Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Home Sick Today

Pearl is home sick today.  She's got a fever.  She's also missing a state standardized test.  She can make up the test on Friday. 
Over the weekend she went to a girlfriend's birthday party.  Below are pics of the card she made for her.  Pearl is our artist.  Acrylic paint is the medium she likes best right now.   The cards she paints are highly prized by those that receive them. It's good for artists to have folks "ooo and aah" over their work now and then.  Keeps the creative juices flowing.  

Theodore from "The Chipmunks"---the inside of the card reads: "Would you like a cookie instead?"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Babies Abound

Well, not really baby babies.  Plant and insect babies, though.  Cool mornings and sunshine automatically cause my errands to be put on hold.  The camera comes out and time rushes on without me.  Click on any of the photos to enlarge them.  

Pomegranate baby.  Pearl's favorite garden edible.  I'm going to have to cover it with netting to keep our new squirrel neighbors from helping themselves.  

Meyer Lemon baby.  Thanks JuJu for proving it can be done in zone 8b!

Monarch Butterfly baby--tomorrow will be it's "birthday"

Brussels Sprout babies. Do you see my favorite garden predator baby?

English Pea baby.  Unfortunately for the subject in this picture, as soon as I was sure I'd gotten the shot, I snatched it off the vine and gobbled it up right there in the garden.

Ladybug baby in it's last instar.  You can see it shedding it's last casing.

Not really a baby, but a harbinger of baby potatoes.  Once the plant sets flowers, it means it's making potatoes underground.  Get the dill and butter ready!

Tomato babies.  I predict a Fourth of July BLT.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Dinner For..

Last year was banner year for wildflowers in our area.  We got lots of rain all winter and spring. The wildflowers started me taking pictures on a regular basis and I haven't stopped since. 
This year the wildflowers aren't so great, but I still carry my camera out on walks.  The grouping below goes under my "Dinner For..." category.  Remember, you can see them larger if you just click on the picture.  I hope you enjoy them.

...three with Maitre'de."      (Celestial flower. Weevils and Katydid nymph)

...for two with bus boy."  (Antelope Horn Milkweed.  Assassin bugs dining on honeybee. Milkweed bug walking away)

...for three."  (Celestial Flower and weevils)

...for four."  (Celestial flower and weevils)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Happy Dance




Lee and I went to dinner at the Melting Pot (don't bother, btw) last night.  After dinner we were contemplating what to do next when our son, Thomas called, "Where are you, a huge storm is headed this way and there are tornado warnings in the county to our north."  Decision made for us--we were headed home.  

We battened down the hatches.  Moved cars into the garage, pulled lawn furniture indoors and Lee even went out to stake down the trampoline.  The last big storm we had flipped the tramp and almost ruined it. I said my standard little "storm's coming" prayers and hoped for the best. I love the power of thunderstorms, but realize Mother Nature is in charge.  

The storm had died in intensity by the time it reached us.  It was, however, moving very slowly. That meant that that it parked itself over us and dumped it's load of rain. We sure needed it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Can We All Say, "Aawww"?



These four babies belong to Mr. and Mrs. Purple Finch. One of my best friends, Taggie, knows I'm crazy about birds and picture taking.  Her husband came upon this nest by accident while cleaning up his plant beds in his courtyard.  She called me right away, and it's a good thing she did.  It looks as though these babies were about to fledge.

Speaking of birds, I've asked for a bird nest cam for Mother's Day.  You mount it in the nest box before a nest is built, hook it to your computer, and let the spying begin.  It has an infrared light so you can watch without disturbing parents or babies.  I found one for $79 and free shipping online.  Don't you just love the computer!  The same one at our local birding store is $119 plus tax.  I digress.

Hopefully, if I get one, I will be able to post some web cam footage.  Of course, that may be a pipe dream since I can't even figure out how to post a link.  :)

Are Sucky Blogs Allowed?

Yesterday DK over at One the Way to Critter Farm (http://critterfarmgirl.blogspot.com/) was discussing Blogger Block.  Really, she wasn't having a block, she was having a few 'sucky' days and didn't feel right about blogging it.  Do we always have to be "on" (read: cheery) when blogging?  

I started this blog with the intention of having a more uniform place to journal.  Add a picture here and there.  Originally, it was meant for me and family.  Once I push that "publish post" button though, it becomes public domain.  Honestly, that's okay.  I've enjoyed meeting new friends and finding their blogs.  The tricky part is that sometimes I feel sucky too.  I want to blog about those days too.  I don't want my kids to think that life is all gardening and snakes and birds.
By letting family know about my blog, I also fence myself in with blog subjects.  Sometimes the sucky days are about them.  Catch-22.  

I choose to break the cheery cycle this morning.  I am not feeling sucky today, but certainly have been the last few days.  I found things to write about, but not what was really getting to me. (I must preface this bit with a family primer. Mom married "L", had two kids and divorced. She married my father, "H" and had me. Divorced again. Mom recently remarried "L".  He had no contact with my sister and brother once they were divorced because my mom wouldn't let him.)---------------If you've read my first post you know my mom died in February.  It sucked in more ways than one.  In mid March her husband,"L",  got very ill (abdominal aortic aneurysm) and nearly died on a fishing trip.  My sister, Jean, had come to town to be with mom when she died. She planned all along to leave when mom died and get on with her life.  Then her father (my step-father) had the aneurysm and she stayed.  We fully expected he would die.  In fact, he came home under hospice care.  He's still plugging along thanks to Jean's care.  In fact, they're about to close their contract with hospice.  Things are looking up enough that Jean made plans to leave. Ah, then he started smoking again and then she really needed to leave.  Why should she stay around to care for him if he's just trying to kill himself?
That's where my suckiness comes in for several reasons:

1. I already did the dying father thing with my own father.
2. I did the dying thing with my mother just two months ago.
3. Three people died at my tiny little church within a month (on either side) of my mom dying.
4. What will my responsibility to "L" be once Jean leaves? He was married to my mom for only a year and a half.  I don't know him really, but he cared for my mom during her illness and loved her deeply.  He is Grandpa to my kids.  
5. Lee's parents are nearly 80.  They moved near us this year, specifically so we could help care for them as they age.  Lee will be a large participant in their care once he retires, but their health care will be mine to do if they were to fail tomorrow.

Can you see why I've been feeling sucky the last few days?  I have no active cases of caring or dying right now, but I've had my share recently.  The immediate worry is "L" when Jean leaves. What is my responsibility?  His health, because of recent choices, mainly smoking, will begin to decline.  I am the only person he knows in our town.  His son by another marriage is three hours away and he has no intention of moving again to be near that son.  He moved here to be with my mom.  

My poor sister is between a rock and a hard place.  When she leaves, it will be for good reason and I encourage it.  Her dad is choosing to buck her care, by smoking.  It's his choice, jeez, he's 70.  He's not going to quit smoking now.  She came to help my mom die. She doesn't even really know her dad, but she's come to love him deeply.  He's a good man.  She's a good woman, but she's lonely and misses her friends. She really shouldn't have stay around to watch him die by his own hand and lighter.  All good reasons for leaving.  

"L" has asked to be a part of our extended family.  He loves us and we are a part of mom.  I think he's a great man and have no problem extending a hand to him.  And so, the question remains---what is my responsibility to him?  Jean decided she isn't leaving any time soon and has assured me that my responsibility to her dad is zero.  I don't feel that way.  We talked a long time yesterday and she reiterated that point.  I will always feel some obligation to "L".  He loved my mom like crazy and is above all else, a good man.  I think he deserves to be cared for, I just don't know where I'll fit into that equation when his health fails again.  

I've decided to cross that bridge when I come to it.  Right now, I just need to get the "here and now" taken care of.  He doesn't need my care.  Lee's parents are in good health.  Breathe, CeeCee, breathe. Serenity Prayer.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Traumatic Haircut

I'm erring on the side of drama with that title.  Two days ago I felt traumatized, though.  I felt just like I did when I cut my long hair into a very short wedge.  It was something I had chosen to do, but still felt sad and worried about my decision.  I didn't recognize myself in the mirror for quite a while.  

I don't recognize my land either.  Last year was a banner year for rain after a two year drought. We were blessed with abundant rain, and the plants took advantage of it.  The grass and other plants in our pasture grew taller than we'd ever seen it.  For several years my husband has quietly suggested that we need to get it mown because it looked unsightly.  I thought it looked natural and loved the wildlife that made it home.  For two years in a row, a doe has dropped her fawn in a particularly overgrown area of the pasture.  She's raised both fawns very nearby and even brought them up to nibble sunflower seeds that the chickens miss.  I know, deer are pests, but she's special.  I won't get that this year.

For five years Lee has let the pasture mowing slide.  He knows how much I love it.  This year it had to be done.  The lack of rain this winter made my beautiful pasture a fire hazard extraordinaire. Every time we'd smell smoke from someone's burn pile we'd share the "which way is the wind blowing" look.  We have no fire hydrants.  If our pasture caught fire, we'd be on our own.  Spring brought no rainy relief.  He was right.  It was time.  

The night before the big mow, I walked the pasture with one of the dogs to make sure we weren't going to accidentally be mowing over nests of bunnies or a hidden fawn.  All clear (shoot!).  The mowers came with all their power tools and transformed several acres in just one day.  Lee and I walked the pasture that night and I cried.   It felt awful and looked awful.  The mowers came a second day to do a second mow, mulch the piles of brush and weed-eat.  I walked it again that night and felt a little better.  Much like with a dramatic haircut, you always feel better when friends tell you it looks great.  Several people called to say how good it looked.  I still think it looks stark and certainly not wildlife friendly, but the sight of deer this morning assured me that it was okay with them. 

I hope the snakes are okay. :)   

Before

After
Before
After

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Love's Embrace

Warning--snake post and picture to follow.

I was out wandering our property a few days ago.  I having one last walk before we had our pastures cut and brush cleaned up.  I was also having a boo-hoo moment.  I really didn't want to have the work done, but it was becoming a clear fire hazard.  That's tomorrow's story though.  

As I walk, I always keep my ears open as well as my eyes.  I heard the agitated twitter of a pair of wrens.  I thought I must be near a tree they have a nest in.  I moved away in hopes of quieting their fear.  The twittering continued.  I searched the trees for any sight of them and saw a bit of branch fall to the ground.  A light went on in my head, they see a snake!  It didn't take long to spot the snake in the tree.  Movement nearby also caught my eye.  Another snake!  No way!  I ran all the way to the house for my husband's camera (telephoto lens), as they were about 15' up in the tree.  By the time I returned it was clear that I was interrupting an intimate moment. Like any good papparazzi, I started snapping photos.  

I know, most folks think I'm out of my gourd. I just find them fascinating and beautiful.  A few facts to keep you in the know---just in case it comes up in a game of Trivial Pursuit.

*Rat snakes are not venomous.
*Rat snakes are often called Chicken snakes because they are sometimes found near chicken  coops.  They are usually there because of a rodent problem, but soon discover the eggs.(Been  there, done that!) 
*Rat snakes can 'rattle' their tail which is to scare away predators.  This is often their undoing when they encounter humans.  A rattling tail equals a Rattle snake for most humans. 
*Rat snakes come out of hibernation late March--early April.  
*The male seeks out the female for mating.  
*Five weeks later she will lay 12-20 eggs in a hidden area, under logs or leaves or in abandoned animal burrows. 
*The hatchlings will appear in 65-70 days later, and are on their own from the beginning.  
*If weather conditions are good, the female may produce two clutches of eggs a year.

Ready?  Here's the pic.  Not scary at all.  If you made it this far, then I'm proud of you.  If you're feeling particularly brave, click on the picture to make it larger.

A Weekend Away


I was gone last weekend.  I was gone without my kids or my husband last weekend.  I got to eat meals prepared by someone else and cleaned up by someone else.  I got to sleep all night long without letting the cat in and out (and back in again).  I got to enjoy the company of many beloved women friends and few great men as well. I got to feel cool breezes from a lazy river on a perfect 80* day.  All this was free.  All that was asked of me was my time and a little hard, and not so hard labor. 

It was to honor a dear departed friend, Melissa.  She died 2 1/2 years ago from melanoma.   She fought hard for 2 years and lost.  She left behind a wonderful husband and a 9 year old daughter.  It was crushing to say the least.  It was my first trip into the 'valley of the shadow' with someone my own age.  Melissa was the textbook definition of gentlewoman.  She was someone that when you first meet her, you think, "I want to be friends with her."  She was truly a woman of contrasts.  She was trained in classical piano.  She was the director of many musical and dance companies.  She wrote music.  She loved Lyle Lovett.  She loved Nascar.  She loved God.  She loved margaritas.  Not necessarily in that order. ;)  She also loved labyrinths.  

One of her wishes before her death was to see the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral near Paris. She got that wish.  She also had another wish----to share the labyrinth experience with our church campground in Bandera, Texas.  Her wish was granted last weekend and we were all there to paint it. We have gotten past the deep mourning of our much loved friend.  We were able to laugh and share stories of her life.

I've included a link that I hope will work (fingers crossed) that you can read if you'd like to know more about labyrinths.  I know almost nothing about them.  

Two dear women, J. and D. that I shared a ride, a delightful picnic, a cabin, and many laughs with.  
Here we were encouraged to write on the labyrinth, something that reminded us of Melissa.  It was painted over, but will remain as a permanent part of the site.  

The painting begins.  The slab was poured, covered in a base paint, and the lines were drawn before we all got there.  It took a careful hand to paint properly, as the widest part between lines was only 3 inches in most places.  

The first evening following the painting, some women try walking the labyrinth.  Off to the right, you can see a project that was taking place at the same time.  A small sitting area with 3 benches and a brick patio area.  Getting that area flat and the bricks laid evenly posed a problem or two, but it was tackled by hardy souls.  I wasn't one of them. :)

Melissa's husband, Joe.  This picture was taken on Sunday.  Here, he had filled in the hole in the center.  The hole had been drilled so the lines could be drawn perfectly from the center out. Finally, he painted over the fill.  It's finished!

The finished product.  Melissa would have been thrilled.  While we missed her in body, her spirit was there with us.  


Friday, April 18, 2008

Problem Solved


My youngest had a problem.    Like a lot of 9 year olds, if the problem is important, he's going to work it out.  His problem was with his Ferrari.  His F1 Scuderia Ferrari with moving pistons, a working suspension, removable engine cover, and working steering.  
 

James is a Lego maniac.  He often awakens his siblings on Saturday by digging through his bin with literally thousands of Lego pieces in it.  It's one of those giant, flat bins that folks use for storage under their beds.  His is nearly full.

The Ferrari was a Christmas present this year.  It has about 1500 pieces.  It is a 1:8 scale model. He and Lee put it together in 2 days.  It was on display in his room until last week.  Last week James decided to upgrade.  He wanted it to move on it's own, but how?  For his birthday this year, he got a Lego Ferris Wheel that has a motor.  Well, there ya go!  Connect said motor to the Ferrari and away you go.  Easier said than done.  He worked for some time placing the motor in the passenger compartment of the Ferrari and connecting it to the parts that would make the car move forward.  The trouble was, the passenger compartment is the weakest part of the structure and bowed in the middle from the weight of the motor.  It would move, but only occasionally.  Plan B---place the motor outside the car on wheels so it wouldn't weigh down the car and still be able to go along as the car moved.  This idea worked great in forward, but reverse was a problem.  The car would run into the motor and over the cords that connected the two pieces.  Plan C was hatched and the problem was solved---attach the motor (that's on wheels) to the car.  Forward and reverse are now achieved with ease.

I gotta tell ya, the thought process astounds me.  Just attaching the motor to the right parts of the car so it would move, blows my mind.  Something I couldn't do.  I guess we all have our gifts. I'm just excited that he loves moving parts.  He's always drawing car suspensions or new motor configurations or inventing new kinds of motors (on paper) all the time.  The brain is an amazing thing!  He also got "Popular Mechanics" for Christmas.  Maybe one day he'll be the subject of an article in that magazine?  We've just got to make sure he wears his helmet to protect that brain while doing "lets scare mom" stunts on his bicycle.  

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Condos Going In

Well, not really.  
One of my neighboring woodpecker species has decided to expand and make a little extra money.  I just wonder if she'll pick the upstairs apartment.  Better view and no upstairs neighbors to awaken her with dancing and clomping around in new shoes.  However, the downstairs apartment has it's good qualities too.  Not so far to walk up with the groceries and better temperature regulation since there isn't a roof and attic to deal with.  Plus, there is a bit of joy in banging on the ceiling with a broom when the upstairs neighbors are making too much noise.  

Monday, April 14, 2008

Scratch and Sniff

Oh, how I wish there was such a thing on computers.  I would love to share the scents of some of my favorite flowering things.  Sometimes I'll be outside and catch a whiff of something and have to follow it to the plant.  I do love springtime.  Luckily, many of the flowering things stay around for quite a while.  

Butterfly Bush--don't mind the praying mantis, she's just waiting for lunch.  

Hosta "Honeybell"--this is one of the old fashioned types of hostas.  Very few of the ones you'll find today have any scent at all.  The hummingbirds fight over these.  

Honeybell Hosta--not quite in full bloom yet.

Mountain Laurel--one of the few scents I don't care for.  It smells exactly like grape kool-aid. I'm not kidding!  My husband likes them, and so I planted two. They are beautiful, but not my favorite perfume.

Pyracantha--This bush is evil.  Long, poisonous thorns.  If you get poked, you can count on some intense itching and swelling.  
That said, it has many wonderful attributes.  It grows very densely and provides great cover for a birds nest.  In the winter these lovely, sweet smelling flowers turn into large, orange berries that the birds love.  Because of its thorns, the deer leave it alone.  It's also evergreen.  Okay, so the good outweighs the bad, but the thorns hurt.

Anacacho Orchid Tree--this is an understory tree.  It's a Texas native.  Bees love it!  

Meyer Lemon tree--It doesn't belong here.  I should not be able to keep it alive during the winter, but I do.  It is up against a southeast facing wall that absorbs heat during the winter. That means that it's shielded from north winds and  cold rains.  I have been known to cover it with a sheet and put a lamp under it when we have temps that stay in the 20s.  The scent from the blossoms will take your breath away, it's so intoxicating.  I can't imagine living where there are entire orchards of these trees.  I might never go inside.  My daughter loves pictures of bees. This little tree makes sure there are no shortages of bee pictures to be taken.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

What 120 lbs. Looks Like


In a previous post, I talked about the challenges of recycling in a rural area.  Luckily we have a trash compactor that I've turned into a "recycling only" bin.  What you see below is about 2 months worth of tin, aluminum, and plastics.  The glass is collected in a different bin for obvious reasons.  The only downside to this system is that I have to sort it when it's time for a recycling center run.  It doesn't look like much, but it takes about an hour from start to finish. Our recycling center requires that plastics be separated into #1's and #2's.  

Before

I'll admit I'm a little embarrassed at the number of water bottles.  We try very hard not to use bottled water as is it makes no sense at all.  There are times, however, when we are thirsty on our travels and water is better for us than soda.  Thus, the water bottles.  The thing about #1 plastic that makes me shake my head is that the bins that organic greens come in is not recyclable.  It is usually packed in a #5 or #7 container.  Ironic, huh?

Number 2 plastics are opaque.  We drink lots and lots of milk at our house, sometimes four gallons a week.  They guy at the recycling center needed to be convinced that other colors of plastic are often #2s as well.  He was just tossing the coffee containers and the laundry detergent containers in the trash.  I'm such a nerd for pointing it out to him, but every little bit counts, huh?

One of the coolest parts of recycling is getting the lid closed on the trash bin every week. Before I'd made up my mind that, 'yes, I can make a recycling center run', we would seldom get the lid completely closed on our ginormous trash can.  Poor James would get put in the trash can on trash day so he could compact the trash.  I'd hold his hands and make him jump up and down so I could fit just one more bag in.  Now there's rooms for another bag or two each week.  Too bad though, I think he misses getting to jump up and down in the trash. :0)

After


8 lbs. of #1 plastic
4 lbs. of aluminum
6 lbs. of #2 plastic
12 lbs. of tin cans
49 lbs. of newspaper
41 lbs. of glass

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Warning, Snake Photo


I figured I should give fair warning to those that might not think snakes are cool.  

I took this photo last summer.  The local rat snakes and I went round and round about who the eggs actually belonged to.  I say they are mine, since I'm feeding the chickens and cleaning up after them.  The snakes say they are theirs since they keep the mice and rats out of the surrounding pasture and chicken coop.  We both have a legitimate claim to the eggs. Lawyers were about to be called in.  The hens could care less, they just want the snakes to work a little faster at swallowing so they can get in to lay the next egg.  I believe that the snakes took far more eggs than they let on.  I just thought egg production was down because the hens were getting older.  Poor girls, I threatened them with the stew pot all summer and it wasn't even their fault.  They were about to call in lawyers of their own for terroristic threats.

All kidding aside.  I removed five, yes five, different snakes from the nest box last summer.  I know they were different because I drove them far, far away before I released them.  We had an amazing (and drought breaking) amount of rain last spring and summer.  Everything flourished, including rats and mice.  There was enough food to go around I guess, because the snakes flourished too.  I'd image they found my nest box by accident and then all bets were off.  If I were a snake, it would go like this: "Do I spend my time stalking and catching mice who run away from me, or do I wander over to this nice box and eat eggs--who don't run away.?" Seems like an easy decision, even for a snake.

If you've gotten this far in my post, you'll understand that I consider snakes a fairly good thing to have around and don't follow the "kill first, ask questions later" mindset of some.  Snakes are so helpful to have around and are more afraid of us than we could ever be of them.  The only one I've killed since we moved here was a coral snake.  Animals and children can't be counted on to leave such a pretty snake alone.  

We haven't had the rains this year, so maybe I won't be in a legal battle with rat snakes again. It's just so disconcerting to stick your hand in a nest box after dark and feel egg, egg, egg, snake, egg.  Screaming in the dark scares the chickens.  Maybe I should have a lawyer on retainer just in case?


Friday, April 11, 2008

Let the Stalking Begin

Before I tell you anything else, be sure to click on these pictures so you can really get a good look at my babies.  

I've waited all winter for the mantis eggs to hatch.  I've looked in on the egg case a couple times a day for the last two weeks hoping to catch them hatching.  Just today I was bent over looking at the case and beginning to wonder if it would ever happen.  I stood up and surveyed the plant for other insects.  Then I saw the little one below.  Then I saw another and another and another!  I know, I'm weird.  It's just so cool having a bunch of tiny lions hanging out in my garden.  I just need them to get busy on the flea beetles that are snacking on my potatoes and spinach.  

I will try to restrain myself when posting pics of them as they grow.  :0)  


Jail Break

It's officially spring.  The monarch caterpillars have hatched and are on the move.  This batch reminded me of the three escapees in "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"   On this plant alone, I counted seven.  They are all on a plant that confused me when I first saw it.  I grew up thinking that monarch cats only fed on milkweed.  Well, they do.  This is a Mexican milkweed and it's beautiful.  I always thought there was only one kind of milkweed and it grew as a vine on my back fence in Missouri.  I loved when the seed pods would break open and the wind would scatter the feathery seeds to the skies.  I don't remember a flower, but there must have been one.  The flowers on the two kinds of milkweed I have here in Texas are unmistakable.


This is an Antelope Horn milkweed.  It grows as a low spreading plant.  The Mexican milkweed grows upright.  Obviously, other butterflies love milkweed as well.  The Gray Hairstreaks love the Antelope Horn, but don't care for the Mexican kind.  Maybe it's too spicy.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist) 



I've decided this year to leave the caterpillars alone.  Every year we have empty fish tanks of various shapes and sizes full of caterpillars.  The crysalis  stage is amazing to me.  I've always wondered about the beautiful gold dots across the top.  My kids have all held newly "hatched" monarchs, gently placed them on flowers, watched them dry and then take to skies.  It's still a miracle after all these years.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Question for Blog Folks

No pictures today.  Well, maybe later.  
I have a burning question that the Blogger help page was no help on (surprise!).  
I am on an iMac.  I simply want to cut and paste things from other sources, mainly quotes and links.  When I try to do it, the thing I've tried to paste appears at the bottom of the "post" box.  
Sincerely your humble student,
CeeCee

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bottoms Up

Right out the window from where my computer sits, is a birdhouse.  It's been there for four years.  I put it there in hopes of attracting my favorite bird, the wren, into nesting where I could watch.  Mr. and Mrs. Titmouse beat them to it every year.  They often begin building the nest when I believe we could still have a freak cold snap.  In fact, last year we had snow and ice on Easter weekend--in April!  Crazy, crazy weather for central Texas.  

I decided to play a little Poker with Mother Nature.  I called her on her 27 degree temperature and raised her a ladder and a heat lamp.  The chicks had just hatched that week and they were in danger of freezing in their little nest box.  I hovered on the "do not climb above this step" step of the ladder to place an extension cord and heat lamp so it would shine on the nest box, but not in it.  Mother and Father Titmouse didn't know what to make of it, but they worked on through the weather to locate bugs for the chicks.  A challenge to be sure.  Luckily, it was a true cold snap.  Temperatures rose into high 30's in the next day or two and then on into the 50's later the next week.  

This year, I think they are in the clear.  The poor parents are at the box feeding the chicks about once every minute or so from sun-up to sundown for 17 days.    Here's a link that gives more information.  http://www.sialis.org/titmice.htm

These are some pics of this year's pair.

Mom or Dad with a tasty buggy.

Making sure it's all clear to go in.

Leaning waaay over to find tiny mouths.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Does This Chair Make Me Look Fat?


I am certain that our dear Lucky has no concern about his weight.  He can still catch mice and rats and zoom up trees with the best of them.  We think he's nearly 11 by now.  He came with the house.

He comes by the name Lucky, legitimately.  When our house was in the framing stages he wandered out of a nearby drainage ditch and told us his troubles.  He's a "talker" as cat people call them.  We believed he belonged to someone because he'd recently had a place shaved on one shoulder---as though he'd been to the vet.  After posting signs everywhere and coming to the house to feed and water him every day, it became apparent that he was ours.  Therein was the problem.  We couldn't have a cat for two reasons.  Our dogs would love to snack on said kitty and my husband wasn't a cat person.  All during those two weeks, Lee would come to the house to work on wiring and "the cat" would follow him from room to room.  He'd stay just out of the way of Lee's work, but always be where he was. He was as friendly a cat as Lee had ever known "almost like a dog".  He put up with Pearl's forced affection and never bit or scratched her.  It became time to put up sheetrock and time for Lucky to find a real home.  We were afraid the workers would sheetrock him right into a wall.

We talked some folks into taking him.  Woo Hoo!  Several months went by and our friends decided to build a new house.  They moved into a rental so they could be closer to the building project.  Lucky needed a new home, again.  The rental didn't allow cats.  She is a nurse and he is a fireman--how hard could it be for them to find him a new home.  Between the two of them, they know dozens and dozens of people.  One Sunday I asked where they had rehomed him. "Oh, we couldn't find anyone to take him so we gave him to the animal shelter."  HUH!  Such a great cat at a shelter.  I can still hear Lee's voice, "(deep sigh) Oh, go get the cat. (another deep sigh)."  I paid $65 for our own stray cat.  

He put up with Pearl's learning curve on how to love a cat properly.  He put up with me teaching the two dogs we had at the time how NOT to eat kitties.  He put up with the introduction of two new puppies once the other two dogs had passed away.  He put up with (and did not eat) the introduction of chicks that turned into big fat hens.  He is a great cat.  He still has an opinion on many subjects.  He has trained Pearl to come to him with a simple 'meow'.  He has trained my best friend to stand and visit with him while he eats.  He only does that when we are out of town and he's lonely.  He will not eat unless she stands in the laundry room while he does.  He has trained me to open the window in the middle of the night to let him in.  He has trained me to lay perfectly still on the couch in the winter so he can curl up on my lap to get warm.  He has trained us all that dogs have masters and cats have staff.

Here he is drinking "flavored water".  Notice the Beta fish swimming just out of tongue's reach.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Maybe Again This Year

I got a fantastic, beautiful and rare lesson in birding last year in May.  I hope to relieve it again this May. 
Below you see two pictures of an old "run in" shed on the 366 acres that backs up to where I live.  It was in that shed that my daughter and her friend found turkey eggs.  They brought two of them home and I nearly came unglued with "never take eggs, where did you get them, we're taking them right back...".  When we went to return the eggs there was no nest and no hen turkey anywhere around.  The girls swore on a stack of bibles that that's where they'd gotten the eggs.  They had been warm when they brought them home, so I knew they'd been attended to by a hen very recently.  Maybe I just didn't know about turkey nests or lack thereof???  We replaced the eggs exactly where the girls found them and left.  I returned daily with my camera to hopefully catch a glimpse of the poults before they disappeared.  Baby turkeys are up and out as soon as they are born.  Momma turkey and babies would be on the run as soon as the babies dried.  I didn't want to miss it, though I knew my chances were slim in catching a photo of the occassion.



Two weeks later, I returned and found these fair creatures.  Suddenly it all made sense.  I had seen a vulture retreat from this humble dwelling every time I would sneak up on it with a camera.  The girls hadn't brought home turkey eggs but turkey vulture eggs.  I was thrilled beyond words!  A once in a lifetime opportunity to document the fledging of turkey vultures.  I went back about every 10 days to catch a photo or two.  



I worried about them the entire time.  Amazingly, these babies, that were hatched on the ground were unable to get around.  They didn't even fully stand until they were nearly three weeks old.  Fire ants were my first concern, quickly followed by coyotes, opossums and raccoons.  How on earth could they protect themselves?  Fire ants alone have been the death of thousands of ground dwelling babies of all sorts of species.  Despite my worry, they continued to grow. The one on the left below was the braver of the two.  The other would hide it's head every time I came around.


Here they are, finally standing.  Able to get away from things on the ground. 


Here's the more timid of the two.  He'd run out of the enclosure and then peek back in to see if I was still there.  Wing feathers are starting to come in.  One thing they did to protect themselves was get "very big" and hiss like snakes.  One protective measure they had was to vomit their last meal.  I tried very hard not to make them get to that point.  One thing I remembered from my volunteer time at Wildlife Rescue was, "If you have to rescue an adult vulture that's been injured, make sure it's thrown up before you put it in your car or you'll never be able to use the car again."  It seems vomited roadkill has a particularly pungent odor. Ya think?




This is the last picture I took before I left for church camp as a counselor.  They were about 7 weeks old.  When came home I went straight out with my camera.  What I discovered sunk my heart.  Dead babies.  I'm a "why" sort of person so I sorted through the remains to see if I could discover what had happened.  One was in the enclosure and the other outside.  I was looking for telltale signs of particular predators.  Coyotes and foxes carry off their kill.  Wasn't them. Raccoons are known for simply tearing off the heads and then walking away.  Head were still there, so it wasn't them.  Opossums would have been out of this fight because the babies were quite large at 7 weeks.  The only conclusions I could come to were two--they either starved to death because of the death of the mother, or were poisoned.  Sometimes ranchers will poison an animal carcass in order to kill off coyotes.  Of course, the vultures get in on the deal.
Either way, the babies were gone.  I felt so sad.  It had been such an amazing opportunity and I really came to love their ugly little leathery faces.  



And so, I continue to check the old shack for signs of "turkey eggs".  If the mother was killed last year, it's unlikely it will happen again.  I so wanted to see those babies through until their giant wings carried them off the ground and into the warm thermal updrafts of summer skies.