Going Cuckoo over Gloomy Beauty

It’s time for another post with mostly photos. The rainy day brought a lot of sights, from a bird and insects I’d never seen before to animals dealing with water. That’s right, the title of this post isn’t an insensitive ableist phrase, I actually saw a cuckoo!

In the center is a yellow-billed cuckoo!

I knew we had them here, but I’d never seen a cuckoo before. It must have been recovering from the most recent downpour. I read that these birds are called storm birds, because they tend to sing after a storm. This one wasn’t singing.

Close up.

The other fun part of today was enjoying the wet animals. Poor Fiona thought she was trapped in one of the pens until Apache walked over and showed her it wasn’t a lake.

I’m outa here!

Here are some other images from around the pens.

Here are my insect finds. most are new to me, but not the fire ants. They messed up my foot night before last.

I’ll close with more moody weather photos. It was a pretty interesting day after all.

Saturday Morning Ranch Sightings

Here at the Hermits’ Rest, weekend mornings start early for some and slow for others. But there’s always something lovely to see or fun to do. This morning was typical. Lee has started taking a walk every morning and asked me to join him. He may not do it again, as I had him go with me to feed the chickens and move Apache into his pen for the day, but we did eventually get to walking and looking at what’s growing and changing along our arroyo, which is still springy after the recent rains. I’m rather fond of the native plants and even the bad ole invasives (the water primrose) that line the stream.

It’s pretty to me.

Heck, to me tie vine is as lovely as fancy morning glories, and the ruellia is as pretty as a garden petunia. Plus, they are free!

A plant I hadn’t noticed much before is blooming right now, and the blooms are so tiny and hidden among the leaves that you almost wouldn’t notice them. It’s called scarlet toothcup (Ammannia coccinea). It’s a riparian plant, which means it grows in moist areas along streams and such. I think the little flowers are lovely.

Lee and I enjoyed many sights. What a great start to the day!

Next it was time to do some work, since the rest of the household had already been up working with horses and other chores. I got to help cut mesquite down where Sara’s horses currently are, in preparation for the cows that live here to rotate there. That was a lot of fun, and I saw some beautiful iron weed growing in that field.

It was good to be able to help by loading branches and opening gates. Plus, I got to see the other horses and more native plants and insects. I’ll spare you the endless supply of grasshoppers.

Everyone was busy this morning. The tenants were haying and Kathleen was horsing with her herd. I enjoy watching her ride. They’re all progressing according to plan, from what I can tell.

The dogs are just having fun, as usual, swimming, running, and rolling. I love seeing a happy Alfred!

The Latest Case of Missing Eggs: Solved

I may have mentioned that the family reported no eggs the entire time I was in Austin last week. I found a few over the weekend, but not the usual amount.

Don’t blame me; I’m not laying yet.

In case the fact that Star had gone broody was making laying hard on the other hens, I set up two cardboard boxes with bedding in them, to make more compartments in the old roosting area. No one used them, far as I could tell.

High-quality nesting boxes

Then on Saturday, when I went to check for additional eggs under Star, I realized that the eggs I’d marked with a star were no longer there. Three different eggs were there. THAT is when I decided eggs were being laid, but consumed. Grr.

I can’t make the grass around the coop die and the big mower can’t reach it. I thought putting the food container in that space would be useful, but…ants came.

I knew it had to be a snake, because nothing else, other than a human, can get in. Then I was worried for Star, since she is setting so dedicatedly on her nest! I must have checked for a snake a dozen times this weekend, and other people were checking, too.

These blurry but happy chickens are eating all the food I had to throw out due to ants. They also eat ants.

So, today, when I FINALLY had a chance to move my butt off my office chair, I went to check the chickens. There were two eggs under Star. Good. Then, I went back, because I was thinking that perhaps if I set the new nesting boxes I put in sideways, the hens might like them better. I moved the one on the left, and heard the weirdest sound. I carefully peeked in the other box, and there, under the chicken bedding, was a very content rat snake. I KNEW it had to be lying around somewhere nearby, and it was just hiding! I’d probably missed it earlier.

The culprit

I asked the nephew to please eliminate the snake, which he did quite efficiently. As always, I hate doing this, but I know it would come right back if I just moved it off to the woods (previous experience). Besides, I am pretty confident we have a LOT of rat snakes here, so I’m not leading to their extinction. Ranch life is hard. To cheer you up, though, here’s one of our herons in the tank behind the house.

If you put goldfish in the troughs, expect a visit from me, the fish killer.

And…it’s raining again. I’d hoped to go visit Aragorn the beautiful dream horse at Sara’s later today, so I hope there’s a break!

Pitching in to Get Apache His New House

After taking a few days off for other stuff, we’re back in the final stretches of finishing the new horse pens over at our covered shipping container at the Hermits’ Rest. While I haven’t done the heavy digging or lifting, I’ve contributed more than the dogs have.

Why work, when you can relax beside the new giant porch fan?

Humans have been quite busy, though. Yesterday the trench was dug (by hand!) and the water lines put in for the two horse troughs and a sink/horse washing station. Doesn’t that sound fancy? No, I will not wash the horse in a sink; those are two separate things.

Once the water lines were in, it was time to move some dirt. The idea is that the ground should slope away from the shipping container, so that no pools of water will form if it rains hard from the south, or an enthusiastic drinker splashes a lot. So, more dirt was needed. Where did it come from?

The dogs won’t have their hill to climb much longer.

There’s a reason for making that small pond up by our garage. We needed to move some dirt and add it to low spots, and this stuff does the job. It’s certainly pretty soil, but rather clay-filled. Maybe that way it will shed water.

Goldie helped, when not trying to make friends with cattle.

At one point there were three supervisors and one heavy equipment operator, though in my defense, I had done some piddly little helpful things. Nonetheless, it was fun to watch the attempts at smoothing out those clay clods. And it was cool to see nothing under that shelter for the first time in many years!

Smoothing.

While this was going on, and while I wasn’t off horsing around, I did things that I could do. For one, I picked up a bunch of horse and donkey poop out of the pen where the equines currently spent much of their day, and brought it over to mix with some chicken poop compost to make some fine fertilizer for plants Kathleen is going to plant.

The other stuff I did was small, but saved some time for our tractor operator. I picked up a lot of the little pieces left over from the fencing rails. Some of it can be recycled into pieces of gates and such, and I have a feeling even the little things will be useful someday, somewhere. This was the second time I picked up scrap, and I brilliantly noted it was easier to put them in a wheelbarrow than to carry pieces in my hands. Guess what? That stuff gets hot in the sun.

And I picked up the larger pieces of rock and concrete that were hanging around the area, causing us to trip, or potentially bruising a horse hoof. They will be used in the planters, as well.

I was impressed my arms still worked after picking up all the hay on Sunday, but I was only a little sore. I even made my back feel better by riding Apache a bit, which was stalled by an unfortunate encounter with a moving utility vehicle. Apache thought it was Evil Personified. Sigh, all my fault, too. I’d forgotten there was someone down the race moving cattle. At least I enjoyed finding nature stuff to enjoy over by the new pens.

BUT. Through everything, through the rain, the heavy lifting, the horse challenges, and even some work shit that’s about to go down, I’m doing remarkably well. I did just knock on a wood product after typing that, though it was a piece of petrified wood.

Have a fun day. I plan to.

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!

He’s Got a Ticket to Ride

He, being Apache. Tonight it was finally not too hot or too busy, so Sara and I checked on how Apache’s feet were doing since his abscess.

He’s shiny but chubby again

Sara says he’s as fat as he ever was. Sigh. I really need to get him in his pen half the day, but I blew it by going to the auction today. Tomorrow will be another day.

He does clean up well

Anyway, I took him out in the round pen, where he walked and trotted just fine. He did buck on the way to start circling, which was not so great. But otherwise, he was a gentleman.

Sara put the bareback saddle and bridle on him and rode him around. He was pretty darned good and did nice turns and back ups. Sara diagnosed him as fine for walking, so I’ll try riding 15 minutes or so tomorrow morning.

Look at my summer coat!

The other good thing is that Fiona has finally gotten rid of her winter coat. She’s one fine looking long-eared gal.

Snakes

To make a long day even longer, as I walked home from the horses, the hay bailer was hard at work. It scared up two rat snakes who didn’t even notice me as they slid across the driveway.

Then, after dark, when I finally came in, this fat and sassy fellow greeted me in the porch.

It’s a snake.

Not to worry, it’s a diamondback water snake. Check the head and lack of rattles.

Best I can do in the dark, but you can see the pattern.

Okay. Enough scary stuff for one day. Oh no, there was a dead scorpion next to where I keep my boots. Hint: always check inside boots for spiders, scorpions, or even toads (happened to Sara once).

Dead.

Ranch life is not for wimps.

More Adventures and We Didn’t Melt!

It’s still darn hot outside, but that didn’t stop all us hermits from heading back to the country near Milano to get more stuff from that sale.

The booty

We went to get the metal beams we saw yesterday. They will grow up to be supports for the extended cover for the horse stalls. We spent all the money we each brought but got so much metal and other cool stuff. Of course, Kathleen found cool things to repurpose.

I kept enjoying nature, like this snake skin.

Of course, I mainly looked at nature, trying to find dragonflies. I ended up finding a lot of cool insects that were new to me. Fascinating!

Wow! This is a grasshopper! An Aztec Spur-throated one.

I feel like this next thing is stingy.

Dasymutilla klugii looks scary.

I saw two of these nasty-looking things. One was eating a fly. Really looks like it could sting badly.

Very ugly thing. False bee-killer. Promachus bastardii

Some things I saw were old friends like this guy.

Harvestsman on beautyberry

It’s blurry, but a wolf spider.

Some insects were cuter than others.

Katydid

Anyway, it was fun. We stayed a long time, sweated a lot, and did a lot of negotiations. We even saw friends way out here! and a former friend of some sort. Kathleen found someone’s head.

A skull with holes.

I’m glad we are easily amused by rusty metal and the flora and fauna of a post oak savanna.

Good old country beauty.

The good news is that even though we spent money, this stuff would have cost many times the amount new.

Treasure. Yep.

And we have all sorts of building blocks for future projects. We are all excited. Even though we were hot.

We filled a trailer with stuff, put sir in the tires, and made it home!

The highly loaded trailer

Your Junk Buying Expedition is My Dragonfly Observation Expedition

I noticed an ad in the Facebook Marketplace yesterday saying there was a large building full of stuff that was for sale near Milano (20-something miles from here). It sounded like it might be a thing the builder in the family might enjoy, I thought.

A beautiful place.

So, in a work break, we headed out somewhere in the area near Milano, Texas (mil-Ann-o). We hit a couple of bad train tracks, which was fun, then found the place. What a beautiful property.

And there were dragonflies!

While one of us patiently went through a treasure trove of old tools and equipment, I wandered around and took pictures of the plants I found.

There were lots of these Cuban jute plants

This is legit post oak savanna territory and the plants were right on! Gosh, the trees were beautiful.

Post oak.

Meanwhile, the building full of tools was fantastic. It had so much cool stuff, including some antique tools and a lot of wire we can use to make fencing. We both had a great time!

Some cool chains from today.

So. We each got what we wanted out of that expedition! A bunch of tools and equipment and plenty of iNaturalist observations!

The guy at the sale liked me, so he gave me this old lamp.

After all that fun, it wasn’t over! Later in the day, more fence poles went in. You can really see the pens taking shape.

Fence poles at sunset.

I also had a blast this evening helping with Sara’s family, who wanted to give their toddler his first horse riding experience.

I feel pretty.

We did a group grooming on dear Lakota so he’d look good. The poor horse was like, “No one pays me any attention for a month, then, boom, three people are grooming me!”

Sara had fun.

The little fellow really enjoyed his ride, but I think I enjoyed watching his parents and Sara’s sister the most. It must be so great to have grandkids! So many firsts.

This evening I went out to check the new pullets, because I wondered if they’d roost in their cage. Sure enough, I found five pullets in the cage, but Babette was even higher, on top!

We are all up here.

The other chickens were ALL on one branch. I love how chickens sleep together.

Sleepy time.

All in all, it was a fun day. Things are fine. I’m just not letting things outside my control bother me. Maybe my philosophy is actually sinking in.

Have a good weekend!

We Have Fence Poles

This is happy stuff! There are now poles in our stall area! Thank you, Mother Nature for a dry day!

The area near the shipping container. The square pole is part of our roof support.

There are a lot of holes to dig and concrete to pour, but it’s coming along! The big auger makes short work of the digging, but the concrete has to be poured by hand.

Posts are leaning because they are just sitting in big ole holes.

When I’m not working and working and working, I can help with the fencing, too. Some of the fence poles just have dirt in them, so I got to fill the holes back up with a weird hoe. Quite the manual laborer I am.

In front is a sturdy concrete post, behind is one I helped with.

However, I truly wish I’d been outside to see the big gate support go up. It must have been quite a sight! And quite a feat. No wonder I’m impressed with the new horse fencing!

That’s one fine gate support. I feel like we have a real ranch.

I’m looking forward to gates, some of which will be hand made, too. Wow. Apache and the cattle will have fancy digs.

I’m a fancy dog. In a tractor.

In Bug News

And as a postscript I have two cool insect photos to share. First, I saw a spider wasp dragging a hapless wolf spider off for dinner.

The circle of life

Also, my friend Pamela saw baby preying mantises on her property and got a shot of one whose shadow looked exactly like a giraffe. Cute!

See the giraffe?

Sad Sombreros and Beautiful Beetles

I spent a nice time today just looking at the plants and insects around the Hermits’ Rest. As I was walking down the path I enjoyed the Mexican Hat flowers (Ratibida columnifera or upright prairie coneflower).

They come in lots of colors.

I’ve always loved these plants, because they look cheerful, have cool leaves, smell interesting, and attract lots of insects.

They are just plain cute.

I’m glad they are all along the drive between the two main houses, because I get to be distracted by the butterflies, bees, and bugs.

Hungry beetle.

What’s weird is that I’ve been noticing weird flowers in the Mexican Hats. Really weird flowers.

They range from double flowers to extra flowers growing out of the cones to multiple cones. It’s quite odd.

This looks like Mickey Mouse’s hand.

Of course these aren’t “normal.” I see no flowers like that along the roadside. These flowers are next to the field where the oats were grown that became this year’s silage for the cows on the land we’ve leased out. They applied herbicide to get rid of non-oats, and it landed on the edges of the oats.

Engelmann daisies and Mexican Hats in front of the oat area.

I feel bad for the flowers, but we gave permission for the spraying. That’s modern farming. As a Naturalist I may have a different viewpoint, but these folks need to make a living and feed their cattle efficiently. And they ARE cute when they are young.

Feed us.

There’s plenty of wild space here at the ranch, so I’m happy. Look at this gorgeous milkweed beetle!

I’m cool. More than just monarchs eat milkweed.

It’s grasshopper season, too. There are just “a few” in the pasture where Sara’s horses are.

A popular hangout.

And I just have to say some of the bugs make me smile. This flower scarab beetle with its pollen butt is just cute.

Stop looking at my butt.
Another scarab and thistle.

I’m very grateful to have so many things to discover and observe here. I really enjoy sharing it with all of you. It’s a great journey.

Good evening!