A Visit to Audubon Newhall Preserve

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Lee took this pine panorama photo.

Hilton Head Island is a beautiful place, and there are lots of regulations that keep it that way. They do their best to preserve vegetation, signs are kept small (making it hard to find restaurants until you pass them), and building colors are regulated. It’s all very soothing, but a lot of what you see is carefully manicured.

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The light was beautiful, since we were there in the late afternoon.

That’s why, after a day of real estate stuff, it was wonderful to visit the Audubon Newhall Preserve, which is 50 acres that will never be developed. While the area looks “all natural,” there has been careful restoration and preservation of native plants, which has brought all sorts of wonderful birds and other wildlife.

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The pond was filled with life.

The pond was made out of a natural depression that was made deeper, but there are also areas that show what the original island topography was like, with rolling terrain that allows plants that like it moist and sand-loving plants to live very near each other.

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These asters were covered in a variety of butterflies, including these lovely long-tailed skippers.

I enjoyed seeing plants I was familiar with from my childhood in the Deep South, plus some new plants that are native to South Carolina. There were also lovely butterflies, and I’m thrilled I actually DID get a good enough photograph of the asters to identify the long-tailed skippers, which are everywhere right now.

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Beautiful tree, and someone’s sample bucket.

I saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker and a number of warblers, including one with black and white males and brown females. I think they were black-throated blue warblers. Plus there were crows, mockingbirds, Carolina wrens, and a nuthatch.

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Here’s an example of one of the interesting signs around the preserve.

The people who maintain the area have been planting many new specimens, and they’ve also lovingly labeled many of the specimens with some details about them. That made it a lot of fun to learn as we wandered around.

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I wish you winding paths, peace, quiet, and nature’s beauty.

I guess the best part of the place was that it was not over-developed or full of loud people. Mosquitoes were the only drawback!

Territorial Battles at Wild Type

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This is MY sweet, red water, dammit!

Over at the neighbor ranch, Wild Type, there’s been a battle going on for a few days, involving the black chinned hummingbird population and one persistent praying mantis.

Sara and Ralph noticed that hummingbirds were approaching the feeder but not feeding. They were displaying their tail feathers and darting around. That’s when the mantis became obvious. It had settled in around the feeder, apparently waiting to catch one of those hummingbirds.

As you can see from the photo, this is not the largest praying mantis. It may well be another Carolina Mantis, which is the kind I’ve seen in Austin, but I’m not really good at differentiating among mantids.

I know hummingbirds have been caught by praying mantises, though. I even checked on Snopes to be sure it is true! So, no wonder the hummingbirds are annoyed.

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This blurry action shot shows the bird making itself look big to impress the mantis.

It’s fun to watch them, and I am hoping that Ralph has gotten some action shots with his good camera and tripod. I also hope no hummingbirds have actually been caught. What would the mantis do with such a big prey?

As an aside, I have seen more than one type of hummingbird at their feeder in recent weeks, since migration time has started. I’m sure I saw a ruby-throated one, and there was another I can’t identify. It’s a fun time of year.

(Also I am not participating in a debate over red vs. clear sugar water. I’ve solved it by not putting out feeders this year, since it’s a big commitment: my fellow Master Naturalist, Phyllis, has put out an astonishing amount of hummingbird food this summer!)

Those Sneaky Snakes

Why, yes, I do have more to say about snakes. Thanks for all the great comments on the previous snake post! I guess all the dry weather had them all wandering around the ranch or something. (Aside: it has been raining this week, which we truly needed, but we could use more.)

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This public domain photo shows the cotton mouth and thick body of a water moccasin.

Another venomous encounter

Ralph at Wild Type Ranch reported a water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorous, also known as a cottonmouth) in his driveway last week. I’ve never seen one when it wasn’t swimming, so that was a big surprise to me. His dog tripped over it, so it wasn’t in attack mode. That’s good, because they are poisonous!

Another fact about these guys is that there is a non-poisonous water snake that just swims around, happily convincing people that it might just be a cottonmouth. That is usually what we see in our ponds. They get big, and are fun to watch while they undulate around looking for fish to eat (given the water moccasin’s Latin name, one can infer they mostly eat fish, too).

How do you tell them apart? Well, read this really good article, which I’ll summarize by saying that cottonmouths have a pit viper shaped blocky head, and thick bodies, while water snakes have thin bodies and a head that just flows into the body. Basically, leave them ALL alone. They’re really cool when viewed through binoculars.

Continue reading “Those Sneaky Snakes”

I Can’t Walk, but I See Birds

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What we have here are three wood storks, two roseate spoonbills, and a great egret.

Well, it’s poor timing that I’m still limping around from my injured tendon and I have a long weekend! Being gimpy has not stopped me from making observations, and I had a DOOZY on Friday, and thanks to my neighbor, Ralph, had a good one yesterday, too.

I was looking out the window at the tank behind the house, like I always do, in case there’s a bird there. Yep. Lots of birds. I did a double take. That “egret” had a black head and black on its wings. Woo! The wood storks were here for their yearly visit!

I limped outside with the camera, hoping to get a close picture. I zoomed in, and got another surprise! Some of those “storks” were roseate spoonbills! Snap snap. I knew I’d have to snap fast, since the dogs had followed me out.

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We’re out of here. Plus that cow is butting in on our territory.

Sure enough, the storks had enough of us interlopers and took off. That’s how I got this nice photo. I did get enough time to watch the storks going after fish like crazy. The water is so low that it’s got to be easy pickings for them.

Continue reading “I Can’t Walk, but I See Birds”

Fun with Fowl

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I’m the queen of the chickens, says this Ameraucana hen!

I’ve recently been put in charge of chicken feeding on the weekends, so I’m spending more time than I used to around our flock. They are a very happy bunch, and I got a request for more information on them, so I thought I’d share some of their antics and such.

History of the flock

When I first came to the ranch, our Wild Type neighbors had just a few chickens, who lived in an interesting coop made by Ralph the neighbor. The coop is next to the old cabin, so the residents of the cabin “get” to listen to chickens all day.

Later, the neighbors bought a dozen chicks and raised them. I can’t remember what breed they were, but I think they all produced brown eggs. But, disaster stuck.  All the chickens but a couple disappeared one day! We still don’t know if it was some bad animal or bad people.

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Front and center is Buckbeak, the senior rooster of the bunch.

After a while, we got a dozen Brown Sex Links from Ideal Poultry, which is actually a local Cameron, Texas business. These chickens have a weird name, but are pretty, lay brown eggs, and are friendly. The hens are dark red and the roostes are white, which you can see on Buckbeak, above. They also bought some black meat. Originally they had planned to share them with a friend, but we ended up with all of them. So, we had a lot of chickens.

It turned out that the “all female” chickens turned out to have a lot of roosters in them, so we kept all the hens. The black ones laid fine eggs, just not as strong as the red ones. All the future roosters other than Buckbeak became dinner. Our chicken keepers at the time, Cathy and Kayla, liked to name the chickens, so we inherited some names!

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Urban Hawk Update

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One of two angry birds that was encouraging this young hawk to go away (note its shadow on the building). Fuzzy iPhone picture!

A while back, I shared photos of a big hawk nest on the building next to my Austin work, and later I found another nest in a large oak tree in front of the building.

I thought you might like to see how those babies are doing. I guess at least one clutch of them hasn’t completely fledged yet, since I keep seeing small hawks flying around the building.

The resident birds are not happy, especially the mockingbirds, who, as we know, are busy raising their babes right now. There were actually two birds going after this poor youth.

I’ve seen at least two others flying around in the past week. I’m pretty sure these are the ones from the big tree, and the ones from the building have long since flown off to establish their own territories. (I do see birds by the nest still, but apparently they usually have just one clutch a year).

Nature sure helps when there’s chaos around you. I’m really glad to have birds and trees and random animals to enjoy wherever I am. We even have some wrens and tufted titmice coming to our bird bath at the Bobcat Lair house in Austin (I will try to get some photos). Remember, when times are tough, breathe, and notice what’s around you. It helps to see the big picture.

Tomorrow I’ll write about picking wild grapes. Adventures in foraging!

New Avian Friends?

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Hmm, why was this nest so easy to see?

Hi folks. Sorry for the inadvertent hiatus; I had some technical and scheduling difficulties, but I am back now. I’ve been thinking a lot about birds, so I’ll just share a bit about what’s going on with them here, and write more later! More posts! Yay!

Nests, Part 1

This week I came across more bird nests, including the one in the photo above. It’s a very small nest, though you can’t tell that in the photo, with such pretty little eggs in it. I spotted it while riding my horse, Apache, around a hay pasture we usually don’t ride in.

It was really easy to see the nest, which had me confused. Don’t birds who nest on the ground usually hide the nests? As “Patchy” plodded around the field one more time, I realized what had happened: our ranch helper had mowed a path around the edges of the pasture so my neighbor and I could ride. The mower probably went over the nest, didn’t harm it, but DID reveal it. The rest of the pasture has lush grass about a foot high.

Anyway, I am sad that these eggs probably won’t make it, but I know we have plenty of sparrows here, so plenty of nests. By the way, I’m pretty sure these are lark sparrow eggs. We have plenty of those, plus savannah sparrows, and house sparrows (around the houses).

Continue reading “New Avian Friends?”