Thursday in Pictures

Almost done! Black finishing border next.
Young pond slider checking to see if I’ve left yet.
Explorers
Sparrows inspecting my dressage markers.
I bothered a huge fire ant colony by moving an upside down feed tub.
What a beauty.
Pollination process
Flies are also pollinators.
Sunset
Start of the final edge
He makes everything good.

This week has exhausted me. I will be more wordy tomorrow, maybe.

Rolling with Changes

Oh you never know what’s going to happen around here. So today’s agenda changed, but it’s all good!

Since I needed to skip Drew’s lesson today, I just worked with him a few minutes, which made it clear I needed to rearrange my obstacle area, or horse playground. So I moved a lot of barrels, cones, posts, and other objects around to make more riding options.

Tomorrow Tarrin will help me figure this stuff out better and set up a slightly off-sized dressage arena wannabe space to practice for this year’s shows. I just hope I can found one of our many giant tape measures that usually are in plain sight but are now hiding. I may have to run to the hardware store to get one!

Oh I forgot I had this fine sunrise image from this morning

And, as always, I used nature to take my mind off unexpected events. Look at this beauty!

Mmm. Nectar.

And I scared everyone on Facebook by posting what I thought was just a fun photo of a boho bird nest. I didn’t provide enough details so folks thought we were gonna burn the house down.

The lights are disconnected. Sparrows and hermits are safe.

I’m any case, I’m interested to see what tomorrow brings. I’ll be outside at sunset again but not going an hour away in yet another direction. Today we went west, rolling down the highway!

Come on changes! I can take it! I’m flexible!

Excellent Birds! Unusual Plants! Nature Fun!

Today we stayed at Lake Somerville State Park, which was a lovely place to work. I enjoyed my lake view from the mobile office and had no problems with internet or anything like that. I got lots of work done AND saw so many wonderful things on my breaks and after work. I could get used to this.

It’s so great to see NO ONE when camping

I went out early in the morning and was thrilled to see two different bald eagles in trees. It turns out the local high school mascot is the eagles, since there are lots at this lake. It’s always great to see them. And as I went on the walk, I was greeted by additional raptors. I first saw a peregrine falcon, who came out even blurrier than the eagles did, then another merlin showed up. I got to see it really well with the binoculars, even though my photos aren’t great.

But whoa, I did NOT expect the next thing I saw. I was looking at a pretty group of ring-neck gulls through my binoculars when I realized one of those gulls was awfully big. It was a beautiful white pelican! I watched it swimming around and diving for fish for a long time. Then, as I was sitting outside doing a call, I saw a bunch of big, white birds. The pelican had friends. They were a LONG way away, so forgive the blurriness of the photos.

By the way, the sandy outcropping where the gulls and pelicans were also had other cool birds. I saw greater yellowlegs, killdeer, grebes, and two beautiful white birds with black and white wings. They had a black bill and long legs. I swear they are American avocets, though they aren’t supposed to be here right now. I did check, and they have been seen here, so I’m not imagining things.

This is what the birds look like. Borrowed from mombliss on iNaturalist.

As I mentioned yesterday, there are lots of woodpeckers around here. I saw two more types today, a flicker and a big ole pileated woodpecker, which I managed to photograph as it flew off. It’s SO loud. Since I saw the yellow-bellied sapsucker yesterday, it means I saw the smallest and largest woodpeckers in the US!

I also saw lots and lots of chickadees and cardinals. Of the sparrows I saw, I could ID a chipping sparrow and a white-crowned sparrow. There were also phoebes, a yellow warbler, and some very entertaining vultures, both turkey vultures and black vultures. I enjoyed watching them flying, roosting, and preening.

I also saw some butterflies and moths, which surprised me. There were sulphur butterflies, buckeyes, a black or pipevine swallowtail (hard to tell), and lots of little moths. Most of my photos were just blurs. The best insect I saw, though, was a leafcutter ant carrying a leaf it had cut. I’d never seen one of those!

The only mammal I saw was a big, fat squirrel. But I saw evidence of deer and coyotes (plus coyotes woke me up at 5am).

I enjoyed looking at lots of beautiful trees as I hiked and saw excellent mosses as well. Many trees are dead, but lots of them were from when they made the lake and it was higher. I think it will be higher once it rains some more again. The dead trees sure look like they host many types of life. I passed one tree that was literally abuzz with bees and others with holes in them for animals to live in.

And the silence was glorious, at least until a whiny child hiked by. Literally ONE child is in the area, and it’s loud enough to be heard all over. Wow!

I saw one spider, this gray jumping spider

Lee and I are heading home tomorrow in between meetings, but this stay has been so enjoyable and restorative. I’m glad for the chance to travel more.

Hopefully I can see more stuff like beard lichen.
Or whatever this lichen is. So pretty.

Nature: Good Role Model for Resilience

It was awfully cold, then it rained a lot and warmed up. All of nature seemed to think it was time to wake up my get moving until the next cold front comes along.

I hatched and found a flower. I’ll be fine.

I took a lunch break walk today to see how all the water features are doing. A heavy shower last night got the front pond flowing a bit, so I walked around and looked at the stream. It was pretty in the winter sun.

There were dozens of minnows darting around. I didn’t see any of the larger fish, which might have washed downstream in the flood last week or were in the deep parts. I always feel good when I see fish, because that’s a sign of healthy waterways.

I enjoyed looking at the coral berries and other colorful plants that remain, and was extra happy to see the spring flowing away. Hooray.

I wasn’t alone on my walk, though. My buddy Vlassic was as interested as I was! We had a great visit and walk, until he raced back home down the path I use for leg yielding with Apache.

And when I was about to come inside, I stopped to admire the dandelion blossoms. That’s when the gorgeous butterfly appeared. A friend joined him or her, and I basked in my winter surprise. They were soon joined by honey bees, who’ve been out the last few days, especially in the chicken coop. They like the feed.

In addition to all these guys, I saw lots of turtles and little frogs. Plus, I was happy to see tgat the greater yellowlegs are a pair. They look so interesting when they fly, swooping and calling as they go from one pond to another. Since I didn’t get photos of these resilient winter residents, I’ll share the sunset we enjoyed on our way home from Drew’s lesson.

I liked the reflection on the Tahoe

I’m glad to be back at work, glad to have my routine back, and very glad for so many signs of resilience around me.

Roller Coaster of Love

I didn’t take pictures of the wonders of today, so check out my very silver nails. They nearly blind me.

I was wondering if the highlight of my day was going to be learning about a new kind of moth, the plume moth. These look like flies, but nope, they are weird looking tiny moths with small, plumed wings. I’m not sure what kind the one that flew into my napkin was, but it was cool.

I like it when new-to-me species just show up and present themselves.

It turns out, though, that I’m on a LOVE HIGH this evening, after feeling like my emotional roller coaster of horse love plummeted. After struggling with teen Droodles yesterday, I wasn’t looking forward to today’s lesson. Plus it was raining.

But, we showed up anyway, and I got lots of good information on how to deal with anxious and boundary-testing youngsters. Tarrin told me I had to be tougher and not let him do stuff just to try to get through stuff. That’s what I did at Sara’s, not wanting to delay her filming. I should have stopped and worked with Drew until he was calm. Next time!

Then we worked with him, and that’s when the roller coaster started heading back up. I got some stuff figured out during ground work, as Tarrin kept reiterating that if he messes up, nothing’s wrong with performing a reset and starting again.

She got on and repeatedly stopped and started as he fussed around. In the end he looked great, and she said he was much better than last week. My work with him had helped!

I wasn’t looking forward to getting on him and struggling to make progress. But I got on! And lo and behold, we calmly walked three barrels in small circles. Then we did bigger circles. Wow!

I kept stopping every time his head went up or he started to go off track. By the end, we were smoothly trotting the circles. Tarrin asked how the last one felt, and I said, “It felt like riding a horse!” I was thrilled.

After improving our hill climbing circles with me on him and doing better on side passing and leg yielding, we very calmly walked back to the trailer, even though one of Tarrin’s horses was in our butt. It felt like riding Apache in a place he feels safe. It was fantastic. What a roller coaster. Patience paid off.

We also made him much happier on the ride home with a longer trailer tie and hay to eat. He pooped less. I’m so grateful that Tarrin helps me problem solve. I want to give Drew and Apache good lives and that helps.

My reward

Ready for more ups and downs!

Bizarro World

When I was young, I read comic books as much as I could. I loved the Superman family (especially Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes). Sometimes the writers seemed to run out of ideas and published some really dumb concepts. Bizarro Superman, from Bizarro World was one of those concepts, but always good for a laugh.

This is from 1960. From hipcomic.com

Things in Bizarro World were recognizable but just not quite right. It confused both the Bizarros and the “real” world. (I feel as if BW might not go over as well today, though apparently the tradition still lives.)

Bizarre? No, good. Grass is growing on our new little hill and a flock of killdeer has taken over the bank.

In conversation with…well…with everyone I’ve communicated with about our lives, I’ve heard tale after tale of how life has just gotten strange recently. More than one person has said, “I feel like I live in a different world,” or words to that effect.

Ack! Giant spider eats wasp! Bizarre!

I’m right there with them. Things have happened in the past few years that have made my world unfamiliar. Recent elections. What the heck? People mass shooting each other so often it’s become commonplace. I don’t get it. People shooting up infrastructure that supports innocent families and businesses because…why?

Breathe, Suna

That’s just the big picture. People are getting weird sicknesses. Families are falling apart no matter how hard they try. My generation is trying to figure out how to support elders who spent all their money but expect…stuff. I’m pessimistic about the future.

Bizarro World.

Regular World with noms

Honestly, I’m so glad I have dogs and horses and they are still acting like dogs and horses. I need something consistent and not weirdly out of left field.

Ommm

I just feel like the world is so odd and unpredictable that I don’t want to make much effort. So I got my 2022 snow globe that says “love is love.” And some tree candles. No real tree, just a few decorations. Many say “peace,” which seems bizarrely impossible these days.

Spot my overly subtle Yule decor.

How about you? Are you in a ball of pessimism like me? What’s bizarre in your life? What helps you keep it together? Sunsets? Full moons. Here are some, anyway.

Butterfly Update

Louise, who lives up north, wanted to know more about all these butterflies we see in the autumn here in the southern part of the US. So, I went and looked up whether the butterflies we see here migrate or stay here, and what times of year they are seen most. I got all this off Wikipedia. And I went on and on. I guess I better also put this in the Master Naturalist blog!

Gulf Fritillary

Dione vanilla have been seen to migrate twice a year (in Florida). But they only go from south Florida to north Florida. Here is the chart of their distribution here in Texas (from iNaturalist). You can see they are here year-round but peak around the beginning of autumn, when all those yellow flowers are out.

Gulf fritillary appearances

There have been lots of observations around where I live, so they are pretty common, but beautiful.

Common Buckeye

This one, Junonia coenia, I see a lot but only at some times of the year. It’s also seen year round here but has a spring peak as well as a fall peak. I’m getting the idea that autumn is a big butterfly time here!

Common buckeye appearances

These do migrate, but seem to be here all year, because it isn’t too cold, I guess. Here’s what research says:

Common buckeyes move to the south along with tailwinds directed to the north or northwest after the cold fronts from September or October. They are sensitive to the cold and cannot spend the winter in northern regions that will experience extreme cold temperatures. However, they will migrate back from the south during the spring. It was spotted in California in late summer, early fall of 2022.

The butterfly gardener’s guide. Dole, Claire Hagen. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden. 2003. ISBN 978-1889538587OCLC 52223505.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Battus philenor is not as common this time of year. It’s also more of a forest butterfly than a prairie one, which explains why I saw it at Tarrin’s – lots of wooded areas near her ranch. This one is also more of a warm-season butterfly. I probably saw one of the last adults for this year. I see lots of observations of caterpillars right now on iNaturalist.

They must not migrate, since I didn’t find any information on that. I do want to note that they need the pipevine plant to lay eggs on, and I found a member of that family at my neighbor Sara’s place earlier in the year. Yay!

Observations near me. The top one is our place.

Queen

Danaus gilippus is most definitely a fall flyer. It’s only found in the southern US and is more common in South America. This one, like the monarch, uses milkweed plants as its host. It sure is pretty.

Queen butterfly sightings

Painted Lady

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is another one with two peaks. One thing I’m noticing, though, is that even the ones with a spring peak have a larger one in the autumn. So, that explains something that Louise was asking about: many butterflies seem to be autumnal!

Painted Lady sightings

Painted ladies are the most widespread of all butterflies and are found worldwide. I hadn’t known that! They are resident in places like where I live, but also migrate to northern areas in the summer.

Common Checkered-Skipper

Common Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis) is one I can’t get verified, but the ones I see sure look like the ones in the picture. It doesn’t seem to have been studied as much as many of the others, though it’s really pretty with its blue body and lacy pattern on the wings. And yep, it’s another one that is seen mostly in the autumn.

Checkered skimmer sightings

Variegated Fritillary

Euptoieta Claudia is common in this area. They seem to be prevalent all year except in the dead of winter. I think they’re pretty, too.

Variegated fritillary

They use passion vines as their host, which may explain why we see so many here. I have LOTS of passion vines! They also like disturbed areas and open fields, which we have plenty of around here. They produce multiple broods per year, which may explain the prevalence during all the warm months.

This is such a pretty photo

Dainty Sulphur

Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole) is a tiny yellow butterfly, the smallest of the bunch, it turns out. We have lots of sulphurs around here, and they are very busy little fellows, so it’s hard to get photos. This one seems to go away in the hotter months. I do recall seeing them all winter, since we always have something blooming, like chickweed, which is one of its favorites.

Dainty sulphur observations

This one is also white and other colors, so now I know that all those teeny ones I see are the same butterfly. I learned something!

Thank you for holding still

Fiery Skipper

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) is another small one. They are incredibly numerous around here and are very busy little things. I enjoy watching them skipping around. Well, when I read the article on them, it became clear why I see so many! They love Bermuda grass. Guess what all the pastures around here were planted in? Bermuda grass. The beloved coastal Bermuda has pretty much made life difficult for the native grasses around here, but I guess that makes the fiery skippers happy. It makes them a pest in Hawaii, though. I say, eat away, skippers!

Fiery Skipper Sightings

I also learned why the butterflies I see that are identified as fiery skippers look so different. They are sexually dimorphic, with the males much brighter than the females. I’m suddenly becoming a butterfly expert as I write this.

Gray Hairstreak

I am trying to figure out what butterflies I see earlier in the year. Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) is one I know I see in spring. Even this one peaks in the fall, though. It’s tiny, but holds still enough that I can get photos. Thanks!

Gray hairstreak
It held still

American Snout

These guys, American Snout (Libytheana carinenta), just migrated through here, so I know they are migratory. But they are most often seen in autumn, like all the others so far. Migrations happen after droughts that are followed by heavy rains, which explains the one last week. The Wikipedia article says sometimes there are so many that they darken the sky. Wow. Funny looking, too.

American snouts

Pearl Crescent

Another beauty, Phyciodes tharos is more of a spring and summer butterfly that’s found all over North America. It’s very common in this area.

Pearl crescent

Hackberry Emperor

Asterocampa celtis is one of the summer butterflies around here, probably because of its ties to the hackberry tree (which we have plenty of). I guess it shows up when the trees start blooming.

Hackberry emperor

This is a weird butterfly. It’s rarely seen visiting flowers (I see it on trees, duh). And it doesn’t pollinate the trees:

Species in the genus Asterocampa are regarded as being “cheater” organisms, since these butterflies do not pollinate flowers when they feed from them. This species can more accurately be described as parasitizing their hosts and plant food sources since they extract nutrients without providing any benefits to the host.

Neck, Raymond W. (1983). “SIGNIFICANCE OF VISITS BY HACKBERRY BUTTERFLIES (NYMPHALIDAE: ASTEROCAMPA) TO FLOWERS” (PDF). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society37 (4): 269–274.

How about that?

It’s on a tree

Eastern Giant Swallowtail

I’ll stop with Papilio cresphontes, since I finally found one that isn’t most common in the autumn. This one is more of a summer butterfly. It’s always great to see one of these gracefully flitting around.

Giant swallowtail

This is the largest butterfly in North America, so I’ve shared with you both the largest and the smallest today! The caterpillars are pests to citrus growers, but they are just beautiful sights as far as I’m concerned.

Butterflies and Bees

Such a long day! I’ll just share some observations I made today and talk about other stuff tomorrow.

Pipevine swallowtail

I decided to see how many butterflies and bees I could see today between the two stops I made. One was Nature Days that our Master Naturalist group is doing every Saturday this month, while the other was a visit to my lonely horse, Drew, who’s been living the spa life while Tarrin’s on vacation. More on that later.

No, Mom, focus on me!

I really saw some beauties today. The most common one was the Common Buckeye.

I say they are uncommonly beautiful.

The fall butterflies make me so happy. The buckeyes, Junonia coenia, prefer yellow flowers that no other butterflies have visited. They eat plants as caterpillars that make them taste bad, too, like monarchs do.

The most beautiful sight for sure was the pipevine swallowtail, which is the top photo. We get lots of these near here but not too many at our ranch. They are not shy, so you can often get good photos. I also saw these in both places I visited.

I saw both the Gulf fritillary and the variegated fritillary (who I confuse with a couple others). These are around for many months here. The Gulf ones are the brightest orange! Oops. I got confused and put the painted lady in here. See?

Let’s see, what else was there? Painted ladies, queens. dainty sulphurs (tiny yellow ones!), fiery skippers, and the checkered skipper. Also there’s one that is some moth.

So, what about bees? I saw three kinds. First, here’s the carpenter bee.

Then we had the beautiful bumblebee! They are such fun to watch. Honestly. These two confuse me, too.

I know what a honey bee looks like! I got some fun shots of them flying, too.

One more moth! These appear to be salt marsh moths, and they were in both places I observed today.

My eyes are blurry. More tomorrow.

Life, Death, and Snouts

It being Samhain or Halloween, I figured I should write about life and death and moving on. (That’s where snouts come in.) As for life, I was happy to see a turtle head pop up in the new pond. It’s good to see it getting to support life again.

Turtle is to the left of the black leaf.

There is much new life behind us, as more calves show up. This is one of the fuzzy twins. They look like stuffed animals!

Bawww!

There’s death, too, as I discovered when I checked the mail. I found just the tail of a rabbit. Hmmm. I could choose to believe it got away with just a tail-ectomy.

Not a usual find!

This is also the time of year in my culture and many others, where you think of the dead and welcome memories. While I’m thinking of way too many friends who’ve recently lost spouses or parents, I’m also comforted by my own memories. My stepsister sent me these fun pictures of my dad, so I’ll put them here as an electronic ofrenda.

Much of the day today I thought about transition. The butterflies started it. The snout butterflies are still migrating, and I enjoyed watching them today as they visited flowers and grasses and did mating dances. They’ll lay eggs and make more little snouts as they head north. (I’m also throwing in a Gulf fritillary and sleepy orange — what a great name.)

Like the butterflies, we all move on and do as much as we can while we live. That’s my goal. Keep moving and enjoy my life.

Flitting!

Enjoy your holiday, whatever you celebrate.

Master Naturalist Meeting Notes 2: Saturday, October 22

Although I’m quite excited about migrating snout butterflies (hundreds) and sandhill cranes (dozens), I’ll share more that I learned last Saturday for now.

Insect Photography, by Mary Ann Melton

Insects are what I take photos of most, after plants. I enjoyed getting ideas from Mary Ann, who happened to be the speaker at our last Chapter Meeting. I was very happy that she gave tips for phone photos as well as camera ones.

Handy hints

I took photos of some of the ideas she shared, especially for digital cameras, in case I can ever get one. There was also a cool attachment that lets you take better close ups on the phone. Attaching that to the 3x camera on my phone should be fun to try.

I also just enjoyed her beautiful photos with nice blurry backgrounds so the subjects look better. This was fun.

Here Be Dragons! Odonata 101, by Brent Franklin

This was probably Brent’s first presentation, since he apologized a lot for its length and content. But it was just fine, and I learned a lot about dragonflies and damselflies, even though I thought I knew a lot. This guy has really seen a LOT of the Texas Odonata and has lots of insights on finding them and observing them.

He had some fantastic photos of various dragonflies, too. I learned more about their mating behavior (the male clamps on to the female behind her head and flies her around until they find a good egg-laying place) and life when young. I don’t think I’d realized how long they can live in the water before emerging into the air. It can be years!

There’s just so much going on with these guys. Did you know dragonfly eyes take up almost their whole head, while damselfly eyes are on stalks on the sides of their heads? Yep.

Sticking their back ends straight up is called obelisking. That’s a new word for me.

iNaturalist 301: Advanced Applications and Exploring Data in iNaturalist, by Tania Homayoun

I always feel like it’s not a good conference if I don’t go to a session by Tania. I think I’ve gone on a field trip with her or heard her speak at every conference I attended. I’m such a rogue iNat user that I don’t think she’s too impressed by me, but I’m impressed by her! This session didn’t disappoint, as I learned some new features in iNaturalist and that some features have gone away. I’m glad I was able to draw an area for our ranch before that was removed as an option because people were misusing it or something.

My latest iNat entry taken in glary sunlight. I think it’s a camelback cricket.

Since I’d spent all week uploading things for that Pollinator BioBlitz, it was good to just talk about it and to learn more about the computer application, which really lets you do useful things. I plan to download my ranch observation data soon and do some analysis in Excel.

I was sad to find out that Tania is leaving her position with Texas Nature Trackers, but very happy to discover it’s because she is going to be the State Ornithologist! WOW!

Wrens: Little Birds with Lots of Energy, by Scott Kiester

It turns out that the speaker for this session, the last one I attended, is the guy who drove us to the field trip on Thursday. He had lots and lots and lots of information on wrens, including fun recordings of the songs and “scolding calls” of each type.

This was all news to me. Cool.

Wren fact that blew my mind: there is only ONE kind of wren in the Old World, and they are pretty sure it crossed the Bering Strait and populated that part of the world from North America. There are many kinds of wrens here, though. We went through most of them in two hours, it seemed.

We also learned folk tales. The wren won kingship by hitchhiking on an eagle and jumping off it to become the highest flyer. Tricky bird.

I have a much better clue about wren identification now, and can easily tell you which one is a Bewick’s. By the way, their numbers are diminishing as some other wren takes over, and it’s pronounced like the Buick car. Huh.

The rest of the sessions on Saturday were about who won awards and honoring people with lots of volunteer hours. I sure wish Donna Lewis had been able to come so she could have received her 10,000 hour pin. That is a huge milestone. To compare, I have about 800 hours.

I’m sticking my crane photos and video from yesterday in here, in case you’re interested. Seeing them flying over is always a highlight of the autumn for me. I love the sounds they make.

Sandhill cranes on the move
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