Arrivals and Departures

The population of the Hermits’ Rest is always changing. Today there’s someone new who arrived and someone old who departed. No one died, to put a spoiler in there.

Pet me once more

Dear old Granny, the skinny old mare with the inability to properly eat grass, has been sent off to hang out with Dusty and Kathleen’s other horse at the farm in Yorktown. She can wander around and squirt and quid all she wants, hang out with cows.

Enjoy your new friends!

I must admit I’ll miss her bony old self. She is awful with other horses, but she’s a real sweetie with people. I enjoyed hanging around with her, and gave her lots of love every day.

New resident

This little guy just moved into Lee’s pond. It’s one of our many baby bullfrogs from the spring mating fest.

I like my rocks.

He’s not as friendly as Granny, but he isn’t too afraid of people. Somewhere around here is a little toad, too. Lee found it in the house and put it back out.

I’m a toad.

Another new arrival is this skink. I think they are really cool. I’m not sure if we have one or multiple. I’ve spotted skinks a few times in the last couple of days.

One other visitor I have no photos of, but my guess is it’s a pocket gopher. I hadn’t seen any here, but Sara had some. I guess they hiked over here to enjoy chicken food. I blocked the holes last night, and lo and behold, there was a lot more food left this morning. I may end up just sharing my fancy chicken food with them.

Stay out of our food!

And in other chicken news, I tried letting Babette back in with the other chickens. An hour later, she was all bloody-headed again. Darn. So, she’s back in her isolation ward.

I’m a delicate flower. But at least I’m finally laying eggs regularly.

Apache has normal eyes again, and the dogs are fine. That’s it for our comings and goings.

Exploring the Wild Violet

Today was just the best day I’ve had in quite a while. As if finding the eggs wasn’t enough, I got to explore a new place, and wow, I found some mighty fine bits of nature!

Spoiler alert.

My friend Pamela had told me she’s seen fresh evidence of beavers on her property, which isn’t far from the Hermits’ Rest. I talked my way into an invitation to go check them out this afternoon after work. I put on cowboy boots and headed with her and Ruby the hound over to the spring-fed stream out at the edge of the hay fields.

It’s a pretty place.

The stream eventually goes to Big Elm Creek, but until it gets there it wanders around.

Near the start of the stream, which is on another property.

We set off to find beavers. There was definitely evidence of beaver activity, such as holes heading to the water and chewed saplings. But the first brush pile we looked at turned out to be a logjam, not animal work.

We enjoyed looking at plants and flowers until we got a little further down. You could see THIS was a beaver dam. It had lots of mud, sticks piled carefully, and entrance holes. We were happy! I took pictures of the holes, but to be honest, holes don’t photograph well.

All the water flows through one little area. How cool. Anyway we kept going, looking at dewberries and wild garlic and such.

Bugs, too!

We were enchanted by these very shiny, small primroses neither of us recognized. Maybe it’s an early buttercup? They are exquisite!

Then, as I trudged along the bank of the stream, I glimpsed purple. I squealed and said a curse word, but from happiness. I found violets! Wild violets!

Oh, my dear friends!

I’ve loved violets my whole life, and have missed them here. As we looked carefully, Pamela and I saw more and more. She was as delighted as I was, and we just had the best time spotting them.

Next, I got all excited to see cute little frogs and some minnows. Always good to see waterways alive with life!

Suddenly I saw a…thing. A big thing. Was it a fish, a salamander, or what? I yelled for Pamela to come see this huge thing.

Uh. It’s a…

Finally I figured out it was a dead frog, the biggest frog I ever saw in the wild (and I’ve seen those cane toads).

Not a great photo, but it was hard to get to.

Judging from its yellow throat, I’m guessing it’s a male bullfrog. It must have died of old age! I took a photo with Ruby in it to show the size. Ruby is a hound dog, not small at all.

Large.

After that, everything else was less dramatic, though we enjoyed the moss and other water-loving plants. We decided to name the little body of water Wild Violet Creek. Now it has a name!

Wild Violet Creek

I ended up going all the way to the back of Pamela’s property, where there’s a nice pool. Some short-horned cows came to see if I had any food.

Food, please.

I just ran around like a little kid taking in all the space, the hay fields, trees with woodpecker holes, and a very brisk wind. I didn’t mind. It was such a beautiful spring day!

Land spreading out so far and wide!

The water, woods, trees, and flowers washed away all the stress of the previous few days. Everyone needs access to something like this.

Peace, quiet, and beauty in the middle of Texas.

I hope you can find some springtime natural inspiration wherever you are. And maybe a giant frog or some violets.

Random Goodness

I may as well share the good and/or interesting stuff of the day. Maybe I’ll do this every so often.

First, I got the little bistro sets up in the break area by the stairs at the Pope Residence. They surprised me by fitting. I even ate lunch at one. Now that no one else eats in the office, I’ll fine solo in style!

Kathleen and I picked these out in hopes that they would fit.

And I opened the box with the dishes for the office. I just set out coffee cups, in case a visitor wanted some coffee. The rest are i. The cabinets for now.

If it’s deemed too junky, I can put them away.

So that was fun. I also had fun looking at birds this afternoon. I finally determined the small heron I keep seeing is a green heron. It was out with the blue heron behind the house, and while I was looking at them and turtles, I spied the BIGGEST bullfrog I ever saw. Turns out they can weigh up to 1.5 pounds!

There was no way to get a photo of the frog, but I did get a picture of this scary kissing bug. It will not give me Chagas’ disease because it is deceased. Buddhism fail.

Eek

The best news is this! We had four eggs today! That’s the first time I got four eggs since we built the hen house here by our house. Thanks, Springsteen!

Bertie, Fancy Pants, Springsteen, and Hedley.

By the fall molting season, we may have a few more kick in! It would be nice to be able to share them with friends and family before they shut down to molt.

It Rained! And Other Signs of Life!

It being July in Texas, we are always prepared for a scarcity of rain and a lot of hot days. All we can hope for is to get some remnants or edges of a hurricane. Well, that seems to be happening right now, and since last night three bands of rain have come through our little ranch. The total rainfall so far is an exciting .15″ – not much, but it is better than nothing. We usually get about an inch per month, so we’re hoping that the big rain to the south of us sends us a bit more later tonight or tomorrow.

The third wave of rain as it approached. I could hear the thunder when I took the picture. The plant in the foreground is Lindheimer’s doveweed (Croton lindheimeri).
Root growth on the avocado “tree.”

The rain lowered the temperature, so I was able to get out and look around some today. Get prepared for a lot of pictures of things that are damp!

I’m always happy when there is new life. And even before I left the house, I realized that our avocado seed is getting pretty robust in the root department. Now we just need a stem!

Speaking of trees, we now have one in the back yard. I didn’t mention it earlier, because I was sad about it. You see, we bought a Shumard oak back when Kathleen and I bought those plants for our office. The guys had set it next to the RV, and I guess forgot about it. I watered it every few days, not realizing I’d needed to water it EVERY day, so by the time we went to plant it, it was mostly dead leaves.

It’s a tree. Not much of a tree, but a tree nonetheless.

But, Chris said its stem was still alive, so he planted it in the back corner (if I could use the backhoe thing, I’d have planted it). He then proceeded to set up a fine watering system that piggybacks on the chicken system and has been able to water it every other day or so.

Yep, those are new, non-dead leaves.
New leaves, and the life-giving water hose.

When I went out to say hi to the chickens to day, I looked over at the sad tree, and lo and behold, there are lots and lots of little new leaves appearing. It’s coming back! I’m so glad the rain is here to help out. It may even someday provide shade to the chickens and to the cattle behind us. That may be a while.

I found some other encouraging things as I was walking around today. I saw a young snake next to the tiny pond, and managed to get a picture of it before it dove underwater. As I patiently waited for it to come back up (with no success), I did notice a freshly shed snake skin near my feet. I bet I know who that belonged to!

I enjoyed looking at dragonflies, turtles, and bullfrogs in the rapidly shrinking pond. The rain will at least give it a bit of fresh water. I’m hoping that the tropical rain tomorrow or the next day will refill it and the other ponds.

This guy kept dipping into the water then zipping off. It was not easy to get a picture. Note dead boopie grasshoppers on the shore. It could explain why the bullfrogs don’t appear very hungry.

Maybe the grass will turn green again, too. The chickens will like that. By the way, they’ve all settled down now that Clarence is the guard rooster. He has figured out how to get to the food inside the chicken run, so all I have to do is make sure he has water every day (though Lee thinks he’s found the pond behind the house).

I got to watch this great egret snatch a fish out of the pond behind the house. This is where Clarence could be going if he runs out of my nice water in the dish.

New life always signifies hope for me. That little stick of an oak tree is my symbol of hope after adversity for now!

Bullfrog Population Explosion

This weekend a lot of dirt was moved over at the Hermits’ Rest. We are making the little new pond bigger, since it will eventually be used for something good, I’m told. Now that the rains have slowed down, water is receding and it’s easier to dig. (About five minutes after I typed that, a rainstorm came through, but since it’s July, I doubt there will be much accumulation.)

As the dirt movement was going on, I thought it would be a good idea to re-check what’s in there.

I found two young turtles swimming around. And some dragonflies. Mostly, though, I saw members of the frog family.

A green pond and frogs.
The turtles are up near the top right. I think. But in this photo there are actually 14 frogs, at least. Some are in the water and some are on the shore.
Not one of the biggest ones, but you get the idea.

First I saw big ole bullfrogs sitting and floating. Then, as I looked harder, there were more and more.

At one point, I saw at least 14 of the frogs, some adults and others still young. Maybe you can see them in the photo at top, but you would really have to zoom in.

Another little one.

I guess we had a bumper crop of baby bullfrogs (I originally thought they were green frogs, but got corrected on iNaturalist).

Then, something moved. It was one of the Gulf coast toads we have lots of around the house. I know where that one came from, because Chris had just disturbed the home of a pair of them when fixing a death-trap hole near our water cutoff. They hopped on over to the pond in a huff. At least we didn’t hurt our buddies.

Hi. You messed with my house.

As I was enjoying how gigantic the toad was, my eye was drawn to what looked to be a very pretty rock, very close to the toad.

That was no rock, it was a leopard frog! So beautiful! I got all excited and tried to get some good photos, but didn’t want to scare it off. It doesn’t help that when it’s really sunny and my glasses turn dark, I can’t see the phone screen very well. Poo.

Leopard frog! Best photo I could get.

In any case, I’d never seen a leopard frog here, so that’s a new one to add to my list. That made my naturalist day!

Mr. Toad and Mr Frog.

Pretty soon, Penney dove in to take a little swim, and a great deal of splashing and “eep” noises ensued. That was the end of my fun with frogs and toads.

Who Knows the Difference between a Frog and a Toad?

Do you know how to tell a frog from a toad? Here are some hints from around the Hermits’ Rest.

I bet some of you know this, but I got two good example specimens that will help the rest of you. Both are big ones, which makes it easy to see. But they ARE trying to fool us.

Gulf Coast toad

How did I know this was a toad, sitting in the dog pond? First, she has warts. Toads are bumpy. Most toads hang out on land, but this one is in water, but not swimming. That’s normal. She also has relatively short hind legs, for walking, not hopping.

Pond with exit ramp. Yes, we empty it weekly for mosquito prevention.

The toads like to hang out in the dog pond so much that Lee built them an exit ramp. He said he saw a smaller one in there, too, so maybe mating was planned (males are smaller).

American bullfrog, in the chicken run.

This big fella we found when I moved the new chickens’ water dish. It’s as big as the toad, and too dark to be one of our green frogs. How did I know it was a frog, even though frogs are usually found in or near water and this one is on land?

Well, the skin is smooth (even in the blurry photo). And look at those legs! They are much longer than the toad’s! And it WAS right next to a water dish. I admit it is within a pretty short hopping distance of the pond behind our house, from which bullfrog croaks have been heard.

Our biggest green frog, ready to dive back in the pond. Finally an amphibious creature doing what it’s supposed to.

We are happy to have both the toad and the frogs around here. They eat bugs and all sorts of critters that need to have some population control!

By the way, a toad is a frog, but not all frogs are toads.

All the Best Intentions

Here’s another nature story from one of my friends. This one comes from our Austin neighbor, Ruth, also known as “the other Ruth,” because there are two women named Ruth in our book club. She lives just down the road and goes walking with Anita many mornings. Ruth always has a good story, and here’s the most recent one.

Yesterday, Ruth was in her yard checking on the plants and such, when she realized there was a nice-looking frog stuck in her swimming pool. Now, she is as much of a nature lover as any of us naturalists, and she had a good idea that the pool chemicals weren’t ideal from frogs to thrive in. Plus, there isn’t much to eat in there.

So, she decided to rescue it. She easily captured it and placed it in a plastic container. She figured that it would not be a good idea to just let it go, since it would have trouble finding a water source in our drought-stricken neighborhood (that’s why Anita’s toad friend loves the fact that she waters the plants on her balcony so well).

It’s a leopard frog, though I am not sure which one. They sure are pretty. Photo courtesy of Ruth.

The idea quickly came to Ruth that she could take it to nearby Bull Creek, which does still have some water running through it. So, she put the frog in her car and drove it down to the creek.

She carefully took it over to the creek’s edge, and happily set it free. Off it swam. For about five seconds. Frogs aren’t the only things that live in creeks. Apparently there are fish in there big enough to eat frogs.

Well, at least the frog died happy, and the fish got a meal. We give Ruth lots of props for her good intentions and kindness to the creatures of our community. And, like Ruth and Anita, I prefer to believe the frog escaped the snatches of the fish, and swam away, bruised but happy. She didn’t see the frog get swallowed. There’s always hope.

Frog-a-rama

One of Lee’s recent projects around the ranch has been to build a little pond for the dogs to play in, and to conveniently keep water from draining into our driveway and making puddles where we don’t want them. The new pond is like a puddle on purpose.

Thank you for the swimming pool! We love the frog toys!

And as you can easily see, the dogs do like it! The water is remarkably clean, for such a small “pond,”and both Vlassic and Carlton are frequently seen wading in it. Lee has further plans for water features, which are fine with me as long as there’s something in them to eat mosquito larvae.

That’s where the frogs come in

As I was wandering around the pond on Sunday, I noticed movements. First I saw a LOT of little bugs swimming around or on the surface. Then I realized tiny frogs were jumping into the pond whenever I or a dog startled them.

Waiting for bugs.

Careful observation and standing still a while brought the delightful realization that heads were poking up out of the water! The first head was of a small brown frog or toad, about four inches long. It suddenly snapped up a flying bug (scaring the bejeezus out of me) and disappeared.

Next, one of my favorite sights on the ranch greeted me. The “eeping” frogs have a representative in the pond. These are large frogs that are bright green with striking orange eyes. I’m guessing they are green frogs, though I can’t get close enough to get a good photo.

EEP!

Anyway, when frightened, these guys yell “eep” before jumping into the water. They were favorites of Brody’s. He’d run along the big pond and you’d hear a series of frog sounds all in a row.

So, it made me happy to see so much life in a pond that is really not much more than a large puddle and has only been around for two weeks!

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