Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall Leaves Fall

Have you seen it? That little bit of scarlet in the trees along the side of the road. Me thinks fall is here because the red maples' leaves are, well, turning red.

We are blessed with the plentiful Red Maple (Acer rubrum) out here in the piney woods of east Texas. The tree can attain a height of 100 feet and a diameter of 3 feet. I love that each leaf is colored red, green and yellow.

Red Maple

Another colorful plant that gives tree bark a beautiful red necklace is Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). Folks often mistake this wonderful vine for poison ivy. Poison ivy has 3 leaves; Virginia Creeper 5. Remember "leaves of three, let it be; leaves of 5, let it thrive."

Virginia Creeper

And my favorite tree for fall color is the Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). This tree is unusual in that it has three distinct leaf patterns on the same plant, unlobed oval, bilobed (mitten-shaped), and trilobed (three-pronged).  The roots of this tree are used to brew a sweet spicy tea. The leaves are used in thickening soups. The orange wood has been used for cooperage, buckets, posts, and furniture and the oil is used to perfume some soaps. 


And then there is the FarkleberrySparkleberry and Huckleberry which is a shrub with three names.

 Farkleberry, Sparkleberry, Huckleberry
(Vaccinium arboreum)

There are many other trees out here that provide a riot of color during the fall. I can't leave out the Dogwood, Sweetgum, Slippery/Winged Elm, Hickory and Walnut.

But, whether it is our wonderful Red Maple, the Virginia Creeper or Sassafras, the fall colors of these are not to be missed. 

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.
Emily Jane Brontë

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

So What!

Ok, I admit it. I use fake pumpkins.

It has always bothered me to use food
for decoration that eventually
ends up in the compost.

I'll admit the displays at the Dallas Arboretum
are stunning.

But, how many pumpkin pies
can this make?

Yes, I use fake pumpkins.

Do the neighbors laugh?
So what!

I have some very fine friends
that give me their pumpkins
when the season is over.
I make and freeze the puree.

Yes, I use fake pumpkins.

Holly Berry and Harriet Beecher seem
to enjoy the autumnal decor.

Besides the last time I carved a pumpkin,
I had disastrous results!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Food, Fat and Fun - Feeding Hummers during Migration

I was recently asked about when to take down hummingbird feeders. My answer was, “it depends.” But, thinking that was not probably a very scientific answer, I thought I would read up on the fall migration. Each hummingbird species has its own migration strategy, and it is incorrect to think of "hummingbirds" as a single type of animal. So that being said, the below information refers to the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) or RTH for this missive.


Why do RTHs migrate? Being a migratory bird, hummers evolved to their present forms during the last ice age. As the ice retreated, these tropical birds expanded their ranges for food and nesting areas. In the fall the urge to migrate is triggered by the shortening length of daylight as autumn approaches. And, since hummers are carnivores (nectar being the fuel to power their insect catching activity); they need to migrate before fuel sources run out. And, we all know insects and nectar producing flowers are not abundant in subfreezing weather!

Weighing just over 3 grams, this tiny bird is a minuscule bundle of feathers and sheer stamina. A RHT weighs about 1/3 the weight of a common ballpoint pen. A migrating RTH will gain an extra 25-40% body weight for the trip. Needless to say the little birds are fat!

For a newly hatched hummer, there is no map or memory of past migrations. New hummers only have an urge to get fat, fly in a particular direction for certain amount of time and look for a good place to spend winter. (I would compare this to someone in my family who doesn’t ask for directions.) The birds will take the same path that was imprinted the first year they flew and will retrace that path every year as long as it lives. Plus the little guys fly alone.

Migratory Map
All hummingbird migration involves admirable feats of travel, but the RTH’s journey is amazing. There are four common routes. Many RTHs come down and fly directly across the Gulf of Mexico which is an 18 hour trip for the birds. Others take a western route through Texas into Mexico directly. Some reach the Gulf coast and turn west and travel along the coast. And, then there are those that circle east and island hop to Mexico.

We Texans have it best though. The first week in September when tens of thousands of hummers start showing up for the staging of their trip across the Gulf, the folks of Rockport and Fulton host a Hummingbird Celebration! Here you will find the largest concentration of RTHs anywhere preparing for their departure. There are many educational exhibits and tours but the best is the backyard tours.

So it is not necessary to take down your feeders to force hummers to migrate. The birds that are at our feeders now are already migrating. If you remove your feeders, RHTs will find food sources elsewhere but they may not bother to return to your feeders next year.

Cornell University FeederWatchers program report hummingbirds being seen in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida December – February. Mark Klym, information specialist for TPWD who I met through the Texas Master Naturalist program, says Texas has a consistent number of wintering hummers. Several species overwinter along the Gulf Coast with some wandering even farther inland.Check out his book, Hummingbirds of Texas

So I guess my answer still remains “it depends.”