Saturday, June 21, 2014

Milkweed for the Butterflies

Danielle and I went to Hill Country Water Gardens this afternoon to get some plants for the yard. We picked up some Tropical Milkweed to add to the seedlings of Green Antelopehorn Milkweed we already have. Although Tropical Milkweed is a South American native plant, it is a host plant for some butterfly caterpillars, and the ones we saw at the nursery were attracting several butterflies. We initially thought these were Monarch Butterflies, but on closer examination, they were Soldier Butterflies. The Monarch has much bolder black veining in the wings and a black trailing boarder on the forewings. The very similar Queen Butterfly lacks the white spots on the hindwings.

Milkweed is a necessary food source for the Monarch caterpillars; the Green Antelopehorn Milkweed is the preferred native milkweed in Texas, as the toxins in the plant make the butterflies inedible to many predators, but Tropical Milkweed is still a very attractive plant.

Soldier Butterfly - iPhone 5 -  4mm, f/2.4, 1/753 sec, ISO-50

Friday, June 13, 2014

Texas Spiny Lizard on Tree

Found two Texas Spiny Lizards hanging on the trunk of our tree this evening. Here is a photo of the larger one.  The other was parked just above.

Canon SX-50 HS - 215mm, f/6.5, 1/80 sec,  ISO-800 (Danielle Plumer)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Conjunction of Moon and Mars

June Conjunction - A conjunction of the quarter moon and the planet Mars this evening.

Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L - ISO-200, 320mm, f/6.3, 1/250 sec and 2 sec

July Conjunction - This evening, the conjunction was even tighter though I missed the peak of the conjunction which was closer to twilight.

Conjunction of Moon and Mars 2014-07-05 22:30 CDT
Canon EF 100-400mm f/5.6L - 560mm, f/11, 1/60sec, ISO-400

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Inca Doves in the Backyard

We have seen Inca Doves in the yard, only occasionally. They are much smaller than the White-winged Doves  that normally haunt our feeder station and devilishly shy. Normally, the birds at our feeder only spook when we open the back door ... these take flight while we are still behind the closed door thinking about getting a camera out.  This morning, after finding three of them resting on the cement patio, I was able to creep up to the window and aim the camera carefully between the slats of the venetian blind to get a picture. Though lacking the bright turquoise eyeline, these smaller doves have a very beautiful scalloped pattern to their feathers.

Canon SX-50 HS  - 215mm, f/6.5, 1/320 sec, ISO-320 (Auto)

Canon SX-50 HS  - 215mm, f/6.5, 1/320 sec, ISO-400

Monday, June 2, 2014

Cliff Swallows Show Up

On this evening's walk up the San Gabriel River Trail, we found that twenty or so Cliff Swallows had taken up residence under the D.B. Wood bridge. I am puzzled by the timing of their arrival. This USGS article states that Cliff Swallows, which winter in Argentina, should arrive in Central Texas in late March. This is about the date that the colony of Northern Rough-winged Swallows started nesting nearby in the drainage holes situated along the wall of the dam spillway. The mud dwellings under the bridge, however, have been empty. Every time we walk the trail we look up at the underside of the bridge looking for the resident Canyon Wren and feel certain we would have noticed the activity of these Cliff Swallows. Here is a photograph I took of one section of the colony. Note the dark throats and white forehead which distinguish these from the similar Cave Swallow.

Cliff Swallow Colony - Canon SX-50 HS - 215mm, f/6.5, 1/100 sec, ISO-800
Returned two days later and found much less activity in the colony. However, clearly saw nestlings being fed by parents. Some of these chicks have mature-looking feathers. Clearly, the colony has been active for some number of weeks and we have just missed the activity.

Thanks to a commenter on Facebook, Birds of Texas, indicating that, in addition to the plumage, the narrow-opening, gourd-shaped nests are also indicative of the species. Cave swallows make nests with more open tops. Danielle found this article on blog named Big Bend - Texas Nature which has some further description of the nests.

Canon 60Da, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L with Kenko x1.4 - 560mm, f/9, 1/100 sec, ISO-800 (Flash)