Now readers, I know that I’m supposed to write about gardening. I’m supposed to give you ideas about how to grow a spectacular wildlife garden, how to attract the bugs and birds and beasties, how to balance utility and beauty. I’m probably supposed to talk about North Carolina gardening, since I think I’m BWG’s mid-Atlantic gardener du jour. I should lament the weather that has struck down my tomatoes and blighted my figs. I should talk…y’know…gardening.
Heck with it. You’re getting my vacation photos from Texas. We may talk about gardening at some point, but I promise nothing.
So I went to the Texas Hill Country a few weeks ago, an area famous among birders. There are birds there that live nowhere else in the US, including the endangered Black-Capped Vireo and Golden-Cheeked Warbler. They have three kinds of Kingfishers!
Ideally, mind you, you don’t go in August. We saw 77 different species of bird, which sounds like a lot, but two days in the Texas Hill Country when it is not a million degrees out can net you well over a hundred. High summer is the dead season, and pretty much everything was dormant.
Added to that, they’ve been suffering severe drought, depleting the insect supply. We visited the Frio Bat Cave to see the Mexican Free-tail Bat emergence, and there was some genuine fear that there would be hardly any bats out because of this.
(Incidentally, there were millions of them. Millions. Migrants from more northern caves had headed south and replenished the population. The rangers were very happy. And I’m going to stop there, because there is absolutely no way to describe a bat emergence like that in words that will do any justice to it at all. It was rather like a mammal version of the Grand Canyon—it’s so big that you can’t get your head around it and you can’t explain it and you just end up making vague hand gestures and going “BIGNESS.”)
The bats, however, were not the only big thing in Texas.
This is a female Dobsonfly. It was longer than my thumb. Yes, they bite. Brutally. (The males, interestingly enough, have inch-long tusks which can’t break the skin because they can’t get any leverage. The females, the guides say, with typical understatement “can draw blood.” Dude, that thing could take out a freakin‘ cow.
Now, you know me. I am a relentless friend of nature and bugs, well past the point of normalcy and social acceptability. Even I, however, draw the line at sharing a chair with a female Dobsonfly. As I saw no way I could destroy it…and feared to provoke it…I went inside for the evening.
(No, I don’t know how you attract them to your garden. I assume you hang carrion and chains from the trees and draw dark magical symbols on the ground. Dear god, those pincers!)
Despite the drought, some things did continue to grow. There were thick bands of green along the creeks, the trees filled with Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers and patrolled by Green Kingfishers. And you’d find living things in the oddest places…
And in the middle of a sandy path leading down to a stream, we found a familiar sight:
These were smaller than the dung beetles in my garden, but otherwise identical. That was a recurring theme, actually—many of the birds we saw are technically the same species as the ones in my garden, but just slightly different. Their Carolina Chickadees were larger and had a different accent, the wrens had completely the wrong call, and the Texas version of White-Eyed Vireos were present in such incredible numbers that everywhere you walked, you were surrounded by vireo songs.
If I were going to pull up roots and garden somewhere else, I’ve often thought that I’d want to move to the desert. Water in the desert is so precious that a single birdbath will be visited by an extraordinary numbers of visitors. (A little pan of water set out on a picnic table brought in Lesser Goldfinches, Inca Doves, Black-Crested Titmice, Cardinals, Wrens, Chickadees…it was crazy.)
Even a small wildlife garden in the desert is an oasis. Gardening in the desert, who knows what might turn up?
Instead, I live in an extraordinarily wet place, a place where birds and beasts can get water nearly anywhere, and most seasons they come for food instead of water. And I have no doubt that I’m making a difference. But I do occasionally envy those desert gardeners.
On the other hand, I’ve never had a Dobsonfly anywhere in the garden. And y’know, I think there’s something to be said for that.
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