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!

Rainy Blurry Day

I’m sorta typing this without really looking, since I suddenly have a pretty bug ocular migraine deal going on. I’m sure not fond of those things, and still don’t know what is causing them. The good news is that I can type with my eyes closed, I guess.

What’s wrong with my eyes?

What I wanted to write about is the fact that it’s been rainy the last few days, which came as a surprise to all of us, but a welcome one! It usually stops raining by this time of the year, so we will enjoy every drop we get.

It’s not bad enough to stop things from happening, though. I’ve managed to move the horse and Fiona, and I’m still impressed about how easygoing they are with being taken to the dry area. They just follow me over there and act grateful for their treats.

As you can see, it’s still very green.

Since it’s a lot cooler today, I’m hoping the rain lets up long enough to ride Apache today. I’ll just take him down the race, so he doesn’t put any dents in Ralph’s perfect grass.

Isn’t this pretty? It’s in the mallow family.

The pens at the Hermits’ Rest are getting worked on again. The area under the roof is all cleaned out, and a ditch is getting done to hopefully drain runoff from the future water troughs. Once that’s all clean and graded, the rest of the fencing can go into the stall area, gates can go up, and we will be ready for occupants.

Only stuff that’s being used is in here now, like the chair, the fan, the tunes, and the Vlassic swimming pool.

Well, that’s about all I can write with my eyes closed, so I’ll just leave you with hopes that you are having a good end of June. I feel remarkably chipper and calm (other than my eyeballs), even though I know it’s going to be a doozy of a week!

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!

Death to Nightshade

What? I’m killing plants? Settle down, nature lovers. I need to safely get rid of a plant that’s dangerous for the horses in the areas that are going to be dry, and I need to remove some snake habitat near the chickens.

When there’s not much grass, horses will eat anything.

The beautiful local nightshade, the silver leaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium) is everywhere this time of year. It has pretty purple flowers and cool tomato-like but inedible fruit.

Pretty flowers, but nasty thorns.

It’s hard to pull it up, because of the thorns all over the leaves and stems, but I need to make the area where Apache will be staying safe for him. In a pasture, there’s plenty of other grass, so it’s no big deal. But, in the “dry lot” or pen, where were now putting him in afternoons, he’d eat it.

Apache had a fine new hay bag to snack on. Horses need to eat pretty much all the time.

So, I was given a big sprayer with a mixture of white vinegar, salt, and Dawn dish detergent in it. This is bad for plants, but not toxic for animals. I sprayed around the chicken coop first. They thought it was treat time, because the spray made all the grasshoppers jump off the plants and into the pen.

Sad plant by chicken coop

I then sprayed under the roof where the stalls will be, and got most of the rock pile sprayed (the rocks are leftover limestone bricks from building our house).

Unhappy nightshade. Ok grass.

When I walked out this morning, all the forbs looked really sad, including the nightshade. The grass looked parched, but not awful. I may have to spray it again, when we get more ingredients.

I never was so pleased at killing anything.

So, it looks like we will ditch the commercial herbicides and use this method to clean up around our property and keep all our animals safe and happy.

We still have PLENTY of grass.

Book Report: Finding the Mother Tree

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My excuse for not finishing this one sooner is that I was trying to catch up on magazines, thanks to all the “subtle” hints that I have too many piles of them. I did at least get all the horse and decorating magazines finished, so last night I got myself to the end of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard (2021). What a journey this book is!

If this doesn’t make you go hug a tree, nothing will.

I got the book the minute it came out, which is no surprise given how many books on trees, how trees talk to each other, and forest ecology I’ve read in the past couple of years! Simard wrote it in an interesting way, where autobiographical sections are interspersed with some pretty hard-core science content. If you just like stories, you can skim the science; if you just want to know exactly how trees communicate with and support one another, you can bypass the story of her life (but you’d be missing out on an interesting life!).

Simard was born, full of curiosity, into a western Canadian family full of loggers and tough woodland pioneers. It’s no wonder she ended up as a biologist. And she, too, is a pioneer. She had a very hard time getting anyone to listen to her as she explained the effects of clear cutting and re-planting as it was practiced at the end of the 20th century. I really came to admire her tenacity and conviction that she was right.

Mother tree I saw at the horse competition.

Of course, it helped that all her data backed her up, and that eventually she got enough grad students and fellow researchers to make it clear that trees help each other and need each other to survive. I’m glad she did, because her findings are fascinating. Different types of trees are connected, and certain ones use different kinds of fungi help different kinds of trees in their connections, too. It’s all complicated, as one would expect, but fascinating.

The highlight of the book is when Simard talks about “mother trees,” which appear in healthy forests. They are very old, and very well connected. They give their energy to new seedlings and distressed neighbors. It kept making me sad to read about them getting cut down, but I have to credit Simard for acknowledging that we need wood; we just need to be careful with managing forests so they can keep giving us wood!

I know the tree I have pictures of here is or was a mother tree. Just look at her beautiful roots.

Forests that are managed and have all the trees the same age, planted in rows, don’t get the advantages of having mother trees, nor of the diversity of companion trees and understory plants necessary for optimal health, resistance to pests, and protection from diseases.

I’m so glad scientists, and now foresters, are listening to Simard, and that she has passed her work on to her daughter. This woman is an amazing role model for us all.

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!

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!

Treats and Surprises

For darned sure, the Universe is trying its best to teach me to expect the unexpected and examine how I deal with changes. I’ll just sidestep some of the bigger changes and just talk about some of the other surprises I got between yesterday and today.

From the wildflower patch

One of my coworkers lost a family member recently, and two of us got together to send him some flowers today, to bring some cheer into his home. I thought, hey, I could use some cheer, so I made myself a little arrangement to look at while I work. There are meadow pinks, thistles, Indian blankets, black-eyed Susans and a few Indian paintbrush that are still hanging around, plus another couple random flowers.

Interesting genetic hiccup

I’d found a conjoined twin Mexican hat flower yesterday when walking back from feeding horses (yay, it was dry enough to walk). Not only does it have two seed heads, the petals are extra curvy. Nature is always there to surprise me in a good way!

The other surprise I got yesterday, was more of a shocking one. I went to pick up eggs from the coop, and discovered an uninvited guest had already helped themselves to the eggs for the day.

Oh, you chicken snake.

They sure know how to find eggs! I handled this pretty well. Said “eek” and slammed the door down, then calmly picked it up to look at the snake. It was almost as tall as me when it was removed (not by me). I hope it enjoyed the digestion.

That was enough for icky surprises. I spent some more time out looking at the flowers behind our house and had to take more photos. I found yet another type of fly I’d never seen! It has interesting stripes, and I sure wish I’d gotten a better photo. I also found something I’d never seen before, which turned out to be a wheel bug nymph. That’s interesting (to me).

My ten minutes of break are over, but maybe I’ll have time for more later. We have to deal with Apache’s feet, apparently. Sigh.

Respite: Happy Flowers and Bugs

The rain has managed to fill up the tanks (ponds) at last. It really has been dribbling in, but we finally got a day with a whole inch, and that seems to have done the trick.

Black scarab beetle enjoying delicious pollen from a Texas thistle flower.

There was a bit of a respite this morning, and things dried out a little. I took advantage of the only hour I had without meetings today to go out and see what’s going on with the ranch plants and their friends. I’m glad I did it then, because it’s been raining and thundering again for the past two hours, which makes for some unhappy dogs.

Make it stop thundering!

I had set out to find invasive species, only to realize I missed the entire 2021 iNaturalist Texas invasive species survey time, because I was in South Carolina. That’s okay, though, because I enjoyed seeing what’s blooming in late spring. There’s a lot of Indian blanket, and horsemint out there, and you can tell they are native, because there are so many kinds of insects pollinating them. The fields are literally abuzz with activity. Bzzzz.

I got to see a few new-to-me insects, including two types of potter’s wasps (not exactly sure what they are), and these beautiful tachinid flies, Archytas apicifer. They are huge (for flies), have big, black hairs, and feature shiny green abdomens and bright red eyes. I often saw multiples on one black-eyed Susan flower.

And then there were butterflies! Yes, I’ve seen common buckeyes before, along with the perky little fiery skippers and the red admirals, but the pearl crescent butterfly was new to me, and wow, it’s pretty. The little white checkered skipper looks like lace from a distance, too. In addition to the ones I photographed, I also saw orange sulphurs and gray hairstreaks. That’s a lot of butterflies!

Katydid

The other thing I saw were bees, ranging from honey bees to tiny ones to bumblebees. They were zipping around, so no photos. And I found a katydid and lots of jumpy grasshoppers. This was a great way to spend some of my volunteer time at work!

I hope this provides some cheer if you’re living in a dreary place right now. I’d love to know what kinds of flowers are blooming where you live. I know the irises are in full swing in the northwestern US, and I believe I’ve spotted some peony photos from elsewhere. I love it when people share their local flowers, native or not!

Delicate horsemint.

Soggy and Soggier

It’s still raining today. There were brief respites, but we’ve had at least an inch. Whew. The good news is we have a lot of mushrooms to enjoy.

Happy puffballs.

I tried to go check out what was going on at the fence project. But it started raining real hard, so we went off to see a horse that we may board over here to keep Apache company. It’s all alone, and belongs to some folks who live near our office.

Howdy. I’m Prince.

He needs a Coggins test and stuff, but if he came here, his owner says we can ride him. That would be fun. At least he’s small, and he’s named after my dad. This isn’t a done deal, but a possibility. In any case, I got to meet a friendly horse.

It then rained more. But, not before I went out to take some pictures of the Black-eyed Susans. I lucked out and Penney joined me. I got some lovely photos of her looking romantic.

I’m so romantic.

She sure blends in well with scenery.

This is just so beautiful. I love the storm clouds.

Being with the dogs makes you notice so many things! I didn’t even get mad at Vlassic when he jumped up and got my entire outfit muddy.

Who, me?

But even muddy weather has its good points. There’s always beautiful nature to enjoy. Like, why were there so many mud daubers on sunflower leaves? And why is Mr. Toad living in this trough?

All in all, it’s good to be back in the swing of things. I got work done and caught up with my Master Naturalist blogging. It’s volunteer week at work, so it was authorized. What fun! I’ll try to get more fascinating tomorrow. I’m still wiped out.

Penney is tired too. All that glamour wore her out.