Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hatchet's Wild Kingdom

I have a yellow jacket problem and I'm not referring to clothing.
"Whatchu lookin' at, beyotch?"

I found the entrance to their underground nest in my front yard. Right where I need to be weeding, of course.

These would be the critters that are keeping us from eating anything with meat in it on the deck at breakfast, lunch or dinner. There are too many aggressive flying bombers to want to stay out there and risk being stung. Or listen to the children scream about them. Or to continually tempt fate by swatting them away. These Western yellow jackets can just keep on stinging you, if they've a mind to do so! Ack!

So we broke out the wasp attractant traps (Which we should have done in early spring and thus had fewer of them around now!) and I suddenly discovered the secondary benefit: the hummingbirds can now (mostly) feed without being chased off by Demon Insects! I thought that hummers were territorial when it came to the sugar water feeders, but they can't compete with a critter that can sting the heck out of you!

Now for a little someone I found in the front yard by the door!

The sphinx (hummingbird or hawk) moth! They're awfully cute for an insect, aren't they?

Strangely enough, they are a lot easier to photograph than an actual hummingbird. They appear to move slower and stay at a single flower longer. Or maybe I was just lucky. So if you run into any weird looking chrysalises in the ground under your bleeding heart plants, chances are it's these guys. My advice: Don't freak out about weird brown wiggling chrysalises.

I was lurking about in the hammock, laying in wait for a hummingbird to photograph when I thought that I should really plant some more butterfly friendly flowers on the deck. Then this guy came flying along and obligingly landed on the same agastache that the sphinx and hummers like.
Tiger swallowtail.

As much as I love butterflies, I'm always reminded that they're insects! every time I look at them a little too closely. (Eek! Long spindly buggy legs!) Then I get squicked out.

Not enough to stop loving them or photographing them, though.

Another big fan of my backyard is the common squirrel.

Squirrel! Point!

They like to help the finches clean up the hulless sunflower seeds the finches fling all over the deck. Squirrels are helpful like that. They also like to steal my neighbor's ripe apricots (as does Caitlin, but she's just not agile enough) and unripe peaches (When you hear squeaky crunching noises coming from the trees, there's a squirrel up there, desperately attempting to eat rock hard, green peaches.) and any old pecans we may have tossed out the door.

The squirrels like to tease the cats, too. They come right up to the door, where Domino watches the finches...plotting. Kaboom will occasionally jump at the squirrels and clonk himself on the glass.

Of course I still have mice roaming in my raised beds and trying to nibble on my tomatoes. I'm up to 5 kills so far this summer. Unfortunately one of those kills was a lot more up close and personal than I liked. Now I have mouse murdering sadness. I want them dead, yes, but quickly and as painlessly as possible. When you find an injured one, you have a decision to make: let it go and let it die on its own somewhere else or put it out of its misery. Poor little mouse.

On the bright side, I found that I have snakes in the front yard.

Maybe just the one I almost stepped on, but I feel pretty certain that where there's one, there's likely more! I may yet turn Eric into "Bob" from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom series (Clearly dating myself here.). Bob was the guy that the announcer always made stick a critter they wanted to examine into a bag.

"Now Bob will place the juvenile alligator in a bag for tagging." [Gator wrassling noises ensue.]

"Now Bob will put this deadly King Cobra into the bag for venom milking." Bob glares at the announcer but stoically gets his snake grabbing stick ready. "Be careful, Bob! That thing's deadly!"

If I could get Eric to find that snake and relocate it to the tomato bed...Well! Wouldn't that be awesome?!

Note that I don't have any photos of the snake, since it hissed at me and I leaped about 3 feet into the air and then ran to get Eric and my camera. However, when I got back, all you could see of it was the tip of its orange-striped tail. It was probably a common Western garter snake. Probably.

So...yeah. I have entire food chains happening in my own backyard. Exactly as planned!*

After spending a few days trying to shoot photograph hummingbirds in my yard, and being continually thwarted by excited and loud ~3 year old twins, I got a few good pictures.

Are you lookin' at ME?

I'm pretty certain that these are female broadtailed hummingbirds. Rarely do I ever see the males, although I have heard them and have watched them chase others off from the feeders. At least, I think it's a male. Could be a tough old girl!

Who? Me? Never!

Seeing the hummingbirds every summer lifts my heart and continually reinforces that what I'm doing in my yard is the right thing. The right mix of plants and water and trees and space for us and the wildlife around us.

It's also got me thinking that next year I'll put a whole lot more red flowered plants in pots on the deck! Texas sage? Check! Cardinal vine? Check! Scarlet zinnias? Check! Also, more agastache.

Maybe a new kind of fuchsia, too. Since it took me until just this year to realize that there's no way that this beak
My schnozz is so tiny and delicate!

can reach the nectary in this flower.

Yup. Just kinda figured that out one day while wondering why I never saw any hummers sipping at this hummingbird "friendly" plant.

Oh and this video from PBS "Magic in the Air" certainly helped me come to that conclusion. It struck me that this is a plant that is probably meant for a different hummingbird. One with a longer bill. Watch the video, it's beautiful!

If you want to lure hummers to your yard, get a feeder and put out nectar. You don't need to buy special mixes from the store, either. Just remember that it's a 4:1 ratio of water to sugar. So if you have 1 cup of water, you only need 1/4 cup of sugar. Boil for a minute, let cool and then fill your feeder. You do NOT need to add any color to the nectar. You should never add anything other than sugar and water. (I don't care how much you think they "like" it...Mom.) Just be certain to clean out the feeders twice a week in the heat of the summer since the nectar will spoil. You don't want to make your hummingbirds sick!

Also, the comment that they "live on the edge of survival" motivated me to pick up a new feeder with bee guards to keep the yellow jackets away. I parked it right next to my garden window next to the kitchen sink. Now I get to gawk at them up close while doing dishes!

There you have it. Hatchet's Wild Kingdom. Just as I'd planned, years ago when I first started my garden. I think it's working out beautifully!

*Except for the yellow jackets. Who eats those, anyway? I need to invite those predators to my yard!


Anonymous said...

Truly amazing photographs!!

Woman with a Hatchet said...


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