Toads galore

This has clearly been a banner year for toads in East Texas.  For that matter, it’s been a banner year for walking sticks, frogs, praying mantises, grasshoppers, beetles, snakes, and a variety of other critters.

But we normally have a collection of toads in the immediate vicinity of the house, and this year that collection has grown into a horde.  Each night as they become active, it’s not at all uncommon to see six or eight of them just around the carport, all of varying sizes and color schemes.

An east Texas toad (Bufo velatus) hiding in the grass (20140926_12565)

The majority are east Texas toads (Bufo velatus).  We have other species, of course, but B. velatus is ubiquitous.

Close-up of an east Texas toad (Bufo velatus) (20140926_12583)

From sunset to sunrise, finding toads has never been easier.  (A little too easy since it’s been necessary to watch carefully when walking lest you kick one or step on it.)

An east Texas toad (Bufo velatus) nestled in a burrow (20141009_12640)

As morning rolls around, they begin heading off to their various hideaways and burrows.  Though the outside cats ignore them (they learned early not to mess with toads), the dogs are fascinated and just waiting for a chance to grab one.  We don’t really want that to happen, but it would be a lesson hard learned for the canines.

Close-up of a juvenile east Texas toad (Bufo velatus) (20141009_12628)

With so much food available, not one of them looks like it’s starving.  And if you catch them in the right mood, they not only look healthy but they also look downright adorable.

Newborn

The sun had yet to show even a sliver of its bright disk above the horizon, though the ample light of dawn made clear it wouldn’t be long before that happened.  And as is always the case that early in the morning, my uncle and I were already busy tending to farm work.

Because white-tailed deer (a.k.a. whitetail deer; Odocoileus virginianus) are common out here in the country, we often see them as we toil about the property.  In fact, some have become so accustomed to us that they don’t run—instead they look at us briefly before returning to whatever they’re doing.  Which is usually eating.

So on this morning we glanced into the largest pasture and noticed a doe standing perhaps ten yards/meters from the fence.  She knew we were close—standing at the fence—yet she never stopped or ran.

And what was she doing?  It was obvious from the moment I saw her, with her head far down in the tall grass.  I knew she had a fawn.  From the way she tended to it without fleeing, I also knew it couldn’t be more than a few hours old because she was still cleaning it, licking it, bonding with it.

So I grabbed my camera.

By then, as luck would have it, the newborn was able to get up and walk, albeit not fast and not expertly.  As I approached the fence again with my camera, we saw the mother turn and walk steadily away from us.

The only sign of the fawn was the grass bending and parting a step or two behind the doe.  That meant I’d have to go in the pasture if I had any hope of grabbing a photo or two. 

Over the fence I went.

I had to move at a good pace in order to catch up to the pair who had already made it across most of the large pasture.  They rapidly approached the corner of the fence.  I rapidly approached as well.

Though the doe made it over without a problem, she paused on the other side of the fence even as I neared.  I knew it was my chance.  She was waiting on the fawn who would have to wiggle and squeeze through the fence.

When the doe bolted, huffing all the while, and paused maybe ten yards/meters away, still huffing at me, I realized it was my chance.  The fawn had to be nearby since it couldn’t keep up with its mother, not to mention its mother trying hard to keep me interested in her.

Then I found it just a step away.

A white-tailed fawn (Odocoileus virginianus) hiding in tall grass (20140623_11370)

Nestled in tall grass and motionless, the fawn was perfectly concealed, at least from predators looking for a solid outline or something in motion or a contrasting coat.

A white-tailed fawn (Odocoileus virginianus) hiding in tall grass (20140623_11392)

While I snapped a few photos, the mother looped around through the woods nearby, huffing every few steps, stopping often to look at me, making sure I saw and heard her.  But I had no intention of harming her newborn, a baby just hours old, so I let her continue with her display and her antics as I focused on the fawn.

A white-tailed fawn (Odocoileus virginianus) hiding in tall grass (20140623_11382)

Just a few images more of this beautiful creature, so young and so vulnerable yet so unflinching, and then I stood and walked away, not looking back, not pausing.

Close-up of a white-tailed fawn (Odocoileus virginianus) hiding in tall grass (20140623_11378)

Only when I’d crossed the pasture did I dare to glance back.  I saw only the doe as she meandered slowly back into the woods from where I’d just been standing.  And though I couldn’t see it for all the trees and grass between us, I imagined somewhere right behind her was a tiny little fawn pushing through grass much taller than it was, a newborn who knew when it was time to sit still and when it was time to follow its mother.

I smiled briefly, glad for the encounter, then I went back to work.

— — — — — — — — — —

Notes:

  1. I normally would not consider interfering with nature in such a way just to get a photo.  I prefer passive observation and in situ images.  But in this case I realized I could only get the images if I could get close enough to force the fawn into hiding.  And I also knew my quick visit would cause no lasting harm, what with the mother staying a stone’s throw away and keeping a close eye on her child.
  2. My apologies for my long absence from blogging.  It’s been a hectic and busy summer around the family farm.  I’ve had barely enough time to do some occasional photography, but for the most part I have worked and worked and worked with little time for anything else.  As the summer comes to a close and things begin to slow down a wee bit around here, I have ample pictures and stories to share.  And I intend to do just that.

Unfulfilled promises

It feels like a house with one of its children gone.  Perhaps even emptier than that.

Loki sitting on the floor staring at me (162_6284)

It feels like a song with no music or lyrics.  Perhaps even quieter than that.

A close-up of Loki as he looks outside (163_6319)

It feels like a bed with no one to warm it.  Perhaps even colder than that.

Loki half asleep on the bed (2009_03_01_011809)

It feels like a list of unfulfilled promises that can never be redeemed.  Perhaps even more disappointing than that.

A close-up profile of Loki as he sleeps (20081005_13451_new)

At least now he can sleep peacefully without suffering.  That’s the only substantive good I can find in this hollow.

Loki, February 1997 – May 2014

From above

It started with a cacophony of avian voices, mostly eastern bluebirds, but also a titmouse, a mockingbird, a few sparrows, and even a cardinal.  Oh the racket they made.

I meandered toward the noise to see what was happening.  I saw the bluebirds—both the male and female—flitting to their nest box and hovering near the entrance, then flying to the roof of a storage shed where they would hover where the wall and roof met.  All the while the bluebirds complained loudly and constantly, joined often by the other birds in attendance.

“Their young must be fledging,” I thought to myself.  Only I knew it was too early for that; the bluebird young wouldn’t fledge for another week.  And even if they were fledging, the other birds wouldn’t care.

So what was going on?

I decided to move closer, knowing it would disrupt the birds, but also knowing it was the only way I could figure out this raucous rabble-rousing.

Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) climbing atop a wall (20140424_10059)

Facing into the setting sun and peering at the roof of the shed, the cause of the uproar made itself quite apparent.  From outside, at least, where I could see part of a large snake as it meandered atop the wall.

With the bluebird house only a few paces away, I had no problem understanding the hoopla.

Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) climbing atop a wall (20140424_10073)

More of the snake was inside the shed than outside.  And trust me when I say there was a lot of snake to be seen.

Close-up of a Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) climbing atop a wall (20140424_10069)

Perhaps six feet/two meters long, this Texas rat snake (a.k.a chicken snake; Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) didn’t appear phased by the birds outside.  For that matter, it seemed only casually interested in my presence, even though I stood close enough to reach up and touch it.

Close-up of a Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) climbing atop a wall (20140424_10085)

Our bluebird houses are protected by multiple lines of defense: barbed wire encircling the posts that hold them up and baffles higher up that stop anything from climbing to the nest boxes.  But the birds don’t know they’re so heavily guarded.

Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) climbing atop a wall (20140424_10075)

Besides, many snakes—rat snakes included—are excellent climbers, able to slither into trees, up walls and posts and poles, and pretty much surmount any vertical obstacle so long as they can get some grip.

Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) climbing atop a wall (20140424_10093)

As long as they knew the snake was there, the birds continued their uproar.  And the snake?

Close-up of a Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) climbing atop a wall (20140424_10101)

Eventually it curled up in the corner beneath the roof, apparently settling in for a nap.

We had no problem leaving the snake to its evening and its eventual hunt.  This is a real farm, and that means we have real rodents.  Rat snakes make a welcome addition to our anti-rodent arsenal.

— — — — — — — — — —

Notes:

  1. This encounter reminded me of a not too dissimilar encounter last year while my cousin was visiting.  I’ll have to share that story soon.
  2. Not all small critters are unwelcome.  Rats, mice and gophers are some of our worst enemies, but we also have moles who are not villains.  I recently caught one—an eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus)—and relocated it to safer territory away from the house and farm buildings since our outside cats hunt those areas.  And yes, I took pictures of the mole, so I’ll share those soon as well.

Warm company

Yesterday I took a walk around our largest pasture, a space that is half woods and half prairie.  My primary mission was to look for a fallen tree in case it landed on the fence (something I heard around 2:30 AM that morning but couldn’t definitively locate by sound).  My secondary mission, of course, was to take pictures and enjoy nature.

Unfortunately for me, the jaunt came after heavy rain and on a moderately cool day and on a very windy day.  I had little hope of seeing much other than flowers and fungi, perhaps even the occasional arthropod, the latter being mostly comatose given the temperature.

Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus) (20140408_09848)

To my surprise, I had a good deal of warm company no matter where I looked.  That company came in the guise of Texas spiny lizards (Sceloporus olivaceus).  Mostly males, these reptiles seemed to be out in force occupying every sunny spot available.

Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus) (20140408_09865)

They didn’t welcome my company, of course, but they likewise didn’t rush away just because I appeared.  After all, scampering about served only to remove them from open spots in sunlight.

Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus) (20140408_09881)

A few butterflies[1] and a few caterpillars couldn’t fill the long walk, and the flowers and fungi are ubiquitous and thus things I have seen and photographed on a regular basis[2].  Thus it was with great pleasure that I welcomed the warm company of these lizards, even if they weren’t exactly thrilled with my invasion of their sunbathing moments.

Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus) (20140408_09889)

Despite my lack of activity of late[3], herein lies a bit of what’s to come.  Or at least a bit of the warm company I enjoyed yesterday.

Oh, and the fallen tree was beyond the pasture.  The only thing I found on the fence was a sapling about 15 feet/5 meters tall.  And I removed it without difficulty.  Apparently the big tree I heard fall was one well beyond our property.

— — — — — — — — — —

Notes:

  1. We have been mindful of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus).  Given the precarious situation they’re in—likely to be wiped out in the next decade at most—we’ve allowed all manner of milkweed to grow around the farm.  And we’ve been watchful for their presence.  Yesterday I saw two across the expanse of a multi-acre pasture.  Sad, yes, but still hopeful.
  2. For the other tidbits I saw and photographed and didn’t present here, you can expect to see them in an upcoming post.
  3. I’ve been busy of late with tasks about the family farm, not to mention the rebuild of my laptop—going from Windows to Linux.  I’ll share a bit later about my experience on the Linux upgrade.

a life in progress