Marshall Backyard Naturalist

Marshall backyard nature. Connecting with nature is as simple as relaxing in your own backyard - and providing a few things for a balanced ecosystem of native wildlife. Nature imitates life, and abounds with humor as we open our eyes, ears, noses, and even our mouths to the fascinating world that is literally just outside our back doors.
Jill is a naturalist and a member of the Cypress Basin Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists. She moved to Marshall, TX from Indiana in 2009 with her husband who works in manufacturing management. Jill was born and raised on the east coast, and received a BA from William and Mary.  She worked in arts and business administration, before switc...hing to preschool teaching when her children were young. She loved sharing her passion for nature with her preschoolers.  Jill and her family have found great joy in exploring our nation's national and state parks, via hiking and camping.  Now that she is retired from full-time teaching, she and her husband take much delight in exploring the beautiful natural treasures of east Texas. More

Living on the Edge...The Spring-Time Circus is Here!


Glorious Springtime is in full swing here in the Piney Woods of East Texas.  While every season has its fine characteristics, nothing beats Spring for the welcome return of blossom colors, breeding season bird song, and balmier temperatures.  The sun's rising arc, shining through the new tree foliage, with its resulting shadow play on everything below it, just makes our landscapes fresh and new again.  The birds seem to echo this joy in the long, magnificent birdsong we hear daily now.  The time has come for the birds' pairing up, male and female, and the nest building has begun.  


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Recent Comments
Michael Mathews
, Jill. The Cedar Waxwings made their run through here a few weeks ago and it was really fun. Every time I tried to get photos, ... Read More
Wednesday, 30 March 2016 15:34
Kristi Mears Thomas
Jill, I LOVE this, and am not sure how I missed it this past week. Your descriptions are so beautifully vivid and accurate. We'v... Read More
Tuesday, 05 April 2016 08:02
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Paradise Lost?? The Perils of Living on the Edge...

January is a busy backyard bird-feeding month here in east Texas.  It's wintery enough for birds to receive handouts from us bird lovers in the form of black oil sunflower seeds.  For the lucky birds in our backyard, we are spoiling them with a fine mixture of a songbird seed mix including safflower. They do love it - we have a large flock of goldfinches that have taken up residence here at the edge of the woods, and they play very nicely with our year-round population of cardinals, blue jays, house finches and Carolina wrens. The Carolina chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches also welcome their similarly sized new feeder mates with hospitality. The red bellied woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers generously share birdfeeder space with them as well, and our new visiting brown thrasher pecks and claws the ground in and around the azalea bushes and mulched areas along with the goldfinches, white throated sparrows and black-eyed juncos.  It has seemed like a birds' paradise - everyone getting along nicely, no bullies upsetting the peaceful coexistence of so many species sharing the space together.  Even the squirrels seem to have tapered their frenzied eating - helped in part by the baffles we've installed on a couple of the feeder poles.  

Ah, yes...all is well with the world, until reality bears its brutal head in the form of a hawk with sharp talons, an appetite for birds, and an opportunistic mind.  At least one Accipiter has brought this peaceful paradise back to the reality of this world - birds are prey to birds of prey, in the form of Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks, and they have found their opportunity at our backyard birdfeeder paradise.  

These two species of hawks, as I have learned, are somewhat difficult to differentiate in the field.  Both inhabit east Texas, both juveniles are similar in appearance, and both have a craving for their own kind, even if smaller than themselves.  I have wondered if I should post a sign for my seed eating friends near the feeding poles reading, "Eat at your own risk - cannibalism is sometimes practiced here".  Our little birds have learned the drill - when the unwelcome bird-eating guest swoops out of nowhere, they immediately hide in the bushes, or stand dead still within the camouflage of leaf mulch and vegetation.  Now it is a battle of wills and patience.  Who will move first?  Who will give up first?

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Recent Comments
Michael Mathews
I enjoyed your blog and the observations were interesting. I have one in the pipes about my feeders too, but it will pale in comp... Read More
Friday, 29 January 2016 14:15
Kristi Mears Thomas
Jill, I whole-heartedly agree with Michael...such a lovely job! I enjoy reading about your backyard guests, both welcome and unwe... Read More
Sunday, 31 January 2016 08:53
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Living on the Edge...Wild Times Abound in Autumn!

Living on the edge of the woods here in east Texas, I have a hard time deciding which season of the year is my favorite.  We do experience four seasons, although winter is mild and fairly brief.  Much has transpired in our backyard these past couple months, partly because of the onset of autumn, but also due to a severe drought in September and October.  We keep birdbaths of several different sizes filled and cleaned daily, and have marvelled at the vast array of wildlife that frequent our backyard watering holes.  Thankfully, the rains returned in late October, burn bans have been lifted, and still the glorious rains come!

The does and fawn have visited daily for months.  We have watched the fawn grow, lose her spots, and gain independence.  Almost on cue, by October 30, the deer disappeared, hiding out and moving cautiously beyond the woods edge.  We are in the thick of deer hunting season, and don't they know it!  I do see them sometimes now in early morning.  They enjoy the apples and carrots that we leave for them on the ground a short distance into the woods, where they are still visible to the naked eye.  Sadly, we are not invited to their night time feeding parties here on our property.  Several mornings, I have observed their party leftovers, though - a gorging of potato vine near our mailbox, with just a few severely pruned vine branches left, and rose bush branches nibbled half way to the stem.  I can almost hear them chuckling and snickering as they gallop triumphantly back into their hiding places as dawn approaches.  We chuckle to ourselves upon the discovery and admit that survivorship should have its rewards.

So, the sun continues its southerly course in the autumn sky, and our shorter days and chillier mornings and evenings change the behaviors of our backyard visitors.  Easiest to observe, are the habit changes of the many birds.  The juveniles are grown now.  We said goodbye to our hummingbird population in October, as they headed south for their winter vacation in the more tropical latitudes.  We saw a nice sized number of cardinal and mockingbird fledglings this past summer, and they continue to thrive.  Thanks to their numbers, and their seeming satisfaction with our backyard habitat, we have seen some remarkable behaviors.  The ever-blooming red azalea bushes just outside our kitchen windows are ablaze in scarlet color ever since the life giving rains began in October.  What I originally thought was preening and bathing going on within the azalea leaves, turned out to be something I was not prepared to observe.  The cardinals, both male and female, were eating the red azalea blooms.  At first, I thought maybe they were just drinking from the flower centers, or perhaps enjoying the nectar, but as I watched from the window, I saw them eating entire blossoms - every last bit!

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Kristi Mears Thomas
Love this, Jill! So interesting about birds eating blooms...have never heard of this! Thank you!
Wednesday, 25 November 2015 06:08
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Living on the Edge...of the Woods, that is!


I love living on the edge...of the woods, that is.  Here in East Texas, there are lots of woods, so finding a home with an adjacent wooded area is not hard to do, even if you live in town, as we do.  This part of Texas isn't called the Piney Woods for nothing!   

My husband and I moved to Marshall almost seven years ago from Indiana.  We had lived in Texas before - College Station was our hometown for a couple years back in the mid-90's.  So, moving to Texas was not a complete change of climate for us, and I'll take our long, hot summers here any day over the long, cold, lake-effect snow laden winters of northern Indiana.   

As anyone knows who has moved to a new part of the country, finding something familiar in the real estate world, is like the comfort food we eat under stress - for us, it was a home on a cul-de-sac, and woods beyond our backyard.  We both felt an immediate connection and peace when we stepped out the back door and faced the glorious snarl of trees and brush that met our grassy lawn - and to add to our nature-loving joy was the small stream that ran along the back of our modest lot, connecting our parcel of human habitation with that of the wilds beyond. 

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