Dystopian Ranch Report

Dystopian? That sounds cheerful, doesn’t it? Well, it’s just a weird day. It’s still all hazy, which makes it feel like I’m walking in a science fiction story.

It really never cleared up all day.

And it’s so windy that chairs, empty troughs, and the chickens’ shelter blew all over the place. I had trouble walking to see the horses! Vlassic even spooked a couple of times (but was good with cows).

My ears may blow off. Or I may take off.

It’s not all bad, though. I checked on the new goldfish, and I was happy to see the water in the trough already more clear and with fewer mosquito larvae. I swear they have grown!

Vlassic likes fish food.

We’ve lost only one fish, which surprised me, considering how green the water was. At first I couldn’t see the fish if they weren’t at the top!

We’re working hard!

Other things are actually doing okay, even in adverse circumstances. My poor fennel plant that got replanted near the “folly” had been weed-eated and mown by Jim (he likes a smooth lawn) is coming back! I thought it was a goner. I put a bunny next to it, to remind him it’s there. Fingers are crossed!

Grow, fennel!

Even more amazing is that my asparagus patch, which had been treated with RoundUp, has come back! The weeds are in way worse shape, so maybe we can get that bed in shape.

I’m alive!

Even in the wind and haze, I keep finding cool living things around the ranch. Look at this beautiful insect! It’s a nuptial scorpionfly. Huh.

So pretty! I wonder if it stings?

And this caught my eye as I was going to check the mail. I wondered if it was aphids or some kind of goldenrod beetle. I guess I thought that since I recently found milkweed bugs and aphids.

White things…

I looked it up on iNaturalist and discovered it WAS something associated with goldenrod, but each white thing is a gall created by some tiny insects, Carbonifera goldenrod gall midge. That’s a new one for me.

Midge photo by David, CC BY-SC-NA

Always something new, even with the weirdness of 2020 continuing. The sun will come up tomorrow, dimly.

And Now We Have Fish

It quickly became obvious that our new cattle trough was also a great breeding farm for mosquitoes. We certainly couldn’t poison them, because that’s the water for the animals. And it’s too big too tip over regularly.

So, we went with the time-honored technique of adding fish to the water. There are many options, including gambusias, which are actual mosquito fish. We went with goldfish. Because I’m a big spender, I went with the 32-cent ones rather than the 16-cent ones.

Regular old comet goldfish.

If we are right, they’ll eat lots and grow fast. The trough is deep enough to keep them safe from birds, I hope. I put them in the trough to get accustomed to the water temperature.

It looks icky in there.

In zero seconds, onlookers appeared.

Hey, Suna, whatchya doing?

Those guys stood back, but Rip was really curious.

Ima come check this out!

He got right up to them and bopped them with his nose.

Can I eat this?

After a while, the fish were freed.

Uh, we’re just fine in this bag, thanks.

Within a minute of being released, they were noshing on algae and chasing larvae. They won’t need the fish food I got them!

We love this green water! We have space! There’s food! Woo’

I look forward to seeing how they do. The trough adds new water when the cows and chickens drink, so the water won’t be stagnant. We will see.

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.

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.

I CAN Relax, So There!

We all know that I am a busy little bee (speaking of which, look at the beautiful carpenter bee, one of many we saw on some non-native heather today).

Beautiful carpenter bee.

This week is my annual week in Hilton Head, and I vowed to actually rest and not cram every moment with work or stressful activities. Today was the big test.

Anita demonstrates a relaxing beverages.
Continue reading “I CAN Relax, So There!”

All the Best Intentions

Here’s another nature story from one of my friends. This one comes from our Austin neighbor, Ruth, also known as “the other Ruth,” because there are two women named Ruth in our book club. She lives just down the road and goes walking with Anita many mornings. Ruth always has a good story, and here’s the most recent one.

Yesterday, Ruth was in her yard checking on the plants and such, when she realized there was a nice-looking frog stuck in her swimming pool. Now, she is as much of a nature lover as any of us naturalists, and she had a good idea that the pool chemicals weren’t ideal from frogs to thrive in. Plus, there isn’t much to eat in there.

So, she decided to rescue it. She easily captured it and placed it in a plastic container. She figured that it would not be a good idea to just let it go, since it would have trouble finding a water source in our drought-stricken neighborhood (that’s why Anita’s toad friend loves the fact that she waters the plants on her balcony so well).

It’s a leopard frog, though I am not sure which one. They sure are pretty. Photo courtesy of Ruth.

The idea quickly came to Ruth that she could take it to nearby Bull Creek, which does still have some water running through it. So, she put the frog in her car and drove it down to the creek.

She carefully took it over to the creek’s edge, and happily set it free. Off it swam. For about five seconds. Frogs aren’t the only things that live in creeks. Apparently there are fish in there big enough to eat frogs.

Well, at least the frog died happy, and the fish got a meal. We give Ruth lots of props for her good intentions and kindness to the creatures of our community. And, like Ruth and Anita, I prefer to believe the frog escaped the snatches of the fish, and swam away, bruised but happy. She didn’t see the frog get swallowed. There’s always hope.

Walking around Lake Travis

This morning I took a walk while waiting for the rest of my team to arrive. This is an interesting area, because it was all laid out to be neighborhoods, then no one showed up to build houses, so the land has stayed pretty much untouched. Now, people are finally starting to move in, as the Austin suburbs move further and further out. Still, where we are staying has a lot of empty property.

Typical terrain in this area. Lots of juniper, little oak trees, and some mesquite.

This means that you can get a good idea of what the area around Lake Travis looked like, at least since the advent of all the cedar (ashe juniper) trees.

The lake is low. But it’s been MUCH lower.

I’ve been here in the spring, and know the wildflowers are spectacular. It was easy to see from all the dried seeds heads I saw.

Mexican hats and seed heads. Camera stubbornly focused on the back one.
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Sunrise, Sunset, and Fishies

Fer sure, yesterday was really hot, and so was the day before, but it was certainly not without beauty and the potential for fun. I’m so glad the dogs pestered the heck out of me to go outside Saturday night, or I’d have missed a spectacular sunset. The one below is my favorite image, which I shared on Facebook, but I didn’t want blog readers to miss out.

This is facing EAST at sunset. I wish I could get my hair those colors.

Last night’s sunset was also good, but I didn’t get out until after the exciting part, thanks to eating lovely food cooked by my sister. I was also still recovering from my late afternoon activity.

Fishies

Mandi is officially on vacation, so she wants to have some outdoor fun. I accompanied Mandi and her son, Matthew, over to the pond behind Ralph and Sara’s to do some fishing. Of course, it was 100 degrees out there. But, we persevered. The pond is stocked, so we know there are good fish in it, but it’s so pretty and relaxing, that I didn’t care.

The pond behind Sara and Ralph’s house.
Continue reading “Sunrise, Sunset, and Fishies”