Dampness Brings Fungi and Fallen Trees

The summer drought has broken, and it’s rained three weeks in a row. The tanks are full and the ground is saturated. Plus, lawns all over the area are sprouting mushrooms. Lots of them are those somewhat poisonous ones I wrote about in July. But, if you keep looking, you’ll find many others.

Today, Mandi and I have been hanging out a bit on the porch at our office in Cameron. I have found a lot of interesting things to photograph there, and I’ll be sad to no longer have my office there after this month. But, not to worry, we will still own the place, and will have good friends living there who like nature as much as I do!

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It just fell down. And though it was not in a forest, no one heard.

Anyway, less than an hour after we were last on the porch, Mandi shouted, “Sue Ann, come look at this!” I ran over, camera in hand, of course. Well, look at that! The very dead tree that we’d been meaning to cut down had broken off at the ground and fallen. I guess it won’t turn into a woodpecker house now! It fell pretty hard, and one branch dug into the dirt. We didn’t hear it, though.

This kind of thing is common after a drought period. The soil loosens up around dead trees, then when it gets all moist, the tree easily topples.

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A very small mushroom.

As we were standing around, we continued to marvel at all the mushrooms and other fungi that have been popping up. The tiny fellow above also has a tiny worm buddy, but I cropped it out. Oops. You see so much if you look way down, though!

Continue reading “Dampness Brings Fungi and Fallen Trees”

Territorial Battles at Wild Type

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This is MY sweet, red water, dammit!

Over at the neighbor ranch, Wild Type, there’s been a battle going on for a few days, involving the black chinned hummingbird population and one persistent praying mantis.

Sara and Ralph noticed that hummingbirds were approaching the feeder but not feeding. They were displaying their tail feathers and darting around. That’s when the mantis became obvious. It had settled in around the feeder, apparently waiting to catch one of those hummingbirds.

As you can see from the photo, this is not the largest praying mantis. It may well be another Carolina Mantis, which is the kind I’ve seen in Austin, but I’m not really good at differentiating among mantids.

I know hummingbirds have been caught by praying mantises, though. I even checked on Snopes to be sure it is true! So, no wonder the hummingbirds are annoyed.

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This blurry action shot shows the bird making itself look big to impress the mantis.

It’s fun to watch them, and I am hoping that Ralph has gotten some action shots with his good camera and tripod. I also hope no hummingbirds have actually been caught. What would the mantis do with such a big prey?

As an aside, I have seen more than one type of hummingbird at their feeder in recent weeks, since migration time has started. I’m sure I saw a ruby-throated one, and there was another I can’t identify. It’s a fun time of year.

(Also I am not participating in a debate over red vs. clear sugar water. I’ve solved it by not putting out feeders this year, since it’s a big commitment: my fellow Master Naturalist, Phyllis, has put out an astonishing amount of hummingbird food this summer!)

Dung Beetles of Doom

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This friendly looking guy is the gazelle scarab beetle. They like to eat poop and attack tack rooms.

It seems like every year we get a different plague. This year’s infestation was quite a surprise. And how it managed to infest our tack room was quite ingenious.

You see, the room where we store all the equine food, saddles, and other equipment may not look great, but it is very well sealed, so that mice and other intruders can’t come in and eat our delicious beet pulp and expensive supplements. It’s also air conditioned, so that the leather tack doesn’t get all moldy and icky.

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I recently dropped some black sunflower seeds, and from a distance, they do resemble dung beetles.

So, yes, we were surprised this weekend when what we originally thought were black sunflower seeds that we’d spilled were actually a LOT of dead bugs. I uploaded a photo to iNaturalist and got back a positive identification of gazelle scarabs (Digitonthophagus gazella), also known as brown dung beetles. Sara, my horse co-owner, was proud she knew it was dung beetles. Well, she was raised on a farm and has lived on a LOT of cattle ranches. She’s seen dung beetles.

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Spiders. I Like Them, Too.

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This garden spider, and her eggs, live at the Rattlesnake House. She’s a big one.

Some of my friends really hate spiders. Recently there was a pretty big one near the tack room, and my friend, Sara, and I had completely opposite reactions. As I was reaching for my phone to take its picture, Sara swooped in and smashed it to smithereens. We both get a good laugh about that, now, and she’s promised to let me get a photo next time.

I’ve never hated spiders, though I will admit that during the first year we lived here, the number of webs that showed up under our porch got to be pretty creepy. That’s all stopped now. Whew.

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This guy, Phidippus texanus, lives on my front porch. What a pretty design is on the abdomen! And you can see the cool eyes.

Lately, I’ve been trying to get pictures of more of the insects and arachnids around the ranch, so I’ve been watching the spiders more closely. I love seeing webs in the dew, finding out what they catch, and seeing the wide variety we have here. They range from the big ole garden spiders you see above to some so tiny I can’t get a picture of them that doesn’t look like a blob (I will spare you those photos).

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That white spot is Lee’s reminder of his visit from a brown recluse.

Aren’t some spiders dangerous?

Why yes, they are. As a matter of fact, Lee got bitten by a brown recluse once, at his cushy desk job! That thing took forever to heal, and he still has a pretty good scar. And I have very strong memories of the black widow scar on my paternal grandmother’s leg.

I do know what those guys look like. But, the way brown recluses hide in dark places concerns me. I always shake out my shoes when I put them on.

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The shadows make this furrow orbweaver look way scarier than she really is.

But as for the rest of them…

Yep, I like spiders. We always enjoyed the ones we called “banana spiders” that built big webs and stayed in them for months and months. Those were actually  Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia), the same type of garden spider pictured above, not the scary banana spider that comes in with bananas.

And the variety astounds me. One of the things I hope to learn more about in the coming months are the habits of the spiders who live here. At least now I know what some of them are!

 

 

Those Sneaky Snakes

Why, yes, I do have more to say about snakes. Thanks for all the great comments on the previous snake post! I guess all the dry weather had them all wandering around the ranch or something. (Aside: it has been raining this week, which we truly needed, but we could use more.)

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This public domain photo shows the cotton mouth and thick body of a water moccasin.

Another venomous encounter

Ralph at Wild Type Ranch reported a water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorous, also known as a cottonmouth) in his driveway last week. I’ve never seen one when it wasn’t swimming, so that was a big surprise to me. His dog tripped over it, so it wasn’t in attack mode. That’s good, because they are poisonous!

Another fact about these guys is that there is a non-poisonous water snake that just swims around, happily convincing people that it might just be a cottonmouth. That is usually what we see in our ponds. They get big, and are fun to watch while they undulate around looking for fish to eat (given the water moccasin’s Latin name, one can infer they mostly eat fish, too).

How do you tell them apart? Well, read this really good article, which I’ll summarize by saying that cottonmouths have a pit viper shaped blocky head, and thick bodies, while water snakes have thin bodies and a head that just flows into the body. Basically, leave them ALL alone. They’re really cool when viewed through binoculars.

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Why I Don’t Live in Fear of Rattlers

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Safely behing my window screen, I captured the blurry image of a rattlesnake making a hasty exit.

Last Saturday night, Lee and I came home from a delicious Mexican dinner. I got to the door first and opened it, letting the deluge of dogs run toward Lee in the garage. I detected non-dog movement, and looked to the right side of the porch, where a three-foot (or so) rattlesnake was briskly making its way away from the commotion.

I took a good look, and yelled to Lee, “Rattlesnake on the porch! Enter from the left!” and he encouraged the dogs to make a wide turn as they ran back into the house unscathed.

I snapped the non-great shot above, and later posted in on Facebook. I sure got a LOT of responses there and in person! People said:

  • I could have DIED!
  • I should have shot it.
  • I should have beaten it with a sharp object (that was the neighbor, in person)
  • My dogs could have DIED.
  • It probably has a mate and will produce lots of babies!

I guess much of that was true, but by now, I’ve had enough experience with these guys to not be as frightened of them as many people are. This knowledge also helps:

…rattlesnakes rarely bite unless provoked or threatened; if treated promptly, the bites are seldom fatal. (Wikipedia, “Rattlesnake“).

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I Can’t Walk, but I See Birds

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What we have here are three wood storks, two roseate spoonbills, and a great egret.

Well, it’s poor timing that I’m still limping around from my injured tendon and I have a long weekend! Being gimpy has not stopped me from making observations, and I had a DOOZY on Friday, and thanks to my neighbor, Ralph, had a good one yesterday, too.

I was looking out the window at the tank behind the house, like I always do, in case there’s a bird there. Yep. Lots of birds. I did a double take. That “egret” had a black head and black on its wings. Woo! The wood storks were here for their yearly visit!

I limped outside with the camera, hoping to get a close picture. I zoomed in, and got another surprise! Some of those “storks” were roseate spoonbills! Snap snap. I knew I’d have to snap fast, since the dogs had followed me out.

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We’re out of here. Plus that cow is butting in on our territory.

Sure enough, the storks had enough of us interlopers and took off. That’s how I got this nice photo. I did get enough time to watch the storks going after fish like crazy. The water is so low that it’s got to be easy pickings for them.

Continue reading “I Can’t Walk, but I See Birds”