A Digression on Dog Genetics, Part 1

carlton_sit
You can see Carlton’s markings in this photo. The very pale markings around his ears are hard to see, but there.

My lovely puppy, Carlton, is 6.5 months old, as far as we can tell. He weigs 31 pounds, and is all legs and teeth at this point. He loves other dogs, warms up to people, and is generally the best puppy ever. He also has “weird eyes,” as one of our veterinarians put it. She advised that we check with a veterinary opthalmologist as soon as possible.

That visit came on Tuesday, and it’s sent me down a long path of figuring out exactly how Carlton got to be who he is, and why. I wrote up some of this on Facebook, but since then I’ve been doing a lot more research, and as a person who once considered majoring in biology, I found it really fascinating. In fact, writing up my findings is so complex that I am going to break it into more than one post.

Vet visit findings

The regular vet had diagnosed Carlton as having some kind of eye abnormality, in addition to being blue, so she sent me to the veterinary ophthalmologist to see what’s up. This is the same woman, Dr. Yu-Speight, I went to when my corgi, Gwynneth’s eyes went bad (she ended up having them removed and lived 4 more years). We had a wonderful visit.

First of all, Carlton was quite the little man through the whole appointment. He even jumped into the car on command, finally! I am so proud of this dog. He was incredibly well behaved until we got back home, when he went bonkers.

There was a great deal of eye prodding and dropping involved, but they tested everything from tears, to pressure in the eye to the insides. So, he dealt with many substances and implements. I was amazed at his patience, even though he was obviously not enjoying the process.

Sure enough, his eyes are not “normal,” which we knew. But he CAN see, better in darker light, which we also knew.

Continue reading “A Digression on Dog Genetics, Part 1”

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New Avian Friends?

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Hmm, why was this nest so easy to see?

Hi folks. Sorry for the inadvertent hiatus; I had some technical and scheduling difficulties, but I am back now. I’ve been thinking a lot about birds, so I’ll just share a bit about what’s going on with them here, and write more later! More posts! Yay!

Nests, Part 1

This week I came across more bird nests, including the one in the photo above. It’s a very small nest, though you can’t tell that in the photo, with such pretty little eggs in it. I spotted it while riding my horse, Apache, around a hay pasture we usually don’t ride in.

It was really easy to see the nest, which had me confused. Don’t birds who nest on the ground usually hide the nests? As “Patchy” plodded around the field one more time, I realized what had happened: our ranch helper had mowed a path around the edges of the pasture so my neighbor and I could ride. The mower probably went over the nest, didn’t harm it, but DID reveal it. The rest of the pasture has lush grass about a foot high.

Anyway, I am sad that these eggs probably won’t make it, but I know we have plenty of sparrows here, so plenty of nests. By the way, I’m pretty sure these are lark sparrow eggs. We have plenty of those, plus savannah sparrows, and house sparrows (around the houses).

Continue reading “New Avian Friends?”

Rain Brings Rain Lilies (and Bees)

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This is called a copper lily, but it’s in the rain lily family.

We had a big surprise rain event yesterday. No one was expecting it, but they were happy nonetheless. I hit some really hard rain in southern Milam County and was very glad for the rain mode in the car. There were waves on the road.

But the real topic today is rain lilies. Rain lilies (white ones) are a common plant around here. They pop up some time in summer, usually, in large masses after a good rain. I found it interesting that the Wildflower Center has two Latin names for rain lilies:
Cooperia pedunculata and Zephyranthes drummondii. Apparently, the ones that bloom in the spring are different from the ones that bloom in the fall (no clue what the summer ones are). It has some cool alternate names, too: Hill Country rain lily, Prairie lily, Rain lily, and Flor de mayo.

Here at the ranch, we have always had these really pretty yellow “rain lilies” that pop up around the same time as the white ones.

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Here they are in a field.

When they came up this year, of course the first thing I did was look them up on iNaturalist, which is how I found out they were called copper lilies or Rio Grande copper lilies (Habranthus tubispathus). It says they are escaped ornamental plants from Central America that have naturalized. I can’t imagine anyone planted them in our pasture, but who knows? They definitely seem to appear most often in Texas.

Continue reading “Rain Brings Rain Lilies (and Bees)”

I Saw What?

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Look at that nice, round hole. There’s a red-bellied woodpecker in there!

It’s been a busy few days of observation here at the Hermits’ Rest. It’s hard to say which of the things I’ve seen has been more interesting to me!

The nest

The first thing I found has been intriguing me for a few weeks. I kept seeing a red-bellied woodpecker on a short tree stump on our property, right next to the road. I figured out why on Thursday when I was driving home and saw the bird entering a hole in the stump. I realized it must be a nest, so next time I drove by I stopped, and I could see “someone” in there, but it doesn’t show up in the photo (sigh, I realize a lovely woodpecker would have made the picture more exciting).

Next time I drove by to show my friends and spouse, and the woodpecker wasn’t home, but there was a beautiful hawk watching us from the next dead tree (which is still there because it was home to last year’s woodpeckers).

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The hawk at the top of the dead tree seems to be watching that nest.

That sure teaches us to make sure to keep some of the dead and downed trees around! They make nice homes for beautiful nature friends.

The butterflies

This time of year there are a lot of butterflies around, especially the frittilaries. I got this nice photo of a variegated frittilary this weekend.

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This variegated fritillary looks like a stained glass window.

But what a lovely surprise came when I was showing some visitors our neighbor’s peack tree! The plum tree, which is finished fruiting but still has its protective net on, had one overripe plum still on it. This had let to a frittilary festival! There were at least a dozen of them flying around and enjoying plum juice. They landed on our heads and hands, making it seem like we were in a butterfly garden in a zoo. What a great experience

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Very happy butterflies enjoying a very ripe plum.

And termites!

That’s right, I am excited about termites. You see, every year we get these interesting tube-like dirt structures on the parts of our property with the heavy clay soil. I always wondered what they were. My spouse said they were made by some kind of termite. I was confused, since they do not appear to be near any wood, which I identify as termite food.

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Some of these tube structures are very large and complex. The termites climb up them and eat the grass inside, in safety, unless someone steps on their feeding structure.

So, when they showed up this year, I took some pictures, and uploaded them to iNaturalist in hopes of finding more information. I couldn’t find anything, though. Luckily, my Master Naturalist colleague, Linda Jo Conn, knew what it was (desert termites) and identified it for me. I was surprised to see very few sightings of Gnathamitermes tubiformans in the database.

Linda Jo referred me to her own observation of this very interesting beneficial termite, and there I found a link to a great article all about these fascinating creatures.  They build walls around food sources like grass blades (out of clay, spit, and such) to protect themselves while they harvest it. So, all those cool tubes I saw were protective tunnels.

They mostly live underground, and according to the article:

“Their tunneling makes soil more porous. which improves the infiltration of rainfall and can improve plant growth in these arid areas.”

McDonald, A.K., Muegge, Mark A., and C. Sansone: Desert Termites Gnathamitermes tubiformans, 2010, Texas AgriLife Extension.

I am now trying to be more careful not to squish them.

Next up are copper lilies and a rare bee.

A One-Hour Urban Experiment

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Salvia gregii is a really popular landscape plant. It’s supposed to be native, but I’ve never seen any that wasn’t put there by someone.

During the four days of the week when I’m in Austin, I do yoga three days at lunch. But on Wednesdays, I’m on my own. Sometimes I just work, but often I take a walk around the area, which has some interesting plantings and natural areas as well. The office is on land that used to be full of deer when my kids were little. Now there is a lot more office space and less deer land.

Anyway, I decided to give myself a challenge last Wednesday, which was to see how many new iNaturalist observations I could make during the lunch hour. I wanted to focus mainly on things that were blooming or bearing fruit, but if something else interesting showed up, I’d take advantage of that.

So, off I went with my trusty iPhone X, which takes reasonable pictures, sometimes. I took pictures of the native/nativized plants that had been planted around the buildings first. There were some really beautiful agaves that I just had to record, even though I know they are landscape plants. Look at this Queen Victoria Agave!

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It’s pretty, even if it’s not native.

Continue reading “A One-Hour Urban Experiment”

Solstice Greetings (and Weather)

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It’s the Austin house (Bobcat Lair) showing lovely dark rain clouds. Ah.

It’s the longest day of the year, and from what I hear, the most fun holiday in Sweden. So, happy solstice, midsummer, or whatever you’re enjoying today.

Since rain in summer is so rare in these parts, I’m happy to report that it rained for three days in both Austin and Cameron this week. It wasn’t the flooding that happened on the Texas coast, but it was enough to help out the plants and at least slow the evaporation of the ponds/tanks at the ranch.

If you look carefully at this photo from yesterday of the pond behind the Hermits’ Rest house, you will see a lot of black around the edges. That’s where the water line has gone down. On the shallow edge of this one, it’s retreated at least six feet. The rain wasn’t enough to cause runoff, which is what fills the ponds, but at least an inch went in from direct rain.

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It’s dry, but could be lots worse. Notice at upper right there are some vultures riding the currents.

We still think it will be a long, dry summer. The heat already took care of most of my crops, but I think I’ll have some okra!

Tomorrow there will be a post about a marathon of citizen science I did yesterday, so stay tuned for more nature fun.

 

Grass Is a Pain in the Rear

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Rescue brome! Cool name, Never would ahve guessed this.

In my zeal to record all the things blooming around the Hermits’ Rest, I’ve been wanting to record all the lovely grasses that are producing their seed heads this time of year. They’re actually just glorious to look at right at sunset, when the silver bluestem practically glows as it waves in the wind. Heck, even Johnson grass (the bane of Texans’ existence) looks pretty that time of day.

I enjoy the grasses, especially since one of our field trips was to the herbarium, where we learned to use the keys to identify grasses by their seeds. Unfortunately, that is not a skill I have. Nor do I have a microscope, or even a really good camera. This means, sadly, that I sort of stink at grass identification.

Still, I throw my photos up on iNaturalist in hopes that someone will know what I am looking at. Sometimes it works, as in that rescue brome up there, but often it doesn’t.

Thank goodness for the helpful naturalists on the site, though. One of the Texas Parks and Wildlife urban wildlife biologists, Sam Kieschnick, has often consirmed my observations. His profile on iNaturalist proclaims his love of the project. The number of contributions he makes confirms his passion. I admire how he helps educate so many peopleand helps them contribute to scientific research along the way.

Continue reading “Grass Is a Pain in the Rear”