Ups, Ups, Downs

Things have been good here lately. I spend a lot of time watching cute animals.

That’s a relaxed dog.

I even rescued a trapped English sparrow today who couldn’t figure out how to get out of the henhouse. I caught her and took her out. She was so exhausted that she just sat on my hand. Poor dear. No photos, since I had five hen eggs in my other hand!

So, here’s another friend, the gate spider. Apparently a Western spotted orb weaver.

There’s just so much joy in our animals. The dogs love evenings when we’re in the pool, because they can run and play with an audience. I take them out in the mornings for a little play, too, which makes for a nice work break.

Things continue to be good with the horses, too. We had good lessons today. Drew showed Tarrin how hard we’ve been working and then learned new backups. And poor Apache struggled a lot with moving his butt when asked. My left leg is tired! But, those two bring me such joy. I’m so lucky to be able to learn and grow with them.

But there are so many animals to enjoy here. My son found this really cool snake in his cabin. He just caught it and took it outside and caulked up the hole it came in. That’s my boy.

And today, I went to water the plants and was startled when I reached to turn on the spigot. Along the house was a complete snakeskin, I’m pretty sure it was one of our rat snakes. I love it when you get the whole skin.

I guess that’s enough animal fun for a Saturday evening. Hoping all is well with you. We’re having more family illness stuff. That’s the down part of the post title.

What’s Pink and behind My House?

It’s a roseate spoonbill, that’s what!

…and three storks, one great egret and one great blue heron!

I was excited to see the storks visiting again, then I noticed one of the beaks trolling the shore was not black and looked sorta funny. Whoa. It was pink!

Look at that bill!

I’ve only had one visit from a spoonbill before so this made me smile. I remember looking at one up close at the collection at College Station but I’d rather see them live! I guess this one had just joined up with stork pals for a while.

It was beautiful to see them all fly off, too.

Bye!

What a happy ending to a day that was already fun.

Why was today fun?

No, not because I did my favorite work task, building an e-learning video. It’s because it was Dusty’s turn to star in a horse activity, and it’s fun to watch him bask in the glow of attention.

Dusty eye. He has blue swirls.

Sara needs to practice trimming hooves, and Dusty had four that needed attention. So she brought all her equipment over and worked on our old buddy.

Me? I’m the focus? Not attention hog Apache?

Sara is doing so great, too. As I expected, she is learning fast. It only took her an hour to do the trim, which is a big improvement!

Yep, it was time!

She had a lot more training to do, but she’s well on her way. Dusty did fine and was quite the gentleman. He had to rest his feet some, but that gave Sara a break, too. We were all happy with the results.

Everybody’s happy, and Fiona is also an attention hog.

It’s just so fun to watch my friend learn and hang out with my horse buddies.

Drew got his attention, too. Scratches with Sara’s gloves went over very well.

Life does not suck right now. It’s good, in fact. And it’s getting better! Woo hoo! Enjoy some more hoof fixing photos!

Hey, I skipped a blogging day. It was both busy and sorta boring. But I’m almost finished making the squares for my little macho camouflage blanket! I used my time wisely!

Welcome to the Hermits’ Rest Aviary

This week, I’ve truly felt like I live in some kind of private bird sanctuary or something. There are so many beautiful birds to enjoy. This morning I went out to feed the hens, and the ground was heavy with dew, which must have made all the birds in the world happy. Once again, we were heavy on the heron family, with the usual great blue heron and green heron (the tricolored heron did not make an appearance) joined by an entire flock of great egrets (usually we just have one or two). There were also a couple of cattle egrets (distinguished by their yellow legs as opposed to the black legs on the larger birds).

Fun times at the pond.

Plus, there were ten or twelve black vultures, hopping and bopping along the edge of the pond or tank. They were drawn by the dead armadillo, who’s contributing to the Circle of Life by feeding both these guys and turkey vultures, who were out in force yesterday. Turkey vultures have red heads, while black vultures’ heads are black. That makes for easy identification.

Vultures taking flight

There were also the twittering English sparrows flitting around, along with all the grackles that sit on the electrical wires then fly around in a huge murmuration, descending on the fields, then departing again. Cardinals are constantly coming and going, as well. Plus there was something that makes a big screech sound, which I haven’t managed to catch on the Picture Bird software to see what it is.

That’s a lot of birds. Plus the storks are still around, which warms my heart.

When I tire of the pond, I go over to the black willow trees beside the front tank, which now has a little water in it, thanks to a bit more rain (hooray for the rainy season).

A little more water this morning!

There I’ve been seeing one, and just one, scissortail flycatcher. I wonder if it somehow didn’t migrate. By the way, did you know they’re related to the Western kingbird? We have those here, too!

I like it here

The trees are just chock full of tiny birds, including chickadees, orchard orioles, and warblers I can only hear but not see. Oh yeah, and the mockingbird whose territory is the telephone pole across the street, who mimics the woodpecker who also hangs out there. Since I don’t have photos of those guys, here are some sparkly dew-encrusted tiny mushrooms.

What a symphony! That’s what I’ve been enjoying lately. I’ll spare you the cuckoo, owls, and many sparrows in the woods. It’s too muddy to try to get photos of them, so I just listen.

I can’t wait to watch the geese and cranes migrating.

Honoring a Good Rooster

The morning didn’t start out as well as I’d hoped, though I had an inkling I might make a sad discovery this morning. And yes, I was correct that my buddy Bruce, the best rooster ever to crow, had passed away overnight. He was only 2.5 years old, so I’d hoped we’d have many more years with him.

He was in his glory last fall, when is comb looked cool and all his green feathers were shining.

Bruce was an “Easter egger,” who I’d gotten for free when I got a bunch of other hens from Bird and Bee Farm that I named after Bruce Springsteen’s family and band. I’d hoped he’d father some babies that laid olive green eggs. That was a great plan, but my luck with baby chicks has been very bad. One (Peeper) made it to adulthood, but Bruce did him in. He was a one rooster per flock kinda guy. He was mean to poor Peeper and was a bit rough with some of the hens when he was doing his duty, but good to humans. He was very gentle and quite funny.

Peeper, son of Bruce, who thinks his dad was jealous.

Bruce did crow a lot, but no one around here minded. It was really loud, though, if he happened to do it right next to you! There was much flapping and jumping onto high branches involved as well. In fact, that’s how I realized he was sick a few days ago. There was no crowing, and he was not on his branch.

Headed for the branch to crow.

I guess I’m just bummed that I couldn’t help him and that I won’t get to enjoy those beautiful green tail feathers anymore. I did save some from when he lost them in a fight recently, which is probably what led to his decline. He was a good protector.

I’ll take care of my gals. Henly over there is still with us, even!

When I first had him, he was not an attractive young man, in the middle of a gangly adolescence. I’m glad he grew out of that!

I was an awkward child.

Soon after he got big enough to be a dude, we took on a second rooster, but that did not go well. Clarence was not like Bruce at all. He was mean to humans, tried to kill my sister, and gave me huge bruises. So, he didn’t get to stay all that long. That made Bruce happy. Like I said, he preferred to be the solo chick daddy.

Stay away from me, Clarence.

I had to do write an ode to a rooster once before, in 2019, when the late, great Buckbeak passed away. He was the previous greatest rooster ever. That didn’t make things any easier. Buckbeak was even nice to other roosters, and took care of a huge flock that I got put in charge of when their owners had a disagreement and no one wanted to take care of all the dead ones (there was an owl and an insecure hen house). Now you know why we take so much time and effort trying to protect the chickens here!

He was nothing fancy, but a gentleman, our Buckbeak.

I’ve gotten a bit weepy here, even though I still don’t cry very much these days. I was enjoying a period of fewer chicken deaths, to be honest. I think dealing with poultry has helped me be a bit more of a rancher now, and I’ve tried hard to not get attached to my current hens. One, Buttercup, is from my early bunch (only Bertie Lee is older), and she has stopped laying eggs. I swear she thinks she’s the rooster now.

What??? I’d tell her to stop that if I were still here.

Bruce and I had a good couple of years together, and he sure went through a lot. I think the cold weather this winter wasn’t good for him at all. He lots much of his comb to the cold, which had to be hard. And he had to fight off a lot of skunks and snakes and so on. It’s hard being the biggest of the bunch.

I was always ready, though!

I’ll try to buck up and think about adding to the flock again. At least I still have dear striped Bertie Lee, who’s over three years old and refuses to lay eggs in the new nest boxes, but she’s as bright and perky as ever.

These are all eight of my current hens with Bruce. I bet they miss him. Buttercup, Star, Betsy, Bruce, Henley, Bertie Lee, Blanca, and Blondie.

A Visit from Storks!

This morning there’s thunder everywhere, so I went out early to feed the chickens. I’m glad I did, because when I looked into the pond behind the house, I saw something in addition to the usual great egret and blue heron: wood storks!

At first there were just three. I love how their shadows look.

They used to visit for a while periodically, but lately they just drop by and move on. I’m so glad I got to catch them before they left. They are such gorgeous birds, with white bodies, black heads and black wing tips that make them easy to spot when they are flying.

mmm, minnows

You know they are big when you compare them to the resident blue heron, who is HUGE thanks to all those catfish and minnows it ate while the ponds were drying up.

Later there were lots of them, to the annoyance of the blue heron.

Wood storks (Mycteria americana) are the only American stork, and they move around with the seasons. Interestingly, they must have shallow water to feed in, because they feed by touch. That’s why they breed when water levels are falling (in South America). They are predominantly subtropical birds, which is why they hang around here only when it’s warmer. They are listed as a threatened species in the Western hemisphere, because of predation (bad ole caracaras) and believe it or not, ecotourism disturbing their nesting colonies. (Source: Wikipedia via iNaturalist)

You can see the wing here.

I’m extra happy to have gotten some videos. The one of them flying away is so lovely. I hope they visit again soon!

Very short, but pretty
Goodbye! Thanks for visiting!

PS: Yes, we had a good amount of rain yesterday, and should have more today. Happy news for all the plants around here!

I Think I’ll Live

I kept having dizzy spells today but got my work done. Then I went to the really nice new clinic and talked to the nice PA about my symptoms. I love that he didn’t start me on antibiotics! While my eardrums are swollen, we’re just trying Mucinex first. That should fry up my poor Eustachian tubes.

I guess one chicken is also feeling poorly.

It was a fine day other than the dizziness, thanks to my ability to enjoy the animals from a seated position. I especially enjoy Goldie when she feels she MUST protect us from those treacherous cows. The cows who just look at you funny, in her opinion.

And the horses. They tried to mow the lawn. Apache was gleeful in his role as weed eater.

I love my job.

I’m glad for this stuff. It’s been such a hard day for a lot of friends. A hard couple days for horse friends. It’s made me hug my guys so hard. And my human friends. I know I’m getting older when my friends are getting dementia falling into mental illness, and struggling. Hug your friends, too. And you family members who love you. Let’s look at some nature, shall we?

The lawn mower eating Johnson grass.

So Many Dead Things

I’ll write more in the Master Naturalist blog about this (update, I forgot to do so), but I did enjoy a visit to the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections this morning. My friend Pamela and I drove over and met up with another Master Naturalist and her granddaughter, who’s high school age, and enjoyed it as much as we did, I think. We were sad that more of our group couldn’t join us.

Art is from 3D images of animals.

Our guides were curators Heather Prestridge, an ichthyologist, and Gary Voelker, an ornithologist. They were informal with our small group, informative, and entertaining as well. I had a blast learning about how many specimens they have, how long the collection has been growing (since the 1930s), and how they preserve the animals for research.

Specimen jars. Stop here if you don’t want to see preserved animals and such.

The collections of herps (snakes, lizards, frogs, etc.) are immense. It’s cool to see where they all come from. There is much from Texas but also around the world. They are preserved in formaldehyde.

The fish were fascinating as well. My favorite was the box fish. There were just so many to categorize. Wow. There’s a lot of work for their grad students and volunteers! The other thing they do with the specimens is take tissue samples and freeze them (really cold) for future research on DNA and the like. What a resource this is!

Of course the birds fascinated me. I was probably really annoying with all my questions but wow, there were things here I’d never seen before, like the Hoatzin. What the heck. This bird’s young have claws on their wings!! It’s also called a stink bird, because it digests food in its crop, which is smelly. It’s a really different bird!

Pamela is amazed at the hoatzin bird

Dr. Voelker was great at sharing information about the birds. We saw the largest and smallest owls and an awesome variety of kingfishers, some that were an indescribable blue. Africa has some darn colorful birds.

Look at these roseate spoonbills. They are so many shades of pink. and I was fascinated to see the bill up close. Such specialization!

There was a lovely domed collection of hummingbirds that had been donated to Heather. Someone had it in their family for years!

That’s something else!

I’ll spare you the details but we learned about 3D imaging and printing of specimens. They find what’s in the animals’ stomachs and can ID them. Huh.

And look! A giraffe skull! Look at the horns!

They didn’t talk much about boring old mammals but I checked them out.

Believe it or not, I managed to get hungry after all those dead things. Good thing we’d arranged to meet our friend, Lynn at a restaurant at the old airport terminal. Ah. A nice restaurant. And airplanes! What a good time.

What’s Good with You?

I hope you’re finding good things in your life. They’re in there somewhere! Today I enjoyed a sunrise. Ok. The sunrise. There was just one.

Southern sunrise

It was pretty in every direction.

Northern sunrise

I was surrounded by color!

This is the western sunrise! Huh!
The east. With the actual sun.

That was my idea of goodness. No day that starts this pretty could be all bad. Even when you realize your pond has gone dry.

Ooh a barrel. Maybe Drew can pull it out!

There’s stuff blooming, though. And I found a passion fruit.

I even have a new friend, the garden spider who guards the henhouse. She decided to build her nest right across the door. I walked through it. Yuck. And she’d started rebuilding by the time I finished feeding the chickens. She’s good, though. I got to watch her deal with a grasshopper that got in her web. In mere seconds, it was all wrapped up and probably wondering what the heck just happened.

One more bit of goodness was that I saw an unfamiliar bird land on the back pond, the one with water. Then another. It was big, but not as big as a vulture or heron. But it looked like a heron…something was different about its head. Sure enough, it IDed as a tricolored heron! Yay! Now I’ve seen five: great blue, great egret, green heron, cattle egret, and the tricolor.

That’s plenty of good. Plus I got out of the house to go look at houses this afternoon AND ate dinner out with Kathleen. So glad she’s recovering! To celebrate, enjoy dog photos!

Birds? A Few

Someone asked what kids of birds are still hanging out at the ranch. In addition to the ones I mentioned yesterday there are some interesting ones.

Scissor tail family

It cheered me up greatly this morning to see this family. I love these beautiful birds, and I’m glad they fledged at least one baby!

At least we had some clouds at sunrise.

The other birds we’ve been seeing are our friendly carrion eaters, who are probably pretty well fed these days. This morning (and yesterday) a large group of black vultures was enjoying the pond behind the house.

Note the patient cow and fleeing heron.

The vultures really like the island made by the tree at right. There were still a few late this afternoon. They were joined by a big ole crested caracara, too. That’s some free and easy bird watching!

I’m good. And pretty.

It didn’t even crack 100° today, so Apache and I went on a nice long ride. It was the longest solo ride we ever went on. We checked out all available pasture. And he was pretty good, too. I handled his one spook at an unfamiliar object and every time he wanted to turn around. It’s getting better!

Seating for 6!

And hey. I ordered an inexpensive desk chair for the tack room and built it today. Makes writing in my horse journal really snazzy. Come visit!

What’s Bugging Me

No, not people and what they do. It’s bugs. And they are bugging me in a good way, because at least they give me something to look at. There isn’t much else out here. People keep commenting about how quiet it s at night. Drought is no fun.

Thank you, Mr Widow Skimmer, for entertaining me today.

I’m so glad for the willow trees by our driveway, because they give me a shady place to enjoy insects when I go check the mail. Today there were many dragonflies, though I only got photos of three species.

Eastern pond hawk, female (green)

I also saw a damselfly and a Halloween pennant, but they were too busy to stop. This one was very pretty, though it didn’t photograph well.

Blurry skimmer, roseate or neon.

The widow skimmers were posing, though. I got enough closeups that you can see good details on both the males and females. the top four are the females.

I also see lots of wasps ever day. Usually it’s mud daubers, yellow jackets, and such, but I also see very pretty orangey-red wasps, and today one I don’t see much, black with a red abdomen.

There are still birds around, but not in the usual numbers. There’s the woodpecker I always hear, a few remaining barn swallows, cardinals, mockingbirds and lots of thirsty starlings. The egrets and herons (blue and green) are still here because one pond in pretty full. Today’s exciting birds were this tiny orchard oriole (they are here this time of year) and a beautiful red-shouldered hawk I saw from the car. I love summer hawk sightings.

Or a warbler.

There are a very few flowers blooming, but I found a couple. There are lots of passion vines, but the flowers look funny. I guess the herbicide got to them. And there was one sad Mexican hat flower. Of course buffalo bur is blooming and one or two others that nothing can stop. Ooh and in the best plant news: I found milkweed seeds blowing around! More for the butterflies.

I figured I should do a nature post since I had my Master Naturalist meeting tonight. It was on turkeys! The speaker had a beautiful turkey shirt on, too.

I learned so much about Rio Grande turkeys!
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