Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oak wilt and Oak decline

I drove down to the river the other day to get some big rocks for a walkway we were building. I was on the Burkett Ranch. My friend Andy lets me get all the rocks I want and sometimes even helps me using their backhoe. He also loads me up with dirt when I need it. Yeah, I know, I'm one lucky guy. As I was driving through the ranch I was both amazed and saddened by the huge live oaks that were on the ranch. Although there are hundreds of acres of beautiful big live oaks there were also an equal amount of dead and dying oaks as well. It's such a shame that trees older than our country can be killed by tiny bugs and parasites. I get a sad on that lasts for days after seeing this.

I also saw this flock of wild turkey gobblers running through the dead limbs. I love watching turkeys. They are not too bright but they are really majestic looking. There isn't any hunting for turkeys on the Burkett Ranch as they are Mr. Burkett's pride and joy. They come right up to his house to feed in the evenings before they go to roost. That man loves his turkeys.

Monday, February 16, 2009

More critters and varmints

Now that all the "less than desirables" are out of the way, I will show the other animals that we have seen in our gardens this year. This was an extraordinary year for seeing animals at our place. I think it was because of the drought conditions. Well, that and we have five ponds and a new bog garden, so that there is water for the wildlife. I did notice, after we built our first little pond, the immediate increase in bird life. I think every gardener should have a water feature, if for no other reason than to provide water for the birds and other animals. But water features do give a new array of plants to grow as well.

With ponds you can expect to have frogs, and we have frogs. Lots of frogs. Leopard frogs, little creek frogs and even an occasional bull frog. It can be loud at night with several different kinds of frogs peeping and croaking.

Add in the twitter of the Screech owls, a hoot hoot of the Great Horned owls and the weird sounds of the Poor Wills Widow and it's noisier than a honky tonk parking lot.

My friend Andy almost always has his camera with him, and it's a good thing he does. While visiting one day, a Great Horned Owl flew in and lit. Andy just had to raise his camera and click. The picture of a lifetime. It's really stunning in the original format with more pixels. Just look at those eyes.

My wife noticed this little Screech Owl on an old shed one day so I decided to take some pictures. When I went inside to look at them, none were any good. I went back for more and another good friend, Steve Slevin drove up. He is an excellent photographer so I asked him to take some pictures. Of course, his were great. This owl stayed almost all day and would let us get very close.

I spied a Road Runner at the pond and talked Steve into taking its picture as well. By the time he changed lens, the Road Runner was about to leave. But not before Steve got one picture.

Every gardener has a compost pile and I have a couple as well. They are simple, just having cattle panels around them. The coons and the possums are always getting in them to eat the kitchen scraps. The raccoons are too fast to get pictures of but I was able to get a picture of this mama possum with one little baby on her back. Possums have as many as 21 babies but only 14 will make it as they only have 14 teats. When born, all will fit in a table spoon as they are that small. They must crawl to the pouch and attach to a teat to survive. The ones that don't make it to a teat don't survive. I don't know what happened to the rest of this one's brood but she only has one left. I don't mind possums too much except when melons or cantaloupes are getting ripe. They will eat them all if you let them. I put home made cages over the ones that are getting ripe to keep them from getting them.

Along with the possums we have our share of raccoons as well. Here is a game cam picture of one of the little thieves getting into the deer corn.

I love all animals. I love watching them. I like the idea of animals being able to live around me and me not getting in the way of their lives. But, and it's a big but, I constantly have to do things so that they do not ruin my gardening as well. The one that has given me the most grief is the armadillos. I have gone to great lengths to keep them out of my gardens. But, every year it seems there has to be one that figures out how to get in and make my gardening life a living hell. This one was rooting his merry way through a my zinnias and May Night sage. I used my usual removal technique. I scooped him up with a large dip net and hauled him down the road, possibly to be some one else's problem. But probably not, as no one close by gardens.

I found this little guy in the driveway on Christmas day. I gently picked him up and moved him into the trees before one of the soon to arrive vehicles could run over him or one of the dogs would get him. It is a Deer mouse I think. These little guys are always very tame when I find them. I find where they chew on vegetables from time to time but it never bothers me much. They have a short life span and they are like popcorn to any predator. I have no idea why I would have any because of all the snakes we have but I do see them from time to time. They are not like the mice you see in town. These are very clean. They don't live in groups like town mice and do not carry diseases.

Like any one living in the country we have deer, lots of deer. I like having deer but have taken the precautions needed to coexist amicably with them. We see them every day and know the differences in them and know their individual traits. And yes, some have been given names. This is Big Boy. He is not only the biggest but also the tamest. I don't want them to be too tame but it is nice to have some that hang around when we have visitors and not leave. But we must face reality. Our back fence is the Corp of Engineers boundary and they allow bow hunting. So,there is the chance that one may not come back. Big Boy has been with us about three years now and we anxiously await his return from his yearly wanderings in his quest for does. Let's all hope he makes it.I debated on whether to post this next picture or not. I even talked it over with my wife. I decided to post it. This is a picture of Betty. She was the queen of our deer. She had triplets one year and always had at least twins. Most people don't realize that, like humans or dogs or any species, there are good mothers and bad mothers. In deer the bad mothers just can't seem to get their fawns to adulthood. Consequently they cannot build a family group with which to bond with. Therefore, they will always be low on the pecking order and get treated badly by other deer and not get to prime feeding places. Betty was a great mother. She always raised her fawns. Consequently she had a large family group made up of daughters, granddaughters and all their offspring as well. Last summer Betty was killed by a car. They must have been going too fast and it was probably at night because it was in a straight open stretch of road just down from our gate. The saddest part was both of her fawns were killed as well. I can't even imagine how a driver was unable to see three deer in the road at one time. I hope their car was torn all to bupkis and they had a high repair bill so that maybe they learned to slow down a little. It could just have easily been kids and he wouldn't have seen them either.

Out of all the animals we have here, the next one is the only one that gives me any real concern. I put up my game cam to get pictures of the nighttime animals. I got this picture of a coyote. I know a lot about coyotes and that is why it bothers me some. It is really close to my house. I know coyotes have a place in nature. They are the smartest and most cunning animal in the woods. But they are opportunist and will kill and eat anything they can, including cats and dogs.

We hear them howling and yapping in the woods up and down the river behind the house all the time. But I didn't think they would get this close to the house. I look at this as a common criminal snooping around just casing my place for a future crime. Coyotes very seldom get over 45 lbs, with most being much smaller. I walked my Blue Lacy dog in front of the camera the next day to get a size comparison. Bonnie weighs 52 lbs. This is a very big coyote. After this I go outside at night when I let the dogs out to do their business.

That's about it for the animals from last year. I hope ya'll enjoyed seeing the pictures as much as we enjoyed seeing the animals.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Critters and varmints

I've decided to do a post on all the animals from last year that were nice enough to stay still long enough to get their picture taken. I think seeing lots of animals in and around your house and gardens is a sign that you have done things right. No human can live on this planet without animals dying in their behalf. We can, however, make as little impact as possible and even make our surroundings desirable to all the animal life. Although I did have to fence my gardens in to keep the rabbits and deer out, I still feed them just outside the fence. Both my wife and I enjoy all the animal life we have as much as we do our plant life. And we have plenty of animal life. There are too many pictures to put in one post so I will have to have another one.

This is a large rattle snake that got into the implement shed and would not leave. Sad to say, it had to be dispatched. It was over six feet long and was too big to catch and remove.

This is a Blotched Water snake that took up residence in the big pond. They will eat the fish so it had to go.

This is a western Coachwhip. When I was young they were called buttermilk coachwhips. They are very fast snakes,on the ground and in the trees.
Everyone in central Texas has Rusty Fence lizards. They are on every tree around here I think. This one ran out into the drive way to get a grass hopper. These are some bug eating dudes.

This is a large Red Stripe Ribbon snake. I have these in abundance because I have Leopard frogs in abundance.

We also have plenty of Hog Nosed snakes. I don't like it that they eat my toads but they are fun to have around. After they hood up like a Cobra to scare you, and it doesn't, then they play dead. Unlike possums that faint, these guys actually play dead. They are good at it too. If you roll him over on his belly, he will roll right back over on his back. If you look careful you can see his tongue is out as well, because dead snakes have their tongues out. They are just that good.

We mainly have the Red Striped Ribbon snakes around the ponds, but this year I happened to spy this Texas Garter snake. They have an orange stripe instead of the red and are a bit bulkier as well. They still eat my frogs though.This is a Coral snake. I've had this picture on here before but I added it again because it's so pretty. Although they are poisonous they are really nothing to fear. I coiled this one up to make a better picture. Red and yellow, kill a fellow, red and black, poison lack.

I've had these pictures on here before as well but think that they are interesting. It is a shed skin of a Texas Rat snake. It is a complete skin right down to his lips and eyes.

Although this is not a good picture, I think this is the snake that shed that skin. It's a Texas Rat snake, about six feet long, and grouchy. He will bite. Don't ask me how I know. I also have a really big Bull snake that lives around the house, about seven feet long, and very tame. I've partially picked him up before and he doesn't mind at all. I haven't seen him in a long time and think something might have happened to him. I sure hope not. While working in the garden I felt something crawling on my arm and it was this little Gecko. I don't think they are native to Texas but I have lots of them.Everyone has Anoles and I have a bunch. They really liked being in the corn I noticed. Gooood, eat more bugs.

Over half of the animals around our place, I do not see first. My dog does. Bonnie is a Texas Blue Lacy, state dog of Texas. Really, I mean it. It's official, the state dog of Texas. They are very smart dogs with an unbelievable sense of smell. I let her out one morning and she immediately took a right and went into the woods on one side of the house and started barking. I went to check it out and found a turtle that had dug a hole and was laying her eggs. How she smelled a turtle that was below ground level and around the house I'll never know. I didn't want to disturb it so didn't get close enough to tell what kind it was. It's probably a Creek Slider.

We had a little Red eared turtle show up in one of the ponds one day. He hung around a few days and went on, I guess searching for bigger waters. I caught him out sunning itself for this shot.

The last of this post is the cutest little guy I've seen at our ponds. I've seen several Tree frogs but they are always gone by the time I get my camera. This guy stayed here for hours. They change colors just like the Anoles do, to fit their back ground. I thought I would end this post with some cuteness after all the snakes and such.