I was all set, getting ready to leave the house to go to the Dentist. Then I saw a flicker of gray in the garden and crept to the window. It was a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, resplendent in knitted pantaloons. If I was little, I would ask my Nana to knit me a stuffed Hawk just like this one.
The Juvenile was very skittish and as I went to get my camera out of the drawer, I noticed a squirrel staring intently at the hawk from the fence. Part of me wanted to warn the squirrel but I really wanted a photograph… We have plenty of squirrels and this one was curious, not scared! Baby Cooper posed so nicely for me, showing off her fabulous plumage. I need to get an outfit of taupe and steel gray now.
Eventually, I made a noise as I was trying to poke the camera through the Venetian blinds and the hawk flew off straight into the squirrel. My heart was in my mouth wondering what would happen next but the feisty squirrel fluffed up her fur like a cat and terrified Baby Cooper. They eat much smaller prey than squirrels. Our squirrel stood her ground, saying, “That is MY Nut Mom and MY garden.”
Please come visit us again, little hawk! I want to see those yellow feet…and those fluffy pantaloons.
When I went out on the walking path yesterday, I met Baby Cooper! She sat in her tree while I have a one side conversation with her. There is an open invitation for her to visit my yard.
As I write this, the ‘Eeeeee’ of Baby Hawk is preventing me from feeding all my other ‘tails’, although all their baths and bowls are freshly filled.
Our red-tailed hawks have had baby #2022. We had our first small shower of rain after two months of drought and all the forest babies wondered what the wet stuff was falling from the sky. Baby Hawk sobbed… It was heartbreaking and funny. Mother Hawk was wheeling above enjoying a refreshing shower.
The Tail Family
All our squirrels have funky tails this year. We have ‘Tail’ who is at least a year old – her tail was fractured but healed well. The fur came in with strange chevron markings and a much darker gray than usual. Then there is ‘half’, ‘three quarters’ and ‘pipe cleaner’. ‘Half’ is extra cute and will come running for a peanut or chopped up apple – she is also a wee bruiser, using Jujitsu on her kin, perhaps that’s why she has half a tail? I am guessing that the ‘Tail’ family all have a genetic weakness with their tails or the clumsy gene. ‘Nut Mom’ (aka me) also has the clumsy gene and break as many items as my mother did. One day in the garden, the hawk suddenly appeared and the squirrels were blissfully sitting in the trees. I ran out, shouted ‘lie down’ and they did!
We have twin baby blue jays. When they are first fledged, their iridescent blue feathers have not fully grown in and they have fluffy gray tummies. The parents have a distinctive black necklace which the babies don’t have until maturity. My friend across the cul-de-sac thought the nest was in the trees by her garden because she rescued a newly fledged blue jay from one of her dogs. From my friend’s rose colored perspective, her ‘black lab mix’, Gertie, was just going to nuzzle the baby… Gertie, who looks like a Rottweiler, has nearly pulled me off my feet when I took her for walkies in past years. Then she was desperately trying to ‘nuzzle’ ducks at the pond. Methinks she saw feathered snacks.
The baby blue jays have been so fun to watch – they have tried every voice in their repertoire. Gentle beeping, the rusty wheel, the annoying squawk and their imitation of the red-tailed hawk. That gets me racing to the door to check if it is a raptor. Their mimic is pretty good but if you listen carefully, it doesn’t have the mournful lament of real hawk. Their monogamous blue jay parents are very attentive, gently showing them how to drink from the bird bath and feed themselves. They seem to know our garden is a safe kindergarten.
The cardinals often accompany the blue jays who provide a Minder service for the smaller birds – early warning of predators. One of the silly baby blue jays tried to sit in a tiny bush with a baby cardinal. The father cardinal lay on the deck, with a ‘broken wing’, pretending to be injured to lure him away. Baby blue didn’t know his own size and meant no harm. Two American Robins, a type of thrush, have arrived from the north. It seemed as though they had traveled through our airport system because they were exhausted and filthy! They didn’t quite understand this garden of plenty but feasted and washed. They have settled in the oak tree in the front.
Alas, not everything survived our drought. In the early spring our Texas Mountain Laurel was glorious, covered in blossoms but by early summer she suddenly died. We have raised her for about 8 years so we are sad. Your swan song was glorious.
I hope my husband does not die under mysterious circumstances because my computer history will lead the cops to me. On Sunday, I noticed a strong skunk smell at the front of the house. I searched but saw nothing. Then I went to the neighbors and asked if they had seen anything. They thought their car had gone over some roadkill and took it to the carwash to no avail. We laughed and I said, prophetically, “At least, I won’t have to go looking for a dead critter…”
To set the scene, we are having a wee heatwave so it is hotter than hell and twice as humid. Yesterday was 97F/36C and the humidity was 68 % – it has been the same for a week with no rain. After my chat with the neighbor, I went out to the back yard and spotted them. Decomposition flies – Gah! They are so pretty with their sparkling iridescence. Curiously there was no strong smell in the yard – the balmy breeze was taking it to the front.
This is not my first dead critter rodeo, so I knew that we had to remove some of the deck planks. Teddy went out with his drill to unscrew the deck screws. He got about half out and then had to go to the hardware store to get a special bit to yank them out. Then we borrowed another neighbor’s drill. Nothing was working. Teddy looked like he was about to have a heart attack, soaked in sweat, working in Hades. As we approached nightfall (early in the subtropics), I texted our faithful handyman to ask if he could come out on Monday. Thank goodness he said yes. Then I poured a full bottle of bleach on the deck and between the planks.
We both slept very fitfully and I drifted to the other side of the bed to get away from the smell coming in the closed windows. The next day we tried all over again to remove the planks and I used every scent possible in the house which was now skunky, too. Air fresheners, carpet fragrance, washed floors in eucalyptus, incense – it smelled like a temple or church with a dead body… Carlos came at noon and I have never been so happy to see anyone. This is the second time that Carlos has come to remove deck planks in our necropolis.
He struggled to cope with the scent the last time, so I said I would retrieve the corpse. I was all set up with many bags, bleach, gloves, garden fork and very old clothes – there are silver linings to OCD! There are also benefits of decomp flies as they lead you to the evidence. I got straight in and pulled out the poor wee soul – it was a beautiful little skunk. With the heat and humidity, it wasn’t all in one piece – Carlos and Teddy looked at me in disgusted awe. “Only one of us could work on a farm,” I said. Carlos was delighted to leave after 15 minutes and we arranged for him to come back in a few days to replace the planks.
Eventually I Googled ‘How do you get rid of the smell of decomp?’ I used bleach again, then vinegar with baking soda that makes a very satisfying chemical reaction. Then I took bags of dirt out of the crime scene along with larvae. I was fascinated that the beautiful dragonflies were drawn to the flies and happily ate them. Maybe they like spicy food?? The volatile scent was still wafting to the front so there were little incense sticks were all over the yard – Nirvana.
Then I remembered my time at the airport. Drug smugglers use coffee to hide the smell of drugs to foil the drug sniffing dogs, so the instructors get the dogs to react to coffee too. I watched a customs dogs get excited about some luggage on the flight from Amsterdam to Houston. They took the bag off and thoroughly searched it, only to find some regular coffee. The passenger arrived later, none the wiser. So, with this lightbulb moment, I went into the pantry to find some coffee to put in the grave. It helped somewhat. Then I went back to Google who suggested an enzyme cleaner. We still had some left from our cat days and I liberally poured it in. That might have helped the most.
Skunks have an incredible defense with their notorious spray. It is full of complicated chemicals that last for weeks and months. They are easily predated and I have recently heard the great horned owl hooting in the backyard. They have no sense of smell so their favorite meal is skunk. CSI Kerry concluded that from the corpse that the owl had attempted a kill but the injured skunk sought sanctuary under our deck. May she rest in peace.
The smell is so pervasive that I felt guilty for stinking out the neighbors even though it was not our fault. Our houses back onto a reserve where myriad critters live in peace – usually. My mental health started spiraling downwards. Teddy noted that he hadn’t seen me so anxious since our time in Egypt. On one terrible occasion we went to a fancy hotel at the pyramids to escape the eternal water/power cuts in our house. We arrived in this verdant oasis only to find their water was off, too. It’s laughable in retrospect but at the time I felt broken.
A few days later and my equilibrium is returning to normal. I love my Garden of Earthly Delights and this is nature at its rawest. Everything has to eat. All the incense sticks gave the garden a funerial vibe and I have mourned the little skunk. All in all, I was proud of myself for taking control and not diving into a bottle of wine to relieve the stress. A recent bone scan showed some reduction in my bone density but normal for my age. The doctor suggested all the usual stuff including weight bearing exercise. I have certainly have had plenty of that this week…
It’s official – Infinity is a bust! More precisely, our Pyrex Infinity Pool was not appreciated by our garden critters. We watched as they walked cautiously around it, looking at it suspiciously. “What did the People do with the old bowl???” I think they couldn’t see the bottom of it or the edge and it made them wary about how deep it was. The critters had spoken and we trekked off to our favorite ‘antique’ shop in Tomball to replace their pool. We enjoyed our antiquing but you know it is time to stop when you wonder if they would like our stuff… The precious bowl Blue Lagoon was actually found at the church shop and cost $2.
Infinity’s a bust!
I was tickled that it was a genuine ceramic from the Coushatta Casino Resort in Louisiana. The Coushatta Tribe moved from their home base in south west Louisiana to Alabama to avoid Spanish explorer Hernandez DeSoto after an encounter in 1540. They relocated back to their homelands and some live in East Texas. Gambling casinos are illegal in Texas despite a recent bill in the Texas Senate. Teddy felt that we should have made some miniature roulette tables to our lagoon but it is too hot to be bothered now!
The new Blue Lagoon is a hit with the garden critters as you can see at the top and below with the infra- red camera. That is an indigenous pack rat sitting on the diving rock. Given his occupation, he would have loved rummaging through the antique shop. My favorite find was a George Bush doll!
Perfect for a pack rat!
Does anyone else remember old school desks that still had the inkwell in them? By the 60s we had stopped using the inkwell but I do remember having a few fountain pens. It was a really hot sticky day so Teddy and I enjoyed a wee glass of Pinot Grigio at this lovely outside bar. Afterwards we realized we hadn’t had any breakfast – we are turning into retired reprobates.
I just made Crimson a noun but Shakespeare messed with words all the time – ‘brevity is the soul of wit‘. For the first time in 15 years our dwarf crimson crape has fully matured and she is beautiful.
Doesn’t she just make you happy? Our neighbors love her.
Meet Shrimpy Shrimp, as I call our shrimp plant. Shouldn’t all our plants be named? The early botanists made a marvelous job with the Latin monikers. This is her much more gracious formal name – Justicia Brandegeeana. She seems to dance with hot pink petticoats. Justicia is a native of Mexico and seems to love our garden as you can see from the shot below in front of our other pink crape.
I deliberately clothed the garden in pink at the front – it just looks so pretty together including the Ti plant which is to the right of the tree. He is a Hawaiian native – aloha!
Even our dragons live in luxury on the porch with velveteen pink cushions. This is a spotted Gecko, unnamed, as there are literally hundreds all over the garden. You can name him if you like?
This is our outside feral cat, Katniss. Yes, she of the wooden palace… She is a solitary little soul and I often wonder if she is lonely or am I anthropomorphizing? At 7.30 am she is usually waiting for her breakfast and 6 pm for suppertime. Although she is one claw short of a paw, she has finally figured out that the new wooden house in our garden is for her to shelter in. Monsoon season is here and she has been inside the house, peeping out, looking for her human.
On a tangential note, our street has had a variety of feral cats; some fools have rescued them and others have disappeared. One particular black and white tom cat, named Adolpho in our street, was quite a character. He looked like he was wearing a scruffy leather jacket and smoking a tote. One of my neighbors noticed that there was a poster of him in the street. He was well known in every street and each had a different name for him – Bud, Tank etc. A text chain started and we all sadly found out that he had been killed on the road. RIP Bud, Tank or Adolpho.
Back to my black and white beauty, Katniss – a few weeks ago she was asking for food more often than usual. I accused her of being pregnant but she just stared at me with those round green eyes. Then Teddy and I figured out what she was doing. I had noticed a very small mother raccoon, slightly smaller than Katniss, who had swollen teats. Presumably her kits were nearby or under the deck. Katniss was leaving some of her meals for the raccoon and just sitting happily with her. Do cats make friends with other species; apparently so? It was so lovely to watch them.
We didn’t want to encourage the raccoon to join the family so we cut back on the food. Life went back to normal until Griff, our surviving feral tomcat, gray with pretty crossed eyes, started lurking around and made Katniss very skittish. I chased him but he was quite determined to get Katniss’s meals. To tempt her to another part of the garden I put out some human salmon – just a spoonful. Before Katniss could find it, the little raccoon sniffed out some delicious food from heaven. She was tucking in when Katniss appeared, outraged!! She went straight up to the raccoon and hissed in her face. The raccoon was cowering but she had never tasted anything quite so wonderful and she had to keep eating it. Then Katniss biffed her on the head with her paw but nothing worked. Laughingly, I went out to give Katniss a different plate but she was sulking by then because the delicious human salmon was in the raccoon’s tummy.
I haven’t seen the little raccoon for a while but she has probably moved on with her kits to a more prosperous garden, full of grubs and mice. Every so often I open the window with the net down so that she and Toffee, our old inside feral cat, can sniff each other. Toffee is also solitary and loves to watch Katniss from the top of her condominium.
My new camera gives some lovely detail to Toffee’s beautiful little face with her hooded owl eyes. She is 15 and a half years old, born in Cairo, Egypt.
These are our new residents who use our deck as an AirB&B. The first time I saw them, I couldn’t believe my eyes. What were they? Since then I have swallowed Wikipedia and discovered that they are Gray Foxes. They are indigenous to the Americas (with a range from Canada to Venezuela) unlike the red foxes which were introduced from Europe to hunt. Red foxes are now predominant in the eastern states but our gray foxes are not at risk.
Felicia, the mama, is sharing a burrow with the armadillos – I wondered why it was so big… From our nighttime camera we can see 2 adults and 4 puppies. Since the pair are monogamous we assume it is a breeding pair with their litter. I believe that they have recently moved into our area from other green belt areas that houses are being built on. We live in a protected forest environment and back onto a reserve (behind that fence).
Look at those brushes!
Felicia is about the size of a cat with longer legs. Their coat is exquisitely patterned and lush. I have had so much fun watching them play and hunt. Mama is mostly silent but quietly mewed at the pups when she returned with a baby squirrel from a hunting trip. They ran out from the deck, one went straight to her teats but she slapped him off to encourage them to eat solid food. They first appeared in the Americas in the Pliocene Era, about 3 and a half million years ago. Gray foxes are the most basic type of canine species and are related to Fennec Foxes.
Like cats, Felicia can hiss and climb trees to hunt or escape predators. She comes down backwards like a cat. I found a large dead wood rat on the deck – do you think it was rent for the deck burrow?? They are crepuscular in nature so that is why we have some shots in daylight but mostly they are nocturnal. Now we finally know why our squirrels are called fox squirrels – they have exactly the same gray with amber coloring.
They have provided much needed balm to my fragile soul over the last few weeks but also terrified Katniss our outside feral. She finally came back after a couple of weeks, very skinny, so I have been feeding her up. The foxes still come and go, so she has fixed her timetable to adjust. The foxes are not a threat to her but she doesn’t perceive that. I guess they all scent where they have been.
My psychiatrist suggested that I should write another post after the last one about suicide and here we are! I have taken two months off work and am beginning to feel better. My apologies for my absence around my friend’s posts – I need to relax. These little foxes have made 2018 a marvelous year, especially since so few people have seen these little critters in our area. I hope you enjoy watching the video of the pups playing in my plants – so cute!!!
Can you see Valentina sitting on our fence beside the crape blossom? She is a young American black vulture who was investigating our back yard. I don’t really know that she is female or called Valentina but she has an exotic black cloak on and mysterious brown eyes. We live in a forest in near Houston, Texas and regularly see all kinds of critters including Black and Turkey Vultures. In some areas Black Vultures, which are a protected species, are becoming very common but we have plenty of carrion for them to eat given the lack of driving skills…
You can get a really good look at her in the shot above. They are large birds and I guess she was about 3 feet tall with very big white feet. They are a successful species because they eat live prey alongside carrion. When Mrs. Stripe used to laze about on the deck, I would tease her that the circling vultures would eat her if she didn’t move. I don’t really understand why people think they are ugly – I thought she was rather beautiful in an Addams family way. She was quite curious about us but tentative.
This wonderful lady, Thelma Mercer, and her husband gifted this 14 acre arboretum to the people of Houston. There is some staff but mostly volunteers who work in intolerable conditions to create an oasis in this helter-skelter city. Originally, the land would have been in the countryside and the main road, like many others around here, is called FM (Farm to Market) 1960. Since then, the international airport has been built just a few miles away and the miracle is that you are completely oblivious. The arboretum includes indigenous forest and a major waterway, Spring Creek, which eventually flows into Lake Houston.
Doesn’t the white of the tulips pop against the dark conifers? It would make a lovely wedding backdrop.
Every season they chose a different color palette throughout the garden which changes dramatically. This spring it was predominantly maroon and yellow – a feast for our senses. In the decade we have been visiting I have noticed changes in who walks through the park. There are always wedding, pregnancy, Quinceañera and other professional photography shoots. Then there are the poorer immigrant families from Central America, Africa and the Far East who can visit a beautiful location for free. Many of them may have been farmers and perhaps this brings back a feeling of home.
The smell of these magnolias permeated the whole garden.
It just soothes my troubled soul to be among such natural beauty.
It is the birthing of a new season and the dying of the old. Both exist together as they do with every species. This tree fern has a whiskered texture as the leaves prepare to feed the ground below. Summer is in decay, humidity and heat dissipating likewise the cicada chirps. Autumn is sprinkling it’s magical orange fairy dust as the nights close in.
The Sweet Gum leaves are not ready to surrender to old age and the invasive Tallow bewitches us with it’s exquisite oriental leaves in every season.
Yet, the seasonal food is naturally colored for autumn and contrasts so prettily with the ancient rock and lichen.