The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!
If you live anywhere in Milam County, Texas, you will know what’s bugging me.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Some new flowers are blooming around our property, and since we have a new puppy, I figured today would be a good day to walk around and check out the area. It brings such joy to walk with the dogs, since they jump in the pond and swim, run around in the tall grass and find dead things, and of course, roll in hog poop.
My mission was to take some pictures to upload to iNaturalist (I am sunasak there) to get some volunteer hours, and add to my collection of plants and animals here at the Hermits’ Rest. I was able to get photos of a great egret and barn swallows, which was good, since I still don’t have a camera with a birding lens.
As for plants, I got some nice shots of Indian blanket (gaillardia), Texas thistle, wild garlic, white clover, hedge parsley (ugh), and the pretty curly dock we have with the bright pink seed heads. Sure, these aren’t real exciting, but I do want to record all, not just the showy ones. (There is lots of grass, but I need to get better at grass identification.)
I do love walking around here, but I equally love just sitting on the front or back porch and watching the wildlife, dogs, and weather. Spring is pretty awesome at the Hermits’ Rest.
PS: Don’t forget these blog posts always appear on the Hermits’ Rest Facebook page, along with more photos and goofy things. Please “like” us there, too!
I guess I should note what I’ve been seeing and hearing lately. There have been some great song birds at both my houses. There is a Chuck Will’s Widow somewhere near our Austin house, and their call is so cool (they say their name, loudly). You never see the bird, but you sure hear them! Ours are in the greenbelt across the road.
There’s another bird out there I can’t identify. It’s like a louder bobwhite call, without the first note. Bobwites go bob-bob-WHITE! And this bird goes bob-WHITE bob-WHITE! It’s a night-time bird, too. I’ll have to ask one of my birder friends for help with this one.
At the ranch, the prickly pear cactus has started blooming, and some of those supposedly delicious dewberries are starting to ripen. Since Sean Wall keeps saying how good they are, I guess I’ll make a cobbler this year. We certainly have enough of them.
Most of what we see in the pastures and fields are many, many dandelions, along with all the pollinaors thereof. No way am I getting rid of these delicious and useful plants!
The bluebonnets are fading, but the Indian blankets are coming on strong, and some of the Mexican hats have started. Plus, my tomato plants are fruiting. That’s all fine!
Yes, the Dogs of Hermits’ Rest have a new member. I adopted Carlton from the Cameron dog pound, which has to be the nicest dang dog pound on earth. Sandra, the dogcatcher, is a real animal lover and lavishes all the doggies in the pound with love and attention. She even works on training them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”