Chickens Can NOT Catch a Break

I’m beginning to think my poor chickens are living under a black cloud, are haunted, or broke a mirror sometime in their past. They really just can’t catch a break.

Here’s a rat snake that was found in a shopping cart in Midland. So friendly.

You may recall that just last Saturday, I found an adult Texas rat snake curled up happily in the henhouse, with three eggs embedded inside him or her. That snake was removed, so I was really thinking all was well.

Nope. Wednesday night, Seth, the chicken tending volunteer, got scared witless when he saw TWO snakes in the hen house. He didn’t stop to try to identify them. For someone who lived in the boonies most of his life, he’s not real “ranchy.”

Here’s a cute spider to take your mind off snakes.

He called his mom, who told me. I said, hey, remember Tyler who lives right there? He can take care of snakes. Then I heard nothing.

I asked Mandi how it all went, and she said she wasn’t sure. He wasn’t talking about it. Wow. Nature is not kind to that boy (age 19). But I do understand that many people have big issues with snakes, even non-venomous ones.

So, I asked Tyler, who IS ranchy, what the heck had happened. He said the two snakes were the same kind and size as last week.

What, are they a family? If so, one of them ought to tell the others that the fun times at our coop don’t have happy endings.

Mostly, though, I feel bad for those poor remaining 8 chickens. We took care of one set of predators, only to be joined by another one. I think my friend Mike and I need to get working on the new and improved coop, not just talking about it.

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Now, That’s Nature: Post Oaks Plus

It has rained so much the past few days that it feels like I live at a mosquito farm. Everywhere I go I’ve been eaten up, though the barn swallows are trying to keep up with them at the ranch.

“Lake Travis” in Cameron. Photo by Martha Nethers.

Martha says that our old office on Travis is now located at “Lake Travis.” Birds love to bathe in it, but they can’t enjoy their lovely patio at the moment. (By the way, they recently saw a mother opossum and all her babies on her back–sure with I had a photo!)

Sink spider

The rains have also driven a lot of things indoors. A group of wolf spiders is hanging out in the kitchen of the old church building. I hope they scoot back out before the pest control dudes come!

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Creepy? Cute? Pretty?

It’s prime time for observing flowers and insects right now. I thought I’d share a couple of the things I’ve been observing, and give an update on my cactus that I shared a photo of a couple of days ago.

Insect of the Month

I’d say this is my favorite insect observation this month. Look at that big, green head! It’s a compost fly, and quite tiny. It was calm enough sitting on my hand that I could get a couple of nice images of it.

Not only am I cute, I’m helpful.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of compost flies before. It turns out they are a type of soldier fly.

Solider Flies are brilliant mimics of wasps and bees, but they do not sting and are so tiny, they may be difficult to find.

BugIdentification.org

It turns out these are insect Good Citizens, too! The bug identification site continues: “This species of Soldier Fly can be found in woods, gardens, and parks, with populations of adults hovering or standing over rotting plant matter. They are very small in size. These Solider Flies are not pests and do not seem interested in humans or their buildings like House Flies. They have been seen on compost heaps, piles of grass clippings, and other decomposing vegetation. Females lay fertilized eggs on the plant matter, so they are also called Compost Flies. Maggots are also small and tan in color with ten segments to their worm-like bodies. The Solider Fly maggots eat the compost and their presence may deter other types of pesky flies from inhabiting the same area. Adults are believed to drink flower nectar.”

This sounds like an insect I’d like to see more of at the Hermits’ Rest. What a little helper!


Continue reading “Creepy? Cute? Pretty?”

Finished the Bug Book

Not much going on here, because I was busy researching the history of our Cameron properties for a blog post yesterday. I’m learning a lot about the church and the houses around it. I’ll share links to other posts on this topic, in case folks are interested. Here’s my favorite aerial shot of the neighborhood in 1960:

The area of old Cameron around our office building, which used to be the First Christian Church.

But, otherwise I am still reading a lot. I finally finished Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live. I would recommend it to any of you naturalists, biologists, entomologists, parasite lovers, and such.

I was fascinated by the last chapter, where they talked about about sourdough starters and how the microbes and such on the hands of the bakers make breads taste different. I was wondering about this, since the sourdough my friend Barron’s wife makes always tastes really good to me, but some other people’s is just to “sour” for me. Now I know why!

My other favorite part of the book was where the author, Rob Dunn, tells us not to mess with the spiders in our houses, because they are our friends and eat all sorts of things that we would LIKE for them to eat. Another tidbit was that most of the things people think of as “spider bites” are really staph infections. I was surprised, but there was plenty of research backing it up, according to the HUGE notes section.

So, there’s a book review for you. It looks like my next non-book club book will be the one Barron recommended that’s about the mind-gut connection. More microbes for me! Whee!

Creatures Great and Small

My potted Texas mountal laurel is going to bloom! I didn’t kill it.

Yesterday the weather was beautiful, so Anita, the dogs, and I spent the late afternoon outdoors in Austin. Honestly, I just wanted to get some exercise and enjoy the air, but I just can’t stop with the nature observations. I guess iNaturalist is the winner there!

Trailing lantana, invading our hillside. Can you see ants on it?

As we walked the dogs, Anita asked me what a pretty white flower was. I could see it was a type of lantana, but it was not in a spot where anyone would have planted it. So, I submitted it to iNaturalist and hoped for the best.

Continue reading “Creatures Great and Small”

Spiders. I Like Them, Too.

garden_spider
This garden spider, and her eggs, live at the Rattlesnake House. She’s a big one.

Some of my friends really hate spiders. Recently there was a pretty big one near the tack room, and my friend, Sara, and I had completely opposite reactions. As I was reaching for my phone to take its picture, Sara swooped in and smashed it to smithereens. We both get a good laugh about that, now, and she’s promised to let me get a photo next time.

I’ve never hated spiders, though I will admit that during the first year we lived here, the number of webs that showed up under our porch got to be pretty creepy. That’s all stopped now. Whew.

phidippus texanus
This guy, Phidippus texanus, lives on my front porch. What a pretty design is on the abdomen! And you can see the cool eyes.

Lately, I’ve been trying to get pictures of more of the insects and arachnids around the ranch, so I’ve been watching the spiders more closely. I love seeing webs in the dew, finding out what they catch, and seeing the wide variety we have here. They range from the big ole garden spiders you see above to some so tiny I can’t get a picture of them that doesn’t look like a blob (I will spare you those photos).

arm
That white spot is Lee’s reminder of his visit from a brown recluse.

Aren’t some spiders dangerous?

Why yes, they are. As a matter of fact, Lee got bitten by a brown recluse once, at his cushy desk job! That thing took forever to heal, and he still has a pretty good scar. And I have very strong memories of the black widow scar on my paternal grandmother’s leg.

I do know what those guys look like. But, the way brown recluses hide in dark places concerns me. I always shake out my shoes when I put them on.

furrow_orbweaver
The shadows make this furrow orbweaver look way scarier than she really is.

But as for the rest of them…

Yep, I like spiders. We always enjoyed the ones we called “banana spiders” that built big webs and stayed in them for months and months. Those were actually¬†¬†Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia), the same type of garden spider pictured above, not the scary banana spider that comes in with bananas.

And the variety astounds me. One of the things I hope to learn more about in the coming months are the habits of the spiders who live here. At least now I know what some of them are!