Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spider Tree

We drove into the next town for an appointment and on the way home I found another spider tree. I have seen three now. These are trees that are covered in large garden spiders, huge webs, egg sacs held in place with carefully spun webs.

It was raining softly when I got out of the truck. I looked down at my skirt and sandals and knew I was making a mistake, but I wanted those pictures! The tree is so perfect--old, gnarled, colorful and filled with spiders. It grows beside a huge field filled with grasses, and grasshoppers! Perfect for garden spiders. Oddly enough, the grasshoppers seem to line up on the tree branches as if they're waiting to become the next meal for one of eight spiders I counted on this particular tree.

As I stood in the rain taking pictures, I suddenly felt a shooting pain in my toes, then my feet and ankles. I looked down and brushed at my feet, but I couldn't see anything. I suspect it was baby red ants. Within minutes, my feet, ankles and legs were covered with blisters. They had actually taken chunks of skin from my feet.

And still I stayed, snapping pictures. I just didn't want to miss the opportunity. It was so painful it brought tears to my eyes. I pulled up my skirt and tied it, hoping the ants wouldn't climb up the hem. I couldn't believe how many egg sacs were tied onto this tree. Two of the spiders were wrapping grasshoppers for future meals, their bright yellow still showing through the spider's tight web. It's kind of gross, but the spider actually injects the grasshopper with venom and its insides turn to liquid, which the spider then ingests.

I feel a tremendous amount of sympathy for these grasshoppers. I think they are lovely with their bright yellow patterns and soft, gentle faces. On the other hand, there are so many of them that when I walked back to the car they were actually smacking into me as they flew through the air. These garden spiders play a very important role in controlling garden pests, even if it is a bit disgusting to think about!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Squirrels, Dragonflies, Hummingbirds, Vulture, Little Flowers and Awesome Sunsets

There is a young male squirrel who lives across the road in the forest in front of our house. He is a bit of a clown. My stepson took the dogs for a walk one day and happened to surprise the little fella as he was scampering up the sidewalk. The squirrel got down and army crawled into the trees. He loves to climb around the pond by my bedroom window, drink the water, eat the pecans, and hang between the branches of the crape myrtle, watching me through the picture windows. Chewy the chihuahua used to bark at him and scare him off, but Chewy has now realized it is much more fun to sit quietly and watch the squirrel play. I feel like he should have a name, like "Sammy."

I've been watching for dragonflies. It's that time of year and I love dragonfly pictures. We've been swarmed many evenings, but they don't land often. I have had some really great close-up encounters with tiny dragonflies. I am assuming they are babies because they are so small. Their faces look like robot faces. For the past few years, the dragonflies that swarm in the fall have been a silvery-blue, but this year we seem to have a lot of black ones with some kind of pattern on their wings. They are large and beautiful and fly so close to me I can reach out and touch them, but for some reason, they don't land very often. They spend a great deal of time chasing each other, which is most likely a mating ritual.

We are also getting swarmed at the hummingbird feeders. I am refilling the feeders every other day. This time last year I was filling them twice a day. Sometimes there are four and five birds hovering around each feeder. We have a lot of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds around our house this year. In years past the majority of the hummingbirds have had shiny green backs. Those are here, too, as well as some tiny gray ones. There is a gray hummingbird smaller than my pinky finger that likes to sit on the chain of the plant hanger and guard the feeder closest to the picture window. He's smaller than any of the other birds around, which is probably why he's so tough!

White-Winged Dove season has started and I have placed extra food on the tables to try and attract the birds out of the nearby forests. It seems to be working. We have a flock of close to fifty doves now that flutter around our house. These are beautiful birds with red eyes and feet, but they're not too big and I really don't understand the logic in hunting these lovely creatures. They certainly cannot have much meat on their bodies.

Speaking of hunting, the vultures have been flying very low lately. I read that there are hawks migrating through Central Texas and it's possible that there is competition for food. A black vulture was circling at tree top level over Chewy yesterday. It flew off when I stepped out from behind a tree to let it know I was there. A Turkey Vulture landed on our lawn a few days ago and I took its picture. When I enlarged the photo, it appeared as if the bird has something in its mouth.

I have challenged myself lately to photographing the smallest flower on the property. It's been a fun challenge, but I've found that the harder I look, the more teeny little flowers I find. Every day I find a new hidden beauty never noticed before, so many gifts from God.

The sunsets the past few days have been spectacular! I climbed onto the roof last night to photograph in all directions. It was awesome! Reds, golds, oranges. There was a storm to the south, clear skies to the north, clouds moving in over the mountain behind us and the sun setting in such a glorious fashion you could hear the angels singing. I want to create a scrapbook with pictures and stories of our life here in Texas for my grandchildren so they can know and understand the incredible beauty God has gifted to this land and I think these sunset pictures will demonstrate this fact quite well!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Blessed Little Creatures

It's been so long since I've written about the blessed little creatures that live around my home and I feel as if I've neglected them in spite of the fact that I spend time with them every day. The baby squirrels of spring are growing larger and the pregnant squirrel has obviously had her babies. She was on the porch yesterday lying on her belly, propped up on her elbows, eating slowly from the sunflower seeds. She was probably enjoying the break from her young ones! There was a young squirrel exploring the pond a few days ago. He was creeping around the rocks, checking beneath the logs, and stopped for a long drink, then I think he might have noticed his reflection in the water. He seemed to hesitate a bit as if he was wondering if there was another squirrel looking back at him!

My husband and I went to Houston for the birth of my fifth grandchild, a little boy. While I was there, I wanted to take a picture of the robin that lives in my son's yard so I could paste the picture in my grandson's scrapbook, but the funniest thing happened with that robin! My son moved his car to the park across the street to make room for my truck while we visited and the robin moved with the car! The robin sat on the hood of the car and on the mirror for most of our visit, leaving once in awhile to find food and water. I took pictures, but never did figure out why he was behaving that way!

Last week, my stepson drove me to Colorado to visit my grandchildren. They have a new cat named Leroy who likes to sit in my grandson's highchair with his paws draped over the front as if he's waiting for a meal, but he does this all the time, even at night when everyone has gone to bed! Cats have so many quirky habits.

When we reached Colorado we stopped at a light near my daughter's house and I looked out the passenger side window and noticed a hawk had landed on a nearby post. My stepson drove off before I could get a picture, but I couldn't stop thinking about him. After my stepson unpacked the truck, I returned to the spot and found the hawk was still sitting on the post. I stood within a few feet of him taking pictures, then realized he was still there because he had caught a bird and was eating. It was sad knowing the bird had died, but at the same time, kept alive this magnificent, powerful animal. Life does work in circles.

Speaking of birds, the road runner is no longer hunting lizards. Apparently, he has now decided he prefers to sit in the trees in my backyard and hunt my hummingbirds. They seem to be on to his tricks, though. When the road runner is around, the bird feeders are noticeably empty.

I went to an appointment with my husband a few days ago and we saw a tree filled with black vultures and a few turkey vultures. I didn't realize they roost together. Then I noticed a huge, dead tree filled with orb weavers and their lovely, intricate webs. I also didn't realize they will live in close proximity to each other, but this tree had at least eight giant female orb weavers and many egg sacs. It was also covered with yellow grasshoppers, which may explain the presence of so many spiders--they had an abundant food source!