Weirdest Day Ever

Sure, it’s been a weird couple of weeks for me. I’ve not shared most of it. Lots isn’t mine to share. But today. Wow. I literally was left with my mouth hanging open a couple of times.

I spent some time on the porch sorta glazed over, watching hummingbirds. They are monotone, because that’s how I feel.

I got a new laptop of my own, so I won’t be relying on work machines, but I’m so un confident in myself that I’ll wait until tomorrow to get it going. I am just zonked.

It’s silver.

So, here are some plants.

And look, a baby water snake and fish I need to rescue, once my brain engages again.

But wait. I did get to laugh last night. Mandi and I were talking to Lee on the porch, and Goldie got thirsty. She did her usual drinking method, where she buries her head and blows bubbles. We were so humor starved that we just laughed and laughed. Here’s Goldie today, though I couldn’t get a shot with bubbles.

See, even the weirdest day ever isn’t all bad. That’s worth remembering.

The Latest Case of Missing Eggs: Solved

I may have mentioned that the family reported no eggs the entire time I was in Austin last week. I found a few over the weekend, but not the usual amount.

Don’t blame me; I’m not laying yet.

In case the fact that Star had gone broody was making laying hard on the other hens, I set up two cardboard boxes with bedding in them, to make more compartments in the old roosting area. No one used them, far as I could tell.

High-quality nesting boxes

Then on Saturday, when I went to check for additional eggs under Star, I realized that the eggs I’d marked with a star were no longer there. Three different eggs were there. THAT is when I decided eggs were being laid, but consumed. Grr.

I can’t make the grass around the coop die and the big mower can’t reach it. I thought putting the food container in that space would be useful, but…ants came.

I knew it had to be a snake, because nothing else, other than a human, can get in. Then I was worried for Star, since she is setting so dedicatedly on her nest! I must have checked for a snake a dozen times this weekend, and other people were checking, too.

These blurry but happy chickens are eating all the food I had to throw out due to ants. They also eat ants.

So, today, when I FINALLY had a chance to move my butt off my office chair, I went to check the chickens. There were two eggs under Star. Good. Then, I went back, because I was thinking that perhaps if I set the new nesting boxes I put in sideways, the hens might like them better. I moved the one on the left, and heard the weirdest sound. I carefully peeked in the other box, and there, under the chicken bedding, was a very content rat snake. I KNEW it had to be lying around somewhere nearby, and it was just hiding! I’d probably missed it earlier.

The culprit

I asked the nephew to please eliminate the snake, which he did quite efficiently. As always, I hate doing this, but I know it would come right back if I just moved it off to the woods (previous experience). Besides, I am pretty confident we have a LOT of rat snakes here, so I’m not leading to their extinction. Ranch life is hard. To cheer you up, though, here’s one of our herons in the tank behind the house.

If you put goldfish in the troughs, expect a visit from me, the fish killer.

And…it’s raining again. I’d hoped to go visit Aragorn the beautiful dream horse at Sara’s later today, so I hope there’s a break!

He’s Got a Ticket to Ride

He, being Apache. Tonight it was finally not too hot or too busy, so Sara and I checked on how Apache’s feet were doing since his abscess.

He’s shiny but chubby again

Sara says he’s as fat as he ever was. Sigh. I really need to get him in his pen half the day, but I blew it by going to the auction today. Tomorrow will be another day.

He does clean up well

Anyway, I took him out in the round pen, where he walked and trotted just fine. He did buck on the way to start circling, which was not so great. But otherwise, he was a gentleman.

Sara put the bareback saddle and bridle on him and rode him around. He was pretty darned good and did nice turns and back ups. Sara diagnosed him as fine for walking, so I’ll try riding 15 minutes or so tomorrow morning.

Look at my summer coat!

The other good thing is that Fiona has finally gotten rid of her winter coat. She’s one fine looking long-eared gal.

Snakes

To make a long day even longer, as I walked home from the horses, the hay bailer was hard at work. It scared up two rat snakes who didn’t even notice me as they slid across the driveway.

Then, after dark, when I finally came in, this fat and sassy fellow greeted me in the porch.

It’s a snake.

Not to worry, it’s a diamondback water snake. Check the head and lack of rattles.

Best I can do in the dark, but you can see the pattern.

Okay. Enough scary stuff for one day. Oh no, there was a dead scorpion next to where I keep my boots. Hint: always check inside boots for spiders, scorpions, or even toads (happened to Sara once).

Dead.

Ranch life is not for wimps.

Enjoying a Pleasant Morning with a “Friend”

This morning was really pleasant. I went out to take a few pictures and check on the new pullets, then sat on the porch for a ten-minute coffee break. It was breezy, so the mosquitoes that tried to suck all my blood yesterday weren’t out. I took this picture to post on Instagram, planning to caption it “What I’d like to be doing the rest of the day.”

Just enjoying my morning.

I thought I was alone on my break, but no, the rocking chair across from me had someone else enjoying a pleasant break.

I’m enjoying my morning, too.

Well, hey there rat snake. I thought, wow, what a cute little snake, but when I got up to get a better photo, I saw it’s not a little snake, not at all. It’s probably close to my height.

The tail just keeps going.

Since it was not actively in the process of eating eggs from my hens, I left it to enjoy its morning. And it is why we are keeping the grass near the house mown nice and short (as long as we can keep lawn mowers going).

Speaking of which, in addition to getting new blades that cut evenly, our good old riding mower also has a new feature designed to keep my brother-in-law more cool and less heat stroked: an umbrella! Most of the area we mow has no obstructions, but he can lower it to get close to fences and the house. I hear it feels twenty degrees cooler under there! With summer coming up, that is a fine thing.

Fancy lawn mower.

Other “home improvements” that I took pictures of on my morning walk include this chicken ramp. I had put a board up to help them get high in their roost area, but it was too slippery, so they now have a custom ramp made from scrap wood. I know they used it last night, because there’s poop in the roost area in the cage! Yay!

Stairs to the penthouse

Now the chickens have more area to spread out in, which is good, because they spend most of their time chasing each other, when they aren’t eating. At least they are all still with us!

Just being chickens
Peeeeep

I also figured out why we hear so much bird noise in the evenings. The barn swallows are nesting AT LAST, right outside the back door. Since that’s where the dog door is, we can hear them well. I’m quite relieved to see this, because they are running late this year (no doubt thanks to that bad ole Uri storm in February). This is good news.

I’m not the only one who got to see a pretty snake yesterday. This garter snake was over at Sara’s. It got run over, though. They’re so lovely.

That’s it for the morning ranch report!

Treats and Surprises

For darned sure, the Universe is trying its best to teach me to expect the unexpected and examine how I deal with changes. I’ll just sidestep some of the bigger changes and just talk about some of the other surprises I got between yesterday and today.

From the wildflower patch

One of my coworkers lost a family member recently, and two of us got together to send him some flowers today, to bring some cheer into his home. I thought, hey, I could use some cheer, so I made myself a little arrangement to look at while I work. There are meadow pinks, thistles, Indian blankets, black-eyed Susans and a few Indian paintbrush that are still hanging around, plus another couple random flowers.

Interesting genetic hiccup

I’d found a conjoined twin Mexican hat flower yesterday when walking back from feeding horses (yay, it was dry enough to walk). Not only does it have two seed heads, the petals are extra curvy. Nature is always there to surprise me in a good way!

The other surprise I got yesterday, was more of a shocking one. I went to pick up eggs from the coop, and discovered an uninvited guest had already helped themselves to the eggs for the day.

Oh, you chicken snake.

They sure know how to find eggs! I handled this pretty well. Said “eek” and slammed the door down, then calmly picked it up to look at the snake. It was almost as tall as me when it was removed (not by me). I hope it enjoyed the digestion.

That was enough for icky surprises. I spent some more time out looking at the flowers behind our house and had to take more photos. I found yet another type of fly I’d never seen! It has interesting stripes, and I sure wish I’d gotten a better photo. I also found something I’d never seen before, which turned out to be a wheel bug nymph. That’s interesting (to me).

My ten minutes of break are over, but maybe I’ll have time for more later. We have to deal with Apache’s feet, apparently. Sigh.

Bird Mysteries

This is no fun, but it’s the way it goes out in the country. This morning, I went out to check on the chicks, and Bronzer wasn’t there! What?

We’re still here

I was so surprised and sad. I looked everywhere for the chick. There was no sign of anything getting into the coop. There was no gap small enough for a chick to get out of. There was no sign of foul or fowl play. What the heck.

I’ll miss you, little buddy.

I went all over the place listening for peeps and looking for feathers. There was nothing. It’s a mystery. I’m sure there are lots of plausible scenarios for what could have happened, but I’m honestly not up for conjecture. I’m also not up for being blamed or told what I did wrong. We live on a ranch. There are predators and other dangers. It’s how it goes.

I took my bummed out self in the garage to look for eggs, and suddenly saw something glowing like a light. What in the world do we have that shines in the dirty old garage?

So shiny.

Then I figured it out. More bird sadness. It was a male Ruby-throated hummingbird. Well, damn.

So beautiful.

To be realistic, of course birds die, and they have to die somewhere. But that was a sad thing to find right after losing the chick. He was so pretty and tiny.

Wow.

I went back in the house for more meetings, armed with my pushback strategy of setting up myself and my team for success. After all eight hours of meetings it was TIME to go out and get some air, and check for eggs.

Off I went into the corner with the mop nest. As I peeked in, I realized the nest was occupied. By a pretty chicken snake. With a lump in its belly. I didn’t get scared; I just got peeved. Damn it, those are MY eggs. There was still one in there, so I used a stick to get it out. Ha.

Rather than a snake, please enjoy Engelmann daisies.

I tried to get help removing the snake, but it was gone by the time We got back. Great. I hope it didn’t also find a chick to eat. And I wish the hens would go back on top of the fridge!

Now, that’s lovely. At least something is thriving!

In summary. It was not a good chicken day today, even though they got their yummy new food in, finally. I’m getting more hens, though, because coop updates are now coming up soon! More on that later!

Alfred the Brave, and a Scary Vet Visit

Once again, I was in meetings all day, 8:30-7:30. It won’t be that way too much longer, but I have a tired brain. Meetings meant I couldn’t be there for the annual shot day for the dog pack, where Dr. Amy drives her mobile office up to the ranch and get it all done with little stress.

There were lots of surprises, according to Lee. I wish I’d been there to see the dogs’ true personalities shine through. Gracie apparently took everything like a champ. Good girl!

I’m good! I just have a little tartar.

No surprise here, but Carlton was in perfect health. He was also well behaved. That’s my boy.

I’m all inoculated.

Harvey was not our big brave boy. He cried and shook. But, he was well behaved and let them take care of him. Surprise! And he was not called out for being overweight! Double surprise!

I’m a big softy. But I’m not too big and soft.

Penney was not having anything to do with all those strange veterinary people. Then she noticed the other dogs were getting what she wants more than anything in the world: attention. Lee said she figured that out and ran over to get in between the techs and the other dogs. She is truly an Attention Hound.

I just want petting, even if I have to get shots.

And then there is Vlassic, the nicest dog in the world, right? When they drew blood, it hurt. He yelped and tried his damnedest to get away. He even snapped his teeth at a tech (a thing he does even when not afraid). So, he had to get tranquilizer. That let them also trim his nails, which will sure make Anita happy.

Butterfly break. I have no Vlassic photo, because he’s zonked out at Jim’s RV.

There’s one dog left, big Alfred. The plan was always to anesthetize him. He had to get his dewclaws trimmed again, because they were almost grown back into his leg.

That’s better!

While he was out, Lee asked them to look at a spot he’s had on his side for a while. It looked to us like he had a burr in his fur infect his skin. Imagine Lee’s surprise when they shaved the area and it revealed what actually happened.

Oh no. Poor Alfred.

He’d been bitten by a very large snake. They guess it was a couple of weeks ago. We never noticed a change in his behavior, other than a bit of lethargy a while back. And if it was swollen, we couldn’t tell for all his hair.

I’m woozy. But gonna make it.

It’s good Alfred is so big. And it’s good he had the rattlesnake vaccine. It gave him some protection. But dang, that poor dog! Out there protecting us and being brave, and never complaining.

In fact, Alfred has been acting happier, more energetic, and more fun that he ever has. His joy at seeing us and playing with us is so endearing. I’m glad he’s okay. I’m glad we are able to keep all these dogs safe and healthy. It’s a commitment.

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!

Suna the Hero or the Village Idiot. You Decide.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Lots going on in our little ranch village. [WARNING PHOTO OF DEAD ANIMAL TO FOLLOW]

First, when I came home yesterday afternoon after writing my magnum opus about my mother, there were vultures sitting on our “barn” container. I asked Lee’s brother, but he hadn’t gone over to check on it, so I did. Well, one potential bird killer has been eliminated from the area.

Continue reading “Suna the Hero or the Village Idiot. You Decide.”

Texas, Where Almost Everything Bites

Today I have a hodgepodge of stuff to share, but first I want to talk about what’s lurking around the ranch these days. That would be things that bite, and things that jump. Yesterday, I went to sit down on one of the front-porch rocking chairs, when I saw something on the seat.

A member of the widow spider family.

I am very glad she was pre-dead, and that I saw her before I sat. Certainly it confirms my habit of checking for creatures before plopping down anywhere around the Hermits’ Rest! I’m not sure what kind of widow spider she was, but I don’t want any of them biting me. These are the main reason I continue to support having pest control come around the house.

The second reason is scorpions, which I haven’t seen any of, but Lee and Kathleen have killed a few. I love them out in the woods, but not in the house. And I love the spiders, but not ones that could really mess with my health.

I’ve apparently become allergic to mosquito bites, and they make huge welts, so I could do without those right now, too. And biting flies! Argh. There are black flies around here, and horse flies (thankfully not around ME), and deer flies. Whatever. One of them bit me on my FACE this morning. That could have to do with how much poop we have at the ranch

Nonetheless, I am heartily enjoying discussing different kinds of flies and grasshoppers and stuff with Eric in our Master Naturalist class. He not only has good eye for finding them, but he has a good camera, and the patience to work hard to identify them.

Eric wrote me an email today about the coolest thing he saw (a “mystical experience,” in his words), which was he was trying to photograph a large grasshopper:

It jumped off the path into the high grass and when it landed it appeared to turn into at least a dozen tiny projectiles which flew off in all directions like a firework. A closer look uncovered a great concentration of grasshopper nymphs in the area.

Eric N., email 6/6/2020

Of course, he didn’t get a picture, but WOW, what an image!

My grasshopper experience this morning was also something you couldn’t photograph. I was walking back from horse riding (it went well), noticing that it’s definitely grasshopper season. Then I noticed the sound. As I walked, I was disturbing dozens and dozens of them (small ones, since they aren’t adult yet), and my walk seemed to have a rhythm section accompanying it. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap-tap-tap.

I k now a lot of people don’t like grasshoppers (like my sister), and I admit they are annoying in the summers when there are hundreds pelting me as I drive the utility vehicle. At least they don’t bite often or hard. But they are so varied and interesting. I have an AWFUL time photographing them, so I think I’m going to get a good butterfly net soon, so I can get some to hold still.

What Doesn’t Bite?

Roaches. Secretly, I have never been fond of roaches, due to childhood trauma, but I am doing better since I started doing iNaturalist. I recently even found one I thought was interesting to look at. It also lived outdoors, where it should.

Fairly attractive pale-bordered field cockroach

And non-venomous snakes don’t bite humans, often anyway. So, I was sad to see this one in the road this morning. Rat snakes are my buddies as long as they aren’t eating my hens’ eggs.

Poor snakey got hit by a car.

Okay, time to go see what’s outside that will hurt in some other way…