Looking Forward to a Master Naturalist Weekend

I’m all a-twitter about getting to go to my first Texas Master Naturalist conference in Georgetown this weekend. I’ll get to spend time with my friends from the El Camino Real chapter, and meet lots of new and interesting folks, I hope.

snail
Hey look, a land snail! I find them fascinating!

I made Anita laugh a lot when I got so excited about an email last night that I had to run downstairs to ACT on it. What was it? Why, it was a notice that a spot had opened up in the session on “The Land Snails of Texas.” I have NO idea why she thought my excitement was sort of hilarious. I really want to know more about those snails I see everywhere, especially on the walls of the Dutchtowne Cafe in Cameron.

Of course, snails aren’t ALL I’m looking forward to. I also get to go look at a cave in the neighborhood where I used to live, the Brushy Creek/Avery Ranch area that straddles Austin, Cedar Park, and Round Rock. We always knew there were caves in the limestone below the area, but when one collapsed recently, it became big news (the article I link to here has lots of cool pictures of the cave before it got all cemented up)! The one we are going to look at is NOT directly under any houses, and is apparently a good size. I love the karst and limestone, I guess because I lived on it for 20 years.

You readers will like that I am going to two sessions on taking better photos of plants and wildlife. I hope to learn some iPhone techniques and to take good notes on what I can do when I get my other camera going.

I’ll share more of what I learn in the coming days.

rain2
It’s dreary in north Austin today, but at least I have my reminders to breathe and exhale. And happy plants.

And as for the weather

It’s all rainy AGAIN. Austin has been under a boil order since Monday, which is a pain, but it’s not like we were hit by a tornado or hurricane or anything. The hope is that clearing will happen for the weekend and all the outdoor activities. There’s a real good chance!

At least it’s cooled off and we’ve enjoyed 50s and 60s outside for the last couple of days. That’s nice. Ahhh.

 

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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?

 

Wandering through Bluegrass Country

glory
Every color in the mixed packet of morning glories grew on the roadside around Albemarle, NC.

Continuing on our vacation, we spent time in High Point, NC, where lots of my family and old friends live. It’s a beautiful town, though we avoided most of it, because it was Furniture Market time. The hurricane had made a big mess of the town, but they sure cleaned up quickly!

Heading Out

On our way back to Texas, we took a detour, since we knew that we were in the heart of bluegrass music territory, and we owed my son a steel guitar. My friend, Vicki, had told us of some leads and people she knew in the community when we visited an amazing bluegrass instrument store in Statesville. Lee and I figured the time to buy that 2016 Christmas gift for my son was NOW.

guitar
This instrument has beautiful blue green stained tiger maple that doesn’t show up well in photos. Note it has ten strings.

We did some detective work and found that a reasonably priced guitar on eBay was actually nearby in Albemarle (which promoted my stepmom to list everyone she ever knew who lived there and their addresses, from the 40s). We tracked the guy down, and he invited us to come on by.

What a beautiful drive it was! We really enjoyed the countryside, the amazing morning glories growing everywhere (they look like the kind you buy, not like the ones in Texas).

Finding Mr. Hudson (actually he’s a minister) was not easy, but we got help from some deputy sheriffs and Hudson’s wife, who directed us to a garage. There we found beautiful instruments! There were many pedal steel guitars, and also a resonator built like a steel giutar, so you could sit to play it.

yellow tree
Not the prettiest building, but definitely the prettiest tree in Albemarle.

We agreed on a price for the guitar we wanted, and headed into town for money. What a charming little place. We hope Cameron can look so nice eventually. We even found trees changing color, at last.

Country Beauty

After we paid, we followed Mr. Hudson to his “new” shop. Wow. It was down a long driveway in a gorgeous setting, and consisted of many portable buildings all set up into a series of guitar building rooms. I’ll not invade his privacy to show you the drills, saws, and other equipment, but the place was as spotless as the huge place I saw where they make Taylor guitars in California.

farmland
Beautiful North Carolina farmland.

The luthier says that at sunset you often see dozens of deer and large families of turkeys in the field. That is a great workplace!

sundog
Sundogs just before sunset in Georgia. Heading home.

The way back to the interstate was also a lot of fun. And then we enjoyed a glorious sunset, complete with sundogs!

I guess that’s it for nature viewing until we get back to Texas, but this was certainly a worthwhile detour.

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.

A Visit to Audubon Newhall Preserve

woods_trees
Lee took this pine panorama photo.

Hilton Head Island is a beautiful place, and there are lots of regulations that keep it that way. They do their best to preserve vegetation, signs are kept small (making it hard to find restaurants until you pass them), and building colors are regulated. It’s all very soothing, but a lot of what you see is carefully manicured.

woods_sun
The light was beautiful, since we were there in the late afternoon.

That’s why, after a day of real estate stuff, it was wonderful to visit the Audubon Newhall Preserve, which is 50 acres that will never be developed. While the area looks “all natural,” there has been careful restoration and preservation of native plants, which has brought all sorts of wonderful birds and other wildlife.

pond
The pond was filled with life.

The pond was made out of a natural depression that was made deeper, but there are also areas that show what the original island topography was like, with rolling terrain that allows plants that like it moist and sand-loving plants to live very near each other.

asters
These asters were covered in a variety of butterflies, including these lovely long-tailed skippers.

I enjoyed seeing plants I was familiar with from my childhood in the Deep South, plus some new plants that are native to South Carolina. There were also lovely butterflies, and I’m thrilled I actually DID get a good enough photograph of the asters to identify the long-tailed skippers, which are everywhere right now.

oak
Beautiful tree, and someone’s sample bucket.

I saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker and a number of warblers, including one with black and white males and brown females. I think they were black-throated blue warblers. Plus there were crows, mockingbirds, Carolina wrens, and a nuthatch.

sign_sample
Here’s an example of one of the interesting signs around the preserve.

The people who maintain the area have been planting many new specimens, and they’ve also lovingly labeled many of the specimens with some details about them. That made it a lot of fun to learn as we wandered around.

path
I wish you winding paths, peace, quiet, and nature’s beauty.

I guess the best part of the place was that it was not over-developed or full of loud people. Mosquitoes were the only drawback!

Travel through the South

mississ
Such a lovely place. The cannons do NOT work.

You haven’t heard much from us, because we’ve been traveling! We spent two days driving to Hilton Head, South Carolina. It was a glorious two days, too. The first days we enjoyed many small towns in Texas, since the first part of our trip was on state highways. Before stopping for the night, we visited my favorite welcome station, the one on the Mississippi River. I love the two bridges, watching barges, and all the colors. Some day I would love to take a river cruise on this river!

sign2We stopped for the night in Meridian, Mississippi. We had a huge room, but what impressed us the most was that there was tons of food in the lobby when we arrived. It was for all the people who had evacuated from the path of Hurricane Michael and needed a break. There was a real sense of community in the place, and the staff at the hotel was bending over backwards to be kind, including feeding everyone. Made me happy.

Continue reading “Travel through the South”

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!