Monday, December 19, 2011


The weather forecast called for rain, but it's been snowing since before I woke up this morning. I should have known there was snow on the ground!

My husband wakes up very early. When he lets the chocolate labs out to do their morning duty, he usually comes back into the bedroom and reaches beneath the woolen blankets I pile up on my feet to fetch the chihuahua. Chewy the chihuahua likes to roll himself into a blanket ball in the middle of the night. This morning, when my husband tried to unravel the chihuahua to take him outside, Chewy refused to go!

Around four this afternoon, I realized Chewy had spent the entire day in bed. I came into the bedroom and asked if he intended to get up today. He looked over his shoulder, out the window, at the snow, as you can see in the pictures to the right, then he looked back at me, but didn't move from the bed. He spent the entire day beneath the covers.

I fed the birds four times today. They seem to eat twice as much when it's cold outside. There was a small flock of doves on the patio table when I walked outside. Their lovely slate gray wings contrasted beautifully with the falling snow and when they fluttered up and off the porch it was like watching a living painting in an artist's gallery.

We have new birds in the tree/shrub beside the house. At first, I only noticed one mated pair, but now there are six or more each day. The males have reddish-brown bodies and their tails appear to have a deep blue color. The females are brownish-gray. The males also have black and white striped wings--quite a colorful combination! The females have the same stripes, but the stripes are on their heads. I've never seen anything like them, but I started volunteering for a Nature Watch program and I plan to participate in this year's Great Backyard Bird Count, so I need to identify the birds soon. Unfortunately, they are not as friendly with me as the other birds and fly away before I can get a focused picture.

There is a hierarchy on the back wall, too. There are two varieties of sparrows that live in the shrub. One is the common house sparrow and I haven't identified the others yet. The new birds with the stripes are slightly larger and the sparrows move away from the dish when the striped birds arrive.

The thrashers are larger than the striped birds and a bit pushy. They're not greedy. They will wait for the other birds to eat, but when they think the seed dish is getting low, they fly into the flock and chase the other birds off so they can have their turn at the seeds.

The doves, of course, are much too large for the seed dish on the wall or the feeders hanging from the porch. They can only eat from the dish on the table and the other birds leave that dish for the doves. It's a nice little community. No one ever fights, they just know when it's time to share, and when they need to get out of the way to avoid a mid-air collision with a larger bird!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Careful Training or Animal Abuse?

I had an interesting online conversation this evening about a video that shows a man riding his bicycle while his dogs run behind him on busy trails and roads.

At first, I thought it was a fun video that showed a man who worked hard to train his dogs and gave them a tremendous amount of attention, affection, and love. My friend thought it showed a man who took too many risks with his dogs, risks that could potentially lead to their deaths.

At first, I defended the man in the video, believing he proved his experience and expertise in dog training through the behavior of his dogs, then I realized my friend made a valid point, the man did take risks, too many risks. At any time, one of the many dogs in the video could have suddenly changed its mind and decided to break free from its trainer and dart out into the road.

I have always believed that when I take an animal into my home I am completely responsible for all aspects of that animal's welfare. Training animals is important, but taking them out in public and deliberately placing them in risky situations to show how well they are trained is a selfish act that can only go one of two ways--either the animal will perform as he or she has been trained to perform, or the animal will not, and will become injured, or killed.

The discussion was about domestic animals, but in a way, this applies to wild animals, as well. There are many companies that will allow students to pose with trained "big cats" for photos. A 17 year old high school student from Kansas was killed by a Siberian Tiger in 2005 at a ranch where tigers, lions and bears are trained for Hollywood films, but for many years, this same ranch allowed students to pose with the animals for photos.

The trainer may very well be an expert in his field with many years of experience, but I suspect he took too many risks with the animals, endangering both the animals and the students who posed with the animals through his pride in his own abilities. Animals on a film set in tightly controlled conditions obviously behave completely differently than they do in the privacy of their own homes--their cages--when strangers are introduced for brief periods of time. I could see this as a situation similar to when a dog is in a car and someone reaches through an open window to pet the dog. The dog will feel as if the stranger is trying to enter his or her home.

The question is not how good the trainer is, or how well the animal is trained. The question is, is this fair to the animal, or the trusting humans? In a way, it could be seen as cruel. The animal did not agree to have strangers paraded through his or her home, to be used as a fashion model and posed like a doll. Wild animals are...wild!

In October of 2011, Zanesville, Ohio experienced a night of terror that seemed to be taken right out of a horror film as more than 50 lions, tigers, and other wild animals were destroyed after the owner of a wild animal farm, Terry Thompson, released the animals from their cages then committed suicide. Before he died, he cut the gates so the animals could not be caught and returned to their cages.

Why he released the animals is a mystery. If he truly loved the animals, why would he do something so cruel? Surely he knew the animals would be destroyed! Apparently, he was experiencing legal problems because the animals kept escaping. So he solved his problem through the most extreme act of selfishness and at a great loss to the worldwide community of big cats. Many of these cats were on the endangered species list. The surviving animals were taken to the Columbus, Ohio zoo.

The big question, though, is why he had the animals in the first place. Thompson did not display or show the animals. They were not trained for use in films. He kept hundreds of wild animals on his ranch in the middle of town for no explainable reason other than that he enjoyed wild animals. If he loved wild animals so much, why would he keep them in cages, then release them without protection of any kind?

According to an article in USA Today, the Humane Society of the United States has documented 22 incidents with dangerous exotic animals in Ohio since 2003. Why is this allowed to happen? If a person truly loves animals, they do not take this kind of risk, keeping hundreds of wild animals in cages in the middle of town without trained zookeepers to supervise their health and living conditions.

There is a similar situation going on in the United States with snakes that are used as props in birthday parties, in traveling shows, and tortured and killed in rattlesnake roundups. There is little, if any, concern for the welfare of the snakes according to animal activists like Matt Ellerbeck who is fighting for the rights of these animals. Considering most snake bites occur when snakes are handled, there seems to be an equal lack of concern for the welfare of the humans involved.

What does seem obvious is that there is a lack of concern for the rights of animals in all of these cases, particularly their right to be protected from the greatest threat, the greatest predator that animals face--humans.

Edited to add: For more information regarding the work of animal rights activist Matt Ellerbeck, please visit his website here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chilly Birds and Aliens

It has been so cold in New Mexico! We had a cold front move down from Colorado and another slide over from Arizona. The storm moving in from the east was the blackest storm I've ever seen. The two storms combined and now it is literally freezing! It was ten degrees below zero last night according to the outdoor thermostat.

I've been leaving extra seeds for the birds. I thought they would need to bulk up to handle the cold weather. When it's snowing, they fluff their feathers up so they look like little feather balls! I wish they would fly into the garden shed on cold nights, but I'm sure the hawks in the neighborhood are making the same wish.

We've seen new birds here, too. Tiny birds with black wings and tan heads, doves with different markings, and a reddish-brown hawk watching the house from the street lamp nearby. The hawk flew past the kitchen window yesterday at dusk. I haven't been able to get a close enough look to identify him. It's so difficult, knowing he is hunting in my back yard, but it's all part of God's plan and I'm glad that he, too, can find food.

I've identified the large birds with the orange eyes. They are thrashers. They can mimic sounds, like mockingbirds and catbirds. There are also grey catbirds in this area. They can imitate the sounds of cats.

Last night, we heard a strange sound in front of the house, like a loud purring sound. We thought it might be birds, but it was so dark outside and birds don't usually fly at night, unless they are owls. The sound moved into the backyard and we didn't see any birds flying overhead. It was so loud, all of the dogs in the neighborhood were barking.

I took an informal poll of my friends and they decided the creature was either a mountain lion, catbirds, Bigfoot, or aliens.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chickadees, Vultures, Doves, and the Love of Birds

"We learned to be patient observers like the owl. We learned cleverness from the crow, and courage from the jay, who will attack an owl ten times its size to drive it off its territory. But above all of them ranked the chickadee because of its indomitable spirit." -Tom Brown, Jr., The Tracker (Quote found on Legends of

I read this quote and an image began to form in my mind of the little black-capped chickadees in my backyard in Texas, hopping from branch to branch, sometimes clinging to the bark, sometimes brushing against the colorful leaves that spiraled to the ground as the chickadees danced. When I stepped through the back door, that was the first sound to greet me--the sound of the playful, life-loving chickadees.

I remember watching the black vultures that lived in the forest behind my house in Kingsland, Texas. Every night, I would climb a ladder to the roof of the house to photograph the spectacular Texas sunset for my friends and family, and every night, a mated pair of black vultures flew out of the forest, gliding over the roof of my house so close to my head I could feel the beat of their wings in the passing air, then landing on a nearby utility post where they would face the setting sun, sometimes snuggling close to each other, watching, as I watched. When the sun was down, and I started back down the ladder, the vultures would return to the forest behind my house.

Last night, as I watched a flock of white winged doves in the backyard of my house in New Mexico, I noticed they, too, turned to watch the setting sun. I filled the bird trays with seed a few minutes earlier, and they hovered over the trays, fluttering up and down, trying to find the best access to the seed, and yet, so patient with their family and friends. Then, when the sun moved lower in the sky and the Sandia Mountains turned their classic shade of pink, the birds turned to watch.

Sometimes I feel as if these birds are speaking to me in their songs and their behavior. I feel as if they are teaching me, reminding me to slow down and watch the sun rise, and the sun set, and appreciate its beauty. They're telling me to listen to the wind in the trees and let that be my music. They are telling me to dance, wild and free, among the leaves of the trees as they fall to the ground. They are telling me to enjoy life while I can, and I am listening.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Storm Warning

There was a storm warning today and I watched the clouds all afternoon as they rolled back onto themselves above the mountains then slowly spread like a blanket over the valley.

I knew there was a storm coming from the behavior of the birds. Early this morning, they started hovering around the food dishes. When there is a change in the weather, the birds eat more food, as if they're stocking up on energy to cope with the cold air.

Then the rain came. It was a light rain, most likely due to the fierce winds that rattled across the roof and made the windows tremble.

The little sparrows flew into the shrub tree on the side of the house, but they did not perch on top like they usually do during the day. Instead, they hid inside the branches.

I watched them through the kitchen window as I cleaned house. They took turns poking their little heads out between the leaves to check and see if the rain had stopped. They avoided the section facing the backyard as the wind would have hit them hard on their tiny faces. Instead, they peeked out through the leaves that face the side of the house where they have more shelter from the cold.

When evening came, the winds slowed to a stop, but the clouds remained, hovering over the mountains, above our house, and to the west. In Rio Rancho, when the sun sets, it's generally gold and orange to the west where the sun goes down, shades of gray and purple to the north and south, with pink shades on the mountains.

When I took the dogs out, the two large birds were standing near the food dish, waiting for their late-night snack.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Big Birds!

There is a pair of big birds living outside our back door. They're not as large as crows. They are about the size of grackles. They have orange eyes, hooked beaks, and...they like me!

These two birds are interesting in the way they communicate with me. When the seed dish is empty, and they see me walk outside, they will hop from tree, to chair back, to table top, following me as I move through the yard until I realize they are hungry and fetch some food.

They also interest me because they are obviously a mated pair, are openly affectionate toward each other in ways that I haven't seen since I studied the black vultures in Texas. They also occasionally bicker. They get along well with the sparrows. In fact, I believe they all live together in the same bushy tree on the side of my house.

A few days ago, I went outside to photograph the sunset and noticed that one of the big birds was sitting in the empty bird feeder next to my head, staring off to the east as if watching the sun set with me. (In Rio Rancho, we watch the sun set to the east because the setting sun turns the mountains pink.)

Tonight, the big bird couple were sitting beside the seed dish waiting for me. I would like to find out what kind of birds they are, but for now, the title of big birds will do. Or, I could call them Joe and Martha. I have a feeling they will respond to anything I call them as long as I bring them seed!

Update: Since my husband does not believe she looks like a Martha, she will now be named Jill. Joe and Jill. Nice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Little Sparrows

I am so thrilled to have a flock of sparrows in my tree. It's more like a shrub that climbs the brick wall around the property. It's the perfect height--six feet. Chewy can jump up and down as much as he wants, but he can't reach them. The chocolate twins know better than to harm other creatures now. They're older. The cat got out a few nights ago, though. He's the oldest of the bunch, and they all know it. They show him the respect he deserves. When it comes to hunting, though, he's still a kitten. He obviously caught something in the dark. I won't go into detail.

These sparrows in the shrub beside my back door are suburban birds. They're not as shy as the birds in Texas. The birds in Texas came out of the forest, though many of the birds were born in nests in our garage. The birds in New Mexico will sit on the fence and on top of the shrub, waiting for me to fill the food dish with seed. They are even closer to the house than the flock in Texas was, but they are comfortable, which is a good thing.

Sometimes the sparrows chatter like the little birds in Texas, but it's a bit colder here, and most of the time they sit and stare at me, the dogs, and each other, their feathers fluffed up so they look like little balls on top of leaves.

There is something magical about watching birds hop around each other, look at each other, chatter to each other. Sometimes, you can almost understand what they are saying, especially when they are paired with a mate.

This morning, I watched a male eating in the seed dish while the female waited patiently on the rock wall, then suddenly he turned and looked right at her and made a quick, soft sound. He jumped to the opposite side of the brick leaving a space for her to join him. She hopped onto the brick and they ate their breakfast together.

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Mexico

I am in my new home in New Mexico, and in the tree in the backyard there is a small flock of house sparrows, just like in my house in Kingsland. I feed them from a dish on the brick wall around our property--in this area of New Mexico, everyone has brick walls around their properties instead of fences.

The parking lots are filled with grackles chattering endlessly as they do in Texas. They come to our house, too. Sometimes I see them hopping about on the brick walls, eating from the food dish.

The day we arrived, as we were unpacking, I heard a crow calling from far away. I stood in the driveway, waiting. It came closer and eventually flew over our house then flew in a circle around the rooftop, calling out once more before flying to the neighbor's roof where it landed, watching me work.

The view from my back porch is breathtaking. Every night, at sunset, for five or ten minutes, the mountains turn pink or red, depending on the season. This is one of my favorite memories of my earlier life here with my children when they were babies--standing on our back porch, my children in my arms as we watched the mountains turn pink.

We also stood in the yard and watched the hot air balloons pass overhead. This is where the balloons float by during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, and the balloons fly over all year long when the weather is good.

Yesterday, I was typing in my room when I heard what sounded like a giant breathing, and I knew it was the balloons. I ran outside with the dogs and we watched together, staring up at the sky as six balloons floated over the house.

Tonight it was raining, and there was a sunset in front of the mountains, but they still turned pink. It looked like Christmas.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sumatran Tiger Update--Four cubs born at the Oklahoma City Zoo!

Baby tigers! Yes, it's true. The critically endangered Sumatran Tiger population--less then 300 survivors worldwide--has four new babies to add to the count.

The litter of cubs was born on July 9, 2011 at the Oklahoma City Zoo to proud parents Suriya and Raguno. Three girls and a boy, named Leeloo, Lola, Lucy and Leonidas. Congratulations Suriya and Raguno!

Sumatran Tigers are only found on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra and their numbers have reduced drastically due to shrinking habitat resulting in contact with local villagers and illegal poaching. The World Wildlife Fund has a petition you can sign online to encourage the Indonesian government to stop habitat destruction and help save the Sumatran tigers. If you are interested in helping these magnificent creatures, the petitions is here: Sumatran Tiger.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Vulture Tree

Last week, we were in Utah near St. George and Bryce and Zion National Parks. There are a few small towns in this area nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains painted with various shades of red and orange.

I was thrilled to find my familiar friends--lizards, Grackles, and vultures--as well as a new little creature that I still have not identified. It is a small rodent, as small as a chipmunk, but the head looks more like a rat. It's tail flips up over its back. It is very fast and the only pictures I was able to snap off are blurry as it is also exceptionally fast!

We were driving down a side street when I noticed one of the largest venues of vultures I have ever seen. This is one close, happy family! As they slowly circled around the sky, enjoying their play on the warm currents of air, I counted 90 before I lost track.

Then they started to land, one by one. As they flew lower, I could see that they were Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura). Turkey Vultures can be found from Canada to South America. Although Turkey Vultures will join with Black Vultures or other scavengers, and allow scavengers to join their families, this family in Utah appeared to be only Turkey Vultures.

I was with my husband, who was driving. We assumed they were landing in a field of dead trees, so we followed in our truck. Their path led us into a residential area, down a few side streets, and in front of a house where a huge, old tree stood on the corner of a property. It was not a dead tree, which is generally preferred by vultures, most likely because of the size of their wings--with a six-foot wing spread it is certainly easier to land on a bare branch. The tree must be hundreds of years old. Five adults, holding hands, might be able to circle its trunk.

We parked the truck and I jumped out with my camera, watching as the vultures circled around and landed, one by one, inside the tree. It was difficult to see them all because of the thick blanket of leaves, but the first ones to fly in landed on the top branches and politely posed for photographs, sometimes spreading their wings wide. Vultures will do this after they have eaten so the sun bakes the flecks of food left on their wings and the food drops to the ground. It is easy to tell if a vulture has eaten recently and had not had the opportunity to dry its wings as clumps of food still cling to the dark feathers, looking like large flecks of dust.

Suddenly, the tree seemed to come alive. As one bird flew in, another was leaving with a constant flow of movement circling the tree. They were silent except for the occasional flapping of wings when one of the birds tried to gain its balance. Once, a vulture flew in from behind and surprised another bird who stumbled forward, lost its grip and fell onto another branch. I thought it was injured at first as it left its wings spread wide. One wing appeared to be snagged on a branch. Eventually, though, the bird hopped to the right and freed its wing, then closed them tight against its side.

We spoke with one of the neighbors who said they were not happy with the birds in the local community. Apparently, the venue of 100 or more vultures had used that same tree for resting purposes every night for many years. Apparently, the neighbors are concerned that the urine from the vultures falling to the ground is creating an unsanitary condition in the neighborhood. I tried to explain that the urine of Turkey Vultures is so sterile it could be used as an antiseptic, and started to explain that they pee on their legs to sterilize their legs after eating, but I began to suspect this might be too much information for someone who is obviously not crazy about vultures!

In many communities, vultures are recognized as nature's cleaning crew, keeping the community free of disease. In fact, scientists have discovered that the vulture's stomach acid is so sanitizing it will even destroy anthrax when vultures consume animals that have died from this disease.

Regardless of their appearance, and their reputation unfairly gained from their use in horror films, Turkey Vultures, and their habitats, are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, so it's best just to let them do their job as God intended. Should they decide to move into your neighborhood, either leave them alone, or admire them for the important role they place in the circle of life.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's an Opossum! It's an Opossum!

We are watching through the window now. It's a huge Opossum. He is chewing up the sunflower seeds, then spitting the shells back out as the little grass balls I wrote about last night. That's why the birds pick the seeds back out and eat them--they're not picking at poop!

Opossums look like big rats. They're the size of a cat with long snouts, black ears and silver-tipped fur. They are not unattractive, just different. They make their home wherever they can find food and water, generally in dead tree stumps near food sources. I suspect this one lives across the street in the forest.

Opossums will lie down, close their eyes and let their tongue droop when frightened so they look dead, but the one outside my window is just watching us. Apparently, we don't frighten him! They also like to hang upside down by their tails.

Opossums are the oldest mammals in Texas. They have remained completely unchanged for fifty million years. It is believed they acquired their names from Captain John Smith of the Jamestown Colony.

Unfortunately, they have a very short life span because they have many predators. Most die because they are hit by cars, though. They become frightened, lie down, pretend they are dead, and the car hits them. They are also eaten by owls, dogs, and coyotes. Opossums are also immune to rattlesnake venom and they eat snakes!

They're intelligent creatures and can easily locate and remember where they've found food--that's why he keeps coming back here night after night. He knows I'll leave food for him. They also like peanut butter!

He's so cute!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Another Mystery--Beautiful Brown Dove

I heard a dove in the backyard yesterday while I was waiting for the dogs. I couldn't see it at first--it was very high in the trees. It didn't look like the white winged doves I normally find in the backyard so I ran for my camera to see if I could get a closer look.

This is, indeed, a mystery. The bird is clearly a dove. It has the same blue-rimmed eyes of the white winged doves and scarlet legs, but its wings are a deep chocolate brown and its chest and belly are rust-colored. So lovely!

I saw it in the tree again this morning, sitting alone, watching me. I wonder who it is, and how it ended up in my backyard. Searching for water in a drought-stricken state? Or seed? I haven't noticed a mate. I searched and searched, but was unable to make a positive identification. If anyone recognizes this beautiful bird, please let me know!

A Mystery in the Seed Dish

We have a mystery in the seed dish outside the bedroom window. Each morning, when I check the seed level, I find these little balls of seed and grass. They resemble feces, somewhat, but not really. They're more like hay rolls with seeds mixed in. To be honest, I don't have a clue what they are.

I do have other clues. They only arrive at night. I remove them all during the morning, and check the seeds throughout the day because the water dish is beneath and I like to make sure that the birds have clean water when they need it. I don't see the little grass balls, though. So, obviously, whatever it is that is leaving the little grass balls in the seed tray, they only do it late at night.

At first, we only noticed one or two. My husband pointed them out to me when he was leaving for work. He scooped them out with a leaf and tossed them onto the sidewalk. Later that day, I checked the sidewalk--it appeared as if the birds had broken it apart and eaten the seeds the way some birds will pick at cow manure. Gradually, more little grass balls appeared. This morning, there were so many that I had to scoop them up with a box lid from the trash--they completely covered the tops of the seeds. They do not smell like feces, and the seeds underneath are not clumped together as if something had gone potty on them. It's just such...a mystery!

I close my blinds when it's dark because the birds go to bed and stop visiting the tray, so I'm not really sure what happens after dark in that corner of the house. It is a little secluded, even though it faces the street. This is intentional. I have two crape myrtles in pots beside the seed tray waiting to be planted in our new house. I placed them by the seed tray so the birds would have a place to land. I also have a Wisteria branch in a pot that is growing strong and vining around the seed table. The Wisteria was uprooted at our old house during straight line winds that came through in the spring. In front of the tray I have potted plants. I set it up this way to protect the birds from the many stray cats in the neighborhood--who of course come for the dish of food I keep on the opposite side of the house, in case they cannot find food of their own.

This seclusion became particularly important this spring when a father and mother cardinal arrived, then slowly, one by one, they started bringing their babies down to the seed dish to feed them and teach them how to eat seeds. It was a wonderful adventure. Yesterday, I saw the mother, father, three girls and boy baby birds all on the back patio at once. The babies are no longer babies. Even in the spring they were the size of their parents. They still look a bit awkward as their adult feathers continue to fill in. Nevertheless, with their bright colors and funny habit of hopping around each other and skipping across the bricks they are beautiful gifts from God to our yard.

So, now I have these strange little grass balls in the seed dish. Tonight, instead of closing the blinds when it get dark outside, we will leave them open and wait. There isn't a light in the bedroom in that corner, so it will still be dark enough that the creature should not be frightened away, and I'm usually awake until two in the morning, writing. Odds are good that the mystery will be solved tonight.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lady Chatterley

When we first moved into this house there was a mother squirrel with four babies living in the dead, hollow tree in the backyard. It was difficult to determine the mother from her four babies as she is very small, but sometimes a strong wind would come up and she would stretch her paw across the back of one of the baby squirrels to help keep them on the branch. This, I knew, must be the mother.

It is instinctive, like when a mother is driving alone in a car and is forced to stop fast, but finds herself flinging her arm across the passenger seat to keep a child from jerking forward, a child who is not in the car! I recognized this movement in the squirrel. Her child was firmly perched on that branch, but she braced the baby with her paw, just in case...

The contractor building the house next door explained that he used to own this house and the tree was dead then, but mother squirrels have used the tree for as long as anyone can remember to raise their young, so no one cuts the tree down.

Gradually, over the summer, the four baby squirrels disappeared. I assumed they moved on to find homes of their own. In fact, I'm fairly certain one has moved into the neighbor's backyard tree!

When I returned from Colorado, I noticed a small squirrel lying beneath a tree on its belly. It was a feisty little thing, chattering loudly at the dogs and I whenever we walked outside. Before I left, I noticed we were down to one again and assumed it was a rogue male. The squirrel would scamper into the tree when I came outside and sit level with my eyes where the branches divided, watching me calmly, waiting for me to take the dogs back inside.

I usually knock loudly on the window, then the door, then open the door a crack and shout "dog" to give the squirrel a chance to climb the tree, but one afternoon, as I walked in and out the back door, Chewy the Chihuahua (A.K.A. the Chewchewcabra) snuck out the door and chased the squirrel into the tree. The squirrel was so angry he did not stop chattering for a long time. I was convinced it was a male then because it was so feisty!

I was wrong. A few days ago, when I rapped on the window, the squirrel stood up on its hind legs and looked around for the dogs. As soon as the squirrel raised its body I realized it is not only a female, but it is pregnant. It is the mother squirrel, still so tiny it is difficult to tell that she is fully grown. I am amazed that she somehow managed to carry and raise four babies on her own!

Now, it is late summer and the temperatures in the Texas Hill Country often reach 110 degrees. Momma squirrel is hot and tired and often chatters loudly when Chewy runs outside (she doesn't seem to mind my husband and I, or our two chocolate labs). When we go back indoors, she scratches a curved space into the dirt and lies down beneath the tree with her belly in the cool space of the hole she just created.

We are on water restrictions because of the drought. There is no lawn on this rental property, so we use out water allotment to water the trees and leave water in small dishes for the birds who flock to our house in large numbers. I fill a clay plant pot tray with water and they use this to bathe and clean their feathers.

Momma squirrel now digs her belly hole in the space where we water as the dirt is damp and cool. I think of all the little creatures in our yard, she probably appreciates the water more than most. She still chatters loudly when Chewy comes outside. We have named her Lady Chatterley.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Back in Texas...

I am home from Colorado and already miss the Sparrow Hawks, Red Tail Hawks, and the little yellow American Goldfinches that would swoop low over the swimming pool as the children splashed and played.

It was a stormy three-day drive with thunderstorms in Colorado, New Mexico, and the Texas panhandle, but the hawks and crows were in their place, watching and guiding me. The crows that watch the highways in New Mexico are so big I sometimes mistake them for hawks as I drive past.

When I finally arrived home, the first thing I did was fill the water dishes for the wild birds in the back yard and fill the seed dishes and trays. When I came inside, I noticed the birds in the tray outside the window. The little Titmouses, the Northern Cardinals, and the Scrub Jays.

The Cardinal family is still here. The father and mother and their four babies. The babies are going through those awkward teenage changes, but instead of fighting acne, they're colorful feather are filling in. The male teenage cardinals look rather funny when they go through this stage. The three females look awkward, too, though the changes in thetir color is not quite as obvious as their brother.

And true to their nature, my two Colorado chocolate labs are now perched in front of the air conditioner, wiping their brows and complaining about the heat while my Texas chihuahua is lying in the heat from the sunlight piercing the bedroom window glass.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bug Life at the Park

I was at the park with my grandchildren when we suddenly noticed an abundance of flying bugs, possibly a type of wasp. After closely examining the photos, I believe they may have been Ichneumon Wasps, though I cannot see any white on their antennae.

The wasps were not bothering us at all. They hovered over the sand, digging holes, crawling inside, crawling back out, then covering the holes. After we watched them for a bit, we decided they were either looking for food in the sand, or laying eggs. We could actually see them moving tiny pebbles, pebbles that looked like boulders compared to the size of the wasp!

I suspect this is a type of Digger Wasp, or Miner Wasp. The reason for the digging is rather unpleasant, in a way. They paralyze their prey, stuff the prey inside the holes, then lay their eggs in the holes and their larvae eats the paralyzed prey.

I have read a few interesting stories regarding the behavior of these wasps. Apparently, they are capable of memorizing every last detail surrounding their nest. They fly off, then quickly return to check on the nest. The book Wasps and Their Ways by Margaret Morley explains how one can place a leaf across the entrance to the nest, and the wasp will frantically fly about, confused by the altered appearance, though certain she is in the right place. When the leaf is removed, she will calmly check on the nest, then search for prey.

Another article describing Digger Wasps explains the theories of philosopher Daniel Dennett who compares the behavior of Digger Wasps to the concept of Free Will. According to this article, the digger wasp brings its prey to the nest, leaves the prey outside while it inspects the nest, then comes back out to retrieve the prey and stuff it inside the nest. If the prey is moved, the wasp will locate the prey and move it back in the nest, but repeat its behavior of inspecting the nest first before depositing the prey inside, even though it has already inspected the nest.

We did not observe the wasps depositing prey in the nests. We observed the wasps digging holes in the sand, climbing into the sand, returning head first and flying out of the holes, and sometimes covering the holes back up. They could be a different type of wasp altogether who is simply depositing eggs in the sandbox. There were many of them, though. So many that we stopped playing and returned home.

A week later, we returned to the park. There was a few wasps, but not nearly as many as the first trip, so we decided to play. Suddenly, we noticed a type of creature that appeared to be a type of centipede crawling through the sand, many of them, very small, and dark brownish-red. We could not identify these bugs, either, so we decided to leave in case they were biters.

As we left, we noticed that a pair of swallows has a nest in the bar that holds up the swing set. The birds were flying in and out with...bugs. Apparently, nature has taken over the playground.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A lizard in suburban Colorado?

The last thing I expected to see crossing the sidewalk as we walked to the park was a lizard.

They are quite common in Texas. In fact, I see three or four a day. And I'm sure they are also common in Colorado, but to be honest, the only place I've ever seen them in Colorado is down south, near Mesa Verde.

At first, my grandchildren and I stood and stared. None of us expected to see a lizard this far north where the snow is sometimes six feet deep in winter, and in fact, winter dragged on this year until May! But there it was, a tiny lizard, sunbathing on the sidewalk. We crept slowly forward, and when I realized it was, indeed, a little lizard, I slowly moved to its side, talking to it, photographing its lovely head and tail. The grandchildren followed my example, creeping closer and closer, using soft, soothing voices.

Lizards enjoy this type of conversation with soft voices and baby talk. They often turn their heads and look at you sideways--as this one died--as if they are trying to understand the conversation. After awhile, though, he seemed to get a bit nervous, realizing he was surrounded by giants, and scampered beneath a nearby fence.

After downloading the pictures and searching diligently on the Colorado State University website, I have determined it was a female Prairie Lizard. They prefer sunny, rocky habitats and cliffs, downed logs, and forested areas, though they prefer ground areas. The females lay their eggs in June, July and August, so it's possible it had eggs nearby.

My daughter's house is in the foothills, so close that we can walk into the lower hills at the base of the mountains. I suppose it isn't that rare to find this type of lizard in this area, I was just surprised to see it!

Parenting in the Bird World

The grandchildren and I went for a walk a few days ago and noticed a few baby sparrows perched on a neighbor's house. One of their parents flew up with some food, so of course, we rushed back to the house to get my camera. When we returned, they were gone.

While we were at the park, we noticed a house sparrow flying in and out of the thick metal tube that the swings connect to, and this truly surprised me. I imagine it is rather hot inside the tube right now!

Disappointed, we went back to the house, fetched the wagon, and went to the park. On the way back, we once again saw the baby sparrows. This time, they were perched on the street sign in front of my daughter's house. Four little babies chattering madly as their parents flew back and forth with bugs to soothe their insatiable appetites--baby birds eat about every twenty minutes.

And I thought it was challenging feeding my babies! My goodness, by the time those poor birds choose the juiciest bug, wash off the dirt (or boil it if its the first child and the parents are still in that over-protective mode), fly back to the babies, choose the child that will eat this round, stuff the bug in the beak of the baby who, by this time, is chattering loudly and flapping all over the nest, pick up the toys they've scattered around the nest, toss a load of dirty feathers into the washing wonder it takes both parents to shop for the family groceries! Seriously, though, it must be exhausting to be a bird parent!

I am also surprised by the large number of birds in Colorado right now. They seem to be everywhere! Colorado, however, is generally a very dry state, and while Texas is plagued with drought at the moment, Colorado has so much rain that mountain towns, such as Estes Park, have daily flooding in the parking lots and public parks, and the park down the street from my daughter's home has sand bags piled up in various places around the park to prevent the water from overflowing onto the park's access roads. Water brings plants, which bring bugs, which bring...birds!

I suspect we are seeing the baby birds in Colorado right now because they also had a very long, cold winter. When I left Texas the first week in June, we had skipped right past spring and were already experiencing 105 degree summer days.

Before I left Texas, I took many pictures of a mated pair of cardinals that stopped by our bedroom window tray of seeds every morning. For a short time, the father appeared alone and we assumed the mother was at the nest with the babies. Then one day, we noticed juvenile cardinals sitting in the tray--three females and a male. It is easy to spot a juvenile cardinal--they look awkward, are missing feathers, and almost appear as if they've been in a fight! At first, we could not tell their sex, but it gradually became more obvious as their feathers filled in.

And these were the magic moments. Every morning. we watched in awe as the mother and father cardinal took turns feeding the babies. After awhile, it became obvious that the parents were trying to teach the babies how to crack open seeds. The father actually appeared to be demonstrating this act. Then we realized the baby birds had learned the technique, though they continued to flap and chatter noisily, begging for food when their parents appeared.

What amazed me the most, though, was the undeniable fact that the parent birds were showing emotions. We could actually see this through the window--the love, tenderness, and compassion they felt for their children. It was a family truly blessed by God.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Where do the birds go in a hailstorm?

Late in the evening of July 13, 2011, I was helping my grandchildren get ready for bed when I heard thunder in the distance. I tucked them beneath the covers, then jumped into the shower to prepare for bed myself before the storm hit. Just as I turned off the water, I heard thunder so loud it made the walls tremble. I quickly slipped into my pajamas and ran into the hallway to meet both of my grandchildren.

Suddenly, it sounded as if hundreds of guns were firing at the house. My son-in-law shouted at us to get into the tornado closet, which was behind us, just beneath the stairs in the basement. I could hear him calling my daughter on the phone, knowing she was on her way home from work and trapped in the storm. I peeked out the door of the closet and watched in awe as golf ball-sized hail averaging 1 3/4 inches, smacked into the window, porch and yard, some flying back up off the ground.

As the storm started to ease, my daughter pulled up in front of the house--she had stopped beneath a tree, hoping to protect her windshield. Another friend was caught in the storm with her children. She stopped the car, climbed into the backseat and covered her children with her arms to protect them in case the windshield broke.

The family cat, who darted outside through an open door earlier in the evening suddenly appeared, shivering with fear. We checked him over for injuries, but he apparently found shelter because he is fine.

I then walked out onto the lawn, staring up and down the street, looking for injured animals. Thankfully, there were none that I could see.

There was hail of all sizes on lawns, in door jambs, driveways, and on cars and trucks. All four vehicles at this house received hail damage. The hail was in all sizes, too, from tiny, dime-sized pieces to golf ball sized chunks. Some were smooth, round, perfect balls. Others appeared to be clumps of tinier balls joined together.

I am still in Colorado. Although only a small portion of the state is considered part of "Tornado Alley," Colorado also has frequent tornadoes, particularly in the foothills. In 2008, I spent three hours in the basement closet with my granddaughter as the television repeatedly warned of possible tornadoes in our area and a mile-wide tornado plowed across the fields and the Town of Windsor on the other side of the highway from where my daughter lives.

Colorado is also known for fierce hail storms and tremendous hail damage. According to the NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming generally have more hail storms than anywhere else in the United States.

As an avid bird watcher who keeps God's little creatures close to her heart, I am always concerned about the small animals caught in these storms. In May of 2010, residents of Norman, Oklahoma experienced a severe hail storm and in its aftermath discovered a large flock of birds was injured. Many of the birds died, but sixteen were rescued by local residents.

Hail can be extremely dangerous, particularly for small creatures, like birds, who cannot take shelter. I believe it is important to check outside, in the yard, perhaps even in the neighborhood, after storms like this to see if there are birds or other creatures injured by hail. God's little creatures need all the help they can get.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Swallowtail Butterflies and American Goldfinches

I'm in Colorado again visiting family. There seems to be a large number of many little creatures in Loveland this year, which could be explained by the fact that they've had an unusually high amount of snowmelt and rainfall and some of the lower mountain towns have daily flooding in the streets.

I've spent a lot of time in my daughter's backyard and I've noticed her neighbor's tree seems to be the center of attraction for many little creatures in the neighborhood. I see many swallowtail butterflies in the neighborhood and they all seem attracted to this tree.

I watched one for about twenty minutes this afternoon. I don't know if it was playing, or searching for something, but it would fly around the perimeter of the neighbor's house, then into the tree, fluttering through the leaves and branches, then start around the house again. I kept waiting for it to land so I could take a picture, but it didn't seem interested in settling down. There are over 550 species of these large, colorful butterflies, but the ones I've seen in my neighbor's yard are all yellow with black stripes. Back in Texas, I've seen many varieties.

I don't know what type of tree the neighbor has in her front yard, but it seems to be a happy place for little creatures. It also attracts a wide variety of birds. I photographed a stunning brown bird, which I have not been able to identify. I also photographed an American Goldfinch, which was watching my granddaughter as she walked beneath the tree. My granddaughter could not see the bird, but you can tell by the photograph, the bird obviously could see her! It was a magical moment watching the bird follow my granddaughter as she strolled around the grass, staring up through the leaves. I think the bird was actually enjoying the fact that she was secretly spying on the little girl!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Help Save the Sumatran Tiger

It seems to me that one of the primary reasons we are seeing so many species on the endangered species list is due to habitat destruction. The problem is so wide-spread it seems insurmountable, but there are small ways to help. The World Wildlife Fund has a petition you can sign online to encourage the Indonesian government to stop habitat destruction and help save the Sumatran tigers. If you are interested in helping these magnificent creatures, the petitions is here:

All Activists: Sign on to Save Sumatra's Tigers | World Wildlife Fund

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Love Those Grackles!

I love grackles. I love the sound they make as they scamper about the parking lot--that wild, squawking, tropical bird sound. I love watching them prance like royalty, lifting their feet high into the air. I love the way they follow me around my yard, waiting for me to sprinkle seed into the seed dishes, and I love watching them splash in the bird bath, then shake their feathers dry.

The Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) is in the blackbird family, though they are a bit longer in the body, and much more colorful and flamboyant. Common Grackles have bluish-purple on their upper body and head and their wings shimmer with shades of bronze and green. They have golden eyes. They have long legs, long tails, and longer bills than blackbirds.

Grackles like to hang out in large flocks, which can be rather pretty when you see a flock of fancy-tail grackles and the males are fanning their tails. They are often seen in fields, parking lots, and around fast food restaurants--they seem to enjoy cold french fries. They sound like a cross between a blackbird and a crow. Actually, they sound like a grackle. I can always tell when I'm listening to a grackle.

Yesterday, I sat in my dining room watching a Common Grackle high-stepping in the bird bath. I thought it was bathing, but it didn't do the usual dip, splash and shake. In fact, it stuck its head straight down in the water, then it came back up with a tiny grasshopper in its mouth and proudly pranced about the back porch before gulping it down.

Unfortunately, after completing both the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count, the National Audubon Society announced that the Common Grackle is number 14 on a list of twenty common birds in decline. I do hope their numbers rise back up. I cannot imagine walking through a parking lot without hearing their cheerful call!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chic Chic Cicadas...

The sound fills the air on hot summer nights, like a deep breath, and relaxed sigh. Chic, chic, chic--it grows louder, then stops, louder, then stops. It's the sound of the cicada, a sound I know well as I've listened to it every summer since I was a child.

Cicadas are fascinating creatures, and I feel a little guilty about the way I have spoken of them in the past. I have frequently photographed cicadas in their exoskeleton stage (see photos) and entered them in my personal Facebook "Ugly Bug Contest." Well, the exoskeleton of the Cicada may be a bit creepy, I suppose, but they are all creations of God, and deserve my respect.

In 1933, Stanley Bromley wrote that East Central Texas, where we live, is "a veritable cicada paradise. I have never visited a region where so many species are as abundant." And if you walk around outside in the dark--which is not advisable, considering the millions of other strange creatures that abound in East Central Texas--you will hear this abundance of cicadas, like a choir of bugs filling the air with their, um, sweet, angelic bug calls! (I know, I know, but I said I was going to try to speak nicely about them now!)

Actually, Bromley describes the singing of cicadas more accurately when he says, "they may be silent for long intervals, when suddenly the whole population will burst into song simultaneously, resulting in an ear-splitting din which subsides as suddenly as it arose."

Cicadas are rather large insects that look like flies with very long wings. They lay their eggs in cracks in tree or tree roots. Nymphs crawl underground and feed on roots, but do no perceptible damage to plants. They can stay underground for years as their hard shells develop, then eventually, they crack out of their shells and the winged creatures emerge in a similar fashion to dragonflies. It is common for millions of cicadas to hatch at once, in cycles, like locust. There are 2500 different types of cicadas around the world--the world can be a very noisy place at times!

The male cicadas are the loud noisemakers. They have what are called "tymbals" at the base of the abdomen, like ribs, which they contract. The sound is created as the tymbals move inward, and when they relax, and the tymbals go back to their original position, a second sound is created. The body of the male is fairly hollow, which make the sound resonant. To me, it sounds as if the earth itself is breathing when cicadas sing.

I have seen the fully-grown cicadas flit about the yard, but I've only been able to photograph their exoskeletons, so photographing a winged cicada is now my personal goal...but I will display my photos of the exoskeletons to the right, and I cannot promise to exclude them from my ugly bug contests!

Love and Chihuahuas

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” --Mother Teresa

Chihuahuas are an interesting breed. They can never seem to get enough affection. I write for ten to twelve hours a day, and the entire time I am working, Chewy is sitting on my lap, nudging my hand with his nose, begging for love. There seems to be no end to the love and affection Chewy can give, or for what I feel for him, and the other little creatures God has brought into my life.

The chihuahua is the smallest breed of dog, named after the State of Chihuahua in Mexico. Its history is a mystery. It has been traced to the Techichi, companion dogs to the Toltec, according to the American Kennel Club. It is also believed that the appearance of Chihuahuas in Europe began in the time of Christopher Columbus.

Chewy, our chihuahua, first made his appearance last year, creeping out of the forest during a thunderstorm and walking up to my stepson, shivering in the rain. We were convinced that he was lost as chihuahuas are very popular in this area, but we tried for over a month to find his owner and finally concluded he was abandoned. Abandonment to dogs is an unforgivable act of cruelty as dogs want nothing more than to love and please their owners, as Chewy demonstrates from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep.

Chewy thinks of himself as a big dog, and I have read that most chihuahuas do believe, in their minds, that they are larger than their actual size. I like to tell people we have our two chocolate labs for companionship and the chihuahua for home protection. They supposedly attach themselves to one person--and that would be me, though Chewy does show affection to my husband and stepson, and eventually warms up to others. Because they are fiercely protective, they are known for being temperamental, but this is just their protective nature. Chewy's alternate names are Chewchewcabra and Chichihuahua.

Chihuahuas are long-haired and short-haired, but Chewy is short-haired. This does not, however, prevent them from shedding. (Insert sigh here.) Their fur can be any color normally found on dogs. Chewy is fawn, but we refer to him as the "yellow dog," since he compliments the chocolate labs so well with his coloring. Chihuahuas are also prone to eye injuries because of their protruding eyes, and to hypoglycemia, particularly when puppies, because of their size. They live to be around 17 years old, and sometimes older.

Chihuahuas like to burrow. Chewy loves to wait until we are sleeping, then he jumps onto the bed and burrows beneath the covers. I find him on my feet every morning. Sometimes, if I get up in the middle of the night, he will jump onto my spot, slide beneath my pillow and pretend to be asleep.

Our little Chewy has brought a tremendous amount of joy into our lives. Adjusting to a small dog has been a challenge to a family more familiar with large breeds, but the love and affection shown by chihuahuas is contagious. I believe God's creatures instinctively love until it hurts, then love some more, and as their pets, we learn to do the same.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Flamingo

My son and his family visited us this weekend and we spent our time at the local Marriott resort in Horseshoe Bay near Marble Falls, Texas. They have a stunning botanical garden with rivers, waterfalls, ponds and lakes, turtles and frogs, and one beautiful pink flamingo.

At first, when I saw the flamingo, I thought he was fake. He held very still, standing on one leg in the middle of his pond, his beak tucked into his chest. Then he slowly raised his head and changed position. I glanced down at my grandson, and when I raised my head again, the flamingo had turned its body around. I was wondering if it would put down its leg to turn around. I didn't see it happen, so I don't know! We walked around the gardens and I photographed some turtles and frogs, and when I returned, the flamingo was, once again facing us.

It looks like cotton candy. It has some red on its body, but these are under-feathers and more like highlighting on a work of art, accents to bring out the softness of the pink. Its feathers swirl around its body as if perfectly placed by a painter, or feather-stylist. I think it has a pink eye, too, from what I can tell in the photographs.

It made me sad, in a way, to see it standing alone as flamingos are gregarious wading birds. In other words, they love to socialize in large flocks, standing along the seashore, hanging out with their friends. I think this one is a Chilean Flamingo because it has gray legs and pink knees. If I am correct, and it is a Chilean Flamingo, its species is considered Near Threatened, most likely to human encroachment and habitat destruction, which are the two main reasons animal species are threatened, but flamingos are also threatened due to egg harvesting by humans.

No one really knows why flamingos stand on one leg, but in the pictures I have posted beside this blog, you can see the second leg tucked underneath. They eat shrimp and algae. They are usually about five feet tall, weigh six to seven pounds, and have a wingspan of 55 to 65 inches.

It is possible this flamingo is not alone. I plan to call the hotel tomorrow and try to find out more information about the animal and its care. It looked healthy and very content, but I am curious as to whether or not it has a mate. If it does have a mate, the mate could very well have been hiding in the gardens somewhere.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Buzzing Humble Bumble Bee

I will be returning to Colorado soon, in June, the best time of year for Colorado. Yes, it is also tornado season, but June is when the flowers bloom, the birds sing, the baby antelope prance and play on the prairies, and the parks are filled with laughing children.

It is also the best time of year to photograph one of my favorites subjects, the Bumble Bee. They photograph very well. I love those "grab" moments when a bee pulls it's head from the center of a flower and is covered with pollen, and I love listening to their buzz as they move from plant to plant, completely oblivious to the camera's lens.

In Shakespeare's time, in fact, right up to around World War I, Bumble Bees were called Humble Bees. Charles Darwin referred to Bumble Bees as Humble Bees in The Origin of the Species.

I much prefer the Humble Bee. They are not pretentious creatures, begging for attention, flapping and calling and showing off the way some geese might do. No, they simply move from flower to flower, sharing the love.

I haven't seen a single bee this year, that I recall. Though we seem to have a shortage of flowers around the house we are renting, we certainly do not have a shortage of wasps! The red wasps are everywhere, and in Texas, some of these wasps are as big as longhorn cattle!

And I miss the sound of the Humble Bumble Bee, though I know I will hear it again soon. A remarkable little bit of trivia that I just learned: The Humble Bee's humming sound does not come from the beating of its wings, but from the vibration of its flight muscles.

Another bit of trivia, contrary to popular myth, it is not a scientific mystery as to why the Humble Bee manages to fly in spite of its heavy body weight compared to the lightness of its wings. The wings of the Humble Bumble Bee function in a similar fashion to those of the hummingbird, like reverse-pitch, semirotary helicopter blades. Hummingbird wings are often compared to helicopter blades.

I can picture the moment when a bright, young scientist, perhaps an aviation engineer, a dreamer who believed in miracles, who understood the perfection of all God's creatures, sitting on his back porch, his coffee cup in one hand, a piece of toast in the other, glanced over at a flower, at the Humble Bumble Bee moving near his head, just close enough for the scientist to see the rotation of its wings, and the scientist said, "Hey, I wonder if..."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dogs, Cats, and Crawfish

My dog, Holly, has a bug bite on her tail. She was trying to nibble at it with her teeth, lost her balance and did a backward somersault into the closet, landing on a pile of dog pillows.

I was worried at first, but she walked out of the closet just fine... then turned around and looked back inside, staring at the pillows and sniffing around as if trying to figure out what had pulled her in there in the first place!

There was a big bin of live crawfish at the grocery store and they were all crawling around on top of each other so of course I started filling up a container to take them down to the creek and set them free and my husband made me put them back! What is up with that? It makes perfect sense to me. If I pay for them, I should be able to do what I want with them.

My chihuahua usually picks and teases and snips at my cat, Niblet. He's like a pesty younger brother, and Niblet, who is 60+ in cat years, takes it all in stride. A few days ago, my husband shaved the cat to get ready for our 105+ Texas summers. Now that Niblet is shaved, though, Chewy doesn't tease him. It's as if he thinks Niblet was Samson, and without his hair, he's lost his manhood. Now, Chewy walks up to the cat and rubs noses, as if to say, "I'm sorry, dude. You just look...goofy."

After spitting repeatedly on the ground to try and teach my chihuahua the meaning of the words "drop it," as he started into my eyes, then gulped down whatever piece of garbage was in his mouth, I finally figured out why my neighbors all think I'm a nut.

My bed is too tall, and my cat is too fat to jump onto the bed. The vet claims he's not fat, just big, but when he jumps and drops and jumps and drops...

Instead of reaching down and helping him, my husband would laugh at him. "The big, scary, Niblet, Boo Boo Kitty Black Fang is too old to jump on the bed," he would say, and the cat would sit and glare at him. (Yes, my cat has many names.)

Today, I bought Niblet Black Fang Boo Boo Kitty a step ladder. He has a right to his dignity.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Love Bird Legs!

I love bird legs. They are so cute. Tall ones, short ones, skinny ones, big thick ones on vultures--such tremendous variety, too.

I like catching shots of birds taking off, flying over my head where I can see their tiny legs tucked beneath their body like the tires of an airplane. The legs of House Sparrows look delicate and small when viewed from beneath, then they pop those legs out as they come in for a landing and the tiny toothpicks hold their bodies perfectly. They do not wobble, stumble, or fall, in spite of the fact that their legs are clearly no where near the same weight as their bodies.

Hummingbird legs are especially delicate because they are so small, and they tuck beneath the body in a different way-they are so small, they don't even appear to fold, they look as if they just flap down onto the bird's belly, then stretch out again. And yet, when they land on the ledge of the feeder, those teeny legs are not only strong enough to keep them in place while they eat, but also hold them in place in out harsh, Texas winds.

I watched a blue heron at the park yesterday afternoon. It's legs appeared to be longer than its body. It stood on a rock near the water's edge as fierce gusts of wind battered its body, but it stood strong, solid. It didn't even appear to sway with the wind.

Vulture legs are like tree trunks, but they seem to disappear when they land, covered by the vulture's massive wings. I suspect the vulture's legs are thicker because their body is much heavier, especially when you add in the weight of those massive wings, which are sometimes 6 to 8 feet across! I think their legs are the reason why it's a bit more difficult for them to take off than other birds. When on the ground, they have to get a running start.

I like bird feet, too. I like the way they curl their talons around tiny twigs to hold them in place. When I take the dogs out, I always knock on the back door to warn the birds that we are coming, and sometimes the smaller birds, like the chickadees and sparrows, and even cardinals, will hop onto the sides of the trees, gripping the bark with their little talons and watching the dogs sideways as the dogs stare back at them, neither really frightened or intimidated, just...curious.

Edited to add: After I posted this blog, I looked out my bedroom window and watched a baby cardinal land on a tree branch. I have two crape myrtles that we bought for our old house, but we could not find a place to plant them because there was so much rock on the land, so I put them in pots, hoping they will survive until we find a house in New Mexico. The trees are only five feet tall, and the branches are more like twigs. When the baby cardinals land on the twigs, they bob up and down, but the babies hang on with their tiny legs and talons firm and strong until the bobbing stops, confident that their legs, and the tree, will hold.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Walk in the Park

I took a walk in the park today. There is always a wide variety of birds and other creatures down by the water, including snakes--I was very careful!

The first thing I noticed was a scissor-tailed flycatcher on the telephone wire above my head when I got out of the truck. He had the longest tail I have ever seen on a little bird. He turned his head from side to side, posing for the camera.

Also known as the Texas Bird of Paradise and the Swallowtail Flycatcher, the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher is among the most exotic-looking birds in Texas. These birds are truly stunning, but in a delicate way, not quite as eye-catching as the equally popular Painted Buntings. They have soft gray heads, pale pink flanks and dark gray wings. Their most distinguishing feature, however, is their long, forked tails that are black on top and white beneath.

Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers are in the Tyrannus genus, in the Tyrannidae family, and are also known as kingbirds. They are beneficial, insect-eating birds, mostly grasshoppers and dragonflies, and convenient to have around, especially if one lives near the river. They are 15 inches or longer when fully grown, though juvenile birds have shorter tails. I photographed both adult and juvenile birds at the park today.

It grew very windy this afternoon, so I started back toward the truck where my husband was fishing. A few feet from his pole, standing tall on a rock, was a large blue heron. My husband didn't even notice him until I started photographing the bird--he stood so still he looked like a statue. One of the more remarkable aspects of herons is their huge wings. They don't seem very large when they're standing still, but as they fly away, you quickly realize how big they are. Their wings span as much as 80 inches!

Just before I got into my truck, I noticed two white ducks beneath a tree. They were huddled close together in the wind, digging through the grass, looking for bugs. I took their picture and when I checked it later on my computer, I would swear one of the ducks is smiling contentedly, snuggled up beside its mate.

There was surprisingly few grackles. I usually see grackles everywhere I go in Texas!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Family Meal

When we moved into this house, I placed a cart on wheels next to the bedroom window. I put a tray filled with bird seed on top and a glass pan of water on the bottom so the birds could bathe. I didn't really believe the birds would like this feeding station. The house is old and the windows are very low. My large black cat likes to sit in the window and watch the birds, and the dogs enjoy this, as well.

Surprisingly, the birds seem to understand that there is a screen between them and the inside creatures. The only time they flutter off is when they see me move toward the window! I wish I could take pictures of them while they eat, but I think the only way I will be able to do this is if I hide behind the fence and wait. However, they do seem to respond to my voice. I will call out "pretty bird," when the large female cardinal arrives, and she hops closer to the window to look in through the screen. I also sing to the fish whose tank is on the dresser near the window. He comes to the edge of the glass to stare at me when I sing, and the little black-capped chickadees hop into the seed tray when they hear me singing, too, moving closer to the window as if they are trying to hear me, while still chattering away at each other. I think my speaking voice is perhaps a bit abrupt for them, but they do like the singing.

This afternoon, my husband walked into the bedroom where I was typing. He held up his finger for silence then pointed out the window where we watched the most magical moment between a family of cardinals.

There were two baby cardinals perched on the edge of the feeding cart. You can tell baby cardinals, even when they are larger, because they don't have all of their colors, and their beak isn't the bright orange of their parents. The parents were there, though. Both the mother and father were sitting in the tray of seeds. Each parent picked up a seed, cracked the shell, then fed the meat of the sunflower seed to the baby birds.

At first, they appeared to be simply feeding the babies, but they stayed there for at least twenty minutes, and it became apparent that they were trying to teach the baby birds how to break open the seeds on their own.

The moment was hypnotic in its beauty and for that brief period of time, all my worries and concerns seemed to disappear as I watched the tender, compassionate sharing of food between this little family.

When we first started to watch the cardinal family sharing their meal, I wanted to reach for my camera, but I knew, instinctively, this would scare them away. Then I remembered something a very good friend once shared with me. She said, "Sometimes I think God sends us these special moments at times when we don't have a camera in our hands because he wants us to focus all of our attention on what is happening before us, in the beauty of the action, and not the act of taking the picture."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day is for the birds!

It is spring, the time of love in bird land. Early this morning, as my husband handed me a lovely bouquet of orange roses, I glanced out the window in front of my bed and watched as a tiny female house sparrow hopped onto the fence. Her mate hopped down beside her. He had a seed in his beak, which he gently, lovingly, placed in her beak.

I have seen this often between birds during mating season. At our last house, with the two ponds in front, the females liked to sit in front of the water as the males hopped up to the food dish, then brought seeds to their mates, placing the precious food in the beak of their mates just as gently and compassionately as a husband placing a bouquet of flowers in the arms of his adoring wife, feeding the love in their relationship, strengthening the bond, saying "thank you for being my partner in creating a family."

I am not surprised when I see affection between animals, what does surprise me is the obvious depth of emotions. I love watching vultures, who mate for life, land on a post then slowly inch closer to each other, nuzzling necks, preening feathers. Sometimes, one of the vultures--I am assuming it is the male--will fly up and around the other, then land beside his mate again.

The Northern Cardinals are wonderful to watch. They follow each other closely, flitting from branch to branch, bright flashes of red amongst the ever-greens, never more than a few feet away from each other until, of course, it is time to watch over the nest.

Some of the most precious observations are spent watching the parents care for their baby birds. I love watching the mother and father sparrows fly up to the nest every ten to fifteen minutes with a bug in their beaks, gently lowering it down to the chirping, gaping mouths of their babies.

Road Runners are fun to watch, too. When the baby is ready, the parents will take the young Road Runner out to hunt lizards. They strut across the fields with their heads moving carefully from side to side, and once they spot their prey, they pounce so quickly it is faster than a finger snap, and the baby watches carefully, awed by the hunting skill of its parents.

I hope you all have a very happy Mother's Day with all the little hatchlings in your bevy of quail, your peep of chickens, your palette of painted buntings, your venue of vultures, your host of sparrows, your dole of doves...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Turkey Vulture

There is an exceptionally large turkey vulture who lives in the forest across the road. She flies out and over our house a few times a day, very low, calling out as she flies, which is something new to me. We had vultures living near our last house, but I never heard them call out as this one does.

I suspect she is the reason why the baby squirrels no longer sit at the very top of the dead tree in the yard. They still visit the house, but very early in the morning, before the dogs are awake, and they tend to wander around the trees that are thick with leaves instead of sitting out in the open.

The interesting thing about this turkey vulture is that I only see her with a flock on occasion, and turkey vultures are social creatures. They tend to hang out in large flocks that include black vultures.

I did see a black vulture fly over our house a few days ago with a small, gray, furry creature in its claws. It looked like a baby rabbit. Some vultures will eat small animals if there is a shortage of food. With the wildfires we've been having in Texas, and the extreme drought, combined with the fact that many of these birds are feeding babies, and there seems to be an overabundance of vultures this year, I do suspect there might be a food shortage.

I doubt that it would, or could, fly off with my chihuahua, but I do not allow him to be outside alone...just in case.


I counted nineteen birds on the back porch this morning and twelve on the front patio--our house is now a home. The interesting thing about these birds is the remarkable variety. At our old house, we had a flock of at least fifty house sparrows living in the Mustang grape vines. We also had an equally large flock of white winged doves in the back yard and regular visits from cardinals, titmouse, Mockingbirds, and one lonely, little male Painted Bunting.

I think one of the reasons why we had less of a variety of birds at the old house was because we had such a large quantity of birds! Now, we are seeing birds that leave us breathless.

A few days ago, I saw a large black bird in the backyard with a shimmering blue head and neck. It was, like most birds, very fast and difficult to photograph, but even with a blurry picture I could tell it is a type of grackle.

This morning, my husband saw a small bird that was completely blue. A deep, beautiful blue that caught the brief rays of sunlight shining through the clouds with a shimmer on its wings.

Later in the morning, we saw a deep green bird that resembled a female cardinal, though I've never seen a green cardinal before. We also saw two female Painted Buntings. They are easy to identify. Their color sparkles like the males, but their backs are a shiny green and their bellies lemon yellow. They seem much smaller than the males.

And, of course, dozens of house sparrows and doves. There is a pair of ringed-neck doves that likes to lie down in the dirt by the brick patio in the early morning.

There are two birds that interest me the most, though. There is a Mockingbird that follows me from tree to tree, just like the one at our old house. We have many Mockingbirds, but this particular bird clearly follows me around. I took the dogs out a few days ago and sat in one of the porch chairs. Buddy was on one side of me, Holly on the other, and Chewy the chichihuahua jumped onto my lap. The Mockingbird flew onto a branch directly above our heads, about ten feet away and sang and sang. Sometimes it appeared as if its beak was shut, but it was still making a trilling sound. I think we were out there a full half hour, and it never stopped singing. It also follows me to the front of the property when I go for my walks then stops at the last tree and calls to me as I walk down the street. It is always in the tree, waiting, when I return.

The other bird is the large female cardinal, the mate to the large, bright male who disappears the second he sees me move through the window glass. She is not at all shy. In fact, she will land on the table and eat seeds when I am standing a few feet away with my camera. Sometimes she lands on the ground while the dogs are walking around. At first, I though I was imagining her boldness, but my husband told me the same thing this morning, that he will take the dogs out early in the morning and the female cardinal will land on a chair, the table, or the ground, just a few feet away from him.

Each day I feel more comfortable in this house. It's amazing how the little creatures can make a person feel welcome. We just have to be aware of their presence.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Toad on the Back Step

My husband opened the back door and found a toad on the back step. It was obviously a female, judging from her size. Female toads are much larger than males. When he opened the door, the dogs hopped right over her and went about their business in the yard. My husband called me over to show me the toad and she was trying to hop inside of the house. I suspect she may be the toe toad from our old house, the toad that spent her days sitting in the toe of my garden shoe.

I was worried that this might happen. She wasn't in the garden shoe when we moved, and odds were great that she was inside of one of my potted plants, but there was no way to tell. I couldn't dump out each plant and sift through the dirt trying to find her. We didn't have time.

As I worked on repotting a few plants yesterday I dumped a large pot with a plant that had died. I sifted the dirt gently with a hand shovel trying to loosen the dead plant roots without harming any creatures that might have made their home inside the pot. I only sifted through half the pot since that was all I needed to do to loosen the roots. I think it's possible the toad was in the dirt inside this pot.

I filled a bowl with water and set it by the back door, but the toad hopped through the yard, beneath the fence, and headed for the creek, which is on the south side of our neighbor's house. Toads need water, just like frogs. Perhaps not as much, but they still need water.

I suspect this might have been Mrs. Toady, the toad who lived inside my garden shoes, because she was completely unfazed by the dogs. Mrs. Toady would hop around the dogs as they walked across the patio and they never even stopped to sniff. I'm not sure how they came to this agreement, but it's always been that way. The first time I saw Mrs. Toady she dug her way out of a garden in the back yard of our old house and hopped up to my chocolate lab, Buddy, then hopped between my shoes. I knew then that we would have a long and happy relationship.

If it is Mrs. Toady, I hope she finds her way to water and a safe home. I preferred having her on our patio because of the constant flooding in this area. It seems much safer for her than living down by the creek. I will leave a bowl of water by my back door, just in case. At the old house, when she climbed out of the shoe at night, she would hop into the bowl of water to cool off.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A New Adventure

We are in the new house in Marble Falls, Texas. It is cozy and we have neighbors, but there is a dense forest across the street. There are also peacocks nearby. I can hear them calling in the early evening. I will introduce myself to my neighbors soon and ask if I can photograph their pets. It's been many years since I've seen a peacock.

There is a lizard who lives in the backyard. He is big and friendly, the type that resembles an alligator. He likes to sit on the side of the tree near the back door and bask in the sunlight.

There is also a family of squirrels living nearby. A mother and four babies. There is a large, dead tree in the middle of the backyard and the squirrel family sits at the top of the tree in the morning and early evening. The babies like to chew on the bark and the mother sometimes reaches her paw around their backs to keep them from tumbling from the branches. They are very affectionate. Sometimes, the babies will scramble up to their mother to touch noses as if they are giving her a kiss. I have corn cobs and little cups of sunflower seeds on two of the trees, but they only pick at the food. The squirrels at my last house would sit at the sunflower seeds and eat until every last seed was gone!

I've also hung two hummingbird feeders and we have nonstop action with the birds. I've photographed hummingbirds with violet-colored throats, gold backs, green backs, white throats, and so many more. There is a tiny, gray hummingbird that likes to chatter before she lands on the feeder to eat as if she's warning me that she's coming in for a landing! I just added another feeder, but the birds don't seem to like it as much. They prefer to wait in line on the tree branches and take turns at the feeder by the back door.

There is a large, beautiful cardinal that sits on my bedroom windowsill in the mornings. In cardinal flocks, the largest and brightest male is the leader. He usually eats first, and has the best choice of food, which explains his bright coat and large size. This particular male, though, has a large mate, as well. She is the biggest, brightest female cardinal I have ever seen. He prefers to sit on my windowsill, but he watches me through the window and the second I reach for my camera, he disappears. She has hopped onto the backyard table or the backs of the chairs when I was standing only a few feet away, but she also disappears as soon as my hand starts to focus the camera. They are sensitive to the slightest movements. I plan to hide behind the back fence for awhile one of these mornings and photograph the couple when they're not looking.

There are so many amazing little creatures stopping by to visit. I never would have imagined that I would be so blessed to see such great beauty.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Houses, Squirrels, Birds, Raccoons, Hummers

I am at the old house, cleaning. I was waiting for a sign, something that would let me know that everyone would be okay. As I checked my email on my computer, the little bird who built her nest in the grapevines near my truck flew in the back door, which was only open a crack, landed on the rock bar, turned and looked at me, then flew back out the open sliding glass doors. I think she was saying goodbye.

I left the sunflower seeds, bird seed and corn here so I could continue feeding the little creatures while I finished moving and cleaning and someone broke into the container and ate all the sunflower seeds last night! Yes, I am certain it was the twin baby raccoons! They do like their seeds. They were also nibbling on the corn. They ate all of the seeds on the tables, as well, but the corn cob hangers are almost empty of their corn, so I know the squirrel who just had babies has been nibbling this morning.

Last night, as I drove away from the house, I found myself facing a most spectacular sunset! The colors were stunning in their variety and intensity. I stepped out to take a few pictures, then someone pulled in behind me so I had to drive away, but I noticed numerous cars and trucks stopped along the highway with their drivers standing by the door, taking pictures of the sunset. Apparently, I'm not the only one who is in awe of God's nightly masterpiece!

When I arrived here this morning, I started to say something to my husband, then noticed a little creature buzzing around my head. Apparently, I was blocking the hummingbird feeder! I took a step back and a bright green hummingbird sat down at the feeder and drank her fill, then flew off, with two others chasing her! Hummingbirds eat every ten minutes, and we have so many here right now. I bought a new feeder for my new house so I can leave these here until the new owner is ready to set up her feeders.

Last night, as I was closing up, and the air around me turned orange and pink with the setting sun, I heard a rhythmic buzzing sound and realized a hummingbird was doing a mating dance over the grapevines. They fly from side to side, as if swinging on a swing. I tried to film it, then my camera battery died! I quickly replaced the battery, and the little hummer resumed its dance as if it was waiting for me! I love those little birds. Such a precious gift.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Saying Goodbye to the Big Round House

This is our last night in the big round house on the hill. I spent the afternoon saying goodbye to the house sparrows, photographing the baby squirrels, and listening to the mockingbird as she followed me from tree to tree.

I took the dogs for a walk and the mockingbird followed us down to the road, chittering and chattering and making every sound one could possibly imagine.

The rose bushes are starting to bloom. They are filled with dark red Abraham Lincoln roses so thick and velvety and rich that I can smell them from the bedroom patio. The pink rose bush is covered with buds and the old fashioneds are starting to bloom, as well.

I cleaned both ponds and checked to make sure no baby lizards had fallen into the water.

I filled the hummingbird feeders and the seed dishes. Hopefully, they will have enough food to hold them over until the new owners settle in.

My husband moved the couches to the new house. He saw three pheasants scurry to the side of the house when he walked up. I don't think I've ever photographed a pheasant. I wonder if they are friendly?

New adventures are waiting.

I can still hear the mockingbird singing, even though the door is closed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Scorpions, Doves, Armadillos, Lizards

I was stung by a scorpion the night before last and my body still hurts. I couldn't figure out, at first, why I was in so much pain, then I realized it stung me on my ankle, three times on my wrist, and once on my hand. I originally only noticed, and treated, the wrist stings. I pushed my socks off my feet in bed, then jumped out of bed when I felt a pain shoot up the right side of my body. I felt something in my pajama sleeve and it stung me the last four times as I tried to shake it out. It was a strange feeling--we've had many problems with scorpions in this house, but they generally sting my husband! I guess this was their way of saying goodbye.

Our house is once again surrounded by white winged doves. I think they see this property as a safe zone from the hunters. It's also possible that hunting season is over--I haven't checked--and they are simply returning to their favorite places. I love listening to them coo in the trees. Yesterday, I glanced out the bedroom window and the oak tree was filled with doves on every branch. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a picture from inside and I knew they would all flutter up onto the telephone wire as soon as I opened the door.

There was a whining sound on the back porch in the middle of the night and when we looked outside with a flashlight we found a small armadillo that appeared to be lost, trying to push its way through the trellis. It finally found the door. It was much smaller than the baby raccoons. Of course, I generally see the raccoons standing on their hind legs when they're on the patio, eating seeds. The armadillo was smooth and tan colored. Perhaps that was the light, though. I seem to remember them as gray with hard backs from my time in New Mexico. It also had a striped tail. We turned off the lights and left it alone because it appeared to be frightened.

I tried to rescue another lizard from the pond and failed. The precious little creature had already died. I am draining the pond today and plan to discuss it with the new owner. It was originally intended as a reflecting pond, and a place for the frogs to sit during hot summer nights. It is about 4 ft by 2 ft, a rectangle with a sitting area dug out in the corner for frogs. It is deeper on one end. The frogs and snakes love it, but it seems to be a trap for lizards. Perhaps the new owner will have ideas on how to rearrange things so the lizards have something to grab onto.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cardinals, Squirrels, and Songbirds

It is springtime in Texas, there is no doubt. The bluebonnets are blooming, the trees are sending smoky clouds of pollen from the forest and the cardinals and other birds are all paired off, building nests, and waiting. I love watching the birds as they visit the feeders with their mates. I was watching cardinals through my bedroom window and one male picked up a seed in his beak, flew to the pond where his mate was drinking water, and fed her the seed. Ahh, romance!

The pregnant squirrel visiting my porch before I left for New Mexico has disappeared. I suspect this means she has babies. She is probably visiting the porch when I am not in the room. When I am in the room, my little chewchewcabra is in the room with me, and he likes to growl--from the safety of the foot of the bed. If I was a young mother, I would steer clear of him, as well.

This morning, very early, I stepped outside to fill the seed dishes. I could hear a bird singing so loudly I was certain she was right outside my bedroom door. I quickly realized she was on the other side of the creek. When I tried to take her photograph, though, she would throw her head back and sing so loudly that I couldn't get a picture of her face! She is beautiful, though. Truly a gift from God.

Note: Shortly after I posted this blog, I noticed a squirrel sitting on the table on the patio. Yes, it was the pregnant squirrel, considerably thinner. She appears to be nursing, too.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Anoles and Road Runners

I heard a mockingbird on the bedroom patio this morning so I carefully slid the glass door open and crept outside in my pajamas, camera in hand. As I tiptoed toward the sound, I suddenly felt something scamper across my foot and up my leg!

At first, I was afraid it was a scorpion. I have been stung before and know I am not allergic to the tree bark scorpions that are so numerous around this house, but we found a red scorpion on the ceiling yesterday, a type I'd never seen before and could not find on the internet, so of course my heart was pounding!

I started to carefully remove my pajama pants and the creature moved on my leg once more. That was when I realized it was a lizard. For the second time in a week, a lizard had run up my leg! I really couldn't help but laugh. And sure enough, when I reached into the waistband I found a lizard on my thigh. A tiny, bright green anole.

I placed the anole on a branch of the wisteria and it looked down at me calmly as I took many pictures. It turned its head to the left, then the right, showing both profiles in case one was better than the other. Then he apparently grew bored of the paparazzi session and closed his eyes to take a nap. When I went inside, he was still sitting on the wisteria, enjoying the morning sun.

I checked on him a few minutes later and the red part beneath his chin was puffing out. This generally means he's being territorial, or that he's showing off to a nearby female. Either way, I knew there was another anole on the wisteria. I had to leave, but it was comforting knowing he was having so much fun!

I don't think the anoles live long around our house. We have plenty of them, but we also have two road runners who show up every spring with a baby, teaching their child to hunt. They like to strut in front of the house where the anoles hang out in the ivy. I saw one catch an anole once. It broke my heart. Fortunately, it is very quick. The road runner snatches the lizard so fast you can't even see it happen, then slaps it on the ground to knock it unconscious. It is a fast, painful death for the anole and a plentiful meal for the bird.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Birds, Bees and Butterflies

I am in a constant state of awe, from the moment I wake up until I finally fall asleep to the sweet scent of wisteria drifting through the room. Even with the doors and windows closed, the scent is so strong it flows through the house like a gentle breeze.

The flowers are alive. They hum and buzz as if singing their own song. I can hear them as I open the door. Swarms of large, black bumblebees with bodies like torpedoes dance between bouquets so thick they tumble and fall like water from the rooftop of our house, the sides of the trellis, the vines standing tall upon our front slope. I have never seen so many bees and wasps in one place, and the variety is astounding. I photographed a scarlet-striped wasp today as it walked across a leaf and when it turned to face me, all I could do was stare and marvel at its beauty.

I stood beneath the bulk of the wisteria this afternoon with flowers tumbling around me, listening and taking pictures. It is interesting to see such a large variety of creatures moving through the flower bouquets without conflict between them, knowing there is plenty to go around. The feeling of abundance must be thrilling for them this time of year when the other spring flowers that make Texas so famous are just beginning to bud.

The birds are hovering near the wisteria, as well, waiting for the opportunity to snatch up something tasty. The birds nesting between our driveway and back door fly into the forest and back to their nest every fifteen minutes--it is hard work feeding baby birds, particularly if you have four or five of them, but they do their job without complaint.

Yesterday, I photographed a yellow swallowtail as it drank from a wisteria flower. Its wings slowly closed then opened again, like the hand of a sleeping infant. Whenever I watch the gentle movements of a butterfly, or a dove with its eyes half closed as it bathes in the sun on a rock by the pond, or the hand of my grandchild stroking his mother's chest, I know that they are experiencing His grace, that they are feeling His blessing, that they are resting in the arms of God.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Butterfly Swarms

The wisteria that has taken over the northwest corner of the house is blooming and covered with bees. It is only partially in bloom. When it reaches full bloom the flowers drip from every branch and the heavenly scent fills every room in the house.

The cascading rosemary on the side of the house is also in full bloom and every morning when I walk outside there is a new variety of butterfly swarming over the plants. The bees, of course, are everywhere and the plants still sound as if they are humming.

Last night, as the sun was setting, a giant lizard darted across the driveway. At first, I thought it was a mouse because it ran with its head tilted up, but it paused in front of the sliding glass doors and I could see a tail. Of course I took pictures, and the lizard is rather unique compared to the usual variety we see around here. Its face has a square shape.

Last night, as the love vultures circled around the roof, I heard another large, loud bird calling nearby. The bird received an answer from the forest across the road and soon the two black birds were circling about the forest behind the house. They sounded like crows.

This morning, the house sparrows, grasshopper sparrows, titmouse, chickadees and other birds that congregate in the grapevines started arguing. There was fluttering and chirping so loud I could hear it in the kitchen. I ran outside and stood next to the vine with the thought that this might calm them down, but they kept on fighting until I finally shouted at them to behave. As funny as that may sound, they did stop the chatter...