Like Predator – Like Prey

Original post date 4/3/2011 

This weekend I was trimming some shrubs in my yard when I came across a rather frightening sight. Actually, I didn’t see the thing when I was trimming, but noticed it when I was sprinting through the “danger zone”, dragging cut limbs from the front of the house to the back – see my previous posts for more info re the danger zone!  Trimming back the Red Tip Photinia had exposed the carcass. I thought it was that of a huge rat. It freaked me out to the point I didn’t want to look at it too closely at first but curiosity finally won over. The “thing” was at about eye level and was wedged on a branchlet of the Red Tip as though it had just decided to rest a little while from its daily activities. It had been resting far too long, though, as it was merely hair and bones. Turns out, after closer observation, the carcass was that of a squirrel.

Squirrel Carcass

 

Squirrels must be the ultimate tree climbers of the animal world here in North Texas. No way a squirrel “got stuck” in the tree crevice and gave up and died, you know? And, I don’t think a sickly squirrel would typically climb a tree to seek out an eternal resting place, either. Well, the story brought to mind an observation my boyfriend, Mike, had just the other day. He was talking with me on the phone and looking out his front window when he saw a squirrel crossing the street suddenly lie flat in the middle of the road and freeze. Puzzled, Mike looked all around and when he gazed upward, he saw a hawk fly over.

Mystery solved.

Over the past few years, I have witnessed a Cooper’s Hawk or two visit my birdfeeder. Not to partake in the seed, mind you, but to partake in the little birds that eat the seed! I had successfully identified the species of hawk one morning a while back as one perched on the fence less than 2 feet from my kitchen window. Although considered a mid-sized raptor, it was huge and commanding. Hooked beak and large talons. Gold and white speckled breast. Blue-gray striped feathers. Blood-red eyes. MAGNIFICENT.

 

Cooper's Hawk by David Powell

Cooper’s Hawk by David Powell

Cooper’s Hawks enjoy eating smaller birds, amphibians and rodents. Interestingly, they sometimes kill more than they can eat or feed to their young. Thus, they store or “cache” away their extra prey in secluded tree crevices. Sometimes they forget about or have no need to come back for their bounty. Similar as to when squirrels bury surplus acorns and fail to retrieve them all. Rather ironic that both predator and prey have the same habits, isn’t it? While I am admirer of all things natural and especially enjoyed the close-up view of the Cooper’s Hawk near my kitchen window, I would not be able to live with myself if I felt I was luring poor little birds to their death via my birdfeeder. If you find you are entertaining a hawk at your feeder on a regular basis, remove your feeder for a few days. Once the hawk realizes your backyard is no longer a happy hunting ground, it will move on and you can then safely return your feeder and resume feeding the songbirds!

For more information about the Cooper’s Hawk see http://gambrills.wbu.com/content/show/27603 and/or http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/coopers_hawk/id.

Until next time,

Cindy

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Wrens

Carolina Wren

Originally posted 8/24/2013

I had three little visitors last evening as I sat on the patio eating dinner and enjoying the unusually mild August summer night. While I call them visitors, actually they are natives returning home as they had recently hatched in a hanging basket, overflowing with an asparagus fern, dangling under an eave not far from where I sat.

The three tiny Carolina Wrens continue to stay close to each other after having left their nest only about a week ago. It was funny watching them hop-fly from fence post to wire trellis and into the midst of a different hanging basket than that which they were born – one full of somewhat dried Dahlberg daises and red verbena. (Dried daisies because it is August, after all!)

The tiny wrens chattered non-stop while they ran around deep inside the hanging basket, popping their heads up through the straw-like foliage now and then. It appeared they were playing chase with one another, but perhaps since they were born and raised inside a coconut-lined hanging basket they have developed an affinity for them. I had thought when I first saw the parent wrens jumping in and out of my asparagus fern a few months ago that they were chasing the moths and other insects I often see fly out of the baskets when watering them. I did not realize the birds were instead seeking out a nesting place and I had no idea a nest had eventually been built. It wasn’t until I witnessed the parent wrens taking turns bringing worms into the fern that I understood a nest was present. You see, when I watered the fern, it did not disturb the eggs or nestlings because the parent wrens had built their typical “cup”, or covered, nest. I have since learned that Carolina Wrens prefer to make their nests in cavities and containers and aren’t too shy about nesting near human activity. A friend of mine consistently has broods of Carolina Wrens in her hollowed-out birdhouse gourds. My sister has had wrens hatch in a decorative box situated on a high shelf just outside her back door. However, in open containers, such as my asparagus fern hanging basket, the birds will usually construct a dome-like nest to “create a cavity” for added protection.

Carolina Wrens

 
Above is an amazingly clear photo I was able to capture with my cell phone of the fledglings about a day before they left the nest. Don’t fret, I did not remove the hanging basket from its post, nor did I stick my head in the fern, nor did I dig around in the fern looking for the nest. I waited patiently for the parents to leave and then I simply reached up, placed my phone near the edge of the basket and, whoa-la – I captured an incredible pic . If you look closely, you can see the nest is “cupped” around the birds.
 

Speaking of chasing moths, wrens are classified in general as carnivores. I know what you are thinking – I, too, think of lions and tigers when I hear the word carnivore, but many birds and other less threatening animals are considered carnivores or “meat-eaters” as well. Actually, you can break the diet of carnivorous birds down a bit further and differentiate between those that primarily eat fish (piscivores) and those that primarily eat insects (insectivores). Wrens are insectivores and as such, they eat spiders, caterpillars, moths, crickets, grasshoppers, and roaches among other insects. They have been known to eat very small lizards and snakes too – more like a carnivore, I’d say! And, as you can see by my (rather blurry) photo below, you can indeed find wrens at your bird feeder but usually only when you’ve placed out a mix that includes berries or fruit. Although seed isn’t typically a part of their diet, wrens do enjoy a bit of fruit pulp now and then.

 

Carolina Wren and Squirrel Together at Bird Feeder

Carolina Wrens are quite brave for their size. This one has no problem sharing the bird feeder with a squirrel. Blue jays and doves, much larger birds, usually stand by and wait for the squirrels to leave.
 

Like doves, blue jays, herons, etc., there are also several species of wrens. In my area of North Texas I predominately see the Carolina Wren and have come to learn its habits through direct observation. In researching wrens in general, I have discovered most have the same or very similar characteristics as the Carolina:

Small – 4 to 5.5 inches

Muted in color – browns, rusts and grays

Prefer the warmer climes of their range

No noticeable difference in appearance per sex or age

Sings and chatters loudly – especially in relation to their size!

Very active – doesn’t stay in one place for long

Performs short flights from one perch to another

Hops while on the ground

And, probably the most endearing and identifiable trait – they hold their tails upright (see intro photo).

While wrens share the majority of the above traits, there are a few distinct differences amongst the varieties, surprisingly, in relation to their mating and parenting behaviors. The sexes of some wrens share jointly in nest building and in the feeding and caring of their young while other varieties have separate responsibilities. Some wren species mate for life (such as the Carolina Wren), while others (such as the House Wren) will actually steal the favor of a female right out from under another male who has already built a nest for her – the new couple using the other male’s nest to bring up their chicks. Unfortunately this rogue-like behavior continues with House Wrens forcefully occupying the completed nests of non-wren species – destroying any “foreign” eggs already there. Very diverse stances amongst wren species relating to mating, no doubt!

Well, although the House Wren may be the most aggressive of the wrens, it is also amongst the most ingenious. To eradicate its nest of mites, that almost always plague hatchlings, the House Wren will add a spider egg sac when building, or taking over, a nest. The spiderlings eventually hatch and eat mites to their fill, leaving the newly hatched chicks healthy and parasite free. Thereafter, any lingering, well-fed spiders will most likely become a meal for the growing birds – an interestingly parasitic, symbiotic, and “circle of life” type relationship between mites, spiders and birds.

In conclusion, despite the sometimes unpleasant mating activities of the House Wren, it remains beneficial to welcome wrens of all types into your landscape – especially if you are a gardener. These small, energetic birds will adorn your foliage with cuteness and charm, fill the air with passionate song, and rid your space of pesky insects!

Until next time,

Cindy

 

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Close Encounter of the Odorus Kind

skunk

Originally posted 9/20/2013

Monday nights for me are generally reserved for easy dinners and an hour of one of the only two TV series I watch fairly regularly – Longmire. Sometimes I watch Rizzoli & Isles on Tuesdays. At any rate, on this particular Monday my boyfriend, Mike, was out of town so I resolved to eating leftovers and was excited about watching the season finale of Longmire completely uninterrupted. I had even drawn a foot bath in which to soak my feet during the show for a quick pedicure before bed – a very rare indulgence. After the much awaited finale ended, it was 10 p.m. and close to my bedtime. My cat, Biscuit, was meowing yet again for more treats at the pantry and I decided she needed a meal instead of a “meal of treats”, so I opened a can of food for her in the sunroom before retiring to bed. (The sunroom is a small built-on addition to the house and is the perfect place for Biscuit’s food, water and litter box (and a host of plants, of course!) A doggie door allows her to go from inside the house into the sunroom. There is also a doggie door installed in the exterior door of the sunroom, allowing a pet to go outside. While Biscuit rarely ventures outdoors, my soon-to-be dog will surely take advantage.)

Entering my bedroom, I was considering a quick coat of nail polish on the metatarsals before dozing off. Prior to completing the pedicure, I lied back to take a last look at work email on my iPad when I felt Biscuit jump on the bed and let out a long, drawn-out, gargled meow. I wish I could have smelled the oily scent before she landed on the bed, but it happened oh so fast I think I only began smelling the skunk odor after witnessing Biscuit’s soaking wet, puffy face at only 6 inches from mine.

If any of you have had the pleasure, Ahem, of getting up close and personal with a skunk-sprayed pet, you may be able to recall the caustic fumes that aren’t quite recognizable until they have dissipated a bit. I couldn’t even fathom what Biscuit had gotten into at first. My initial instinct was to pick her up and run to the bathtub and toss water onto, what appeared to be, her melting face. I silently prayed that whatever it was she had gotten into, the water would not make it worse. Of course, she enjoyed this splash bath just about as much as being sprayed by the skunk – so under the bed she fled – taking small pieces of my flesh with her.

Bleeding from the chest, I decided I needed to give chase. Cell phone in hand, I called the emergency animal clinic as I watched Biscuit crouched under the bed attempting to clean her eyes over and over again with licked paws.

The conversation with the emergency clinic went like this:

Me: Hello, I think my cat was just sprayed in the face by a skunk and her eyes are swelling up. Are you on Park Drive? If so, I can be there in a few minutes.

Young Lady: Ma’am, there really isn’t anything we can do for your cat that you couldn’t do yourself.

Me: I think she might be having an allergic reaction. She’s really puffy and looks miserable. Are you on Park Drive?

Young Lady: Is she wheezing?

Me: No, but her eyes are extremely red and puffy.

Young Lady: You need to flush her eyes with saline solution.

Me: I don’t have any of that. I don’t wear contacts. Will saline nasal spray work?

Young Lady: My God – why on earth would you put nose spray in your cat’s eyes!! (Translation: What kind of idiot are you?)

Me: I’m referring to the nasal SALINE packets used for Neti pots. Will that help? I think I really just need to come up there.

Young Lady: No ma’am. Unless your cat is wheezing, she will probably be better soon. (Translation: Why on earth would I want to experience of the odor of your cat?)

Me: (Big sigh of defeat.) I’ll take her elsewhere. Thank you.

Young Lady: Don’t hang up. It’s really not necessary to take your cat to a clinic. What you need to do is go to the grocery store and buy Dawn dishwashing liquid, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and create a bath for your cat.

Me: Um . . . I’m not sure I can give my cat another bath – she is pretty freaked out.

Young Lady: If you at least wash her face with a cloth drenched in the solution, it will help. Be sure and get the original Dawn liquid detergent that they use for oil-slicked penguins – the blue colored liquid.

Me: OK. Thank you. One more question – I think the skunk came in through the doggie door when I was feeding my cat. The skunk may still be inside. Do you know if Animal Control will come out at midnight?

Young Lady: I know they have a recording on their phone after hours.

Me: Hmmm – OK, I’ll figure out a way to coax it outside myself since it is so late.

Young Lady: My God! Do NOT approach a skunk. It could be rabid! (Translation: You ARE an idiot!)

Me: I don’t plan to get near it. I’m pretty sure it is in the sunroom and I’ll just lure it out one door or another.

Young Lady: Ma’am, you cannot approach a skunk! Oh geeze! Let me go ahead and give you the non-emergency police number. Don’t say anything to them about the open doggie door or feeding your cat. Just tell them you discovered a wild animal in your house and you need help right away. (Translation: If you say too much they, too, will think you are a complete idiot!)

Me: Thank you. I appreciate your help. Goodbye.

So, after having an alarm system just installed at the house due to the increasing number of burglaries in the area, I am being asked to call the police because I have a 4-legged, stinky intruder that I unintentionally lured inside my house with cat food? Not sure I want that reputation just yet. I opt for going to the store to get the goods for Biscuit’s second baptism before I resort to making such a call.

The strong odor snapping me back to reality, I realize I must first see if I can confirm the skunk is in the sunroom and isolate it before leaving for Kroger. Yikes! As I open the interior door to the sunroom I instantly hear a loud and wild hissing sound. I close the door quickly because I can’t see a thing in the shadows and for all I know I am dealing with a rattlesnake, opossum or perhaps a whole band of skunks.

I locate a flashlight in the kitchen and shine it through the glass window of the sunroom’s door. There it is – a somewhat small skunk – hunkered in the corner. I attempt to open the door again, but instead of running out of the sunroom in great fear of me, the little skunk insists on lunging in my direction, ferociously stomping his feet and hissing. OK – I don’t know at this point if the thing can spray more than once during an episode but I sure don’t wish to find out this way!

Through the glass, I look at the small doggie door in which the skunk entered and I have an idea. I run through the garage, into the back yard and quickly open the outside door to the sunroom, propping it with a heavy citronella candle from the patio. Although the skunk entered through the doggie door, I am hoping a wide exit will expedite his departure. I run back into the house. Interior doggie door securely barricaded, I am counting on the skunk leaving out the open door while I complete my midnight run to Kroger. So off to the 24 hour store I go, Biscuit safely under the bed and the skunk hunkered in the corner of the sunroom, now with a more than ample escape path.

I made it to the grocery store in five minutes flat. After locating the needed ingredients quickly, I sailed through the self-check with no problem whatsoever. Why is it self-check stands work seamlessly when no one is in the store, but during the after-work, mad dinner rush when folks are breathing down your neck there are always at least two items in your basket that simply will not scan? Namely, the spray paint you are using for touch ups around the house coupled with a discount bottle of wine – the appearance of which gives you the reputation of planning quite an illicit party!

At any rate, I’m back at the house in record time.

skunk odor remedy

I hurriedly mix up the skunk oil-riddance solution and begin the mission of relocating Biscuit. She is no longer under my bed. I find her wedged behind furniture in another room. I must remove drawers to get to her. I already have my cat-wrapping towel in hand as I do not wish to lose any more flesh. I quickly grab Biscuit and rapidly wrap the towel around her body to where only her head is sticking out. She has morphed into a giant cloth wiggle-worm. I hold her tight and quickly take the wash cloth and wash her face and head repeatedly with the magic solution while she is still in burrito form. She fights and fights and eventually manages to kick out from the towel and take more flesh. I release her as I yell out in anguish. Blood is shed, but mission is accomplished – at least by 75%.

As Biscuit runs off to lick her wounds, I am curious if the skunk has left the premises. Nope, it is still in the exact place it was 30 minutes ago – in the corner of the sunroom under a wire rack. I decide to turn off all the lights in the house and use the small flashlight to monitor its whereabouts. This is when I decide to crack the door ever so slightly and snap the picture above. (Yes, I guess I could be the idiot referred to previously.) Before I left for the store, I mentioned I had barricaded the interior doggie door so the skunk could not possibly enter the main house. Mike has no full set of anything in his house, and thus it isn’t surprising there are no original covers to the doggie doors to be found. I used a handy ottoman as an interior barricade. I decide to sit on it and wait out the skunk.

As I sit patiently on the comfortable barricade, I grab the iPad to get a head start on learning about ways to rid a house of skunk odor. P.S. There aren’t too many ways. However one of the websites I found states to use the same concoction I used on Biscuit’s face, to wash any exposed linens and such. I decide to gather up the throw rugs I knew Biscuit had raced on through the house, the cat burrito towel and the magic washcloth, and I toss them in the washer while they are still ripe. I pour in the left-over Dawn, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide solution from Biscuit’s “bath” and start the machine.

I take another look out of the glass door and hooray, the skunk is on the move. Having been so terribly frightened of Biscuit only an hour earlier, the silly thing now swaggers bravely around the sunroom like John Wayne. He finally walks in a very slow fashion out the propped door. I follow the skunk with my weak flashlight (from behind the glass door) as I watch it finally exit onto the patio.

I swoop into the sunroom (holding my breath), kick the citronella candle away from the propped door and slam it shut. I then proceed to barricade the offending doggie door by using cardboard, paint cans, pool toys, a Hallmark bag, Mike’s flip flops and just about anything else I can find nearby. No original doggie door cover, no problem. The skunk is not coming back in!

Skunk out of the house, my focus goes back to Biscuit. She’s run back behind the furniture, so I take out all the drawers again to get to her and I decide to just leave them out. After all, that particular area is going to need to be aired out anyway. While Biscuit will not let me touch her, I can see she is no longer licking her face constantly and her eyes appear to be de-puffing. I think the Dawn, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide concoction has helped. Whew!

Biscuita

Biscuit

Well, the de-skunking solution worked so well on Biscuit I decide to stop the washing machine mid-wash and let the exposed items soak really good overnight in the active ingredients.

Changing back into my nightgown about 2 a.m., I decide to look again at the various skunk odor remedies on my iPad before drifting off to sleep. I found where ceiling fans and sunlight are beneficial in expediting the odor from your home. In fact, it is recommended that clothing and other fabrics exposed to skunk spray and which are able to be washed, are air-dried outdoors in the sunlight for a few days versus being thrown in the dryer. It is also recommended to change out A/C filters around the house as soon as possible. As I continue to read about remedies and suggestions, I came across an exact “recipe” for the concoction I used on Biscuit. It worked well in the end, but I had not received measurements from the emergency clinic and winged it by sloppily combining ingredients in haste. It seems I may have added a bit more of each ingredient than necessary. Oh well, I think.

Moving on down the recipe webpage I notice where it says, “DANGER: Do not place any of the leftover mixture in a closed container as it will explode.” What? Zing! My brain kicked into gear as I remembered I was soaking the rugs and towels in the washing machine with the lid down – in a much higher concentration of the ingredients! I leapt off the bed and made a beeline to the laundry room. I closed my eyes, quickly threw back the lid of the washer and high-fived the agitator so the items could wash openly.

Another disaster averted, I relented to sitting on the couch outside the laundry room to wait for the wash cycle to complete. Around 2:30 a.m., I finally made it back to bed – too exhausted to be concerned with where Biscuit had originally landed on the sheets and whether I was imaging the strong skunk odor or if it was really there. I would be showering in the morning, after all.

————————————–
It has been three days since the encounter yet remnants of the skunk’s visit remain apparent, of course, including the odor. The odor is much weaker, but certainly not gone. Biscuit will again allow me to pet her, but I cannot pick her up for more than a minute just yet. I try often, especially when coaxing her to go back into the dreaded sunroom where she was accosted. Nonetheless, her litter box and food reside there and she must eventually make the effort. Mike, who has been out of town during this entire incident, will arrive on Labor Day weekend to a home complete with an unwelcoming fragrance, every fan in the house on full blast, strewn about furniture and drawers, and rugs and towels adorning every chair on the patio. Hoping to have made a few minor home improvements while he was away, I’ve really only managed to catch up on lost sleep.

Well, that’s not exactly true – I managed to become more educated. As wild and crazy as this incident was, I learned quite a bit from it. Most importantly, I learned about an awesome skunk odor remedy that is safe for pets (other than ye olde tomato juice). You can find the recipe online or at: http://home.earthlink.net/~skunkremedy/home/sk00001.htm (This one states to use Ivory liquid soap, but I bought Dawn like the vet assistant recommended. Either brand appears to work.)

Secondly, I learned additional information about skunks other than the commonly known detail of their defense mechanism. Prior to spraying any perceived predator, a skunk will hiss, spit and stomp at their opponent. This is what I encountered with the critter as I attempted to open the interior door to the sunroom. When these tactics don’t scare away a perceived predator (apparently Biscuit didn’t heed warning), the skunk will then resort to spraying – which usually works very well in fending off any attacker as the oily liquid is extremely irritating at first exposure. I’ve also learned a skunk can spray 5 – 6 times in a row at up to 10 feet in distance before exhausting itself. Good thing I heeded the spit, hiss and stomp warning!

Skunks are native to North America and eat insects (mostly grubs and worms), reptiles, and amphibians as well as some plant matter. However, in cities and suburbs they are not opposed to eating a wide variety of other food via our garbage. A side note about skunks eating grubs and worms – those little divots in your lawn that you may be blaming on squirrels may actually be caused by skunks, especially if you notice they are appearing overnight. Solitary and crepuscular creatures, skunks are usually found alone when scavenging lawns and garbage cans at dusk and during the night.

A very unusual and interesting fact I learned about skunks is that they are considered a primary predator of honeybees. Apparently they will scratch at a beehive to cause a disturbance and then eat the guard bees that come out to protect the hive. A skunk’s thick fur keeps them from being stung. Who would’ve thought?

Lastly, I learned that skunks can’t see well at all – only up to 10 feet in front of them – but they have an incredible sense of smell. Unfortunately, Biscuit and I learned the hard way that canned cat food is one of their favorite aromas and they can smell it a quarter mile away. Although skunks typically shy away from social contact*, once on the path toward a cat food feast, it is simply hard to deter or detour them.

No doubt, I’d say!

Until next time,

Cindy

 

*While they are a vector animal for the rabies virus, skunks rarely make unnecessary contact with humans or pets. Of course, all joking aside, rabies is a very serious reason to avoid contact with skunks or any other animal that is unusually brave enough to wander into your garage, basement or house. Although I kept myself behind closed doors and the skunk was relegated to an outdoor sunroom, it is always best to call a professional to remove the animal. Had my propped door- wait it out tactic not worked, I would have resorted to calling the non-emergency police number.

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Now is the Time to Plant Bluebonnets – Oct/Nov

 bluebonnets

Taking pictures of kids and grandkids in a blanketed field of bluebonnets has become a favorite annual springtime event for most families in Texas. Actually, the state flower provides a flattering background of blue for all generations – young, old and in-between. It is also the perfect backdrop for pics of our frolicking pets.

When I was a child, my mother and grandmother practiced this ritual. We usually trekked out to Mountain Creek Lake in far west Dallas and there, my two sisters and I would be sat in a field of flowers, usually adorned in frilly Easter petticoats. Most memorable to me of these occasions would be my mom scolding us when we’d reach down and innocently pick a flower or two. Heaven forbid we pick the state flower of Texas! It was thought by my family for years that it was “against the law” to pick bluebonnets, but I’ve discovered that it isn’t, and probably never was, so. This rumor was so rampant that in 2002 the Texas Department of Public Safety actually published a press release explaining there is no such law! However, be warned that if you come across the perfect picture location, you need to keep in mind it is against the law to trespass on private property. It is also against the law to cause damage to (dig up) public property. Not to worry. Last year I saw plenty of bluebonnets at nurseries and, from two very healthy plants I purchased, I have seed to share. Just send me a note with your mailing address via comment below (which I will not publish) and I’ll be happy to send some to you. This leads me to the title of my post – Now (October/November) is the time to plant bluebonnets. As with most wildflower species, fall is the time to sow bluebonnets in order to enjoy their color come spring.

More bluebonnets

Once established, bluebonnets are prolific bloomers. These above bloomed from March – June.

Although native to Texas, bluebonnets can be grown in Zones 2 – 10. They enjoy part to full sun, are drought tolerant and prefer slightly alkaline soil. Unfortunately, they can be a tad ornery when it comes to germinating. You see, their seed coat is quite hard; impenetrable until optimal growing conditions are present. Scarifying, or sanding, bluebonnet seeds assists them with germinating in flower beds that will be manually maintained (watered) and groomed (weeded). You’ll recall my favorite vine, the moonflower vine, requires its seed to be scarified for best germinating results as well. If you buy your bluebonnet seed in a commercial packet, you may find they are already scarified – just check the label. Once a bluebonnet seed successfully germinates, the plant will enjoy slow, steady growth throughout the cooler temperatures of winter; eventually setting blooms in the springtime for our picture-taking pleasure. Another bonus to growing bluebonnets in your beds is, as part of the legume family, they actually place nitrogen back into the soil. What a wonderful combination – flowers and fertilization!

bluebonnet seeds

Before I go on, let me say that there are times during my research of a topic that I come across a website that simply says it all and says it well. This is one of those times. To read one of the best articles I’ve found regarding bluebonnets, including better explaining the above, please follow the link below. –And afterwards, I hope you come back and take advantage of my free offer to spread a little bluebonnet seed now so you can enjoy a bit of Texas in your landscape next spring!

Until next time,

Cindy

http://www.wildflower.org/howto/show.php?id=1=true

09-19-13

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Ughh Ragweed!

ragweed plant

Ragweed

I was born with puffy eyes, it seems. In general, I am indeed always a little puffy around the orbs but when the fall season comes around and ragweed makes its undeniable appearance, I puff up tenfold.

I recall as a child looking forward to attending the State Fair of Texas every year in October. It was a wonderful time of year – Dallas students received a full day off school and free passes to the fairground, along with a round trip bus ticket. I would start “Fair Day” excited about and anticipating all the amusement rides and exotic food I’d experience. However, by mid-morning I’d be swelled up to the point passersby would often ask me if I was lost and if not, then why was I crying? As vain as I admit I was, I learned in my high school years that if I was going to venture out to the fair or any activity outdoors during the fall, I may as well leave the mascara off and wear large sunglasses to hide my red, weepy eyes! Those were the days when antihistamines just weren’t all that commonly used – or at least they weren’t common within my socioeconomic circle. Nowadays I can venture outside in the fall as long as I am fully loaded with a couple of different acting antihistamines and keep to a few practices (I’ll share these with you in the end.)

As much as I dislike the effects of ragweed, the subject IS timely so I thought I’d share bits of information I have learned about this plant firsthand through my trials navigating the outdoors during the months of August through November – or sometimes – through December. Disclaimer: Keep in mind I am not a doctor, nurse or any other type of health care professional. The information contained here, again, is gleaned through my experience as a 4++++ member on the allergy testing scale for all types of ragweed. –Yes, unfortunately there is more than one culprit of this fall weed!

There are actually 17 species of ragweed in the United States. A species or two or three can be found in essentially any part of the country. It is thought ragweed has become more prevalent these days due to land development and ragweed’s ability to very easily germinate and grow in disturbed soils of all types. The ragweed plant produces many tiny flowers that in turn, produce a multitude of pollen each. As ragweed blooms and the cool, dry winds of fall sweep across the US, billons of pollen grains are widely dispersed. I read where ragweed pollen can be found 400 miles off the US coastline and 2 miles high in the atmosphere.

What does this mean to those of us that suffer from seasonal hay fever? It means we simply can’t escape contact with ragweed pollen and instead of attempting to do so, we should strive to limit exposure and reduce symptoms.

Before I share what has worked for me regarding my allergies, I wish to explain a few more things about the ragweed plant itself:

First of all, it is not the pretty, golden-yellow weed we see waving along the country roads in the fall. That is goldenrod (see below). While a person can certainly be allergic to goldenrod, it is usually not the offending plant of fall – it just so happens to bloom at the same time and gets a bum rap!

Goldenrod

Goldenrod

Ragweed is actually not very pretty. Oddly, its scientific name, Ambrosia, translated from Greek, means “food of the gods”. Researching the origins of such an ironic name, I’ve discovered the jury is still out on why this scientific name was given to such a tormenting plant. It is thought the name and its ancient meaning may have been designated to the plant to be purposely sarcastic. Then again, some feel it was meant to denote that only mythological gods (non-humans) could tolerate eating such a plant. Then again, another person notes it was named after a botanist with the last name Ambrose (of whom I could not locate a definite citation, by the way.)

For all of the havoc it causes, ragweed does seem to have a purpose – for every living thing has a purpose on earth, correct? Among the few benefits I discovered, the most interesting one to me is that ragweed is thought to rid the soil of lead. Having grown up in one of the most heavily lead contaminated areas of Dallas (we lived one neighborhood over from a lead smelter) I find this trait fascinating. I also understand ragweed is the natural field crop preference of sheep. Also, some non-allergic gardeners plant ragweed as a companion plant to peppers to lure pests to the weed instead of the food crop. And lastly, if you search the Internet for the benefits of ragweed, you will find ragweed tincture is thought to ease numerous ailments. However, even these websites warn of severe allergic reactions and some mention ragweed leaves are oftentimes confused with those of poisonous plants – thus I hesitate to list any herbal or medicinal uses here!

So – let me conclude by providing you a few simple points on how I survive, and sometimes thrive, during ragweed season. Of course, while a highly allergic person should limit outdoor activities as much as possible, I would not recommend anyone becoming a hermit during the glorious days of fall! Instead, a few of the tips below should help you continue your usual activities, yet make your home a safe refuge when you need to reduce exposure.

  • *Check with your doctor first. If all is fine re drug interactions, etc., begin taking an OTC antihistamine at least two weeks prior to the onset of ragweed season – usually late July in most areas of the US.
  • Take showers/baths in the evening to wash away pollen that may have collected in your hair, on your skin, etc. during the day and to avoid having it on your bed linens.
  • If you have indoor/outdoor pets, bathe them often to rid their coats of pollen grains.
  • As beautiful as it is during the fall season, do not be tempted to raise the windows in your home. Use your air conditioner as needed. Also, use the A/C in your car and make sure it is set to recirculate versus pulling air from outside.
  • Invest in an air purifier/filtering system (HEPA) for your bedroom and/or office. Room-size devices are relatively inexpensive. Be sure to change the filters often.
  • Change the general air filters in your home often as well during ragweed season.
  • Vacuum and dust your home thoroughly at least once per week. It is best to have a non-allergic person do these tasks. If possible, hire someone to do this for you during the fall. (Note: I do this myself while wearing a surgical face mask.)
  • Speaking of face masks, if you must or prefer to do your own yard work during the fall, be sure to utilize a high quality one while performing the chores. However, again, if you can afford it, hire this task out from August – December.
  • If tolerable and again, recommended by your physician, use a nasal saline irrigation rinse in the evening to rid your sinuses of the collected pollen. I personally use distilled water (versus tap water) and perform this task while in the shower.
  • Lastly, there is a syndrome recently discovered, called oral allergy syndrome or cross-reactivity, whereby people with hay fever allergies (including grasses and trees) can have a greater allergic reaction when coming in contact with certain other plants and foods during their respective active hay fever season. For example, those of us allergic to ragweed are best to avoid the following plants/foods during the fall months, if possible: bananas, cucumbers, cantaloupe, zucchini, melons, sunflower seeds, echinacea and chamomile. Note: In my younger years I found out the hard way the expensive eye creams that are supposed to de-puff your under eye area usually have either or both chamomile and cucumber extract in their ingredients. These ingredients work well on non-allergic women, but on me, instead of producing a more restful look to my appearance, the products ended up making me look ten times worse!

Well, here’s to enjoying the beautiful and crisp weather of autumn, with or without allergies!

Until next time,

Cindy

 

11-6-13

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Nature is Nurture is Back!

Hello everyone!

It has indeed been a long while since I’ve posted anything but I have a lot of exciting things stored up to share with you! You see, my other blog program (that I loved working with) was discontinued and since it was the property of Godaddy, no one else picked it up. Therefore, please bear with me as I (hopefully) transfer all my former posts onto this new site – and – bring you new info.

It’s good to be back and I look forward to sharing with, and hearing from, you!

Cindy

P.S.  Below is a pic I snapped this morning of a dove and chicks nesting in an asparagus fern in my back yard.

Second Dove Family 2014

 

 

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