Monday, March 31, 2014

An Early Easter Egg

We found half of a tiny eggshell under our palo verde tree this weekend.

The egg was probably less than an inch long before it hatched.

Plain white, no markings.

The palo verde tree is  thick with flowers now. It would be difficult to see a nest up there.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Well, THAT was fast...

We had been keeping an eye on the monarch chrysalis in our courtyard for the last 2 weeks. A couple of days ago we noticed the beautiful green chrysalis had turned a dark charcoal black. That didn't seem like a good thing, and we feared the worst.

Two days later we noticed the black chrysalis was no longer visible in the chuparosa bush. We figured the caterpillar inside had died and the chrysalis probably dropped from the twig.

A day after that, we got curious and took a closer look. We found the chrysalis was still in its place, but saw the butterfly had emerged sometime earlier, leaving behind a torn chrysalis that was a very pale translucent tan color.

Some quick research showed that what we thought was a dead black chrysalis was actually the wings of the ready-to-hatch butterfly showing through the walls of the chrysalis.

It was surprising how quickly the butterfly metamorphosed through the chrysalis stage into the adult butterfly. We first noticed the little caterpillars on 4 March. By 10 March they had tripled in size. On 12 March we found the chrysalis in our chuparosa bush. And it appears that the adult butterfly hatched out around 23 March.

Adult monarch butterflies will live 2-6 weeks, during which time they will feed on nectar and mate. The females will then lay eggs that will become the next generation. Hopefully we have enough of a variety of native plants for the adult butterflies to feed on, and they will decide to lay more eggs in our yard. Adding more milkweed plants is definitely on our gardening to-do list.

(And next time we'll know to grab the camera when the chrysalis turns black...)

For more information about Monarch Butterflies, their life cycle and how you can help them:

Learn how to create a Monarch Waystation for migrating butterflies:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Too Much "Spring Cleaning"

One of our neighbors trimmed their native Fan Palms this weekend. The beautiful thick frond skirt and fruiting stalks were completely removed, ground up in a shredder and hauled off to the dump.

Yellow-rumped Warblers, House Finches, Cedar Waxwings and Robins had been recently feeding on the palm fruits.

Hooded Orioles create intricate woven nests in the protection of the palm fronds. I hope our recent arrivals hadn't started nest building activities in those trees.

:: sigh ::

"Let us not look back in anger, or forward in fear, but around in awareness."
~ James Thurber

Friday, March 21, 2014

Happy Vernal Equinox

Yesterday was the first day of Spring. But with all the warm weather we've been having, signs of Spring have already been here for a while.

The first male Hooded Oriole of the season showed up about 2 weeks ago, followed by another male and 2 females. They are shy and difficult to photograph. We've been putting out sliced oranges and a feeder cup of jelly for them to enjoy.

Peaches and Nectarines are already forming on our trees. Looks like the Apricot tree might be a bust this year. It produced 4 flowers about a month ago, then went right to leaf. It has some new flowers now, so we'll see if they set fruit.

Last weekend we started noticing lots of Painted Lady butterflies, all headed in a northwest direction.

The Golden Butterflyweed is recovering quickly from the severe munching by the Monarch caterpillars. It is putting out lots of fresh new leaves.

One of our Ocotillos has started flowering. The bright red blooms look like flames on the tip of spiny, spindly candles.

Catkins are forming on our Mesquite trees. They will attract all sorts of pollinating insects.

Our Palo Verde tree is covered with buds that are starting to bloom. Palo Verde trees covered with bright yellow blooms are one of the prettiest trees in the desert.

The Salt Heliotrope patch in our front yard has been expanding. This is the plant that we were pulling as a weed, until we noticed how much the Queen Butterflies like it. We had to do some selective trimming, so it doesn't completely take over.

Another weekend in the 80's is in our local desert forecast.
Another beautiful weekend for working in the yard, before the hot weather hits.

"Just living is not enough... one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."
~ Hans Christian Anderson

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Fine Kettle of.. Turkey Vultures

We were in the back yard this afternoon, enjoying the pleasant desert weather when we noticed a kettle of about sixteen Turkey Vultures soaring almost directly overhead.

Following them to the southeast was a second kettle of about fifteen more birds.

We watched them soaring effortlessly high in the thermal for about 15 minutes as they glided in wide random patterns. Then as if by a signal, they all gathered up and soared off together towards the northwest.

(The dark arch in the bottom picture is the underside of our tiled patio cover.)

These pictures are what you get when you blindly aim your point-and-shoot camera at the sky in super-zoom mode, and hope for the best. Considering how high up these birds were (and how huge the sky is), we were pretty surprised to get anything at all in the field of view.

Yes, we checked for Swainson's Hawks. No, there weren't any.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Transformation Begins

Our Monarch caterpillars are on the move again. On Monday we found 6 of the caterpillars had moved from our Desert Milkweed plant to the Golden Butterfly Bush about 20 feet away. They were happily munching away on the leaves there, quickly nibbling them down to veins and bare stems.

This morning when we checked on the caterpillars, they had disappeared again and were no longer on the Butterfly Bush.

After carefully searching through our courtyard, we found two of the caterpillars had moved to our Chuparosa bush.

One of them was quietly hanging upside down from a protected twig inside the Chuparosa.

The second caterpillar had already begun its change into a chrysalis.

Over the course of a couple of hours, the caterpillar's skin started changing color. Starting at the lower end the stripes gradually changed into a lime green color that slowly moved up the caterpillar's body.

During this transformation you could see the caterpillar moving within the chrysalis.

Here is the final result  ---->>

The green chrysalis really blends in well with the surrounding green leaves. If we hadn't seen the caterpillar there beforehand, it would have been nearly impossible to pick it out. Can you find it in the picture below? (Hint at the bottom of this post.)

A week ago we started out with 10-12 Monarch caterpillars on our Desert Milkweed. Today we know where 2 of them are. We will be keeping a close watch for the other caterpillars as we (very carefully) work in our yard.

Did you find the chrysalis in the bottom picture?
It's in the center of the image, about 1/3 of the way down from the top.

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
~ Leo Tolstoy , Russian writer and philosopher (1828-1910)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Some VERY Hungry Caterpillars

All last week we were watching our caterpillars get big and fat, eating the flowers and (tiny) leaves on the Desert Milkweed plant in our courtyard.

Over the weekend the caterpillars all disappeared abruptly...

This morning we found them on the Golden Butterflyweed, which is about 20 feet from the Desert Milkweed that they had been feeding on.

They had eaten the Milkweed plant down to the stems, so it's possible they wandered off looking for more to eat.

They seem to really like the Butterflyweed, and are chewing through it pretty quickly. Hopefully there is enough food for them there, and we will be able to watch them form their chrysalises soon.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Caterpillars and Milkweed

This morning we noticed that there were ten or twelve colorful little caterpillars on our Desert Milkweed, Aesclepias subulata.

Desert Milkweed is one of the plants we added to our courtyard landscaping, in hopes of attracting more butterflies.

Looks like they found it :-).

Pictures in our nature guide books identify these as the caterpillars of Monarch Butterfly.

These little guys are (presently) less than 1.5 inches long.

We will be keeping an eye on our new guests.

Hopefully we'll get some more cool pics as they feed, grow larger, create their chrysalis and metamorphose into adult butterflies.

"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
~ R. Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, March 1, 2014

CV Wildflower Festival 2014

The Coachella Valley Wildflower Festival was held today, on the grounds of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center in Palm Desert.

For the third year, we attended as vendors and brought a selection of our Bird Houses, Bee Houses, Bird Feeders and Yard Art from our Barefoot Swan Nature Arts online shop.

The weekend weather was challenging, to say the least. A series of 2 large storms rolled through over a 3-day period, bringing much-needed rain to southern California.

The worst of the weather hit Friday evening, before the Festival began. Saturday brought scattered showers and occasional gusty winds which made for an interesting day for us vendors.

In spite of the weather, the crowd was enthusiastic and enjoyed hikes, live music and family activities throughout the day.

We had good sales, with lots of interest in our Solitary Bee Houses and Recycled Bottle Bird Feeders.

We also introduced a new Hummingbird Feeder made from recycled Coronita beer bottles, which will be added to our online shop once we take some photos.

The weather gave us a chance to test out our "Rainy Day" set-up. It was fast and easy to cover the tables in plastic, to keep the rain off the hang tags and our signage.

"March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb."
~ Old English proverb