Help! Is this a pipevine swallowtail?

November 18, 2016

Is this a pipevine swallowtail?

Is this a pipevine swallowtail? This one is tapping the bat-faced cuphea; the pipevine under the holly is undisturbed.

A parade of butterflies this year! A lot of monarchs, in contrast to the past three years; we’ve had some Gulf fritillaries, and various sulfurs. The penta seems to be a major stopping point for hairstreaks and other small butterflies.

We’ve had a few tiger swallowtails.

And this one pictured above. it seems to have the spots of a pipevine swallowtail, but there are no swallowtails!

Did they wear off in migrating?

Are we misidentifying it?


Pipevine swallowtail (?) from the underside, still on the cuphea. Can we erase the question mark? Sunlight emphasizes the blue on the underwing. Photos copyright by Ed Darrell, Creative Commons. Please use, with attribution.


Snow Friday

February 27, 2015

It was clear this morning, but the snow started just before 9. It’s predicted to warm up enough that the stuff from the skies will be wet, but the ground will be stay frozen. Ice storm.

Businesses and schools shut down about noon.

Two male house finches, probably in their first year, try to eat enough to stay warm on a snowy day in Dallas. Photo by Ed Darrell

Two male house finches, probably in their first year, try to eat enough to stay warm on a snowy day in Dallas. Photo by Ed Darrell

Something about snow makes the birds hungry.  A tube feeder we filled last night emptied by noon.

At home we refill the feeders as best we can.

Rewards are high.  We’ve had six species in the yard at any time, all morning, and at least eight species total.

  • Blue jays

    A sparrow -- a chipping sparrow juvenile? -- acting as scout to find food; it was joined by at least two companions after dusting snow off of seeds in the feeder, and finding them suitable.

    A sparrow — a chipping sparrow juvenile? — acting as scout to find food; it was joined by at least two companions after dusting snow off of seeds in the feeder, and finding them suitable.

  • Cardinals
  • Two species of junco
  • House finches
  • Gold finches
  • White-winged doves
  • A sparrow (juvenile chipping sparrow?)
  • Chickadees
  • Wrens (probably Carolina, but they won’t come close to the house)

It would be nice if our downy woodpecker friends would visit, but they’ve been scarce most of the fall.

Where are the titmice?

As usual, we have some vireo or other (Bell’s, I think), but it knows us well enough to be able to sing to get us excited, but appear only when humans are not looking.

How are things in your yard?

We get the goldfinches in winter, with their winter colors; some of the males may be anticipating spring a bit.

We get the goldfinches in winter, with their winter colors; some of the males may be anticipating spring a bit.

Female cardinal and male house finch await their turn at the small bird feeder.

Female cardinal and male house finch await their turn at the small bird feeder.


Rose “Eutin” in the summer of 2014

July 3, 2014


Rose “Eutin” enjoying the summer of 2014; photo by Kathryn Knowles

Kathryn Knowles notes of her rose bush:

Rose ‘Eutin’ (1940) is putting on a huge show out front. That big cluster on the right is over 50 flowers on 2 branches. I think the recent rains revved it up.

Not an emerald ash borer — but what is it?

August 21, 2013

Emerald green beetle, looks a lot like a longhorn.  I feared it to be a dreaded emerald ash borer, but it’s not.

Okay.  What is it?  Any body know?

From our Backyard Collection, two weeks ago:

What is this one? Looks like a longhorn beetle, emerald green.

What is this one? Looks like a longhorn beetle, emerald green. Not an emerald ash borer. Anyone know?

It’s too big to be an emerald ash borer.

Our mystery beetle is too big to be an emerald ash borer.

Our mystery beetle is too big to be an emerald ash borer. Brilliant orange underside.

Perhaps a flower longhorn beetle?

Caption from Field and Swamp Animals and their habitats:  Flower longhorn beetle (Encyclops caerulea), Glassmine Gap Trail, Macon County, NC, 5/28/13

Caption from Field and Swamp Animals and their habitats: Flower longhorn beetle (Encyclops caerulea), Glassmine Gap Trail, Macon County, NC, 5/28/13

Where’s Bug Girl when we need her?  (Moving?)  Roused Bear? Beetles in the Bush?

Update, mystery solved:  Ted C. MacRae said (see comments) it’s the bumelia borer (Plinthocoelium suaveolens).  He wrote about it here. So, Kathryn, what are they eating in our backyard? Bumelia lanuginosa is a Texas native; do we have one, or a relative, in the garden?  Dallas-area Dirt Doctor Howard Garrett says they’re mostly harmless in the garden.  (Here’s a closeup, from MacRae’s blog):

Brumelia borer, from Beetles in the Bush.  Photo by Ted C. MacRae

Bumelia borer, Plinthocoelium suaveolens,  from Beetles in the Bush. Photo by Ted C. MacRae


Remembering Lindheimer’s muhly grass from last year’s garden

April 23, 2013

It’s spring.  The grasses are sprouting.

Texas is a good place for grasses.

Lindheimer's muhly grass, in the afternoon sun

Lindheimer’s muhly grass, Dallas, Texas, January 2013. Photo by Ed Darrell; horticultural adventures by Kathryn Knowles

Spring sunlight is spectacular on the new flowers; winter sunlight, in the afternoon, shows a different kind of spectacular.

Lindheimer’s muhly grass, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, shows beauty from soon after it sprouts until long after it’s gone dormant.  A garden is a year-around project, and joy.

History lives in those grasses, too.  You can find some at the Native Plant Society of Texas’s website, and its description of Lindheimer’s muhly.

This seems pretty dumb now, but many years ago when I first heard about so many grasses called “muley,” I was puzzled about that name. I’d heard of muley cattle such as polled Herefords, but not hornless grass! Needless to say, as soon as I looked up Lindheimer muhly, I could see it is in a genus named after a Mr. Muhlenberg.

Gotthilf Hunrich Ernst Muhlenberg lived from 1753 to 1815. He was born into a prominent Pennsylvania family, and his father and brothers were influential patriots during the Revolutionary War. Because of his family’s involvement in the Revolution, Muhlenberg was on the British hit list.

While he was hiding out in a rural area away from Philadelphia during the Revolution, Muhlenberg became interested in botany. Through his extensive collections, Muhlenberg made major contributions to botany, and many plants have been named in his honor. For example, among our local flora are several species of muhly grass (Muhlenbergia) and Chinquapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii).

Lindheimer muhly was named in honor of Ferdinand Lindheimer, the “Father of Texas Botany.” Many other plants native to the Texas Hill Country also bear the name “Lindheimer” or “Lindheimer’s.” Most of these plants were first collected by Lindheimer, who settled on the banks of the Comal River in New Braunfels in 1845.

Another entry in the Blackland Prairie Almanac, perhaps.


Backyard birds: Goldfinch at the feeder

March 12, 2013

No, he’s not particularly gold — but this is winter, and if he’s going to get his breeding plumage, it will come in a couple of weeks.

We’ve had Niger thistle seed feeders out for years; this year one goldfinch (Spinus tristis) finally started to visit.  We’ve had as many as four at a time — but they’re probably headed north soon.

Here’s a shot of our first guest, from a couple of weeks ago.

Goldfinch at the feeder

A goldfinch male, checking out the feeder before bringing in his buddies — we hope.

If you’re north of Dallas, and you see this guy at your feeder this summer, tell him “hello” from us.

The non-breeding plumage isn’t so flashy as the bright yellow of the breeding males.  Some of the finches settle in to a beautiful, smooth olive-drab livery for much of the winter.  Close up, they look like good pen-ink-drawings by a master artist.


Backyard birds: A convention of white-winged doves

February 8, 2013

The white dove was a short-lived interlude; the white-winged doves seem to be with us constantly.

One family in 2011; two families in 2012 — and our yard isn’t that big.

A very early version of the birds who visited, befriended, and plagued Snoopy — this drawing, while faithful to Shultz’s work, was done by another artist.

Earlier this week I looked out, and it looked like the early “Peanuts” comic strip when Snoopy opened his dog house to a group of pigeon-like birds for their poker game.  The birds took advantage of Snoopy’s largesse, and nearly over-ran him.  (Woodstock was a product of that flock of birds, the last remaining vestige by Charles Shultz‘s death.)

At least they didn’t drink our beer and try to make off with the Picasso.

White-winged doves are really too big for any of our feeders -- but what are you going to tell a rampaging herd of them?  Photos by Ed Darrell - use encouraged with attribution.

White-winged doves are really too big for any of our feeders — but what are you going to tell a rampaging herd of them? Photos by Ed Darrell – use encouraged with attribution.

White-winged doves crowding at the bird feeders

Enough doves to frighten Alfred Hitchcock — Two of these birds is too many for either side of this feeding station. How many do you see here?

White winged doves jostle for position at the feeder.

Not enough room for all, and so they jostle and push each other off the feeders. See the display of the white stripe on the wings of one of our subjects here, from which the species gets its name.

Blue jays enforce the “too-long-or-too-many-at-the-feeder” rules here, but they can be distracted by peanuts put out by neighbors.  In any case, they were absent when we needed them.

We used to have mourning doves, but at some point in the last five years this bunch pushed them out.  We may be the only ones on the block who noticed.  (Yes, it’s “mourning” dove; Duncanville’s having misspelled it on “Morning Dove Lane” is their error.)


Mystery white dove

February 3, 2013

It was last April.  Kathryn’s garden near the patio needed some work, and of course there are all the plants in pots, including the orange tree (which has since been joined by a pomegranate).

Birds visit often — we hang three or four birdfeeders.  Cardinals, house finches, the Carolina wren and her family, and a lot of white-winged doves commonly hang around.

Of a sudden a flutter of wings — and there he was:

White dove

Where did this dove come from? For a few weeks in the spring, it haunted our yard.

We assumed it was male, but we have no way of knowing for sure.  At one point it seemed to make mating advances on some of the white-winged doves — but who knows.

The bird followed Kathryn around.  It ignored the feeders farther out in the yard, and concentrated on the feeders on the patio.  Then it would land on our patio table and watch.

Sometimes it splashed in the birdbaths.

White dove in the yard.

The bird appeared at ease around people. It would watch us work or play in the back yard.

Difficult to miss — the white was positively glowing.  When it flew in, it’s path suggested it came from a house up the alley a ways.  Was it a refugee from some cote, an escapee?  Or was it a trained bird just out for exercise?

A few times it arrived in the morning, and hung around for an hour or two.    Its usual pattern was to arrive in the early evening, grab a few seeds, do a lot of watching, and disappear.

With its color, we feared it would be a target for hawks.

White dove ron the roof.

Where it flew to roost, we couldn’t determine.

One day it flew off, and didn’t return.

The mystery dove.  Where did it come from, was it tame?  Why was it here?  Where did it go?


Occasional Tuesday tweet: Wren on the rose, Bewick’s or Carolina?

January 22, 2013

I’ve been calling these guys Bewick’s wrens (Thryomanes bewickii) for a couple of years, based on an identification I made a couple of years ago — but checking today to be sure, I’m thinking this is a Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) instead.

In any case, a couple of days ago it paused for a few minutes in our backyard rose arbor, long enough I could try to get a good shot with just a 200mm telephoto, and with colors dulled by the window.

Carolina wren, perhaps, in Dalls

Wren in the rose arbor — ruddy color suggests it’s a Carolina wren, but I’ve been calling it a Bewick’s wren; pausing for its photo on Inauguration Day – Photo by Ed Darrell

Bewick’s wrens probably have more grey on their bellies; this one looks ruddy enough to be a Carolina wren.  (I just learned “Bewick’s” is pronounced like “Buicks.”)

Wrens stick around all winter now; they didn’t just over a decade ago.  This family has been with us for at least three years — two young this year successfully fledged.  By now it’s almost impossible to tell which are the young, which the parents.

Gulf fritillary on blue porterweed, Dallas, Texas - Ed Darrell photo

Gulf fritillary butterfly on blue porterweed — a few feet from the rose arbor where the wren posed, but months apart. Photo: Ed Darrell

On our patio we have a saga continuing with Gulf fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae), their larva, and passion vine.  It seems our neighbors eradicated passion vine, so when the frits start moving north in the spring, they find our passion vines as the only ones in town.  The females go nuts laying eggs, and at some point we have a surplus of larva who denude the vines in a week.  Late hatching larva probably die off.

The butterfly books suggest that we cull the larva, but we don’t have the heart.  At some point in the spring the wrens wake up to the issue, and they cull the larva for us.  The vines recover, a new wave of frits hatch out, and the cycle begins again.  From June through September, the passion vine loses any leaves it puts out within 48 hours, usually.  But the wrens probably eat well.

The wrens seem never to perch where we can see them when they sing.  I suspect these little guys of having a much better voice than most wrens, but the great arpeggios I hear may be another bird, perhaps a warbler, that I just don’t know (good reason to go spend time at the local Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, yes?).


Spring flowers in Dallas

July 1, 2012

From our kitchen table, the view on April 15 of this year.

View from kitchen, April 15, 2012 - photo by Ed Darrell

Colors muted by shooting through glass, but you see the advantages of having a flower-loving gardener for a spouse. Kathryn’s garden provides delights in every not-frigid month, with many stunning moments like this one.

Coffee is always better with a sweet view.

Turk’s Cap, native Texas flower in 90 seconds

June 26, 2012

Short piece from Texas Parks & Wildlife:

Turk’s cap is a native Texas shrub that attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and moths. This easy-to-care for plant is named for the shape of its small blooms. To learn more about Texas native species and habitats, see

Must admit I was unaware it’s a Texas native, though Kathryn has had it in all of our Texas gardens.  I love the blossoms.  I wish our local hummingbirds loved it as much as the photo in the video shows, but we have other plants they love and a feeder.  Butterflies like it, too.

Few other plants equal the intense red of the flowers.  Turk’s cap requires less water than many less spectacular, non-native plants.  Ours keep coming back year after year.  What more do you want in a good garden plant?

I wish my photos were so good as those used in the film.

More, and related material:

Possibly more ‘possum

March 19, 2012

More shots of our rather tame, wild neighbor.

Possum on the fence in Dallas IMGP8930 - Ed Darrell photo, creative commons

S/he may have been trying to reach the safety of the area under the heat pump -- but the dogs caught on, and "treed" it on the fence. I worried about rabies, but it seemed healthy.

I’m torn, really — are they cute, or really ugly?

Possum in Dallas IMGP8937 - Ed Darrell photo, creative commons

Walt Kelly would have been pleased at its familiarity with the idea of a mugwump, as it demonstrates, here.

A possum's tail IMGP8935 - Ed Darrell photo, creative commons

The hairless, "rat" tail is one of the least attractive features. How much cuter would it be with a furry tail?

Possum on the fence - IMGP8933 Ed Darrell photo, creative commons

He does have a very cute, pink nose, however. You could get used to dealing with these little guys.

Playing with the ‘possum in the backyard

March 17, 2012

No, not “playing possum.”  Playing WITH the ‘possum.

The mostly-dachsund harasses any animal that may wish to take up residence under our shed — or, in some cases, under the heat pump.  The animals usually stick around for a while, though, because there is so much good stuff to dig up there.  For our part, we don’t mind when they dig up and dispose of the grubs, most of the time.

But these creatures — a possum, a raccoon a couple of years ago, armadilloes from time to time, or even rats (before Smokey the cat took them out, one by one) — eventually wander off, mostly unseen by us because they’re nocturnal.

Yesterday morning both dogs went nuts, and when I looked out, I realized they had something treed.  Between the mostly-dachsund and the border setter, they average out to a couple of beagles, and they can tree something if they want to.  Can’t get it, but they can tree it.

Possum on the fence IMGP2893 (2) photo by Ed Darrell creative commons copyright

It's an election year, so why shouldn't one of Pogo's cousins be on the fence?

It’s probably the same one I saw a few weeks ago when taking coffee grounds to the compost pile (maybe the caffeine is keeping this guy up days, eh?).  Kenny caught him crossing the alley late one night, in the headlights, of course.

I brought the dogs in, and turned them out an hour later, thinking the guy had plenty of time to get to his daytime hiding place.

They treed him again. (Actually, that’s the second treeing, pictured above.)

Later they got him on the fence in a different part of the yard.

Possum in dallas, peeking through the photinia

Possum caught in the early morning, peeking through the Chinese photinia (not red tip). Flash photography confuses the little guys, I think.

By this time I worried that the critter might be suffering from an illness — like rabies, which tends to make nocturnal animals come out in daylight, and be mean.

But there are no other symptoms.  I was relieved this morning to find new digs from the critter.  If he, or she, is digging for food, it’s probably not rabid.

In his jaunts around the world last year Kenny mentioned how ugly possums are, to one of his friends from Britain, who immediately took issue.  Cute?

Turns out Kenny’s friend was referring to the Australian possum, which is quite cute.

Australian ring-tailed possum, photo by kookr

Australian ring-tailed possum, photo by kookr. Australia has 27 different species of possum, all of them cuter and more cuddly than their American cousins.

Ours is not an Australian import.

I hope the bob whites come back, too.  Maybe it was just the drought that discouraged them last year.

It’s been a good year for wildlife, at least those with wings.  One day last week we had a tree full of cedar waxwings, passing through.  Blue jays and white-winged doves flew around them, and into the same tree.  There were a bunch of robins out — making eight weeks of sightings of the things, which leads me to understand some sizable population is staying in the Dallas area now, instead of just migrating through as they would, formerly.  On the live oak, the yellow-belly sapsucker probed for new grubs.  And on the trunk of the red oak the waxwings gathered in, another woodpecker, wholly oblivious to the cacophony, looked for emerging insects itself.   On local roads I’ve seen a bobcat — first for Texas, for me — and a few coyotes (while cousin-in-law Amanda has video of what looks to be wolves, in California!).  We haven’t gone out to look at the snowy owl in Rockwall, but there’s a chance of adding a rarity to the life-list.

With luck, we’ll get the toads, soon.  We should do well — Kathryn’s worked hard to make the yard a refuge for wildlife.  We’re mostly organic, so there should be no poisons to accumulate in any insect-eating critters.  We feed birds, several different species, and we have water for animals in front and back yard.  The National Wildlife Federation will certify your yard as a backyard wildlife habitat.  Working to get there is most of the fun; watching the wildlife is the gravy.

Backyard wildlife study is great fun.


Paul Stamets at TEDS – fungus to save the world

December 29, 2011

Don’t laugh.  Listen and learn.  (Greg Marley, is your TEDS talk coming soon?)

Entrepreneurial mycologist Paul Stamets seeks to rescue the study of mushrooms from forest gourmets and psychedelic warlords. The focus of Stamets’ research is the Northwest’s native fungal genome, mycelium, but along the way he has filed 22 patents for mushroom-related technologies, including pesticidal fungi that trick insects into eating them, and mushrooms that can break down the neurotoxins used in nerve gas.

There are cosmic implications as well. Stamets believes we could terraform other worlds in our galaxy by sowing a mix of fungal spores and other seeds to create an ecological footprint on a new planet.

“Once you’ve heard ‘renaissance mycologist’ Paul Stamets talk about mushrooms, you’ll never look at the world — not to mention your backyard — in the same way again.” — Linda Baker,

Oranges beat the freeze

December 7, 2011

We get our first freeze of the season in Dallas tonight.  I’m thinking of the heat of the summer.

Kathryn gambled a bit, bought a Satsuma orange tree for the patio plant menagerie this summer.  To her joy and my utter surprise, it fruited.

Kathryn's Satsuma oranges in Dallas

Kathryn's Satsuma oranges in Dallas -- oranges take a long time to ripen; photos from late October 2011

Green fruit approached its final size in late June, then tortured us as it just sat there, green and unripe.  They turned orange slowly, through August and September.  An occasional individual would give up and hit the ground.  So we had samples — bitter at first, hints of sugar in September.

Two weeks ago Kathryn harvested a score of the little beauties.

Oranges on the patio in Dallas

Through the summer the oranges rested there, teasing us with their sloth . . .

First freeze tonight, but we enjoyed the last of the oranges this morning.

Horticulture teaches patience.  Horticulture is fun.

More, Resources: 

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