We Had to Get Ourselves Back to the Garden

However, we didn’t head to Woodstock; we went back to Brookgreen Garden. We rose with the sun and both worked hard today, so we really needed to take advantage of the multi-day tickets we had.

Reward of rising with the sun.

We headed in a different direction this time, and of course saw lots of flowers. I’m amazed at the variety.

There were, of course, many beautiful statues. My favorite was three women sitting on a framework of metal, just lounging around naked. Such ennui. It’s just what they do!

La la la, lounging.

I also liked the Don Quixote statue, which was in a lovely planting of Texas plants. At least I think that’s what it was. I’ve seen all the plants there at home, anyway.

Eventually, we made our way to the BEST PART of the whole place. It’s a Low Country trail and zoo with native animals and farm animals that would have been on the plantations. My favorites were the river otters. I teared up watching them play.

I enjoyed goats, horses, an interesting cow, owls (lots of cool ones, but hard to photograph), a big ole alligator, and chickens. Bit by far the best exhibit was the aviary. I was in heaven there. So many of my my favorite birds, up close and personal.

The habitat was truly beautiful. You could watch the birds catch and stalk fish, interact, and even build nests! This was so much fun, and interesting. We saw a few other animals, like a little green frog, Canada geese, a pretty skink, and many more brown thrashers.

All that stuff was good, but I’d have honestly been fine just walking around looking at the ancient trees and the rice fields that are going back to nature. I feel so at home among the shadows and moss. I hope you enjoy some of my landscape images.

Anita, Stop Reading Here

And now for my final fun observation. I was really wanting to get some photos of the really interesting squirrels here. There were many fine gray squirrels, and sure, I enjoyed them.

I’d never seen the other kind of squirrel they have here, though. They are big, with long and curly tails, plus black heads with white noses. What cuties! So, I obsessively tried to get a good photo of one. Instead, I got a bunch of okay but blurry pictures.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard these were fox squirrels, the same kind we have in Texas. But these look so cool. Of course, I looked it up on iNaturalist. Sure enough, fox squirrels come in a bunch of different colors. They can also be black.

Hooray for me. I learned a new nature fact AND relaxed. It’s time to actually vacation, I think.

PS: Anita did NOT stop reading when she got to the squirrel part. I did warn her!

Sunday Musings: It’s a Good Life, All Things Considered

Today, I’m being more explicit about what I’m grateful for than my usual gratitude practice, which is more like, “Thank goodness X is in my life, or I can do Y, or Z happened.” I want to say how grateful I am to Lee for deciding to get our retirement property early, build a house on it, and start with the rural fun and learning experiment we call the Hermits’ Rest Ranch. It’s saving my butt, that’s for sure.

Every Sunday morning, I wake up, make coffee, and hang around with Lee and the dogs up in our bedroom. It’s a huge room, so it has a loveseat, chairs, a little dining table (now Lee’s desk), and coffee fixings. Usually the dogs take turns wanting to sit by me and get petted. It’s such a gentle way to ease into the day. Weekends are the best.

This morning I had Carlton for a long time, and he was not about to let me do anything with my left hand except pet his long neck while he stretched his head straight up. Then big ole Harvey wanted some time with me. I’ve mentioned before that he thinks he’s a lapdog now, and sure enough, he managed to drape himself over my entire lap. We had a nice snuggle (I originally wrote “struggle,” which may, in fact, be accurate), though that bulky dog sure is heavy.

Not pretty, but fresh!

It is nice to review your previous day up in the bedroom, so I thought back on how happy I was to find out that all the guinea eggs from yesterday were still good, and wondered what to do with them, since I’m not heading into Austin for a few weeks, I can’t get them to my coworker who’s allergic to chicken eggs, but not guinea eggs. I guess we eat them.

Here, Apache has just picked up a clod or grass and declared round pen time was over. Typical scene with Sara working with Ace and Fiona eating grass like there’s no tomorrow.

I also reminded myself how good I am at being patient in difficult situations, which yesterday’s time with Apache once again proved. Both he and Ace were antsy, like there was something going on around them that put them on alert. I never did figure out what it was, but it led to more dancing around and trying to do what HE wanted to from Apache. He just wasn’t thinking. But, we stopped, had a little chat, and eventually went on to have a nice ride. He really likes it when I talk to him calmly.

And for those of you suggesting lessons, I’m actually signed up for some with a local trainer. That’s why I got a Coggins test for Apache when the vet was here. Sara will take Ace and I will take Apache. That means we get to practice trailer loading, because it’s been a long time since we’ve gone anywhere out of town. He used to love going to Kerri April’s to learn Parelli stuff.

This is a cool brown skink that was in the hay feeder yesterday!

I roused myself from all my musings and went out to see what’s going on with the chickens and such. Every single step I took, Bertie Lee was right with me. She’s the Big Red of my main flock. That hen just likes me. When I checked the chicks, they’d knocked their little feeder over and messed up the water, so I fixed all that and gave Star more adult chicken food (the kind they don’t like, but my shipment of Grubbly feed has not arrived yet, due to high order volumes).

They are not starving, anyway, since every time I look in they are eating away at the plant growth in and around their little coop. I’m sure no bug stands a chance in there, either!

Here’s a pretty buckeye I saw yesterday.

Then I just sat around, watched the chicks preen their feathers (it appears that they are trying to get the fluff off, so their fine new feathers can grow out), and enjoying the pond, trees, and butterflies. I got to watch the little ones go up and down the ramp, and it’s clear they are way faster at it than their mom, who carefully steps down the ramp. They also jump up and down off the small tree branch I put in their area and flap their little wings when they go to land. They will be strong! I wonder how old they will be before they can fly?

Naturally, I looked up the answer on the Googles and found they start testing their wings at around a week (check), but they don’t get their flight feathers until around 5 weeks, so we have something to look forward to!

Just looking around the ranch keeps me focused and gives me perspective. My challenges are just small bumps in the road compared to all that goes on around me every day in nature. And, like my friend Vicki has been reminding me lately:

I’ve survived all those previous hard times,
so I will probably survive this one, too.

I don’t want to just survive, I want to thrive! So I’m going to keep focused on the fact that life is good, I’m surrounded by supportive friends and family, and the new events we’ll go through will make us stronger and wiser. This is what I hope for all you out there, too.

And don’t forget to visit the podcast if you need something to listen to that’s fairly uplifting and pleasant. For me, it’s a nice break between some of my more intense podcasts! And if you want to help out with my blogging fees, consider visiting the support link at the top of the page.

Exploring the Wild Violet

Today was just the best day I’ve had in quite a while. As if finding the eggs wasn’t enough, I got to explore a new place, and wow, I found some mighty fine bits of nature!

Spoiler alert.

My friend Pamela had told me she’s seen fresh evidence of beavers on her property, which isn’t far from the Hermits’ Rest. I talked my way into an invitation to go check them out this afternoon after work. I put on cowboy boots and headed with her and Ruby the hound over to the spring-fed stream out at the edge of the hay fields.

It’s a pretty place.

The stream eventually goes to Big Elm Creek, but until it gets there it wanders around.

Near the start of the stream, which is on another property.

We set off to find beavers. There was definitely evidence of beaver activity, such as holes heading to the water and chewed saplings. But the first brush pile we looked at turned out to be a logjam, not animal work.

We enjoyed looking at plants and flowers until we got a little further down. You could see THIS was a beaver dam. It had lots of mud, sticks piled carefully, and entrance holes. We were happy! I took pictures of the holes, but to be honest, holes don’t photograph well.

All the water flows through one little area. How cool. Anyway we kept going, looking at dewberries and wild garlic and such.

Bugs, too!

We were enchanted by these very shiny, small primroses neither of us recognized. Maybe it’s an early buttercup? They are exquisite!

Then, as I trudged along the bank of the stream, I glimpsed purple. I squealed and said a curse word, but from happiness. I found violets! Wild violets!

Oh, my dear friends!

I’ve loved violets my whole life, and have missed them here. As we looked carefully, Pamela and I saw more and more. She was as delighted as I was, and we just had the best time spotting them.

Next, I got all excited to see cute little frogs and some minnows. Always good to see waterways alive with life!

Suddenly I saw a…thing. A big thing. Was it a fish, a salamander, or what? I yelled for Pamela to come see this huge thing.

Uh. It’s a…

Finally I figured out it was a dead frog, the biggest frog I ever saw in the wild (and I’ve seen those cane toads).

Not a great photo, but it was hard to get to.

Judging from its yellow throat, I’m guessing it’s a male bullfrog. It must have died of old age! I took a photo with Ruby in it to show the size. Ruby is a hound dog, not small at all.

Large.

After that, everything else was less dramatic, though we enjoyed the moss and other water-loving plants. We decided to name the little body of water Wild Violet Creek. Now it has a name!

Wild Violet Creek

I ended up going all the way to the back of Pamela’s property, where there’s a nice pool. Some short-horned cows came to see if I had any food.

Food, please.

I just ran around like a little kid taking in all the space, the hay fields, trees with woodpecker holes, and a very brisk wind. I didn’t mind. It was such a beautiful spring day!

Land spreading out so far and wide!

The water, woods, trees, and flowers washed away all the stress of the previous few days. Everyone needs access to something like this.

Peace, quiet, and beauty in the middle of Texas.

I hope you can find some springtime natural inspiration wherever you are. And maybe a giant frog or some violets.

I Found a Spring! And Pollinators!

I started out my morning nature break trying to find pollinators and check for damaged flowering plants for a survey of pollinators and plants used by monarchs on iNaturalist. I was very happy to have found bees and a butterfly, and was watching the water flowing in the stream with the dogs.

Then, Lee showed up, wanting me to help get the dogs back up so he could feed them. I said, okay, but look how well the stream is flowing! He noted that the runoff from the pond did not seem to be flowing, but the place where it dumps into the stream WAS making nice little waterfall sounds. So, where was the water coming from?

The stream is flowing so nicely and consistently that actual aquatic plants are growing.

Lee pointed out to a new puddle or marshy area that seems to have (no pun intended ) sprung up since the snow event happened. I’d been meaning to check on it, too.

The newly wet area. You can see it doesn’t have any water plants yet, so it’s new.

The puddle was very full, not like all the other ones that have dried up. Then, lo and behold, I spotted a little hole. That little hole was full of clear water, and it was bubbling up! I finally found the source of one of our intermittent springs! I was pretty excited.

Not much to look at, but it is full of bubbly water!

So, water is coming up from this hole (perhaps from the pond, who knows?), then flowing to the marshy puddle, then heading to join the pond runoff water, and on into the big hole that starts the stream.

I labeled the new spring’s path, since it’s hard to see for the grass.

Yay! Farther down, the water is running really fast, thanks to at least two other springs. We had heard that there have been springs all through that area, but most of them have not flowed since we got here, which was when the big drought of 2011-12 happened. I guess the aquifer has finally recovered! Wow!

This springy area has been holding up since last year.

Anyway, I was happy to find a Sulphur butterfly, a hairstreak and lots and lots of bees outside. They were pollinating the henbit and dandelions.

Also, one of the young willows in the small pond has started sprouting, plus I saw a bullfrog in that pond (and heard another one jump). I found one wolf spider and another insect that got away. That means some of them lived. This all makes me very happy.

I do hope to see turtles soon. I am worried about them. But, wow, so happy to have found a spring!

Random Goodness

I may as well share the good and/or interesting stuff of the day. Maybe I’ll do this every so often.

First, I got the little bistro sets up in the break area by the stairs at the Pope Residence. They surprised me by fitting. I even ate lunch at one. Now that no one else eats in the office, I’ll fine solo in style!

Kathleen and I picked these out in hopes that they would fit.

And I opened the box with the dishes for the office. I just set out coffee cups, in case a visitor wanted some coffee. The rest are i. The cabinets for now.

If it’s deemed too junky, I can put them away.

So that was fun. I also had fun looking at birds this afternoon. I finally determined the small heron I keep seeing is a green heron. It was out with the blue heron behind the house, and while I was looking at them and turtles, I spied the BIGGEST bullfrog I ever saw. Turns out they can weigh up to 1.5 pounds!

There was no way to get a photo of the frog, but I did get a picture of this scary kissing bug. It will not give me Chagas’ disease because it is deceased. Buddhism fail.

Eek

The best news is this! We had four eggs today! That’s the first time I got four eggs since we built the hen house here by our house. Thanks, Springsteen!

Bertie, Fancy Pants, Springsteen, and Hedley.

By the fall molting season, we may have a few more kick in! It would be nice to be able to share them with friends and family before they shut down to molt.

It Rained! And Other Signs of Life!

It being July in Texas, we are always prepared for a scarcity of rain and a lot of hot days. All we can hope for is to get some remnants or edges of a hurricane. Well, that seems to be happening right now, and since last night three bands of rain have come through our little ranch. The total rainfall so far is an exciting .15″ – not much, but it is better than nothing. We usually get about an inch per month, so we’re hoping that the big rain to the south of us sends us a bit more later tonight or tomorrow.

The third wave of rain as it approached. I could hear the thunder when I took the picture. The plant in the foreground is Lindheimer’s doveweed (Croton lindheimeri).
Root growth on the avocado “tree.”

The rain lowered the temperature, so I was able to get out and look around some today. Get prepared for a lot of pictures of things that are damp!

I’m always happy when there is new life. And even before I left the house, I realized that our avocado seed is getting pretty robust in the root department. Now we just need a stem!

Speaking of trees, we now have one in the back yard. I didn’t mention it earlier, because I was sad about it. You see, we bought a Shumard oak back when Kathleen and I bought those plants for our office. The guys had set it next to the RV, and I guess forgot about it. I watered it every few days, not realizing I’d needed to water it EVERY day, so by the time we went to plant it, it was mostly dead leaves.

It’s a tree. Not much of a tree, but a tree nonetheless.

But, Chris said its stem was still alive, so he planted it in the back corner (if I could use the backhoe thing, I’d have planted it). He then proceeded to set up a fine watering system that piggybacks on the chicken system and has been able to water it every other day or so.

Yep, those are new, non-dead leaves.
New leaves, and the life-giving water hose.

When I went out to say hi to the chickens to day, I looked over at the sad tree, and lo and behold, there are lots and lots of little new leaves appearing. It’s coming back! I’m so glad the rain is here to help out. It may even someday provide shade to the chickens and to the cattle behind us. That may be a while.

I found some other encouraging things as I was walking around today. I saw a young snake next to the tiny pond, and managed to get a picture of it before it dove underwater. As I patiently waited for it to come back up (with no success), I did notice a freshly shed snake skin near my feet. I bet I know who that belonged to!

I enjoyed looking at dragonflies, turtles, and bullfrogs in the rapidly shrinking pond. The rain will at least give it a bit of fresh water. I’m hoping that the tropical rain tomorrow or the next day will refill it and the other ponds.

This guy kept dipping into the water then zipping off. It was not easy to get a picture. Note dead boopie grasshoppers on the shore. It could explain why the bullfrogs don’t appear very hungry.

Maybe the grass will turn green again, too. The chickens will like that. By the way, they’ve all settled down now that Clarence is the guard rooster. He has figured out how to get to the food inside the chicken run, so all I have to do is make sure he has water every day (though Lee thinks he’s found the pond behind the house).

I got to watch this great egret snatch a fish out of the pond behind the house. This is where Clarence could be going if he runs out of my nice water in the dish.

New life always signifies hope for me. That little stick of an oak tree is my symbol of hope after adversity for now!

Bullfrog Population Explosion

This weekend a lot of dirt was moved over at the Hermits’ Rest. We are making the little new pond bigger, since it will eventually be used for something good, I’m told. Now that the rains have slowed down, water is receding and it’s easier to dig. (About five minutes after I typed that, a rainstorm came through, but since it’s July, I doubt there will be much accumulation.)

As the dirt movement was going on, I thought it would be a good idea to re-check what’s in there.

I found two young turtles swimming around. And some dragonflies. Mostly, though, I saw members of the frog family.

A green pond and frogs.
The turtles are up near the top right. I think. But in this photo there are actually 14 frogs, at least. Some are in the water and some are on the shore.
Not one of the biggest ones, but you get the idea.

First I saw big ole bullfrogs sitting and floating. Then, as I looked harder, there were more and more.

At one point, I saw at least 14 of the frogs, some adults and others still young. Maybe you can see them in the photo at top, but you would really have to zoom in.

Another little one.

I guess we had a bumper crop of baby bullfrogs (I originally thought they were green frogs, but got corrected on iNaturalist).

Then, something moved. It was one of the Gulf coast toads we have lots of around the house. I know where that one came from, because Chris had just disturbed the home of a pair of them when fixing a death-trap hole near our water cutoff. They hopped on over to the pond in a huff. At least we didn’t hurt our buddies.

Hi. You messed with my house.

As I was enjoying how gigantic the toad was, my eye was drawn to what looked to be a very pretty rock, very close to the toad.

That was no rock, it was a leopard frog! So beautiful! I got all excited and tried to get some good photos, but didn’t want to scare it off. It doesn’t help that when it’s really sunny and my glasses turn dark, I can’t see the phone screen very well. Poo.

Leopard frog! Best photo I could get.

In any case, I’d never seen a leopard frog here, so that’s a new one to add to my list. That made my naturalist day!

Mr. Toad and Mr Frog.

Pretty soon, Penney dove in to take a little swim, and a great deal of splashing and “eep” noises ensued. That was the end of my fun with frogs and toads.

Book Review: The Nature of Texas

A review of a field guide to the nature of Texas, suitable for beginning naturalists

Here’s a new book that some of you who live in Texas might want to order. It’s a field guide called The Nature of Texas: An Introduction to Familiar Plants, Animals and Outstanding Natural Attractions, by James Kavanagh and illustrated by Raymond Leung.

The cover of the book, The Nature of Texas
Any book with an armadillo on it is a book I like!

This isn’t one of those huge compendiums of every single living organism in the state; instead, it highlights plants and animals that an average person with an interest in the nature in Texas might run into. The descriptions are brief and in lay terms, and the illustrations are really lovely (good job, Raymond Leung).

It’s a bit too basic of a book for me to carry around, but I could easily imagine giving it to a teenager or older child who’s going camping and wants to know what they might find out there, or someone who just moved to Texas and wants a nice overview. It would be fun to put on the bedside table for your out-of-state visitors, or on the coffee table of your rental property.

an open page of a book, with information about fish
An example of the text and illustrations.

The back of the book has two handy features. One is a brief list of interesting places to go to see the natural wonders of Texas, with clear maps. The other is a series of checklists you can use to mark off wildlife and native plants that you see in your travels. That would be a fun family project (though I’d have to add a bunch of things, like more owls).

I do recommend The Nature of Texas, just for the beautiful illustrations alone. And the introductory essay, “But a Watch in the Night,” written by James Rettie in 1948 is a real treasure, too. It’s a great reminder of how little time humans have actually been present and messing around with our planet.

Who Knows the Difference between a Frog and a Toad?

Do you know how to tell a frog from a toad? Here are some hints from around the Hermits’ Rest.

I bet some of you know this, but I got two good example specimens that will help the rest of you. Both are big ones, which makes it easy to see. But they ARE trying to fool us.

Gulf Coast toad

How did I know this was a toad, sitting in the dog pond? First, she has warts. Toads are bumpy. Most toads hang out on land, but this one is in water, but not swimming. That’s normal. She also has relatively short hind legs, for walking, not hopping.

Pond with exit ramp. Yes, we empty it weekly for mosquito prevention.

The toads like to hang out in the dog pond so much that Lee built them an exit ramp. He said he saw a smaller one in there, too, so maybe mating was planned (males are smaller).

American bullfrog, in the chicken run.

This big fella we found when I moved the new chickens’ water dish. It’s as big as the toad, and too dark to be one of our green frogs. How did I know it was a frog, even though frogs are usually found in or near water and this one is on land?

Well, the skin is smooth (even in the blurry photo). And look at those legs! They are much longer than the toad’s! And it WAS right next to a water dish. I admit it is within a pretty short hopping distance of the pond behind our house, from which bullfrog croaks have been heard.

Our biggest green frog, ready to dive back in the pond. Finally an amphibious creature doing what it’s supposed to.

We are happy to have both the toad and the frogs around here. They eat bugs and all sorts of critters that need to have some population control!

By the way, a toad is a frog, but not all frogs are toads.

Teeny Tiny Road Trip

Today Kathleen declared it was a ladies’ day. So we did some shopping with safety in mind. We spent a lot of time at Walker’s Honey Farm. I got some honey spreads for bagels and some of their wine. Kathleen got similar things and some mead/beer/wine stuff, too. One is strawberry basil and one is coconut and something. They are refreshing.

The winery and honey place is really nice this time of year. We had frozen mead and sat under a beautiful pergola looking out over wildflowers and vineyards.

Much of our time was spent in the bird-lovers heaven of watching purple martins going in and out of their high-tech nests. What a pleasure!

I enjoyed watching lizards and spiders, and even managed to find a couple more invasive species for my bioblitzing. (I am doing pretty well at it; report coming tomorrow.) If you are in this area, it’s a great place to visit now. They all wear masks and clean a lot. They only serve drinks and snacks outside, so it’s great and socially distant.

We next went to Vis-a-Vis in Rogers. The staff were great but it was a bit crowded to me, so I kept the mask on and sanitized a lot. We got some great stuff for our projects, like an old toothbrush holder Kathleen loves and a box of iron “stuff” that may go into my new desk.

I also got three cute teapots for a collection I have: cauliflower, eggplant, and garlic. I left the garlic one at the office, so no photo. Anyway, I was amazed the ladies there recognized me with blue hair and a mask, but they did.

We dropped by the Bling Box to pick up something of Kathleen’s. Yay, no other customers! They also got in a shipment of masks, so I got one that goes with my hair. Charming, right?

Blue in it for the hair, orange for my glasses. Hmm. I’m an homage to my alma maters. Go Gators. Fight Illini.

Tomorrow Kathleen works, so I’m gonna clean things at the Pope Residence. That should be fun!