I Discovered Something!

It’s been a great day, for many reasons, and a great weekend. We took Apache out again today, and he was his old self again! He and Spice were very brave when they came upon some people building a new gate between our two pastures.

This is as close as the horses would get.

But they had fun. Fiona kept plopping down and rolling whenever she found dirt.

The flies are bothering me.

I also had fun seeing things this weekend. One is that I see signs that I wasn’t mistaken, we DO have a loggerhead shrike this year. I didn’t see one last year, and I was bummed. Today I saw lots and lots of insects impaled on our fence, though!

Plus! I’m very happy to share that another chicken started laying. Her first egg is pinkish and has little blue spots! On the other hand, Hedley, the one that lays white eggs, has started spending a LOT of time in the nest box. She did lay today, but if she’s gone broody I’m just giving her three eggs and letting her go for it.

The new one is on the bottom. Cute!

I also found two new and interesting insects. First is the extremely cool Beelzebub Bee Killer Mallophora leschenaulti, which is a type of robber fly. This things is huge, loud, and intimidating. I saw two yesterday and two today.

The other new insect is what I’m excited about. It turns out that my entry of the Long-jawed Longhorn Beetle Dendrobias mandibularis is the first one Milam county and the farthest north it’s been seen.

I’m the first!

Also, this is one of the most beautiful insects I’ve ever seen. So colorful!

Look at those antennae! And it’s so shiny!

I’ve been waiting to finally see something new and different to share on iNaturalist and I finally did! I feel so scientific.

Grasshoppers at the Hermits’ Rest

Last week’s Master Naturalist chapter meeting was fascinating. I’d asked Eric Neubauer, the new class member I’ve been working with on improving my iNaturalist observations, to do an advanced training on grasshoppers, since he’s been getting some great insights into them over on his property (PLEASE visit the link to his presentation if you have any interest at all in grasshoppers; it’s completely fascinating). He lives in a different part of the county than I do, and I realized he sees lots of different kinds of grasshoppers than I do.

This is Schistocerca americana, the American Bird Grasshopper. I wondered if we had any of these. Look at the striped eyes! Photo by E. Neubauer.

I did a blog post on grasshoppers at the ranch a couple of months ago, but now that I have learned more, I got some better photos and noticed some things about our grasshoppers. I was also wondering if there were any grasshoppers other than Boopedon gracile, the Prairie Boopie, which we’ve had in plague-worthy numbers all summer (hey, it’s 2020; everything’s a plague).

A female, we think, with some interesting coloration, according to Eric.

Yes, there are Prairie Boopies all over the ranch. The easiest place to find them is on the hay bales. They hold still there.

Another boopie view. Look at all the stripes and spots.

But, there are others. I kept seeing lots and lots of tiny grasshoppers (an inch long or less) hopping away as I walked along the fields. I wondered what they were. Could they be pygmy grasshoppers?

This one is very, very small. Less than half the size of the one above. But it’s an adult, judging by the fact that its wings are the same size as the one above. I know males are smaller, but this is really small.

I finally managed to get a couple of non-blurry photos. Well, what do you know? They are small adult Prairie Boopies (confirmed by Eric). Maybe they get smaller at the end of the season? The ones over by the hay are over three inches long, for sure. I also have noticed that the coloration is different now, after a month of drought. They are much lighter in color.

Who’s this fellow? Not a boopie. Look at the legs and the longer wings.

Moving along, I was delighted to find at least a little variety in the neighborhood. We also have a good number of Differential Grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis), which are the ones with the very distinct herringbone pattern on their legs. I was glad to get some good photos of those, too.

Differentials doing it on the hay.

I didn’t get a photo of this, but I did see a mating pair fly off yesterday evening. That was new to me. I guess those males are pretty strong, since the females are larger and do not fly!

Then, when staring at the hay bales, I saw something more green. Hooray! Not one of the more common two! I was admiring an Admirable Grasshopper! As Eric pointed out, I would know this one by its tear-shaped eye.

You really can’t miss that eye!

And finally, when I’d given up on finding anything more interesting, a very different shape appeared in the grave.

Yay! The bird grasshopper!

My photo isn’t as good as Eric’s, but I can see the stripe going through its eye, and knew I had a Schistocerca americana. The very long wings also tell you it’s a strong flyer, as the bird grasshoppers are.

I have one more of the smaller ones, but I don’t have its ID confirmed yet.

That’s the only good photo I got, but I know it was bright green on the sides.

I’m guessing it’s a small Admirable Grasshopper. We’ll see.

I know a lot of people are grossed out by grasshoppers, but once you start looking at them, they are really beautiful and interesting. Well, they are interesting IF you can see them. Check out this Nebulatettix subgracilis – if you can! I can’t believe Eric managed to find it!

That’s one fine camouflage

Can’t Save Them All

I do love nature. But I admit to making a couple of creatures go away today. First, I went to make myself a cup of coffee at the office. As I began to pour creamer into the cup, something moved. It was a quite large American cockroach. Here’s how I knew what it was:

That’s one I saw at the old church.

I am very proud. I just made a little noise. That’s a far cry from my Florida childhood roach phobia (they would get in my bed). I simply took the cup and dumped the roach into the garbage can. So proud. But then I couldn’t get the bag out of the can, so I just set the whole shebang outside. Someone else can deal with it!

Meanwhile, I noticed a jumping spider on the windowsill. It was posing for me, and had lovely markings.

Pantropical jumping spider.

Of course it moved out of the sun into shadow before I could get a picture. Nor could I get a photo from the top. Anyway, I left that one to catch bugs.

When I got home and was reading The Overstory (yes, I’m actually gonna finish it), I got a text from Meghan, who had been feeding Rip the calf. Meghan does not “do” spiders. Her text had a photo of this:

Well, hello Mama, nice egg sac.

I can just imagine that poor woman when she saw that black widow, right on the fence near the hay, where both she and Jim go all the time as they feed the calves together. Eek!

So, much as I love Nature’s creatures, I felt compelled to bring out the spider spray. I don’t feel safe with them all around our ranch community! I keep picturing the horrible scar Granny Kendall had from a black widow bite.

Rip and Buster don’t want spider bites, either.

I found four nests, which are now former nests. My guess is there are plenty more out there, so I haven’t sent black widows to the brink of extinction. I’ll atone for the deaths somehow.

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.

In Search of Ant Lions

A set of fortuitous circumstances have led me to have something more in the naturalist vein to write about. I’ve been missing those things! It all started when I was in the horse pen, and noticed all these cool paths in the dirt.

In addition to the trails, there are a couple of donkey hoof prints, to liven things up.

I couldn’t remember what made those trails, though I was sure I used to know, so I posted about it on Facebook. I got some cute and silly guesses, then, as I’d hoped, someone from around Cameron reminded me of the answer. Burton, who’d been in my Master Naturalist class, identified them as ant lion, or doodlebug, trails. These Myrmeleontidae (it means ant lion!) are commonly called “doodlebugs,” because their trails make them look like they’re doodling around.

I knew THESE were ant ions!

The reason I should have known that the trails are from ant lions, is that I knew perfectly well that the conical holes all over that part of the ranch are ant lion traps. They call them ant lions, because it’s often ants that fall into their traps, and they are fierce little lion-like dudes in their larval phase. I don’t have any pictures of one running around the ranch, but here’s the general idea of what they look like:

Those are some scary mandibles! Photo by @LASPhotography via Twenty20.

From what I’ve read, these insects stay in their larval stage up to a few years, so this will be how they live their lives, hiding in their holes or doodling around thinking about making another hole.

I love the perfection in the dirt they throw up in little perfectly circular volcanoes. Finding them under the horse shelter is no surprise, as I discovered in an article on how beneficial they are:

Pits are oftentimes constructed under the shelter of farm buildings, under houses that are on piers, etc.

Beneficials in the Garden: Ant Lion, by Donya Camp

The adults are pretty spectacular, and I had never seen one, that I know of, until this morning, when I went to enter the Pope Residence and saw a beautiful, large winged insect. I grabbed that camera and took this picture, which told me I’d found the adult ant lion, in all its glory.

Look at how the sun hits the bristles on its legs. Looks like little bottle brushes. If you’ve never seen a bottle brush, that’s what they look like.

The antennae are what give it away for certain as an ant lion, since the club shape is pretty distinctive. I feel lucky that I found this one in its resting spot, since their active period is at night. By the way, the iNaturalist identifier says this Vella fallax,

I’d always figured ant lions were friends, not foes, just because they ate ants, but I was happy to learn that they even eat fire ants. That puts them well into the beneficial insect category!

Let me know if you see any evidence of ant lions where you live. Sandy soil is what they prefer, so if you have sand, check around for the mounds, and welcome our fierce little buddies into your ecosystem!

Times Are Still A-Changing

Like I talked about earlier in the week, I need time to process change. Sometimes, though, you just don’t get that luxury. This is one of those times. Yesterday, that one hour when I wasn’t in meetings wasn’t enough time to process, because then I was busy trying to get all the other work I need to do either done or planned out (tomorrow will be catch-up day, I hope!).

Meetings started early, so I got to see the sun pop up this morning, through a dirty window.

Today isn’t much better, though things are a little more spaced out. I’m trying to do a crash course in an entirely different way to work, different teams, different priorities, and a lot of buzzwords. I can do it, but I realized as I was taking my decompression walk a few minutes ago that this is really like getting a new job. And the rest of us are getting new jobs, too. That’s always stressful, even when it’s a job you want!

Also seen on my decompression walk: giant swallowtail

The folks in my department (whatever it is, now) are all in the change stew together and can help each other. I think I was so worried about being slow on the uptake or not coming across as thrilled with all the new processes and such that I totally forgot I’m not alone! My colleagues haven’t done this particular before, either.

Honestly, you’d think I would have figured this out a little sooner, after blundering along trying to figure out how to live life with all the new pandemic parameters. It’s the same deal: yes, you still have to do the same tasks, but you have to do them very differently. You will not succeed at figuring it out instantly. No one else will, either.

Speaking of fun, I got remote-control fake candles for my office. That will entertain my roving eye and add to the curated clutter.

So, thanks, pandemic, for teaching me lessons. And thanks, huge load of work changes, for taking my mind off the pandemic. There, something to be happy and have fun with today! All right!

Rare Friend Sighting! Plus, More Hens

This will be a fun weekend! It’s already been great, because I got to go meet my friend Janet at Bird and Bee Farm, because she needed new hens. Her “ladies” are all retired. I’ve known Janet since soon after I moved to Austin, and we have had many adventures together. Many adventures. She now lives in Groesbeck with her partner and horses, just far enough away to make visiting not too easy. So, we haven’t seen each other in a while.

So, we were glad to see each other at the chicken farm. I showed Janet all the hard work our Master Naturalist team had done with the Wildscape project, and she really liked some of Catherine and Rosie’s great recycled decor ideas.

This chair fountain’s particularly cute.

I was all excited about some butterflies, and tried really hard to get good pictures, but these pipevine swallowtails are not the kind that sits still. My best picture had something weird in the background.

What’s that behind the butterfly?

It was one of the resident guinea fowl, just clucking away at me and peeping over the flowers.

Howdy!

Eventually we got in, after we convinced Gene I wasn’t here just for Master Naturalist stuff. Janet was after black hens, because apparently hawks don’t go after them, because they look like crows, and crows are mean to hawks. Huh. She got three young Jersey Giants and three australorps, all lovely and dusky beauties.

Native Rio Grande turkeys, since I didn’t get photos of Janet’s new pullets.

Well, I couldn’t exactly go there and come up empty handed, especially since our hen to rooster ratio is so low. I needed three hens. Conveniently, the oldest pullets they had were beautiful, as well. They are called Blue Star or Sapphire Gem, and apparently are a new heat-tolerant breed from Czech breeders. I got two of them, one of which has some gold in her neck feathers. She’s Star and the other is Sapphire. I am not creative today.

My favorite thing about them is that they are large. They won’t have to stay separated too long, though they need growth food another month or two. They have beautiful dark brown eyes, too.

The other pullet I got is a Welsummer, which I had one of before in my first batch, but didn’t last too long due to the owl. No owl will get Butternut, though! She’s safe with us in the cage. I love her buttery yellow legs, which gave her the name, and she has cool light brown eyes that match her body feathers. She’s a bit smaller than the other two, and pretty friendly.

Pretty baby.

I’ll need to re-hook the water hose, and maybe move one of the pipe feeders over to the baby area, but otherwise, they should be fine. Now if I can just figure out how to stop Clarence from crowing under Jim’s RV. That has to be loud!

Anyhow, it was wonderful to catch up with Janet, who I’m going to spend more time with not on a mission very soon. We just wish we could set and eat a meal together, but neither of us wants to chance the germs.

Sure, I Relax

It was nice to get home from work and think about what’s eternal.

One thing is learning. I’m loving the book I’m reading, perhaps too much. The person who wrote How to Be an Antiracist has managed to clarify all sorts of muddy questions and gut feelings I have about race, class, and political systems. Perhaps this is not the most relaxing book ever, but it makes so much sense that my brain feels tidier or something. More on this when I’m done!

The other eternal thing is life going on about its cycles. I’m surrounded by birth, death, old age, and metamorphosis every day. The new calf, Nicole’s son who will arrive in a month, the lady in Cameron who died in the fire and had cooked all those burgers, Lee and me, a butterfly. I treasure all of it!

Now to stop writing so much and share photos of what relaxes me.

Tomorrow will be Rip’s week-a-versary.
He liked head rubs.
Gulf fritillary.
Happy to enjoy our golden years (ha ha) at the Hermits’ Rest.

Too Much Right Now

There’s just so much in my head that I’ve no time nor ability to write. I was analyzing work stuff in my dreams last night. I couldn’t stop dreaming about data.

Hey, grasshopper, you’re supposed to distract me.

I’ve pushed through everything today, which is great, but there’s still more coming up! Being occupied with work challenges isn’t all bad, of course. It keeps your mind off the state of the world, sick friends, and natural disasters.

That’s really a cool color!

I did enjoy a lovely sunset last night after the wee bit of rain. And I reconnected with a friend from grad school whom I greatly admired and had thought about often.

Plus, I can disguise myself with even more masks, since I got some pretty ones in the mail. Guess I’m not a plain black mask person.

I’m blinding and blingy.

Hope you’re handling your surprises and learning curves today. We’re all in it together.

Spooky pretty.

That Didn’t Work as Planned

Two things didn’t work out quite as planned.

Freeing the Chickens

First, we decided it was time to let the chickens out to eat some bugs. You know, the whole free range thing. Of course the first thing happened was Clarence the super stud went after Bertie with a vengeance. What’s cool is that Bruce came to her rescue.

Bruce is about to go after Clarence for his unwanted advances.

That led to the two roosters going into the pen and chasing each other, flying around and such. All that got everyone in a tizzy. Poor Hedley the little Roo-ish one got chased outside and hid with Henley.

Hedley did manage to get some grasshopper eating in, along with Springsteen.

Eventually the three bravest birds started going after bugs, Bertie, Fancy Pants, and Gray Greta. The guinea just loves her fluffy, white buddy.

Fancy Pants finally has a chick to dote on, even though it’s her size.

They all went out some, but it wasn’t the mad dash to freedom I’d envisioned. Probably because it’s hot outside and the chicken pen has all the shade.

Free ranging, baby.

The part that DID turn out well was that when I got home from horse activity and went to shut them back in, everyone was roosting quietly. And! Clarence had gone to his outside roost! He thinks that’s his house! Hooray.

I’m not always chasing everyone under the henhouse so I can strut around crowing in victory. Just sometimes.

Walking the Calf

This afternoon Chris and I went out around the property looking for trees to potentially transplant near the house. We found some cool Osage orange trees we might take cuttings of, and lots of cedar elms.

Osage orange or bois d’arc (bodark)

We also enjoyed seeing herons and egrets, including a little night heron!

Blue heron and great egret.

We heard shouting. That’s weird around our house. It turned out Kathleen had come home from work and decided to take Rip for a walk after his bottle of milk. We finally saw them. It appeared a lot of his walking was lying down.

A girl and her calf.

We got back to the house and I went to check on them. Rip was ensconced in some tall grass, slowly munching.

I’m camooflaged.

I chatted a while, took pictures of some bugs and plants, and discovered it was time to go see Sara and feed horses. So I left them, right where I found them.

This dragonfly is camouflaged.

Just before I left the horses, I got a text. Kathleen never got Rip to move, so Chris came and got them. He picked up the calf and put him in the back of Hilda the utility vehicle.

My Uber is here.

Chris says Rip finished his milk and went to sleep in Hilda! They had to make him wake up to go back to his pen. Nope, that’s not how Kathleen had planned for their first walk to go!

But, I think we all actually had fun today.