Bats and Termites and Flowers

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This is a very old jasmine vine, judging from the width of its trunk (which doesn’t show up in this pho! And it sure smells good.

I’ve added flowers to today’s post to make it a little more cheerful. My urban home in Austin is on a hill near Bull Creek, and  surrounded by greenbelts. That means there’s plenty of native flora and fauna, plus some darned nice things someone planted once. I’m glad I got to enjoy the scent of the very sturdy jasmine vine behind our house, and the nice collection of cedar sage in the limestone outcropping next to our house.

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A lot of people walk their dogs by here, so this lovely planting brings joy to many.

What about the bats?

Well, the guy from the pest control company came by today. At first he thought the scat on my deck was from a rodent, but I pointed out how it’s arranged in a row and encouraged him to look up bat guano on his phone. He agreed we do have bats, and guessed they are mostly hanging out in the cavernous space where nothing else is in the chimney.

I began to imagine a growing smell, so I was pleased when he said they can block the holes in the flashing, put an “exit cone” in, and wait until all the bats have left to finish sealing it. The cone lets bats exit, but not re-enter. That would be nice.

Why so sad?

Unfortunately, when Francisco the bat man was looking for evidence of flying mammals he discovered evidence of burrowing insects that only occationally fly. Dang it, we have termites, and they are in the NEW wood, so they haven’t been there long.

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Bat Encounter

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See those spaces between the rocks and the flashing? That’s where the bats are.

Last night, right after sunset, my housemate Anita was gazing out the windows of our Austin house. She turned to me and said, “Hey, I see swallows coming out of our chimney.”

“It’s not swallow time,” I replied. “It’s BAT time.” I then briskly went out to see what was going on at the ole chimney.

Sure enough, two sturdy-looking bats emerged from the flashing around the chimney…right where we’d been noticing “mouse turds” for a couple of weeks. I immediately googled “bat guano–images.” Yep, that’s it, all right.

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The tiny black dots on the table, chair, and deck are the poop. I mean guano.

Anita then mentioned that the next-door folks had just erected some kind of wire barrier all around their chimney. Hmm. Maybe the bats just moved one house down.

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Mother Earth

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These were prizes given out to Earth Day attendees who visited at least four of the booths.

When I was in one of those women’s groups that were popular when my kids were little, we often chanted. This one kept going through my mind yesterday:

The earth is our mother
We must take care of her
The earth is our mother
We must take care
of
her

Chants don’t tend to go too deep into details. But that one got me thinking about how much my own care for the planet has changed and expanded since we bought our rural property.

The opportunity to observe the changing of the seasons as more than just flowers blooming and leaves changing color has meant a lot. I know what birds show up, and when. I know when it’s going to rain and when it’s likely to be dry. I know that in different years, different insects are more prevalent than in others. Just sitting on the porch is like watching a nature documentary!

Celebrating Earth Day

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Nature art and beautyberry brownies, courtesy of Sean Wall.

Unlike many other years, I did more than just pick some flowers or plant something on Earth Day this year. The El Camino Master Naturalists had worked very hard to create an extensive exhibit on a variety of relevant topics, so I joined them to take photos and work on a newspaper article to document the event.

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Urban Hawks

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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.

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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.

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Plant ID with a Pro!

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Monique Reed (center) along with El Camino Real Chapter Master Naturalists at the Hermits’ Rest ranch woodland area.

April 14 2018 was an exciting day at the Hermits’ Rest. It was chilly most of the day and incredibly windy ALL day, but that didn’t stop an intrepid band of El Camino Real Chapter Master Naturalists, along with genuine botanist Monique Reed from Texas A&M, to scour the ranch for plants.

Why did we do that?

It turns out that not all that many plants of Milam County have been documented in the SM Tracy Herbarium, and as citizen scientists, we want to help. Our band was led by Nancy Webber, who has done an amazing job documenting what plants are documented, as well as what is still needed. She and another couple of the Master Naturalists who came along have a great working knowledge of the local flora.

However, Monique Reed has an entire Latin dictionary’s worth of plant names in her head. It was amazing to watch her work. There was only one plant that she didn’t at least get a clue about (the “mysterious carrot-like plant”). She looked high and low, from the largest osage orange tree (Maclura pomifera) to the teeniest, and I mean teeniest, little flowers imaginable. She spent quite some time kneeling in the dirt seeing “what’s down there.”

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Coyotes Are Big

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Not the coyote I saw! Free photo from Pexels.

I have a lot to write about from yesterday, but I’ll quickly share this morning’s nature sighting. Alfred the Giant Dog started his alarm barking (different from his “I’m on patrol” barking). The Spousal Unit looked out the window and saw two of what appeared to be wolves checking out the tank/pond behind the house.

We hear them often, but have been seeing them more and more lately, usually at night. This was in bright sunlight, which gave us ample opportunity to get an idea of their size.

The coyotes I see in Austin are usually smaller than our cattle dog, Brody, and look hungry. These were much larger, and very healthy looking. They weren’t as big as Alfred (an Anatolian Shepherd), but not much smaller. They looked over at the house, then just walked into the woods.

As soon as Alfred got out of the fenced-in area behind our house, he did a big patrol of the area. A few deep barks, and there have been more signs of our coyote friends. I hope they are eating lots and lots of mice.

Foraging Fun

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In Texas, amaryllis bulbs usually bloom in April, not at Christmas. You can plant them and enjoy them for years.

It’s Friday the 13th, but I’m not worried! The first thing I saw when I stepped out of my house this morning was a pair of bluebirds, which did indeed bring happiness. Way to go, nature!

I got to our business office in Cameron to receive another surprise, the amaryllis bulbs Mrs. Trubee had planted were all blooming. The big ole wind that’s been blowing since last night had broken one, so it’s sitting on my desk as I type.

But, what about foraging?

Last night was the April Master Naturalist chapter meeting, and the speaker was a really interesting young man named Sean Wall, who has self-published a book on foraging for food in Texas. He’d already sold all the books he’d brought by the time I talked to him, but I’ll be picking up a copy on April 21 at the Rockdale Earth Day event.*

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Finding Your Passion

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This bluebonnet cake was a festive addition to our graduation!

I was a member of the 2018 class for the El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalists. One of the most amazing things about the Texas Master Naturalist curriculum is the breadth of topics covered in a short three months.

Class members all gained a wide breadth of knowledge on all components that make up the state’s ecosystem, ranging from plants and animals to weather and waterways. We now have a working knowledge of the variety of climates and habitats in this huge area, and how that affects the life forms found there.

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Thanks to everyone who helped with the class, especially Dorothy and Pamela, who coordinated it.

Sometimes the depth of information got overwhelming. Of course, we didn’t learn all details about all birds, butterflies, or snakes in Texas, or even in Milam County. But we did learn how to find out more and who to contact if we had questions. Thank goodness for Texas Parks and Wildlife and the AgriLife Extension folks! They are all so generous with their time and expertise.

But, where do I go now?

Now that the big knowledge dump is over and it’s time to go out and volunteer and learn more, my job is to figure out where my personal naturalist passion lies. I can’t do work on everything, even if I’d like to.

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The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining us! This is the default first post WordPress stuck in here, but I really like it, so it’s staying. In the future, I (Suna) will be blogging here about my observations at my home ranch. It will probably be organized, even.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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I will also be sharing these posts on our Facebook page, so please follow us there, too.

Getting Started

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The young redbud tree near the cabin on the Wild Hermits property.

Hey! Today I made a few pages for this site, including one for Sightings, which is on the main menu, and some sub-pages on birds and mammals I’ve seen since I’ve been coming out to the Hermits’ Rest. That’s been since 2011, the year of the Big Drought.

I thought I’d also practice writing down what I saw and did each week (you see, I’m there half time; the other half of each week I’m in Austin, leaving my spouse to guard the place).

Bird Sightings, April 6-8

The big excitement of the week was multiple flocks of snow geese going overhead. They flew low enough to easily identify their black wing tips. They also weren’t making all the noise the cranes make, and were lower than cranes tend to be.

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