Back in 2003, Kevin was on leave for Katelynn’s birth, from Iraq. Before he had to go back for another couple of months, we went to the Commissary. Kevin looked in a box filled with ‘Jack-o-Lantern’ and found the perfect pumpkin. That squash looked like it fell out of a painting or was in the story of Cinderella. Kevin knew he couldn’t be with us for Halloween. And I wanted to make something really cute for Katelynn. Kevin and I found a booklet, and we picked the perfect stencil. Kevin said: “I want you to make the pumpkin as beautiful as you can, capture a few pictures, and send them to me on Halloween! I will be stuck in Iraq, again. But I want to be a part of it! It is Katelynn’s very first Halloween.” Said, done! Since our little family was ripped apart for this special day, the ‘Pumpkin 2003’ will always be my favorite. It was an emotional one. From that day on forwarding, I made a tradition out of pumpkin carving. Every year, Katelynn gets her stenciled ‘Jack’. And when Sara came along, she got her own ‘Jack’, as well.
I will introduce some pumpkins every Friday throughout October. Enjoy, and maybe get your own ideas! If you like to show me pictures of your Jack-o-Lantern, feel free to drop a link in the comment section below. I would love to see your artwork.
The Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) is a North and South American butterfly in the family Nymphalidae with a wingspan of 31⁄8 – 33⁄8 inches (80 – 85 millimeters). It is orange or brown with black wing borders and small white forewing spots on its dorsal wing surface, and reddish ventral wing surface fairly similar to the dorsal surface. The ventral hindwings have black veins and small white spots in a black border. The male has black androconial scent patch on its dorsal hindwings. It can be found in meadows, fields, marshes, deserts, and at the edges of forests.
This species is possibly a close relative to the similarly colored soldier butterfly (or tropical queen, D. eresimus), in any case, it is not close to the plain tiger (D. chrysippus, African queen) as was long believed. There are seven subspecies.
Females lay one egg at a time on larval host plants. Larvae use these plants as a food source, whereas adult butterflies feed mainly on nectar from flowers. Unpalatability to avian predators is a feature of the butterfly; however, its level is highly variable. Unpalatability is correlated with the level of cardenolides obtained via the larval diet, but other compounds like alkaloids also play a part in promoting distastefulness.
Males patrol to search for females, who may mate up to 15 times a day. Male organs called hair-pencils play an important role in courtship, with males with lower hair-pencil counts being selected against. These hair-pencils may be involved in releasing pheromones during courtship that could attract female mates.
International Rabbit Day promotes protecting and caring for domestic and wild rabbits every year on the fourth Saturday of September. Who doesn’t love a cute bunny rabbit? These soft, furry animals are enjoyed by many around the world. Often used as a symbol of fertility and or rebirth, many associate these adorable animals with spring and Easter.
Every year on the last Friday in September, Save the Koala Day raises awareness for the plight of the koala. It’s also a day to educate the public on the importance of conserving the koala’s natural habitat. Even though it’s called a koala bear, the koala isn’t actually a bear. Instead, the koala is a marsupial. This means that the koala is a mammal that carries its young in a pouch. In the late 18th century, English-speaking settlers in Australia called the animal a bear. These settlers thought the koala looked and behaved like a bear. Since then, many people call these animals koala bears. Australia provides the only natural habitat in the world for koala. Known as tree-hugging mammals, koalas live in eucalyptus trees. They grow up to 3 feet tall and weigh anywhere from 9 to 30 pounds.
September 24th is World Gorilla Day! Gorillas are one of the most endangered apes, whose population counts between 100,000 and 200,000 specimens. These giant apes are from Equatorial Africa and display behavior and emotions surprisingly similar to humans. We humans actually share no less than 98.3% of our genetic code with them. Along with chimpanzees and bonobos, we all descend from a single common ape-like ancestry!
Happy International Rabbit Day! Happy Save The Koala Day! Happy World Gorilla Day!
In 2013, one September morning I began my hike I began from the other end of The Colony Shoreline Trail. From there I could get much closer to the lake and saw a lot of wildlife along the way. In the mornings it is warm, but not hot like in the late afternoons in those Texas Summers. So, I got the chance to observe a couple of Turkey Vultures and a Great Blue Heron looking for fish in the lake. I also saw some dragonflies, skippers, little fishes, a Mourning Dove, an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, a couple of Fox Squirrels, and a Question Mark Butterfly. Yep, the Shoreline Trail was busy. It was a nice photo hike.
National Hummingbird Day is celebrated on the first Saturday in September every year. Some communities celebrate this day with activities that include educational programs, hummingbird viewings, and field trips. Hummingbirds share the raising of the chicks and males live a lot shorter because they use so much energy in defending their nests. They use a lot of energy in flying and need to rest every 15 minutes, so we must make our gardens hummingbird friendly.
Nine years ago, Sara and I visited the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve for the first time. It is only seven miles away from our house. But I had no idea it existed until I looked at a park map on Google one morning. Katelynn was in school. And Sara was bored because she had no one to play with in the house. So, I decided I would take her for a hike in the park. The weather was nice and not too warm. It was perfect to see what the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve has to offer. On the way, I said to Sara: “Maybe we will see some wildlife in the park.” When we arrived at the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve, we saw a lot of hikers, sprinters and runners. I told Sara to stay with me on the right side of the trail, for people who work out can pass us on the left. She did very well. We walked into the forested area. And Sara noticed a couple of squirrels chasing each other. One had a couple of pecans in its mouth. And the other squirrel wanted the first one to share at least one of the pecans. Sara and I made it all the way to the Observation Tower, where we had a nice view over a big portion of the park. After a little rest, we hiked back to the parking lot. Sara was counting the bridges, we crossed along the way. She said: “There were three bridges in total. And the squirrels were funny.” I’m glad she got entertained on this little trip to the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve. 😉
August is almost over; Sara is ready to go back to school. Summer is coming to an end, and it is time to get prepared for Autumn. The garden needs to be prepared for the Autumn/Winter season. A lot of crops love the cooler days, like cabbages and carrots. That’s also a good time for weeding the garden, since the mornings are not so warm anymore. Soon, the migrating birds and insects will visit the yard. It will be good for them to have a welcoming place where they can rest, before they have to move on to travel south. In the meantime, I’m sitting outside with a cool drink in my hand and enjoying the last days of Summer.
In Texas, I used to do a lot of stargazing in the Dallas suburbs. The best time was always when the Moon was new or crescent. Believe it or not, I still could make out the major constellations in the urban sky. When we moved to Connecticut, I lost this interest a little bit. Mainly, it has to do with making myself familiar with the angle of the stars & constellations. Another problem is the tall trees on our property. I might have to ask my neighbor if I can sit on a camping chair on the big rock in her front yard or go up to Mt. Fair to get a better view of the sky. It would be sad if I completely lost interest in the night sky.
The Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden has August Dollar Days during the whole month of August. Back in 2013, we had a day that was not too hot. And I decided to take Katelynn and Sara to the Arboretum. It was a fun day. We have seen so many different flowers, water features, butterflies, dragonflies, and little mammals. Since I have so many flower photos, I have to break the visit down into several blogs. These are images from the All-America Selections Trial Garden.
Painted Lady butterflies inhabit every continent except Australia and Antarctica You can find painted ladies everywhere from meadows to vacant lots. Although they live only in warmer climates, painted ladies often migrate to colder regions in spring and fall, making them the butterflies with the widest distribution of any species.
The painted lady is an irruptive migrant, meaning that it migrates independently of any seasonal or geographic patterns. Some evidence suggests that painted lady migrations may be linked to the El Niño climate pattern. In Mexico and some other regions, it appears that migration is sometimes related to overpopulation. The migrating populations that move from North Africa to Europe may include millions of butterflies. In spring, painted ladies fly low when migrating, usually only 6 to 12 feet above the ground. This makes them highly visible to butterfly watchers but also makes them susceptible to colliding with cars. At other times, painted ladies migrate at such high altitudes that they are not observed at all, appearing unexpectedly in a new region.
Thistle, which can be an invasive weed, is one of the painted lady caterpillar’s favorite food plants. The painted lady probably owes its global abundance to the fact that its larvae feed on such common plants. The painted lady also goes by the name thistle butterfly, and its scientific name— Vanessa cardui —means “butterfly of thistle.”
Two years ago, Ozzy came out to join Chewbacca in the backyard in Texas. Once he was tired of pouncing to catch bugs, he enjoyed a stroll through the raised bed garden. He had a lot of fun playing “Hide and Seek” with Chewbacca. Ozzy played garden inspector next. The pumpkin leaves make nice umbrellas for shade; the potatoes and tomatoes show another set of nice leaves to hide behind them. And the bird feeder is refilled for the delicious “food” to show up in the garden. Everything is perfect for a young cat to explore the yard. When Ozzy decided to sneak over into the neighbor’s yard, the exploration was over. He had to go back inside. Exploration makes a cat very hungry. It was dinner and then nap time for our little “Meatball”. Ozzy loves meatballs and he looked like one.
Kevin and I planned a trip to Walt Disney World for Spring 2011. While we were traveling from Texas, the girl’s aunt, uncle, and cousins came from North Carolina to join us. Getting from Texas to Florida was quite an adventure. Two hours into the drive, Sara didn’t feel well and barfed all over her cute dress and new car seat. Once, she had it out of her system and we cleaned everything up as good as we could (the car seat smelled like barf on the whole round trip), we made it into Louisiana, where we spent the night.
The next morning, Sara looked much better. After a light breakfast, we moved on. In Louisiana, we’ve looked at swamps, crossed the Horace Wilkinson Bridge in Baton Rouge, and drove on Interstate 12 to avoid New Orleans on the way to Florida. In Mobile, Alabama it was busy due to people trying to get to the Cruise ship at the Mobile River. Therefore, it took us a while to get through the George Wallace Tunnel, which is located under the river. Once we got off the tunnel, we had a good view of the USS Alabama, which is now a retired battleship and U.S. National Historic Landmark and is located in the waters of Mobile Bay next to the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, south of Interstate 10.
Pensacola, Florida is the home of the Navy Blue Angels. We’ve stopped in a rest area nearby to stretch out for a little bit. Katelynn ran up and down the hill to get the energy flowing before we ended up in Ocala for the night. The following morning, we met up with family to drive the rest of the stretch to Buena Vista.
Who would have thought that Joshua was such a sneaky little butthead? Back in Texas, when Joshua was still a young cat, he couldn’t keep his eyes on the rotisserie chicken we got from the store. No matter how often we shooed him off the kitchen counter, he still found his way up there. So, what smart people do, we’ve covered the chicken up with the lit. But Josh was smart enough to open the lid and found his way into the container. Nothing is safe from that cat, especially chicken. Now, nine years later, he still finds a way to the covered chicken.
So many memories come back when I look at these photos. When Kevin, Katelynn, Sara, and I lived in Texas, we loved walking on the town’s local trails. One of them was by Lewisville Lake, hence the name “The Colony Shoreline Trail”. The beginning of August has usually the hottest days of Summer. So, it was not uncommon that we walked when it was still 100℉+ in the evenings. We were used to it. And we saw people joking and biking along the trail. Sunscreen, bug spray, and water are the secrets to keeping going outdoors.
In this drought weather, a lot of plants strive in Texas. Firewheel, Ground Cherries, Horsenettle, Love-in-a-puff, Partridge Peas, Ragweed, Snow-on-the-prairie, Sunflowers, and many other plants love this hot weather, while others survive better in May and June. They will be wilted by the time July and August come around. That’s why we could enjoy wildflowers in Texas about ten out of twelve months of the year.
Lughnasadh, also known as Lammas, is the festival of the First Harvest. It’s held from the 1st to the 2nd of August, halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. This festival is named after the Celtic God Lugh It focus on the First Harvest of crops and offering them to the Deities.
Nature stands at the threshold of Autumn, it is still filled with summer’s warm delightful energy, yet there is something in the orange-tinted sunlight that speaks of change. Dusk arrives a little sooner than anticipated. The grain in the field and the fruits and vegetables in the garden begin to ripen.
We celebrate our progress and achievements, as well as the harvest at hand. We celebrate, knowing that we must stay focused on the crops that are still ripening. It is a time to reconcile our hopes with our fears. We joyfully receive the first rewards for our efforts, yet we still await the outcome of the remaining crops.
The most common rabbit species in Texas is the Eastern cottontail, identifiable by its two- to three-pound body, brown or gray coat, white belly, and distinctive white tail. They are widespread in brushy areas from southern Canada to South America, predominantly east of the Rocky Mountains.
Cottontails feed at night, subsisting on a variety of green plants, barks, buds, and grasses. Unlike the jackrabbit, which is actually a member of the hare family, cottontails are true rabbits. This distinction is important, as hares are born virtually self-sufficient, whereas rabbits are born hairless, blind, and helpless. In addition, hares tend to be larger and more muscular than rabbits.
The cottontail is an essential element of the food chain, serving as prime prey for many predators. As a result, cottontail life expectancy is extremely short — one year or less — requiring the prolific reproduction so often attributed to rabbit species. In addition to their reproductive strategy, cottontails thrive because they are swift-moving and can jump distances of up to eight feet at a time when pursued, making split-second changes in direction to frustrate and elude predators.
Cottontails are somewhat difficult to view, due to their swift and elusive nature. Viewing opportunities are best in brushy areas near ponds, marshes, and streams, particularly along the Texas coast.
Mockingbirds are one of the most commonly noticed birds in the state of Texas. They are either applauded for their audaciousness or cursed for their persistence in nocturnal singing or in the defense of their territory. Insects, fruit, crustaceans, and small vertebrates make up the mockingbird’s diet. The fact that they enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables hasn’t exactly made them gardeners’ friends either, although they do eat lots of insects.
Mockingbirds are found in just about every habitat type in the state. The males’ territoriality and constant singing and displaying during the breeding season make them the most noticeable bird in Texas. Often this territoriality takes the form of early morning singing sessions or diving attacks on other animals or people!
Unmated male mockingbirds sing more than mated ones, and only unmated males sing at night. Both sexes sing in the fall to claim winter feeding territories. These areas are often different than their spring breeding territories. Mockingbirds mimic 50 other bird songs. They have also been known to imitate other sounds they hear such as rusty hinges, whistling, cackling hens, and dogs barking so expertly that even an electronic analysis could not tell the difference between the mockingbird and the original. Scientists have found that female mockingbirds are attracted to males that can make the most different sounds.
World Snake Day aims to increase awareness regarding the over 3,500 snake species that exist across the world. Not all of them are as scary or venomous as we believe them to be. The fascinating reptiles are often not given the recognition they deserve just because of the bad reputation they have earned over the years. The day aims to change the negative perception surrounding snakes and promote the love for all living beings — even the ones we fear.
The Green Lynx Spider is a bright-green spider usually found on green plants. It is the largest North American species in the family Oxyopidae. This spider is common in the southern U.S., Mexico, Central America, and many West Indie islands, especially Jamaica. The species name, viridans, is Latin for “becoming green”. It should not be confused with either Peucetia viridana, a species that occurs only in India and Myanmar, or Peucetia viridis from Spain and Africa.
We are all set and ready to celebrate the world of imagination and madness on Alice in Wonderland Day on July 4. The amazing fictional world, created by Lewis Carroll in 1865, is the telling of a young girl who faces worldly obstacles at a tender age. More than a century later, the book continues to enjoy popularity amongst the masses not only for its original story and characters but also because of the subsequent movies that have been made of it. People also enjoy other adaptations like theater performances as well as the numerous types of Alice in Wonderland merchandise available today. Apart from all the superb details related to the story, did you know that the titular character is based on a real-life person?
In 2011, Sara was old enough for taking her to her first Independence Day parade. It was very warm the whole weekend. But we were prepared. Plenty of water, sunscreen and sitting in the shade helped tremendously. Katelynn and Sara both enjoyed the parade’s colors and candy. There were parrots, pirates, landmarks, Uncle Sam, Lady Liberty, the Fire Department & Police Department, and so many flags. It was a wonderful event to see people from the community celebrating 4th of July.
Well, with owning a house, there are also lots of responsibilities to keep a house in shape, so it won’t fall apart over time. We bought our house in 2005. At that time, it was already 27 years old. It was maintained okay by the pre-owner. But it had signs of age. In 2009, we exchanged the older windows for newer, more energy-efficient windows. And in 2011, we fixed the foundation at one corner of our house, what you can see here. The workers dug up holes under the house, so they can push these 10″ pillars into the ground all the way until they hit bed rock. Once the pillars are in place, they use a concrete stone, which can sit on the pillars. When the space between the house and the concrete rocks starting to get tight, they place metal plates in to keep the foundation of the house straight. And this went all down with men power and a small compressor. Since Texas has lots of clay soil, and it shrinks and expends due to drought and rain, house foundations can be in trouble in a short period of time. We also have to remember, many moons ago, this area was all ocean, before it became prairie land.
The ‘Larus delawarensis’ is the most common and widespread gull in North America, especially inland, and numbers are probably still increasing. These gulls are sociable in all seasons; concentrations at nesting colonies or at winter feeding sites may run into the tens of thousands. The Ring-bill has adapted thoroughly to civilization. Flocks are often seen resting in parking lots, scavenging for scraps around fast-food restaurants, or swarming over landfills.
A couple of weeks ago, I went with our local photography group to shoot long exposure photos at the High Five Interchange in Dallas (Interstate 635/US Highway 75). Opening the shutter for almost half-minute, it will leave a nice car light trail. Using the higher Aperture (ƒ-setting), the street light will show a starburst. And putting the ISO low, won’t over-expose the photo with too much light.
This is something I learned at a carnival over two years ago. I’d always shoot photos in “automatic”. But one night, at the American Heroes Festival in The Colony, a fellow photographer from the group showed me, how to shoot my photos in “manual” with the right Shutter Speed/Aperture/ISO. What an amazing discovery it was for me. From that night forward, I never captured my photos in “automatic”. I always shoot in “manual”. And I love it!
Here are some of the images, I’ve captured at the High Five Interchange in Dallas, Texas on February 7, while having fun photographing with the group further south of the Interchange.
The mournful cooing of the Mourning Dove is one of our most familiar bird sounds. From southern Canada to central Mexico, this is one of our most common birds, often abundant in open country and along roadsides. European settlement of the continent, with its opening of the forest, probably helped this species to increase. It also helps itself, by breeding prolifically: in warm climates, Mourning Doves may raise up to six broods per year, more than any other native bird.