Who’s a Pretty Chicken?

I’ll tell you what, Peeper, the one we hatched from a chick, has blossomed into a great beauty. She’s almost full grown, and could start laying in February.

Watch me shine.

She inherited a lot of shiny feathers from her dad, Bruce. Some of the ones on her wings are bluish, while the rest glow green. She also got a really pretty double comb from her dad. And I guess she got his height.

I’m a tall one.

She also got her dad’s ear tufts. They are so cute. With her white feathers at the base of her tail, she is spectacular

Check me out.

From Buttercup, her mom, Peeper got the beautiful patterned brown feathers on her head and body. She should also lay dark eggs, and I’m hoping Bruce will have made them green. In any case, I’m happy with her robustness and tenacity. She handles the cold well.

Click those images to see her glory. By the way, photographing chickens is hard. They are busy animals.

Spiders are a little easier. This is a dark fishing spider who was living in the chicken food box. I emptied the bag, but put it back so she could go home.

I just wanted to share the happiness raising just one hen from an egg. Thanks to Star for setting on her.

Rainy Escapades

I know it’s October, because the rains are back. No pool guys today! But, that is just fine.

I went out this morning to feed Granny and the chickens, and heard a strange noise. What was it? Goldie. She had somehow gotten out and had joined me. I figured I’d determine what happened there later. I headed out to feed Granny, only to be met by four hungry faces.

All the other horses were out and wandering around. Huh. What in the world? I then ran the gauntlet of Apache, Remington, and Mabel, with Fiona trailing behind. I was impressed that I managed to get the food to Granny and not slip in the mud while doing so.

Gleeful escapees

Next, I walked toward the gate to Apache’s paddock. Apache and Fiona nicely followed me, so they were easy to get in. I saw that the gate had been pushed open. So, either one of them unlocked it or (more likely) I had it draped over and forgot to fasten it when I went back to the house yesterday.

Then I went to find the other two horses, which is when I took the photo above. They were just milling around, so it was easy for me to just lead them into the pens by holding their halters. They got lots of pats and love, too.

At least the baby chicks had not escaped, so I managed to keep one type of animal where it belonged! And when I took Goldie back inside, I went out and saw that she (or another dog) had managed to move the big gate that is leaning across the patio to keep the dogs away from the pool. I managed to give myself a couple of nice, sharp cuts trying to put it back (it’s heavy!), but for the rest of the day, so far, everyone’s been in their places.

Tiny cut, but was actually pretty deep. Hurt like heck.

It sure is nice to see the tanks/ponds starting to fill back up, even if it means pool delays!

I also wanted to share that I have a new friend right outside my window. She has a beautiful web, as orb weavers tend to have, but she seems drawn toward my hanging web decoration. I’ve had that thing since I lived in Champaign, Illinois! The rain isn’t bothering her, or her smaller friend who is up higher on the window, one bit.

In the Gloom: Life, Death, and Joyful Canines

Wow, it’s rainy and cloudy again today, but sometimes gloomy weather makes even a simple walk with the dogs an adventure sort of creepy. It doesn’t help that I just looked out the window and there are dozens of creepy cowbirds covering the grass. I hope they appreciate the local cardinals for hatching their babies…

Anyway, this morning the dogs and I went out for a quick walk in between my work meetings. They were chock full of energy, and were running around like there was some bunny to chase.

Come on, let’s go, Suna!

I was getting dizzy watching them run around each other. It was almost like lunging Drew. Things did get gloomier as we approached the trees and watery area.

The dark skies and moody greens of all the vines creeping around the pond and arroyo added to the feeling of impending doom. There are tie vines, bindweed vines, passion vines, dewberries, smilax, poison ivy (further downstream) and balloon vines. It’s dark and mysterious.

All dem vines

To save me going on and on, here are some of the dismal, yet lovely in their own right, sights the dogs and I saw.

Yes, whenever I see a mama spider all covered with babies, I admit to shuddering a bit. Thanks to Lee for finding that one. However, I’d say the thing that enthralled me the most, in a macabre way, was watching the garden spider encasing a grasshopper in its web. I’ve seen it a couple of times lately, but this was the first time I was close enough to film it. Keep watching the video, because you can see the silk coming out of the spider toward the end. Fascinating, but eww.

Life and death, right here at the Hermits’ Rest

But, don’t worry there will be more grasshoppers. How do I know? Oh, you know me and all my observation skills.

Can we have some privacy here?

Donkey versus Dog, and Other Ranch Sights

Maintaining my detachment from things out of my control is a challenge right now, so there are LOTS of nature walks going on. The benefit is that you get to see drama, birth and death, and beauty throughout the day. This morning, for example, I went out to do the usual chicken feeding and horse moving while it was still relatively cool out. That meant all the animals were frisky, especially the dogs and equines. As I was trying to give Apache his daily hay, Goldie was “helping,” as usual. She made the mistake of getting between Fiona and the hay, and Fiona finally connected with one of her kicks, and got poor Goldie on the side. Much yelping occurred.

Goldie may even be taller than Fiona at the shoulders.
Perhaps too extreme of a close-up, but it’s worse than it looks here. But, Goldie is fine and her usual cheerful self.

Fiona has been warning Goldie and the other dogs to keep back by flattening her ears and back-kicking (to the extent that I no longer stand behind Fiona when dogs are around), but she’s just so fascinating to Goldie, who is her match in size, but not in bulk. Carlton has learned to keep his distance. I’d like to say Goldie has, but the photo above was taken AFTER the kick.

There’s always someone kicking, scratching, or biting someone else around here. That’s how they maintain their pecking order (literally, in the case of the hens). I also got to enjoy watching the beautiful swallows figuring out their pecking order from their morning launch station. There are always dozens of them sitting on east side of the house each morning as they get those insects.

Lee is always telling me how observant I am, and I know that just comes from a lot of practice going on hikes and entertaining my younger son with all the different bugs and flowers we saw. Anyway, this morning was one of those sparkling mornings with lots of dew. Also some of the really ephemeral parasol mushrooms that appear and quickly fade away were up. They are so delicate that they tremble at any slight breeze.

A little later in the morning, it was Lee’s turn to want to get some nature walking in, so I accompanied him. We went over to the dam, and found all sorts of interesting things. The MOST interesting is that there are dozens of baby catfish in the overflow area. There are so many of them, and I know that water will dry up way sooner than our other ponds, so I think I will try to catch some and transfer them.

Look at all those little guys!

When I was young, my mom caught some baby catfish in Noonan’s Lake near Gainesville, Florida. She put them in our goldfish pond, and we watched them grow and grow. By the time we moved away, they were a foot long and we loved to try to drop food straight into their huge mouths. The goldfish were also really big. Dad did a great job on that pond.

When we turned around to go back, after enjoying the fishies, I saw lots and lots of insects on the velvetweed. At first I thought there were three kinds, but when I uploaded to iNaturalist, I realized I saw juvenile and adults of the same insect, the eastern leaf-footed bug. There was a stink bug of some type, too, but I failed at taking its picture well enough to ID it, as you can see below. Well, and there were zillions of differential grasshoppers, zzz.

Well, that just shows you what you can find if you look hard and are patient. Focusing on the teeming life all around you reminds you that you are just a small part of the big picture. And watching the animals handle their disagreements with no hard feelings is a good lesson for us, too. Now if I can just maintain that feeling of oneness with the Universe, detachment from unhealthy attachments, and goodwill to all!

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!

That’s a Big One

Even not feeling great, I’m finding things to be excited about. I think that’s part of my charm. Perhaps. Today’s theme is big. For example, this is a big grasshopper, especially for a male. And it’s one of my better photos, right on my driveway!

Differential grasshopper, apparently tired, because he let me get really close. Note wings.

The extent of my walking yesterday was patrolling the back yard with Lee. While I regretted not meeting my activity goal, I still managed to find something big and beautiful. It’s one of my favorites, a yellow garden spider.

I had to take this over the fence. Notice her silver head. The scientific name, Argiope aurantia, means gilded silver-face.
This is her belly and some of her web. Obviously she’s an orb weaver!

And now, I’m sure you’ve been waiting for us to see what was inside Fancy Pants’s giant egg from a while back.

Giant egg!

It was still big after peeling. and still rather lumpy.

Peeled. Normal egg in background.

I got out the sharp knife and carefully sliced the big bruiser. Would it be a double yolk? Would it look weird?

That’s a BIG yolk.

I can’t tell if it’s double or not, but it sure is big! Way more yolk than white.

Compare to normal large egg. The normal one has way more white.

I wonder if this one would have had enough food in it to grow a chick? We will never know. But it does make me want to raise chicks. Maybe the next broody hen will get lucky!

So…what’s big in your life?

Brown Recluses, Crows, and Cochineal: Stuff I Learned about This Week

I’ve enjoyed the Texas Master Naturalist Annual Meeting, for the most part. There were a couple of dud presentations (I won’t say which ones those were), but I managed to learn a lot. I really missed interacting with others before and after sessions and being able to interact.

But I did learn a bunch. I’m really glad I went to the brown recluse spider talk, because now I know how few people get bitten and that females don’t even walk around. If you see one out, it’s a male.

Hmm

They have six eyes, paired as in the photo. Easy to tell from other spiders, though I doubt I’ll get that close.

Unrelated to these guys, I found out the baby spiders that parachute across the fields are the jumping spiders. They are my favorites. They are all so pretty and friendly. Sara and I talked to one for a while yesterday. Yes, we’re weird ranch gals.

I learned about corvids, which include ravens, crows, magpies, and jays, among others. The surprise there is how similar their brains are to ours, just more densely packed. Really amazing birds.

More on recluses. I didn’t get bird images.

Another interesting talk was on fungi, but I realized I need images in my sessions. I am not an auditory learner, I guess. The speaker had very few slides, and I got lost. Luckily, she recommended a book I’ll go buy. That makes, I think, four I must have thanks to the conference!

Finally, I got a kick out of the presentation by a very sweet and very Texan Master Naturalist on cochineal. I could tell he’d learned way more about the fashion industry than he had intended to. But it was a lot of fun sharing his amazement about the ups and downs of these tiny insects, some of which happen to be right outside my door!

I’m gonna have to smoosh some up, use lemon juice as a mordant, and dye something red! I’ll read the books and report more later.

Well, I have an adventure to go to, so that’s it for now. Have fun on your Sunday, too!

What I’m NOT Doing between Now and November

Lately, a lot of my friends and other contacts have been publicly inviting people who disagree with their choice of candidates, platforms, or political parties to “unfriend me now!” I can empathize with what prompts such declarations. You get tired of being called ignorant, or sheep, or whatever, by people you thought cared for you, and who you care(d) about. Or you get tired of those one or two people who sniff out any tiny whiff of partisanship on your part and then blast your friends with the tenacity of a dog with a bone.

Let me tell you ONE more time why I think you’re wrong…gnaw gnaw. Image by @9_fingers_ via Twenty20

Now, I have some pretty strong beliefs on political, social, and religious grounds, and I am not ashamed of them, so I’m not going to succumb to fear and never be who I am in social media. If they come and round me up later for expressing my beliefs, well, I will have led a good and consistent life, and I’ll deal with the consequences.

I don’t think it’s helping one bit to egg people on and act like the stereotype you’re trying to deny you’re a part of, though. So, here’s what I plan to do between now and the beginning of November, which is a big election time in the US (some of you may not know; the US isn’t the most important place for everyone on earth, I’m told).

I’m also going to spend a lot more time looking at nature, like this extra cool Apache jumping spider.

I’m not going to remove from my social media accounts all my friends, coworkers, business contacts, and family members who express their affiliation with a different candidate than the one I favor. Believe it or not, I find that I do have other things in common with them, or like them for other reasons. It’s possible if your mindset isn’t that, “Every Party X member is a doofus.” (I will point out that yes, some Party X members are doofuses; some party Y and Z members are ALSO doofuses.)

Right? Image by  @desteniev via Twenty20.

I will “snooze” some folks on Facebook if something they say upsets me, but I won’t un-follow, unfriend, or whatever, unless someone comes across as genuinely dangerous or unhinged. So, yeah, if you threaten to kill me or people I love, I might put some distance between us. That’s just common sense.

I’m not going to waste my breath and time trying to “educate” or chastise people who say things I disagree with or find mildly offensive in response to comments on other people’s Facebook posts, tweets, or Instagrams. I have learned that’s how you (along wity people like yourself) earn bad reputations with other groups. I see it enough in comments on my own posts, and know how damned hard it can be not to respond (I do fail at times). Just go vote, folks, and realize most others have already made up their minds.

A good plan. Image by @MargJohnsonVA via Twenty20

If I share memes, I’m going to try to make it the constructive and encouraging kind, not the kind that puts down others. I have friends who share some real doozies that I enjoy, because I’m human, but every time I’ve even slightly hinted that some other bunch of folks might not have the right idea about something, I end up feeling bad about doing it. I guess I’m pretty firm that passive-aggressive memes serve more to make the person sharing them look bad than to shame the intended audience.

Slightly off topic, but hey, it’s my blog:

Honestly, I don’t need any help to know I’ve been a bad friend or done some things I shouldn’t have that won’t be forgiven or forgotten. I’m trying to forgive my own dang self and learn from the mistakes, so rubbing my nose in it just makes me resentful, not a better person. I wonder if all the nameless people so many accusatory memes are aimed at feel that way, too, if they see themselves in the words, of course. Targeted memes (personal or political) probably mostly miss the intended audience.

Also off topic: I did finally get a photo of the green heron!

Back on track

Anyway, another thing I’m going to do in social media and in person between now and November is be friendly to everybody I run across. I can find something neutral or positive to talk to just about anyone about, and that is what helps us all remember there’s good in everyone. Engaging with the people around me is one concrete thing I can do to help heal the divisiveness and partisan negativity we seem so mired in these days.

We’re all just chickens, say Springsteen and Patty.

I know I’m not alone in seeing people as fellow humans first, and labels second. It’s easy to disparage a faceless group, but one on one, it’s a lot harder. I am glad to have people around me who are great role models in this way of interacting, and yes, some of the best ones do not agree with all of my political and social views. When I’m feeling frustrated, I think of all the hard-working and thoughtful people I know who are trying to make the world better by working with each other. Thanks to everyone who helps with that!

How about you, are you up for trying any of the things I’m going to try to do for the next couple of months? If you’re not, what is your plan for dealing with the challenges of the pre-election period? What’s working for you?

Let’s talk!

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.

Texas, Where Almost Everything Bites

Today I have a hodgepodge of stuff to share, but first I want to talk about what’s lurking around the ranch these days. That would be things that bite, and things that jump. Yesterday, I went to sit down on one of the front-porch rocking chairs, when I saw something on the seat.

A member of the widow spider family.

I am very glad she was pre-dead, and that I saw her before I sat. Certainly it confirms my habit of checking for creatures before plopping down anywhere around the Hermits’ Rest! I’m not sure what kind of widow spider she was, but I don’t want any of them biting me. These are the main reason I continue to support having pest control come around the house.

The second reason is scorpions, which I haven’t seen any of, but Lee and Kathleen have killed a few. I love them out in the woods, but not in the house. And I love the spiders, but not ones that could really mess with my health.

I’ve apparently become allergic to mosquito bites, and they make huge welts, so I could do without those right now, too. And biting flies! Argh. There are black flies around here, and horse flies (thankfully not around ME), and deer flies. Whatever. One of them bit me on my FACE this morning. That could have to do with how much poop we have at the ranch

Nonetheless, I am heartily enjoying discussing different kinds of flies and grasshoppers and stuff with Eric in our Master Naturalist class. He not only has good eye for finding them, but he has a good camera, and the patience to work hard to identify them.

Eric wrote me an email today about the coolest thing he saw (a “mystical experience,” in his words), which was he was trying to photograph a large grasshopper:

It jumped off the path into the high grass and when it landed it appeared to turn into at least a dozen tiny projectiles which flew off in all directions like a firework. A closer look uncovered a great concentration of grasshopper nymphs in the area.

Eric N., email 6/6/2020

Of course, he didn’t get a picture, but WOW, what an image!

My grasshopper experience this morning was also something you couldn’t photograph. I was walking back from horse riding (it went well), noticing that it’s definitely grasshopper season. Then I noticed the sound. As I walked, I was disturbing dozens and dozens of them (small ones, since they aren’t adult yet), and my walk seemed to have a rhythm section accompanying it. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap-tap-tap.

I k now a lot of people don’t like grasshoppers (like my sister), and I admit they are annoying in the summers when there are hundreds pelting me as I drive the utility vehicle. At least they don’t bite often or hard. But they are so varied and interesting. I have an AWFUL time photographing them, so I think I’m going to get a good butterfly net soon, so I can get some to hold still.

What Doesn’t Bite?

Roaches. Secretly, I have never been fond of roaches, due to childhood trauma, but I am doing better since I started doing iNaturalist. I recently even found one I thought was interesting to look at. It also lived outdoors, where it should.

Fairly attractive pale-bordered field cockroach

And non-venomous snakes don’t bite humans, often anyway. So, I was sad to see this one in the road this morning. Rat snakes are my buddies as long as they aren’t eating my hens’ eggs.

Poor snakey got hit by a car.

Okay, time to go see what’s outside that will hurt in some other way…

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