Sunday, July 15, 2012

News from the hill

The lantana (Lantana montevidensis) and  
Gomphrena globosa 'Fireworks' make lovely companions.
Day flowers have put on blooms again after rain.
We've had welcome rain on the hill this week. Over the past seven days, 4.2 inches of rain have fallen. More is falling right now!

The county commissioners instituted a burn ban on July 5 (after all the fireworks!), and the rains started three days later. Good job, commissioners!

This rain fell just in time to give plants a boost through to cooler weather. It was pretty durn hot and dry leading up to this week.

Petunia the hen leads her little flock to safety. See how ruffled up she is?
She does not like me so close. These chicks are a couple of weeks old.

In other news, we have three batches of chicks in the coop - the most we've ever had at one time. I can't explain this outburst of fecundity, but we are enjoying all the chicks.

The latest batch are miracle chicks. Petunia the hen had trouble this time around. She broke all of her first batch, then moved to a new nest. After a week or so there, she moved again, leaving eggs behind. My husband gathered the eggs and relocated them to the new nest. After five weeks, four chicks hatched successfully.

The second batch is shepherded by Gracie. Gracie was a perfectly mild-mannered hen (though while sitting she growled like a pteradactyl) who has turned ferocious after the hatch. She attacks anyone who gets too close to her five chicks. Now the family has figured out how to escape the outer sanctum, and they spend their days in the woods. One chick has disappeared so far. It's a jungle out there.

The oldest batch are still staying close their mother hen, Cream Cheese.
The oldest chicks, which are about three months old, have really interesting colors. Unfortunately, two of them appear to be roosters.

That's all the news from the hill this week. And that's the way it is.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New neighbors

Our north-facing picture window sometimes seems like a big screen TV tuned to a nature show. Mostly the action is slow and peaceful, but sometimes it gets racy.

My daughter took this picture of our roadrunner
carrying twigs for the nest.

Last week my husband called my daughter and me to the “screen.” “I’ve never seen that,” he said. About 20 feet away, two roadrunners were mating. It was not a speedy process.  We stood and stared, and then I retrieved the binoculars to get a closer look at the bug dangling from the male’s beak: a centipede, writhing madly, and not distracting him a bit from the task at hand.

A few days later, my daughter and I sat on the steps looking north. (She decided we were not bird watching, as that is something oldsters engage in. Instead, we were nature watching. Ah, the right words are so important.)

We noticed a roadrunner making his way across the yard/field carrying a large twig. Very cautiously (it knew we were watching), it made its way over to and up on our picnic table, then flew into a cedar tree.

The light came on. This had happened a few days before while I was nearby watering. Coincidence? I think not.

We crept toward the patio and peered up into the tree with binoculars. Yes! She was building a nest over our patio!
The nest is in the upper right area of the photo.
It was time to learn about roadrunners, or “chaparrals” as my dad and a neighbor call them. Roadrunners (Geococcyx californianus) are cuckoos. Bird books held a dearth of information, but the Internet provided a few sources – some with conflicting information. Hmm.

The gist is that roadrunners may pair for life (they live 7 to 8 years) and are territorial.  They lay one or perhaps two clutches of three to six eggs each year. If food is scarce, the weaker nestlings become food (CANNIBALS IN MY YARD!). They live in the desert southwest and are common throughout most of Texas. (Information from Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Passport to Texas.)

My sources say both male and female take turns sitting. Eggs hatch
in 18 to 20 days. We have seen those babies before – they are UGLY.
One site (Desert U.S.A.) says that the male uses a bug to entice the female to mate, rewarding her after the deed. That would not be my response to a centipede.

Roadrunners eat primarily animals and bugs – including rattlesnakes, mice and small birds. We have seen them with snakes and lizards hanging from their mouths as they dart about the yard. Their speed – around 15 mph – is invaluable for catching their prey. They fly when startled, but only for short distances.

Rattlesnakes? Yikes! I like these roadrunner neighbors!

Favorite spot in the garden:

I planted these lovelies earlier this year, and they have just taken off. Gomphrena globosa  ‘Fireworks’ are my most prolific bloomer right now. They seem to be dropping lots of seed without needing a ton of water – the perfect plant for my garden!