What’s Blooming and Growing, May Day edition

Around May, the dominant wildflowers change from bluebonnets and paintbrushes to Indian blankets and Black-eyed Susans.

Our front field

What else is blooming now? Here are a few familiar friends I was glad to see back again.

But the best new thing over in our world is an animal. Look who Sara saw shortly after I left her place this afternoon? And she had kits! exciting new life!

Beautiful gray fox!

The chickens say this is why I need to lock them in each night, however. No foxes allowed in the henhouse.

This way we don’t have to sleep with the snakes.

Good night from the Hermits’ Rest, where we spent a lovely evening watching ducks and tiny birds flying in formation. I hope they were eating all the swarming termites…that’s another story. Still. A good life.

Murmurating. Or whatever.

What’s Blooming and Flying In

[This is a re-post of something I wrote in our Master Naturalist Chapter blog. I just thought I’d share these new photos.]

I have a project on iNaturalist where I record the flora and fauna on the ranch where I live. I started it right after I became a Master Naturalist in 2018 and am still contributing to it. My goal is to eventually analyze the data to see if flowers or birds are appearing around the same time or if there’s difference due to weather or climate, or what.

I especially love the tiny flowers, like this birds-eye speedwell.

I accumulated a lot of Master Naturalist hours while working on this project, since I go out on almost every nice day to see what’s new on the property. But, last year the program changed its policy, and now we don’t get credit for hours spent observing nature on our own property. I can see not wanting observations of the same twenty plants in a suburban yard, but we have 500 acres. I stopped for a while, but then I realized the project is still important to me, so I am still taking pictures and uploading, especially in the spring.

Last week I shared some of the earlier flowers in our fields and woods. This week some new ones have showed up, which always thrills me. I’ll share some photos of the new arrivals below.

We are also losing some birds and gaining others. The hawks are still here, red-tails and red-shouldered, along with the tiny merlins and peregrine falcons. And our resident harrier keeps hovering over the fields, hopefully eating a LOT of mice.

The amazing pair of great blue herons seems busy bonding, and the belted kingfisher who showed up over the winter is still flying around and making its unmistakable chirps. In addition to the crows and starlings, we have some visiting blackbirds that make a beautiful sound. I’m not sure what type they are but enjoy listening to them. And cardinals. Wow, do we have a LOT of cardinals, too. I never knew they flocked until I moved here.

Just one male cardinal
Action shot showing the beautiful tail of this barn swallow.

Yesterday, I looked into a willow tree behind my house with my binoculars and saw a loggerhead shrike, a dove, English sparrows, a pair of cardinals, and a festive group of tiny chickadees bopping around. That’s my kind of decorated tree. Oh, and some red-eared slider turtles were holding down the trunks (this was in a tank).

I was happy to see barn swallows already in their nests just a couple of days after they arrived. The tiny insects are here, so they are looking pretty happy.

Speaking of tiny insects, I am always seeing tiny flies and bees on the flowers. They are pretty hard to identify. For example, the fly or bee in this picture is much smaller than you’d think. That is a dwarf dandelion it’s on, not a regular one.

So, yes, it’s a fun time over where I live, and I’m glad I’m able to document the variety of life here in the northern part of Milam County. I look forward to seeing what others are observing. I’ve noticed lots of plum and redbud trees elsewhere, but I just have the buds on cedar elms and coralberry.

Besides all this, I’ve seen a lot of butterflies, such as sulphurs and red admirals, but no one will hold still for me. I even saw something big and black from a long way off. I look forward to more!

Thanks for visiting my part of the world. No matter what, the rhythms of nature keep on going, and that’s a comfort.

There’s Still Life in the Old Guy

I had a little extra horse time today, so I decided to groom Dusty, the Buckskin Buddy that Kathleen rode the most. He’d been looking lonely. Plus they are all shedding.

Look at me go!

We groomed a long time. He is much lighter now, and his mane and tail are all shiny. He is even growing some forelock back in after it was just a nub for a while. I could tell he enjoy it.

See, I have a mane!

Just for fun, we went on a walk and into the round pen. He immediately picked up a nice trot and kept going until I asked him to stop. Then he went the other way, also just fine.

Thanks, Suna!

To my surprise, when I encouraged him, he picked up an easy canter, not the uncontrolled one I sometimes get from Drew. It was fun to watch him looking so good and enjoying himself. I think he likes his current rations.

After I put him away, Drew came out to play. His mane is so pretty. More important, so is his behavior. His jumps looked great, and he stopped when I stopped, then trotted when I jogged. Yep. He’s great at home. Even sidepassed both ways.

Mmm. Grass.

When we were done practicing things, we went for a nice, relaxing walk around the property. I let him have a grazing break near the arroyo and just enjoyed his shiny hair above his hooves. The walk back was just great. We had a great time.

I’m glad I’m not a horse. Zzzz.

Apache was thrilled not to have to go trotting in circles again today, so we were all happy!

Flower love. Did you know our florist grows flowers for other florists? No wonder these seem so fresh.

In spring news, the swallows are back, swooping around. And I’ve never seen or heard so many cardinals. So pretty.

Chirp

And to end the day, here are some pretty flowers Dusty and his friends sent yesterday, just to brighten your evening or day.

Enjoy whatever is on the side of your road.

What’s There to Do around Here?

It’s not as cold today, but the rain and fog have been with us all day. So, since everyone needs food, Kathleen and I went off for a scenic trip to stock up on provisions. It felt like Farmer’s heading into town for our monthly visit.

The scenery, such as it is out here, was hard to see.

We had a good omen upon departure, as I heard the interesting bird call I’ve been hearing all week and finally spotted a belted kingfisher! I was all excited, since I’d never seen one at the Hermits’ Rest before.

Blurry, but they have an unmistakable silhouette.

We wandered over to Temple, and after a few navigational challenges due to looking at birds and farm houses too hard, got some healthy lunch (no photos, it was too good). I was glad I’d brought my fancy new mask, since we had a bit of a wait.

We didn’t buy these.

Next, it was serious provisioning. You know we live in the country when a trip to the GOOD grocery store is exciting. I mean, the H-E-B has actual, fresh fish! We bought a lot of shrimp for a fancy meal tomorrow. Our cart was so full!

I remembered this owl stack is a vase, so it got the lovely tulips.

It was exciting to me to get fresh flowers for the house. Kathleen said Happy MLK Day to me.

Dak likes the purple flowers, even though they will make it hard to see himself on television later.

The car seemed full, but we’re we done? Heck no. The horses need to eat, so off we went to Tractor Supply to get 200 pounds of horse food, half Apache and Fiona’s low calorie food and half the stuff Kathleen’s four eat. Drew has plenty of his muscle-building alfalfa stuff.

Fiona would like to point out they are also low on hay. The pile no longer looks like this.

So, that stuff plus a storage bin and some straw for the chicken coop filled every other spot in the SUV, right? Nope. We had to make another stop!

Sausage and more sausage

The drive between the ranch and Temple heads straight through the heart of Czech Texas. And when you see the sign for Zabcickville (sp) you feel compelled to stop in for some traditional fare at Green’s Sausage House. They make all their own sausage and process all the meat they sell on site.

There is fresh local mill, too. What? The official milk of the Dallas Cowboys? Dang.

While we didn’t get the milk, we got plenty of meat products. And you cannot go to a Czech establishment without purchasing some kolaches! So soft and yeasty. Made on site!

Little squares of heaven.

We were finally done, and headed home, with so much to see. Farm houses, cows who climb, hawks…we did manage to mostly stay on the road while the Mexican eagles, kestrels, and huge flocks of grackles tried to distract us.

By the time we got home, we were amazed at how much we had done and seen out here in the middle of nowhere. And everyone has enjoyed their food. We will be FINE for a month or so, other than milk and bananas (must get those often at the sad Cameron stores).

Looking for Birds

It is true that I got invited back to the bird feeder where I saw the Steller’s Jay last week, since it was owned by my online friend, Elizabeth AKA Liz. I now envy her greatly, because I discovered she gets to see all sorts of wildlife right from her house. I only saw this incredibly cute squirrel, though, because I got too cold sitting on the porch waiting for a fox to walk by.

I am cute.

There was also another squirrel, one of the black ones with tufted ears, as well as a chipmunk with a tail way longer than its body, but they weren’t into posing. I’m sort of glad we didn’t see any brown bears or moose, since I had to walk home around sunset.

I had a great visit, and enjoyed the beautiful home in its inside, too! I did get better mountain chickadee photos and some tiny and precious nuthatches, too. Those are sure happy birds.

The Steller’s Jay came back and we discovered that there are two variants, and these are the southern Rockies version, which has white eyebrows that add so much to their charm. It’s just a spectacular bird, and the only crested jay west of the Rockies. So there.

I’m glad I got to see some good birds, because I took a whole bunch of pictures of an owl before realizing it is one of those fake owls. I swear I’d seen it move. But nope.

After a pleasant and brisk walk home, where I figured out all the shortcuts, I was home in time to order a beautiful pizza with onion, meatballs, and mushrooms (a combo only I would love, I guess).

mmmmmmm

The pizza place had a grumpy as heck menu. Every item said no special orders and food will be delivered as ordered and don’t you dare try to get half ingredients on their darned pizzas. It fit, I guess, given that it’s New York pizza.

Since Liz and I didn’t get a chance to take a picture, we will have to work very hard to remember to do it when we go on our planned hike later! I sure enjoyed my bird watching visit, though!

Y’all Won’t Believe THIS Coincidence

Do you remember reading about how much fun I had just wandering around Breckenridge, Colorado day before yesterday? And do you remember that I got very excited when I walked through a residential area and saw that a house had a big bird feeder and I hung around there trying to get photos of the pretty birds?

The Steller’s Jay I saw

I remember thinking what a really nice bird feeder those people had, and how much I liked all the stuff they had on their deck. It looked like such a nice, comfortable home, and I wished I could watch birds on that deck. As I walked back to town, I was so grateful to those folks for letting me see a new bird.

Well, today, I was reading Facebook comments about my earlier blog post. You could have knocked me over with an intensely blue feather when I read this!

What??? (I scratched her name out because I, too, care about internet privacy)

At first, I thought she meant that was the same kind of bird feeder she had. But no, out of all the houses in this little town, I had managed to take a bird picture at the home of the ONLY person I know who actually lives here! I knew she’d moved away from Texas, but I forgot where she had gone!

This made me SO happy.

So, I may get my wish and get to look at birds from that lovely deck. Maybe I can get better photos. I’m just tickled to death! This whole “keeping up with folks on the internet” thing is really working out for me!

Speaking of Friends

My friend Kathy and I knitted and talked all morning until the shops opened, at which time we went shopping a bit more and had a wonderful brunch at a place called the Columbine Cafe. I had an omelet with a side of the first Colorado green chili that I’d ever had. If you get a chance, try it. The tequila sunrise was also delicious.

This woman can really knit by the way. That sweater has incredible subtle detailing and fits perfectly. I wove my scarf.

Our shopping was a great success, as I have holiday gifts all under control now. One shop we went into had some of the funniest dang cards, fridge magnets, and t-shirts that we couldn’t stop laughing. What we really liked about this place, and the other one we spent a lot of time in, was that much of the merchandise was unique and not the same old stuff you see everywhere. There must be a lot of creative and funny people in this state.

I think we are trying to blind ourselves. But we wanted a picture with mountains in the background. Note that I got earrings with crows on them that completely match my winter coat. I think they may be my winter go-to earrings. They are enamel on copper.

We both tried very hard to not go into the store with all the rocks, crystals, and jewelry under the one with the funny merchandise. But we went in. There, I discovered a treasure trove of turquoise jewelry, including some Sand Creek stones I had never seen before. It’s beautiful, light blue stuff. They also had a genuinely nice collection of old Navajo jewelry. I totally fell in love with a coral and turquoise piece from the 1960s, unsigned, as many old pieces are. I’m going to end up wearing this one a lot.

After we finished at the jewelry store, where I had heart palpitations from the beauty, we went for a little ride looking for a mine. We didn’t find the mine but did fine some beautiful scenery from the road that runs up into the mountains east of Breck. That was plenty great for me.

Then, Kathy was nice enough to take me to the grocery store to stock up after I ate a lot of my food last week. I’m probably good with food until I leave town.

Meanwhile, Back in Texas

I’m sure you’re craving photos of my animals back at the ranch. Lee has been really nice about sending me dog and chicken pictures. However, this took my breath away. I think Drew is the prettiest horse in the world, at least for me. Thanks to Sara for grabbing me a photo while she was at the trainer’s for her lesson. He is filling out so nicely. Ahh.

Back to knitting, relaxing, and wishing the time didn’t change tonight. I’ve got plenty to do and so much fun to look forward to in the next two weeks. I’m so grateful for kind friends who are willing to spend time with me when I just randomly show up near where they live!

Climbed a Mountain and Turned Around

Today was quite a workday, so I decided to go for a nice walk when I was done. The sun was shining, and the snow all melted, so I broke out the new hiking boots and off I went.

Going up! The clouds are so close!

I had planned to just walk along the road leading uphill, but I saw a sign saying there was a stable a mile thataway. I thought that would be fun to check out.

Well hidden, they are.

Unfortunately, there were no further signs, no roads, and no hints about where to go, so I just followed a muddy road heading up. It turned out to be the access road for the skiing on Peak 10 (that’s the names of mountains here, numbers) and the really, really big resort down the road. It’s as big as a town.

Genuine ski lifts

I decided that, since someone ahead of me had climbed the hill I saw, so could I. So, up and up I went. The trail was actually a ski slope, as I discerned from the snow-making machines I saw everywhere. I had a good time tromping through the snow, until I hit the deep parts that were higher than my shoes. I didn’t have on good tucked-in pants, so snow got in my boots.

I followed those footsteps.

But, panting as only a Texan in the Rockies can, I kept going. The scenery was pleasant and stopping to pant let me look at it. I kept going up about halfway, and then I saw this sign. I liked that sign. I’d climbed enough of Peak 10.

Easiest way down? I’ll take it!

So I turned around, just like Stevie Nicks, and headed down that trail. I was rewarded with a new bird I’d never seen before. It is apparently a Canada Jay. It was pretty and flew around a lot so I could see it well. What a treat!

I continued down the little trail and saw wildlife tracks everywhere. I saw rabbit tracks in more than one place, deer tracks of some kind, and what I am pretty sure were coyote tracks (no human tracks going beside them, and they were later joined by another canine). I don’t think it was a wolf, because the tracks weren’t very big.

I enjoyed looking at a little mountain stream, which was primarily snow runoff, but sounded pretty. As the trail ended, I tromped through a snowy area that must be gorgeous in the summer, because it was full of native grasses and wildflowers. By the time all that tromping was over, my feet were soaked, but I was quite happy.

I also spotted a disc golf course I might try going down later.

This looks less snowy.

As I made my way back, I went into the Beaver Creek Resort, which was dismal and sad as far as I can tell, but I guess it’s not “the season” yet, so no one is there but a few workers. There were a lot of areas under repairs. Maybe it’s on hard times since the pandemic.

Back at the Lodge (which still features the screaming child and its door-slamming relatives), I plan to enjoy a nice delivery dinner followed by knitting and a bath in the jacuzzi. That will get me all energized for tomorrow. My shoes and socks are drying and will be ready for more fun tomorrow.

I climbed pretty high!

I know I do weird things on a “vacation,” but I like just doing one thing a day and really enjoying it, rather than rushing to do a lot. And it’s been quite nice working here. No complaints, other than it rained all day at the ranch, so no pool work got done. Rain is good, of course.

Creepy Crawlies, but Not Worms

I think it’s time to stop messing with the oak trees for a while. Don’t get me wrong; I had a nice break today, out walking around my work building and checking out what was dead, what was still alive, and what was going on with the oak trees in north Austin. But, it’s the time of the year for the “tree worms,” as people around here call them.

This guy would not leave my hand, even when I silked it to a tree.

I learned from Tallamy’s book about oak trees that these squirmy worm-esque creatures that hang by threads from oak trees right around when the oaks are blooming are not worms, but rather caterpillars of various oak moths (all of which seem to be brown and mottled, to blend in with oak bark and limbs). They hang from a strand of silk to make it harder for insect-eating birds and others to get to them. They can not only wiggle, but move up and down their strands of silk fairly rapidly.

Aren’t they fascinating? Sure, unless they are getting all over you and crawling around. I had this brilliant idea that I could get a picture of one of these caterpillars hanging from its silken thread, and spent at least 5 minutes trying to focus on one, but it kept swaying and wiggling. That was hard on the phone camera. Meanwhile, I was concentrating so hard I didn’t realize how many “worms” had landed on me.

No idea what these are but you can see their insides.

I gave up and moved on to looking at one of my favorite groupings of oaks and other trees that shelter the office building from traffic noise. The motte of trees was generating its own sounds, though. A group of cedar waxwings was going to town on some of those bugs and singing, too. And there was one of those very loud wrens bopping up and down a tree trunk, along with a mockingbird, who was getting bugs off the ground. I saw evidence of a crow, too, and a big nest, just the right size for squirrels. Yes, there’s a lot going on in these city hideaways. No wonder the birds were singing, the trees contained quite the insect cafeteria for them.

I wandered back to the central courtyard a while later, and that’s where I found these tiny possumhaw holly blossoms. It made me feel more hopeful that at least the native plants in the courtyard made it. And with the rate things are coming and going in my life right now, that is a very good thing.

Tiny blossoms
This little yellow one came out blurry, darn it.

Unfortunately, when I got back to work, I kept finding caterpillars and bits of web on me. Good thing the little darlings don’t bite people. I put them all in a cup and let them go when I left for the day. Sorry, but I didn’t feel like photographing that collection. I still feel itchy, though. I do believe I’ll shower very carefully and thoroughly this evening. I bet no one would blame me!

Nonetheless. Hooray for all our resilient native plants and the life they support. Do you have yearly visits from the tree worms where you live? Are they all one kind, or a variety?

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A Familiar Bird All Dressed Up

It’s much cooler this morning than it was yesterday, so I wish today was the massive hay-bale unloading day. And, yes, I have a sore back and arms, but that’s not gonna stop me from getting out and doing things! Um, and theoretically today I’ll finally have time to work on the newsletter that’s going sort of slowly this week.

Anyway, I have a bird story. Every day when I wake up, I head over to our second-story bedroom window that faces the chickens and the pond to see what’s going on in the world. I can see dogs, hens, horses, cattle, and often birds.

Today, I saw two white birds by the pond. Seeing a white bird is not uncommon, since we have a Great Egret who visits often. These two looked like egrets, but not so great. They were smaller and had patches of a pretty salmon color on their heads and backs. They looked like this:

Photo from iNaturalist, copyright (c) Charlotte Bill.

I couldn’t get a photo, since my phone was updating its OS. The nerve. I wracked my not-really-awake-yet brain trying to figure out what it could be. It had a poky bill, so it wasn’t a duck. It had a long neck, but not THAT long of a neck. And it looked like an egret with a short neck and a short bill.

Isn’t that a pretty bird? Photo from iNaturalist, copyright (c) Charlotte Bill.

The phone finally finished updating, so I could look it up on Merlin Bird ID. That is one helpful piece of software! I entered its size as smaller than a goose, and its colors as white and orange. I couldn’t wait to see what exotic creature I’d seen, but not been able to photograph. I had to laugh when I saw what came up. The birds are a pair of cattle egrets in breeding plumage!

My own best picture of cattle egrets, in a large flock.

My gosh, I’ve been seeing these birds my entire life, but the color fooled me. Now I know they get all colorful this time of year. Looking through the photos on iNaturalist, I could see they can be quite colorful. I read that they get more colorful in some other parts of the world, too.

Learning about these guys (Bubulcus ibis) on Wikipedia explained to me why I’ve seen them my whole life. It turns out that they were first introduced to the US (escaping captivity) in Florida, where I spent my childhood! They were observed breeding there in the late 1950s, and had spread to Canada in just ten years. Wow. They also busily expanded from their native Iberian peninsula, too. I guess where there are cattle, they follow.

I have a vague memory of my mom mentioning that they didn’t see them when she was younger, which makes sense to me now. I strongly remember finding these birds very funny when they rode around on the backs of the huge herds of Hereford cattle we’d see in north Florida in the 60s.

I guess it pays to wake up and look out the window, because it can lead you to learning a lot more about a bird you’ve enjoyed your whole life! It pays to stay curious!

A Chickweed Festival for Birds

It was a beautiful morning here, with mist rising from the ponds and a very heavy load of dew, so the grasses and flowers were all shiny. As soon as I went downstairs and sat at my desk, I realized that there are even more birds in the field in front of the house than usual.

Some of the birds I scared off when I walked outside. Mostly starlings, but there’s a meadowlark at left.

The meadowlarks have been all over the fields for weeks now, but I realized that there are also a lot of European starlings, along with some of the red-winged blackbirds that I’ve mostly been hearing and not seeing. The savannah sparrows are also participating (a few white-crowned sparrows are at the edge of the woods, but they don’t like to come out in the middle of the field). Joining the crowds are our breeding pairs of mockingbirds and cardinals. This creates quite a cacophony.

Where I see all the birds. You can see some flying back by the trees. I scared them.

I wondered why there were more birds today than in the past couple of weeks. I put on my Master Naturalist thinking cap and thought there must be some kind of thing for them to eat now that wasn’t there last week.

The male cardinal is in the center. The mockingbirds flew off as I took the picture.

Sure enough, I recalled mentioning to Lee last night that the chickweed was all yellowish and looked like it had gone to seed. Could that be it? The name implies birds like it.

Chickweed in bloom.

So, I went off to search the internet and look at that. I found an article that told me chickweed is not native, but is good to eat for us humans, too. It’s chock full of vitamins and minerals. Most important:

Chickweed is also grown as feed for chickens and pigs, hence its common names clucken wort, chicken weed, and birdseed. Wild birds also love to eat chickweed seeds.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Can You Eat Chickweed – Herbal Use Of Chickweed Plants 

Well, there ya go. I used my brain and got my answer. It looks like I’ll have plenty of bird-watching fun for the next few days, right out my little window. Chickweed is my new friend, and officially a wildflower and NOT a weed (even though I already figured it was).

This is not fascinating, but does show some chickweed seed heads.

Anything exciting going on where you are?


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