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?

 

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

cuke
The dogs are very impressed with the size of this yello cucumber. It’s um, mature.

It’s a nice October weekend, and I’ve been taking advantage of it by really enjoying the Hermits’ Rest. We’ve had a couple of neat discoveries today.

The first came when my friend Mandi and I were checking the bed with the okra, basil, and peppers in it. Out of habit, I looked in to see if there was any action on the cucumber vine that had really not done a dang thing all season, other than grow and make pretty flowers.

Whoa. What did I see, but a HUGE and very overripe cucumber, just sitting there taunting me. You’d think I’d have spotted that one long ago. It appears that the plant decided it was more of a pumpkin, and put all its energy into this one immense cuke. You’ll be grateful to know I’ve spared you the raunchy photos.

swallowtail
The hungry swallowtail caterpillar.

While laughing at the cucumber, I turned to look at the bronze fennel that is in its second year and going to seed. There I saw at least a dozen lovely caterpillars! They were munching away at an impressive rate.

caterpillar
I wonder what the little one is?

There were two types, and one was easy to identify as a black swallowtail, but the smaller ones I didn’t get. Someone has suggested that they are eastern black swallowtails, but I’m hoping someone can help me get a definitive ID. They are way smaller than the other ones.

rainbow
Double rainbow, all the way! Mostly.

It was an extremely humid day, and there have been a few brief showers. We truly enjoyed the last one, which came from the shower that got me while feeding the chickens. It lasted at least an hour. You can’t complain when your surroundings are this beautiful.

PS: The chickens are finally making more eggs again. And Mandi and I found a dozen on the horses’ square bales. All were still good!

Ranch Management for Women, Part 2

Yesterday I told you about the classroom day of the Bennett Trust Women’s Conference, which I just discovered was called “Empowering Women — New Stewardship Traditions.” I went to this week. Now for the real fun, when we got on a bus and road out into the sunrise for hands-on fun! (I do wish I hadn’t been so sick; I slept on the bus a lot.)

archer
I did hit the target. Photo by the Other Sue Ann.

Ranch Skillz

Day 2 was called the Wine and Roses Tour, and we took a nice bus to a ranch outside of Kerrville. It has typical Hill Country terrain, and there were typical Hill Country angora goats grazing nearby (but out of the way of projectiles). We spent a very enjoyable morning rotating through introductions to ranching skills: archery, skeet shooting, animal tracking, and range grass identification. I did fine, but didn’t shoot because of my precarious shoulder situation that I’m about to start physical therapy on (thanks, Carlton the Dogman)

I got a real kick out of some of the women who were very proud that they turned out to actually be good at the archery or skeet shooting. There were a couple of experts among the attendees, too, including one woman who brought her own shotgun. She got to go for two clay birds at a time.

quail
You can see that our tracking trainer is holding her very content quail, while the tarantula is trying to escape.

The woman who showed us all the animal tracks was obviously a true lover of all living things. Not only did she bring along her pet scaled quail (oh so cute), but showed us a large, black tarantula she found on the side of the road, and one of the big ole brown lizards that live in the Hill Country. We loved her asides!

Continue reading “Ranch Management for Women, Part 2”

Ranch Management for Women, Part 1

Where have I been? It’s been a combination of being really busy doing interesting things, along with having a pretty rotten virus attack me. Let’s concentrate on the first of those!

SueAnns
Sue Ann K and Sue Ann U! Hey Sue Ann! What, Sue Ann? Women with twin unusual names can be silly.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I attended the third Bennett Trust Land Stewardship Women’s Conference. I’m glad I signed on to the Texas Parks and Wildlife email list for events, because I didn’t hear about this remarkable opportunity until a couple of weeks before it happened. After talking to my spouse and boss (the outdoorsman), I got pretty excited about the opportunity, even with some sort of sexist language in there. After all, it’s Texas.

The conference was divided into two halves, with one day of classroom work and one day getting out and looking at places. Today I’ll talk about what I learned the first day.

There were 40 or so women in attendance, mostly older, but a lot were young, too. All own ranch property around Texas. Some were very impressive women who’ve been on their land for generations, while others were just starting and even less experienced than me.

Most important, there was another woman there named Sue Ann (shown above), so we hung around a lot, so we could say, “Hey, Sue Ann, what about this?” It made us happy. Of course, I learned a lot about her business working with folks to get appropriate tax advantages form their land. A bonus.

Continue reading “Ranch Management for Women, Part 1”

Dung Beetles of Doom

bug3
This friendly looking guy is the gazelle scarab beetle. They like to eat poop and attack tack rooms.

It seems like every year we get a different plague. This year’s infestation was quite a surprise. And how it managed to infest our tack room was quite ingenious.

You see, the room where we store all the equine food, saddles, and other equipment may not look great, but it is very well sealed, so that mice and other intruders can’t come in and eat our delicious beet pulp and expensive supplements. It’s also air conditioned, so that the leather tack doesn’t get all moldy and icky.

floor
I recently dropped some black sunflower seeds, and from a distance, they do resemble dung beetles.

So, yes, we were surprised this weekend when what we originally thought were black sunflower seeds that we’d spilled were actually a LOT of dead bugs. I uploaded a photo to iNaturalist and got back a positive identification of gazelle scarabs (Digitonthophagus gazella), also known as brown dung beetles. Sara, my horse co-owner, was proud she knew it was dung beetles. Well, she was raised on a farm and has lived on a LOT of cattle ranches. She’s seen dung beetles.

Continue reading “Dung Beetles of Doom”

Paying Homage to Lady Bird

Where flowers bloom, so does hope—Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson

Anyone who loves the beauty of Texas in the springtime owes thanks to Lady Bird Johnson, who spent most of her life in efforts to beautify not only Texas, but the entire USA. One of my strongest childhood memories is of a “Keep America Beautiful” commercial from the 60s, in which Lady Bird exhorted us to, “plant a tree, a bush, or a shrub,” with her Texas twang really coming out on “shruuuub.”

moo
These very large Hereford cows are why you drive slowly on the ranch roads. These are old bloodlines, and mighty fine specimens.

Since coming to Texas as fast as I could, about 21 years ago, I have visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center many times, and enjoyed the tributes to her there, I’ve read her biography, and I’ve tried to follow in her footsteps by taking care of native plants wherever I’ve lived, especially at the Hermits’ Rest.

lbj
This amazing mosaic is in the small exhibit area in the park.

So, when Anita and I were coming back from Fredericksburg last weekend, a stop at the Johnson family ranch was a must. I highly recommend it; there’s way more than you’d think to see, and it was rather moving to see both the place where Lyndon B. Johnson was born, and where he is buried. He really was tied to his land.

Continue reading “Paying Homage to Lady Bird”

Dogs and Toads Don’t Mix

vlassic1
Not much room for common sense in that brain.

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!

vlassic2
You can tell by the mud on his face that Vlassic likes to put his nose into things!

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.

carlton1
Carlton says he is too smart to eat a toad. Yeah, sure.

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.