Friday, July 27, 2018

Muscat, Muscadine, Mustang

Until recently I thought muscat, muscadine and mustang all referred to the same type of wild grape. It turns out I was sorely mistaken. I helped a fellow resident pick wild grapes from my vines so she could make some ice cream from them for our city's ice cream social earlier this month. While she was was researching recipes she asked me if muscadine and mustang grapes were the same thing. At the time I thought so but based on the resources she found, I began to question if that was correct. While not part of our discussion, I thought I remembered muscat being used as a short version of muscadine and I decided I should look into that too.

Mustang versus Muscadine: Both grapes are native to the Southern United States with quite a bit of overlap in their native ranges. Mustang grapes are purple as well as some varieties of muscadine. Both grapes mature into large vines that climb trees or any other object near them and are drought tolerant and have low chilling requirements. There are noticeable differences between them however. Mustang grapes mature earlier. They are much more acidic. When I eat fresh mustang grapes off the vine, I squirt the gelatinous inner flesh into my mouth and discard the skins because of the reaction I had from eating the whole grape. The skins have a complex flavor when cooked however and contain a lot of pectin. The ice cream my friend made from the cooked skins was yummy. And beware, neither type is seedless. Compared to mustang grapes, muscadine grapes are sweet. They are used to make wine, jams and jellies. Mustang grapes can also be used in the same way, however the flavor profiles are very different. You can also tell the two grapes apart from their leaves. Mustang leaves are fuzzy on both sides and the bottom of their leaves are whitish. Muscadine leaves have little or no fuzziness. The first photo in this post is of a young section of mustang vine when the leaves are fuzziest and often three lobed. As they mature the leaves lose some fuzziness and their lobes as seen in the second photo along with some ripe fruit.

As for muscat grapes. They are an old world family of grapes not to be confused with our native North American muscadine and mustang grapes.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pile of Feathers

As I drove past our park today I noticed a large, scattered pile of bird feathers. I recognized I was looking at the aftermath of a recent raptor kill. Several years ago upon turning down our driveway we saw a Cooper's hawk with a fresh kill and watched while it plucked and then flew away with the bird it had dispatched.

I drove home and got my camera so I could document my discovery. There are several birds that came to mind when I saw the gray feathers tipped in white. My first thought was mockingbird. However, upon looking up mockingbird feathers, the white and black boundary on the feathers seems too straight for a mockingbird. My next thought was dove. We have three types of dove commonly in our area, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove and white-winged dove. After looking up feather images of
all three, I feel confident that the bird feathers are from a white-winged dove.

As for the raptor, there are four hawks that I have seen in Dalworthington Gardens who prey on birds. The largest, the red-tailed hawk, is known for catching rodents and other small mammals more than birds so I think this one is not the most likely hunter. The other three hawks are red-shouldered hawk, sharp-shinned hawk and Cooper's hawk. I have seen a dove explode out of a hedge row with a small hawk on its tail. They were moving so fast and I am not quick to ID the smaller hawks so I do not know which of the three that was but I am guessing one of them was responsible for the pile of feathers I spied today. The Audubon distribution maps put sharp-shinned hawks further north for breeding season and birds seem to be a smaller part of a red-shouldered hawk's diet than the other two, so I am going to guess the hunter was a Cooper's hawk like I saw in my driveway several years ago.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Design This - Exhibit Related Jewelry

For a few years now I have provided the Arlington Museum of Art with some small batch, true wholesale products when I can produce something in the way of jewelry, accessories, note cards or home decor that compliments one of their major exhibits. Their current exhibit, Cut! Costume and the Cinema showcases five centuries of period costumes designed for movies. While the timeline of the costumes is long, the costumes that inspired my designs based on materials I had on hand were the Victorian dresses.


I have a small charm of a lady in a dress resembling those of the Victorian era. I made some earrings and necklaces out of these. I also had some larger fan charms that I used to craft an artistic interpretation of the dresses of this period and turned them into earrings and necklaces too. Just before the show opened, I was at a trade show and found just a few larger pirate themed charms that went wonderfully with the Pirates of the Caribbean costume that Johnny Depp wore. I made necklaces out of these.

The exhibit at the Arlington Museum of Art runs through August 12, 2018. If you are a movie buff, a seamstress or costume designer, you will especially enjoy this exhibit. Tip: Don't wait until the last weekend to view this exhibit. That weekend usually is pretty crowded.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Grape Harvest Interrupted When a Nest is Found

A couple of nights ago I was helping a friend pick some of my muscadine grapes when all of a sudden I realized that what I thought was a tangle of vines and branches was actually a bird's nest and it was occupied by an intact egg. I had been clipping grape clusters below the tangle but stopped as soon as I discovered the nest. I did not want to through off the balance of the nest by lightening the vines by removing grapes. They were also offering important cloaking for the nest. I did get a couple of pictures before moving my ladder to another section of the wild grape vines to continue harvesting.

Even if I was not all that interested in protecting what I hope is a viable egg in the bird nest, I would have had to leave it be until the egg hatched and baby bird fledged or until enough time had passed to be able to
determine that the nest was abandoned and the egg was not viable. With the exception of a few officially designated pest bird species, all bird nests and eggs are protected by federal law in the form of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In addition some states, counties and communities have additional protections on the books.

Texas Parks and Wildlife has some good information about what to do if you encounter what you think might be abandoned wildlife. Numbers seven and ten in this link have some additional good suggestions regarding discovered nests.

I am not well versed in egg identification.
If by chance these pictures give you a hint as to what type of bird laid this egg, please let me know in comments. Clicking on the images will bring up larger versions.

Update 7/11/18: It's a cardinal nest! I snapped this picture last night. I went to get the mail last night, looked up and saw the female's tail feathers showing so I got my camera and took some photos from the driveway. I did not want to drag out a ladder and scare mama off. I did not notice I had more than tail feathers in the shot until looking at them on my monitor.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

I have a piece of property whose back line fence seems to have evolved over the years. It appeared to have a wire farm fence with t-posts at one time and when the house was built a chain link fence was put in just inside the farm fence that was never taken out. Over time three large trees and some much smaller ones made it difficult to remove the fencing so that I could extend my TREX fence around the rest of my backyard. I have been wanting to do this for about a year and it is finally about to happen due to a house being built behind mine. The neighbor to be is nice, we both agreed that replacing the two old fences with TREX made sense.

Since the soon to be neighbors are hiring and overseeing many contractors they offered to coordinate the removal of the trees. Two out of the three big trees proved not to be a problem for the tree company that was hired. The third one was a large double trunked tree that proved to be most difficult, it had a couple of nasty surprises waiting for the stump grinder. It appeared that a t-post from the farm fence was growing through one of the trunks of the tree. The tree company ground down the stump from the neighbor's side as close as they could get to the stump. In addition a cemented in post for the chain link fence was partially surrounded by the tree. The tree company workers had to stop so as not to damage their equipment.

Since the tree company only cut out the section of chain link fencing they needed to get out of the way for access, my husband and I disassembled the rest, except for the fence posts, now that the trees were out of the way. At this time we did not attempt to do anything with the remaining portion of the tree and t-post since nothing seemed to want to budge.

The company who will be installing the new TREX fence gave it a try next. They had a bobcat that assisted in easily plucking the cemented in fence posts, that had not been cut off, out of the ground. Unfortunately the one at the remains of the double trunked tree did not have any fence post sticking up. The bobcat was no match for the stump and inclusions, so the fence company left after smoothing the grade where the fence would go, except for where the double trunked tree remains were.

The new neighbors did not have any luck finding a contractor who would remove the stump with the concrete and t-post seemingly embedded in it so almost a week ago, my husband and I decided to see what we could do ourselves. We loaded up our small chain saw, shovels, axes, pry bars and an assortment of other tools. Since we have not had any rain for so long, the first order of business was to wet down the ground to help with digging. I did some hand work removing soil around the t-post and eventually was able to ascertain that it was actually in a pocket of dirt with tree on all sides. My husband worked on removing portions of the stump with a small electric chainsaw. I used some hand tools and a shovel as appropriate to clear away newly exposed dirt. While doing this is actually when we discovered that in addition to trying to remove the t-post, we also had the remains of the base of a fence post to remove too.

I won't go into much more blow by blow descriptions of each step in the removal process. Suffice it to say that it took most of the day but in the end we were victorious. Now the tree company will be able to come back out and properly finish grinding the remaining tree stump that we did not need to take out to get to the t-post and concrete post base. (The first photo was taken after we had removed a portion of the trunk and cleared some dirt. The second photo was taken just after we got t-post out. The concrete came out before that.) We were wiped by the end of the day but pleased that our hard work had paid off. After the concrete was out, we took a break while soaking the ground again and visited our local snow cone stand.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Name That Job!

What do all of these critters have in common with regards to an important function they perform? If you know or have an educated guess, please answer in comments below. (Hint: The senate passed resolution 580 in 2006 creating the first National ______________ Week in June of 2007.)








Friday, June 15, 2018

Milkweed on the Move

The milkweed pods on the green milkweed, Asclepias virids, in my pasture are splitting open to allow the seeds inside a chance to catch a puff of wind and ride to a new location in hopes of establishing a new plant. This past weekend I watched as the silky puffball of threads attached to each seed were pushed this way and that by the wind. Occasionally one would let loose and a seed would begin its journey from the mother plant to a bit of earth to nestle into.

Another common name for this green milkweed is green antelopehorn. The problem with common names becomes clear when you try to figure out what type of milkweed a given plant is. There are several with common names of green milkweed or antelope horns. What they all have in common is that Monarch butterflies search them out as the host plant for their progeny. When Monarch larvae eat milkweed they
sequester toxic cardenolides in their bodies. This makes monarch larvae and the adult butterflies they turn into taste bitter and develop a level of toxicity for potential predators. Monarchs' bright orange coloration is thought to warn off predators from eating them and taking on the ill effects of this toxicity. It is thought that other species of butterflies mimic this coloration to trick predators into thinking they are toxic too.

However, there is a delicate balance that must be met in order to survive growing up on such a toxic diet. The toxins are produced by the plant as a defense and the Monarch larvae must avoid the sticky latex sap containing the toxins that is exuded when a milkweed plant is chomped on as well as not ingesting too much cardenolide. I came across a very interesting article describing this delicate balance that you might want to read too.