What’s in Burleson County?

I wanted to know. There are very few iNaturalist sightings there that weren’t made by Eric from my Master Naturalist chapter. He, along with Alan, who lives on and runs a fish farm near Somerville, wanted to do something about that!

Near the main house

So we met up at the property today, to see what kind of fun field trip we could come up with to educate chapter members about the area, how Alan has been managing the water — fish ponds, lakes, streams, etc.

One of the ponds, with Bad Patty, the dog.

Of course I had to get a tour! Let me say that was fun! Alan is a great tour guide, and I got to see all kinds of new plants and insects. The lake is great, and there are many different micro-climates on the property.

American lotus

My favorites were plants whose seeds rattle when they dry. And all the water plants!

I enjoyed talking to my friends and learning about raising fish, grasshoppers, and so much more. I can’t wait to go back. It’s outdoors, we stayed apart, and the weather was great.

I also made this weevil friend. It crawled all over me for a long time. It’s Eudiagogus rosenschoeldi.

Remember my resolve to have more fun? I’m still working on it! And doing it! Not all serious all the time!

A lovely variegated fritillary I saw.

So, are you having any fun?

Nature is Tough. A Good Lesson

On my last morning in Wimberley, I decided to see if I’d missed anything on the property. Sure enough, after saying hi to the cows, I found a nice tent camping spot.

There’s something for everyone here, as long as you like rustic.

I found a few more plants for iNaturalist, and took this photo to show those of you not from the middle of Texas what our limestone rocks look like. they have lots of water holes and sometimes fossils.

Limestone and cedar elm leaf.

Most of the trees here are live oaks or cedar elms, just like at home. The difference is there are more live oaks here and more cedar elms at home.

Very old oak.

As I was trying to find more plants I discovered where there’s a waterfall and pool when it’s rainy. There were chairs to sit and relax, so I did.

As I looked around, I saw many flowers and plants growing straight out of the rock, many in the creek bed. They must pop up fast! Their tenacity and drive to grow, thrive and reproduce inspired me!

It’s just plain encouraging to see the native plants in their homes. No one planted them, but as they say, they bloom where they’re planted.

How delicate. Its a hairy ruellia, the only one of those I saw.

Finishing my walk, I saw more and more signs that autumn is here, even way down south in the US. I’ll leave you with these vines.

Virginia creeper, creeping away.

I Avoided Falling into Jacob’s Well

We were planning to explore Wimberley this afternoon, but we quickly realized it was Market Day. It looked really fun, with hundreds of vendors. However, there were also many hundreds of attendees. As wild as we were being by going out of town, we were NOT going to hang out with huge crowds!

So we kept going and instead had a nice drive, punctuated by a stop at Buc-Ees.

I didn’t touch that dirty beaver.

After that we drove around the Canyon Lake area, where I’d never been. We ate at a nice Italian restaurant, then drive around a while more. It was so relaxing looking at all the scenery.

When we got back to where we are staying we decided to go visit a rum distillery. It would have been more fun if they were allowed to serve drinks, but I did get a bottle of craft rum.

The distillery was right near Jacob’s Well, which is a 140-foot deep artesian well on a river.

Jacob’s Well.

These are fairly common around here, with all the limestone aquifers. Of course, there are caves down there. Lots of people get lost in there. Thankfully, swimming season ended October 1. While it was slippery getting down to the well, I managed not to fall in.

Looking down the river.

There were beautiful gardens nearby and a nice playground.

Visitor center (closed)

I was happy to see a sign thanking Master Naturalists for their help. I also enjoy talking to a couple of young park volunteers. So fun.

Nice sign!

I amused the family by taking even more photos of plants. But they said it was nice to see me so happy.

Visiting a natural wonder was just what I wanted. It brought much more joy than buying a bunch of stuff would.

Looking the other way down the river.

We had a nice day!

Something Fishy

I got an interesting surprise as I was heading to the office to write a bunch of blog posts. I saw a large group of black vultures (my favorites, because they seem more…attractive than turkey vultures) pecking away at something over by where the pond runoff comes out of the culvert under our driveway (which is secretly a dam).

You can see by the debris how high the water was yesterday.

I thought maybe they had a snake, and I thought I should go see what kind of snake it was. However, it was not a snake. It was this!

It’s a fish out of water! Poor thing!

Oh, what a bummer. It appears that this delicious largemouth bass must have passed through the culvert and gotten dumped into the runoff area. It must have ended up in a part that was too shallow to swim in. Sniff.

Also, check out the attractive green bottle flies. I guess only a naturalist would say that. Sorry if it’s sort of icky for you.

But what did that tell me? It told me we have giant bass in our pond!* Who knew? Mandi should come fishing, or someone who likes to fish, anyway. Now that it’s mowed to the edge, the pond should be easier to work with. I figure we also have catfish, since I’ve seen channel cats that got pushed through the culvert before. Mandi and I totally failed at catching them, darn it.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, when I got to the Pope Residence, I saw all sorts of things flying around right above the grass. What could that be? I spent some time trying to follow them around to see what they were, but then I realized I just had to look DOWN and they were everywhere. I thought they were Japanese beetles, but when I looked it up on iNaturalist, it said they are common green Junebugs. I guess they all decided to hatch after the rain.

Well, whatever they are, there are a LOT of them. I hope there are some at the ranch, so the chickens can have a treat.

And here’s a treat for YOU, readers! A nice picture of how cute the dogs are as they sleep with Lee. Maybe that will cleanse your palate from the fish, flies, and beetles.

Snoozy Penney and Harvey. Photo by Lee Bruns.

* I am aware that this is a normal sized fish. It is big to me.

Nature Endures and Brings Surprises

Happy Friday to all! I’m especially happy, because I slept like a rock last night and am taking the day off to just do whatever I want to do, as long as it isn’t in a crowd of people!

What I wanted to do this morning was go check out the flooding. It rained a good deal again last night, and the creek spilled its banks, the fields are all full of puddles, and happy egrets and herons are everywhere. I’m happy to report that since the little pond filled back up, there is at least one bullfrog remaining (heard it last night, saw it splashing into the pond this morning).

Still not finished, but it’s full again. Note willow tree already trying to grow on the banks.

It was good to see the front pond all full. The dogs will be able to swim in there now, since Chris mowed all the plants from around it. And the water is happily flowing through the arroyo and down to the stream. That always makes me happy.

Our gate had stopped working this morning, probably just ran out of juice from not getting much sun for a couple of days. I got it to open and made it stay open so our caregiver can get to Jim in the RV. Then I decided to take a walk, since there were no dogs outside and it was safe to go down the road. I was interested to see what was still alive and thriving after over a month with just a trace of rain. Here are some!

I continued walking, and enjoyed seeing all sorts of rain-laden clouds, and wet vultures drying their wings, chatting, or whatever they do on the fence.

The most exciting thing I saw was this:

Eggs!

Since they had obviously come out of a mound in the dirt, I figure these are turtle eggs that had recently hatched, perhaps prompted by the rain and lower temperatures. They are rubbery and soft, not like chicken or other bird eggs. I actually saw two nests with eggshells, and once I realized they are there, a few more nests that are still “cooking” (which I did not disturb).

Turtles like to lay nests on the sides of roads, because they tend to have loose and sandy soil for easy digging. I hope these little guys made it and are off swimming away to wherever the floods take them!

Speaking of the flooding, I got a couple of photos of the creek. The new fence technique the Vrazels used across the creek seems to have held up, and it appears no new giant logs came through. This is a fairly normal amount of flooding for our little creek bottom, so it mostly made me happy to know the weather cycle is normal this year.

I came back to check on the chickens, who all appear to have made it. They made four eggs yesterday, so the rain didn’t bother them too much. But, wow, the wet chicken area is stinky. I’ve got to get to work figuring out better ways to keep their food dry, too, especially the ones who aren’t free range (they all ran out yesterday while I was trying to cover the cage in the run where the new ones are, but in the end, they all ended up in the right place (though a couple of pullets lost their virginity, thanks to Bruce).

A symphony in gray, or hello from Gertie.

All in all, I think today is a good reward after working hard all week (and succeeding!). I’m glad I wasn’t too tired to go feed horses and check on them, too, because last night I had a good chat with the Ralph and the Vrazels, who were getting ready to harvest a couple of steers. It’s good to catch up on what’s going on, and being outdoors makes it a lot easier.

Sure, There’s Fun in There, Somewhere

The last few days have not been in the realm of “fun” for me, for the most part. Just because I CAN do things doesn’t mean they aren’t stressful and tiring. I knew I had to change my team and work in a different way than before, so I did, but between actually doing it, needing support, and spending a LOT of time supporting confused people, by the time last night rolled around I was pooped.

The back pond is full again. And the grass is greener already. Photo by Lee Bruns.

When I got home, I was not up for wading through mud to feed the horses, and besides, I knew they had food and water, due to all the rain (the grass IMMEDIATELY grew). I did check on the very wet chickens and their very wet food (I can’t open one of their feeders, so, it was all in a very wet bowl). As I was checking on the new chickens, Patty ran into the pullet area and wouldn’t come back out. She went right over to poor Henley (who still doesn’t look great, but she’s eating and drinking). I tried as long as I could do remove her, but failed.

I am NOT leaving.

I crawled into bed and had ice cream for dinner. Self care! That was fun.

Today, it’s been raining all day again. The weather around here is just plain weird. But, it’s not hot. And the chimney leaked a lot less than yesterday. See, how great is that?

After surviving (set the bar low, Lee said) the three days of planning meetings with hundreds of people on Zoom, I was happy to find a box on the porch. It contained my new autumn wreath. It’s not too fancy, but will look good on my office door. I wanted to wait until after Labor Day, but I needed some fun, darn it! That will get me through another couple of months, anyway.

Velvet Pumpkins!

My boss said to take the afternoon off, because we’ve earned it, but of course I’ve had to deal with an ornery aging computer genius, and my team all want me to to one on ones and teach them complicated document formatting techniques. I wonder if I can do that while completely empty of mental strength?

I AM taking tomorrow off. Maybe it won’t rain and I can make it up to Apache and Fiona!

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.

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.

Book Report: Leave Only Footprints

Tell ya what, this sheltering in place stuff has really helped me get a lot more books read. Last night I finished the latest of my series of “hot off the presses” books (the next few will be older books). Today’s recommended reading is Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey through Every National Park, by Conor Knighton. When I saw this one in “new books,” it looked just right for a nature-lover like me, so I had to get it.

Look at those big trees!

The book is written by Conor Knighton, who wrote it about a year-long contract he got from CBS television to visit all the US National Parks and report back. He had nothing to lose, thanks to just going through a bad breakup, so off he went, accompanied often by a Mexican-born photojournalist, Efrain Robles, whose perspective is often heard in the book as well.

Knighton was in his 30s during the journey, and I found it refreshing and a little off-putting at the same time to hear about what he saw from the perspective of a younger writer. I realized at some point that nearly all the nature books I’ve been reading have been by people at the ends of their careers who are sharing their vast knowledge of their topics. Here I got the perspective of someone looking at the National Parks with the fresh eyes of someone out to gain that knowledge. I really appreciate getting the chance to learn how Knighton and Robles experienced the parks, and to realize how different their experiences are from mine (there is so much about finding dates on Tinder in the book, which I realize I know nothing about).

There are some things about the book that you’d either like or get irritated by. One is how he presents the parks. Rather than go through his journey in the order he saw them, Knighton groups his encounters by themes. Thus, in one chapter he might talk about a park he visited in the summer and one he saw in the winter, or parks miles and miles away. I would have liked the organization better if his transitions weren’t so sudden. I also found some of the transitions somewhat awkward, like the editor told him he needed to put a transition sentence HERE and he did. On the other hand, talking about parks with volcanoes all at the same time makes sense, as do a lot of the other groupings.

There are photos from almost all the parks Knighton visited. It’s a nice variety of scenery and people pictures.

Another thing I didn’t like was that for some of the parks I really didn’t get much of a sense about what they were like. Occasionally we get more of “how Conor was feeling that day” than what the park was like. But, the poor guy was going through a lot, so I don’t blame him for reflecting.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book were the encounters with Park Rangers, people in the towns near (or in) parks, and people from so many different cultures that are part of the greater US. I loved learning about the people in Alaska, New Guinea, the Virgin Islands, etc., as well as the perspective of black park employees and full-time RV-ers. I guess I’m a sucker for learning about what makes people tick, and I got a lot of new information in Leave Only Footprints.

Of course, Knighton also shares the history of the National Park movement and those who inspired it. You can’t help but enjoy a good John Muir quote or two.

If you are itching to go somewhere, anywhere, right about now, you’ll get a lot of vicarious travel out of this book, and you’re guaranteed to learn a great deal about the amazing variety of landscapes and seascapes in the USA. You’ll want to go visit a park as soon as you can…and the good news is that many other countries also are a part of the National Park movement, so you can go wherever you live!

Anyone want to share their favorite National Park experiences? I’d like to hear them. I haven’t been to many, but I was glad to hear that White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, which I have visited more than once, became a National Park in 2019!