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.