My time with the Master Naturalists ended on a high note with a post-conference outing to Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. The idea was to observe how a declining species, the loggerhead shrike, has adapted to using the park as a habitat, and is thriving.
Before the outing, I’d attended a session led by Jim Giocomo on “The Geography of Grassland Birds: How International Bird Conservation Efforts are Linked.” He talked about how agencies and Master Naturalists can help provide these birds with more appropriate habitat, track their locations, etc.
In that talk, he mentioned his own work with the loggerhead shrikes (the only songbird that is a predator), which conveniently nest right near his house and showed us some great footage of baby shrikes. In one film, the parent birds keep trying to stuff a dragonfly in the mouths of the babies, but it keeps getting stuck. It was hilarious.
Jim’s luck in finding birds to observe over entire breeding seasons has given him lots of insights, so it was really fun to go with him and fellow biologist Tania Homayoun out in the field to see what he sees.
We returned to the ranch over the weekend, with zero seconds of downtime, but we jumped right into the swing of things and enjoyed visitors, both human and otherwise.
The most glorious visitors were just passing through. Many flocks of sandhill cranes flew over. We also saw a few snow geese. I just love the sounds of the cranes!
While I was taking crane pictures, two blue herons squawked, so I got nice close photos of them. Of course, they are blurry iPhone pictures, but some day I’ll get a new battery and learn to use the good camera again!
There have also been a lot of visiting starlings, which we don’t usually have. One thing I’ve noticed about them is that they make lots and lots of noise when they are all lined up on the electric wires, but when they take off as a flock to rearrange themselves, they are totally silent. It’s really eerie when you are standing around in the field listening, and suddenly all you hear are the coyotes.
Most of the dragonflies are gone, but we did see a lovely bluet by the small meadow pond. These sure are pretty. They curve their bodies where you see the stripes.
Because it’s rained so much (have I mentioned that? Lots of flooding while we were gone), animals seem to be wandering around. Yesterday, Carlton the dog found an extra large pond turtle in the middle of the pasture. He was most dismayed that it would not come out and play, so he stood there for 15 minutes and barked at it, poking it with his nose a lot. Treats had to be used to save that poor turtle from the torture.
And later yesterday, I once again spotted a large snake on the front porch, in the icky dirty part, of course. I was pretty convinced it was a water mocassin, but the folks at iNaturalist talked me down, and asssured me it was a water snake trying to look like a poisonous one. I am pretty sure this is the same snake I’ve seen over by the pond. It hisses. We kept the dogs away, and it slowly meandered off.
Our house guest was not thrilled that we didn’t kill it. I repeated a number of times, “I don’t kill snakes.” I do understand many people aren’t good with them. My dad sure wasn’t! He’d kill them 3 or 4 times!
In the early evening, we found our first scorpion at the ranch. It was pre-dead, so we didn’t have to do anything to it. We used to see lots more in our house in the karst area of Williamson County
Not Friends at All
We apparently have a visitor over to the chicken coop who is not our friend. It has killed at least 4 of the chickens (at least two roosters, who were probably trying to defend the flock). It gets them IN the chicken coop. Yet another reason for them not to lay eggs in there!
The Neighbor is sure it’s an owl. I think it might be a bobcat, since both hunt at night. A cat could get in there easily from the tree, then scale the fence to get out.
Something also went after the four new sheep the Neighbor brought in, and one of them lost a LOT of wool and some flesh, but seems OK. We are hoping the culprit is not the cabin occupant’s dog, who went after the sheep when he first saw them, so they don’t want to leave the pen to eat in the pasture.
Nice of all these creatures to wait until I got home to show up, isn’t it?
I’m spending time in High Point, North Carolina, where my step-mother, step-sister, and other family live. Mostly my husband and I are visiting, but I did get to walk around the woods that surround the facility where my step-mom lives, Pennybyrn at Maryfield.
I’ve written about it before in the past (on Facebook I guess), since she and my dad lived there since the place opened. It’s one of those places for well-to-do people over a certain age, with homes, apartments, assisted living places, and a wonderful nursing home. There are lots of nice nuns and a lot to do. And the buildings are lovely.
It’s on a lake that’s off the Deep River, and bordered by some lovely mixed hardwood and pine forest. I enjoyed walking out there today and looking at all the native plants and birds (the landscaping is also nice, but not all native). It was interesting to see what was and wasn’t damaged by Hurricanes Michael and Florence, which both came through recently.
The variety of trees is amazing. Maples, oaks, short- and long-leafed pines, sumac, dogwood, and redbud, to name a few.
And I saw blue birds, blue jays, crows, cardinals, house finches, and more (including geese I heard but did not see).
It’s just so different here from Texas. The trees are SO tall, and the plants so varied. And it smells great, thanks to all those pine needles. One of these days I’ll take another vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Sadly, the hurricane blew down most of the autumn leaves, and the remaining leaves were quite tattered. Huge old trees are down all over town. I guess that makes room for new trees and lets the sun in.
While I’m at a place where lives end, I always remember that death makes room for life. Hmm, good thoughts for the current autumn/Halloween season.
We have been trying to get used to having five dogs here at the Hermits’ Rest. It’s quite a circus when they are all awake and wanting to play or tussle. Luckily, it’s quite calm when they are all zonked out from playing.
Our newest buddy, Vlassic, has really been fitting in well with the pack. He is playful, especially with Carlton and Harvey, but also cuddly in the extreme. Quite the lapdog he is.
He is also very much a dachshund. We’re guessing he may be more than half. And it’s his doxie heritage that got him in trouble this week!
It’s so cute, but…
Lee was out walking the dogs in the late afternoon, as is his practice. It’s beautiful and not so oppressively hot once the sun is behind the trees. The puppies found one of the toads that lives around here. I do wish I had a photo to ID it, but it’s the usual toad.
Carlton and Vlassic were fascinated, especially Vlassic. He was jumping straight in the air and then poking it, like a doxie going after the vermin it’s bred to go after. Lee was really enjoying the antics of the dogs as they played. Vlassic even play-bowed to the toad, to try to get it to play back.
Then, Lee realized that the black bouncer wasn’t just poking. He was nipping at the toad. Whoops. Toads have secretions to keep animals from doing just that. They are NOT good for puppies.
As Vlassic began to foam at the mouth, Lee rushed the dogs back into the house and proceded to do his version of first aid, which, according to him, consisted of basically water-boarding the pup. The idea was to rinse all the toad secretions off his face and, is possibly, from inside his mouth.
Vlassic was not thrilled. But he did stop foaming. He ate all his dinner and fell asleep.
About 5:30 am, all that food came back up. But, once that was taken care of, he seemed okay.
Poor Lee was so relieved that he hadn’t let our little friend get poisoned to death.
Moral: keep dogs away from toads, even if they look friendly and playful.
Keep Vlassic in your thoughts. Tomorrow he loses his favorite body parts. Doing our part to be good citizens and not create more unwanted pets.
For reasons I don’t really understand, my dear spouse decided to get me an Apple Watch a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps that’s because it was 50% off? I didn’t want to waste it, so, I have said goodbye to my trusty Fitbit (it’s going to Anita soon) and started using the watch.
Lee stuck his 50%-off watch on his arm, determined how to use Siri with it, and went on his merry way. Not me. I love to learn about technology and didn’t want my watch to look like everyone else’s.
Since I am on this learning spree, I immediately went off and found the owner’s manual to the Apple Watch, and read every single page of it, adjusting Peach Perfection (the watch’s name) at every opportunity, until I ended up with just what I wanted. See that watch face in the top photo? It’s based on this picture of me and the handsome Apache, to always remind me of the ranch:
That’s cool. (I just looked at the watch. My teeth appeared in the watch face. I just about spewed my lime water. So sorry I have no photo.)
Am I alone in this?
I mentioned my foray into deep watch knowledge to my boss, who’s had an Apple Watch since I’ve known him (three years now?). I’d hoped to use him as my Subject Matter Expert on these fancy appliances. He thought that reading the user guide was a novel concept, and declared me the new expert, since he’s never looked at any instructions. Sigh. He is the BOSS of all the people who WRITE user guides to things! And he doesn’t read them! (I don’t actually think he’s alone in this, since Lee didn’t look either.)
Doesn’t anyone look at the Help for things anymore? I’m a reader, so I read the manual, but there are loads and loads of videos one could watch, too. There’s no reason to allow any little watch detail to bug you! Be curious! I am finding that curiosity is a total hoot.
Some information was hard to find. I had to go back and scour the manual to find out how to change my fitness goals, but it WAS there. Apple is really, really succinct in their help writing style, and sometimes they are a bit light on details, though. So, if any of you know of helpful places to find out MORE information, let me know.
But, geez. I write user guides and training guides, and supervise people who make training videos. We all need jobs! Folks, check out the manuals to your phones, watches, software, and other complicated helpers! (I wish the husband and dogs came with user guides.)
Watches are fun
I was really thrilled to find out that the watch face wasn’t the only thing I could easily change on this thing. I can change out the band anytime I want! Today I am yellow, but I have blue leather, some happy patterns, orange, red, bright stripes, and so on. The wimpy pink band that came with the watch went away fast.
I do have the “big” one, which has taken some getting used to. I have always been a fan of tiny watches for my tiny wrist. See, I can grow.
PS: I’d be happy to be your Apple Watch fitness friend.
Who’s that playing with that puppy we only got a few months ago (and by the way, happy 7 month birthday to Carlton!)? Why, that’s Vlassic, so named by Sara the neighbor, because he looks like Anita’s dog, Pickle.
Honest. Not looking for a dog.
We’ve only had the beautiful Carlton for a few months, and we’ve been enjoying him very much. He gets along great with the other dogs, and we’re happy.
But, on Sunday, Sara was meditating in her office, when she saw something on the porch. She thought it was something one of her kids had left outside, but then it moved! It was a very, very black dachshund mix dog. He turned out to be very friendly, very healthy, and obviously a house dog.
After a period of vaguely okay weather, with some rainy days and nice things like that, it is now extra-July here in the middle of Texas.
Combine that heat with all that Saharan dust, and people are staying indoors in droves. In fact, if I had a Gratitude Journal, my only entry this week would say, “Air Conditioning!” I’ve been dealing with most annoying asthma symptoms all week.
Mandi was trying to paint the inside of the house she’s remodeling this week, but it doesn’t have air conditioning yet. She now has heat exhaustion.
I’m being careful and plan to feed horses and chickens at sunset, and will probably drive over there rather than walk.
One of the things we do here at the Hermits’ Rest (and our “sister” ranches, the Wild Hermits and Wild Type ranches) is hang out with our equine friends. My neighbor, Sara, has had horses most of her life, and is a great rider. I always wanted a horse, but didn’t get the chance to own one until Sara gave me Apache, my Quarter Horse/Arabian cross, since she needed a more spirited horse to ride. I was in my late 50s, but my childhood dream came true!
We’ve been to clinics together, but recently we have just been riding around the ranch whenever Sara is in town on the weekends. We work on new skills and explore the area. I’ve been working with Apache “at liberty” in the round pen, and we’re making great progress trying new things on trail rides, too.
Sara’s horse has a lot more training, so she works on opening gates, cantering, and doing complex maneuvers at liberty.
We each have the “right” horse for our skills and inclinations. I just love riding around the ranch with a friendly and kind horse, so Apache is great for me.
Yesterday, I shared some information on Carlton the puppy’s “weird eyes.” Today I’d like to document some of the things I learned about how he got to be “the world’s whitest dog.” (And, FYI he weighs 31 pounds now, which makes me think he will probably end up the size of his companions Brody and Harvey, though perhaps less bulky.)
I think that he has a whammo combination of THREE genes that make him pale. I learned a lot, thanks to a great collection of information on dog color genetics by Jess Chappell for a lot of this, along with the doggie eye problem reading I did from the veterinary opthalmomogist’s textbook (see references).
Carlton is not an albino
Nope, he is not an albino. Albinism is not found often in dogs like it is in bunnies, rats, and humans. There are a LOT of genes that can make a dog white, though. I won’t go into detail (you can read it in the links below), but I’ll share some ideas.
Is he a double merle?
At least two veterinarians who have examined Carlton have posited that his coloring is due to being a double merle. What’s that, you ask?
First, merle is a beautiful pattern that occurs in a number of dog breeds (I list some at the end of this article). The base color of the coat is beautifully dappled, and people like it a lot. It will show up if just one parent has the gene (it’s dominant).
My lovely puppy, Carlton, is 6.5 months old, as far as we can tell. He weigs 31 pounds, and is all legs and teeth at this point. He loves other dogs, warms up to people, and is generally the best puppy ever. He also has “weird eyes,” as one of our veterinarians put it. She advised that we check with a veterinary opthalmologist as soon as possible.
That visit came on Tuesday, and it’s sent me down a long path of figuring out exactly how Carlton got to be who he is, and why. I wrote up some of this on Facebook, but since then I’ve been doing a lot more research, and as a person who once considered majoring in biology, I found it really fascinating. In fact, writing up my findings is so complex that I am going to break it into more than one post.
Vet visit findings
The regular vet had diagnosed Carlton as having some kind of eye abnormality, in addition to being blue, so she sent me to the veterinary ophthalmologist to see what’s up. This is the same woman, Dr. Yu-Speight, I went to when my corgi, Gwynneth’s eyes went bad (she ended up having them removed and lived 4 more years). We had a wonderful visit.
First of all, Carlton was quite the little man through the whole appointment. He even jumped into the car on command, finally! I am so proud of this dog. He was incredibly well behaved until we got back home, when he went bonkers.
There was a great deal of eye prodding and dropping involved, but they tested everything from tears, to pressure in the eye to the insides. So, he dealt with many substances and implements. I was amazed at his patience, even though he was obviously not enjoying the process.
Sure enough, his eyes are not “normal,” which we knew. But he CAN see, better in darker light, which we also knew.