Squirrels and Me

squirrel
Fox squirrel, busy trying to find a place to dig another hole.

I like squirrels. I had a pet squirrel as a kid, named Squirrelly, who we shared with our neighbors. He was cute and fun, though he made a lot of noise running in his wheel at night. Later he lived in our treehouse until we let him go.

Here in central Texas, we mostly have the fox squirrels, which are bigger and have more tan on them than the other ones, the gray squirrels, which are what you mostly see east of here. We do have some of each. They dig lots of holes, which mean the dogs think there’s treasure in there (acorns).

Squirrel Adventures

A couple of days ago, while Anita and I were walking the dogs, I saw a squirrel in the greenbelt with a black head and tail, with a gray middle. That was some cool genetics happening there! I’ve seen a black one near where I work, too.

Of course, some places have lots of interesting squirrel variations. I remember white squirrels in Baton Rouge, for example.

You always know when the Property Brothers (that’s a TV show) are in Toronto when you see the black ones running around. I have a deep connection with the black squirrels of Toronto, since I was walking down a side street one day when one tried to jump off a building into a young tree, but the tree couldn’t hold it. It landed on my head. All I knew was that suddenly there was a THUMP and scritching on my head. A little old dude excitedly pointed down the road and shouted, “Skwi-rrell!” in a cute accent. Then we all laughed our heads off in the middle of Yonge Street.

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More Dewberries

sauce
Dewberry sauce with many, many spices and seasonings. It went perfectly with the roast venison.

I hadn’t intended to write up two dewberry posts, but other than a couple of fun bird sightings (dickcissels and Eastern kingbirds!), the dewberries were the nature highlight of the weekend for me.

This week there were way more of them than last week. I picked three quarts in just a five-yard stretch along our arroyo. Some of them were as big as fancy blackberries. They must have liked the rainy winter a lot.

From those berries, I made yet another cobbler, and also a really interesting sauce, from a recipe by Jess Pryles for blackberry sauce. There are many interesting ingredients in that there sauce (star anise, whole cloves). I served it with delicious venison backstrap roast, and both my sister and spouse declared it a gourmet triumph.  I’m glad the neighor recommended this recipe, because just the salt/pepper/nutmeg rub on the beef made it worth checking out. Her new cookbook, Hard Core Carnivore is available now, so check it out (she’s also been on lots of book tours lately).

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Dewberry Time!

dewberries
Just look at that deliciousness (and puppy)

Dewberries are the unofficial plant mascot of Cameron, Texas. They are truly abundant here, judging from all the photos I’m seeing. Cameron even used to have a Dewberry Festival, which featured all sorts of delicious things made with these perky fruits. I miss it.

Here’s what our friends at Wikipedia have to say:

The dewberries are a group of species in the genus Rubus, section Rubus, closely related to the blackberries. They are small trailing (rather than upright or high-arching) brambles with aggregate fruits, reminiscent of the raspberry, but are usually purple to black instead of red. Unlike many other Rubus species, dewberries are dioecious, having separate male and female plants.

That male and female plant part explains why I keep seeing bushes with no fruit! Aha!

We are lucky to have lots of dewberries here at the Hermits’ Rest, though I’d never really done much with them before, other than snack on them. That’s because I never went out looking for them when they were completely ripe. This year, after all that foraging talk, I vowed to do better.

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What’s Bugging Me

junebugs
Eww. This looks icky. So many bugs.

If you live anywhere in Milam County, Texas, you will know what’s bugging me.

June Bugs

Lots and lots of June bugs. We say every year around here there’s a plague of something. So far this year, these bugs are the winner. And, yes, I know it’s May. They always show up in late April here. We’re in the South, you know.

The bugs don’t really hurt anything, but they sure cause a mess. In the picture above, that is ONE day’s accumulation. My husband had swept the porch the night before (note that the mop and bucket are there from the previous night’s “adventure” where a skunk expressed an opinion about two of our dogs).

Our new puppy LOVES the June bugs, however. The other dogs will snatch one out of the air as it plummets to the ground, but the puppy would prefer to just sit there and eat then off the ground. Since the pup’s underweight anyway, I guess the additional protein isn’t killing him. So far.

 

Who’s Singing?

courtyard
The path on the courtyard at work. You can see a redbud tree and live oaks.

Last week I showed you the urban hawk nest near my Austin workplace (they are doing well, by the way). Today I went to sit in the courtyard behind our building, just to get some air, so I’ll tell you about the birds there.

The lansdcaping team did a great job on this spot. They planted many great native plants, including turk’s cap and other plants the hummingbirds love, plus a variety of textured and colored plants. It’s a pleasure to walk through or have a nice lunch there under the escarpment live oaks and cedar elms. And of course, the plants attract all kinds of birds.

wren
This is as close as I could get with the darned phone camera.

The highlights of today were a large group of wrens, Carolina wrens, I believe. Every time I see one I think, “Wow, wrens are small!” They are also just about the cutest birds to watch, with their bobbing tails, chirps, angry wren sounds, and nice songs, when they are happy. They aren’t very shy, either, so you can easily watch them in trees, on the ground or in nests built in odd spots (like our old gas grill).

While I was watching the wrens and listening to them chirp and peep, a glorious song rang out. I was entranced. It was just beautiful, and there were two different songs, obviously from the same bird. “What is it?” I wondered. “I hope I can see this magnificent creature!”

I could tell it moved to the other side of me, so I peered into the tree. Then I laughed. The magnificent creature was a male American robin. This is a bird I listened to all the time when I lived in Illinois. Here in Texas, I don’t see them very often (Merlin Bird ID lists them as uncommon both here in Austin and at the Hermits’ Rest), so I guess I forgot what they sounded like.

robin
Yep, it’s blurry, but you can tell it’s a robin! In a white oak, I think.

What a wonderful memory to resurrect!

May Day!

horse nettle
Here is some horse nettle to help you celebrate May Day.

Today is one of my favorite holidays! It’s May Day, or Beltane in the Celtic tradition. It’s a day when traditionally folks left baskets of flowers on friends’ and relatives’ doorsteps. It’s also a day to celebrate all those happy forest creatures out there having babies, birds building nests (hello to our barn swallows), and generally the fertility of spring.

Mockingbird Real Estate Failure

In Hermit’s Rest fertility news, we have been watching some mockingbirds try to build a nest in their favorite location, where they’ve been trying for at least the past three years. Where’s that? Sigh. One of the tractors. This year I think it’s the backhoe. They even follow it when Lee moves it. They like the high part where the bucket bends. It’s not a place that is great for successful bird parenting. We always feel bad for them and hope they eventually find another spot.

News, as in Paper

I did get my first article for the Master Naturalists in the Cameron newspaper last week. They didn’t put in any photos, which doesn’t surprise me, and it was on the back page, but it WAS the article. I think I’m supposed to write another one soon. With all this new puppy stuff, writing is not as easy as I’d like.

And I am sorry about how HUGE this is. There are so many names in the article that it’s hard to read (I was supposed to mention EVERY person who was there. Yow.)

newspaper_article_418
Yeah, I’m sure you’re real impressed.