Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sweet Potato Time in Utley

The two weeks before Thanksgiving is Sweet Potato harvest time in Utley and Elgin, Bastrop County,Texas. The deeps sands found in numerous locations make this one of the few vegetables that can thrive through the summer. The other commercial crops being Okra, Watermelons,Cucumbers (some years) and Cantaloupe, But Sweet Potato is King here, Once this was big peanut country, but only a few people grow them anymore. They drain the soil of nutrients leaving the sandy soil "dead" if those nutrients are not replaced. There are a variety of winter greens that grow excellently with normal winter and rain.  Those include, kale, mustard, turnip, collard, cilantro and green onions but these are usually found in the farmers markets vs. the big chains....Some citrus also makes it through to local markets but most of that comes from further south due to the frost potential.  Pears and the very few peaches grown here are long gone with the pears done by early Sept. And of course there are the Figs and Pecans...This is a bumper year for pecans that are falling in abundance now.  Black walnuts grow wild but there is little demand for those or the hog nut hickory here.  A real October treat is fragile and very sweet native Texas Black Persimmon which is found no where else in the world and defies cultivation...I will do a special blog on that soon.  They do not last long as once they ripen and turn black every creature in the woods is after them.  Pepper, tomatoes and blackberries also are easily grown but usually are found in the kitchen or at farmer's markets...While not a edible vegetable, some folks are successful with growing a wide range of gourds including bird house gourds....My soil is not up to snuff for these.

Like the local sausage no better sweet potato can be found in the state it is said. The sugar content is high and these yams lack the stringiness of those frequently brought in from elsewhere.

It is hard locally to even give them away during the holiday season here as the tubers will be harvested until Christmas, I was recently at a local grocery store and they were 9 cents a pound but typically the HEB chains sells them for .17 during the short harvest season. Yellow onions are affordable again as well. However folks from all over come to buy them by the case and it is not uncommon to see highway vendors set up on highway intersections with their stacks of boxes. What I am curious about is whether feral hogs pose a problem to the potato farmers here. I have heard no complaints but I have no spoken much with the farmers about that.

There are a lot of recipes for sweet potatoes online...I recently found one for fried sweet potato cakes that will just knock your socks off...Experiment and get while they still smell of earth.   And check out this article from "Nutrition" magazine

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Utley Nov. 19, Owling and enjoying a good smoke.

  Well, so it went.  I had what I hoped would be a nice camp fire lined up outside but after lighting it up tonight, discovered that drought kilt Cedar Elm is not the best choice of fuel for that purpose…I remembered that then, almost as bad as willow on the old fishing trips to Granger and Lake Sommerville…….…As everyone  knows, no matter where you sit around a campfire, the smoke will follow you and Cedar Elm makes a ton of smoke and seems to be especially fond of people……We shortly were literally “cured”.  But it burnt well and a lot of those little brown stink bugs left the ship so to speak as things got hot.

  The results for our Long-eared Owl efforts were mixed.  Nothing replied to  recordings close by, that we heard or saw, but at 9:07 there were four  “Who” notes from well down the hill, fairly distant,  spaced about 3 seconds apart…And then no more…We were to busy chatting at the time as well……No total agreement was reached on the culprit and none of  us know the calls well other than via the online recordings provided by the folks  on Texbirds .…I lean toward LEOW however…….Anyway we left the smoke and walked down to the road hoping for more calls…Walking down the road under a bright moon we attracted the attention of a few dogs.   The road is only about a mile and a third long but I swear there must be 12-15 dogs on it because once we got  greetings from  two we soon had dogs as far as we could hear  along the road wishing to make our acquaintance as well…It was aggravating but the dogs here are just not used to people walking this dead end road at night…Doing their jobs well I guess….We heard no owls before returning to the property….. just the dogs and a loud diesel pickup which slowed  enough to only coat us lightly with caliche dust as it passed..

  We heard the whistling wings of a Woodcock as we walked up the road to the cabin.

  Had moderately good looks at a Screech Owl  I whistled in, heard 2 Barred Owls down on Wilbarger Creek and bless it’s soul, a Barn Owl called twice despite the bright moon though it was not seen…Strangely no Great  Horneds were heard.

Raccoons quarreled in the woods, an Armadillo shuffled thru the leaves,  a rooster crowed and a donkey brayed (I reckon fired up by the dogs).  A possum was on the porch when we returned eating sweet potato skins and some stuff the cat did not want and clattering about with an oily sardine can, blissfully and completely ignorant of our presence…..

    Had a black light out for bugs, but it only drew in a handful of moths of the dull sort.

   I was stingy and did not want to burn good seasoned oak for a campfire on the return and since we already smelled like walking ash trays and cigar butts , I threw some more old Cedar Elm on the coals which I needed to be rid of anyway, plus some large chunks of bamboo , some 2+ inches in dia, for  the “fireworks”  which surprised all, even me on such a quiet night….I was worried it might alarm the neighbors, it was so loud…… …….Laundry tomorrow for sure.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cockroach Parasitoid; The Ensign wasp

This interesting wasp is an Ensign Wasp one of the members of the Evaniidae family. Quoting my efriend Roy " They are parasitoids of cockroach oothecae [egg cases] . Not really uncommon but, are still really neat wasps nonetheless." This individual was photographed in Port O'Connor on August 23, 2010 as it was on a door. This individual was ~1.5 cm long.

Thanks Roy, Linda and others for your comments.
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Friday, August 20, 2010

Spitting Spider (Scytodes atlacoya)

A common yet new described species found widely in Texas. From Allen Dean, " The scytodids in Texas are now known thanks to the revision of the Scytodes in Mexico that appeared several years ago. This species appears to be
Scytodes atlacoya that was newly described, I have found it to be the most common and widespread in Texas."

Spitting Spiders are known for their interesting hunting and method of subduing prey and perhaps deterring predators. They eject a mixture of silk, toxin and adhesive from greatly enlarged venom glands which quickly ensnares and subdues insects and spiders which make up most of it's prey.

Spitting Spiders build no webs to entrap prey and usually no web of any kind is found associated with the, This individual to the right is only about the size of a nickel but they can be considerably larger in the tropical species.

An interesting paper on these odd animals can be found at HTTP:// I obtained some of the above introduction to this species from this website.
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Beaded Lacewing..Delicate pollen grazer

      I rarely find these delicate little insects some know as Beaded Lacewings (Genus Lomamyia) and when I do they are usually in the large fragrant blooms of the Jimson Weed (a Datura) after a hot summer day.  Grazers of pollen they are and perhaps pollinators as well.  

I have watched the blooms for a summer specimen for several weeks and found this, my first of the year, just last night.  Last year during a horrific drought they actually seemed more common

The biology of these small insects actually belies their delicate grace as pollen fairy-like grazers.  From Dr. James Adams of Dalton State College, I was provided the some cool info.  He said " Berothid have a very unusual larval stage, in which the larvae are predaceous termite and ant nests.  The first instar is highly mobile, either crawling into nests or latching onto potential hosts for a ride.  Once inside the brood chambers, successive engorge themselves on the brood and are barely capable of any movement.  They pupate in place and escape the nest upon eclosion."

  I have never seen this but would sure like to see one just before it pupates. 

  At least in the case of termites, for the purposes of man, it must be considered  a beneficial insect, I suppose.  Regardless, finding one of these on a late balmy summer eve, with the heavy scent of Datura rising to meet you,  is one of those  
magical moments in the night that perhaps inspired so many Eighteenth and Nineteenth century naturalists, never mind the poets who wrote of fairies and other fair garden fantasies things so many years ago.  Truth of the matter is these beings still exist but sadly the distractions of this century has put them back into mythical gardens and lost memories.  Especially so for today's youth.

Thanks to Roy, James, Barbara and Kevin that added to this blog. Four photos from Utley, Texas taken Aug. 15,  2010 on the 

Brush Freeman

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Freeman Birding/ Banding 1938

Dad always had a love of birds in general which was passed down to his sons. He was an active member of FFA in the 20's-30's and the small population of birder's before WWII.... Here is an example of how the message was spread back in the day. In this case by him. This article is from 1938 reviewing one of his talks.

I mentioned this to Byron Stone yesterday and found one of the articles my brother had sent today. so thought I would put it up.

Just a brief post to get it out and done with .
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  I thought this was interesting.  From the NYTs yesterday.   Mike Quinn passed it along to me.

This Bedbug’s Life

Istvan Banyai


I had been a professor of entomology for 15 years before I saw my first live bedbug. It crawled out of a plastic film canister that had been mailed to me by a distraught student in the Boston area who had no idea what it was. I was so thrilled to see a live bedbug, I showed it off to every graduate student I ran into that day: Cimex lectularius — a small, flat, wingless, brown ectoparasite that hides in cracks and crevices in human dwellings and emerges under cover of darkness to feast on human blood.
That was in 1995, and none of my students had laid eyes on Cimex lectularius either. A century ago, bedbugs were ubiquitous in New York — so much so that their presence in an apartment wasn’t considered sufficient legal cause for withholding rent. Bedbugs, one judge remarked in an early 20th century lawsuit against a landlord, “can be dealt with by the tenant by processes known to all housewives.” But with the midcentury advent of synthetic organic insecticides, these insects all but vanished from urban landscapes (and pretty much every other kind of landscape) in North America.
My Bostonian bug turned out to be one of many on the forefront of an unprecedented resurgence. Global travelers now bring in a steady supply from around the world, inconspicuously undeclared in checked bags and carry-on luggage. Today, bedbugs have been found in all 50 states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and American Samoa, and bedbug-related calls to pest control operators are escalating at a fantastic rate. From June 2009 to June 2010, there were more than 31,000 calls in New York City alone.
Now, bedbug-related lawsuits can lead to thousands of dollars in punitive damages for mental anguish, embarrassment or humiliation.
Everywhere New Yorkers go — theaters, stores, offices, schools, trains, ships, hospitals — bedbugs go, too, hidden in folds of clothing, bags, backpacks and purses. Getting rid of them has become more than any housewife could ever be expected to handle. Even professional pest control operators are struggling to keep up, because bedbugs have become, for the most part, resistant to the old pesticides that once were so effective, and relatively few viable chemical alternatives exist.
We reserve a special kind of enmity for bedbugs because, though humans generally do not like being anywhere other than at the pinnacle of a food chain, there is a particular horror associated with being consumed while relatively helpless, asleep in what should be the security of one’s own bed (or chair or couch). With bedbugs, it’s personal — unlike cockroaches, ants, silverfish and other vermin that are attracted to our possessions, bedbugs are after us. And they’re remarkably adept at circumventing our defenses: They not only attack while we sleep, but they also inject anesthetics, so as not to awaken us, and anticoagulants, so that in every 10-minute feeding they can suck in two to three times their weight in clot-free blood.
Bedbugs win neither praise for their sophisticated technique, nor very much respect for the fact that they don’t carry diseases, as most bloodsucking human ectoparasites do. Although their bites can cause unrelieved itchiness, bedbugs take only blood and leave no pathogens behind. In contrast, lice spread typhus; mosquitoes carry the viruses that cause yellow fever, dengue, encephalitis and West Nile disease; ticks transmit the Lyme disease bacterium; and fleas can bring the bacterium that causes plague.
But lack of involvement in spreading disease is hardly an endearing attribute. In fact, precious few aspects of bedbug biology are endearing. They don’t build their own houses or care for their young, and their sexual practices are bizarre even by insect standards: Because the female bedbug has no genital opening, the male inseminates her by using his hardened, sharpened genitalia to punch a hole through her abdomen. With no elaborate courtship ritual, males in a frenzied pursuit of sexual congress often blunder into and puncture the bodies of other males, occasionally inflicting fatal wounds.
To top it off, almost every aspect of bedbug behavior is mediated by airborne odorants, almost all of which are, when detected, repulsive to humans.
What, if anything, is there to like about a bedbug? They certainly like us; we probably have no greater admirers in the insect world. They like the way we live, unlike most vertebrates, in permanent homes. (Bats and birds, which also build homes, are hosts to several of the bedbug’s close relatives.) Bedbugs do not discriminate among humans on the basis of race, creed or socioeconomic status, and they’re happy with almost any interior decorating style; they are as happy in a French provincial nook as they are in a contemporary cranny. The bugs’ climate preferences are essentially an exact match to our own, and a small wingless creature couldn’t ask for a better traveling companion — airlines have opened a world of possibilities for a species that can’t get very far on its own six legs.
Perhaps the one good thing about bedbugs is that they provide a rare point of agreement that transcends race, religion, culture, nationality, tax bracket and party. It may be one of the few remaining universal truths — urban or rural, red state or blue, everyone agrees it would be great if bedbugs would disappear once more.

May Berenbaum, the head of the entomology department at the University of Illinois, is the author of “The Earwig’s Tail: A Modern Bestiary of Multi-Legged Legends.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bastrop Co. late Scissortails Nestlings and Plebeian Sphinx Moth.

These animals were noted in Bastrop Co. today.  These 3 late but near fledged Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were still on the nest this morning , August 7, 2010. This nest is in a normally very busy day use area near a swimming pool in a small planted Live Oak located in a sub-division of Bastrop . Given the location I found it remarkable they succeeded to this advanced stage. They were just out of human reach. We saw the mother bring in Field Crickets (Grylline) to plump them up.

Below  is a photo of what I believe to be a Plebeian Sphinx Moth ( Paratraea plebeja ) based on hind-wings not visible here. If so, it is a new moth for me in the Lost Pines region.  I am rapidly building a healthy list of Sphinx moths in Texas, not that I am much of a lister.. At dusk I noticed several sphinx moths drawn to the overly sweet smelling Jimson weed blooms and other plants as well as the banana baits,  Perhaps this was one that also responded (?).  As I am completing this post, a giant female Black Witch Moth in very fresh condition is at the banana baits as is a huge Sad Underwing.

Elsewhere in Bastrop County today, Byron Stone and I relocated a previously found Least Grebe on a nest near Smithville for only the second breeding record for the county and while at the same location noted a rare August Peregrine Falcon.

It might be a little warm, but it is hopping with nature activity out there.....Just think forward to December and January..Ugh....Actually today was quite pleasant with lower than normal humidity...Makes for more watering but better for being outdoors. It only reached 98.4F at the cabin today..Never even fired up the power sucking A/C as the humidity was so low.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Spider Chicks

Short and simple this evening. A photo from the cabin in Bastrop Co. of a "Hen" with a whole load of baby spiders on her back. I am not sure of the species but figure it is a Wolf Spider.
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Monday, August 2, 2010

The Scorpions of Utley

The Bark Scorpion Centruroides vittatus is the only Scorpion known from Bastrop County. It's sting is painful though usually not life threatening. They can grow to be as long as almost 3 inches but are usually about 2-2.5 as adults.

Like most scorpions, they glow under black light as show to the right. Here is a female with young on her back. Notice they do not glow as babies. Scorpions give birth to live young. This female has about twenty five on her back. They stay with her eating scraps of her meals until they can fend for themselves.

Bark Scorpions are efficient hunters and when they get hungry they can consume large prey items. Note the red mite parasite on the scorpion's tail.

 Below  is a photo of the same female taken with a regular white flash which shows the young more clearly.

  Bark Scorpions make hardy and interesting 'pet" but I don't like sleeping with them.  I have before and it was not pleasant I can assure you.
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Nine-banded Armadillo and the number 4

  Nine-banded Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus...Gotta love that genus name) are all about 4s.  Everything about them seems to revolve around the number 4.  Of course they have 4 legs but beyond that.....

1. population increases seem to run in 4 year cycles
2. they have a maximum of 4 young at birth all of the same sex.
3. they only live 4 years
5. they only have 4 toes on the front feet
6. they only have  4 feet of small intestines
7. They have been reported to spring into the air
up to 4 feet when surprised suddenly.  This habit of jumping upwards when startled accounts for many of the belly up critters one sees on the highways.
8. after blastocyst (delayed implantation) the gestation period lasts 4 months
9. young are fully capable of walking after 4 hours of birth.
10  content of inherit debris of their diet amounts to ~4% (sand etc.).
11.  burrows avg. 4 ft. in depth.
12. they only have 4 major predators...Cars, Man, Coyotes and Mountain Lions.
13. Since their expansion started in the early 1900's, they are
reportedly moving north at about 4 km per year (Walsh 1975)
14. Young are usually born in April the 4th month of the year.

 Another interesting fact is their teeth lack any enamel at and
wear down quickly which likely limits their age to 4 years. They have the potential, rarely, of  being hosts of trypanosomiasis, which can be passed to humans potential via it's exposure to the blood sucking insects, vector, in burrows that belong  to the genus Triatoma (Cone-nosed or Kissing Bugs)

  15.  Getting down to the meat of it now, slow baking an Armadillo for 4 hours with potatoes and carrots will provide 4 people a succulent, bacony tasting and very greasy southern dish. During the Great Depression many knew them as "Hoover Hogs" and many of them filled bellies.I tasted a plate many years ago.
...swimming in buttery fat.
  16.  A serving of Armadillo will likely provide you with 4 times the recommended amount of  cholesterol one should ingest in a single day.

   If you have other "4s" I can add them .

Brush Freeman

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Passenger Pigeon "Article" by Jack Freeman c1932

  • Commentary by a 12 (?) year old Jack Freeman c1932 ( though I really think around 1938 given the signature) in an unknown Oklahoma newspaper of the time.  He had published or was mentioned in numerous FFA articles especially in the 1930's  regarding his interest in birds especially hawks, owls, nighthawks and shrikes.  An artist all his life , he lived long enough to see his works soar in value at various non-profit auctions...The Freeman's are blessed with artistic genes, even with no schooling.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jack Dempsey Freeman Jan. 4, 1921-June 21, 2010

  Photo of dad taken during World War II... Lived 89 yrs, 6 months and 17 days.  Died just moments after summer solstice 2010.  Never liked hot weather anyway. He was proud of his service as a pilot and instructor..  The props here are spinning as one can see the wind blown trousers and his grip on the wing,  He is ready to go.  Those must have been the days.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Easy Flea Control for outbreaks

I have been away from my cabin for much of this year and recently returned to find I had a pretty good flea infestation, likely from a hen flea that jumped off the cat months ago.
  I don't wish to use poisons in the house as I have jumping spiders and geckos as renters/owners.  I just want to be rid of fleas.There are plenty of other critters that want to eat me (mosquitoes, scorpions, kissing bugs etc.) and need to save some chow for them.

Here is a flea killer that will suck every flea from your floors and carpets.  Works like a charm and completely without pesticides and works real fast.   

I picked this up years ago from somewhere and it is even better than these poisons.....Just take a desk lamp and shine it over a 10-14" in pie plate.  Fill the plate half full with water and add a bit of dish washing soap.  Turn the light on and it is a done deal.

  When I found I had an infestation I sat up 3 lamps through the house and within 1 day and two nights, I have not found a single living flea.  I seem to be completely free of them in two days.  I do not know if they are attracted to the lights or the heat they put off by the lights or both nor I do not know how many eggs a hen flea can lay but over the years have learned a flea outbreak is a flea outbreak and is short lived if dealt with.  Its like all the pupae hatch at about the same time when the temperature and humidity is just right....Then it is over, done, finished and the next out break may not occur for a year to several years...My last out break was 5-6 years ago.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Horse Guard

The "Horse Guard"

A Purple Martin dropped this male wasp on Ladd Hockey as it was delivering it to young in Port O'Connor on June 17. Fortunately for me it was a stingless male. A female likely would have stung the tar out of me. These large wasps fit into a group called Horse Guards by the layman as they are often found around livestock where they search out and paralyze Horse and other flies. These the wasps then take the flies to a pre-constructed tunnel that has an egg laid by the female. The wasp then stuffs the tunnel with those flies before sealing it, providing food for the next generation.

They look similar to, but are not the larger Cicada Killers we often see flying about in the summer months hunting cicadas. Both burrow into sandy soils.

I have been very busy with family matters and work and have had little time to keep the blog updated. Hopefully that will change soon.

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ladder nest and Black-eyed Susans.

   I returned to my Utley place after almost 6 weeks of being mostly absent, spending only the night of May 14 here. Much has changed in that time. Completely different than last year, this spring has been one of regular rains . Lots of wildflowers especially Black-eyed Susans that cover the property. It has been more than a decade since I have seen it like this on the place and find it awesome that the seeds of that flower could remain viable for that long. The Bluebonnets, I have the very localized subspecies called Sandy Lands Bluebonnet, must have gone crazy as the now dead plants are all over the place up by the road....Also a bloom I have not seen in several years.

  The night I was here on the 14th of May to stay overnight from a business trip to N. Texas,  I had little time to look around as I had to be back in S. Texas the next morning. Now back, I am discovering quite a few interesting things around the place. One is pictured to the right. It looks like just two ladders leaning against the wall of the house but the next photo shows that a Cardinal chose this place to build a nest. I have no idea if they were successful in raising a brood or not, however there are several juv. birds about. I am trying hard to remember if I have ever seen a Northern Cardinal use an artificial structure of any kind to construct a nest on but come up empty headed...I just don't think I have.

Also when I returned yesterday evening I heard a constant frog like call right behind the house, maybe less than 25 ft. from the back door. I knew exactly what it was so I did little except open the back door for some breeze. The cat however ran out the back, and when I went to retrieve her I saw a
Chuck-will's-widow fluttering thru the dense brush in distraction mode.. A quick glance revealed she had left two half grown chicks in the leaf litter. I grabbed the cat and kept her in thereafter. Today I went out to photograph the chicks in better morning light and they were gone, however a short walk back into the woods found me disturbing the adult again so I made no further attempts to locate the young. It is pretty potent to have a Chuck calling from 30 behind your house all the while neighboring birds on territory are also calling. I guess my question is, can an adult Chuck incite/provoke it's young to move elsewhere when they are not yet fledged?

Since I was not here virtually the entire migration period/spring , I now find the property to be a jungle. I do not mow, I don't even own a mower and would not mow if I had one... Have no use for such wicked things so the place gets really over grown which I like. The Trumpet Vines high up in the oaks are in gorgeous full bloom this year finally, which is distracting the hummingbirds for now. However at least one Buff-bellied continues to come in to the feeders which I replaced with fresh stuff instead of the "whiskey water and carpenter ant" cocktail that was in them before my return

Here is a shot of the front "yard". I hate to call it a yard as I don't like the term but you know how it is. That bird box amid the Black-eyed Susans has at least it's second brood of intergrade (Dixon's) Titmice. There are 5 young in there now that will fledge out within the week. The pole is well greased with automotive grease to keep any rat snake from climbing up it. And while I was more interested in getting Bluebirds to nest here, I am perfectly happy to have the titmice use it. Today I have often seen curious chickadees come and visit the box and check out the youngsters inside . The adult titmice do not seem to mind at all.

There is a Yellow-billed Cuckoo nest in a Cedar Elm down the lane but it is too high to peer into. The Blue-gray Gnatcatchers have finished nesting and now there is a family group of 5-6 roaming the property.

Rotten bananas I put out upon my return are covered with butterflies, including a rare (for here) Eastern Comma and a somewhat worn Mourning cloak.

There are baby toads the size of my thumb nail everywhere ...Anoles and skinks keep a roadrunner handy.

Finally within a mere 15-20 minute after my return, the crow people came in and milled awaiting chow waiting  treats they knew would be forthcoming.   The two tames ones were chatting away. I had nothing to give them except dried cat food, the expensive stuff too, and as soon as I got it on the feeder and walked 20 feet away Jim was already there wolfing it down. 9-12 pc.s then to the bird bath to soak up some water to go with it before going back for more. They had left another little stone as a prize on the feeder while I was gone. My collection of crow "prizes" is getting larger.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gecko Proof Moth

  At the Cabin with the Gecko People.

    Once the sun sets in warm weather and when I keep the lights down, my friends the Gecko people emerge from behind picture frames and bookcases  looking for nice tasty insects to eat.  I have no shortage of geckos with maybe more than 10-12 that share the cabin with me.  Some are quite large pushing 4" or so,while others are tiny sprites likely just hatched.
   I was raised in the days of screen doors and any time I held door open for more than a couple of seconds back then , someone would surely screech out for me to shut it "so the bugs don't get in".  Those days have long since vanished around here.  I don't have screens on the doors, but don't always leave them open either, especially during June Bug season.  But still after dark I leave the front porch light on and the front door open so as to supply my gecko people with a nightly buffet for maybe 30-40 minutes.  This "in-flight" usually consists of moths, craneflies and other small insects, including beetles.   Soon there are numbers of insects on the ceilings and walls and the door is shut.

  I turn off the lights as I go to sleep. Sometimes after I turn off the lights after resting a bit, maybe an hour, I then suddenly turn the lights back on seeing 4-7 Geckos on the ceilings and walls scarfing up on the goods.  They know the drill. I awaken the morning to find every single moth, beetle, cranefly etc. has vanished, consumed by my herd of geckos,...Yes sir there is not a bug to be found on the wall ceilings or anywhere.....With one BIG exception.  This moth on the right ( Hypoprepia miniata - Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth). Abundant at this time of year, these moths are often found in the dozens at my lights, but the gecko people want nothing to do with them at all.  Won't touch them for nothing so these moths are the sole remaining insects I find in the house the following morning.  They must be very non-tasty, toxic or the colors ward off the geckos.  It is a curious thing.
  The only other invert I find in the house in the mornings is the occasional bark scorpion.  In fact I figure a scorpion would eat a tiny gecko if it could.  Oh well, just how it goes around here.  Family matters can be boring for those not involved.

  I like geckos, and reckon it would be a sadder place to live without them. Sometimes I find their little black and white turds on a counter top or in the bath tub, by day they are ghosts behind walls and in crevices.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Some recent Migration stuff from the Texas coast.

  Over the past few days I have birded Port O'Connor intermittently as well other private properties in nearby counties.   There was a lot more than I can cover within this single blog as I am running behind.  Things are for sure winding down and the south winds are sure helping the migrants by pass the immediate coast....A good thing.
   This morning I passed a rice field being flooded for the 2nd time on 1289 just south of 238 in Calhoun Co what already has sprouted tiny rice.  It will be a fantastic place to bird tomorrow (May 8) and the day after.  I had little time to bird it as most of the water was way back in the field, but already there were hordes of Franklin's Gulls, Gull-billed Terns,m Hudsonian Godwits and White-rumped Sandpipers moving in.  I heard bird I have never heard before coming in, but will keep that thought to my self as I can not be sure to ID.  Saw 3 Black Terns over the field as well. The first of 1000's to come I hope.   Made no effort to count species/individuals but this field as well as the Indianola and Magnolia Beach fields should be hopping now as there is no forecast for rain and the farmers appear to be forced to buy water from the GBRA.  The rice is flooded late this year so the farmers will for sure have to contend with blackbirds after post season breeding by those birds, just as the grain is milky and soft..  A Purple Gallinule in an irrigation ditch was nice.
  Yesterday when we were with Tom and Kay Flores they had asked me about Yellow-headed Blackbirds.  Kay Flores still wants one.  I had a single SY male with Red-wingeds on the newly flooded 1289 field.
  Folks reading this....If you want anything to do with rice fields this for year, this weekend may be your last shot before the rice gets too high or deep to see the smaller sandpipers.  Our count over the past 3 days is up to 23 Shorebird species with the Whimbrel at least, and maybe 24 if someone had a Long-billed Curlew I do not remember.  Also 3 Ibis species along with many other "wet spring" birds, including Grasshopper Sparrows, Dickcissels etc. etc..
   The only recent birds I have added to my Port O'Connor Square Mile project was a Mississippi Kite and "Brewster's " Warbler, although I am pretty sure I got on a female Oporonis yesterday evening though I could not be sure of the ID and it was wary given the number of folks present, I suspect it was Mourning, a bird I still need for POC this spring....  I just do not understand how certain areas on Galveston Is. can churn this genus out in numbers in the spring while I bust butt to find 1 or 2 every year.   Oh well they will be no problem in the fall.  The only other Wood Warbler I can hope to reasonably get is Black-throated Blue, but I may have missed that window now.
   I have my BBS stuff in hand now and once the swallow/Black Tern migration is complete I will do those vast corn fields again :-)

  Other counties just north and well east of Calhoun Co. seem very lackluster to me this spring while the brush lands of S. Texas  rock!  Spectacular.... Anyway just a quick unedited update for now.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Lesser Nighthawks in a Blinding World

Blinded by the light.

   I had the opportunity to visit/trespass on an old caliche quarry today in Jim Hogg Co.  I just saw the open gate and ask an old Mexican guy in a pick-up getting mail there if I could go in, noting his license plate just in case.  I was looking for something specific and pretty much found it.  He just waved me in .  I am not sure he understood me.  I had hit this location only once before in the dead of winter years ago and it is very remote.  A few of the old S. Texas birders like Arvin, Willie or Ben likely know of it.  It has the old 1930-early 50's bulldozer rusting away about 1/4 mile in on the "road" which is private on the left. (too bad someone filled that antique with bullet holes)  I got there and there was quite a bit of water in various very clear pools but nothing of note on the water in terms of birds.  The bare surface of the quarry even after maybe 60+ years of quarrying,  still shows little growth in terms of vegetation but there are patches.  I drove around a bit then walked.  It was very hot down there out of the breeze and other than fast four-legged herps very little movement.  That is until I started flushing up Lesser Nighthawks.  I flushed perhaps 16-17 in the about 3-4 acres or so but none appeared to be nesting or with eggs yet as far as I could tell.  How strange their calls are while still on the ground before being flushed.

By 11:00 it was very hot and very bright in this near pure white situ..  Have you ever read a book in the bright sunlight for 30 minutes and then try to see what was around you after the looking up from the white pages of the book?   Multiply that 2X and that is what I was feeling when I got back into the truck...I bet it took 6-7 minutes for my eyes to adjust back to the light inside the truck.   But it appears this is where the LENIs want to be....I can not even imagine how hellishy hot it must be 20 ft. down in that quarry in June as it was likely 88-90 this morning before noon.  I tried to take photos of some stuff but I could not even see the display on my little camera (which BTW is on it's last leg) to see what I was photographing....There is one sort of yellow flowered plant that seems to thrive down in the pit but while I know it well I do not know it's name.  Also in some of the large rain pools that were crystal clear to 3-4 ' deep there were tadpoles in the blue-green water feeding on God only knows what..   I may well be the last birder to see this quarry as I noted that the old highway fence has been bulldozed down recently....Likely in preparation for one of those damn ME-ME 8' foot high game fences.    They are strangling this state!
  The only other thing of note today was finding a dead badger on  JH Co. Rd. 339.  I looked in vain for Varied buntings in good habitat but failed to turn up any in Jim Hogg but drove thru Much good habitat for them in the short mesquite drainages.  Unfortunately I did not have the time for much piddle birding as I wished....I will say that on some of the back roads I had far more White-tipped Doves calling than I would have expected and Olive Sparrows and Bullock's Orioles were everywhere.  Far more than I saw or heard in the Valley. Hooded  Orioles aplenty where there was good habitat, but the Audubon's seem to be getting less vocal.....One of these days I hope to just walk, say 2-3 miles of one of my favorite deserted highways in the spring  when I have no where else to be.  Bet you would like to know that highway right. (wink)

  I would like to mention the Border Patrol station on 59 in Webb Co..   There is nearly always a group of 5 Ch. Ravens in that area ....Yesterday they were right where the road graders were parked and fearless.  I asked two of the agents if they were there all the time and if they fed them , but they did not have a clue what I was talking about....I mean I could have well just asked them about Elmer's Glue or Uranus ( not Ur Anus)...You know what I mean....They are killing their 3 puny ornamental yucca plants there with dog pee though because that is where they always take them to to their business. I always see dogs peeing on those poor plants when I go thru there.   There are tractor tires everywhere better suited, but they have to take them to the only ornamental plants there to do their thing....Lady Bird Johnson would have a fit.  An OD of nitro and salt....not needed right next to 160F summer surface asphalt.

  Anyway it is late, but it took me a long time to get over that pure white caliche and bright sun.  Tomorrow is another day.  Do it while you can.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Roots and Anis

    Well while not really nature oriented I thought I would show you what the roots of a giant wind turbine look like.  As you can see the base concrete has been already poured into a hole of unknown depth.  The remainder will go into the rebar fashioned octagonal shape above that.  The visible hole here is about 9-10' deep..  The structure is, I am guessing about 30 yds. across.  As you can see they are built to stay.  I took this photo this morning.  As you can see they are built to last and survive some pretty tough hurricanes.

   I saw lots of Anis today which was nice as I don't usually see them in the spring in such numbers.  Starting to feel like summer but with the rains the wildflowers are sure pretty along the back roads.


Friday, April 30, 2010

April 30, 2010 Mulberry Birds

No Shortage of Thrushes this year in POC

  Despite the nice south winds a lot of migrants are in town.    A
short visit out today found good number of "mulberry birds" about but few to no empids or warblers.  With the bummer crop of berries  they probably are lingering longer than usual to restock up on lost reserves.

  I am very concerned about the oil spill and its impacts for the
nesting season on the gulf coast.  I will have to be elsewhere working the next few days so I know something good will be found in POC.

   Here are a couple of photos of berry eating thrushes fueling up under a mulberry tree.  Just one of the many trees in town that are loaded with fruit after such a bad drought last year and perhaps influenced by the very cold couple of days back in January.  Notice the dark one?  I assume this to be a melanistic Swainson's Thrush (?).  I did not get get great looks at the belly as I too was sitting in the grass. But is sure an odd one.

The weather portends perhaps a good fallout come Sunday.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Port O'Connor April 27, 2010

I had very little time to bird today and nothing to report from yesterday much. My next few days will be busy ones to be sure. I only had about an hour to bird POCO today so probably missed some good stuff.

sIn my last entry I posted a late afternoon photo of Sam. Call it intuition, foresight or whatever but after I took those photos on the evening of the 25th Sam left within hours despite my searches for him at other known resting spots the next day and today. Nah!  He is headed back north. Something inside me drove me out there to get photos of a bird that had been here ALL winter. Odd is it not? Just just a couple of hours before he was gone. I have a worm in my head  that I sometime think brings in things I would likely not otherwise know in advance but read on. 

On the same day (April 25) I last heard the Yellow-green Vireo. It was so close to the house that I could sometimes hear it from the backyard, but since the morning of the 25th, the same day that Sam vanished so did the vireo. I am saddened by that for it was here for almost 2 weeks and was hoping for a nesting pair.....Maybe it moved elsewhere in town. I mean they have to go somewhere. Now that it seems to be gone, I will state the location as being the ash woods in the backyards behind the Methodist Church.

In the very short time I had to bird in town today, none of the previous highlights were noted but there remain scores of spotted thrushes and other migrants. The Hooded Oriole male found yesterday was the highlight of the day and only the 3rd ever I have had in Calhoun Co. I did not add a new 2010 bird to my "square mile" list today given the brief time I was out between chores. A couple of Lazulis remain and one was in the Hockey's mulberry which might be a yard bird (?)  I missed the Black-headed Grosbeak, Bullock's Oriole or any Western Tanagers from the previous days.  I  saw 2 Ovenbirds.

   Anyway there are tons of mulberries ripe at just the right time (later than usual) and it is little wonder it is a big thrush spring here. I have my favorite trees and eat berries until my fingers are purple, despite the warning that my long departed grandma used to tell me....IE "eating mulberries will give you worms"... if so I am happy to be a worm rancher for few native fruits are better than a GOOD handful of ripe mulberry. For sure the chickens back when I was growing up ate them to the point they got fat and then so tired of them that late in mulberry season they tended to ignore them....Same deal with the big yellow fall grasshoppers that stirred up in the hundreds in the pastures in summer....AKA Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittaus). The chickens grew to ignore them once the grasshoppers  were full adults , I guess because they were so tough and leathery, but an old fellow (Lem Mary) told me when I was a kid that these are what made fresh eggs yolks so bright orange in the summer...Beats me....That was so long ago.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sam the Great and birding POC on Happy Hooker Weekend April 25, '10

   It is Happy Hooker weekend in Port O'Connor, which hosts a big fishing tournament.  The place is full of people which really limits access to a lot of my birding spots.  These tourney's will continue now thru September and I despise them on principle even though they claim be mostly be for one "good cause" or another. I suppose it does help the economy here, but they sure do nothing for these over-fished waters.  It mainly is just a high dollar fish slaughtering pastime.  The front beach is filled with people BBQ'ing and playing in the low tides.

   Well there is Sam the Great on his very favorite rock as you can likely tell from the white wash there. A grand looking animal is he not?  He has been there all winter and there each winter for at least the last 8-9 winters.  We like him.  I took this photo today fearing that he was going to leave us at any time.  But he could be here for 2 more weeks or just two more hours.  It is such a pleasure to look out the window every day and see him on his rock.  Only in the worst of weather or close approach by people and dogs force him to move elsewhere in town and usually not far.   Will miss him once he finally heads north.

  A lot of birds in town but like I said access to some areas was more difficult than during the weekdays. For instance the Bell's Vireo location from yesterday was busy.   I keep telling myself I will get up the next morning in search of rice fields but the birds here in my Square Mile keep me more interested....I am always afraid I will miss out on something big.

  Perhaps one of the odder finds was that of an American Robin this morning.   I have not seen one in a couple of months here and they just did not make it down this year....And to suddenly see one below a mulberry in POC in late April with other thrushes is a bit perplexing.  I have never known them to breed in Port O'Connor....Very little actually does. When I first spotted it in the shadows my heart skipped a beat thinking it was a Rufous-backed or perhaps Clay-colored so some disappointment there.

   New 2010 birds for the patch include

White-rumped Sandpipers
 Olive-sided Flycatcher
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Good to rare, lingering birds include

Yellow-green Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Black-headed Grosbeak
Western Tanager
Lazuli Buntings

Many warblers and thrushes, a Golden-winged, Blackpoll and a single Bay-breasted....Best of all (other than the continuing YGVI) a second Cape May has shown up, this time either a young male or female.  Also a good find here. However I am cursed with the Black-throated Blues this year and have yet to find a single one.

Baby Shrikes are starting to appear all over town from the first hatch with their irritating begging calls.

 It has finally warmed up enough so that I wore shorts for the first time this year today....Come 6:00P I will likely have to get back into real clothes.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lifer No. of Vireos in one square mile

   Migration was good in Port O'Connor today but not great and ended on a sad note.  The 12-14"of rain down in S. Texas have sure put a nix on any near term work which I was really counting on as some ranches are just to wet to do.  And this is my biggest business time of year income wise except for fall.
   On the upside I birded Port O'Connor for several hours and lacking anything better to do and ended up having a wonderful day and when it comes to Vireos a day like none I have had in my life.  Within a square mile I found 9 species of vireos.  Actually a friend Tria Overstreet was the first to spot one of those , a very rare one for Port O'Connor and one which I think I have only seen here before 2 times in 17 years.  Tira is a birder I met thru Petra a few years back and from a near total novice then, has garnered the skills.  Very observant, great eye for detail and eyes better than mine for actually spotting birds to begin with. A dangerous competitor in town :-)  I also birded some with the  Eberhards who spotted numerous good birds for me.  Here is the lowdown on the Vireos seen today in POC....A total lifer number for a day/location as far as I can remember in terms of nubmers of species, for sure in the US, though I have had 8 species before in one day but over a much larger area..

Red-eyed Vireo
Yepllow-green Vireo (rare)
Warbling Vireo 1 (they were junk birds 3 days ago)
Philadelphia Vireo 3
Bell's Vireo (rare in POC)
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo (rare in POC)   Thanks Tira!
Blue-headed Vireo

  Ended the day with 21 Warbler species as well...Best being I guess Golden-winged, though I may be biased as it is such a favorite of mine and they are becoming so hard to get in recent years.

   Tragically as I was looking for birds a few blocks away, dear sweet old Eva Meitzler's house was burning to the ground.  I heard the sirens and saw the smoke but did not realize it was her place.  She has a lot of friends with the church and folks in town so she will be well taken care of but she dearly loved her old house and yard which she always allow us to bird freely. She did not even own a car.  It was a bummer to an otherwise very good day.  She did not have much to begin with and her place was in bad shape.

  I can hear the Skimmers out on the bay as I wrap this up.


Friday, April 23, 2010

My kind of man!

Death of 'Caveman' ends an era in Idaho

Richard Zimmerman, known to all as Dugout Dick, succumbs at 94


Copyright: © 2010 Idaho Statesman

Published: 04/23/10

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Idaho Statesman file
A lifetime of living alone in solitary places shows in Dugout Dick's face in this photo shot in 2002. Born Richard Zimmerman, he was the last of Idaho's legendary loners. Zimmerman died Wednesday.
Known as the "Salmon River Caveman," Richard Zimmerman lived an essentially 19th century lifestyle, a digital-age anachronism who never owned a telephone or a television and lived almost entirely off the land.
"He was in his home at the caves at the end, and it was his wish to die there," said Connie Fitte, who lived across the river. "He was the epitome of the free spirit."
Richard Zimmerman had been in declining health when he died Wednesday.
Few knew him by his given name. To friends and visitors to his jumble of cave-like homes scrabbled from a rocky shoulder of the Salmon River, he was Dugout Dick.
He was the last of Idaho's river-canyon loners that date back to Territorial days. They are a unique group that until the 1980s included canyon contemporaries with names like Beaver Dick, Cougar Dave and Wheelbarrow Annie, "Buckskin Bill" (real name Sylvan Hart) and "Free Press Frances" Wisner. Fiercely independent loners, they lived eccentric lives on their own terms and made the state more interesting just by being here.
Most, like Zimmerman, came from someplace else. Drawn by Idaho's remoteness and wild places removed from social pressures, they came and spent their lives here, leaving only in death.
Some became reluctant celebrities, interviewed about their unusual lifestyles and courted by media heavyweights. Zimmerman was featured in National Geographic magazine and spurned repeated invitations to appear on the "Tonight Show."
"I ride Greyhounds, not airplanes," he said in a 1993 Statesman interview. "Besides, the show isn't in California. The show is here."
Cort Conley, who included Zimmerman in his 1994 book "Idaho Loners", said that "like Thoreau, he often must have smiled at how much he didn't need. É What gave him uncommon grace and dignity for me were his spiritual life, his musical artistry, his unperturbed acceptance of life as it is, and being a WWII veteran who had served his country and harbored no expectations in return."
His metamorphisis to Dugout Dick began when he crossed a wooden bridge over the Salmon River in 1947 and built a makeshift home on the side of a hill. He spent the rest of his life there, fashioning one cavelike dwelling after another, furnishing them with castoff doors, car windows, old tires and other leavings.
"I have everything here," he said. "I got lots of rocks and rubber tires. I have plenty of straw and fruit and vegetables, my dog and my cats and my guitars. I make wine to cook with. There's nothing I really need."
Some of his caves were 60 feet deep. Though he "never meant to build an apartment house," he earned spending money by renting them for $2 a night. Some renters spent one night; others chose the $25 monthly rate and stayed for months or years.
He lived in a cave by choice. Moved by a friend to a care center in Salmon at age 93 because he was in failing health, he walked out and hitchhiked home.
Bruce Long, who rented one of his caves and looked after him, said the care center "had bingo and TV, but things like that held no interest for him. He just wanted to live in his cave.
"People said he was the only person they'd ever known who was absolutely self-sufficient. He didn't work for anybody. He worked for himself."
Born in Indiana in 1916, Zimmerman grew up on farms in Indiana and Michigan, the son of a moonshiner with a mean streak. He rebelled against his domineering father and ran away at a young age, riding the rails west and learning the hobo songs he later would play on a battered guitar for guests at his caves.
He punched cows and worked as a farmhand, settling in Idaho's Lemhi Valley in 1937 and making ends meet by cutting firewood and herding sheep. In 1942, he joined the Army and served as a truck driver in the Pacific during World War II. When his service ended, he returned to Idaho and never left.
He raised goats and chickens, tended a bountiful vegetable garden and orchard and stored what he couldn't eat or sell in a root cellar. A lifelong victim of a quarrelsome stomach, he survived largely on what he could grow or make. Homemade yogurt ranked among his proudest achievements.
He was married once, briefly, to a pen-pal bride from Mexico. The other woman in his life, Bonnie Trositt, tired of life in a cave, left him for a job as a potato sorter and was murdered by her roommate. He claimed to see her spirit in the flickering light of a kerosene lamp on the cave walls.
He rarely went to church, but read and quoted continually from the Bible.
Services are pending. A brother, Raymond Zimmerman, has requested that his remains be sent to Illinois.

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