Senses Working Overtime

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and whenever that happens, I’m sure to take a walk or two during the workday. I use that time to make plans for meetings and figure out problems, like I said in my previous walking post. It helps me think.

Can you spot the bees in the sweet olive bush?

Moments after I stepped out of the building, my spirits lifted, and I happily thought to myself, “Sweet Olives!” Once again I gave thanks that my sense of smell is very good and that some smart landscape designer put sweet olive hedges all around the building where I work.

They trim up nciely to make a hedge.

These plants (Osmanthus fragrans) are among the earliest to bloom, and make January and February very pleasant throughout the southern USA. The sweet olive has beautiful green leaves, making it a nice hedge plant or small tree, depending on how you prune it.

Just one tiny flower can be enjoyed for hours.

But the best thing about the plant is its flowers. They are tiny and white, and grow in not-very-showy clusters. But who cares what they look like! They smell fantastic. They are sweet, but not overly so, like many white flowers. I took one tiny blossom back to my desk and enjoyed it all afternoon.

People aren’t the only ones to enjoy the sweet olives, too. I saw many honeybees pollinating away, and even some houseflies enjoying the nectar.

I smelled this one. It smelled great. I like those landscape roses, even if they are getting a bit ubiquitous.

My nose continued to be happy as I walked around the building, because the roses are continuing to bloom, as they have all winter (they are that nonstop kind). The good news is that they do have a nice scent, though not as strong as a damask rose.

They call it sweet alyssum because it smells very sweet. And is a great edging annual.

Then, as I continued my walk, I smelled something very, very sweet. I looked down, and there, smiling at me, were some beautiful sweet alyssum. They were planted with dianthus, so, if you lean over before walking in the neighborhing buildings, you get a sweet, spicy mix. (Aside: I always find the purple ones more strongly scented, which is also true of solid purple pansies and the purple variety of lantana, which smell fantastic if you get close to them.)

The different textures in these bushes helped me forget about the cigarette I had been smelling.

Luckily, most of my other senses also got to enjoy themselves, since all kinds of plants are budding out, and there are always songbirds trying to drown out the traffic noise from US 183. The last part of my walk was bad for the nose, though, since a guy got ahead of me and lit a cigarette. That gives me the wrong kind of sensual overeload. I always wonder if smokers realize how many other people their habit can affect? (I know some do!)

Bird News

Speaking of birds, I have good news. The Swainson’s hawk pair that nested at the office appear to be back. And I was very surprised to see a caracara (Mexican Eagle) fly over outside my work window this morning. You don’t often see them in such an urban setting.

Chicken Update?

Feed us!

Just wanted to share that the owl seems to have literally flown the coop, and we haven’t lost a chicken in a couple of weeks.

As you can see, they are looking happy. Buckbeak is glowing! We have at least ten left.

  • And we are now getting ONE egg per day! 100% improvement over zero! Let’s hope things keep picking up from here. I’m still looking into coops, but it’s sorta complicated.
  • Other bird news

    I saw a cool bird sight on my way back from feeding the chickens yesterday. I stopped to punch in the gate code and heard a lot of commotion. Much screeching and cawing. I saw half a dozen of our large crows yelling at a hawk, who was yelling back.

    It looked like the hawk had robbed the crows of something. The crows took turns pecking until one of them got the hawk away from crow territory. That crow kept circling back and making it very clear that Crows Rule!

    Late-breaking news

    Look at this Austin sunset! We’re having a bumper crop this year!

    Urban Hawk Update

    hawk6
    One of two angry birds that was encouraging this young hawk to go away (note its shadow on the building). Fuzzy iPhone picture!

    A while back, I shared photos of a big hawk nest on the building next to my Austin work, and later I found another nest in a large oak tree in front of the building.

    I thought you might like to see how those babies are doing. I guess at least one clutch of them hasn’t completely fledged yet, since I keep seeing small hawks flying around the building.

    The resident birds are not happy, especially the mockingbirds, who, as we know, are busy raising their babes right now. There were actually two birds going after this poor youth.

    I’ve seen at least two others flying around in the past week. I’m pretty sure these are the ones from the big tree, and the ones from the building have long since flown off to establish their own territories. (I do see birds by the nest still, but apparently they usually have just one clutch a year).

    Nature sure helps when there’s chaos around you. I’m really glad to have birds and trees and random animals to enjoy wherever I am. We even have some wrens and tufted titmice coming to our bird bath at the Bobcat Lair house in Austin (I will try to get some photos). Remember, when times are tough, breathe, and notice what’s around you. It helps to see the big picture.

    Tomorrow I’ll write about picking wild grapes. Adventures in foraging!

    A One-Hour Urban Experiment

    salvia_gregii
    Salvia gregii is a really popular landscape plant. It’s supposed to be native, but I’ve never seen any that wasn’t put there by someone.

    During the four days of the week when I’m in Austin, I do yoga three days at lunch. But on Wednesdays, I’m on my own. Sometimes I just work, but often I take a walk around the area, which has some interesting plantings and natural areas as well. The office is on land that used to be full of deer when my kids were little. Now there is a lot more office space and less deer land.

    Anyway, I decided to give myself a challenge last Wednesday, which was to see how many new iNaturalist observations I could make during the lunch hour. I wanted to focus mainly on things that were blooming or bearing fruit, but if something else interesting showed up, I’d take advantage of that.

    So, off I went with my trusty iPhone X, which takes reasonable pictures, sometimes. I took pictures of the native/nativized plants that had been planted around the buildings first. There were some really beautiful agaves that I just had to record, even though I know they are landscape plants. Look at this Queen Victoria Agave!

    agave
    It’s pretty, even if it’s not native.

    Continue reading “A One-Hour Urban Experiment”

    Urban Hawks

    hawk3
    Thanks to Kate for this great image of both parent hawks and the nest on the fourth floor of the VISA building.

    Those of you who don’t know me in any other context may not realize that I spend half my time in Austin, where I work as a Senior Instructional Experience Strategist (what??) at a software company. I like where I work, because there’s a lovely xeriscaped courtyard full of mostly native plants, nice areas to walk around, and big windows to look out of.

    Recently, my boss and I noticed that a hawk, probably a Cooper’s hawk, kept flying around, swooping past the windows on the other side of the building, and disappearing. Now, we often see hawks around here (sometimes in the winter, it seems like every tall lightpost along the big highway has a hawk on it), so seeing it wasn’t a surprise. The repeated flight path was.

    hawk2
    Here’s what I first saw. Hello!

    Yesterday around 3 pm, a coworker and I decided to walk around the buildings to bring us some energy for a project we were working on. We stepped out of the building, and I said, “Look, Kate, there’s that hawk again.” Then I said, “LOOK, Kate!”

    There, in the building next to ours, on top of some railings that look cool to an architect, was a big nest. That’s where the hawk was going! We quickly realized that the reason we saw a hawk so often was that there were two, AND babies.

    Continue reading “Urban Hawks”