Finally. Nature Cruise.

I stopped work at noon today, because I had triumphantly solved problems and published a new video upgrade. It was time to head back to the Waccamaw River cruise I went on last year.

So beautiful to me.

We had as much fun as last time. I got to take pictures of lots of plants and beautiful flowers, like spider lilies, swamp roses, and pickerel weed.

I found some insects, and many water plants trees.

But the best things were passing by many osprey nests and seeing the mothers and babies together. We saw males chasing each other, too. What a fun time of year to take the cruise.

Of course they were looking for alligators. It’s fun to see wild ones. We found three nice sized ones. One jumped in the water for us, and one gave a swimming demo. They are beautiful ancient beasts.

You might enjoy watching one of them swim.

Living the river life.

Mostly, though, I just looked at cypress and Tupelo trees and appreciated being away from people. It’s memories of times like this that keep me going.

We had a nice dinner at Murrell’s Inlet again. I enjoyed the view of birds and Goat Island. I sure love a good marsh.

And back at the beach? More birds, though perhaps not the fanciest.

I tell you what. Water is soothing and never the same from one day to the next. Of course, where you live is the same. Just keep observing. It’s a fine hobby.

Sculpture! Birds! Nature Surprises! Beauty?

Today I got to have all the funs, to celebrate an actual day off, and have some emotional recharge. And of course I had to do some deep thinking. I’m on a roll with wonder and wondering.

Nature Surprise

You may remember that Lee forgot to pack any shirts for the trip. The t- shirts he got were fine. But. He got one long-sleeved shirt at Kohl’s when we stopped at one on the way, and it turned out to be weird and too big. So, he declared we would go to Tractor Supply and get more Lee-esque shirts. Why? It got chilly overnight!

Fern time. Sensitive.

Imagine my happiness when I saw that next to the store was a beautiful wooded area with a stream running through it. It was sort of like what I imagine in my mind when I think of a southern American woods. There were oaks, sweet gums, ash, and holly trees, with ferns and palmettos underneath. There were jack-in-the-pulpits and lizard’s tail. Vines included muscadine grape, poison ivy, and Virginia Creeper. I was in heaven. Plus I got to buy a windbreaker.

As if that wasn’t enough, we were actually in our way to our favorite spot, Brookgreen Gardens. It’s always great, but we lucked out this time. For one, the butterfly exhibit at the zoo has recently re-opened. We got to see some butterflies we’d never seen before. And the flowers weren’t bad, either.

A malachite butterfly.

While waiting in line, I met a fellow horse owner and traded photos, of course. But dang, look at these beauties! I don’t know what they are, though.

Of course, I had to get bird photos, too. I didn’t take many of the captive birds, but the ducks were so pretty I had to. At least I got some pretty wild birds, too.

I’ve saved the best for last. Just yesterday, a new exhibit opened. It’s sculpture by two married people, Babette Bloch and Marc Mellon.

I got the book, too.

Mellon has had his work at Texas A&M (to impress the locals) at the Bush Presidential Library. He also designed an official medal for President Obama. His main work has been statues of female athletes. He makes them look strong as well as beautiful. He also did a horse. I liked that.

My heart melted when I started looking at Bloch’s work. She started out in bronze, but then moved on to making art with laser-cut steel. It’s lots of flowers. As you know, I am fond of flowers.

Large herons, outdoors

I had two favorites. One is a phoenix. The base of the sculpture is based on Bloch’s face!

My second favorite was a wall with dozens of flowers in bowls with color behind them. Each bowl was someone’s family heirloom. It moved me to tears to see the old things become new art.

All her work was interesting and different from anything I ever saw. The burnished parts were mesmerizing. Here’s some more of her work. Lee just loved the dog, of course.

To top it all off, I went back in at the end of our visit, and I got to tell Bloch how much her work and the stories behind it moved me. That felt great. My heart is full. What a great day.

My Deep Thiughts

Being at Brookgreen and enjoying the art made me wonder something. Do humans always seek beauty? Have they always done so? Are there things that just naturally please humans?

Are sunsets thought beautiful in all cultures? If so, why?

I seem to remember that symmetry is often found beautiful, like in people’s faces. And there’s that golden ratio that’s supposedly pleasing.

Any thoughts? I’m going to do some research. I guess I shouldn’t take time off from work and chores. I start wondering.

What’s Blooming and Growing, May Day edition

Around May, the dominant wildflowers change from bluebonnets and paintbrushes to Indian blankets and Black-eyed Susans.

Our front field

What else is blooming now? Here are a few familiar friends I was glad to see back again.

But the best new thing over in our world is an animal. Look who Sara saw shortly after I left her place this afternoon? And she had kits! exciting new life!

Beautiful gray fox!

The chickens say this is why I need to lock them in each night, however. No foxes allowed in the henhouse.

This way we don’t have to sleep with the snakes.

Good night from the Hermits’ Rest, where we spent a lovely evening watching ducks and tiny birds flying in formation. I hope they were eating all the swarming termites…that’s another story. Still. A good life.

Murmurating. Or whatever.

Unexpected Snappy Visitor and Others

I always look forward to the snapping turtle mating season, when they wander around looking for friends or places to lay eggs or something. This morning I had my camera out in case the cat showed up. A movement caught my eye, and at first I thought it was an armadillo. But nope, it was this traveler.

Howdy! Do you like my outfit?

We see these often, as readers are aware, but this was a good chance to get nice pictures, since I’d caused my buddy to stop ambling.

I’m ready to leave.

I’d wanted a good rear view of a common snapping turtle, so this gave me a great opportunity. Thanks for holding still, pal.

Bye bye buddy

We have other visitors. I did finally get a blurry picture of the cat who’s hanging around here.

Yep. It’s a cat and one of the endless vehicles the cattle tenants drove up and down by the cabin yesterday.

Barn swallows are the loudest visitors. We love them and their nests on our patios anyway. They do eat bugs!

And here’s a couple I found while looking for new flowers.

Flower scarab beetles

More later. I have a bunch of horse pictures.

Grassy-Ass, Sorta

That’s thank you in grass language. I’ve been laughing my ass off this afternoon for a couple of reasons. First, I spent my lunch hour resting my eyes by seeing what new blossoms we have. I also was marveling at how many varieties of grass we have in the front field and how beautiful they looked waving in the breeze.

So pretty. I think it’s Dallis grass. I’m bad at grass ID.

I carefully took pictures of all the rye, oats, barley (it’s beginning to sound like bread, isn’t it?), and other grass varieties. I was looking forward to seeing what else came up.

No sooner had I gone in to get lunch than I heard the Kubota tractor start up. I quickly realized it was going back and forth across the field. I had damn good timing! The field was getting shredded (mowed in ranch talk). There go those waving seed heads! I got a good laugh out of that. There’s still plenty of other grass and flowers out there…at least for now.

This one was hopefully too low for the shredder.

I did find lots of new flowers, though, and most were on the roadside. We finally have Indian blankets blooming, though I’d seen them lots of other places already. And bindweed is blooming its tiny mini-morning glories. I’m very happy to see the Engelmann daisies are kicking into high gear, ready to take over where the bluebonnets (going to seed now) leave off. Here’s some of what I saw:

I enjoyed my break, and I enjoyed working with Drew this afternoon. He’s back to paying attention. Kathleen’s horses had opinions of me not working with them, though. I think they flipped me off in horse language.

Well, grassy-ass, to you guys!

Bonus Birds

Hey! Some of those quiet gulls just flew over and I managed to get photos! Distant, but there they are. Zoom in!

Easter Walk

Much nature has been seen today, which makes for a perfect celebration of rebirth. Kathleen took me out to the woods and pasture to see some trapdoor spider nests (which I didn’t get a picture of). Penney joined us, and she had a lot of fun.

I’m exploring.

We found some really fun things, including lots of rocks. This one looked like a skull to us.

We love our rocks.

There were tiny mushrooms, dead crawfish (thanks to the crop duster), three types of sedge, a beautiful snakeskin in the tree that no longer is covered with grapevines, milkweed, water butter cups, wild garlic, and so many evening primroses.

The best sighting of the day came from my friend in Milano, Tarrin. Look at all these icky tent caterpillars! Wow!

Ready to make a tent, I guess?

I have a lot of horse stuff, which I’ll share later. Now I’ll enjoy my family.

Flowers from the Sand

I spent the day at a place called Sandhaven. It was sandy. I enjoyed lots of different plants and other life (I was actually at a horse show). It was cool to see what was blooming and growing.

A prairie lizard

I must say this beautiful lizard hiding in a tree was my favorite sight. But the caterpillar of my beloved common buckeye butterfly came in a close second!

Festive!

There were a number of other interesting insects, too, some shiny and some I’d never seen before, like the scoliid wasps that were everywhere. Here are some examples.

Gee. That’s a lot of insect viewing when I was waiting for dressage to start. I was pleased. Now, here are just a few flowers I found. Some were pretty spectacular. Hope you enjoy them!

I hope you enjoyed this tour of spring blossoms near McDade, Texas! I have enjoyed adding my observations to iNaturalist.

Wildflower Color Changers and Friendly Lions

I originally posted much of this content on my Master Naturalist chapter’s blog, but also wanted to share it with you all. I’m amazed at what I see around the Hermits’ Rest and want to share it with my friends around the world. If you have trouble seeing anything let me know.

It’s beautiful this time of year, and these potential rain clouds are an added bonus.

Sporty Sports

As I continue to monitor the new flowers that are blooming in northern Milam County, I’ve found a few interesting ones. Occasionally a plant will produce a flower that’s different from its usual form or color. These sports are how new cultivars can come about, especially if humans show up and start breeding them intentionally. Out here, though, they just show up and we enjoy them.

This is a Texas paintbrush Castilleja indivisa found on County Road 140 near Walker’s Creek.

Here’s my mandatory Wikipedia quote about sports in botany, in which I left the links in case you want to learn more:

In botany, a sport or bud sport, traditionally called lusus, is a part of a plant that shows morphological differences from the rest of the plant. Sports may differ by foliage shape or color, flowers, fruit, or branch structure. The cause is generally thought to be a chance genetic mutation.

Wikipedia

The beautiful flower you see above was a pleasant surprise on my morning walk down the road in front of our property, where I was looking for new things and admiring the bluebonnets. What the heck is that yellow plant, I wondered? It looks like popcorn. When I got close, I was taken aback by how beautiful this sport of the normally orange-red flower was. I guess if I was a nursery owner, I’d have collected some seeds in a few weeks. Instead, I looked up more information and found that pale orange and yellow variations do occasionally occur.

Here’s now 99% of the native annual Texas paintbrushes, which are a parasitic plant, by the way, look where I live:

That looks more familiar!

The more I have been looking closely at my roadside wildflower friends, the more variations I’ve seen. Have you seen any of these? I know that the pink ladies/evening primroses Oenothera speciosa vary widely in their pinkness. We always have a patch of the whiter ones here. I’ve also run across a light purple bluebonnet Lupinus texensis that I found quite charming (more so than the burgundy ones), as well as a white Texas vervain Verbena halei, which I had never seen before.

You might call me paranoid, but I wonder if the reason there are so many variations in the colors of the flowers on that stretch of road is because of the chemicals sprayed every year on the field across the road (which is the only field in miles in any direction that’s managed using fertilizers and herbicides sprayed by an inaccurate plane). I’ll never know, but I have my suspicions, especially since tomatoes and peppers always die after the spraying. I’m pleased that this year they have winter rye or some silage thing that they don’t spray.

This is the field to which I refer. Apparently the chemicals do not bother the verbena.

Speaking of herbicides that I don’t use…

Dandy Lions

Someone on Facebook recently was complaining about how chemical companies always use the common dandelion as their generic image of an ugly weed that must be eradicated. We all know that you can eat the young leaves, make wine from the flowers, and dye using the roots, of course. They have many health benefits, from what I read.

They are also vitally important to our pollinators in the early spring. Last month, they were among the few blooming plants out there for the bees, tiny wasps, and butterflies to feed on. Until the rest of the flowers showed up, later than usual, they kept the beneficial insect population going. I was very glad to see so many healthy common dandelions out in my pastures.

This gal was also happy to see a dandelion.

But, have you noticed how many members of the dandelion family are actually out there in our fields, pastures, and yards? I have been greatly enjoying some of them, including the tiny weedy dwarf dandelion Krigia cespitosa, the shy smooth cat’s ear Hypochaeris glabra that spends most of its time tightly closed up, and the extra prickly one, prickly sowthistle Sonchus asper.

One more interesting thing about dandelions. I just discovered today, when I was researching which flowers I’ve been seeing were in the dandelion family, that what I called dandelions my whole life, and the only ones I saw as a child, were in fact false dandelions Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus, which is a member of the aster family. Now I know.

They are beautiful, anyway.

Miscellaneous

And while I’m here, I may as well share what else is popping up around here. I saw my first winecup and fleabane this week, and my first Englemann daisy, sikly evolvulus, and tie vines today (forgot to take a picture of the latter). My heart leapt for joy when I discovered I DO still have baby blue eyes on my property (someone “cleared brush”). For added pleasure to those with allergies, the black willows are blooming, too.

All I can say is keep looking down. You’ll see plenty to keep you entertained for hours. We live in a beautiful place and have so much we can learn if we are observant!

There’s always something to see on a Texas country road in spring.

Other Than the Wind, It’s All Good

Yet another windy day. My friend Martha says it seems like it’s windier every year. I got tired of chasing chairs and objects around.

Those chairs spent much of the day in the dirt.

Lots happened but nothing earth shattering other than Apache finally jumping obey his obstacle, which had collapsed in the wind.

Okay, I won’t say “other than” again in this post. I’ll write more coherently tomorrow, when I’m not in a food coma from Family Dinner. Martha made a good homemade hamburger helper.

We ate it all up, and she made a lot!

Let’s hope for a reasonable, uneventful week. That’s all I want right now! I’m the meantime, enjoy some nature sightings.

Have You Ever Had to Apologize to a Chicken?

Well, I had to tell our beautiful Easter Egger hen, Betsy, that I was sorry I’d been putting her down for so long. I was telling everyone what a useless hen she was, because she hadn’t laid an egg yet, and I’d had her a long time. I mean, even little Billie Idyl was finally laying.

How dare you doubt me? And look, I have pale ears, which means pale eggs!

But today when I went to look for eggs, she was in the box, sitting like she was going to lay! And she kept making those noises hens make when they’re working on an egg. I was all excited that finally I’d get a beautiful green egg. Nearly all of these hybrid chickens lay eggs of some interesting color or another.

I also have a fluffy butt.

An hour or two later, I checked back in and found a gorgeous blue egg…which I knew was from Blanca, the Whiting True Blue hen. And there beside it, was this little darling.

It’s darker than ivory, but lighter than tan.

That is a light brown egg. In fact, I’d gotten a light brown egg every day for the past three days, thinking it was one of Billie Idyll’s that was just a little darker than usual. Betsy HAD finally started to produce, along with the rest of the newer chickens, who think it’s now spring.

The new ones are on the right.

I’m sorry, Betsy. Now all four of last year’s hens have laid eggs, and good ole Star is also laying. They are going to be all surprised when it gets cold this weekend. But I’m happy to be getting enough eggs again that I can share them with Lee’s brother, who loves eggs almost as much as I do.

In other news, we still have interesting bugs, not only a wheel bug (I love those), but also one of these guys, a painted hickory borer (or a mesquite borer, but it matches the hickory one better on iNaturalist).

And in just a bit of horse news, Sara and I are feeling good about our horses. She and Aragorn came over today, and he was so calm and centered! He has made a lot of progress in his ability to come here to visit. He even trotted calmly and collected. What a guy. And Apache did extremely well today in the round pen. Sara was impressed and just smiled so much at me. I felt good. He’s still not good outside the pen, but he was doing his stopping and backing so well. I just wanted to acknowledge that improvement.

No horse photos today, but here’s where I wish I could ride.

Our animals are such a source of joy, and we really need it right now. Everyone seems to be getting sick, no matter how hard they try to stay safe. Traveling friends are faring the worst, and it makes me so concerned. The flu is also going around here now. Great. But all my family and friends who are struggling are finding support from their communities. I’ve had some good reminders of that lately and am very grateful.

Goldie has a head as big as at least SOME horses.
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