Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There and Back

Max & Ernest rest from bird-watching out the window.

We're home after ten days in North Carolina and Virginia.  

I was excited about the trip and afraid to go.  From the preparations, you'd have thought we were leaving for the moon.  

Two days before we left, I opened a safe deposit box at a bank only a block from the fire station.  Hunted down all the important papers of the last five years and personal history from forever, plus sentimental jewelry and photographs. Took second-most-important papers and back-up hard drives for our computers the next day.

We moved burnables away from the house--patio furniture into the living room, propane tank behind a stone wall.  

Denny cut back the foundation plantings so nothing touched the house.  I heavy-watered the beds, thankful for the hot hours spent earlier this summer installing drip and soaker.

The part that made my heart thump was setting up the cat carriers on the dining room table so our next door neighbors could be out the door with our cat family in less than five minutes.

You think I'm afraid of wildfire?

Aerial view of Bastrop fire destruction, by William Luther for the San Antonio Express-News.

The week we left, fires burned in San Antonio and Austin.  The Bastrop fire, burning since Labor Day weekend about an hour's drive from here, is 98% contained today, after burning about 55 square miles including more than 1,600 homes, killing two people and who knows how many farm animals and wildlife. And pretty much all of the country's westernmost loblolly pine forest in (formerly) beautiful Bastrop State Park.

We came home after 10 dampish, rainy days in a land of big-leaf trees like green towers cloaking mountain and roadside. Living glory.
View from our hotel toward Asheville, NC and Blue Ridge Mountains.

The cats are satisfied to have live-in servants again.  The orioles and most hummingbirds have flown on.  While we were gone, deer began eating my potted porch plants.  

We have a home, we're good.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, September 16, 2011


We put out feeders and plant flowers for hummingbirds.  They come.

Female Black-chinned hummingbird on Firebush (Hamelia patens).

Female Black-chinned rests between sips.

This year, the hottest summer in Texas history stressed every living thing. 

Throughout the Hill Country, the only reliable flowers were those in home gardens where water still flowed.  

Honeybees, deprived of nectar, and desperate for energy and moisture to cool their hives, thronged our hummingbird feeders and found small sips around the edges of the yellow bee guards. 

The hummingbirds adapted, thrusting beaks between bees and guards to feed. 
Until waves of migrating orioles dropped in hungry. After they'd eaten the ripe beauty berries behind our house, they pulled bee guards off feeders to sip sugar-water.  

Young Baltimore Oriole maleSee the bees on the guardless port to the left?  And those waiting for him to leave.
The hummingbirds, wary of big pointed beaks, worked harder now for a drink, circling feeders, dodging bees, squeaking for a turn at the energy to power their hundreds-of-miles-flight yet to come.

But guard-less ports spilled pools of nectar and swarms of bees piled the feeders, some ascending through ports into the syrup, forcing me into rescue duty for drunken swimmers,  followed by search-duty for bee guards tossed from impatient beaks.


In late afternoon, Summer Tanagers took possession atop the feeders for easy snatches of errant bees, a tanager's favorite food.

The orioles AND the hummingbirds waited for turns at the feeders.

Soon, the birds will continue south. This notch on the cycle will move out of sight, the passing of time more a passage of being.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

An Oriole Irruption

Irruption--an irregular migration of a large number of birds to areas where they aren’t typically found, usually motivated by the search for food. 

A young male Baltimore Oriole pauses before plucking out the bee-guard so he can sip with ease.  Later the bees will make use of his effort.

We've been having spring weather -- that would be high temps in the 90's instead of 110F -- and I'm filling the hummer feeders all the way up now that the food doesn't ferment by 3:00pm. Good thing, since we've had some unexpected visitors.

Over the Labor Day weekend I started seeing birds in the American Beautyberry bushes (Callicarpa americana) by the bedroom window.  Small greeny-yellow birds with wingbars.  Warblers? 

But the beak was the wrong shape.  Warblers have thin little beaks for eating bugs, not berries.

Female Orchard Oriole, the smallest member of the North American oriole family.

Then we started seeing orioles from all the windows...

Male Baltimore Oriole eating seeds of Big Red Sage (Salvia penstemonoides).

 Female Baltimore Oriole in blooming Firebush (Hamelia patens).

Young male Baltimore Oriole protecting 'his' hummingbird feeder.

Male Baltimore oriole snacking on ripe purple berries in the American Beautyberry bushes (Callicarpa americana)

Most of the orioles have moved on now, which is probably just fine with the dozens of migrating hummingbirds that have shown up in the past two days.  

The orioles were the first we've seen in our five years here and there were more than just a stray or two. I'm guessing they're part of an irruption from the historical migration pattern. 

Did the scorched-earth drought make them hug the Hill Country rivers on their southbound journey?  Perhaps columns of smoke sent them our way.

We'll never know.  But I do know this, I'm glad we had berries, feeders and water on offer.  The flash of sunset feathers in the foliage is like seeing hope.  And we can all use more of that.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In the Veins

The University of Texas sports the proudest student and alumni cadre in the state.  Just ask any burnt-orange afficianado.  Other Texans bleed other colors, most notably maroon.  Nothing wrong with that.

But love 'em or hate 'em, no one stands out in a crowd at the Chicago airport like the boot-wearing businessmen in UT-burnt-orange ties.  When you look around the waiting area and see that proud ugly color, you know you're headed home.  

Like the pope's belief in god, burnt-orange permeates the UT fabric, connecting the faithful to an understanding rising silent through Texas' parched earth and history, the certainty that Texas and Texans own the summit, indeed are the summit. 

As example, note this--every year dewy-cheeked brides walk down the aisle on 'the most important day of my life' behind a bevy of bridesmaids gowned in University of Texas burnt orange, a color that turns most women's complexions seasick green. 

And the happy couple ride away from the reception in a burnt-orange sportscar.  Really. You wouldn't BELIEVE the number of burnt-orange cars in Austin. And you know no one buys a burnt-orange car unless it's marked half-price. Except true T'sips.  They'll pay extra.

Hook 'em Horns.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.