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!

Just in Time (Aprés le déluge)

It’s a-floodin’ outside, so I’ll blog some. Yesterday, Chris and I left our respective work a little early (even though my coworkers really wanted me to keep going and I stayed on calls until long after I got back to the ranch), because Mary was bringing a portable horse pen and some jumps that Sara and I bought from her. No, I do not expect Apache will jump over anything.

[Pretend I wasn’t too hot to take a picture and that you see some green metal and wood.]

After the heavy lifting on that project was over (we had enough help that it went fast) Chris had time to work on ranch projects. He hauled out the backhoe and worked to finish the mini detention pond with ditch that we’ve been working on for a while.

Driving the big equipment.

Kathleen, the dogs, and I enjoyed watching it, very much. He made the pond bigger, tapering it toward the road. That pissed off a lot of 🐸 frogs. We enjoyed watching them.

The dogs went crazy running around in the dirt and swimming in the pond. We laughed a lot.

Penney swims.

Then came the fun part. Chris made a ditch that will take the water from this pond to the pond by our driveway. That solves a drainage issue we had. It was also great dog fun.

Carlton is trying to look innocent.

Penney decided to “help” with the digging and vigorously applied herself to widening a spot.

I’m helping.

As he went further, everyone supervised. I didn’t get any after pictures, but I’ll say it ended up smooth and nice.

Penney, Kathleen, Gracie and Carlton performing quality control.

Testing It Out

Chris has great timing. Last night a HUGE storm came through, so the new drainage got a workout. Actually, it’s still getting it, which is why my photos are through the window.

You can sorta see the ditch running along the driveway.

We are pleased to see water heading to the front pond in an orderly fashion. It’s working!!

Lots of puddles out there.

All the dirt piled along the side of the pond is slated for another project. Kathleen and I want to plant a palm tree 🌴 or put native plants around the finished pond, with a bench for watching our animals. I’ll have an interesting yard some day!

I’ll get more pictures soon.

Resilience. Can We Do It?

Right about now, lots of folks are finding their resilience tested. It’s another really appropriate word for UU Lent. Every day we try our best to bounce back, face the day, move forward, and support those who need our support. It ain’t easy, especially for my family and friends who’ve lost loved ones, have sick friends, have lost their income, or are trying to teach children AND do the job they still have.

Am I feeling resilient today? Not really.

Some people are born more resilient than others. I’ve read all those studies about how some people will thrive no matter what circumstances they are thrown into. You hear stories of people who have overcome really sad situations in their youth to become amazing contributors to the well-being of others.

Others of us aren’t resilient by nature at all. Still, with support and care, many of these folks can learn coping skills and do very well in life.

The rest of us are somewhere in between, and do better or worse due to our environment and other support systems. It’s the support systems, I think, that matter the most, which is why I’m grateful to all the people around me who are supportive.

I’m pretty sure the hackberry tree will be around long after the rest of us. It has resilience and then some!

Input

My friend Pam shared the types of resilience she’s working on, in a comment that doesn’t show up on the Instagram photo. They are too helpful not to share. Here’s what she said:

8 forms of capital I have been working for quite some time to strengthen my resilience in. Some days are easier than others. Time, social, cultural, emotional, knowledge, material, living and financial are the 8- sending you peace and love and light today Suna💕

Chris Martenson, PhD and Adam Taggart in their 2015 book, Prosper! How to Prepare for the Future and Create a World Worth Inheriting

I love getting helpful feedback with resources to help out, so thanks a lot, Pam!

Nature and Resilience

One of the things we learn about in our Master Naturalist training is how resilient things are out there in nature. We learn how forests recover from fire, how ecosystems can regain their balance once important species are re-introduced (wolves, reindeer), and so on.

I hope the toad makes it. Nice to get comments on a post!

We also learn about the most fragile members of ecosystems, like frogs, who just can’t take all the rapid change. The most resilient plants and animals get to keep going (why we have so many medium-sized mammals and so few giant dinosaurs now).

I guess one day spiders will rule the earth. Phidippus arisonensis.

It’s just hard to watch entire groups of plants and animals going away because of the actions of humans. We have re-shaped the planet in so many ways, with our agriculture, selective breeding of animals, depleting resources like trees, and taxing the ecosystem with our large population.

I once read that plagues happened when there were too many people in a place. Is Nature trying to tell us something? Can we stay strong and get through to better (or at least different) times?

Stay resilient, friends.

What’s Prettier Than a Beach Sunset?

Nothing. At least that’s what we think. But, since Anita and I walked and walked in a beautiful area all day yesterday, I think I’ll share some photos of other things we saw. But, first…

The Horror!

I set off on a long walk through a lovely area and didn’t bring my phone! What a horrible discovery. My panic was averted when Anita pointed out that she happened to have a phone with her, and that it also took photos with GPS coordinates on them. So, she became the official walk photographer.

These are ringless honey mushrooms, Armillaria tabescens.

While our walk along Pope Avenue was mostly populated by non-native plantings, the sides of the path had all the native stuff I was interested in. The mushrooms were really interesting, especially the one I’m glad to have turned over, because then I could see the yellow bumps it has instead of spores. That was a winner. It’s a Red-cracking bolete (Xerocomellus chrysenteron).

The way out didn’t win me any exercise points on The Watch, because we stopped constantly. We spent a long time trying to decide if an animal we saw in the duckweed was a turtle or a frog. Whatever it was, it was really fun to watch it bobbing around.

Continue reading “What’s Prettier Than a Beach Sunset?”

All the Best Intentions

Here’s another nature story from one of my friends. This one comes from our Austin neighbor, Ruth, also known as “the other Ruth,” because there are two women named Ruth in our book club. She lives just down the road and goes walking with Anita many mornings. Ruth always has a good story, and here’s the most recent one.

Yesterday, Ruth was in her yard checking on the plants and such, when she realized there was a nice-looking frog stuck in her swimming pool. Now, she is as much of a nature lover as any of us naturalists, and she had a good idea that the pool chemicals weren’t ideal from frogs to thrive in. Plus, there isn’t much to eat in there.

So, she decided to rescue it. She easily captured it and placed it in a plastic container. She figured that it would not be a good idea to just let it go, since it would have trouble finding a water source in our drought-stricken neighborhood (that’s why Anita’s toad friend loves the fact that she waters the plants on her balcony so well).

It’s a leopard frog, though I am not sure which one. They sure are pretty. Photo courtesy of Ruth.

The idea quickly came to Ruth that she could take it to nearby Bull Creek, which does still have some water running through it. So, she put the frog in her car and drove it down to the creek.

She carefully took it over to the creek’s edge, and happily set it free. Off it swam. For about five seconds. Frogs aren’t the only things that live in creeks. Apparently there are fish in there big enough to eat frogs.

Well, at least the frog died happy, and the fish got a meal. We give Ruth lots of props for her good intentions and kindness to the creatures of our community. And, like Ruth and Anita, I prefer to believe the frog escaped the snatches of the fish, and swam away, bruised but happy. She didn’t see the frog get swallowed. There’s always hope.