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.

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.

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