The Non-Ducks are back!

Above are Whistling Ducks who migrate to our pond every summer. They are really neither geese nor ducks but a sub family – Dendrocygninae. It’s a bit of a tongue twister so we call them non ducks. They live in Latin America in the winter and we think they are Catholics given the amount of ducklings they have.

This is a male Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly They are common along the Gulf Coast and give a lovely flash of crimson in a sea of blue and green Pond Hawk dragonflies. To me, they are beautifully colored fairies that cluster around humans because we attract mosquitoes. These little predators are quite precocious and will sit on your hand or head.

This is Mr and Mrs Puddleduck, a pair of Muscovy ducks who live here year round. Mr Puddleduck has a glorious blue sheen to his feathers. They wag their tales like puppies when you talk to them…awww! We have had so many thunderstorms around these parts that we have puddles in the ground around the pond. These are full of slugs and worms that these fat little omnivores love. Their feathers have been covered in dirt with their muddy foraging. I tell them to go bathe in the pond to no avail…

These are two mud encrusted red eared slider turtles – what is it with the mud this year? Perhaps it acts as a sunscreen in turtle world. Sometimes they ‘turn turtle’ and we have to wade in and rescue them before the sun bakes them. They are indigenous to the southern Gulf but people have released unwanted pet sliders into other areas and then they become invasive.

OUR IDYLL

If you look really closely to the right of the most northerly pondweed, you will see the head of a massive turtle. He splashed into the water like a hippopotamus when I approached.

This is a Delta Flower Beetle, a beneficial migrant from the Florida Everglades. I was really trying to capture the Lantana blossom but then spotted the Delta which is also a type of Scarab beetle – happy memories from Egypt.

A leopard hopped…

This is a Southern Leopard Frog.  Isn’t he perfectly camouflaged in the mulch beside the Blue Lagoon (former Infinity Pool)?  Teddy and I were so excited about a new garden pet and ran for cameras.  ‘Leo’ sat patiently and posed for the paparazzi.  Then we Googled him.  They are indigenous and live in the south east portion of the US.  There are 23 types of Leopard frog in the Americas – who knew?  I loved the names of the unusual species such as Bigfoot Leopard Frog, Vegas Valley Leopard Frog and my favorite, Montezuma’s Leopard Frog.

They need to live by water so I guess the containment pond is close enough.  He has a very distinctive call – Their croaking, chuckling call has been compared to the sound of rubbing an inflated balloon.  That is one of the many reasons why I have to wear earplugs at night…  Judging the cacophony outside my window there are thousands hundreds living in our reserve.

National Geographic states:

Leopard frogs will eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. They sit still and wait for prey to happen by, then pounce with their powerful legs. They eat beetles, ants, flies, worms, smaller frogs, including their own species, and even birds, and garter snakes.

WOW!  That is an impressive little predator with quite an appetite – and most welcome in our well stocked jungle preserve.

Then Teddy and I realized we had seen a leopard frog before.  When we first moved into the street, I was enchanted by all the pumpkins you could buy in autumn.  It was a very hot, steamy October and we kept hearing frogs outside the front door.  Later we realized that the wee pumpkins had rotted with delicious larvae inside, attracting all the frogs.  Even Tim Burton couldn’t create a Halloween scenario like that one!

In retrospect, we wonder if this little green tree frog was hopping away from the gluttonous leopard frog near the pumpkins… It really is a jungle out there!

This is our delightful Frog Lady guide on a trip to El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rica. The Coqui Frog is the symbol of Puerto Rico and sings all night long. This is a link to my post about El Yunque.

references – National Geographic, USNF and Wikipedia

Blue Lagoon

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.

Cheers!! Sláinte!! Salud!! Prost!!

The Scream

Mama – I need lunch !!!

This delightful young red-tailed hawk has been waking me up every morning, YELLING for breakfast.  It was such a lovely day seeing the baby close up – they have a huge nest in a pine tree behind our neighbor’s house.

Later that day, we set the night camera out and some squirrels came up to us looking for peanuts which we readily provided.  We looked out at them snacking on their peanuts on the top of the fence.  I turned away and Teddy, gasped “Oh no!”.  The enormous (4 foot wing span) Red Tailed Hawk mother snatched one of the wee squirrels off the fence.  I was distraught and convinced it was my fault although objectively I know it is just the circle of life.

We lived on a farm many years ago and woke up to dead sheep or cattle when they had died in the night.  The farmer would drag the carcass onto the drive next to our house so that the knacker man could pick it up.  It couldn’t go for human consumption.  I adapted to farm life but still grieved each loss as I knew them all personally and had named them (Pal, Ilford, Ermentrude, Toffee, Fudge and Moo were my favorites).  Eventually they all went to market anyway.

I struggled to sleep after the squirrel kill but laughingly realized that we have been running a small farm in our backyard.  The stock is fat and healthy – excellent food for a beautiful hawk.  I won’t put any more peanuts out until winter as they have plenty of food.  Someone else is eating every bud off my hibiscus plant…

Teddy took these fabulous shots of the juvenile, about 60 foot up, with his Canon camera that cost more than me – no dowry from a council house! He was offered many camels for me in Egypt, however, and very kindly turned them down.

Nature sent a gift

After the deep freeze in Texas, many of our tropical plants died. Most of mine survived because I have ruthless green fingers. Almost all of the plants that I have put in are precisely for our climate area, sub tropical forest. Our soil is poor, drought and flood are common and so if a new plant dies, I don’t plant it again. The azaleas are not indigenous but they have more blossoms than they usually do. I guess the freeze provoked some growth.

This fern was just cut down a few weeks ago and yet there is still new growth! I love my lichen covered boulders – it usually indicates that the air quality is good. The trees in our forest act as giant filters against truck happy Texas.

Our mountain laurel has three new growths – if I am very lucky they will turn into purple blossoms with a gorgeous scent. The leaves are covered in yellow pollen but they are quite healthy despite that.

Our crimson dwarf crape has survived! They are trimmed every year but should have glorious deep red blossoms in a couple of months. Thank you Mother Nature for the beautiful mood boosting gift.

On a final humorous note, I had a mad half hour after our gardener trimmed all the dead branches, trees and put down new cypress mulch. He also put down some bull rock, as you can see below, to edge the lawn. The architect of our house wanted a wavy driveway which is difficult to traverse. Teddy often gouged the lawn with the big tires on the Dodge Challenger so we added some bull rock. In this part of the world the pebbles are mostly the same sandy color but these ones were almost white. I panicked as landscaping has to follow a set of rules. Initially I thought of calling the gardener and asking him to replace them at my expense. Then I had a crazy idea to replace them with older bull rock in the backyard. After pacing and panicking, I decided that I would hose down the muddy footprints. As I did that the stones miraculously turned a sandy color… I felt like such a fool because they were just covered in rock dust! Can you imagine if I had called Adelfo? He has called me Karen for 16 years and finally I would have turned into one!

Red, White and Southern

This is what Christmas decorations look like in our township – fresh flowers and a huge tree! We live on the cusp of the subtropics and the piney woods area of Texas. On the day that I took these photographs it was glorious. Cool, for us, and bright sunshine.

Isn’t that Veranda just perfect for sippin’ something southern? It is really the Tommy Bahamas’ store and restaurant and you can sip whatever you want on the back patio looking at the Christmas tree.

I liked this modern installation of birch trees and Cardinals. We don’t really have birch trees like that but we do have plenty of little Cardinals.

Flowers and greenery everywhere!

Just one more shot of the Christmas tree that shows how very high it is. Finally we got lovely new Fake Grass! It is impossible to keep our Augustine grass alive in winter – it naturally dies back and goes green in Spring.

Egyptian visitors at the pond

There has been a curious mystery at our pond for the last few weeks.  There were three little ducklings swimming alone in the middle of the water.  The Whistling ducks have gone to Latin America – would they leave their ducklings behind?  It would be strange as they are the helicopter parents of the duck/goose world.

JUVENILE WHISTLING DUCKS

Then I noticed we had a lovely dove gray Muscovy duck that I assumed was a daughter in law to the extended family.  Was she a flighty young mum, ignoring her ducklings?

UNUSUAL DOVE GRAY MUSCOVY DUCK – AKA DAUGHTER IN LAW

When I walked with Teddy to the pond on Sunday we spotted new visitors. We have a pair of Egyptian Geese which are an invasive species.

EGYPTIAN GEESE

I watched their relationship with our adored Muscovy Ducks but all seemed well.  To be honest our Muscovy ducks are bruisers, more than ready for the pot, as they would be in Mexico.  They look like those Mexican wrestlers with a mask on so I didn’t think the Egyptian Geese would bother them.  I recognized the geese but couldn’t remember what they were.  Now I realize I have seen them on thousands of Egyptian papyrus and ancient carvings.

Much like the Whistling ducks they are neither ducks nor geese but a sub category most similar to Sheldrakes. Today we had an important duck/goose update when we met one of the neighbors who has named all the Muscovy ducks and who lives at the pond. Apparently the Egyptian Geese were indeed terrorists and had frightened the Muscovies on two occasions. What!! She chased them and they seem to have left the area. If I see them again I will call the Ranger. How dare they frighten our residents!!! As for the abandoned ducklings, they are just deadbeat parents…

A few years ago we had another invasive species at the pond, Nutriamama and baby are pictured above. They are a relative of the Capybara and were brought to Louisiana for the fur trade. They breed like rabbits although they look like little beavers and can decimate the vegetation that is needed for the local species. My friend saw the Forest Warden preparing to trap them and asked him, “What are you going to do with them?” Bless her heart! It was like asking the store Santa if Santa is real. The warden very kindly told her that they were being ‘relocated’ to another area.

For some more fake news see RARE TWO HEADED DUCK below

THAT’S ALL FOLKS!!!

WTH is on the chimney?

There was a huge clatter on the chimney after a thunderstorm. Teddy and I looked at each other – WTH is that? Sometimes a mockingbird sings noisily sweetly or a mourning dove coos down the chimney but there was silence…apart from the clatter.

Black vultures have no voice and make a strange grunting noise. This pair were just enjoying their lookout.

A lovely spooky moment as we approach Halloween!

Kerry Miranda

Can you believe this guy is a professional photographer?  WTH – I have a plant growing out of my head.  It is hard to imagine but there was a life before the Pandemic hit.  Every year Houston hosts the largest Rodeo in the world, natch.  As much as I would love to visit, there are just too many people in one place.  This year we decided to go to our nearest town, Tomball, where the Sam Houston Trail Riders arrive by horses and wagons from Plantersville for a reception/meal/bunk.  It was cold but gloriously bright (which is maybe why Teddy couldn’t see the plant), so we arrived early in great anticipation.  The location was around the old railway station so we had a look inside, for the first time in 16 years.  Why do we always ignore the history right beside us?

Which one is real?

My husband looks like a real cowboy – until he opens his mouth…  It has been a long time since there was a working station office at Teague or Tomball but there is still a working commercial railroad.  I was 20 minutes late for a dental appointment when I had to wait patiently on the other side of the line.  We met a charming docent who told us all about the train museum.  He was fascinated by our Scottish accents and had another regular Scottish visitor who comes to the museum when he sees family in Texas.  The world is full of train geeks.

Kerry got friendly with the station master…

Halfway through the rodeo, we got news that the Pandemic had reached us and for the first time in the Houston Rodeo’s history it was cancelled.  One of the first patients in our county had visited the Rodeo but had not traveled anywhere else.  After a month in our local hospital, he finally recovered and got to go home.  It was touch and go but he was one of the lucky ones.  More posts about the trail ride to come.

 

For Eliza

Ernie and Harry

Eliza had asked to see some photographs of my regular walk around our containment pond, so without further ado… We often see all the varieties of heron fishing together. There are little snowy egrets, little green heron, night heron, Great Egrets and Great Blue Heron.

Rory, the American Robin

I love Robins – British Robins are small and vividly red like our Cardinals. The American Robins have such lovely songs and their coloring is so pretty.

Shrimpy Shrimp is always in flower – even on the coldest days!

She is a native of Mexico – beloved by butterflies and hummingbirds

Happy Hibiscus!

I love this tree sized pink Hibiscus bush which is on one of our shared neighborhood flower beds. We live in a posh commune…

Vladimira, the Black Vulture

I opened my front door and Vladimiri was standing right in front of me, drinking the water from one the neighbor’s sprinklers.  I chatted to her and admired her juvenile who flew away but she was not bothered by my presence. Unlike the next wonderful creature.

Walter, the Water Moccasin?

I am not entirely sure if this is the venomous Water Moccasin or a Diamond Back Water snake. Teddy was shouting, “Don’t get too close!”, to no avail as I was determined to get a shot of the snake swimming. It was so EXCITING!!

Pineapple Gauva Blossoms. They have delicious little fruit.

Bobby, the Blackbird

This is the American blackbird – not dissimilar to the European version but with a gorgeous flash of scarlet on the wings.

The Waltons – Whistling Ducks

Whistling Ducks are not really true ducks, nor geese – they are a sub family Dendrocygninae.  Some Whistling Ducks, further south than us, nest in trees to keep the eggs safe from alligators. I think we will have many babies soon…

Bonnie, the Eastern Bluebird

The local Bluebird Group have little houses all over our township and this year we have TWO pairs of Bluebirds of Happiness.