Cute Baby Animals!

I felt like I needed an antidote to my last post…  Over the past few weeks, I noticed that the water in the Infinity Pool and Blue Lagoon was murky.  I had my suspicions so we put the night camera out.  My heart melted when I saw these baby raccoon kits.  The next night we put out some of our old cat’s toys and the kits didn’t disappoint.  It has been really hot so they loved having a wee bath. Perhaps they are bathed more than Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’ kids?

Raccoons are part of the Procyonidae family widely spread through North and South America.  There are 7 species, from Alaska to Argentina, and include Coatimundi and Kinkajou.   Their original Latin name, Ursus Lotor, referred to their perceived habit of washing their paws.  As omnivores they will eat food in shallow water but the real reason for them moving their webbed paws in a washing motion is because they use them as vibration sensors.  Our kits were about the size of the Pyrex dish (although apparently two can fit at a push…)  In my mind, they look like a cute little bear/cat/dog hybrid.

Mother raccoon did not appear on camera so she was probably resting in the reserve, leaving the kits in the Garden of Raccoon Delights.  Raccoons usually have 2 to 8 kits but it’s likely that our 6 kits are cousins. Female raccoons sometimes live together to raise their kits – the original Sister Wives?  The biggest raccoon I have seen in our yard was as big as a Bulldog – their weight ranges from 5 to over 50 lbs.  Mrs Stripe, who was a street cat from Egypt, looked at it with utter astonishment.  It didn’t smell like a dog or a cat, so what was it??

Striped tails are my weakness so I smile every time I look at the video.  They are so small, fluffy and playful!  In another video we heard them whining for Mama.  It sounded like a puppy whining softly.  In general raccoons can make a variety of noises – yowling, growling, hissing, purring, chirping and cooing.  This litter was really quiet and I couldn’t hear them even though they were feet away from my bed.  What goes on in our yard at night?  It’s a magical, if occasionally stinky, place.

Google: How do I cover the smell of decomp?

The Garden of Earthly Delights by H Bosch

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…

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.

Just call me Isobel…

Meet Fluffles, a new temporary resident in Katniss’ old house. It makes my heart sing to see something furry enjoying it. Fluffles aka Fluffless (she keeps losing bits of her tail in skirmishes) is looking out pensively asking Nut-Mom to turn off the rain. Nut-Mom has the power to provide banquets of pecans, peanuts, sunflower seeds and apple cores but not weather.

Fluffles runs up as soon as I open the back door and very politely asks for a snack. Her sometimes friends are Polar, who has bright white spots on his ears, Floppy with one ear down and Big Foot. Little gray squirrels have white markings on the back of their ears so that a predator from above thinks they are bigger than they are – bio mimicry. When it is quiet, I can sometimes hear one of them ‘chappin’ or knocking on the door.

Corn-dad provides the corn cobs which I can’t stake in the ground. I know we are not alone in our lunacy because I have been searching for squirrel furniture on the web and there is plenty of it. They usually just get an occasional treat but cold weather has arrived with a vengeance. It is hard to stay warm when it is below freezing when you were just born a few months ago. They are the glossiest squirrels for miles around with white fat tummies. The video below will explain the title.

Sincere thanks to Janey Godley for keeping me amused in this crazy time!

Fat Bear

Courtesy of the Katmai Conservancy

Have any of you been watching the Fat Bear competition in Alaska?  If you were worried about post Covid weight gain, look at 747.  That really is a wide body…  The bears at the Katmai Conservancy are feasting on fish, salmon in particular, to bulk up for their winter hibernation.  I bet 747 is saying, “I can’t face another salmon…maybe a sausage?”  If you look at the website you can see the before and after photos – the opposite of the human ideal.  I would like to snuggle up with him in his cave until spring.

Back in Texas we have had a scary infestation of wee white moths that jump out of the bushes and scare the living daylights out of me.  I panicked because we had a termite infestation in our house some years ago.  Were they termites?  They were really sod web worms which create dead brown patches on the lawns.  Before I knew that, I called our regular bug/termite guy for a treatment inside and out.  There was just one giant cockroach too many – even our lizard colony couldn’t keep them under control.

When he arrived at the door, my first thought was “Are you preparing for hibernation?”  He has always been a tad husky but now he looks like a bear.  There is no judgment from me who used to weigh 200 lbs. It is strange how this pandemic has affected humans differently.  Some people are scary skinny, exercising themselves to death and others have succumbed to the delight of carbs/booze.  I had to go to the eye doctor this week and I was worried because I couldn’t see the computer.  Turns out that my right eye has got better which is weird because it has been Lasiked.  Then my hairdresser noted that my gray hair is darker than usual.  Is it my gluten free diet?

When I wrote this we were having the first bands of Hurricane Delta – I can’t believe we had to move onto the Greek alphabet because we have had so many storms.  The one thing that I miss from Scotland is the wind.  I love a fresh breeze, especially near the ocean.  Here in Texas, wind always means something sinister.  Nonetheless, I went to the pond, lay down on the grass and imagined I was at an ocean.  All 11 ducks/ducklings are accounted for so all is well.  Have a happy Weekend!

It’s the little things…

Can you see me?

This year has been one where we have had to be introspective and appreciate the little things.  It’s a small silver lining given the tragedy of Covid-19 but perhaps it will give us new coping skills for the future.  Teddy and I used to go out to lunch at least once a week.  We knew all the wait staff and enjoyed the banter along with the food.  It was my only reason to get dressed up as I wore a uniform, of sorts, at work.  Like most of us I have cleared out the closets but the pretty dresses flutter sadly in the closet.  Recently I bought two new nightdresses because that’s what I wear most.  On the plus side, I found nightdresses with pockets – wow!

Teddy was pushed to his limit last week when Hurricane Laura blew through.  It missed the large centers of population but it tore down large parts of our electricity grid to our east.  The next day the power went out unexpectedly for about 8 hours.  That seems perfectly reasonable to me but it was 100 degrees outside and 84 degrees in the house.  Teddy had to stop work and paced the house like a tiger.  He tested the generator (it works), he hunted for batteries and torches (which are all in the hurricane box which Kerry packs each year) and generally drove me crazy.  After many hours, I shouted at him, gave him a beer and told him to sit his ass down.  To his horror I said, “Look at the flowers” which is a line from Walking Dead before one of the characters was dispatched.  I reassured him that it was a Freudian slip…  Then nature sent us a little precious moment to calm him down.  Two little squirrel siblings who had been running crazy along the fences and trees, suddenly stopped and started grooming each other.  They snuggled and licked each other and our hearts melted.

I’m coming down for the snacks. Muchas Gracias, Senora!!

Like everyone else, our vacation plans have disappeared.  We had planned something special for my 60th birthday/38th anniversary in July but instead I made Teddy his favorite meal.  He loves potato gratin – so simple but I rarely make it.  For dessert I made him something he had been hankering over for 30+ years.  Many years ago I made a very decadent Pashka (Russian Easter cake) for a dinner party that we were hosting.  I searched the internet for a slightly lighter version of my original recipe and then altered it a little.  The main ingredients are butter, sugar, toasted almonds, crystallized ginger and vanilla.  Teddy was so excited!!!  I think it might have been the nicest anniversary meal we have ever had.  Our expectations were low and I was not stressed.

Potato Gratin

Pashka

Then there are the lizards.  As you know, we have been without pets for over a year now.  We rarely sat out in our back yard because Toffee was sadly sitting inside but now we can happily sit in our rockers looking at nature.  We noticed that spotted Anoles would come running when we came out.  Perhaps it was coincidence but now we have them named. Lorenzo has a regrown tail and Leo likes to sit on the prow of the deck.  When we call them, they run out from under the deck and start displaying in front of us.  Sometimes it is little handstands or head nods but if we are lucky they show us their red dewlap.  They let us go within an inch of them to admire their chameleon coloring.  We have one sweet little green Anole, Gerry, who is a native Texan.  The spotted Anoles are invasive from Cuba and they are feisty.  I Googled “snacks for lizards’ and they like live crickets and meal worms. They will have to eat what’s in the backyard…

velvet ant

Covid-19 has made me less obsessive about the usual bugs and germs.  Teddy dispatched a giant tree roach in the house and I didn’t bat an eyelid or get out the bleach.  We are in semi-drought here so insects are coming in, looking for water.  In the middle of the night, I went sleepily to the bathroom.  Through drowsy eyes, I saw what looked like a scorpion walking in while I was trapped on the toilet.  It was big, brown and not a cockroach.  Ruthlessly, I took a magazine and squashed it.  Later, I discovered that it was a mole cricket and I have been grieving ever since.  It was a harmless wee thing and I wish I had taken it out to the garden.

Mole Cricket with a curious pup, courtesy of Pixabay

Another day the lizards were agitated and when we investigated, they were chasing a velvet ant away from their babies – beautiful creature but with a deadly sting.  Red throated hummingbirds have visited the Mexican Fire Bush en route back to Latin America.  Finally, there are the babies. We have two nests of red tailed hawks behind our house. The baby hawks screech, “Mom, I need a mouse!”, then the Blue Jays start squawking and lastly the squirrels bark.  What a racket!

Just before this capture of a blue jay, he had been screeching that the water was dirty… Just as well they are beautiful.

I think this is a mixed marriage…like Teddy and I.

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.