The good news is I feel better today. I was even able to ride Drew. Taking it easy was a good idea.
I had a lot to do today but nothing too stressful. After our weekly friends’ lunch, Anita came over to get the Red House ready for guests while I did a bunch of meetings. It’s nice to hang out. And after work, we sat on the porch, taking advantage of the sunshades.
I did scare a big moth while I was sweeping the porch. It’s beautiful.
After this peaceful break, all I had to do was hang out with my friends the horses and chickens, then float around in my pool of dreams.
Kathleen and I even saw another one of those cool spider wasps dragging along a hapless wolf spider. It must be wasp breeding season.
It’s really a relief to have a lull with no stress or drama. Even Lee had a good day! We are going to all enjoy the pleasant and peaceful lull while it lasts.
I can answer today’s blog prompt easily, because it fits in so well with what I wanted to talk about, anyway. If you didn’t already know this about me, I’ll tell you what I do that brings me joy: it’s discovering new things about the nature around me. Today was a great example.
Today I’d intended to relax and recover from yesterday, but the life around here kept pulling me in. I’ve been careful where I go lately, since scorpions appear to be this year’s plague. I found one in my bath towel, then one in an outdoor chair cushion, and finally one out in the grass, where they should be. That didn’t bring much joy, though.
What brought me great joy today were two discoveries. First, I found a plant I’d never noticed before!
It’s tiny! I know I’ve seen the plant, but never these beautiful flowers. I was extra disappointed to see it has no Wikipedia article. It appears to be native to the southwestern US and northern Mexico. I just adore it’s secret beauty.
The second nature observation came when Anita and I were sitting by the pool drinking wine, since I was too tired to cook a big dinner. Anita said something like what the hell is that, and I looked over to see a weird creature.
We quickly realized it was a wasp dragging a large wolf spider. It was making progress, too. At one point the wasp left, so I could get good photos of them separately. The first thing I did was find out what kind of wasp it was. I knew it was pretty, with a striped abdomen and blue-black wings.
Well, duh, it was a spider wasp! I looked deeper into these wasps (so glad I had my phone right there) and found out this was a female wasp, and that these wasps prey on large wolf spiders. They take them to their nests, which are shallow depressions in the dirt, and lay their eggs in the spider. Mmm.
Anita said I should get a video, so I did, forgetting to turn the camera sideways. The link is on Facebook because I can’t get it to load here. But it’s cool to see how fast the wasp drags the spider and how she climbs stairs with it. We were glad when she finally found the edge of the patio!
That was really fun. Besides that, we got to see a great blue heron right in the other side of the fence, and, right after I played the call of the yellow billed cuckoo for Anita, one flew over and made its call. I hope it hadn’t heard me.
I had other fun with domestic animals, too. The chickens were something else. Sigh. I found a small mouse in their feed, so I got it in a cup and tossed it outside, thinking I’d done a good deed. Oops. I looked out the door and realized Buttercup had instantly pounced on it. Who needs a cat, right?
In a cuter chicken anecdote, I was hanging out with Bertie Lee, the smartest chicken, and she drank out of my cup of water. I love watching them drink. She won’t let me pet her, but Billie Idyll will. They are all so different!
The horses were glad I was home and back into our normal routine. I found them conferring about it today.
Apache wasn’t even grumpy from working so hard yesterday! That brought me joy, too.
It’s been a good weekend. Yesterday was spent driving to Houston and back for a family errand. It reminded me that I’m glad to live outside of a small town. But it was a change of pace that still let me get all my animal stuff done.
The men in my house and I spent a lot of time this morning sitting by the pool. It was a nice, cool morning, the kind there won’t be many more of this year, so we took advantage of the opportunity.
I weeded the pool planting bed, which of course has many volunteer plants coming through the landscape cloth. It’s mostly morning glories, nut grass, and the dreaded spurge. Yuck. That’s one native plant that’s totally a weed for me.
Weeding was made much more pleasant by the presence of the portulaca (or moss rose) plants that we put in just two weeks ago. I just love these cheerful succulents! They’ve already more than doubled in size.
This is the only plant that I’ve found that thrives here in the dry, hot summers. Last year, I had three plants, and they grew huge, but died in the big freeze. If only I’d known you can take cuttings and root them over the winter for next year!
Next year, I’ll be all set for more beauty! And wow, they are so lovely. Lee is very happy that they aren’t plain pink and yellow, as he feared. But I think the yellow ones are fascinating.
It turns out that the portulaca grandiflora that we grow as an ornamental is related to the edible plant purslane, which chickens love and is full of vitamin A.
All in all, this plant is a winner and I don’t even feel too bad planting a non native. At least it’s food for someone. And it’s not showing signs of becoming invasive.
I’m not feeling bad about planting them, since they’re surrounded by red yucca, which seems to please all sorts of pollinators. We enjoyed hummingbirds this morning, plus many types of wasp visiting the yucca, which aren’t native here, but grow not too far away.
Yep, I’m looking forward to using portulaca all over the place, but I’m still going to encourage our native flowers. They take my breath away.
Yep. As long as I focus on beautiful flowers, insects, and random animal buddies, I’m okay. I hope you have something lovely to think about.
That’s a song lyric from The Who. But I did get a sudden dizzy spell this afternoon that’s still with me. At least I’m not nauseated anymore. It has been unpleasant, though we’ve had more nice rain. It’s not flooding like north of here.
I can’t explain, I think it’s love? No, that’s the song again. People have so many diagnoses for me. I should know that if I mention feeling bad, there will be theories! But it means people care, so I appreciate their kindness. Here are the theories so far:
Low blood pressure
Electricity in the air
COVID (took test, negative)
A-fib (added later)
Inner ear infection (added later)
Migraine from pressure change (added later)
So if it’s still here, I’ll go to the clinic tomorrow. For now I’m drinking lemon water. Maybe I’m allergic to lemons. Ha ha.
The horses were entertained this afternoon as the pond got de-silted. Both our backhoe and the regular tractor got in there. Lee had lots of fun making giant piles of rich, dark dirt, which then got to the clay layer.
One reason there is so much nice black dirt is that when it rains, it all washes from the field across the road. I think we have half their topsoil. No wonder they have to fertilize.
It was lots of fun to watch the digging. Even when I got extra light headed and barfy, it was fun. I even managed to get the horses fed before the rain arrived. Then I curled up in bed. Fun times. And here I remain, missing whatever fun activity I had planned for tonight.
Ah well. I’ll just make no sudden moves and it will be ok. I have much sympathy for my friends who deal with frequent vertigo. And on that note, I’ll leave you with two things I can’t explain, wasp edition.
No, not people and what they do. It’s bugs. And they are bugging me in a good way, because at least they give me something to look at. There isn’t much else out here. People keep commenting about how quiet it s at night. Drought is no fun.
I’m so glad for the willow trees by our driveway, because they give me a shady place to enjoy insects when I go check the mail. Today there were many dragonflies, though I only got photos of three species.
I also saw a damselfly and a Halloween pennant, but they were too busy to stop. This one was very pretty, though it didn’t photograph well.
The widow skimmers were posing, though. I got enough closeups that you can see good details on both the males and females. the top four are the females.
I also see lots of wasps ever day. Usually it’s mud daubers, yellow jackets, and such, but I also see very pretty orangey-red wasps, and today one I don’t see much, black with a red abdomen.
There are still birds around, but not in the usual numbers. There’s the woodpecker I always hear, a few remaining barn swallows, cardinals, mockingbirds and lots of thirsty starlings. The egrets and herons (blue and green) are still here because one pond in pretty full. Today’s exciting birds were this tiny orchard oriole (they are here this time of year) and a beautiful red-shouldered hawk I saw from the car. I love summer hawk sightings.
There are a very few flowers blooming, but I found a couple. There are lots of passion vines, but the flowers look funny. I guess the herbicide got to them. And there was one sad Mexican hat flower. Of course buffalo bur is blooming and one or two others that nothing can stop. Ooh and in the best plant news: I found milkweed seeds blowing around! More for the butterflies.
I figured I should do a nature post since I had my Master Naturalist meeting tonight. It was on turkeys! The speaker had a beautiful turkey shirt on, too.
This is happy stuff! There are now poles in our stall area! Thank you, Mother Nature for a dry day!
There are a lot of holes to dig and concrete to pour, but it’s coming along! The big auger makes short work of the digging, but the concrete has to be poured by hand.
When I’m not working and working and working, I can help with the fencing, too. Some of the fence poles just have dirt in them, so I got to fill the holes back up with a weird hoe. Quite the manual laborer I am.
However, I truly wish I’d been outside to see the big gate support go up. It must have been quite a sight! And quite a feat. No wonder I’m impressed with the new horse fencing!
I’m looking forward to gates, some of which will be hand made, too. Wow. Apache and the cattle will have fancy digs.
In Bug News
And as a postscript I have two cool insect photos to share. First, I saw a spider wasp dragging a hapless wolf spider off for dinner.
Also, my friend Pamela saw baby preying mantises on her property and got a shot of one whose shadow looked exactly like a giraffe. Cute!
The rain has managed to fill up the tanks (ponds) at last. It really has been dribbling in, but we finally got a day with a whole inch, and that seems to have done the trick.
There was a bit of a respite this morning, and things dried out a little. I took advantage of the only hour I had without meetings today to go out and see what’s going on with the ranch plants and their friends. I’m glad I did it then, because it’s been raining and thundering again for the past two hours, which makes for some unhappy dogs.
I had set out to find invasive species, only to realize I missed the entire 2021 iNaturalist Texas invasive species survey time, because I was in South Carolina. That’s okay, though, because I enjoyed seeing what’s blooming in late spring. There’s a lot of Indian blanket, and horsemint out there, and you can tell they are native, because there are so many kinds of insects pollinating them. The fields are literally abuzz with activity. Bzzzz.
I got to see a few new-to-me insects, including two types of potter’s wasps (not exactly sure what they are), and these beautiful tachinid flies, Archytas apicifer. They are huge (for flies), have big, black hairs, and feature shiny green abdomens and bright red eyes. I often saw multiples on one black-eyed Susan flower.
And then there were butterflies! Yes, I’ve seen common buckeyes before, along with the perky little fiery skippers and the red admirals, but the pearl crescent butterfly was new to me, and wow, it’s pretty. The little white checkered skipper looks like lace from a distance, too. In addition to the ones I photographed, I also saw orange sulphurs and gray hairstreaks. That’s a lot of butterflies!
The other thing I saw were bees, ranging from honey bees to tiny ones to bumblebees. They were zipping around, so no photos. And I found a katydid and lots of jumpy grasshoppers. This was a great way to spend some of my volunteer time at work!
I hope this provides some cheer if you’re living in a dreary place right now. I’d love to know what kinds of flowers are blooming where you live. I know the irises are in full swing in the northwestern US, and I believe I’ve spotted some peony photos from elsewhere. I love it when people share their local flowers, native or not!
Now that it’s summer, the time for pictures of pretty flowers is over, and most of the things I take pictures of are insects. That’s because it’s Grasshopper and Wasp City here in Milam County, Texas. I’ll save you the grasshoppers for now, and instead share what I’ve been learning about local wasps.
First, there are so many kinds of wasps in Texas! Second, most of them aren’t out to attack us. They are busy doing their own thing, for the most part. Two types of wasps I’ve been seeing lately are way too busy killing other creatures to mess around with us. That’s good, because one of them is pretty darned big, and the other one can sting painfully, if you let it.
First, I’d been seeing these reddish wasps with black wings around the porch lately, but they would not hold still long enough to pose for a photo. Luckily, my Master Naturalist friend found one doing its “thing” and got a couple of photos, even though he said his were a bit blurry. Here’s his blog on these spider wasps. Yes, those guys flitting around my porch weren’t after ME, they were after the numerous spiders out here in the country. I wish they would get all the black widows, but they seem to go after bigger prey.
I got interested in them, and began reading up on spider wasps. It turns out the females drag a paralyzed spider to their burrow (or the spider’s previous burrow) and lay one egg in them. The egg hatches in there, and the baby wasp goes through five instars with the spider as its food source. Interestingly, they save the vital organs until last, ensuring their food remains “fresh.” How appetizing! Here is an article about spider wasps, if you’d like to learn more.
Spiders aren’t the only insects that need to be watching their backs right about now. Remember the insect at the top of the blog? That’s a cicada’s worst nightmare, Sphecius speciosus! From the sounds we are hearing in our woods, cicadas are up and crawling around, singing their tiny hearts out. No wonder the cicada killer wasps are crawling out of their holes in search of yummy morsels. Now, cicadas are pretty large insects. It’s no problem for cicada killers, though, because they are the biggest wasps in Texas.
I was really impressed when I saw the one above just slinging that cicada around like a sack of potatoes. Even more amazing was that it picked the insect up and flew off with it (granted, it didn’t achieve much height). I already knew they lived in burrows, because that’s where we found the one at the top of this page. I now know that the cicadas are used as food for their young, just like with spider wasps. The adult wasps feed on nectar from flowers. They rarely sting humans, and the more aggressive males actually can’t sting. Here is a lot more information on cicada killers. They’re related to my buddies, the mud daubers, who daub pretty much constantly around the ranch.
So, that’s today’s non-controversial news! Thanks to those of you who actually come here to learn stuff!
Yep, it’s one of those nature posts. I don’t have anything to rant about today. It’s probably because my day started out so nicely, having coffee with Lee on the back porch (usually I rush off to the office, but I had a sinus issue). Looking out at the lawn, Lee remarked that he was glad his brother hadn’t mowed yesterday.
There were hundreds of dandelions in the field, with their little faces all turned toward the morning sun, or where it would be if it were less cloudy. More rain is coming. Remember, most of the flowers in our field are actually “false dandelion” (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus) and not the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).
The chickens love both varieties, actually. The highlight of every evening for me is feeding the hens dandelion greens from my hands.
While I was out there checking out flowers, I saw this really great spiderweb. If you look closely, you’ll see how big it actually is, but I was drawn to the center, where it looks like weaving. I think I know where the term “orb weaver” comes from now. Too bad the spider is in back, so I can’t identify her. You can tell she is the size of the “woven” area, though.
We have lots and lots of wasps this time of year. Mostly they just fly a few inches above the grass looking for something to eat, or posing as bird food, depending on your point of view. These blue mud daubers sure are beautiful, though.
A Very Humble Fly
I’ll leave you with what I saw when I came downstairs for lunch. This is one big fly. It’s not as big as a horsefly, but it’s big. Eric in our Master Naturalist class says it’s an Archytas. iNaturalist agreed. I just think it looks really, really, prickly and like it would bite. One thing I dislike is fly bites. Shudder.
Well, I got curious, so I looked up more information on the Archytas flies. It turns out their larvae are parasites, and they often grow in moths, beetles, and bugs that harm crops. So, they are often used as natural pesticides! How about that? I loved this quote by the person who wrote the article I read:
This tachinid fly is one of my favorites. It’s a huge, hairy fly with a blue metallic abdomen. I frequently encounter it nectaring on flowers and mucking about amongst the vegetation, never on offal or other nasty things like many of the more disgusting fly varieties. I would not allow just any fly to walk my skin with impunity; Archytas is just, well, special. (My affection is probably misplaced, and this bugger is just as filthy and revolting as all the others, but what can I say? One has to find something pleasant to think about.)
This scientist really loves their flies! By the way, the flies are named for “Archytas of Tarentum (c. 428-350 B.C.) – Greek statesman, military commander, leading Pythagorean mathematician and philosopher; often called the father of mathematical mechanics.” He also invented the screw and the pulley. There’s a crater on the Moon named after him, as well. Again, huh.
I think I found my favorite fly. Humble, yet lovable. And oddly beautiful.