What’s in Bloom? Who’s Happy?

Stork’s-bill lights up the lawn.

That’s the question I asked myself this weekend. So I wandered around with my head down to see what’s there.

I

Speedwell is so tiny, but it lights up the ground as it opens by midday.

was surprised to find the lawn (sorta) around our old church property blooming away. Granted, they were tiny wood sorrel, blue speedwell, and pink storks-bill flowers, but they were enough to keep at least four kinds of small butterflies happy.

These are prettier in person. Their bodies look blue.

I saw lots and lots of these lovely tropical checkered skippers, plus elusive little sulphurs and a hairstreak. And my friends the fiery skippers still are hanging around. Not bad for December.

The fiery skipper loves the wood sorrel.

Looking Up

When I looked up, I noticed the big oak tree (the only tree on the property) seemed to be shaking, even though there was no breeze. Then I heard a whole lot of chattering.

The tree is holding up well, even though it lost some limbs in recent storms.

The tree was filled with fat, happy squirrels. They ran up and down, jumped over branches, and tussled.

I’m a happy rodent.

Why were they so happy? Well, it’s autumn, and this tree alone has provided enough acorns for an entire city of squirrels. Why go elsewhere?

The ground is solid acorn. Busy tree.

I wish you the bounty and happiness these little guys have found. I also hope you are finding the life and beauty wherever you are. It’s there!

The Joy of Horses

One of the most satisfying activities we engage in here at the Hermits’ Rest is to go look at the shared Wild Hermits property on horseback. Sara, who co-owns the property with us, knows it backwards and forwards, and always has something to show me. Plus, we see things from the perspective of our horses, Apache and Spice, who always have a surprise for us.

Yep, it’s pretty out here.

Yesterday was the perfect day for a ride. It was neither cold nor hot, the sun was behind clouds but it wasn’t dismal, and it wasn’t too windy. The ground had finally dried out enough that we felt okay venturing forth; it’s taken a long time to get over the big rain event, and we still hesitate to go out to the “bottom,” where it’s still spongey. And all the trees are changing color. 

Spice points out that the sun did come out, once we finished the ride. Here, she is asking to be brushed.

Since it’s still a bit damp, Sara, the horses, and I just walked to one of the pastures, I believe it’s the one she calls the trap (they have names for all the pastures that I can’t keep track of very well, not being a cattle rancher, I guess). 

Apache and I smile for the camera. I have riding helmet hair.

The horses kept stopping and sniffing the air. Even Spice, who usually is the pacemaker, kept stopping. We kept looking to see if there was anything weird going on, but the only thing we smelled was the unusual but sort of pleasant smell of the fermented hay the cattle owners had given the cows in the next pasture. Sara said it reminded her of her childhood on the dairy farm in Illinois.

When we got to the end of the race (the skinny passageway to the distant fields), we had to stop and take a breath. At the end of the passage is a very large post oak tree. This time of year, all its leaves are a golden brown, but have not fallen yet. When you look at the tree, you see nothing around it but fences and other trees. What a great feeling. 

Not the tree we saw, but another majestic ranch tree.

We couldn’t get a photo, because we don’t take the good phones out on our rides (it sure would hurt to fall off a horse and land on your phone, plus that can’t be good for a phone). That’s why you have a substitute photo of a cedar elm.

Trees are great fun for horse exercise, too, as we can do circles and figure eights around them. I even trotted in a circle. I am not big on trotting, since I came rather late to my equestrian career. Apache enjoyed it, though, and so did I. We are in no hurry and have no show plans. Just fun. I’ll keep moving toward more adventurous stuff.

When we returned from the ride, having let the horses sniff every downed branch and check out every bunny that hopped by, Sara got a text from the friend who leases the pastures on the other side of the road. She’d seen a juvenile wild cat headed to the next ranch. Well, that may explain why the horses were hesitant to just head on out. The cat probably came from our area, or at least its scent did!

Harvey is on the alert for cats on the prowl.

We are watching our little pets carefully. I don’t want to lose Vlassic the dachshund, and Sara doesn’t want to lose her cattle dog puppy!

How Are the New Dogs?

A couple of people have asked me how Carlton and Vlassic, the two dogs we most recently brought into our ranch community, are doing. As I work on my next family history post, I’ll take a break to talk about these two sweethearts.

As people keep saying, he’s SO white!

Carlton the Dog Man

Carlton was the little, sad dog I got from the Cameron dog pound, A Touch of Love. He had been chained up outside since separating from his mother at just 6 weeks. I thought he’d make a great small dog to take back and forth to Austin with me. I wrote a long post on his genetics a few months ago.

Carlton is now a great, cheerful, medium-to-large dog who stays at the ranch with his three other ranch dog buddies. He is still one of the most beautiful dogs I’ve ever seen, and he is full of love and happiness. He will be a year old the first of the year, so we hope he has mostly stopped growing. It’s nice that he is about the same height as Brody the cattle dog and Harvey the chunky Rottweiler-ish mutt.

They bought this massage chair just for me!

He does not look much like we thought he would. He is slim and muscular, with very long legs. He runs like the wind, as long as he knows where he is going. We’ve had his eyes looked at again, and he seems to have a cataract in one eye that’s slowly growing, but he sees much better than we’d feared he would. 

He is as soft as he is lovely.

Classic Vlassic

Vlassic just showed up out of nowhere in August, right as we were realizing Carlton did not have the personality of an indoor Austin dog. We took him home from the neighbors’ house, intending to find him a home. Well, we found him our home!

Where is my human to sleep on?

This little dachshund-mix charmer melts hearts everywhere he goes. and has turned into a great little commuter. He goes back and forth with me to Austin, where he’s brought out the “real dog” in his friend Pickle. They run and play, and it makes us so happy to see Pickle not acting like a grumpy old lady all the time.

The vet said he was about a year old when we got him, so we have assigned him a birthday of when he showed up. 

I’m trying to get my smell all over the new couch, says Harvey.

Sleeping at our house

With all these dogs, sleeping might be a challenge. We do not have crates for them all! So what do we do?

  • Alfred the Anatolian Shepherd sleeps outside. He guards the ranch.
  • Brody the cattle dog mostly sleeps on the couch in the bedroom, but joins us some of the time.
  • Carlton has a dog bed he likes in the bedroom, unless it is really cold. He usually gets in bed at sunrise for snuggle time.
  • Harvey sleeps in the bed and growls grumpily if anyone moves and disturbs his beauty rest. He is quite an immovable object.
  • Vlassic sleeps directly glued to a human being all night, preferably completely under the covers. It’s a good thing he doesn’t stink. 

Amazingly, Lee and I sleep fine.

I finally don’t hate the way the living area at the ranch looks. Come see us!

PS

We replaced our stinky dog couch with one less likely to get ruined by the dogs. We also got a new rug, table, and lamp. Don’t worry, the dogs have already messed up the rug. But, that’s life with five dogs on a ranch.

Chia Pets and Chiro

I have a lot more genealogy stuff, but let’s take a break for some ranch slice of life fun.

Spice stands patiently while getting her hooves trimmed.

Fiona and the horses were glad to see their farrier friend Trixie back after dealing with an injury. She is so good with them, and they love being adjusted by her, too.

Quite a frizzy mane you have there, horse.

While we waited for her to arrive, Mandi and I groomed them all for the first time since all the rain started. Apache had a huge knot in his mane that took quite some time to remove and left him with a frizzy hairdo. Spice had something similar on her forelock. Fiona was just filthy.

We took a little walk to where the grass was very much greener. As they chomped at delicious blades, I looked down the row of hay bales.

That green tinge is not a trick of light. The hay has grass growing out of it.

I realized it had rained so much that the hay was sprouting. It looked like a very big chia pet! This weather is so weird lately.

Apache is zoned out.

When Trixie arrived, she got to work. I’m happy Apache’s feet are better. He also really enjoyed getting chiropracted. His lip trembled, his eyes shut, and he sighed with happiness.

Spice has more pain, so some stuff bothered her, but she obviously felt better.

Mischief? I’m just checking that everything is okay in here.

Fiona’s feet looked great, so she just wandered around and got into mischief when she wasn’t leaning on me.

Big Red has big red eyes.

We were joined by one of our two remaining roosters, Big Red. He’s really friendly and loves sunflower seeds (and Mandi, who feeds them to him).

The Loggerhead Shrike and Friends

img_4618
A loggerhead shrike nest in a bur oak tree in Old Settlers Park, near baseball fields.

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.

img_4619
Bur oak acorn. Huge and tasty.

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.

img_4670
Jim Giacomo (center) and some of the other experts he brought to our field trip in Round Rock.

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.

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Tania’s Halloween costume was “nerdy birder.”

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.

Continue reading “The Loggerhead Shrike and Friends”

A Grand Welcome Home

cranes
Sandhill cranes, just passing through. Loudly.

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.

Flying Friends

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!

blue_heron
One of my favorite neighbors.

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.

bluet
These are so delicate.

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.

turtle
Why won’t the turtle play with me? (You can sort of see it in the grass.)

More “Friends”

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.

water snake
This dirty part of the porch is where we harmless snakes like to hang out. I want to date this electric cord.

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!

scorpion
It’s a scorpion, all right. Small.

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.

sheep
Leave us ALONE! We just want to eat grass. And escape from these non-sheepproof fences.

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?

 

Things I Love about the Eastern US

azalea
Good old azaleas. They didn’t all blow away. These are relentlessly cheerful! Along with camellias, these are plants I miss a lot in Texas. We have the wrong soil.

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.

squirrel2
A gray squirrell with his meal. The ones here are smaller than our fox squirrels; the ones on Hilton Head were tiny!

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.

penny
Here are some of the apartments. The woods are off to the right, and there are also multiple ponds.

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.

chapel
This little chapel is where I went in and talked to my Dad. He build paths and garden plots for the residents here.

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.

maple
Most of the leaves I saw had multiple holes in them. This red maple isn’t as bad off as some of them.

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.