It’s Grasshopper Season (and Cicadas and Katydids)

A Break with a Katydid

The dogs wanted to go out this morning, so I went out on the porch to drink some coffee and watch them play. I quickly realized that in fact, I was being watched, as well. There was a curious katydid sitting on my chair, waving her antennae at me. Mike Yager, you can stop reading now. Thank you for clicking. (He’s not a fan of these things)

You know I’m a katydid, because I have such long antenae.

Soon, she jumped up on my pants leg. I figured I could get a few good pictures of her for iNaturalist (which identified her as a slender meadow katydid Conocephalus fasciatus).

Let’s chat.

Next, she just hopped on up to my hand, where I was able to watch her up close, doing things with her legs, swishing those antennae, and chilling.

Checking what’s on her leg.

Finally, I got a video of her doing things and walking down my hand. I stopped when she began chewing on me and drew blood. Cheeky insect!

An innocent insect, until…

Grasshopper World

What I’d intended to write about today was grasshoppers, though. Every few years, we get a bumper crop. While I know both my children are creeped out by them, I am glad for the chickens’ sake, since they do love to chow down on grasshoppers. The vast majority this year are differential grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis), which are the kind known for messing with crops. (I saw one other type today, an obscure bird grasshopper, but I didn’t get a stellar photo.)

Look at those eyes!

The ones here are pretty varied in color, with the adults being yellow, orange, green, or brown (brown ones are older). The earlier instars tend to be very bright green, but they are mostly adults now.

Those brown twigs WERE asparagus leaves.

I can see why some folks get bothered by these guys when it’s one of their super-abundant years. They are everywhere and eating everything. Here is my asparagus. Yep, all you can see are sunflowers and other things that grasshoppers don’t eat down to the nubs.

The way the grasshoppers jump every time you move is annoying to me and apparently terrifying to some people. The good news is that I have never been bitten by a grasshopper, even when they got under my shirt or in my boots. The bad news is that those suckers hurt like heck when you run into them in your utility vehicle that no longer has a windshield.

Now, when I say they are everywhere, I’m not kidding. Here, watch this video. Also, if you aren’t on mute, listen to it. What do you hear?

Let’s see what we can stir up!

I think that’s enough on grasshoppers for today.

Indirectly Observing Wildlife

At least one cicada is out there.

One of the things I noticed today as I walked through the grasshopper-filled field, was that I knew there were a lot more living things out there than I could see. For example, the video above just rings with the sounds of cicadas. It’s been a big year for them in many parts of the US, but just average here. Still, they are loud when you get out near the trees. I don’t need to see them to know they are here!

I also know for sure that there was a barred owl somewhere in the trees, because it was making its characteristic “who cooks for you?” call a lot. And the pileated woodpecker I see occasionally was also out there calling and pecking. All morning there have been crow squabbles, as well, along with white-winged doves, who are omnipresent. Although I also saw it earlier, I heard the great blue heron squawk a couple times as it moved from tank to tank looking for crawfish or something.

Penney is looking at a lot of crawfish holes that were recently much wetter.

Speaking of crawfish or crayfish or crawdads, I also know they are all over the place, even if I don’t see them. Their find mud castles are everywhere right now, since it’s drying out and a lot of the areas that were damp all winter and spring are not covered in water anymore.

What’s left after a crawfish digs its hole

Yep, they are there, even if you can’t see them. I also saw lots of deer tracks in the muddy areas, which makes sense. There are a few does and fawns in the area.

Summer Blooms

Though we are very obviously heading into the dry season here at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch (the water table is back to a more normal level, so the new spring has stopped flowing, though the old one in the woods is still dripping away), we still have some hardy flowers that are still blooming. I always enjoy them and their tenacity.

Whether your experiencing a rainy day, dealing with the west coast heat wave, or enjoying a restful Saturday, I hope you can go outside and see what is thriving where you live. And if you can’t see anything, listen!

Another Post about Birds, Beaches, and Beauty

Judging from my stats, people are getting tired of my beachy posts about nature in South Carolina. Unfortunately, that’s all I have right now, since the rest of my brain is in total shutdown mode, which has not made me popular with folks who want me to do things. But, I needed a break.

So, today was a real vacation day! Lee and I went on a long boat tour to North Island, an uninhabited place an hour by boat from Georgetown, from where we embarked. It was most definitely NOT a fancy boat, but it did the job.

It’s ocean worthy!

We were promised lots of bird sightings, and we did get those, though on the way out to North Island, the water was a bit choppy for photography. I did learn my lesson last time, and got a seat near the front of the boat. That meant a bit of splash got on us, but if you’re on a small boat, you need to expect to get wet at some point!

These guys were holding still, though.

They had a naturalist doing the narration, and she was not as cheesy as the previous tour guide was. She did have a few ghost stories, since she’s written three books on it, but really had a lot of interesting history of the area to share. There’s some old stuff in this area! She also shared a lot of information about rice plantations, so I feel full of the knowledge.

We eventually got to the island and embarked on an excursion on the beach. I found one really nice shell, then got sort of dazed by how many colors of oysters they have on that beach, and I did get a few of those.

A variety of oysters, cockle shells and a whelk or something. I am not a shell person.

I was there more to look at living things, and I was not disappointed at this interesting beach. I’m glad I wore my sandals, because the beach was littered with jellyfish, but also had a lot of fascinating patterns of water, since it was low tide. The most beautiful things I saw were blue crabs, though. We had a lot of fun looking for them among the rocks in the jetty. There was lots of seaweed, barnacles, and other interesting stuff. The weirdest thing, though, was this area of clay, really slippery clay. I am going to have to look up what’s up with that.

I really enjoyed watching the crabs crabbing along and interacting with each other. They are so blue! I also found a number of hermit crabs in moon shells, but I put them back in the water before taking any photos. I sure hope no one picked those up thinking they were empty, because they are in for some bad smells, and bad karma, I guess.

Blue crab under ripples. So beautiful

Of course, I wanted to find birds. I don’t think I ever saw so many pelicans in my life, and they were a lot of fun, splashing, diving, swimming, and flying.

Brown pelicans having fun

There were also many gulls, particularly laughing gulls, who were also swooping, diving, and swimming. They were quite loud. They are entertaining and beautiful birds.

Whee, gulls on patrol.

There were also many beautiful shore birds, but we didn’t see egrets and herons on the island (there were plenty on the beaches near the old rice fields, though). I think there were sandpipers and plovers, including another black plover.

There was one more bird we were promised a sighting of, and that was the bald eagle. You can sure tell they are on the comeback trail, because we saw multiple birds (plus a couple of ospreys and one juvenile bald eagle). No, these are not great pictures, but that’s all the ole iPhone X can manage.

It was nice to just ride along and look at the scenery, even though it wasn’t a really beautiful day or anything. I haven’t been on boats in the ocean but one other time, when Anita and I took that tour of marshes. I enjoyed the relaxation aspect of being on the water as much as anything else.

Oh wait, I forgot we got to see this lighthouse, which is still doing its duty, and has for hundreds of years. There is a lot of OLD stuff here.

Even the loud motorcycles didn’t ruin my mood. Going to the island was a really different and pleasant activity. I’m going to share a couple of more photos, just because the island was so ruggedly beautiful.

Driftwood

I hope this day brought you some peace and focus.

Weathered beach

Birds, Trees, Castles, Oysters, and Adventure

Here’s another blog just chock full of photos, and not all of them are nature. It’s all good though. We just had a long day of visiting a variety of sights and sites.

This broad-headed skink is not a bird.

We set out early (for us), determined to see everything possible at Huntington Beach State Park. It’s across the road from Brookgreen Gardens, and features nature, birds, beaches, and a really interesting house that belonged to the people who used to own both the properties, the Huntingtons. Last year I saw better birds, but we still had a good time today.

We first went out to see the nature, where, of course, I spent a lot of time taking close-up pictures of plants. Lee says this is what I always look like.

Taking pictures of plants

I did find some pretty things to take pictures of, though some of them were Lee. There were many native berries, a spider, and the MOST exciting, a painted bunting.

From there, we headed over to Atalaya, the “castle” where the Huntington family lived in the winters. Folks, this is a really, really weird house. It’s all brick, even the floors, and all one story. It’s in the shape of a huge square with a very large courtyard in the middle. Every room, even the bathrooms, has a fireplace. I find that interesting, but it does get cold enough, even in South Carolina, to need some winter warmth.

Continue reading “Birds, Trees, Castles, Oysters, and Adventure”

Seen on a Walk: Ducks, Crawfish, Murmurations

Taking a walk in nature is good for your mood, so I have been out walking today. First I walked around our stream, looking for live crawfish, until it rained. Then, after the sun came out, I walked down the road to the cemetery and back, just to see what’s out there.

I really enjoyed looking at the water around our house. It’s so pretty.

I like the reflections.

I found no living crawfish, but saw many holes and castles (mud they leave while digging holes). I also found mushrooms, raccoon poop and general beauty.

I still can’t find where the front spring is, but it’s still flowing away. I made a movie.

I was in a hurry, so I forgot to turn the camera. But it’s pretty.

After the rain, it was so beautiful out! I wish the weather was always like this. It isn’t hot or cold. Birds are loving it, too.

Yesterday I’d seen some ducks behind the house, but the dogs sent them away before I could ID them. I was irritated, but hoped they’d stay. Sure enough, I was able to see them through the binoculars this morning. They were hooded mergansers! Fancy!

From Merlin Bird ID.

I really wanted a photo, though. I was excited to see them in the pond by the road on my walk. Of course, they took off. But, ha! I had the phone camera on burst mode! I got them flying!

Blurry, but recognizable!

Then, I heard a noise. It was the unmistakable sound of starlings. We have large flocks of this non-native bird around here. I knew they’d take off soon, so I waited a minute. Sure enough, they broke into two groups. It’s fun to watch.

It doesn’t take much to entertain me, does it? I just wish I had someone to walk with. I’d probably feel like going farther with a co-walker!

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.

Teeny Tiny Road Trip

Today Kathleen declared it was a ladies’ day. So we did some shopping with safety in mind. We spent a lot of time at Walker’s Honey Farm. I got some honey spreads for bagels and some of their wine. Kathleen got similar things and some mead/beer/wine stuff, too. One is strawberry basil and one is coconut and something. They are refreshing.

The winery and honey place is really nice this time of year. We had frozen mead and sat under a beautiful pergola looking out over wildflowers and vineyards.

Much of our time was spent in the bird-lovers heaven of watching purple martins going in and out of their high-tech nests. What a pleasure!

I enjoyed watching lizards and spiders, and even managed to find a couple more invasive species for my bioblitzing. (I am doing pretty well at it; report coming tomorrow.) If you are in this area, it’s a great place to visit now. They all wear masks and clean a lot. They only serve drinks and snacks outside, so it’s great and socially distant.

We next went to Vis-a-Vis in Rogers. The staff were great but it was a bit crowded to me, so I kept the mask on and sanitized a lot. We got some great stuff for our projects, like an old toothbrush holder Kathleen loves and a box of iron “stuff” that may go into my new desk.

I also got three cute teapots for a collection I have: cauliflower, eggplant, and garlic. I left the garlic one at the office, so no photo. Anyway, I was amazed the ladies there recognized me with blue hair and a mask, but they did.

We dropped by the Bling Box to pick up something of Kathleen’s. Yay, no other customers! They also got in a shipment of masks, so I got one that goes with my hair. Charming, right?

Blue in it for the hair, orange for my glasses. Hmm. I’m an homage to my alma maters. Go Gators. Fight Illini.

Tomorrow Kathleen works, so I’m gonna clean things at the Pope Residence. That should be fun!

Fun with Crustaceans and Mollusks

I’m not entirely sure how it was accomplished, but yesterday Easton went to a Buc-Ees parking lot and got a whole lot more f crawfish and oysters, along with traditional sides. I’m told there was a lot of mask wearing and social distancing involved, which relieved me.

Yum.

While the mud bugs we’re getting fetched, Kathleen and I found ripe dewberries and picked enough for a cobbler. I’m looking forward to more dewberry creations! There are lots more ripening.

More yum.

I was pretty happy to eat lots and lots of my favorite dishes.

Happy me.

The chickens got corn cobs, which they also liked a lot (no photo of that).

Happy Kathleen.

I enjoyed watching Kathleen play with crawfish. She also set some free in a pond (where there already are some).

Very happy Kathleen.

It was just great to relax and have some fun to break up all our working and isolating. I feel really, really lucky.

Fun being had by me and Chris.

Since there’s not much else to say, I’d like to thank everyone for being kind for me and treating me like one of the gang, while Lee stayed upstairs not feeling great (but not coronavirus symptoms). Enjoy the pictures.

Many many crustaceans.
The cooking broth was really good. It had citrus in it.
The dogs wanted some.
Always happy when I have oysters.