Monday, June 28, 2010

Baby Creatures...

It's been awhile since I've blogged. I have another grandson--Keller Elway Agnew--and he is beautiful, strong, and very intelligent. It was obvious within minutes that he recognized his mother and father's voices. However, he was also born with an infection and is still in the hospital--a serious reminder of how fragile life can be. He is surrounded by strong, loving, and compassionate parents and grandparents and has so many people sending prayers and loving, healing thoughts and energy to him, and I have no doubt that he will recover fully. I have been blessed by God with five beautiful grandchildren and I am so grateful. As I watch the little creatures out my window fly from tree to tree or scramble across the ground, I wonder how many of them will survive and I marvel at the miracle of life.

There are four juvenile cardinals on the property. I never see them apart. I know that some day they will leave each other and find spouses--cardinals mate for life--but for now it is nice to see them enjoying each other's company and protecting each other by calling out when they sense potential dangers--like my little chihuahua whose greatest thrill in life right now seems to be running into the yard barking to frighten off the birds!

There is another cardinal that seems to have made friends with a painted bunting. A young male painted bunting who is still getting his colorful feathers. This is an odd pairing, but I have yet to see these two marvelous creatures apart. They are always standing only inches away from each other, eating from the same dish or drinking from one of the ponds. Sometimes I wish I could read their minds or explore their memories and discover exactly what happened to cause these two birds to trust each other as they so obviously do. I know they, too, will some day part in search of mates, but for now, it's fun to watch.

I accidentally startled a very large raccoon this morning. I woke up at five and decided to make some tea, and when I walked in front of the door I noticed one of the largest raccoons I've seen sitting in the middle of the bedroom patio table, eating sunflower seeds. I think she must be the grandma. Female raccoons often live together for many generations. She glanced up at me, then climbed onto the chair and started to slowly slink away. She must have changed her mind, though, and realized I meant no harm because she had returned to the table when I came back into the room with my tea.

I was stung on the neck by a red wasp yesterday afternoon as I walked through the garage shaking a paint can. They do not like loud noises. I quickly covered the hole with charcoal to draw out the toxin, but I still needed to take a little allergy medication. Our garages are both filled with yellow wasps and mud-dobbers and we will have to do something about this because the garages are also filled with all of our boxes of books and such since we're preparing to move to New Mexico. I don't want to start unpacking and suddenly find my new home swarming with wasps! We usually just ignore these creatures. It's the red wasps we watch out for because they are so aggressive.

It's that time of year again and the hummingbird feeders are filling up with birds. I saw the tiniest hummingbird I've ever seen yesterday morning and I know it must have been a baby. It was half the size of my pinky. There is a lovely gray bird that seems to be competing with the black-headed hummer who usually dominates the feeder by our back door. She is very careful to watch and wait until the other bird leaves, then she darts in for a quick drink.

I stopped to put fresh water in Mrs. Toady's bowl last night, thinking she might like a cool soak after spending such a hot day in the toe of my black garden shoe, but she was already out of the shoe and sitting in the bowl! I am amazed by how much she's grown in the past four years. She filled the entire bowl. I can't believe she still fits in the toe of my shoe! It must be quite a struggle to squeeze in at night and turn around--she's always facing out. Obviously, she likes her home. I don't blame her. I love this house, I just wish it was closer to my grandchildren.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lizards, Hare, and Painted Bunting

I've had so many lizard encounters lately. I've made friends with a lizard that looks like a dragon. He lives in the agave plants by the back garage door and I think he likes the sound of my voice. When he comes out, I ask him to wait until I get the camera and he always waits. He likes to turn around and watch me and cocks his head from side to side while I speak. Once, my stepson uncovered a bunch of bug eggs for him and he was very happy. I am amazed by how friendly, and how photogenic, this lizard is when he poses for pictures!

I thought we had a strange-looking rabbit that visits the bedroom patio at all times of the day. It has a long nose, long ears, but regular-sized feet, so I knew it wasn't a cottontail or a jackrabbit. I finally figured out it is a hare. I see it at all times during the day--the cottontails usually come out at dusk and dawn.

It is not as shy as the cottontails. Once, one of the dogs chased it out from beneath the wysteria and Chew the chihuahua chased it between my legs and it just sat between my legs as if it knew it was safe. I led the dogs back inside and the hare stayed in the field, poking around for food.

There is a male Painted Bunting that has been visiting the food dish outside our bedroom window. It is rather small and the feathers on its back are still coming in, so I know it is very young. Painted Buntings visit our home often, but they are very shy and it's hard to get their pictures. I did get a couple of this one, though.

We also saw two red-tailed lizards mating on the driveway yesterday. At first, my stepson thought they were fighting because they were chasing each other around in circles, so I grabbed my camera to take their picture and we quickly figured out what they were doing. It's amazing how much larger the females are than the males. Like frogs and toads, they are almost 2/3 larger in overall body size.

Snakes, snakes, and more snakes...

It's been a very eventful two weeks! We have had so many snake encounters I don't even know where to start! I was walking the dogs when I suddenly noticed what I thought was a stick in the middle of the sidewalk, then I saw the tail end go straight up as one of the dogs approached and my heart started racing. I was certain it must be a rattler. I ran to the house with the dogs and grabbed my camera and when I returned, the snake was still there. It turned out to be a rat snake. My stepson and I followed it to some trees. It tried to climb the tree, then tried to climb into a hole in a tree stump and that's when I decided to stop taking pictures. I wasn't trying to frighten it, but it was a beautiful snake and I wanted pictures to share with my grandchildren.

A few days later, we were getting ready to leave for an appointment when we noticed the tail of a snake slip into the garage. This one was a bull snake, and he did not want to leave the garage! Bull snakes love birds and bird eggs, and we had a bird's nest with very noisy baby sparrows in a box on the top shelf just beneath where the snake was coiled up and hissing. The mama bird came in with some bugs while we were trying to coax the snake back out of the garage. The snake snapped at us a few times, but eventually returned to the forest.

The next morning, we woke up to a ruckus in the garage. I was afraid the snake had returned, but it was the baby birds leaving their nest. A few of the babies appeared to be a little immature for leaving the nest, but I think their parents might have pushed them out a little early because they were worried about the same thing I was--that the bull snake might return. The last baby fell out of the box and to the floor, but she wasn't injured. I put her back in the box and mama brought her some food. We ran our errands and when we returned, the last bird had left the box. They are still in the trees in the backyard. We seem them on the picnic table every day eating bird seed. It's so sweet to see multiple generations of bird families.

A few days ago, I did something I know I should not do--I went outside at dusk to fill the bird seed containers. I had the dogs with me and thank goodness I left them behind the fence. I was by the back forest, raising my foot to step beneath the cup that the doves like to eat from when I realized that beneath me was the largest snake I have ever seen. I slowly stepped backward, assuming it was another rat snake. I said hello and carefully walked backward to the yard, then ran the dogs inside and fetched my husband and my camera.

We really were much closer than we should have been, but it did appear to be a massive rat snake. However, when I focused the camera, I realized the snake had a triangular head and flattened nose. About the same time, my stepson said he thought he could see venom sacks on the side of its head. And again, at the same time, my husband had picked up the water sprinkler. The water spooked the snake and it pulled the rest of its body through the fence. At first, I thought it was lunging at my husband, then I realized it was simply turning around. As it flipped the back end of its body through the agave plants we clearly saw a long row of rattles. It was a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake and was at least seven feet long.

Since the day we moved here I have had a feeling I would some day encounter a very large rattlesnake. I don't know why I had that feeling, I just knew that I would. I never felt threatened at any time by the snake, but I'm still having trouble falling asleep at night thinking about how I was standing with my foot above its head. Before I take the dogs out now, I walk out first and check the yard for snakes.