Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Predators, Bunnies, Squirrels and Raccoons

I was lying in bed early this morning when a sparrow flew quickly across the patio followed by the sparrow hawk. It saddens me deeply to know that he has chosen our home. I'm sure he's grateful that I am fattening up his food. He probably sees my mustang grape vine as his private restaurant since this is where the baby sparrows spend their days. I realize he has to eat, I just wish he'd eat somewhere else!

There are white bumps all over the prickly pear cactus near the road. I found a blog discussing them. They are left by an insect, and when you press on the bumps a reddish-purple, sticky substance squishes out. Apparently, the native American Indian tribes in this area used this substance to dye their clothing. I believe this--it is really dark and does leave a stain!

I was walking through the yard late last night when I noticed a baby bunny on my bedroom patio. I stopped walking, but the bunny had obviously seen me, so I started to speak to her in my soft baby bunny voice. She sat down. She was looking through my glass bedroom door, most likely watching the cat. She must have realized neither one of us could or would harm her. Then she stood up and hopped toward me to the end of the patio, watching me.

I continued to speak to her, and she stood and stared at me for at least ten minutes. I wanted to share her with my husband, so I slowly backed up, and she did not run away. I ran to get my husband, but when we returned, she was gone. I put a dish of water and some food out for her in case she returns, but I think I'll go back to shutting the garage door again so the dogs go out the other side. It's much better that way, anyway. The little creatures tend to congregate in the back yard and there is plenty of room for the dogs to roam on the other side.

The one-eyed squirrel was back for the third day in a row and I am so happy that he is growing bigger and still comfortable with my back porch, even though Chewy the chihuahua keeps marking his territory on the legs of the table. The squirrels rarely jump on the table from the ground, though. They generally scamper across the roof and down the trellis.

Speaking of scampering--I was just falling asleep last night when I heard a loud scampering across the roof just above my bedroom. It sounded like two large animals chasing each other. I am guessing it was raccoons. I think they climb the branches of the trees behind the garage and leap onto the roof of the house. A neighbor was sitting in our garage once late at night when he was watching our house and he said he saw a raccoon climb past the window. I didn't realize they could climb, but it would make sense that it was a raccoon on the roof last night--they are certainly large enough to make that kind of noise!

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Misty Afternoon

It was another cold one, but instead of the heavy rains that were predicted, we had a soft, cool, misty afternoon. We went for a drive near Austin and stopped near a field to watch a golden eagle that swooped down in front of our truck. I saw another large bird on a nearby pole and when I got closer I realized it was an American vulture. I tried to get close enough for a cell phone picture and he seemed to be posing for the camera--vultures are not as shy as I once believed.

While we were sitting in the truck, I heard a twitter and song that I recognized immediately as a flock of sparrows. They were small, with alternating yellow and black stripes on their heads, much smaller than the birds living on our back patio. Their song was so sweet, and precious. They appeared to be hunting for bugs.

This morning, there were two squirrels chasing each other in the backyard and a small group of sparrows bathing in the bird bath on the picnic table. I saw the dove, but only for a few minutes. She is a white-winged dove, and not very common to this area, so I am excited to have her here, but I'm not sure why she's alone. I feel sorry for her and wish I could cater to her needs better.

There is a small moth in our den and I thought about chasing it outside, but it's so cold outside right now and it seems pretty comfortable flying around the room. If it warms up tomorrow I will open the door and chase it back outside.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


It's cold out here! The sunflowers are still blooming madly in the garden, but it's beyond sweater weather in Texas and I'm actually wearing a coat outside! The squirrels and birds have once again taken over the yard as the toads and lizards are in hibernation. The goldfish are hiding at the bottom of the pond.

There are paperwhites blooming in my garden. I have always thought of these flowers as spring bloomers and I'm not sure if they have their seasons confused or perhaps they prefer a slight chill. They are beautiful regardless of their reason for blooming in the cold.

I threw a tarp over the mustang grape vines yesterday and secured it tightly to try and provide a little bit of protection for the baby sparrows. They are still in the same place, just outside my den. They seem to be very happy there and prepared to winter on my patio so I moved their food and water dishes a bit closer to the trellis. I have a clear plastic covering over part of the trellis to provide warmth and the tarp for security against some of the harsh winds we've had lately.

It didn't freeze last night as expected, but it got very cold! I was unsure of what the weather might do, so late last night I harvested in the dark. I brought in the last of my anaheim chilis and all of the basil and parsley. I have a huge bag of it waiting to be harvested. I also have tons of tomatoes still resting on the vine, but I think I will leave them there to take their chances. It is supposed to get cold again this afternoon, and I may eventually pull the plants and hang them upside down in the garage so the tomatoes can ripen on the vine.

There are standard yellow sunflowers blooming on the front slope. It is so funny, and glorious, to see blooming sunflowers in December!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kissed by a Butterfly

I was kissed by a butterfly yesterday afternoon. I was walking the dogs and noticed a Mexican Sunflower, or Tithonia, bursting with flowers and covered in orange butterflies. I took the dogs inside and brought out my camera, and as I focused in on one of the flowers, a butterfly flew up and tried to land on my cheek. It was soft and gentle, like a kiss. They are so delicate. I didn't want to move in case I bumped her with the camera, so I held very still until she eventually moved away.

I had an interesting encounter with a snake, too. I was watching television and I had the strangest feeling that there was a snake in the yard. I can't quite explain it. It was almost dark and kind of cold, and I was strongly doubting myself, but I put on some slippers and grabbed a flashlight anyway. Sure enough, the snake was just outside the back door. It didn't slide away. In fact, it looked as if it had just finished eating. It was barely moving, and it's shape seemed a little, well, out of shape. I sat beside him speaking in a soft voice for about half an hour. I called my husband and described the snake, but neither one of us was sure what kind it was. It didn't have any rattles. It didn't rear back or slither away. It just watched me. Once in awhile, it stuck its tongue out at me. My feet started to hurt because of the way I was squatting on the ground and when I stood up, he slithered away.

I'm surprised by how many lizards are still out. I walked into the backyard and found a bright green anole on the picnic table. It started to run away, but I used my soft voice and it stopped and cocked its head to one side, listening. When I tried to pick it up, though, it darted into a pot that I was preparing to fill with a plant. I decided to just leave him be. I could see his little heart racing. I turned around to walk back into the house and noticed a baby anole on the aloe vera plants. It was so small, it looked like it had just hatched. It acted the same way as the adults, though. It started to run away, but as soon as I started speaking, it stopped to listen. So cute!

And something rather odd is happening in Mrs. Toady's shoes. It is colder at night, so she has obviously buried herself somewhere in the garden or in one of my plant pots. Most likely a plant pot. Anyway, someone has filled my garden shoes with sunflower seeds! It doesn't seem like the type of thing a bird would do. To be honest, I'm a little dumbfounded by the whole thing. I have no idea what kind of creature would fill a shoe with sunflower seeds!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Floods, Toads, Squirrels, and Sparrows

We have had a tremendous amount of rain in our area and flooding in our fields. The creek running through our property is running full force. I can hear it still from my bedroom. The wildflower garden by the road was washed away and is now filled with mud, but I ordered more crimson clover and purple prairie clover seeds to re-plant.

We are expecting more rain over the next few days. I am worried about all the lizards who were living near the creek bed. We have many living around the house, particularly the younger ones who realize it's a bit safer up here than it is down by the road where the road runner likes to hunt. But I did see quite a few by the creek bed before the floods.

The evenings are much cooler now and Mrs. Toady has left the toe of my garden shoe and has buried herself either in one of my potted plants or in the garden itself. I hope she is in the potted plants. This is the time of year when I rearrange my garden and it's so difficult trying to dig when I can only go down very slowly, a nudge at a time, searching for toads. I hope she stays safe. I have grown very attached to her.

I saw Uno the one-eyed squirrel on the back porch this morning. I continue to pray for him every night, though I know now that his eye will not heal. He does seem to do very well with just one eye, though. Of all the squirrels that visit our property, he also seems to be the most comfortable with me. When he hears the sound of my voice he always stops what he's doing and watches the door, then seems to calm quite a bit and hold his own at the seed dish in spite of the current competition with the flock of grasshopper sparrow babies who don't seem to want to share anything with anyone anymore. Uno is a tough little creature. I really do admire him.

The most exciting thing happened over the past few days when I noticed a momma squirrel with black dots on her belly, indicating that she is nursing. She was at the seed dish on the patio, but the flock of sparrows were pestering her, so I ran to the opposite side of the house with more seeds and the birds followed me over. When I returned to the bedroom, the momma squirrel was gone.

However, the next morning as my husband and I were surveying flood damage, we noticed the tiniest baby squirrel we have ever seen scampering up a tree. I was so relieved that the dogs did not see the delicate little creature. The nest is on the opposite side of the creek and I have decided to discourage the dogs from going over there until the babies are large enough and strong enough, and wise enough to stay out of their way. I have not seen them chase a squirrel in a very long time, though. Hopefully I have broken them of that habit.

I am still working with Chewy, the orphaned chihuahua, to teach him not to chase the little creatures, but he is learning. The biggest problem with Chewy is that he is very competitive and loves to bark, but this can also be a bonus. When we open the door and he chases after the chocolate labs, yipping and barking, he is actually very successful at warning the bunnies and squirrels and other little creatures that we are coming so they can scamper away to safety.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Flowers and Sparrows

It hasn't rained for four days, but the fields are exploding with flowers. The roses have seven or eight blooms at a time. The pepper and tomato plants all have fresh, young fruit growing, but we no longer have a bug problem, it seems, and plants and fruit look shiny and healthy. We do have bugs, but they disappear as quickly as they arrive. I find half-eaten grasshoppers all over the sidewalks and inside the garage, the remains of a grasshopper sparrow's lunch.

The grasshopper sparrows have taken over my house, and I love it. However, they also seem to have chased off the squirrels, and just about everything else, but me, of course. The flock started out as fifteen or so tiny birds that hatched in various nests in the garage and under the umbrella, then it grew to around forty. Now there are at least fifty that stay on the back patio in the mustang grape vines. I made a double-decker tray feeder for this group with trays that slide out easily for cleaning. The top tray holds food and the bottom holds water. There are fifteen or more sparrows living in the thick mat of vines covering the trellises around my bedroom patio. They now eat the seeds that once belonged to the squirrels. I do see a squirrel out there about once a day, but nothing like the ten or more that made daily appearances this spring. There's another ten or so sparrows that hang out by the back umbrella, munching on the bird seed we leave on the picnic table. They have a deep clay saucer filled with water that they use as a bird bath.

There is also a small group of mourning doves in the front yard that eat from a tray of seeds on the side picnic table, but they also share these seeds with a few sparrows that live in the trees by my bedroom picture window. It's quite a chore keeping their food and water dishes clean, and it's become an even bigger chore keeping the bird droppings washed off the sidewalks.

From inside, it sounds like the bird exhibit at the zoo. When I walk outside with the dogs, the birds are instantly silent. If I walk outside alone, they continue to sing and chatter, and only fly up into the vines if I get within a few feet. When I'm in the bedroom, they hop about the patio, chattering and singing, only a few feet away from me. I leave the door open now because it's much cooler here and they can hear me when I talk to my husband or talk on the phone, but this doesn't seem to bother them like it did some of the other varieties of birds this spring. The cardinals would hop back into the trees then fly away when they heard us talking. The sparrows are so much friendlier. When I speak to them in a soft, soothing voice, they grow quiet, but they stay close by, fluttering their wings and hopping about.

I did find one large grasshopper yesterday. He is huge and yellow and I took his picture, which you can see to the right. He is actually very colorful. In spite of the large sparrow population, I am still surprised by the distinct lack of bugs simply because we have so many blooming flowers!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wildflowers, Rain, and Happy Creatures

The baby birds are chattering and singing and loving life with all the rain and the wildflowers taking over the land. There are billions of wildflowers in Texas right now as the rolling hills celebrate this welcome rescue from months of drought. You can hear the trees sigh with relief every time the clouds roll in and fat, noisy drops of moisture fall onto the grass and soil. Last month, the soil was so dry it was starting to look ashy, as if the dirt itself had died from heat exhaustion.

The lizards are still scampering about, in spite of the slight drop in temperature. I did find a few casualties on the road near our home, but most of the baby lizards seem to have made it through the most dangerous season when their tiny, darting faces attract the quick glance of the hungry road runners. It is wonderful to watch these delicate creatures increasing in size. The lizards with the pink striped tails had babies this year and their offspring have taken over the area near my bedroom pond. I see them scooting across the rocks all afternoon. Today, there was a very large lizard sitting on a log that appeared to be watching me through my bedroom window while two babies on the opposite side of the pond raced across the mulch and up the trunk of the pecan tree.

The most wonderful thing has happened with the flock of sparrows that follow me about. They seem to have adjusted to my presence and will continue to sing and play and fight and hop up the rock wall near their food tray even as I stand nearby, watching and talking to them. I scrubbed down a metal, two-shelf tea tray and placed a water tray on the bottom rack and a large tray of seed on the top rack. It took the flock a few days to figure out that this was their new feeding area, but they love it now. It is so much easier for me to keep clean and refill with fresh food and water, which I do two, sometimes three times a day now to keep up with the demand, and these tiny birds are surprisingly demanding! They are voracious eaters. Of course, they are also still eating the grasshoppers, and I am thankful.

The mother raccoon and her two babies now stop at my bedroom patio as part of their regular nightly routine so I scatter a little cat food, bread chunks and fruit on the floor before I go to bed each night. Sometimes I will wake up and find them watching me through the window. The little male prefers the sunflower seeds and he will push his sister away so he can have all of the seeds to himself as he sits at the table and chows down. When he raises his head, he almost always has an empty sunflower shell stuck to the tip of his nose. I don't know how he manages to do this, but he does it every time. It looks pretty funny.

Last night, Niblet, my massive black cat, fell asleep by the glass door and was awakened by the sounds of the raccoons. He jumped up and made the same chatter noise he usually uses when he spots a bird. This attracted the attention of the baby raccoons and they both rushed over to the door to look at him. The little male raccoon pressed his face up against the glass so he could see better. They watched each other for awhile, then the mother raccoon started to wander off and the babies scampered off behind her. I love watching them interact with their mother. They frequently stop to nuzzle her neck with their tiny noses. I have decided these must be raccoon kisses.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Baby Lizards, Baby Birds, and Baby Raccoons

The twins are back. I am watching their black-masked faces as they watch me from the table where I feed the squirrels. They pat around the table with their paws, feeling for sunflower shells that still have the seed inside. I slid the door open a few minutes ago to toss out some bread and cranberries and they scampered off, but now they've returned. They prefer the cat food, which I set out before I go to bed, but I don't like leaving cat food outside. Our neighbors bring home cats and leave them to roam, refusing to feed them, hoping they will take care of rodent problems, but instead the cats come to our house and eat the birds, so I try to avoid the cat food.

I nearly stepped on a baby lizard in my bathroom the other night. I was only half-awake, but as I walked past, I realized I'd seen to tiny black eyes staring up at me. I returned to the beige carpet and squatted down to look. Sure enough, it was a lizard so tiny it was translucent. I scooped it up in my hand and it did not struggle too hard. Either it was weak from being inside to long or it knew I meant it no harm. I set it outside the door and waited for it to scoot away to make sure it didn't jump back into the door jamb. It's so hard living here sometimes. I have to watch everywhere I step, check the doors before I close them, check my clothing and shoes for scorpions and toads. It's such a busy place.

The flock of brown baby birds has fifteen birds I discovered today. I did a very careful count. Most of them are babies. I searched and searched on the internet and finally found an exact match. They are Grasshopper Swallows, a somewhat shy and endangered variety of bird that has decided they are not afraid of me at all, though they're not particularly partial to my dogs. Chewy the chihuahua thinks it's funny to run to the sliding glass door and bark hysterically when the flock of birds lands on the driveway, so they will fly up into the grape vines, then fly back down. Then he barks and they fly away, then they fly back down. Then he barks and...

Last week, as I walked through the garage, I saw a grasshopper dying on the ground. It appeared to have a puncture in its chest and some of its legs were torn off, but it was still alive. I couldn't stand to see it in so much pain and I knew it didn't have long to live. I was frustrated and a little angry because I assumed one of the dogs had captured it and punctured its chest with a tooth. I scooped up the grasshopper and said a prayer, then dripped some sugar water nearby from the hummingbird feeder I had just filled. The grasshopper ate the water and died a few seconds later. Today, however, I learned that this is exactly how the grasshopper swallows kill their prey--they puncture the chest, remove the legs and eat the grasshopper. I think I must have disturbed a bird getting ready for dinner when I opened the door. The grasshopper swallows clearly explain why our property has not been over-run with grasshoppers in spite of the severe drought this year, and for this I am grateful.

I also realized today as I was researching birds that the smaller mourning doves that live in our yard are not small at all, they are babies! Mourning doves generally only have two babies at a time, and this is what I've seen, two smaller mourning doves hanging out with two larger ones. Generally, mourning doves migrate North in the summer and return in the cooler months. I think it's interesting that these mourning doves have stayed with us the entire year. Perhaps they thought it was safer to remain with a reliable food and water source!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hummingbirds and Toads

So many, many little birds. There were ten at the feeder again today, all day. It was pouring rain, and yet, there they were, chattering and fluttering about, moving gracefully in all directions as if they were dancing. I filled the feeder before I went to bed last night and it was empty again this morning. When I went outside to take it down, they fluttered around my head. Their tiny, yet remarkably fast-moving wings creating the so-familiar buzzing sound as they circled about. I will miss this when they move on. It is so precious to me that I dream about it at night.

It rained all day and Mrs. Toady climbed out of the toe of my garden shoe to watch. She perched in the center of the shoe, sliding back inside only once when the dogs stood too close for her comfort, but I really do not think she is afraid of them. She is so familiar to them now they are like old friends. She looked like she was captain of her own little boat as she sat in the center of the shoe.

When it grew dark, Mrs. Toady hopped out of the shoe and we watched from the den as she slowly hopped from puddle to puddle. It was still sprinkling, and she seemed to enjoy the rain as much as the splash from the sitting water. She moved into the backyard. When I took the dogs out for the last time, it was already dark and I didn't see her until I nearly stumbled into her. I knelt down to apologize and she patiently waited at my feet.

We stopped at a plant store this afternoon to pick up some trees we purchased this summer. In Texas, trees are planted in the fall, and since it's supposed to rain all week, this seemed like the best time. The store had begonias on sale for a quarter and I stopped to pick some out. I thought I'd pot them up and keep them on the porch where everything seems to grow longer, sometimes into early winter, enjoying the heat that radiates from the picture window.

As I lifted a plant pot at the store, a baby anole scampered across the leaves. I looked down at the shelf and noticed an adult anole at the base of the plant pot, watching. I waited for the baby to move away, then picked up the plant and noticed another baby still inside the plant! I tilted the plant sideways so the frightened lizard could hop down, then I noticed the plants were crawling with anoles! They must have hatched recently, because they were all very tiny and delicate-looking. I wonder if the larger anole on the shelf was their mother? She didn't move far. In fact, she didn't move away at all, but sat nearby, watching carefully. They really are such lovely little creatures.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Mysterious Red Hummingbird

I cannot even begin to explain this marvelous creature of God that has been seen floating past our windows. She is bright red, shiny, breathtakingly lovely. I am in awe of this delicate little creature.

When I first saw her, I thought it was my imagination. I've never heard of a red hummingbird. I've seen quite a few ruby-throated hummingbirds, and these tiny birds are also absolutely spectacular. But the red bird is...different.

She moves very quickly, of course, and I cannot tell for certain if she is completely red, or just has a red body and darker wings. Her color is different from the ruby-throated. It is deeper, richer. Her body seems to shine. It catches the light when she moves past, but she is so fast! I wish she would slow down so I could get a closer look.

The local papers keep warning us that the hummingbird season is over. Our sweet, little hummers are moving on, they say. But the activity around our house has increased, and to record numbers. Our back door feeder has between three and five birds flitting about at all times, and there have been many times lately when I have counted eight birds feeding at the feeder or chasing each other around the patio.

My neighbor's daughter comes to visit when school lets out. She loves to sit on the patio with me and just talk. She wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up, and she loves the hummingbirds. It is a magical place, where we sit and talk. The hummingbirds fly around us in circles, singing and chattering at each other, sometimes flying so close that we can feel the brush of air from their wings against our skin or in our hair. You can actually hear the movement of their wings when they are that close. It is a soft humming sound, like the sound of a bee buzzing around your head, but a bit louder, and yet, gentler, somehow. Such pretty little birds. Sweet, delicate, pretty little birds.

Friday, September 4, 2009

baby snakes and baby birds

I saw a tiny baby garter snake this morning slipping beneath the hundred year agaves. It had a yellow stripe down its back and two white stripes running beside the yellow, and its head was almost black. It was only about six or eight inches long. I heard it before I saw it as it moved across the dried leaves and mulch. When I knelt beside it and spoke in a soft voice it paused and turned its head toward me the way the baby lizards do when they hear my voice. Then the dog ran up beside me and the snake tried to climb the cement retaining wall, but it was too small. I told Buddy to sit and we both stood very still, watching as the snake tried to find its way to a safer place. It finally turned back toward me and slithered beneath the oregano leaves at my feet. It was so tiny, but I could still see the tip of its tail sticking out. When it was settled and confident that it was hidden, Buddy and I walked back into the house.

We have been tracking the birds around the house and I am certain now that the baby birds from all three nests are still living on our property. Some of them stay in the forest behind the house, but the small brown birds seem to be living in the trees in the front yard. The cardinals are starting to look less like teenagers and a little more like adults. They looked so awkward for awhile. They look far more mature now. I have to admit, though, that when their feathers were changing, they really did look beautiful in their own way. Innocent, even a little naive.

The hummingbirds seem to be increasing their activity, which surprised me. I thought they would be moving on by now, migrating further south, but they're not. In fact, we are seeing more of a variety. In addition to the ruby-throated birds, we are also seeing birds with sparkling green backs, and birds with gray patterns on their chest and throat. They are all so delicate, and yet, when they circle around each other, fighting for a spot at the feeder, they also appear to be tough and resilient, like little scrappers. I love watching them. There was eight of them at the back door this afternoon, swooping and diving and chasing each other. When I took the dogs out, they continued to fly around my head, seemingly oblivious to my presence. They fly so close to me sometimes that I can feel the air against my cheek from the flutter of their wings, and their song is a lovely musical chirp that is almost as delicate in sound as their tiny bodies.

I see more and more baby lizards each day, too. We had a record baby lizard hatching this year. I was working in the side garden yesterday, transplanting rosemaries, when I disturbed a tiny lizard with black stripes running down its back. I stopped to speak to it and it paused and bobbed its head the way they do when they hear soft sounds, and just as it started to move away I noticed a baby anole a few inches beyond us, and the large, dragon-like lizard who lives on the side wall scampered past and into the rocks, as well. I haven't seen the road runner in our yard since spring, which may explain why we have so many lizards running around.

I found two scorpions in the house this morning. One was on my yoga mat when I got out of my shower. The other was in the doorway leading from the den into the kitchen. I was worried at first that the one in the doorway might have stung one of my dogs because they were all acting a little strange, then I realized they were just whining because they wanted to go outside. The scorpion on the yoga mat was curling its tail, ready to strike my cat. The one in the doorway was lying flat and almost dead. I keep thinking they are slowing down because the weather is changing, but I guess not. I do love all of God's wonderful little creatures, but there are some that I wish would stay in the forest behind our house!

Friday, August 21, 2009


A few nights ago I heard a ruckus on the bedroom patio and opened my eyes to see a giant rat! Well, it wasn't exactly a rat, but it certainly looked like one. Until that night, I had never seen an opossum. I'd heard of them, read about them, but never actually seen one. This little fella backed up a bit from the door when he saw me moving around. He didn't seem interested in the corn or sunflower seeds on the back porch. He was munching on the apple chunks I set out on the table for the mama raccoon and her babies.

Opossums are plentiful in Texas, and they do look like rats. They only come out at night and they prefer to live in dark, enclosed places. Sometimes, they even build their homes underground! They tend to live alone, but have also been known to live in small family groups.

The pictures I've seen of opossums show them hanging upside down from tree limbs by their tails. These pictures always reminded me a bit of bats. Apparently, the adults rarely hang from their tails. It's more of a childhood act. This makes sense when you see how big an opossum really is! The tail just isn't strong enough to hold the weight. They use it more like another hand when climbing trees, or to carry twigs and such when building nests. They can get to be quite large. There is a similar animal in Australia called a possum, which tends to be a bit smaller.

If they feel threatened, opossums make a deep growling sound. If the threat continues, and their fear increases, the sound grows to a high-pitched screech. When the boys are looking for girlfriends, they make a clicking sound with their mouth, and when they find a mate, the female makes a clicking sound in return.

Opossums eat bugs, birds, snakes and mice, but they also love fruit, which explains why I found one on my back porch. He certainly seemed to be enjoying the apple pieces. The raccoon did come by about an hour later, but she had plenty to eat because the squirrels had left some corn and sunflower seeds from the day before.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bird Baths and Bats

Yesterday afternoon we had a warm, soft rain that seemed to last forever. As my husband and I stood in garage gazing out at the mist rising up from the ground, we noticed a mourning dove sitting on a nearby branch. She was doing something rather odd with her wings and it took us a few minutes to realize why she was lifting them in the air. First, she lifted one wing and let the rain drip down onto her body. She pointed the wing straight up into the air, as if she stretched out an arm, then she slowly lowered it to her side. Then she lifted the other wing and let the warm, soft rain drip onto her body. As we watched her, we gradually realized that she was taking a shower! This glorious, gray bird was bathing in the rain! She stayed on the branch, pointing and stretching, until the rain stopped. It was a wonderful thing to watch this precious creature enjoying God's gift of rain.

Late last night I heard a banging sound against the window. At first, it was so loud it frightened me, then it calmed to a mild fluttering sound. I slowly raised the shade on our large picture window and found a small, brown bat sitting on the window sill. It was fluttering its wings at the window glass. I'm not sure if it was confused, or if it was attracted by the light. After awhile, it flew into the bush. Niblet, my large black attack cat sat at the window growling deep within his throat, but the bat didn't seem to be particularly intimidated by the sound. He stayed in the bush, watching us through the glass. I finally lowered the shade and went to sleep. I didn't hear him banging on the window again, but Niblet stayed at the window for a long time.

It was a rather cool morning after all the rain last night, but I noticed it was still very dry beneath the tree in our front yard so I turned on the sprinkler very low. Sure enough, a flock of small, brown birds landed nearby and hopped in and out of the water. After awhile all their splashing formed a small pool on the nearby sidewalk and one of the birds landed in the pool and sat in the water, enjoying her own private bath.

One of the tiniest baby lizards ran across the front ledge this morning while I was cleaning out one of the ponds. I stopped to speak to it, and the lizard also stopped and cocked its head to the side. I don't know why, but this seems to happen often with lizards. They run if I have the dogs with me, but if I am alone and speaking to them in a soft voice, they pause and turn their heads as if listening to my words. I think they must like the sound.

I am out of squirrel corn so the squirrels have been raiding the corn from the bird dishes. The birds don't seem to mind sharing. They will eat around each other as long as they don't get too close. However, there are large, blue birds with gray heads that have made an appearance in our yard this year and these birds are a little more aggressive. They also eat the corn from the cob holders in the trees and I have seen them chasing the squirrels away. They just don't like to share!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cooling the Belly

My computer is in the shop, but God's little creatures are still keeping me entertained. I was sitting on my bed a few days ago, folding socks, when I had the oddest feeling that someone was watching me. I looked out the glass bedroom door and sure enough, there was a little squirrel lying on his belly, looking back at me. The funny thing was, he was lying in the water dish! This precious little fella had his arms and legs draped over the side and his chin resting on a pile of sunflower seeds while he cooled his belly in the water dish. I've seen squirrels lying on their belly on tree branches. In fact, they do this often. But I have never seen a squirrel lying on its belly in the water dish. I plan to buy some clay pot trays tomorrow and put water in them to see if the squirrels want a squirrel bath.

The lizard who lives by the back door has grown larger. I've watched him very closely since this spring and he is one of the larger ones around the house. I've seen good-sized lizards scampering about the property, but we usually have anoles and baby lizards around the house. We are still swarming with baby lizards!

My husband found a baby lizard in the laundry room a few days ago. He brought it in to show me and in one of my more brilliant moments, I suggested he open his hand a bit wider so I could take a picture. The lizard took a flying leap--about four feet--then scampered beneath the bed. We tried to coax it out, then finally gave up. I am certain it is sleeping on my pillows at night. I just know it.

I found another scorpion climbing the wood paneling in the living room last night. I wish their sting wasn't so painful, and dangerous for those with allergies, because they really are amazing creatures. They are flat, so they can slide in, around, and through just about anything, and they have the most amazing climbing abilities. I don't mind finding them on the walls as much as I mind stepping on them, or having them drop down from the ceiling. When we first moved here, my husband drove out ahead of time to get the house ready, and one night, as he lay in the bedroom drifting off to sleep, a scorpion dropped on his head. I haven't had this experience, personally, and I'm not looking forward to it. I suppose this should be expected, though, considering our house backs up to a forest.

We must have had more than one nest of cardinals hatch this spring because we have so many teenagers, both male and female, whose gray feathers are turning red. Like all teenagers, they look a bit awkward. I am certain they were hatched around here, too, because they seem to know my routine and are not particularly shy when I walk outside to fill the food dishes. They hop up onto low, nearby branches, waiting patiently for me to feed them. I love the thought that they are so happy living here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Twin Baby Raccoons and the Return of the Toe Toad

We had a late night last night. Around one, the tiny raccoon showed up on my bedroom porch. I lay back on my pillows, watching her patting the ground for seeds in the glow of the yellow porch light. Then I saw a movement off to the side. I grabbed my husband and woke him up, deeply concerned that a predator might be ready to harm the little raccoon. He grabbed a large flashlight and we crept toward the door. I noticed something dark moving on the trellis, and my first thought was that this might be the rat snake. My husband flashed the light onto the thick blanket of ivy leaves and there was saw one of the cutest sights I have seen in a very long time--two teeny baby raccoons climbing up the vines. The baby raccoon we've been watching each night is not a baby after all. She is very, very small for a raccoon, but she's a momma!

Raccoons are usually about 20 inches long and weigh around 20 pounds, but she is no where near that big, and her babies are so tiny. They are smaller than my chihuahua. At first, I thought she might be the big sister because related females often live together in raccoon families, but it was very obvious that this was their mother. She has appeared once before on our porch with a larger raccoon, and that could have been her mother, or grandma. Most raccoons have between two and five babies, so twins is normal. Sadly, most wild raccoons only live between two and three years because of hunters, but they live more than twenty years when kept as pets.

The twin baby raccoons reached the shelf where I keep more seeds and corn cobs for the squirrels. I hang these on the upper shelves so the squirrels will have a more secure place to eat in the daytime in case they don't hear my (incredibly noisy) dogs run onto the porch. The baby raccoons immediately started munching on the corn cob and finished every bite, then they climbed back down to join their mother. They both darted up to her and touched her nose with their noses as if they were kissing her. My husband tried so hard to get a picture of this, but there just wasn't enough light! Then they started patting the ground like momma, checking the sunflower shells to see if there were seeds left. When they walked, they arched their backs and almost looked like they were hopping.

They knew we were watching them. In fact, I opened the door twice and tossed out more sunflower seeds and bread crumbs. The first time I did this, the momma scooted off the porch as the babies watched silently from the shelf. The second time, the momma scooted behind the ivy and the babies darted behind plant pots, but just like little children, they only hid their heads and their chubby little bottoms and fluffy striped tails stuck out in the open, which was really rather funny to watch.

So, today, feeling rather sleepy after last night's raccoon watching, I walked out the back door and immediately realized Mrs. Toady, the plant pot toad, was missing. She is always very close to the back door, watching me as I come and go, but she was gone. I checked every plant pot on every porch and both ponds. Fearing the worst, I started for the back yard where she does, on rare occasions, venture out during the day time. As I walked by the back door I remembered last year's toe toads, the two toads who slept in the toes of my garden shoes each day. I have often thought there was something familiar about Mrs. Toady, and wondered if she could possibly be the same toad who used to creep into my garden shoes. I knelt down on my knees and looked inside. Deep inside the toe of my shoe was Mrs. Toady. As I softly told her how glad I was to see her, she slowly lowered her shimmering golden eyelids to blink at me. I think this is her way of saying howdy. I am so happy--my toe toad has returned!

Monday, July 27, 2009


I found one of the neatest little creatures slithering across my driveway this evening. I was watering the garden when I saw what looked like a silver worm move out of the dirt and onto the driveway. It was still over 100 degrees outside so naturally I felt compassion for this little creature, put down the water hose and walked over to see if he was okay. It is only about five inches long with a silvery-gray body, darker head and dark eyes. As it raised it's head to look at me, I realized I was looking into the eyes of the smallest snake I have ever seen!

I ran back to the house for my husband and my camera. When I returned, the snake had slithered beneath the truck. I crawled beneath the truck to take pictures, but he kept right on moving as if he wasn't the least bit bothered by my presence. He left the shadow of the truck and I once again worried for his safety since the pavement was even hotter than anything else around it.

My husband put a quarter down so we could make a size comparison in the picture you can see to the right. Then he put his finger down on the ground and the snake slithered up his finger and onto his hand. He seemed very happy on my husband's hand and sat quietly until I finished watering the garden, then my husband placed him back on the dirt and the snake slithered into a hole beneath a plant and disappeared.

Clint the Snake Man ( identified the little creature immediately as a flat-headed snake, tantilla gracilis, a nonvenomous snake that lives underground and is rarely seen. The snake can be many colors, including tan, brown and red, though this one was clearly a silvery-gray. It's distinguishing characteristic is the dark smudge on top of its head. They generally slither away in the opposite direction when approached, so I am even more surprised that this one moved right up my husband's finger and sat so long on his hand.

The largest a flat-headed snake will generally grow to be is ten inches. They are most often around eight inches, though this one was only about five. They are most active between March and October and generally found in forested areas, which makes sense as our house backs up to a forest. They usually lay one to four eggs in the spring, but their eggs don't hatch until September, which is a long time to wait. They lay the eggs under pieces of wood, so I now know I should be careful when digging in this area. The flat-headed snake eats grubs, ants, and scorpions, though I don't see how since it's such a tiny creature! What a wonderful gift from God to have in the garden!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Snakes, Scorpions, Squirrels and Dragonfly Skeletons

I have a habit of saying "mi casa es su casa" and apparently the rat snake has taken me seriously. It appears as though he is now a regular visitor. I let the dogs out after dark--which I do not often do--and as Holly walked back into the garage, the rat snake dropped on her head. Holly shook him off and kept walking, then glanced back over her shoulder as if she was only mildly curious. The rat snake slipped into the garage and beneath a wall-sized cabinet. I decided it was best not to pursue him for a picture. It was too dark anyway, and I have a feeling he was already shook up from dropping onto the dog's head. I think he was trying to climb across the wall again, most likely moving along the trim above the back door.

As I stood in my bathroom last night brushing my hair I heard a scratching noise on the floor and looked down in time to see a scorpion scrambling across the room. This has become a daily occurrence. We found one behind the bed the night before. They are always the tree bark scorpions and are not deadly unless they cause an allergic reaction.

I have heard all kinds of stories about these scorpions. Some people say they follow the walls, but I've found them all over the place in our house, from the middle of the room to the top of the stove. Some people say they only come out at night and only move around in the dark, but I rarely see them in the dark. I think my next door neighbor's guess about these little creatures is most accurate. She suspects they are in the ceiling making babies and climbing around in the vents. I am deeply concerned that one of them might sting one of the dogs or the cat while they are sleeping. I know I'm not allergic to them, but one of my pets might be, and it could become a dangerous situation if something happens while my husband and I are out of the house.

The little one-eyed squirrel was on my bedroom patio again today and I prayed for him while he ate his sunflower seeds. Of all the squirrels in my yard, he seems most comfortable with my presence. He still jumps if anyone moves too quickly, but that's understandable considering his vision problems. I still wonder if he can see at least partially through his injured eye. It appears as if he can. He seems to like the sound of my voice, too, which is interesting. When I talk to him after he's been spooked, this seems to calm him. He is growing larger and stronger and has a beautiful, thick coat, so I think he is thriving in spite of his vision problems.

I don't know if any tadpoles made it out alive in my pond. Once again, a dragonfly laid her eggs in the pond. I watched her do it. She was large and red and beautiful and skipping across the water. At first I thought she was getting a drink, then I noticed it was her tail that was skimming the water's surface. I think she must have seen the tadpoles and realized they would provide food for her young. Dragonfly babies look like little roaches that scramble around the rocks on the bottom of the pond. They eat the tadpoles, bugs, and each other, and only the largest and strongest survive. When they are ready, the crawl from their roach-like shell like a butterfly leaving its cocoon, then they fly away. I actually found three dragonfly skeletons yesterday. It took me a few minutes to recognize the shape. I wish we could have baby toads and frogs around here. I love the toads and frogs, but I also think the dragonflies are lovely. They do try to bite, but their mouths aren't strong enough to break the skin. I've seen them in all sizes and colors around here, but mostly the iridescent blue and the deep red. Some dragonfly species are considered endangered, just like some of the frogs around here, so it's best to just let them battle it out in the pond and wait to see who survives.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's a Texas Rat Snake!

I have a positive identification on my snakey visitor! According to Clint the Snake Man ( our friend is a Texas rat snake and non-venomous. They will bite, and bite hard, if they feel threatened, but this one obviously didn't feel too threatened by me or it would have reared up. Apparently, they raise the front third of their body like a rattler, hiss, shake their tail like a rattler, and snap with a hard bite. I'll give him his space in the future, but I do hope he returns. They are known as snakes with an attitude!

These snakes can get as long as eight feet, and after looking closer at my pictures, I suspect that my original estimates of the length of this creature were a bit short and that it was possibly as much as five feet long.

Rat snakes are also known as chicken snakes because they sneak into chicken coops and eat the chickens. They generally eat rodents, though, and we have plenty around here, which may explain why I only see the mouse on my bedroom patio at night. He probably waits for the rat snake to go to bed!

The Texas rat snake also eats lizards and frogs, and I suspect this is why the toad and frog population has been a bit low this year. I have seen more snakes around our house in the past six months than I have seen in my entire life!

Although our snake is black and gray, many rat snakes have lots of color on them, which can make it difficult to distinguish them from venomous snakes. They even have albino and orange snakes in this area! Unfortunately, many people capture these snakes and keep them as pets. I hope this one lives a long, happy life in the wild and he is welcome to come back and visit, though I do hope he leaves the other little creatures around here alone!

Snakey Visitor!

I was walking into the garage this morning and saw the large, black snake with gray markings moving slowly through my garden. I recognized him as the one I saw by the pond last week. I ran for my camera, but he was hiding beneath the aloe vera plants. I decided it was best to try and identify him. If he is poisonous, we will need to call experts for a catch and release, but he wouldn't come out from beneath the aloe vera.

I sprayed water nearby and the snake came out, but instead of slithering across the ground, he went up the rock wall of my garage! It was very cool to watch. He was moving between the protruding rocks, stretching thin, then bunching up. He finally reached the roof and started east across the trim above the door, where I got a good picture of his length. He is about four feet, black, with grayish-white markings. I sent the pictures to a local expert and I'm waiting for identification. His picture is to the right.

The important thing is that this snake was not threatening in any way, even after I spooked him. He never turned to hiss at me. He seemed intent on getting away from me. In fact, he pooped on the door, which made me feel very sad because I think I literally scared the poop out of him. I am hoping he is not poisonous so he can stay. He is a rather attractive snake, and they are very beneficial for gardeners.

As long as he stays away from the kangaroo mouse! I have a kangaroo mouse who likes to eat standing up on his hind legs. He cleans up the corn crumbs when the squirrels are through. He stands at the back door holding the corn between his paws, watching my cat. I suspect that he is giggling at the poor cat who is trapped on the other side of the glass door.

There is a squirrel lounging inside my bedroom patio. He is lying on his belly, enjoying the shade. He looks very content. I am out of corn cobs so I put a handful of seeds on the shelf and he is lying on his belly, munching on a pile of seeds beneath his chin. He is watching me. Once in awhile he will tip his nose over the side and glance down at the cat, who is curled up at the base of the glass door, sleeping. I think the squirrels think I am a fish in a fish bowl.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Racoons, Birds, and Baby Lizards

I am watching the raccoon on the back porch right now. He moves very slowly when he creeps onto the porch, which is rather funny because he sees me. In fact, I walk right up to the door and talk to him. Nevertheless, he still slinks about as if he's not sure if he should stay or run. I can stand and talk to him the entire time he's eating and it doesn't seem to bother him in the least, but if my husband walks up to the door and starts talking, the little fella will slink back out the opposite door. I think it's my husband's deep voice that makes him nervous. It is funny to watch him slink, though. He's so cute, but he thinks he's very sneaky. It goes well with his black mask.

Today was baby lizard day at my house. Every time I left the house I saw a baby lizard scooting across the picnic table or scampering up a plant. I saw three baby lizards on my bedroom patio. They must have been having a conference. One was a creamy color, almost translucent. Another was the gray variety with scales, the ones that look like dragons. The third was an anole and very, very small. In the afternoon, I walked to the back door to take the dogs out and something leapt onto the screen. I took a step back--it sort of scared me!--then realized it was yet another baby lizard! He had jumped onto the screen and was watching us through the door. His picture is to the right.

I finally got a picture of one of the striped lizards with pink tails and you can see this to the right, as well. I have tried so many times, but they are very fast. We have two large ones living beneath the wisteria bush. Every morning and afternoon they make a complete trip around the house, searching for bugs. They stop at the pond for a quick drink, but I also set out dishes of water near the back door in case they get thirsty. They aren't particularly shy. Sometimes they walk right in front of me, their heads flipping from side to side as they search for bugs, but by the time I get my cell phone out and the camera ready, they have moved into the rocks or up a tree.

When I was looking out the bedroom window at the pond this morning I saw the most beautiful gray bird. Her chest was a soft bluish-gray, and her back feathers were much darker, almost black. She had a little bit of yellow on her beak. She was alone and seemed to be enjoying the solitude. There was something about the way she stood that made me think she was very relaxed and enjoying the shade and the cool drink. It was almost hypnotically peaceful to watch. She filled her beak then tilted her head back, letting the water drip down her throat. After a few minutes I tried to get closer to the window so I could see her better. I moved too quickly and she saw me. She hopped up into the tree so I left, hoping she would hop back down when she realized she was once again alone.

The tiniest squirrel was on the back tree again this morning. He has a late morning habit that is really cute. He likes to pull a piece of corn off the cob then lie upside down on his belly on the tree and nibble on it. It looks so cute to see him lying upside down on his belly, but he seems perfectly comfortable in this position. I think it makes him feel big to be looking down on everything.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Strong Squirrels, Determined Frogs, and Hummingbird Wars

I saw the cutest thing a few days ago. When I changed the corn feeder for the squirrels there was still a few rows of corn left on the cob, so I left that cob on the picnic table assuming the larger birds would take care of it. As I was bird watching out the window I noticed the tiniest male squirrel checking out the corn cob. He tested it a few times, grabbing it with his teeth and sliding it along the table, then decided it was worth the try and knocked it to the ground. He dragged it across the leaves and twigs and to the tree, then tried to lift it in his mouth, but it appeared to be a bit too heavy. So, he jumped onto the tree and clung to the bark upside down, grabbed onto the corn cob with his teeth and tugged the cob all the way up to the tallest branch. He hesitated a bit as he debated his next move, then decided to take the chance and bit the corn cob in the middle, held it into the air, then leapt onto a nearby branch. He made it! I was so happy for him that he didn't fall! That tiny squirrel somehow managed to carry that corn cob through the twisted branches of the sprawling backyard oak, onto another tree behind our fence then deep into the forest. I am assuming he managed to tuck it into his food pantry at his home.

I also noticed that our hummingbird usually has only two birds at a time feeding from the tiny flowers. Hummingbirds are very territorial. They are such teeny, tiny creatures, but always scrapping for a fight. So, on a hunch, I decided to buy three more hummingbird feeders and I set them up on opposite sections of the house. This morning, I walked quickly from window to window to see how they were doing and counted fifteen hummingbirds flitting about. I love these tiny creatures. They are not shy. If I walk outside when they are ready to feed, the eat anyway, often buzzing by my head.

It's a strange feeling to be buzzed by a hummingbird. You can actually feel the flap of their wings. Their wings move at 90 beats per second! They can also fly backwards, which they do surprisingly often when approached a food source. It's sort of a backward/forward motion as they test the area to see if its safe and decide if they want to land. Although it appears as if they suck the nectar up with their beak, they actually have a grooved tongue, like a trough, and kind of scoop it up and sometimes tilt their heads back to let it drip down their throat. Hummingbirds feed on bugs, too, which is nice for gardeners.

A frog has made his home on top of one of our hummingbird feeders. At first, I thought he was stuck up there. I couldn't figure out how he got there in the first place! I gently removed him and put him in a potted plant where he could bury himself during the hottest part of the day, then I went back outside a few minutes later and the frog had left the plant and returned to the feeder! Because it is filled with sugar water, the feeder also attracts flying insects and I think he's looking for food. It is beneath a hanging plant, too, so the frog is sitting in the shade during the hottest part of the day. My husband waters the planter every morning now as he leaves for work so the frog can have a drink. You can see his picture to the right.

No more red wasps. I was swarmed twice for a total of 18 stings before we figured out it must have had something to do with the lavender oil I blend into my body lotion. One good thing came out of the many red wasp incidents. When I called my husband to tell him I was swarmed, he called a neighbor who was closer to the house, and she called three other neighbors, and within just a few minutes my house was filled with neighbors checking in to make sure I did not have an allergic reaction. Because we live on such a large piece of land, I thought we were distanced from our neighborhood friends, but I guess we are only a heartbeat away. I still see a red wasp once in awhile, but I suspect they will move on to a less hostile environment.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Squirrels, Snakes and Psychic Premonitions

It's a lovely fourth of July here in Central Texas. Breezy, with clear skies. I woke up late and didn't even feel guilty for sleeping in. It's just too comfortable outside to feel guilty about anything. Then I remembered that I did not finish watering my gardens yesterday because I was stung by the wasps. So, I ran outside in my bare feet and pajamas to hook up the hose. And yes, that is a dumb thing to do. All gardeners know that you should never run through your gardens with bare feet, but in Texas, that's just plain silly.

I reached down beneath the sunflower leaves to connect two hoses and had the strangest thought. "You're about to be bitten by a snake, and that would be very funny considering the day you had yesterday." So, I stood up and thought it over, pulled the sunflower leaves to the side and saw nothing, and decided to connect the hoses. Nothing happened. Then I turned around and headed back for the water faucet and almost stepped on a three foot snake.

I looked down at my ankles and sighed. "So it was a premonition," I thought. I looked back at the snake. Running would have been another dumb move--he already had his mouth open in a hiss and was prepared to strike. So instead, I decided to take a good, long look at him. Oddly enough, I didn't feel even the tiniest bit of fear, and I could see that he didn't, either. He was warning me, that's for certain, but didn't seem too intimidated by me.

At first, I thought it was a rattler because of the pattern on his back, but he wasn't at all aggressive. The warning was more like "If you harm me, you will feel very guilty later." We stood and stared at each other for a few moments then he slithered into the shade garden. I finished watering, then looked him up on the computer. Sure enough, he is a checkered garter, and absolutely lovely. I am so grateful for this encounter because I was able to call my husband and describe the snake and warn him not to harm the little fella.

All of the squirrels are out at the same time this morning and four of them are eating on the back porch. One is on the ground sniffing the seeds to see if they are full. The raccoon pats them with his paw, which is rather fun to watch. The squirrels always prefer to eat on the table, though. I took a picture of the one on the ground and you can see it to the right. All of the squirrels on my bedroom patio were male teenagers. They're not babies anymore. One of them was the squirrel with the injured eye. I really should give him a name. I think I'll name the tiniest male Squirt. He's pretty easy to pick out. He's much smaller than the rest and spunky!

Friday, July 3, 2009


It's been a rough day. First thing this morning I took the dogs out for a walk and I was swarmed. I was tapping the ground with my walking stick to warn the snakes that we were coming through and I set off a swarm of red wasps. In the past few days, when I walked past the backyard Oak tree, I felt something slap against my face or chest and I thought it was a moth or butterfly, that I had simply walked into something. It didn't occur to me that I was being attacked. Today, I was full-on attacked. It was like a small cloud. One got into my shirt and before I could get it out it stung my shoulder seven times. I had stings on my hands and arms, but couldn't see them until later in the afternoon when the swelling went down. I couldn't raise my arm for six hours. It was limp, with shooting pain from my neck to my fingertips. I think they have a nest in the electrical post toward the back of the property. It's the females that fly, swarm and sting, and unlike bees, they can sting multiple times. Red wasps colonies have only one queen, and the rest of the flyers are her daughters. By winter, most of the colony dies off and the queen finds a secret hiding place to wait out the bad weather. This colony is obviously huge! Red wasps eat chicadas and those nasty tomato worms that eat my plants. It's too bad they're so aggressive because they are a beneficial, but they're also dangerous since they have a tendency to swarm.

So, I decided to work in the front yard. I put the hose on a slow drip to fill the toad-pole pond and realized I overfilled it when I saw one of the toadies floating away. I quickly rescued the critter then got down on my hands and knees to check for other swimmers and I was swarmed a second time by fire ants! It's been a hard day. I am covered in bites, on my shoulder, arm, hands, thumbs, knees, ankles and feet.

While I was working on the back porch I moved a plant pot and found a large female toad. She was a bit nervous at first and started to climb out of her pot, then decided she liked the chive pot better. I have pictures of her to the right. She is lovely. Her eyelids shimmer with gold as if she's wearing eye shadow.

Then, as I was looking out my bedroom patio door, I saw what I thought was a baby snake. I took a few pictures with my cell phone camera and as it turned its head to look at me, I realized, from the appearance of its head, that it is actually a lizard! When I enlarged the pictures I could also see that it had four legs, which rules out snake! The snakey-lizard's pictures are to the right, as well.

There must have been hundreds of lizards out today. Everywhere I looked there was a lizard. I saw three baby lizards in my rosemary garden. I also saw the window lizard making his rounds on the driveway and the two striped lizards with pink tails still make a circle around my house, just like last year, their heads flipping from side to side as they search for bugs.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Toads and Lizards and Rain!

It is raining! Texas temperatures have ranged over 100 every day for a month and it's been so dry I was worried the entire state might self-combust, but Central Texas got rain yesterday afternoon and all day today. And with the rain comes the toads and frogs. Last night I noticed our smaller pond was filled with toad eggs. Frogs lay their eggs in a nest, but toads lay their eggs in long strings draped around rocks and plants. This afternoon, when I checked on the eggs I could only find a few strands. At first I thought they were all eaten by the monstrous garter snake who has made my ponds his home, but then I noticed a bunch of teeny little stick-like forms near the rocks. It sometimes seems as if there are a billion predators for toad and frog tadpoles. I wish there was more I could do to protect them. If they survive to be much larger I will move a few into my fish tank. The other pond has quite a few fish in it and they are growing fat and sassy feeding off the mosquitoes, so I think the tadpoles are safer in the smaller pond.

The squirrels congregated on the back porch today. They like to hang out on the food table when it's raining. A little rain always seeps through, but for the most part they remain dry. Early this morning I noticed three of the baby male squirrels hanging upside down beneath tree branches. I couldn't figure out what they were doing, or why they didn't just come onto the patio and eat. Then I realized my husband was in the backyard adjusting the water drains coming into the yard--they were waiting for him to leave! The squirrel with the injured eye was also on the table today. His eye was a little damp. I will continue to pray for him. I wish there was more I could do for him. He seems to be maturing and growing stronger and larger, so it must not bother him too much.

I have noticed lately that when I work with the plants on the back porch I always hear something scampering about. Today I got a good, long look at my new back porch resident. It is a rather large lizard. I've seen him back there often, but I didn't realize until today that he had made my plant table his permanent home. You can see a picture of him to the right. He is looking into the den through the window. Now that I know where he lives I can keep fresh water out there for him. This will also attract bugs to his living area so he'll have something to eat.

There are large, deep holes beneath one of the crape myrtle trees and I don't know who put them there. They are about 1/2 inch wide, and there's about six of them. My husband suggested it might be a snake, but the snake who lives at the pond has a large hole he took over from the bunnies last year. He lives beneath a sprawling oak at the base of the front slope.

I have two gigantic sunflowers in the backyard now. They are volunteers--I did not plant them. They must have come from seeds in the birdseed mix on the back porch, or perhaps they were mixed in with the marigolds and Mexican Sunflowers growing around them. The sunflowers are butterfly magnets! However, I also noticed they attract the same caterpiller-like beasts that have been munching away on my tomato plants. I took a picture of one that I found on a leaf and you can see it to the right. It appears as if he's had a great feast!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Scorpions and Butterflies

I was making my bed this morning and heard an odd sound behind my pillow. I knew what it was before I even looked. Sure enough, there was a scorpion back there. I had a feeling there was a scorpion in the room. What I was not expecting was to find two more, one under my husband's side of the bed and the other beneath his dresser. We are going to spray again, but I think it's time to look into chickens. They are not too expensive and certainly worth the maintenance.

I have read that Texas scorpions are only deadly if the victim is allergic to bee stings. They create the same kind of allergy reaction. The scorpions I find in my house are always light colored. They blend in with the color of our carpet, unfortunately. Sometimes they have a black tint to their main body. I suspect that they climb up the vines on the outside of the house, slide down the chimney, or perhaps that they're actually living and reproducing in the ceiling. We seem to have an extraordinary amount of scorpions, though. My neighbors are all very surprised when they learn of our scorpion encounters.

My garden is blooming like mad. I planted tons of Mexican sunflowers just for the butterflies and as you can see from the pictures to the right, the butterflies are very happy. We have two main varieties out there right now. One is black with orange dots on the outer wings and a silvery-blue on the inner wings. The other is a deep, velvety orange. When I walk into the garden it's like a cloud of butterflies fluttering around. Sometimes I spread my hands out and hold very still and they land on my hands. The lizards seem to be enjoying the shade the flowers provide. I've seen many lizards darting in and out beneath the flower stalks.

I have seen four different hummingbird varieties in the past half hour. I thought they were more of a spring bird, but they have been swarming the feeder in the mornings and late in the evenings when the air starts to cool down to the 90s. I took a picture and managed to catch one in mid-flight, which you can also see to the right. I have to change the water in the hummingbird feeder every three days now because it's getting so much activity!

We also have a new addition to the family: A little chihuahua-like dog that we named Chewy. He appeared at our door during a thunderstorm, shivering and crying, just before I left for Colorado. We knocked on every door in all local neighborhoods looking for his owner, but no one seems to know where he came from. We even took the dog around in the truck, his tiny head bobbing up and down as he peeked out the window, but no one recognized him. He has no collar or tags. We placed ads in the local newspapers and they've been running for a month, but no one has claimed him. We've had a few calls from people offering to adopt him, but we've all fallen madly in love with him. He's very affectionate, but he also ducks quickly and shies away from hands as if he may have been hit before. I don't think he's a purebred. He is a little disobedient and struggles with house training. I am very suspicious that someone dumped him since we live at the end of a cul de sac. I don't know why God brought him to us, but we have opened our hearts and home to him.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dust Devils, Hawks, Crows and Snakes

I returned from Colorado yesterday. As I drove through the Texas panhandle just outside of Muleshoe I saw the most amazing thing. It was a dust devil so strong, so tall, that it reached up into the sky as far as I could see. At first, from a distance, I thought it was a tractor stirring up dust, but I couldn't figure out why the dust reached so high into the sky. As I grew closer, I could see that there was no tractor beneath it. It moved very slowly, almost imperceptibly, closer to the road and I could see that there was nothing beneath it that would cause the funnel. It was definitely a dust devil, and the tallest, thickest funnel cloud I have ever seen. It looked like a small, red tornado. I was on the opposite side of the road in the center lane and the lanes were full of traffic, so I couldn't pull over and take pictures. It was fascinating, powerful, and beautiful all at once. Dust devils are comparable to tornadoes, but rarely grow large enough to damage houses or harm people. I say rarely because it has happened. This particular dust devil was certainly large enough to harm any animals that might get in its way!

Once again, on my drive through New Mexico, I passed many crows along the sides of the road. They are a familiar bunch to me now. I love the way their shiny blue-black appearance contrasts with the bright New Mexico sun. They are often seen along the highway as if they are guiding traffic. They are fascinating to watch as they swoop through the air, or hop along the roadside, or simply sit on a fence post, staring at the cars. The American Crow is part of the Corvidae family, which also includes rooks and jays. Oddly enough, a group of crows is called a "murder," which seems more poetic than appropriate since many people adopt crows as pets. Crows have been known to imitate the human voice like parrots. My friend, Bernard, recently sent me a video that showed a crow using a tool to retrieve food from a bottle. Obviously these are remarkably intelligent gifts from God.

I also witnessed an event that I have only seen once before. As I left Fort Sumner, New Mexico I saw a hawk swoop across the road with a snake in its beak. It flew to the top of a tree and into a large nest where it dropped the food for its babies. I have seen this once before with a hawk, and numerous times with the bald eagle's nest that is near our home in Texas. When the baby eagles feed, onlookers can actually see their heads bobbing up and down in the nest.

Speaking of snakes, This morning I saw a large black snake with a red stripe down its back and yellow stripes down each side. I believe it is a garter. It drank from the pond outside my bedroom window. It saw me, but didn't seem too bothered by my presence. It kept drinking. It was resting on a rock beneath the cover of some branches I had set across the western end to try and shade the water. This afternoon there was a black snake with gray diamond-like patterns on its sides drinking from the same pond. I've been going nuts trying to identify this snake from internet pictures. I know I've seen it somewhere, but I can't remember it if is poisonous. It was weaving between the log fence I set up around the tree so I couldn't see if it had a triangle shaped head. Anyway, a few minutes ago I heard a rattling noise from the back porch and my husband ran out with a flashlight in time to see a large snake slither off the patio table and over the back wall. He didn't get a good enough look at it to identify it. This must be the year of the snake!

The sun left the sky as a fiery orange ball again. For the past three nights it has been a deep, tangerine orange with a magical glow that turns the clouds and sky into a citrus-flavored tapestry. I first noticed it on my drive when I realized the street signs were glowing. I looked into the rear view mirror and was stunned by the beauty of what I saw. I pulled the car over and climbed out just so I could get a clear look. Truly an amazing sight.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Stick Bugs!

There was a stick bug on the sliding screen this morning just outside our back door. We've seen these amazing creatures before in this same area. There are many live oak trees in the forested area behind our house, and roses in the garden, and I know stick bugs eat both roses and oak leaves, so that may explain why they live around my house!

This is a rather large creatures, about four inches long, so I believe it is a female since the females are larger than the males. It rocked back and forth when I was watching, as these bugs often do. Rocking back and forth makes them look like sticks moving in the breeze, and looking like sticks protects them from predators.

Stick bugs are relatively harmless. Sometimes, when attacked, they will emit a sticky substance that can burn the eyes or mouth of their attacker, but I'm guessing they are not attacked that often. They aren't particularly harmful to plants or trees so they are not considered garden pests. If they do lose an arm or a leg, though, they can grow a new one! They grow replacement limbs when they molt, or lose their skin, and sometimes they eat the skin they shed. Yum.

Stick bugs are not very active. They generally eat at night and sleep or rest during the day. They have sticky pads on their feet and are very good climbers, which explains how this one climbed up the screen door. They are fairly easy to care for since you don't have to feed them bugs, fish or mice like pet snakes, and people often keep stick bugs as pets in tall fish tanks. A male stick bug is not needed for reproduction, and stick bugs are perfectly content living alone. They will even eat lettuce, which makes them very low maintenance.

Even though they're not particularly active, I am fascinated by these blessed little creatures of God. It's rather soothing to watch them rocking back and forth, pretending to be a part of a tree. Their needs are few, and they seem happy and grateful for whatever God brings to them. There are about 3000 different stick bugs species and they are found all over the world, but generally in warm areas, like our home in Texas. I hope to see more of these wonderful creatures in the future, but I do realize I will have to look hard to see them in the trees because they look so much like twigs!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chaos in the Morning!

There was chaos in the garage this morning! There is a nest in an old box on the top shelf in the garage. I knew there were at least three baby birds inside because I could hear them chirping and would occasionally see their fuzzy little heads as I did my chores. My husband and son sit in the garage in the evenings talking about the events of the day and their table and chairs are directly below the nest, but the mother apparently does not mind. She probably realized our constant presence keeps the babies safe from predators like squirrels.

Today was the day the baby birds left their nest, and there was chaos in the garage! There were birds everywhere, flying into walls, dropping from shelves, hopping across ladders. One even fell into an open drawer of my husband's tool cabinet. It was tempting to rescue the babies when they fell, but I knew this would only make matters worse, so we left the back door open and watched through the screen.

When they first started flying about, the mother bird wasn't in the garage. When the first one fell, all of the babies became very noisy and began to panic and they all started leaping from the nest, and that was when the mother arrived. She had a bug in her mouth and appeared to be trying to convince the babies to return to the nest to eat. Two of the babies quickly made it out the garage door and that was when I realized that there was actually five babies altogether. One of the babies fell behind some boxes toward the back of the garage. This was the one I was tempted to help, but I knew I would only make matters worse, so I stayed put. Eventually, she hopped up onto a box and made it out the door. I managed to take a picture of one of the babies as you can see to the right, but it's a little fuzzy. It was hard to take the picture without making them nervous again!

Finally, four of the babies were outside and one remained near the nest. It appeared to be trying to get back to the nest, but it was on the shelf beneath the nest and couldn't figure out how to fly out, then fly back in. Finally, the mother hopped onto the shelf with the baby and fed her the bug. They sat together for awhile, chirping. I imagine the mother was trying to convince the baby to try again, that she was speaking chirps of confidence, saying "you can do this! I know you can do this!" The mother, however, knew we were watching from the door and I think this made her a little nervous so I walked away, and when I returned half an hour later, all of the baby birds had left the garage. I can still hear the momma chirping just outside the garage door and I think she is giving them flying lessons in the oak trees.

There are two more nests with eggs in them. There is another set of eggs in the nest beneath the umbrella where the babies just left a few weeks ago. There is also a nest on the back porch next to the large picture window. After watching a very small bird hopping about in the racks where I keep my gardening supplies, I knew she was looking for a place to build a nest. I did not want her to build it among the supplies because we frequently see the raccoon in that area at night. So, I set out an unpainted birdhouse I had picked up at a craft store. I was wary about this, too, but it turned out to be the perfect solution. The birdhouse has many holes, but the mother plugged most of them up with grass and twigs and these holes are tucked down in the garden tools. She enters through the attic of the birdhouse. I can see at least three eggs in this house. The mother often hops in with bugs, so we thought there were babies inside for a few days, then we figured out the chirping was coming from the garage and the momma in the birdhouse was actually feeding herself the bugs! Yummy!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Love Those Lizards!

It's lizard time again. I hear them scamper about everywhere I walk. We have so many lizards on this land, and they're not particularly shy of me, though I wish they were considering I usually have two large dogs by my side.

We have a type of lizard that has pastel green stripes with pink shading near its tail. They live in the gardens around the house. They can usually be found near the ponds. There are two large ones that walk around the house in a complete circle, twice a day, searching for bugs. Their heads jerk from side to side as they stroll along. Sometimes I will stand very still with my shovel in my hand just waiting for them to pass. They don't seem to notice me, or perhaps they don't perceive me as a threat. They will walk within a few inches of my shoes, their heads moving from side to side seeking bugs. I wish I knew the name of these lizards because they really are cool.

We also have many Texas Spiny Lizards. In fact, I recently rescued a baby Texas Spiny that had fallen into the pond when it was getting a drink. There is an exceptionally large one that lives in the tree right above the garter snake's hole. The Texas Spiny Lizards generally prefer mesquite trees, and we have plenty of that around here. They also like to hide in dried leaves. I often hear them before I see them when I'm walking the dogs. They eat the types of bugs that eat my vegetables and flowers, so I like seeing these lizards around! They have a funny little dance they do when one male sees another male. I call it the push up dance. They bounce up and down on their front legs like they're doing push ups until one of the males backs down and walks away.

Last year, when I was planting in a garden, I accidentally dug up a nest of lizard eggs. I didn't break any eggs, but I was concerned that I had damaged them somehow. I carefully re-buried them beneath the shrub where I found them and kept a close eye on the area. Then one day when I was working in the area I noticed a broken shell. I moved the mulch aside and found some more. I didn't see any dig marks or other signs of predators in the area so I hoped the babies all survived. It was less than a day before I got my answer. For the next few weeks I found baby lizards all over the plants in that area.

There is a large grouping of hundred year plants, which is a type of agave, just outside our garage door. We always see lizards on these plants, mostly the small, green anoles, so when we water, my husband and I often send a spray across the tops of the plants. The lizards soon emerge, pausing at each drop for a quick drink. The anoles are fun to watch because, like chameleons, their skin changes color according to what they stand on. They also change color if their mood changes. There are green anoles and brown anoles, and they live together in an interesting way. If they are sharing a tree, then the brown anole stays closer to the ground and the green anole will stay higher up in the tree. The anoles that live in this particular section of plants are all green. They are all territorial, though. I just read an interesting article about their territories, too. They choose their territories the same way some people buy houses. They always make sure they have a high lookout; a sunny, basking area; a shaded area for when it gets too hot and a secret hiding place for protection from predators. It seems even lizards look for a room with a view!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Snakes, lizards and squirrels, oh my!

It's been busy around here the past few days. We found another snake coming up the hill, headed for the house. Or I should say the dogs found the snake. Buddy barked, and moved cautiously forward while Holly stayed back a bit further, and that's when I knew something was retreating slowly instead of scampering into the shrubbery. At first, we thought it was dead, and since the raccoons have decided to make my house their home in the evenings I thought, perhaps, one had attacked the snake. Then it raised its head. After a great deal of research, we determined it was a cottonmouth, and a very large one. We've had so much rain lately and the creek is moving slowly, so I'm sure it was attracted to the water.

I do love snakes, but these particular snakes are very dangerous. It's also difficult trying to distinguish the different types of snakes. There are many poisonous snakes in the Texas Hill Country and it's hard to figure out what is safe and what is not. I have a large racer snake living around the creek and an even bigger garter snake that lives around the house, so hopefully they will help keep the dangerous snake population from growing around here.

Later in the afternoon, as I walked the dogs through the trees, I stopped to look at a white wildflower that I hadn't noticed before on the property. As I bent over I saw a tail sticking out of a hole. I ran to get my husband, thinking it was another snake, but when I approached the hole a second time I noticed a flat nose sticking out and realized it was a very large lizard. He wasn't colorful, but attractive in his own way. His back was covered with silvery-gray scales and he looked a bit like a dragon.

The squirrels have been squabbling again, but I think they're working out a system. They are taking turns at the food dish on my patio. There are many dishes filled with sunflower seeds around the property and I keep all areas very clean, so I'm not sure why they all favor the patio. Perhaps it's the shade. I also think they enjoy watching me through the glass doors as I type on my computer.

The little fella with the injured eye is on the table now. I still pray for him each day, and sometimes I think he can see me through his eye. He turns it toward me when he hears noises, but he could be turning his head to listen. It has helped with the squabbles to keep seed on the floor and some on the shelves of the arbor. They enjoy hanging upside down to eat the seeds off the shelves. Today I plan to buy another corn cob holder and hang this in the patio, as well.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Noisy Night

It is two in the morning and there is a bird on the bedroom patio chattering away. Unfortunately, the noise also woke up my cat, Niblet, who is now standing at the patio door, watching. The bird seems rather upset about something, but I can't see any sort of threat, or threatening situation. It is supposed to rain tonight, but there's still no sign of lightning or thunder. Perhaps it's another bird. Maybe there is a nest nearby.

I had a pear tree in the front yard that my husband and I bought on sale. It was rather small. It went into shock as soon as we planted it, though, and its leaves turned black and fell off whenever a matter of days. I did not want to return it because, when I touched its branches, I could still feel warmth, so I convinced my husband to move it to the backyard next to my raised garden where I could give it special attention, and when I returned from Houston, it was once again covered in leaves! I have named it Emma. Emma does not seem to be struggling at all now, but there are some black spots where the branches leave the trunk and I suspect it was fire blight that caused her initial distress. I'm not sure how she recovered, but she has.

I think I have discovered the source of the constant bickering that goes on in my backyard between the squirrels. It appears as though most of the squirrels are males. In fact, of the seven squirrels that now play in my trees and eat off the back porch feeder, five are males. One of the twins from last year seems to have bonded with a baby from this year. They are inseparable, though they do chase each other about on occasion.

The squirrel with the injured eye seems to be recovering. I pray for his health daily, and for the recovery of his sight. I am concerned about his ability to protect himself from predators. His eye is now open, but it still looks a bit blue and I'm afraid he may be partially blind.

There is another male with an injury on his back, but this, too, appears to be healing. This male is older, larger. I think it is the male who used to stay in the front trees and would only venture back this way to drink from the ponds, but lately he has been climbing the back tree to nibble on the corn.

I am certain the birds whose babies flew the nest are using the nest again. I didn't realize they could have more babies so quickly, but apparently, they can. We also have a nest in a box in the garage that now has eggs and one on the porch by the driveway. I saw a bird flying in and out of a box in that area and I was concerned that it was going to build a nest in a box of seashells on the porch. I was bothered by this idea because the box is very low and within reach of the raccoon, who does not appear to be in any hurry to find another home for its nightly visits. So, I set a birdhouse in the box and the bird has built a tight, secluded nest that can only be reached from a top hole.

The raccoon still comes to my patio each night, even though we bring the food in now. We bought more food and left it on the driveway patio by accident. The raccoon found it and ripped the bag open. I now keep the food in a covered box in the garage. There is always enough corn left on the ground from the squirrels to keep it busy, though. The raccoon is the smallest I have ever seen, and I have only seen the one raccoon on our porch. It is so tiny, it must be less than a year old.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Texas Blind Snake and Other Various Critters

Last night, right after we had one of those quick bursts of rain, my stepson discovered a strange, slithery snake moving across the driveway. We watched it very carefully. It appeared to be a snake, but it was only a few inches long and smaller than the earth worms that hang out in the garden. It had dark eyes, so it wasn't a worm, and in the porch light it looked to be a shimmery silver color. It was one of the fastest creatures I've ever seen. Simply amazing.

This morning, my stepson, cousin and I spent hours searching for it on the internet and my cousin finally found a picture of a baby Texas blind snake--exactly what we had seen on the porch. We almost settled on a skink, which is kind of like a lizard, but this creature had no arms or legs. The adults of this particular variety of snake only get to be eight inches long. Leptotyphlops dulcis are found in the southwest. They are pinkish or brown with a shimmer in their color. This one looked silver in the darkness, and shimmered so much it seemed to glow. They generally live underground and only come up in the spring when it's raining, like last night. Their mouths are too small to bite humans, but they will try to stick you with their pointy tails. This is a totally harmless act. They eat termites and ants, which makes them very beneficial around here!

The raccoon was here last night. I didn't see her, but the dogs started howling around three this morning and they were looking out the back glass doors. My husband caught her on the back porch around five when he got up for work, so apparently she was out there for a long time, but I've been picking up the bird seed bowls at night so I'm not sure what she was doing!

I found a picture on my cell phone of one of the baby birds perched on the edge of the nest just before they flew away. I posted it to the right.

As I walked the dogs this morning, we disturbed the large garter snake again as it was drinking from the pond. His continued presence so close to the house may explain why the toads have suddenly become silent at night. As we walked around the fields and gardens we also saw a large number of lizards darting to and fro. They must be enjoying the warmth after all this rain.

There was a road runner down by the road. It caught a lizard and killed it, but instead of eating it, the bird carried its food back through the fence into the forested area, so I am certain the road runners had another baby this year.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Empty Nest Syndrome

The umbrella nest is empty. I've been standing beneath the umbrella off and on all day, talking to the babies as I did my chores. About an hour ago, I looked up to see them perched on the edge of the nest. They were fluffing their feathers. The largest of the three has done this before, but I'd never seen the smaller two on the edge.

They continued to fluff their feathers and I thought I might be making them nervous, so I went inside to make dinner. After dinner, I returned to the umbrella to check on the babies, but they were gone. The table had little piles of bird poop on it, which was odd because I just scrubbed it last night. I think they may have emptied their bodies before they took their first flight.

I checked beneath the table and all around to make sure there was no signs of trauma. Not a single feather. The nest itself is in perfect condition. So, I checked the trees. Sure enough, about twenty feet away, the mother was perched on a branch, staring off into the trees. My husband ran for the binoculars, but by the time he returned, Momma had flown, as well.

It was suddenly very quiet in the backyard. I miss them already. I miss the sound of Momma bird chittering and chattering every time I walked by. I miss watching her dig beneath the tree for worms then flutter up to the nest to deliver breakfast. I even miss worrying about their safety, but most of all, I miss walking past the umbrella and seeing their little beaks poking over the twigs and leaves.

I am glad they've moved on to make a life of their own, though. It's hard saying goodbye to God's blessed little creatures, but they were put on this earth to fly, and this is what they must do. I imagine they feel quite happy now with the air rushing beneath their wings as they move from branch to branch. I wish I could see them, but deep in my heart I know they are safer hiding in the forest. Perhaps some day soon they will return to my backyard to nibble from the seed dish or drink from the pond, but until they are stronger, it is best that they hide beneath the leaves of the massive live oak trees surrounding my home.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Raccoons, Birds and Toads

I did some research on my raccoon friend, and had a long chat with my cousin who rescued a baby raccoon once. Apparently, they eat toads and baby squirrels, so I have decided not to encourage her presence on my porch, since this is where the little female baby squirrel likes to eat. I will move the bird seed dishes at night, then replace them in the morning after the raccoon goes to bed.

I also sprinkled cinnamon on the table beneath the bird's nest to discourage the raccoon from exploring in that area, just in case the baby birds start making noise. I can move everything back in the morning, but I don't want to be the cause of any casualties this spring. It's a shame, too, because I really did enjoy watching the raccoon last night.

I read online that Raccoons are very social creatures and love to interact with humans. However, as I watched the little raccoon in the porch light, I noticed that she had some of the sharpest teeth I've ever seen, like little needles, and I wouldn't take the chance of interacting with her, either. But since she only comes out at night, the chances of any interaction are rather slim.

Of course, the raccoon will continue to visit us because we have a pond filled with toads. The snakes will always stop by for a sip of cool water, the armadillos will continue to forage for worms around my pond plants, and the road runner will creep about the house, searching for little lizards and small birds. This is a part of life that I will have to adjust to as I continue living in my circular, glass house, my truly amazing gift from God.

A Late Night Visitor

Last night, as I lay in bed, drifting gently into slumber, I suddenly heard a deep, throaty growl coming from beneath my arm. My cat, Niblet, is our guard cat. As our dogs are heavy sleepers, Niblet has taken it upon himself to warn us of intruders, which would include deer, armadillos, squirrels, etc. Last night, however, Niblet didn't just growl, he jumped to his feet and rushed over to the open door that leads to my bedroom patio.

I always keep the screen shut, of course. Goodness knows what little creatures might creep into bed with me if I kept it open! Niblet stood at the screen and continued to growl. I sat up slowly in bed and looked out the door. I keep the patio light on all night, and it shines onto the little red table like a spotlight. There, in the spotlight, sat a young, lovely, very healthy, female raccoon.

As she sat on the table top digging through the bird seed, I could see her quite clearly, She's not a large raccoon, and even her face looked young. The black mask surrounding her eyes was deep and dark, and accentuated the narrowness of her face. I always thought raccoons had fat, round faces, but not this young lady. She had a dark stripe going down the middle of her face to her nose, and her nose, also black, reminded me of a dog's nose, except that hers was covered with sunflower shells.

At first, I thought she was eating the sunflowers, then I realized she was digging through the shells leftover from the squirrels in search of the chipped, dried corn kernals I add to the dish. She loved the corn, and appeared to be using her paw like a scoop to gather the kernels from the bottom of the dish and toss them onto the table. Meanwhile, Niblet continued to growl with a slow, deep, throaty sound as he stared out the screen. The raccoon would raise her head and stare at the cat, then continue with her snacking. My husband and I climbed out of bed and stood in the doorway, watching the raccoon feast. She looked at us, as well, and apparently did not see us as a threat as she continued to eat. As lovely as she was to watch, I finally had to go to sleep. When I woke up early this morning she had disappeared, along with the entire contents of the seed dish.

I think this is the same critter that hangs out by my next door neighbor's house. He leaves cat food by his back door for the nightly visitors. Tonight, before I go to bed, I will put the seeds away and leave her a little cracked corn. I don't want to feed her too much as I don't want her to start seeing my house as her sole source of food. This may be risky for her--we have two very large chocolate labs.