Now I’m Happy, Thanks to Pinkney Island

I finally got to go on a hike. It rained all morning, but at some point in the afternoon it cleared up. Hooray, hooray. Off we went to a big ole nature preserve called Pinkney Island National Wildlife Refuge. I hadn’t gotten to go there before, so I was pretty excited. There’s nothing I like better than a swampy and damp woodland and marsh combo. Ooh boy. Nature and all its smells and colors. This place looks like my dreams.

My idea of fun

This beautiful place is a breeding spot for marsh birds, and we did get to enjoy seeing lots of birds at the Ibis pond, including, of all things, some white ibis! There were many fun birds swimming around there, including our friends the great heron and great white egret. There were also snowy egrets, gallinules, and coots, which were all fun to watch. And all the sounds were like being in a jungle movie. We loved it.

After that, Lee rested while I kept walking down a long path where I was completely alone with the woods. Suna Heaven. I saw so many beautiful trees, including some huge oaks, pines, and the biggest sweetgum tree I’ve ever seen. It was tree world, full of fungus, lichen, decay, and dank dampness. Ah.

There were also at least two armadillos that just totally ignored me as they busily rooted in the leaves, a lot of annoyed squirrels, and a flock of American robins. There was also a precious ruby-crowned kinglet we watched take a bath in a puddle, but I enjoyed it too much to get a picture. It was glorious! I was so happy.

But I did have to come back and find my husband, after walking nearly five miles. Even my fancy shoes were beginning to let my feet hurt, anyway.

Found him!

I enjoy walking with Lee, because I’m free to stop and take lots of pictures while he takes his time. It works for us. I took a lot of pictures of the marsh, the shore, the trees ranging from tiny to immense, and all the life that feels safe on an uninhabited island. Well, unless there’s a hurricane or anything.

We topped the trip off with a meal at an overly fancy restaurant (Nunzio’s, for Rae who wants restaurant recommendations) where you have to have reservations even at 5 pm and most of the cars in the lot were Porsches and Mercedes. Still, the halibut was perfect, and the tomato salad had the ripest, tastiest tomatoes I’ve had in ages.

I just need one day like this per vacation, so I guess I can sit around the rest of the time I’m in South Carolina. Ha ha.

Birders Are Great, So Are Birds

Today it was certainly warmer here in Hilton Head than it was back at the Hermits’ Rest. Please be thinking of my friends, family, and animals tonight. I never like it when there’s a winter storm warning, but I know the animals are all protected!

Stormy weather approaches.

I enjoyed looking at large groups of ducks out in the ocean, which to me looked like hooded mergansers. They were so far out, though, that I couldn’t quite tell what they were. It was frustrating, but they and the dolphins were fun to watch. More on the ducks later.

My best photo of the ducks. What quality!

After work, Lee and I went to what passes for a town center here, and I got a couple of hats, including one that makes me look a lot like I live on Gilligan’s island. But the pink lining is oh-so-flattering.

We had an early supper at our favorite Greek restaurant, It’s Greek to Me. I had absolutely fantastic Mediterranean style cod and Lee had lamb, which he didn’t like at first, but warmed up to. I sure like the quality of food at this place!

When we got back, I headed out for a sunset beach walk, which is my favorite activity here. It was cloudy, but there was a beautiful pink and pale blue light that turned the water the color usually called seafoam green.

I even found some actual seafoam, and interesting patterns of what appears to be pollen deposited at the highest point of the tide. Elm trees are already in bloom here, so my guess is they have something to do with the formations.

I enjoyed watching seagulls at the water’s edge. They would go to the wettest part of the sand and stomp their little feet, stirring up whatever little creatures they wanted to eat. I eventually took a little movie of them. Even lowly seagulls can be fun to watch!

Dance of the Gulls

On my way back I kept stopping to look at the ducks. I saw a man with a big camera up by the dunes. Eventually he walked over and asked me if I thought those were hooded mergansers. I said I saw white on them and they had what appeared to be large heads.

The man then shared with me that they are often spotted here in big groups (rafts), but that there are other birds that they could be. He asked what else I saw, which was great, because he said that the osprey I saw is “the” osprey of this beach, and that the yellow-rumped warblers are everywhere right now, so it’s no wonder I kept seeing them.

Soon a young-ish woman (younger than the man and me) came up and asked about the ducks. We embarked on a wonderful conversation about what birds we’d seen, what apps we use, and what we’d like to see here (the man lives here, lucky dude). The woman suggested the birds might be scaups (there are two kinds here). At last, the man picked up the fancy camera and took a few pictures, after which his battery died, but not before we got to see an image. They were scaups! The white I saw was the body of these lovely water birds, which do have large heads. I should have guessed the birds were scaups, because I could tell they sit lower in the water than ducks.

photo by taarnersuaq on iNaturalist. The top bird is not a scaup. It’s a coot. A cute coot.

Just as we finished talking about terns and I was about to leave, a large bird swooped by right above the water. I said, whoa, that thing could be a skimmer! The man said it was! Lucky for us, it came back, and I got to see this fascinating bird up close. They are relatives of gulls that feed by flying barely above the water with their mouths open and the bottom jaw in the water. I got a great view of it, then got a not-so-great photo next time it considerately passed.

You can almost see its mouth.
Charles J. Sharp took this picture on Wikipedia. What a cool bird!

Wow. That’s enough birding for one day! I just enjoyed the heck out of all the birds I saw and felt so lucky to run into such generous fellow birders. I love how much information bird lovers share with each other. They are the kind of people who restore my faith in humanity.

Filet Gumbo and Filet Crow

What a nice day it was, through a bit nippy. So much got done that I felt like a paragon of efficiency. The Red House is ready for the next visitors, I got a fun custom sweatshirt from the talented Kimberly of Side Hustle Shirts (photo later), and I enjoyed a really special time with friends at lunch. That was the gumbo part.

From where I had lunch I could almost see our place. It’s over the far ridge.

Community is important, and with all the restrictions easing, it’s been a real pleasure to enjoy time with friends and meet new people to expand my community. It was very sweet of our friend Linda to invite a few women over for lunch today. It felt both special and normal at the same time. It’s healing to me to feel part of a group again, and I can’t wait to do more of this, like people used to do in the before times.

And the gumbo was so good. I need to eat that more!

Of course, it’s always good to be home with one’s spouse and his fancy mustache.

As for filet crows, I finished the little filet crochet curtain I started a few days ago. It was fun to do and I figured out how to do a bigger project with other yarn. The key is extended double crochet, which will make the squares more…square. You add an extra loop to make the stitches a tad taller.

Rectangles, not squares.

As my coworker said today, it looks more like a pigeon than a crow, since I did it left to right rather than top to bottom. But, since it’s cotton, I can block and starch it to stretch it a bit.

At least you can tell it’s a bird.

Most important is that I enjoyed making this. It came out the right size to be a curtain in the tack room, too. Sadly, I used up five of my eight skeins of fancy Rowan organic cotton, so I can’t make a pair!

Tomorrow I’m starting a smaller scale filet crochet project, which I hope will get it all out of my system and I can go back to knitting. Since the temperature blanket I designed uses many colors, I’ll wait a bit to start it. Why? It’s time for another road trip! Talk to you from the road tomorrow!

The Real World for Elderly Hermits

The morning today was like in some princess movie, with dozens of little chirping birds surrounding me with songs, plus a loud and strikingly beautiful red-bellied woodpecker. I’ll remember this brief retreat at Lake Somerville for a long time.

It’s impressive how much beauty you can find among bare branches and the promise of spring flowers. But these things must end, and I turned my focus to work as we left for home.

My office with seat belts!

I missed getting to evaluate the horse camping area because I was concentrating on work, but from what I saw, it could be fun. I was thinking of my precious pets, though, as we stopped at Tractor Supply for horse and hen food.

It’s a little squished in travel mode, but under the RV you can store a lot of pet food.

After a happy reunion with all the pets (you should have seen the horses galloping up from the back pasture when they saw me!), reality hit me and Lee with a thud.

I’m able to rest comfortably now that y’all are back!

Yeah, the people who sell Medicare supplements came by to help Lee with his Part B and supplement selection. That’s painful. I’m just getting A until my job ends, so I mostly sat there wishing the government made ANYTHING easy for people. Being elderly hermits isn’t for wimps.

There was just so much chatting and chit chatting as we filled out forms and made decisions. I missed the silent campsite! But the folks we are working with are nice, not high-pressure sales people, and knowledgeable. I shouldn’t complain. They made it easier to know what to get and what not to get, for our specific needs. It truly feels weird to be old.

Oh and one more thing. Wow, people have a lot of opinions on this delicate topic. I’m glad I know some smart folks. Just whatever you do, don’t make decisions based on the ENDLESS television commercials about Medicare. If I were younger I’d be throwing things at the television to make the commercials go away. I’d like to now, too. So deceptive! And incessant.

Thank goodness for hugs.

I hope your mortality isn’t staring at you today, that you’re safe from flooding if you’re on the West Coast of the US, and that you have something or someone to hug, even virtually. We all need support for one reason or another.

Master Naturalist Meeting Notes: Friday, October 21

I promised to write up notes from the sessions I took at the 2022 Annual Meeting of Texas Master Naturalist, but there was a lot of stuff going on the last couple of days. Now I have a moment! First, I will say that this was the best conference I attended so far in terms of the quality of the sessions I attended. They were chock-full of interesting tidbits. It also helped that the Omni Houston has comfortable chairs. I wasn’t squirming the whole time, except in the one session where I had to sit on the floor. Anyway, here are some notes!

The main meeting room with interesting centerpieces made out of books

Becoming a Land Doctor: Evaluating Land Health, by Megan Clayton

The speaker here had also spoken at the Bennett Trust conference, so it was good to hear her information again. She talked about how to tell if your land was over-grazed, whether it had lost its topsoil, etc. It takes thousands of years to rebuild topsoil if it’s removed.

Grass is your friend if you want healthy land! But you need to let it grow back before grazing again. The ideal would be to imitate bison, who showed up, ate, pooped, and trampled once a year, then moved on.

I found out the speaker does these fun webinars that I will try to attend

Fire and Goats: Vegetation Management Using Traditional Techniques in a Novel Setting, by Stephen Benigno

This one was a lot of fun. The speaker is from the Houston Arboretum, and he shared how they used a flock of goats from “Rent a Ruminant” — what a great name. The goats really took care of the underbrush. They just took a week and we’re great at gnawing down dewberries.

This gave me many ideas, so I had questions about fencing and such. Having just a few goats and rotating them sounds good!

He also talked about doing a controlled burn at the arboretum. That required lots of permission and publicity to keep people calm about the smoke. It worked out well but didn’t quite burn as much of the meadow as they wanted. All learning experiences in an urban woods and prairie!

No photos from this session, so here’s a beautiful Polyphemous moth that was on a window at the hotel.

Birding with Today’s Technology: Utilizing eBird, Merlin, and Other Online Resources, by Kelsey Biles

I took this one to learn more about eBird. It was worth it just to learn about how you can ID birds just by sound using it. So, if you don’t know, this is software that lets you identify birds and save your sightings online, all going to science. You don’t need photos, and it’s easier for folks who aren’t great with online image stuff. Many people I know contribute to it daily by just watching their feeders.

One of the resources I learned about

There was a lot to learn, though, so I was glad to be there. Plus the speaker had a very cute bird skirt on.

Conservation of the Night, by Cindy Luongo-Cassidy of the Dark Sky Network

This was the lunch speaker. She got us all fired up about eliminating light pollution and keeping the dark sky available for people, animals, and plant life. We all need it. I learned how to modify light fixtures to direct light downward rather than outward from simple things you might have on your property.

I feel pretty good about our place. We have a couple of rogue lights, but most of them stay off unless needed, which is a good practice. I don’t want to confuse moths and migrating birds, after all!

Speaking of the dark, we sure enjoyed the darkness of the whiskey bar at the hotel later in the evening.

Feral Hog Biology and Impacts: What We Know and What We Hope to Learn, by Mikayla Killam

This one was pretty depressing to me. It sure is hard to get rid of feral hogs. I did learn a few trapping techniques that aim to get as many hogs as possible into traps, like using funnel feeders and trip wires at the furthest end of the traps.

Of course, hogs are very smart and figure many kinds of traps out, as we know. The speaker recommended that the best way to remove the greatest numbers of these invasive animals all at once is to hire professionals in helicopters to get as many as possible, and to go in with as many neighbors as possible, since hogs don’t know land boundaries. Once that is all done, you can then more easily pick off individuals by trapping or shooting.

I discovered this lovely nest for the hotel’s black swan pair. Cygnet making is preferable to piglet making.

I learned that if you just get some of them, they go into piglet-making overdrive to get their numbers up. There’s a scientific word for it that I forgot.

Living in Harmony with America’s Song Dog, by Karin and Roberto Saucedo

My last educational session for the day was very popular. The presenters are a couple who really love coyotes and have studied them extensively in urban environments. I had to sit on the floor for this one, but it was kinda fun.

We learned how the coyotes interact with human habitation, which is often caused by houses being built around their traditional territories. We saw how they helped some of the coyotes get over mange by putting out medication for them. They knew not to get too friendly with them and showed a sad video they made about a coyote that people kept feeding even when asked not to (and even when they knew game cams were set up that would catch them). Sure enough, being tame was its downfall.

A lot of the coyote stories were sad. But an interesting thing I was reminded of in this talk was that in parts of Texas there is a lot of red wolf blood in them, which makes them a bit larger. I think that is true here, as ours are often quite large and healthy (I don’t see ones with mange out here, but they also are wilder and avoid people and our dogs).

Keynote: Kjell Lindgren, Astronaut

The last talk of the day was the dinner speaker. It started out with some Texas Parks and Wildlife or AgriLife official talking about how cool it was that a Master Naturalist spent time on the space station recently. They showed some photos and a nice message he’d recorded for us about how being a Master Naturalist had helped him in his work. We were all happy with that, but then they surprised us with Kjell, the astronaut, coming onstage and talking to us in person.

Kjell Lindgren

This is one impressive fellow with an MD, a PhD, and a degree from the Air Force Institute or whatever that is in Colorado Springs. And of course, he’s a Boy Scout leader and such. He seems genuinely nice, kind, and humble, too. My favorite part of his talk was all the photos he shared of the earth as seen from the space station. The auroras, the volcanoes, the rivers, etc., were fascinating to look at.

Rivers and farms

I have to say, though, that Friday’s sessions were a LOT of learning all in one day. I’m glad we got to go relax afterward in the lovely bar. The hotel had great restaurants and bars. No complaints about that!

Welcome to the Hermits’ Rest Aviary

This week, I’ve truly felt like I live in some kind of private bird sanctuary or something. There are so many beautiful birds to enjoy. This morning I went out to feed the hens, and the ground was heavy with dew, which must have made all the birds in the world happy. Once again, we were heavy on the heron family, with the usual great blue heron and green heron (the tricolored heron did not make an appearance) joined by an entire flock of great egrets (usually we just have one or two). There were also a couple of cattle egrets (distinguished by their yellow legs as opposed to the black legs on the larger birds).

Fun times at the pond.

Plus, there were ten or twelve black vultures, hopping and bopping along the edge of the pond or tank. They were drawn by the dead armadillo, who’s contributing to the Circle of Life by feeding both these guys and turkey vultures, who were out in force yesterday. Turkey vultures have red heads, while black vultures’ heads are black. That makes for easy identification.

Vultures taking flight

There were also the twittering English sparrows flitting around, along with all the grackles that sit on the electrical wires then fly around in a huge murmuration, descending on the fields, then departing again. Cardinals are constantly coming and going, as well. Plus there was something that makes a big screech sound, which I haven’t managed to catch on the Picture Bird software to see what it is.

That’s a lot of birds. Plus the storks are still around, which warms my heart.

When I tire of the pond, I go over to the black willow trees beside the front tank, which now has a little water in it, thanks to a bit more rain (hooray for the rainy season).

A little more water this morning!

There I’ve been seeing one, and just one, scissortail flycatcher. I wonder if it somehow didn’t migrate. By the way, did you know they’re related to the Western kingbird? We have those here, too!

I like it here

The trees are just chock full of tiny birds, including chickadees, orchard orioles, and warblers I can only hear but not see. Oh yeah, and the mockingbird whose territory is the telephone pole across the street, who mimics the woodpecker who also hangs out there. Since I don’t have photos of those guys, here are some sparkly dew-encrusted tiny mushrooms.

What a symphony! That’s what I’ve been enjoying lately. I’ll spare you the cuckoo, owls, and many sparrows in the woods. It’s too muddy to try to get photos of them, so I just listen.

I can’t wait to watch the geese and cranes migrating.

Why I’m Thankful for the Pool

Maybe you’ve been reading this blog long enough to remember how I decided I wanted a swimming pool last year. I called it the Pool of Dreams.

Pool of Dreams today—notice the guard garden spider (a good one that eats black widows)

I think some people thought I wouldn’t use the pool. After all, I’ve never been much of a swimmer. I don’t blame anyone who thought this. But while I don’t swim much, I do love water and being outside, especially here.

Things you see from the pool include Vlassic.

I’ve really loved spending time in the pool, and am there nearly every day. The salty water is very soothing (Lee says it’s great for his eyes). I float in my floating device and practice deep breathing. The breeze cools me then the sun soothes me. Then I start observing.

Today I watched starlings flocking.

I see so many birds, especially right now when the herons and egrets are chowing down on the little catfish in the now-shallow ponds. Swallows fly over me and the English sparrow family hang out in their messy nest.

When they took off, it was a big whoosh!

I truly enjoy the time to myself. And the pool lets me be outdoors even in this historic heat. I’d be stuck inside other than when I sweat myself silly taking care of the horses, if it weren’t for the pool.

I’m very grateful to my spouse and family members who helped get this dang pool built.


Wait, I forgot my creature of the day! Here’s a beelzebub bee eater with its prey. What a scary fly!

Hermits Visit a Zoo

Both my spouse and I like animals. I like plants. The San Diego Zoo has lots of each. It also has crowds, though, and neither of us likes crowds. Especially with good ole COVID getting worse again. But we were nearby, and that’s one of the best zoos on earth, so we went.

This guy reminded me of Lee. Plopped down and immediately started snoozing.

We survived the line for the bus tour, and after that it wasn’t too crowded. So we lived, though it wore Lee out.

Some animals were easy to see from the bus.

Lee truly endeared himself to me when he suggested we try to hit all the aviaries. That was good with me. I liked them, because they all have plants common in the areas where the birds are from. And bird spotting is so fun!

My favorite was this fancy pheasant of some sort who really wanted to get a fish!

We got to see birds eating, nesting, and building nests. Some were really entertaining.

Mr. Pigeon here did a mating display, including really impressive vocalizations.

I probably would have been fine just looking at birds and plants. Here are just a few of the dozens of interesting birds we saw. Forgive me for not knowing what they all are. There were so many! I never realized how many kinds of doves there are!

I did look at some animals. I managed to see all the apes and most bears. I didn’t get photos but got a great look at a huge anteater. Those are some interesting animals! I was too busy looking to take many photos, but here are a few.

I guess that was our big tourist activity of the trip. We are really concentrating on spending quiet time together with as little stress as possible, given the unending health challenges of the folks at home. They tell us to stay here, so we have done so! We even manage to look happy.

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.

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