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!

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.

Enjoying a Pleasant Morning with a “Friend”

This morning was really pleasant. I went out to take a few pictures and check on the new pullets, then sat on the porch for a ten-minute coffee break. It was breezy, so the mosquitoes that tried to suck all my blood yesterday weren’t out. I took this picture to post on Instagram, planning to caption it “What I’d like to be doing the rest of the day.”

Just enjoying my morning.

I thought I was alone on my break, but no, the rocking chair across from me had someone else enjoying a pleasant break.

I’m enjoying my morning, too.

Well, hey there rat snake. I thought, wow, what a cute little snake, but when I got up to get a better photo, I saw it’s not a little snake, not at all. It’s probably close to my height.

The tail just keeps going.

Since it was not actively in the process of eating eggs from my hens, I left it to enjoy its morning. And it is why we are keeping the grass near the house mown nice and short (as long as we can keep lawn mowers going).

Speaking of which, in addition to getting new blades that cut evenly, our good old riding mower also has a new feature designed to keep my brother-in-law more cool and less heat stroked: an umbrella! Most of the area we mow has no obstructions, but he can lower it to get close to fences and the house. I hear it feels twenty degrees cooler under there! With summer coming up, that is a fine thing.

Fancy lawn mower.

Other “home improvements” that I took pictures of on my morning walk include this chicken ramp. I had put a board up to help them get high in their roost area, but it was too slippery, so they now have a custom ramp made from scrap wood. I know they used it last night, because there’s poop in the roost area in the cage! Yay!

Stairs to the penthouse

Now the chickens have more area to spread out in, which is good, because they spend most of their time chasing each other, when they aren’t eating. At least they are all still with us!

Just being chickens
Peeeeep

I also figured out why we hear so much bird noise in the evenings. The barn swallows are nesting AT LAST, right outside the back door. Since that’s where the dog door is, we can hear them well. I’m quite relieved to see this, because they are running late this year (no doubt thanks to that bad ole Uri storm in February). This is good news.

I’m not the only one who got to see a pretty snake yesterday. This garter snake was over at Sara’s. It got run over, though. They’re so lovely.

That’s it for the morning ranch report!

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.

Nature Is the Best Medicine

I’m feeling a little better, and it’s for two good reasons: I got out in nature AND I got to eat something, finally, at 2 pm (oops, one should remember to eat). I should have known spending all day cooped up in the condo yesterday wasn’t the best thing for my delicate sensibilities.

Seeing a real beach bunny would cheer anyone up!

We finally drug ourselves out of the house, and I told Lee I had to eat before we went to a park. That was harder than you’d think, because most of the restaurants on the west side of the main road closed during COVID. We eventually did a U-turn and decided it was about time to eat at one of those pancake restaurants.

A trip back in time.

The first open one we found was the Plantation Pancake House, which made me just as uncomfortable as attending Plantation High School did, but, to be honest, the restaurant IS on a former plantation. What a charming, nostalgic place this was. It opened in the early 70s, and I don’t think there’s been any redecorating since then. However, it was sparkling clean and had lovely healthy hanging plants throughout.

Not pancakes

Our food was all freshly cooked by the very nice cook (I know this, because he was chatting with customers and hugging the servers). But what made me feel like I had gone back in time was how the staff interacted. They were so incredibly cheerful and helpful, toward patrons and each other. They seemed to truly like working there, like each other, and have pride in the restaurant. Watching the servers all cleaning and straightening the restaurant at the end of the day was a real pleasure. This was simply a nice, family place who treats the staff well (and they were old, young, black, white, and Hispanic).

After the victuals, we headed just a couple of miles down the road (not wanting to waste gas) and arrived at Myrtle Beach State Park. We had a blast at this place, which is the last piece of natural beach left on the Grand Strand. We first checked out the nature center, which was very entertaining, with aquariums and terrariums, plus a real friendly volunteer to chat with. We got to see a whelk out of its shell trundling along, a couple of types of crabs, and a beautiful rat snake. We spent a LOT of time at their really nice bird feeders, too. Click to see larger and uncropped photos.

Lee and I then embarked on a tour of all the heavily wooded nature trails. I was reminded of how incredibly varied the native hardwood forests on the east coast originally were. There were oaks, pines, cherries, sycamores, magnolias, dogwoods, hickories, and even native olives. It smelled so nice and woodsy. Click to see the pictures larger.

We enjoyed the smaller plants, too, and were happy to see ducks, turtles, skinks, and a lot of different kinds of dragonflies and damselflies. There were wetlands as well as drier parts, which gave me a chance to see so many new and familiar things. And the park is so well done! They have signs on the trail marking many of the common plants, with some facts about them. That really adds to the enjoyment, I think.

This was exactly what I needed for healing: nature to touch, feel, hear, see, and smell. You could still hear the motorcycles, but you could also hear dozens of kinds of birds. I did get surprised when fighter jets took off from the nearby airport. Those things are loud.

We are two happy campers now, and I happen to know Lee is going to get even happier later tonight! Stay tuned…

Birds, Trees, Castles, Oysters, and Adventure

Here’s another blog just chock full of photos, and not all of them are nature. It’s all good though. We just had a long day of visiting a variety of sights and sites.

This broad-headed skink is not a bird.

We set out early (for us), determined to see everything possible at Huntington Beach State Park. It’s across the road from Brookgreen Gardens, and features nature, birds, beaches, and a really interesting house that belonged to the people who used to own both the properties, the Huntingtons. Last year I saw better birds, but we still had a good time today.

We first went out to see the nature, where, of course, I spent a lot of time taking close-up pictures of plants. Lee says this is what I always look like.

Taking pictures of plants

I did find some pretty things to take pictures of, though some of them were Lee. There were many native berries, a spider, and the MOST exciting, a painted bunting.

From there, we headed over to Atalaya, the “castle” where the Huntington family lived in the winters. Folks, this is a really, really weird house. It’s all brick, even the floors, and all one story. It’s in the shape of a huge square with a very large courtyard in the middle. Every room, even the bathrooms, has a fireplace. I find that interesting, but it does get cold enough, even in South Carolina, to need some winter warmth.

Continue reading “Birds, Trees, Castles, Oysters, and Adventure”

A Well-Timed Garden Visit

Since we are all rested and wanting to see the eastern part of the USA, Lee and I decided to go to Pawley’s Island and Brookgreen Gardens today. I just had a hankering to see the island, since I’d read about it a lot, and you know, they make hammocks therethey make hammocks. Sure enough, it was small and cute, and consisted mostly of vacation homes that were quaint and nice. I enjoyed looking at the estuary and the marshes surrounding the island, but there weren’t really any places to get out and explore.

We instead found a nice little hamburger stand, and enjoyed a delicious burger and fries that were not fast food at all. That got us strengthened enough to head down the road to Brookgreen Gardens, where we hadn’t had a chance to go last year. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to charge my watch, so I missed 6,700 or so steps. Dagnabbit.

I never saw so many different types of Japanese maple in my life!

That did not deter us from having a wonderful time, though. Just driving into the place we saw a cool black-headed squirrel and a brown thrasher. A real highlight though, was a brand-new exhibit in their galleries, which was devoted to American sculptures and other art featuring wildlife and domestic animals. You don’t see many sculptures of good ole dogs, so it was a real treat.

There were also beautiful sculptures of horses (they have LOTS of horses), birds, foxes, otters, and all sorts of animals, plus some great drawings and paintings. We enjoyed the small gallery of items from the people who had owned the land when it was three rice plantations. I was impressed to see a few depictions of where the enslaved people lived, and that they were labeled as such. And I give credit to the families who deeded the land to everyone to enjoy.

That’s a powerful horse

The outdoor part of this garden is immense. It’s certainly too big to see everything on the property in one day, so it’s good your tickets can be used for a week! We will come back later to see the zoo, labyrinth, and other areas we missed as we wandered from beautiful spot to beautiful spot, finding little hidden sculptures in niches, and grand sculptures in beautiful settings with ponds and fountains.

This is the 90th year of the gardens, and you can tell, because there are lots of imported and exotic specimen trees that have grown huge. There were many evergreen trees I’d never seen before, plus a couple of deciduous ones, like a very, very large swamp chestnut oak, festooned with gray Spanish moss. You could live under that thing.

I can see why this garden has won so many awards. It’s designed to provide new vistas everywhere you turn, and must be spectacular when azaleas and camellias are blooming. I found one camellia blossom.

Artistic camellia shot

It was funny how I kept flipping back and forth from wanting to take photos of some of the pretty cultivars of decorative plants to wanting to take photos of the views and native things. Thus, there are a lot of photos in this blog post.

There was wildlife, too! We found turtles, an alligator, geese, a very friendly cardinal, a black-and-white warbler, plus brown thrashers. We heard even more birds. This place sounds fantastic, so blind people could enjoy it (by the way, it is also very accessible for people using canes, walkers, or wheelchairs).

Of course, my favorite part is what they call “beyond the wall,” which is a creek and swamp where the rice fields used to be. I’m so fond of swamps, that my heart got racing as I found sedges, rushes, wild irises, and beautiful cypress knees. The path was just perfect for a swamp lover like me, but, I realized when I ran into a fellow using an electric wheelchair, that it was totally accessible to all (if you’re careful)!

After a quick trip to the gift shop, where I got a t-shirt and commemorative mugs, we headed to shop at Publix, which is kind of like a tourist attraction for people from the South. It’s just the nicest grocery store chain. I got some flowers for our room and the vitally important coffee filters for the condo. Whew. We’re all set now!

One lonely hydrangea flower.

Tomorrow I’ll be hitting the beach early, working, then probably relaxing in the evening, but we’ll find ways to enjoy being in a new location, even when working. Since Lee brought his giant iMac, he’s able to record his receipts instantly and keep track of Hearts Homes and Hands’ finances almost as well as he can at home. And I’m all set up, just with my laptop screen. We can do it!

I hope you enjoyed the photos. They sure were fun to take!

Bird Mysteries

This is no fun, but it’s the way it goes out in the country. This morning, I went out to check on the chicks, and Bronzer wasn’t there! What?

We’re still here

I was so surprised and sad. I looked everywhere for the chick. There was no sign of anything getting into the coop. There was no gap small enough for a chick to get out of. There was no sign of foul or fowl play. What the heck.

I’ll miss you, little buddy.

I went all over the place listening for peeps and looking for feathers. There was nothing. It’s a mystery. I’m sure there are lots of plausible scenarios for what could have happened, but I’m honestly not up for conjecture. I’m also not up for being blamed or told what I did wrong. We live on a ranch. There are predators and other dangers. It’s how it goes.

I took my bummed out self in the garage to look for eggs, and suddenly saw something glowing like a light. What in the world do we have that shines in the dirty old garage?

So shiny.

Then I figured it out. More bird sadness. It was a male Ruby-throated hummingbird. Well, damn.

So beautiful.

To be realistic, of course birds die, and they have to die somewhere. But that was a sad thing to find right after losing the chick. He was so pretty and tiny.

Wow.

I went back in the house for more meetings, armed with my pushback strategy of setting up myself and my team for success. After all eight hours of meetings it was TIME to go out and get some air, and check for eggs.

Off I went into the corner with the mop nest. As I peeked in, I realized the nest was occupied. By a pretty chicken snake. With a lump in its belly. I didn’t get scared; I just got peeved. Damn it, those are MY eggs. There was still one in there, so I used a stick to get it out. Ha.

Rather than a snake, please enjoy Engelmann daisies.

I tried to get help removing the snake, but it was gone by the time We got back. Great. I hope it didn’t also find a chick to eat. And I wish the hens would go back on top of the fridge!

Now, that’s lovely. At least something is thriving!

In summary. It was not a good chicken day today, even though they got their yummy new food in, finally. I’m getting more hens, though, because coop updates are now coming up soon! More on that later!

Have Yourself a Hermits’ Rest-y Christmas

Glorious. That’s the word for today. So, I went out to the woods to look for signs of Christmas and miracles. I found some of each!

The first miracle was water in the stream.

I ended up standing right where the above photo was taken for a long time, just listening to bird songs and watching them flit around. It’s lots easier to spot them in winter. I saw one I could not identify that could have been a black phoebe.

Too blurry. Wah. Not a miracle.

Once I got walking, the subtle signs of Texas Christmas began to appear. First, there was a Christmas cholla. That’s pretty obvious.

Then I found our one holly plant, a possumhaw (deciduous holly).

Cheerful berries.

So, how much more holiday greenery could I find? Of course, mistletoe!

I brought it home but no one will stand under it. Correction: Lee is willing.
Continue reading “Have Yourself a Hermits’ Rest-y Christmas”

Nature Endures and Brings Surprises

Happy Friday to all! I’m especially happy, because I slept like a rock last night and am taking the day off to just do whatever I want to do, as long as it isn’t in a crowd of people!

What I wanted to do this morning was go check out the flooding. It rained a good deal again last night, and the creek spilled its banks, the fields are all full of puddles, and happy egrets and herons are everywhere. I’m happy to report that since the little pond filled back up, there is at least one bullfrog remaining (heard it last night, saw it splashing into the pond this morning).

Still not finished, but it’s full again. Note willow tree already trying to grow on the banks.

It was good to see the front pond all full. The dogs will be able to swim in there now, since Chris mowed all the plants from around it. And the water is happily flowing through the arroyo and down to the stream. That always makes me happy.

Our gate had stopped working this morning, probably just ran out of juice from not getting much sun for a couple of days. I got it to open and made it stay open so our caregiver can get to Jim in the RV. Then I decided to take a walk, since there were no dogs outside and it was safe to go down the road. I was interested to see what was still alive and thriving after over a month with just a trace of rain. Here are some!

I continued walking, and enjoyed seeing all sorts of rain-laden clouds, and wet vultures drying their wings, chatting, or whatever they do on the fence.

The most exciting thing I saw was this:

Eggs!

Since they had obviously come out of a mound in the dirt, I figure these are turtle eggs that had recently hatched, perhaps prompted by the rain and lower temperatures. They are rubbery and soft, not like chicken or other bird eggs. I actually saw two nests with eggshells, and once I realized they are there, a few more nests that are still “cooking” (which I did not disturb).

Turtles like to lay nests on the sides of roads, because they tend to have loose and sandy soil for easy digging. I hope these little guys made it and are off swimming away to wherever the floods take them!

Speaking of the flooding, I got a couple of photos of the creek. The new fence technique the Vrazels used across the creek seems to have held up, and it appears no new giant logs came through. This is a fairly normal amount of flooding for our little creek bottom, so it mostly made me happy to know the weather cycle is normal this year.

I came back to check on the chickens, who all appear to have made it. They made four eggs yesterday, so the rain didn’t bother them too much. But, wow, the wet chicken area is stinky. I’ve got to get to work figuring out better ways to keep their food dry, too, especially the ones who aren’t free range (they all ran out yesterday while I was trying to cover the cage in the run where the new ones are, but in the end, they all ended up in the right place (though a couple of pullets lost their virginity, thanks to Bruce).

A symphony in gray, or hello from Gertie.

All in all, I think today is a good reward after working hard all week (and succeeding!). I’m glad I wasn’t too tired to go feed horses and check on them, too, because last night I had a good chat with the Ralph and the Vrazels, who were getting ready to harvest a couple of steers. It’s good to catch up on what’s going on, and being outdoors makes it a lot easier.