Thursday, April 29, 2010

Under Texas Skies

There's a long-time saying that suggests, 'Everything's bigger in Texas'. When I lived in Missouri, I thought that was a lot of hooey.
After moving here, it didn't take long for me to believe it. The sky even seems bigger here than anyplace I've ever been. In fact, I wanted my blog name to be Under Texas Skies, but it was already taken. Instead, I use it as my blog address.
Pearl and I are constantly taking pictures of it. I thought I'd share some of our favorites.
Today our sky is sunny and nearly cloudless. What did your sky look like today?

Double rainbow by Pearl

Rain moving in
by CeeCee

Thunderhead
by CeeCee (my favorite to photograph)

Sunset
by CeeCee

Sunset with a vulture riding the thermals
by Pearl

Sunset with a storm moving in
by CeeCee

Leading edge of the rain
by CeeCee

Rainbow
by Pearl


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's That Time of Year

It's fawn time.
Whitetail deer fawns are born from late April to Mid-June. Most are born in May after a 7 month gestation.
Texas boasts more whitetail than any other state.
More than half of those deer reside right here in Central Texas--technically a region called the Edwards Plateau. Sources say 1 deer per 113 acres. I say they are wwwaaaayyy off. I have four acres and have seen as many as 16 deer in my pasture alone. With not many natural predators (coyotes, people and cars), their numbers expand every year beyond the number of kills.

Still, you can't help being drawn in to the cuteness that is pictured below.
I actually got to hold this little girl. My neighbor found her in her barn yesterday. It is only permissible to move a fawn if it is in danger. In this case, the horse that resides in the stall was not happy. Her dog would have been only too happy to continue barking at it all day, as well. I picked her up and moved her 100 yards closer to the brush where her momma hangs out most of the day.
Every year, many folks mistakenly believe that a fawn by itself has been abandoned. They rescue it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Does, for the first month of the baby's life, leave it hidden and only come back to it to nurse (2-3 times a day). By some bit of magic, the fawns have no scent, and are thereby protected from predators for the first month of life.

Unfortunately, for the fawn, I transferred my scent onto her when I moved her.
That makes her a little more likely to be found by a dog or coyote that happens by.
It couldn't be helped.
While she was safe in the barn stall from coyotes, there was no way momma was going to come in and nurse with all the activity that happens there every day.
As of yesterday afternoon, the fawn was gone from the place I'd put it. That means mom came, nursed and then found it a new hiding place.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Over Achiever

My chicks are 14 weeks old. Chickens do not begin laying eggs until 20 weeks at the earliest. Like other animals, the chicks don't read the chicken books or get on the computer to Google such information.
I noticed a bit of 'bleaching' of the skin of two chicks around their eyes and combs. Believe it or not, coloring that normally exists in the body areas that aren't covered in feathers (Vent, Eye/Ear, Beak and Legs) fades as their egg laying begins. Once their egg laying trails off, that color returns. That is one good way to tell if your older hens need to be sent to Freezer or Crockpot Camp. Of course, if they have names and sit in your lap like mine do, they'll never be attending either of those Camps.
Just out of curiosity, I cracked open this tiny, tiny egg. There was no yolk. There was, however, the little island of white that the yolk normally would sit in. I'm thinking that those that I share the eggs with, would like them to be a bit bigger and have the amazing marigold colored yolks that we all love.
I'll get out my chicken books and begin reading to my chicks about how they aren't supposed to start laying for 6 more weeks. I think they'll be relieved.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Good Luck With That

This is a lousy picture. It was taken very quickly, through a window. If you have any interest in seeing it a little closer, just click on it.

It's a picture of a squirrel on top of a temporary sleeping quarters that my new chicks are using until they fully integrate into my current flock. The fancy, fancy sheet that you see, is there to keep the rain out.
Several days ago, I noticed some tears in the sheet. I was a bit worried that they'd been caused by nighttime visitors, as the tears were on the front of the sheet (I put it down in front at night). The fencing on their little coop is not as small as I'd like. A raccoon, if interested enough, could fit a paw through the openings. While unlikely it would actually reach a chick, it still worried me.

The sight of the squirrel in this picture, trying to take the entire twin sized sheet for her nest amused me. It also gave me a big sigh of relief. The tears were made by her. They're pretty resourceful little critters, but taking the whole sheet would be a Herculean effort. She doesn't read Greek mythology though. At least I don't think she does.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bluebird Battles

Unless you enlarge these pictures (click on the picture), it will be hard for you to tell that these are two different birds.
It actually took me a bit of looking as well. I thought it was the same bird, only it was fluffed up in one of the pictures.
I also was confused because I'd see a bird going into the birdhouse with nesting materials, only to see it leave with nesting material later.
Turns out, according to Cornell University, it's two male bluebirds fighting for the same nestbox.
In the bluebird world, the male builds the nest and then shows it to prospective females.
What's happening in my nestbox is, one male is bringing stuff in and the other is taking it out, and vise versa.
What neither bird seems to understand is, they aren't supposed to nest here at all. Every website and bird book I've looked at says they don't nest here. I guess they don't read? About three years ago, I saw bluebirds all summer. Their numbers have increased steadily since then. This year, I decided to put up a bluebird house that my father-in-law made for me, to see if I could draw a pair in.

I haven't seen any females looking at the box so far. Then again I don't spend all day hiding in a bunch of trees trying to get the perfect picture. I felt like a National Geographic photographer yesterday when I got these shots. I stood perfectly still for the longest time, waiting, waiting, waiting for the perfect shot. I came away with a couple keepers, hair full of oak pollen, probably a tick or two and some chiggers.

Hopefully, these two males will get things sorted out quickly. It's going to get too hot in that box pretty soon to raise babies.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Sun and the Earth

My chickens are sort of like the sun and the earth.
They exist in the same universe, but one group really revolves around the other. Never the two shall meet. Not on purpose, anyway.
My chicks have made the final move into the larger chicken run. The only thing they don't share is sleeping quarters (that comes later). The rabbit hutch on the right is where the chicks sleep, the green building on the left is where the chickens sleep.
I was going for Beverly Hillbilly look with the rabbit hutch and sheets to keep the rain and snakes out.
How'd I do?

Through the maze of fences, you will see in the middle-left area of the picture---4 chicks. They are on top of the nest box that is IN the chicken coop. The big chickens are actually letting the chicks in the coop without chasing them out.
Yesterday, when it rained cats and dogs, the big chickens weren't so generous though. The chicks had to find shelter under their hutch. I was pleased that they figured that out on their own.

Introducing the chicks into the main chicken enclosure went better than I expected. The last time I tried the standard 'meet and greet' way of introducing new chickens, it did not go well.

They have a fairly large run, and the little chicks spend a great deal of their day staying out of the larger chickens way. Both groups stick closely together. If one chick happens to get separated from the other three, the big chickens will chase it. As soon as it is out of their space, there is peace in the run again.

Mostly the chicks just stay out of the way.
Whatever works.
I'm just pleased as punch that the whole thing has been fairly painless for me, and especially my chicks.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mutant Garlic

Wait, that isn't garlic, that looks like leeks.
I know that's what you're telling yourself.
I'd be saying the same thing, if I hadn't put 40 individual cloves of organic garlic in the ground last November 1st. Three different kinds, in fact.
It definitely smells like garlic. Tastes like fresh garlic--garlic that hasn't 'cured' yet.
What on earth could have happened? Not one looks like it was even thinking about making cloves. I'm going to go ahead and cure these and see what we end up with . I may also dry some in the oven. I'm just disappointed that I don't have 40 heads of garlic.
If you happen to be a garlic guru and have any idea what could have gone wrong, please let me know.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

First Snake of the Season

I say 'first snake of the season' because there will be more. Luckily, the snake is a Texas Rat snake. Often called a Chicken snake because of their tendency to get into chicken coops and eat eggs (hey, easy prey!) and chicks if they happen to be around. While Rat snakes can push 6ft. long, their mouths can't quite manage a full grown chicken.

BUT, speaking of chicks, last night I was getting my chicks one step closer to moving in with the big chickens. With Tom's help, I moved their little coop (a rabbit hutch) into the main chicken run area. They spend their entire day with the other chickens, but sleep in separate quarters for now. The fencing on the rabbit hutch is not small enough to keep snakes out completely. That's why I was a bit disturbed when I looked up to see a snake curled up, napping, in the main chicken coop.


As always, I determined what sort of snake I was dealing with. "Yellowish belly, brightly colored scales, splotchy/circular patterned back, rounded head, perfectly round eyes----Rat snake. Harmless."
I went and found a bucket with a lid, and located my snake stick from last year (a branch with a V in it). I should have gotten gloves right away, but didn't think about it. My job would have gone much more quickly if I had. My job, by the way, is to move the snake--not kill it. If it weren't for their egg eating tendency, I'd let this one stay. They are fabulous at eating rats and mice--thus the name, Rat Snake.

The plan--harass it and it would come down. Pin it behind its head with my magic stick, pick it up and place it in the bucket. End of story.
The snake had other plans. An hour later (with gloves), I had harassed it enough that it unraveled and I was forced to grab it without help of my stick and pull it out of its hiding place. The gloves were to protect my hands from the obvious--getting bitten. While not venomous, they get pretty angry when they have been poked at for an hour. They do not have fangs. Instead, they have two rows of very sharp, tiny teeth. They kill their prey by constriction. The teeth merely aid them in holding onto it.

The constriction part is what made extracting this snake all the more difficult. They are strong. Very strong. It DID NOT want to be captured. I had to inch it along without really pulling. I didn't want to hurt it. After about 10 minutes, I'd pulled all 6 ft. of it down out of the ceiling and placed it in my bucket.
Off we went, snake and I. I found it a lovely spot near a brush pile and a creek. I hope it will be very happy eating rats and mice and frogs and all other manner of small prey. I'd like to keep my eggs and my chicks, thank you.
Until the next snake.....
*************************************************
Because I'm nerdy this way, I did a little more reading on my snakey visitor.
Seems most herpetologists (reptile folks) think Rat Snakes are very aggressive. Yes, this one was aggressive, but I spent an hour ticking it off. When I let it go, it was more than happy to bid me goodbye.
On the other hand, when I had a similar situation happen with a Western Coachwhip snake, it challenged me after I released it. Actually came at me and struck at me a couple times. So, in my opinion, Coachwhips are more aggressive than Rat snakes.
The End.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Another Picture of Bigfoot

This morning, Smokie was out on the porch, freaking out more than normal.
She tends to bark in the early dawn hours at just about anything that moves.
She was facing my neighbor's house, so I was sure she was barking at deer. Upon closer inspection, I noticed she was looking up.

Through the fog, I saw what all the fuss was about. Not one Great Horned owl, but two!
They were sitting on my neighbor's roof like two gargoyles--one on either end.
I rushed inside to get my camera. I knew I'd just be taking a picture of a shadow. It was only 7am and it was foggy. Still, I had to try. No pesky branches to get in the way of my shot.

Of course, by the time I got the camera to focus in the dark, one owl had lifted off.
Too much commotion, I guess.
This one stayed for a couple shots and then was off as well.
Despite not getting pictures, I am thrilled. I saw two!
The last time I saw one, it was calling, but got no reply (that I could hear).
I'm hoping there is a nest nearby.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Nobody Loves the Dogs, Part II

As I was waiting for these pictures to load, Pearl came downstairs (just awakened).
Both dogs got up from their napping spots and went to say 'good morning'. Pearl stopped what she was doing, stooped down and hugged the dogs. Morning pleasantries were exchanged by dogs and girl alike.
James got up from watching international soccer (don't ask) and got in on the love fest.
Our dogs are unfortunate, huh?
I tend to look on all the love as a life lesson. If you love something unconditionally--like the dogs love us, then you learn unconditional love in return.

Mandy and Smokie always greet us when we come in. They come find us if we've wandered off. Kisses are never withheld. They are interested in most boring stories we can tell. They want to snuggle. They don't hold grudges for things like a late dinner.

Our family, in turn, overlooks many things. Grass covered dogs camping out on our beds, 'dog breath' kisses, a dog that gets in the pool any chance she gets and then wants in the house, hole digging and barking at squirrels.

We're slightly crazy about our dogs. Goodness, they make us happy. I hope there is part of them that senses how happy they make us. I hope they sense how much we love them in return.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

1+1=6?

Last spring, we had a little problem with raccoons. Or rather, a big problem with little raccoons. Baby raccoons.
For some reason, they were drawn to our backyard. Probably grub worms and soft dirt.
They were tiny enough to slip through the wrought iron fence. Momma was not.

Because we live on acreage, we have no window coverings. Our windows are about 6 inches off the ground and go all the way to the ceiling.
That little bit of information should tell you that the dogs can lay on the floor with their heads propped in the windowsills.

Can you see where this is going?
On nights when the moon was particularly bright, the dogs could see outdoors quite clearly.
Quiet, sleepy dogs would come alive with all manner of screeching and yelping in the blink of an eye. They cared nothing about the clock or sleeping humans.
Night after night I'd threaten to kill raccoons and dogs.

After I trapped and relocated both babies to suitable locations, we had no more problems. I thought mom had moved on. We saw no sign of her all summer, fall and winter. I saw squirrels coming and going from her former cubby hole in the tree.

Special note: I don't advocate relocating wildlife. It rarely, if ever, works out for the animal. They don't know where food or shelter is. Because I spent several years working as a rehabber with a wildlife rescue organization, I know the finer details of relocation---what to look for, what to provide in the interim as far as food, what time of day to release, etc.


Two nights ago, I saw a raccoon on the property again. It was nowhere near last years location (much further away), so I just figured it lived on someone else's property. As I was walking with my camera today, I decided to do something I do every year. We have a tree with a rather large hole in it. The hole is only about 5 ft. off the ground. I set my point-and-shoot camera on its macro setting, put my camera in the hole and pushed the button. In 9 years, there has never been anything but leaves and ants in the hole. Not this year! I couldn't believe my eyes when I reviewed the picture on the playback and saw a raccoon looking back at me. When I got home, I uploaded the picture and discovered additional tiny faces in the picture. All the signs (eyes closed, ears barely open, slightly furry), say they are about a week old.


Luckily for my sleep and for the baby raccoon's home range, I think I might be in the clear as far as nighttime visitors this spring.

Did I just say that outloud?


Update: Dog-gone-it!! I went to have another look this evening and she's moved! All four babies. Poor thing probably spent half the night relocating them. At least her momma-senses told her that her hiding spot was no longer safe.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

One Moose, Two Meese?

One Goose, Two Geese. One Mouse, Two Mice.
Goodness, the English language is a mess.
My girlfriend sent me this video and it's just too darned cute not to pass on.
The babies in this link are so ugly, they're cute. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

It always makes me wonder what God was doing when creating certain creatures. Maybe napping with the creation wand in his hand? :)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nine Dozen, Minus Two

In looking over older posts to try to describe the program we have at church to feed the homeless, I found that I didn't blog about this years Thanksgiving Dinner.
I couldn't figure out why. Then I remembered that I was on my way to Cottonwood, Arizona to bring Lee home after his bike accident and surgery. Someone from church took the helm of that dinner with five days notice. Yes, I know that I've outed my real name, but most of you know it anyway.

I digress.
This year, it is my Food for Friendship team's Sunday to cook on Easter. Each team cooks something different. Our team makes oatmeal with all the yummy fixins, plus fresh fruit, coffee, milk and orange juice. We pride ourselves on offering a 'bottomless' plate. Since oatmeal is a rib-sticker, folks do not go away hungry. Only one of our guests, "M", thinks we should offer more than oatmeal. This Sunday he will get his wish. We will offer more, as he suggests, "Vuh-Rye-Yuh-T". He's from back east somewhere. Very articulate. Here in Texas, we'd say "Vry-T". Where I grew up in Missouri, we'd say, "Variety".
I digress again. Big surprise.

I spent the better part of the afternoon hard-cooking (the Egg councils words, not mine) eggs. I just used the standard size spaghetti pot to get it done--batch by batch. I thought the white eggs looked a little boring, so I whipped up a few bowls of food coloring. What's Easter without colored eggs?

I also plan on picking up some chocolate. I hope "M" is pleased. For some reason, pleasing him makes me happy. I guess because he has so little happiness in his life most of the time. It's a small gift I can offer him. It pales exponentially compared to the gift Jesus gave us at Easter.

One of These Things is Not Like the Others...


One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Did you guess which thing was not like the others?
Did you guess which thing just doesn't belong?
If you guessed this one is not like the others,
Then you're absolutely...right!

Quick! Name where that song came from!