Distractions...

So, I was talking to the Divine Designer the other day, but I kept getting distracted by His creations I could see through my window and just couldn't resist running outside into my backyard to take photos.  I don't think He minded though....

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Butterflies Love Tree Sap

After photographing butterflies for quite some time, I learned only in the last year that they love sipping tree sap as well as flower nectar.  Now when we are out in the backyard or in the woods, we look for them on tree trunks.  Sometimes, they are almost impossible to see on a tree because their color and patterns are a perfect camouflage.

There are three species of butterflies enjoying the sap on this tree.  The first, left to right, is a Question Mark, then a Hackberry Emperor and a Red Admiral.  I've posted photos of these three with their wings open, revealing gorgeous colors, starting with the Question Mark.

The Question Mark is fairly common in the eastern part of the US.  Some are migratory.  This photo shows the summer form as it's color is modified in the winter.

Below is the Hackberry Emperor, widespread in it's habitat.  Adults mainly perch on trees.

Then a Red Admiral which is a familiar butterfly, but not likely to be confused with any other because of his striking coloration.

In this photo below of a another collection of butterflies getting nourishment from the sap of a tree, again we have a Red Admiral and a Hackberry Emperor, but have added a Goatweed Leafwing shown on the right.

On the inside, the Goatweed Leafwing is a striking red-orange.

I love the way the sunlight is shining through the wings of these two butterflies in the next photo, a Question Mark and a Goatweed Leafwing.  The light brings out tinges of their inside colors, otherwise they would completely blend in with the texture and color of the tree trunk.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Fascinating Flowering Trees

On our evening walk yesterday, my husband, Carn, and I were engrossed in conversation.  After having to duck under a tree with low branches overshadowing the sidewalk, Carn turned around, looked up and said, "Wow!"  We realized the beautiful fast-growing, flowering Mimosa Tree we had seen many times before was in full, resplendent bloom.  It was a bit late in the day and I wasn't sure how my photos would turn out, but I think I captured some of the glorious handiwork of The Divine Designer.  I researched information regarding the Mimosa and the others trees featured in this post. So if you are not already familiar with these fascinating flowering trees, then we are learning about them together.

Now, be prepared here for a slight dose of obsession on my part.  When I looked back over the pics, I immediately became mesmerized by all the components of the tree--the one-of-a-kind leaf structure, the pom-pom display of the bloom with silken threads, the buds just waiting to open, even the spent blooms are graceful and ethereal.

  Hummingbirds and butterflies are irresistibly drawn to the Mimosa blossom's fragrance.

In China some believe that the Mimosa will calm the mind and spirit.  I think this is exactly what The Divine Designer had in mind and I hope the photos have had a similar impact on you.

This Lilac Chaste Tree is along the same sidewalk as the Mimosa we encountered on our walk.  It can grow to about 20 feet tall and is covered with long slender multi-branching flower clusters, usually blue.  Unlike me, it thrives in heat....

In my reading about the Chaste Tree, I came across "The Grumpy Gardner" who blogs and also writes columns for the Daily South.  I just have to share his comment about the tree's name.  He says it gets it's name from the erroneous medieval belief that a potion made from the Chaste Tree could curb flirtation and other such activities.  Then he said and I quote: "In reality, wearing a house dress with orthopedic shoes and multiple nose piercings is much more effective." However, according to the Grumpy Gardner, the Chaste Tree does have a pharmacological use as an extract that supposedly does a very good job of controlling PMS. He recommends husbands should definitely plant one in the yard.

OK, moving on.....

The Mexican Plum Tree has an intoxicating scent and flowers that butterflies love. Noticing it this year as we walked through the woods brought a smile to my face as I realized it is one of the very first sights and smells of spring in North Texas.

Mexican Plum buds actually yield bountiful crops of fruit that wildlife flocks to at a critical time in early spring, taking advantage of all the vitamins, minerals and even moisture the plums have to offer. The Divine Designer providing for his creation.

The bright and showy Red Bud Tree is another one of the very first signs of spring in Texas.

The Red Bud is probably one of the most loved ornamental native trees in Texas as the colorful blooms burst forth when most of the woodlands are still bleak and drab from winter.

And then there is the centerpiece of many southern gardens, the majestic evergreen Magnolia Tree with it's dramatic canopy and creamy blossoms that fill the neighborhoods with their perfume.

The Magnolia Tree blossom is always a good and cooperative subject for a photographer.

And now, dear friends, I leave you with this final thought, a quote from the beloved poet, author and inspirational speaker Maya Angelou who just recently passed away at the age of 86.  Rising up from poverty, a harsh abusive childhood and racism in her early years, her words both stir our emotions and sooth our souls.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Spring Migration, Galveston Island, Texas 2014

One of the great wildlife events of the world takes place right over our heads during the annual spring and fall bird migrations.  Most people are completely unaware.  This past spring we traveled to Galveston, TX, along with scores of other birders, to catch a glimpse of the tired and hungry migrating birds that have flown 8 to 11 hours across the roughly 600 miles of the Gulf of Mexico.  After wintering in South America, Central America and Mexico, they are on their way to their varying nesting habitats in North America.  Here is a collection of migrating song birds and a few local resident species we encountered on Galveston Island, Texas.

This brilliantly colored Scarlet Tanager is relishing the savory grapefruit that a local birder provided for the migrants that land in Lafitte's Cove Nature Preserve on Galveston Island.  There are several major migration flyways across the US.  One is over Galveston and depending on the weather conditions, the birds will stop there, sometimes almost falling out of the skies, because it is the first land they reach after flying over such a large body of water.

Over 1/2 billion migrating birds make this risky, herculean venture over the Gulf of Mexico annually.  Many will fly as far north as the Arctic to nest, including some Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.  And what is more fascinating is the fact that even though a specific species may have a vast geographical nesting habitat, individual birds will return to the exact same area where they nested or were fledglings.

This first-year Summer Tanager just landed in the treetops after his long voyage.  He will not have his full breeding plumage until his second year.  But he is remarkably beautiful in the meantime.

And this is what his breeding plumage will look like in his second year

This tiny tropical creature (only 5 1/2 inches) is one of our most spectacular North American birds.  He is a Divine Designer masterpiece with every color of the rainbow.  That he could fly for so many hours across a huge stretch of water is astonishing.

Now I know this little guy is not unusually colorful and even has a not-too flattering name, but look at the handsome stripes on his head.  Hey, he made the trip too and I think he deserves some recognition.

Another shot of the flame-colored Scarlet Tanager.  This species never ceases to delight his observers.  This one was so worn out, he didn't mind having photographers take his photo from every angle.

You may be wondering why I would post this photo which appears to be nothing but briars and brambles. But look again.  Can you find the birds in the photo?  There is a Painted Bunting on the left, an Indigo Bunting in the center and to the right of him is a Dickcissel, then another Indigo Bunting.  If birders hit it just right time wise, they may experience what is called a fallout of migrating birds with scores of species all landing in a small confined area.  Believe me, this causes great excitement.  Crowds gather and cameras are clicking like crazy.

Migrating shore birds looking rather proud. Some winter on the Texas coast and others follow the coastline from Mexico traveling to their nesting habitats further north.  These two specific species of terns don't fly across the Gulf.

The Roseate Spoonbill, an all time favorite.  This gaudy, tropical wader is a resident of south Texas, so he didn't just fly in.  The shape of his bill, like a spoon, makes him a specialized forager, taking in shrimp and other small prey in shallow water.  He is with friends, a Mottled Duck and a White Ibis.

Another local resident, the Black Bellied Whistling Duck.  His call, usually in flight, really is a wheezy whistle.

Tri-colored Heron in full breeding plumage.  He lives in Galveston too.  

The wildflower Evening Primrose growing on the edges of the beach.

Colorful beach houses on Galveston Island.