Jan 13

Winter birds redux: Hermit Thrush

Posted: under Wildlife.
Tags: , , ,  January 13th, 2009

I have only four records in eight years for the Hermit Thrush on our place, including today, all in the creek woods.    In 2003, I saw one briefly near Main Ford, right in the middle of the woods, on January 27 and again on February 2…almost certainly the same individual.   In late October 2007, I saw one in the south part of the creek woods, and got a (not very good) picture.   We’re “supposed” to have them–we’re in their winter range–but these birds are small, shy, and easily missed among the winter sparrows.    They’re quiet and secretive.   I had read descriptions of the Hermit Thrush’s song but never heard it.

Until today.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (0)

Jan 12

Wildlife and Cactus

Posted: under Activities, Plantlife, Wildlife.
Tags: , , , , , ,  January 12th, 2009

Today’s wildlife experience was an armadillo, drinking noisily (they slurp, sounding rather like dogs) from the overflow guzzler at Fox Pavilion when we came back around that way after a long, two-hour stroll around the place.   I thought I’d turned the water off completely, but some grit must’ve been in the faucet, because the water had overflowed.


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (2)

Dec 31

Afternoon Walk

Posted: under Wildlife.
Tags: , ,  December 31st, 2008

It starts out simply, a few hours free to take a walk around and see how things are doing, though since we have not had significant rain for months, and less than half the average annual rainfall, how they’re doing is dry. Still, there’s always beauty, even muted by thirst. I head out across the near meadow, taking a look at a thicket of young cedar elms we decided to let grow for bird habitat…and spot a nest I hadn’t noticed before. Now the tall grass has laid over, and the leaves have fallen and a beautifully constructed nest shows up, perhaps 18 -24 inches above ground in a small cedar elm that’s got branches even lower than that. It’s about 4 inches across, a deep cup, built of twigs on the outside–tiny ones–and then grass, and lined with fine grass stems.

From there I go on to the main grassland, noticing the stunted size of the bluebonnet rosettes that should be twice that size by now to give us a good show in the spring. Without more rain, it’ll be a sparse flowering. Up a diagonal mowed path to the corner of the dry woods, and then down center walk (as we call it) to the creek woods. The entrance meadow is in its winter hiatus, except for greenbriar, and I remind myself that I need to mow this down in the next week or two.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (0)

Dec 28

Equipment failure

Posted: under Equipment.
Tags: , ,  December 28th, 2008

If you have land, you have equipment (if it’s no more than a shovel, a clamshell posthole digger, and a fence tool.)    And equipment fails.

I went out today to check the water at both Fox and Owl, put out more feed for the winter-resident birds, and change the memory cards in the two game-cams.  We got those last spring (well, we borrowed a friend’s for a month to try it out) and they’ve been very helpful.   They have a feature that lets you enter a security code so the camera won’t work for anyone else and they have a digital display that has a variety of messages and lets you see that you’re entering the security code correctly.

About two months ago, the display began to “break up”–not all  the pixels of all the letters would show.  The camera still worked, though, and I could still enter the code.   I thought maybe the batteries were running low, so I changed them…but the display still looked spotty.  It’s gotten much worse in the last month (I  change out the memory cards on the last weekend of the month) and today I was unable to get the first camera to accept the code and go back to work.  The second did it, but if it goes the way of the other, it won’t work after the next changeout.

Just in case the local store had old, not strong batteries, I’ll buy new batteries at a store with more turnover, but I’m afraid some internal chip may be degrading for some reason.   It continued to take pictures (I’ve looked at what’s on the memory card–perfectly good video and still pictures, which is why I doubt it’s the batteries.)  These cameras are supposed to be able to handle any outdoor setting and until this happened I was pleased with them and hoped to order a couple more.

Comments (0)

Dec 24

Something old, something new

Posted: under Wildlife.
Tags: , ,  December 24th, 2008

We have white-winged doves on our place…with the change in climate over the past 20 years, they’ve started wintering here as well (they used to migrate south in winter.)   White-wings are large “dove-colored” doves–the largest native dove in the area–and except for the white flash in the wing (showing as a white stripe even on the folded wing) they’ve always struck me as being rather plain, dull birds.  They come in flocks; they’re bullies at a feeding station; they all look alike (no gender difference) and they don’t have particularly interesting songs or anything.

Silly me.   Nothing in nature is really dull and plain, once we really look at it.   This year the observation of white-wings has shown me something both new and colorful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (0)

Dec 21


Posted: under Wildlife.
Tags: , ,  December 21st, 2008

Observing wildlife–and the sign they leave behind–is one of the satisfactions of having some land. It’s also a necessary part of our wildlife management program. Census is one of the seven essential activities under the Texas Parks & Wildlife private lands wildlife program.

This makes sense–if you don’t know what you have, or (roughly) how many of it, you can’t manage it very well.

Cameras help with observation even when the animal isn’t there: photographing tracks, scat, nests, etc., can document the presence of something you don’t often (or ever!) see. So can simple interventions. We discovered that animals regularly used the paths we mowed for ourselves and the planks we put across muddy dips for our own convenience. In wet weather, they left footprints; they often left scat. One great horned owl neatly dropped two regurgitated owl pellets onto one plank. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (2)

Dec 20

Food: who eats what

Posted: under Activities, photography, Wildlife.
Tags: , , , ,  December 20th, 2008

Robberfly taking a large dragonfly

Robberfly taking a large dragonfly

I’ve started working on a long-term project to define who eats what and is eaten by whom. Published sources are not as much help as you might think, since they’re not really local and the local mix of food sources varies from both historical record (we have different plants, in different proportions, and thus different proportions of animals for the meat-eaters to prey on) and from published sources set in a different area.

It’s being every bit as difficult I suspected it would be. Critters do not all come and pose in front of the camera with an array of their food sources so consumption can be documented. Nor are they limited to the foods we put out. Killing a lot of native critters to do stomach content analyses (a very accurate way of finding out what *that* individual ate, but non-reproducible in that individual) isn’t something I want to do, or have the time and expertise to do anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (0)