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...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mexican Scrub Jays

This is a fun time of year for the Texas Hill Country. The live oaks don't actually stay evergreen, they shed their leaves and replenish them so quickly that most people don't notice the exchange--unless they have five acres of trees! The leaves make a wonderful mulch for the coming 105 degree summer temperatures, though. The wysteria is ready to bloom. In fact, it just might do so today. The bluebonnet leaves have sprouted and it's only a matter of days until these flowers explode across the state. I am excited to know that I will still be in Texas for wildflower season!

There are two beautiful blue birds that have made their appearance in our backyard every spring for the past three years. They usually disappear in November, then return in March. They arrived last week. I originally believed they were Mountain Bluebirds because I could only see their backs as they chased away the squirrels to eat the corn. Yesterday, however, I was able to get a close-up view of one of the birds and now know they are Mexican Scrub Jays.

I was talking on my cell phone to my husband as I walked through the back yard, my chihuahua and chocolate labs following behind me. I paused at the large tree of life in my backyard and suddenly realized there was a medium-sized blue bird with a grayish patch on its back and white chest with gray markings standing on a tree limb right next to my head. I looked at the bird and the bird cocked its head and looked back at me.

I continued talking to my husband. He asked if I wanted to hang up and get my camera, but I didn't want to do anything to spoil the moment, so I continued talking as I had been when the bird appeared. The bird hopped up and down the branch, watching me, cocking its head as if it was listening to our conversation. When I finally hung up the phone, the bird flew over to the bird seed cup that hangs over the fence next to the forest.

I ran back to my bedroom for my camera, then back outside. The bird was in the tree again. By this time the dogs had also seen the bird and they sat beneath the tree, staring up. This didn't phase the bird at all. I took a set of pictures, then the bird made a sound very much like a crow and flew into the forest. It didn't go far. In fact, it is sitting on the back picnic table as I write.

One of my friends wrote to tell me these birds are easily trained to sit on your finger, and he suspects that they can learn to imitate the human voice, like parrots, and possibly crows. I know its mate is nearby and suspect they might have a nest, which would be very exciting for the people who are taking over this glorious home as they also photograph birds, care for God's little creatures, and watch over the young ones. I am excited to show them the Scrub Jays. I think they will be great friends.