This week has exhausted me. I will be more wordy tomorrow, maybe.
It being Samhain or Halloween, I figured I should write about life and death and moving on. (That’s where snouts come in.) As for life, I was happy to see a turtle head pop up in the new pond. It’s good to see it getting to support life again.
There is much new life behind us, as more calves show up. This is one of the fuzzy twins. They look like stuffed animals!
There’s death, too, as I discovered when I checked the mail. I found just the tail of a rabbit. Hmmm. I could choose to believe it got away with just a tail-ectomy.
This is also the time of year in my culture and many others, where you think of the dead and welcome memories. While I’m thinking of way too many friends who’ve recently lost spouses or parents, I’m also comforted by my own memories. My stepsister sent me these fun pictures of my dad, so I’ll put them here as an electronic ofrenda.
Much of the day today I thought about transition. The butterflies started it. The snout butterflies are still migrating, and I enjoyed watching them today as they visited flowers and grasses and did mating dances. They’ll lay eggs and make more little snouts as they head north. (I’m also throwing in a Gulf fritillary and sleepy orange — what a great name.)
Like the butterflies, we all move on and do as much as we can while we live. That’s my goal. Keep moving and enjoy my life.
Enjoy your holiday, whatever you celebrate.
Whew, I was tired by the time I got home from Fredericksburg. I went home a new way, though, so I got to see some different scenery and avoid Austin traffic. To keep myself awake I tromped around the ranch on my breaks, taking pictures for the pollinator BioBlitz.
I just wandered and wandered, bearing in mind what I learned at the conference this week. I noted there were more fish where there was no cow poop, but there were fish even in what’s left of the creek, where I found one of the old mama cows having a quiet bath.
As I checked out the riparian areas, I also looked at the pastures. Yeah, they are rather over-grazed. The only plants left are what cattle don’t eat: broomweed, milkweed, and silverleaf nightshade. This made finding things to add to the BioBlitz a challenge.
I did find lots of insects and documented every tree variety, so I feel good. My goal is to ID 100 species as my contribution, and I think if I get some at Tarrin’s, where there are different plants, I’ll pass that goal. I did hit another goal today, and that’s 600 different species here on the ranch. Hard to believe!
Even if all I see is cedar elms and greenbrier, I can’t complain. Being able to get outside is such a privilege. The variety of life that’s still thriving in this drought gives me hope for us tenacious humans, too.
I didn’t see many birds other than this coy mockingbird and a cardinal that hid completely. I did hear hawks and crows a lot.
I’m hoping the weather will turn. It actually rained a few tiny drops when I fed the horses, and there was lightning in clouds at sunset. More hope!
More photos, mainly because Barbara looks at them all.
Things have been good here lately. I spend a lot of time watching cute animals.
I even rescued a trapped English sparrow today who couldn’t figure out how to get out of the henhouse. I caught her and took her out. She was so exhausted that she just sat on my hand. Poor dear. No photos, since I had five hen eggs in my other hand!
There’s just so much joy in our animals. The dogs love evenings when we’re in the pool, because they can run and play with an audience. I take them out in the mornings for a little play, too, which makes for a nice work break.
Things continue to be good with the horses, too. We had good lessons today. Drew showed Tarrin how hard we’ve been working and then learned new backups. And poor Apache struggled a lot with moving his butt when asked. My left leg is tired! But, those two bring me such joy. I’m so lucky to be able to learn and grow with them.
But there are so many animals to enjoy here. My son found this really cool snake in his cabin. He just caught it and took it outside and caulked up the hole it came in. That’s my boy.
And today, I went to water the plants and was startled when I reached to turn on the spigot. Along the house was a complete snakeskin, I’m pretty sure it was one of our rat snakes. I love it when you get the whole skin.
I guess that’s enough animal fun for a Saturday evening. Hoping all is well with you. We’re having more family illness stuff. That’s the down part of the post title.
My spouse and I do have a few things in common. Today I was reminded of some of them. That made me feel all warm and fuzzy, which I needed, since the dogs killed another animal friend and that made me sad.
I’m happier thoughts, I got something fun in the mail that my friend Deana told me about. It’s the Yarn Tarot. It’s so cute. The illustrations cover knitting, crochet, spinning, and weaving.
The main reason to get the deck would be the art, some of which is clever. The deck was designed by Katie ponder, who does seem to know about the crafts. The Fool cracked me up, setting out over the precipice to buy yarn.
The suits are: pentacles a woven star, cups drop spindles, swords knitting needles (duh), and wands crochet hooks. I have a feeling getting weaving to fit in with the pentacle symbolism was the hardest.
The twee book is a standard tarot book and doesn’t refer to the art or archetypes, but it’s not a bad book. Just not exciting.
So, that’s one thing Lee the Hermit and I both like. Another is pens. We both own so many pens and each have strong preferences. I love to write in my journals, and he did, too, until he started making them on the computer.
I got more pens than I intended to today. I thought I’d canceled one set. On well, I will use them all in my horse journal! They are all subdued, muted colors, which will fit with the horses. One impressive surprise was the at one set of pens came with an entire set of refills! That’s a good idea. Some inexpensive sets don’t put much ink in the pens, so yay for that manufacturer. They make theme sets, so I might get more (ocean theme, etc.)
The final thing we have in common is a love for cute li’l animals. I was really excited to see the storks replaced with two sets of twin calves and their mamas. I’m pretty sure one set are the ones I saw at Sara’s a couple of days ago. Double the cute.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I’m going to see where I work!
I’ll write more in the Master Naturalist blog about this (update, I forgot to do so), but I did enjoy a visit to the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections this morning. My friend Pamela and I drove over and met up with another Master Naturalist and her granddaughter, who’s high school age, and enjoyed it as much as we did, I think. We were sad that more of our group couldn’t join us.
Our guides were curators Heather Prestridge, an ichthyologist, and Gary Voelker, an ornithologist. They were informal with our small group, informative, and entertaining as well. I had a blast learning about how many specimens they have, how long the collection has been growing (since the 1930s), and how they preserve the animals for research.
The collections of herps (snakes, lizards, frogs, etc.) are immense. It’s cool to see where they all come from. There is much from Texas but also around the world. They are preserved in formaldehyde.
The fish were fascinating as well. My favorite was the box fish. There were just so many to categorize. Wow. There’s a lot of work for their grad students and volunteers! The other thing they do with the specimens is take tissue samples and freeze them (really cold) for future research on DNA and the like. What a resource this is!
Of course the birds fascinated me. I was probably really annoying with all my questions but wow, there were things here I’d never seen before, like the Hoatzin. What the heck. This bird’s young have claws on their wings!! It’s also called a stink bird, because it digests food in its crop, which is smelly. It’s a really different bird!
Dr. Voelker was great at sharing information about the birds. We saw the largest and smallest owls and an awesome variety of kingfishers, some that were an indescribable blue. Africa has some darn colorful birds.
Look at these roseate spoonbills. They are so many shades of pink. and I was fascinated to see the bill up close. Such specialization!
There was a lovely domed collection of hummingbirds that had been donated to Heather. Someone had it in their family for years!
I’ll spare you the details but we learned about 3D imaging and printing of specimens. They find what’s in the animals’ stomachs and can ID them. Huh.
They didn’t talk much about boring old mammals but I checked them out.
Believe it or not, I managed to get hungry after all those dead things. Good thing we’d arranged to meet our friend, Lynn at a restaurant at the old airport terminal. Ah. A nice restaurant. And airplanes! What a good time.
That little donkey of ours is always up to something. This morning I stayed in my room drinking coffee for a while, then realized I needed to go feed the chickens. I looked out the front window and had a start!
Fiona was being herded back onto our property and the gate was being shut behind her. That little escape artist! I threw on my clothes as fast as I could but everything was under control before I got down.
The horses were in a kerfluffle but Fiona was just standing there, looking like she was thinking, in donkey thought.
I went down to her and said hi. I asked if she wanted to go back in with the horses. She answered by trotting right behind me as I headed to the gate.
I realized why she was following me: she was thirsty! I guess she hadn’t found the wet area.
It was easy to see how she got out. The fence wire is pretty high near the gate. She left “evidence” of where she got out, so that confirmed it. I’m told that’s the only way she could have gotten out.
She’s staying in with her buddies now, so maybe she’s gonna stay with the water. Drew and Dusty didn’t care. They’ve been happy hanging out today.
Meanwhile, I went to feed the chickens and found our creature of the day, a very lumpy rat snake. I hope the bumps in it are mice. It was awful early for the chickens to have laid many eggs. Go eat rats, snake!
Our house has a lot of comings and goings for a hermitage, but we’re glad that caregivers can come help out Lee’s brother while Kathleen’s still confined to her hospital bed. I get my dose of visiting by hanging out with the horses and getting them to do some exercises before it’s too hot. Luckily I usually have a little break between meetings.
It’s really great just to be with the little herd and check in on them. Mabel was especially friendly today and kept hinting that she wanted different places scratched. That warms my heart.
Later in the day, I went to give the chickens more water. I noticed they were all inside the henhouse, because it’s so hot. I filled the water trough, and when I looked at it, it was splashing, though no hens were near. The water was almost alive.
Actually, the living part was a rat snake who had been cooling off in the water. It was no doubt quite surprised by the sudden bath. It slid out and headed to the edge of the chicken yard, then climbed the chain-link fence by going in and out of the links.
It ended up behind the tin that used to make shade for the chickens before the hen house went up. It seems as if the snake was visiting for the water, not eggs, as I got six, including one just plopped on the ground! This heat must be hard on snakes and other cold-blooded creatures.
I left my visitor, since it was time to go check on Kathleen. Her recovery process is neither quick nor easy! I brought her some little gifts that had come in the mail, plus a pair of new glasses she had ordered. And magazines! All invalids need reading material. Let’s hope she hits all her goals and gets to come home soon.
Spider spray is going to be generously applied around the outside of the house!
Whee! Yesterday was so much fun for me, as it tends to be when I go to a state park in any state. As we do every year we visit this area, Lee and I made a pilgrimage to Huntington Beach State Park, which is just a beautiful place full of nature, in addition to being a beach where zillions of people go. Last year we looked at the house where the Huntingtons lived, which was weird, to say the least, but this year, I just wanted to look at some birds. So I did.
We lucked out, because since it was a Sunday, the place was getting crowded by the time we arrived. But, in we got, and we were pleased to see only fellow bird nerds at the nature center boardwalk. I really enjoy learning more about birds and the marsh from people who know more than me, so I was in heaven. In fact, I learned a lot from a couple of little kids and their grandparents. It must be such a joy to have grandchildren to teach about things you care about.
There were birds a-plenty on the boardwalk , mostly dunlins and sanderlings, but I was happy to get to watch a beautiful plover in breeding plumage and the big thrill, a clapper rail. It’s a fairly large brown bird, but since they are shy, they are often hard to find. This one was preening, so we got to watch that really well.
There was also a very pretty snowy egret, who was later joined by a buddy. I love all their fancy feathers this time of year. There were lots of great egrets (bigger white birds), too. The best in the heron family, though, was a tricolored heron that I got to be the first to spot. It was gorgeous, with shiny feathers, red eyes, and a bright blue bill. We got to watch it for a long time, and the dude with the immense camera lens must have gotten some great photos.
Birds weren’t the only attractions, though. In addition to listening to the fun sounds of popping shrimp, we got to watch hundreds of fiddler crabs busy at work in the mud, and we were enthralled watching the oysters spitting. Some of them can really spit (sorry, no photos). It’s how they breathe, so when they are exposed, the water turns into a fountain. I also so lots of pretty fish and a blue crab doing its crab work. There is SO much life in a marsh!
In the wildlife center, we watched birds at the feeder for a while, then I enjoyed seeing what they had in some aquariums with native life in them. Watching the ray swimming around was mesmerizing.
After we left there, we headed over to my favorite nature walk along the marsh. I was happy to see that the area is recovering nicely from a fire a couple of years ago. I can tell woodpeckers are loving all the dead trees. You can hear them everywhere. As usual, I took lots of pictures, many of which I shared on Facebook, but here are some highlights. We were charmed by the signs some group had hung on some of the trees. Every sign had an uplifting, positive message that added to the pleasure of walking among all the huge trees and listening to the variety of birds.
I was pretty thrilled to see many painted buntings on this trip, but the best sight was in one eastern red cedar tree on this walk, where there were so many songbirds it felt like you were in an aviary. There were multiple painted bunting pairs, a cardinal family, a blue jay, tufted titmice, and a tiny, tiny bird that I think was a vireo. I had to take a picture of the tree and thank it.
After getting some pictures at the Octopus Tree (one that fell in a storm but didn’t die), we moved on to the next exciting portion of my day.
I knew I couldn’t leave without walking across the dam the road into the park is on, checking out that boardwalk, and seeing what was there. On the little boardwalk, I turned to take a photo of some “old man moss” and scared the heck out of a large white-tailed deer doe. I was happy to see something other than a bird! As I looked out across the water, I saw multiple alligators, and I soon learned why there are so many.
Another Diversion into Memories
As I walked down the dam, on the side that’s a lake, I saw a familiar sight, mullet jumping out of the water and making a big splash. It brought back memories for me. One was when my brother and I were pretty young and took the bus from Ft. Lauderdale to Gainesville to visit our grandmother. We ended up on the local bus that stopped over and over. We befriended an older black woman, who told us all about where we were. When we got to Lake Okeechobee she told us to look out the window, NOW. There, in the light of the setting sun, were dozens and dozens of mullet flying into the air and splashing down, creating diamonds of water droplets. I’ve never forgotten this sight.
When we lived in Plantation (1972-1980 or so), there was a Corps of Engineers canal behind us (C-10). These were the canals they used to drain the Everglades so crappy suburbs could be built where the alligators once roamed. Well, alligators still roamed there, but the best part for my family was sitting on an old footlocker we’d found and labeled “Davy Jones’s Locker” and watching the mullet as the breached in the late afternoon. Dad said they did that to kill parasites by exposing them to the sun. All I know is they sure were pretty. I’m glad I have some good memories of that place!
Back to the Present
Anyway, I enjoyed watching the fish jump and move around right under the surface of the water. I was watching a particularly rollicking roil of fishie exuberance when I realized I was not the only audience member. Someone was trolling for lunch.
I continued to watch the alligator as I defended my spot on the observation deck from a couple of barn swallows who were busy building a nest next to where I was standing. That reminded me of hanging out on the patio at home!
As I prepared to leave, I heard a noise where the fish were and picked up my binoculars. What a sight I saw! The alligator had found something to nosh on and was chomping away. I’d never seen a gator eat a meal before, despite living in Gator Country much of my life (really wish you could hear my mom’s gator call). There was lots of stuff sticking out of its mouth, and I could not tell if it had caught a blue crab or a mullet that had been surrounded by reeds (a recent storm had really filled the water with reeds).
All that gator action made up for the fact that there weren’t all that many interesting birds out, since I was there around mid-day. I enjoyed the ones I did see, then graciously allowed poor Lee to go back to the condo, since he was distressingly hangry. Here are a few more bird and people and landscape pix!
We had a surprisingly good meal at the Mexican restaurant next to the condo building. The food was very fresh and different from Tex Mex. The salsa was obviously fresh, but not quite what we were used to. However, when I declared it to be gazpacho, I loved it.
We just chilled in the room the rest of the evening, so I made great knitting progress and caught up with HGTV.
Lee is driving home today, so that’s it for me traveling anywhere, unless I take an Uber to the nice shopping center one evening or a guest magically appears (it HAS happened before). I have plenty of work to do, have the beach and hot tubs and pools at my disposal, and there is always someone friendly downstairs. I’m good. I do miss my friends, family, and animals, though.
Yay. We made it to the condominium in Myrtle Beach. We are way up high in a small unit. If we have guests we will get another room. We will see if anyone comes. This weekend it’s just me and Lee.
Today’s drive wasn’t too fancy. But I did get to see Charleston, SC for the first time. Somehow I’d always missed going there when I had a chance.
I do want to come back and actually stay there. It’s beautiful.
All my photos of plants from today came from the ditch at the South Carolina welcome center. There were some good ones, but mostly rushes and water plants.
Just before we got to Myrtle Beach, we stopped in Georgetown, our favorite nearby town. We got some ice cream and saw a gator and it’s turtle friends.
Finally we’re at the Ocean Enclave, in our room in the sky. I was happy to see my favorite bartender is still here! We all got caught up. She did teach kindergarten this year and has survived. Good for her.
I’ll be more chatty tomorrow. Things are happening back home! Right now I just want to snooze. Not feeling too good, but I like where I am. It’s actually quiet.