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.