Category Archives: Nature Photos

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.

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  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.


For those who have followed the news recently—or, in fact, for the past thirteen years—relevance has been granted to a group of steel beams found “amidst the debris of the World Trade Center following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” steel beams which, to the religiously inclined, obviously resemble a Christian cross.  Never mind that such constructs exist in every structure built with crosswise supports, like the transverse beams of a sailing ship built centuries ago.  This one, by golly, is a sign!  Despite being nothing more meaningful than two crossed structural steel beams, it’s obviously a Christian cross.  Right?

And so you see a face on Mars.  And an elephant in a cloud.  And Jesus in a piece of toast.  All because you see meaning where none exists.

Unfortunately for atheists, they also see a cross where none exists, and so they spin their wheels and rage against the machine and battle to keep a religious symbol out of public life—a religious symbol that does not exist.

Why doesn’t it exist?  Because it’s just a pair of crossed steel beams, the same kind of crossed beams found around the globe in any structure built with the same specifications, whether built of wood or concrete or steel or whatever.  In the end, transverse structural support is just that—crosswise bracing.  It’s nothing more complicated than that.

Nevertheless, people want to find meaning in it, and those people are Christian and atheist and any number of other groups.

What all these people suffer from is a form of apophenia called pareidolia: the ability of the human mind to find meaning in random stimuli.  If you see patterns in clouds or see a face on the moon or hear meaning in records played in reverse, you’re suffering from pareidolia.  And if a structure falls and you see a cross in two steel beams, you’re suffering from pareidolia as well.

How do I know?  Let me show you the dragon I found.

A dragon via pareidolia

There it lurked in the woods, staring at me even as I stared at it.  A dragon.  A monster.  A mythological beast as real as I am.

I saw it, I photographed it, I experienced it.

A dragon via pareidolia

Camouflaged to look like so much debris, evolved to seem as innocent as a fallen tree in the forest, the dragon never flinched as I looked at it.  And I never flinched as I photographed it.

For it gave me proof that such creatures exist, pictures of a demon heretofore considered a whimsical thing, an unreal thing, an imaginary thing.  Yet there it was.

A dragon via pareidolia

While others might see only a rough wood felled by nature itself, I know better.  Just as others see a cross in the steel beams of a fallen building, I see a dragon in the fallen remnants of a tree.

If they’re right about the cross, then I’m right about the dragon.

Blog reboot

I’m rebooting xenogere.


Mating pair of syrphid flies (a.k.a. hover flies; Toxomerus marginatus)

Since I last changed my blog theme, I’ve grown increasingly disenchanted with blogging.

That is to say I’ve hated the idea.

But no more.

Close-up of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and various other diversions will no longer distract me.

I will, however, continue to focus on my novels.

Because I have more important things to do.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) mobbing a feeder

And I’ll focus on photography.

Because I can make money with that, let alone use it to expand my horizons.

A male eastern Hercules beetle (Dynastes tityus) crawling on my hand

And I’ll focus on technology work since that has put many a coin in my pockets.

I mean, hey, come on already.

A female white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) with her fawn

I started blogging more than eleven years ago.

It’s time to either shut down and move on or restart and move forward.

I choose to move forward.

A Striped bark scorpion (Centruroides vittatus) eating a cricket--which has been decapitated

As you can see, I’ve made significant changes to the site. These changes aren’t done yet. In fact, not only are they a work in progress, they’re a work in need of focus.

There are problems I must fix, changes I must make, enhancements I must address.

So the site’s incomplete. But trust me when I say I’ll take care of it.

a Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) crawling along a storage barrel

Meanwhile, it’s time for me to get back on the horse so to speak.

And I intend to do just that.

Not just cows

I told my family a month ago that they were here, that they were in the pasture, that they were holding their ground.

Only I hadn’t seen more than two adults.  Though, admittedly, I knew what they were up to, where they’d be, what they had planned.

And I’d never seen them so early, at least not like this, at least not like before, in June.

This is March, right?  Besides, it was late February when I first spied them.

Yet despite my feeling that it was too early, they proved me wrong.  Very wrong.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) eggs (20130320_05732)

For that’s what I discovered a few weeks ago.  In the pasture.  With the cows.

Nest.  Eggs.  Life forthcoming.

“There are no eggs,” I declared, “because it’s too soon, too early.”

Oh, but I was wrong.

And whose nest is it?

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) on a nest (20130320_05743)

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), of course.

Today I almost stepped on it, at least before I was turned away by abrupt and loud diversions right at my feet.  Trust me: I mean right at my feet.

I was close enough to kick the bird, to step on the eggs.  For I’d forgotten precisely where the nest hid.

But they reminded me.  They always remind me.

So along with calves less than two weeks old, we have a vibrant killdeer nest two months earlier than I’d expect.

Two months earlier than I’ve ever seen.

In Texas.

But no worries.  My family—my father especially—wants to ensure the birds aren’t bothered.  I’m the only one who’d bother them since I’m the only one who understands them.

Still, there’s much excitement here on the farm given this new source of life, this new family, this new pleasure in small things.

So I’m watching them.  And waiting.  Like before.

Because I know how they are.  I know what they plan.  I know what they wish to create.

I’m watching.  And waiting.  Like before.

Because this show is worth patience.

Not a good idea

Mom shouted from one of the storage sheds.  Her voice came strident and immediate.  So I rushed to her side, interested both in what she’d discovered and—more importantly—about her safety.  For her to be so adamant about getting my attention, I knew she was facing something she’d rather not face alone.

In the unlit equipment shed, early afternoon sunlight not penetrating the dark, she stood some distance from a rather large creature moving casually from one wall to another.  It was a creature I’d never seen before, and its size gave me pause because the play of shadow upon shadow made it look like a very large spider.

Oh, you know, with a body about 1.5 in/25 mm in length, its long legs making it twice that size.

Not that I’m scared of spiders, but if I don’t know what it is, I’m no fool.

But after I gave it a quick taste of light from the camera’s flash, the flavor of the beast became obvious.  Well, obvious only insofar as I could tell it wasn’t a spider, but not obvious insofar as I didn’t have a clue what it was other than looking like a giant brown katydid.

So I snapped a natural-light picture when it paused mid stride—after the flash, of course, which lit up the shed like fireworks.

A male southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) walking across sandy ground (IMG_2793)

Having never seen this kind of insect before, imagine my surprise when I found several more throughout the same day.  That was in May 2012.

And for months afterward?  Let’s just say they represented a regular part of the natural world, found around the house and around the farm.

A female southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) walking across sandy ground (IMG_0019)

Some, like the female above, were at least 2.5 in/45 mm from ovipositor to mandibles—not including legs.  As far as katydids go, these represented some of the largest and most robust I’d ever seen

A female southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) standing on metal roofing (IMG_0054)

With their abundance and size and general appearance, I came to understand Mom’s initial trepidation.  She’s a go-getter when it comes to wildlife—except when it comes to crickets.

Consider this story: Whilst lying in bed one night watching a scorpion crawl along the ceiling above her, she casually asked of my father, “Honey, is that what I think it is?”

She handles arthropods with the skill of an entomologist.  And with the requisite aplomb.

But this?  In the dark?  And considering it looked like a giant cricket?  (Like every human who has ever lived, my mother has her Achilles heel: crickets.  They are her kryptonite.  Thus a giant cricket wandering about in the dark with her would certainly push her buttons.)

Close-up of a female southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) on metal roofing (IMG_0087)

But these weren’t crickets.  They weren’t even scorpions.  So why be worried?

Well, her initial apprehension aside, research quickly identified these as southern protean shieldbacks (Atlanticus pachymerus).  Shieldbacks have every reason to give you pause.  You see, they’re omnivorous.  More importantly, they’re predators of other insects.

But lacking a poisonous bite or a venomous sting, why be worried?

Close-up of a female southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) (IMG_0106)

Like the hardwood stump borer I mentioned previously, shieldbacks are large and powerful.  Even lacking toxic weapons, they nevertheless have power on their side.

Here’s the clue: BugGuide specifically states that shieldbacks are said “to be strong biters.”

After our first encounter in the equipment shed, I tested that theory—after having identified the critters.

Close-up of a female southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) in sunshine (IMG_0105)

Trust me when I say this: They hunt other insects, not to mention feeding on anything they find appealing, like plants and detritus and whatever.

But—Yo!—they eat other insects no matter if those insects are dead or alive.  And how do they do that?

By chomping down on whatever looks tasty.

And given their general size, when a shieldback chomps down on something, it’s a potent bite indeed.

Again, trust me on this.  I tested that theory.  The little bugger taught me never to test it again.

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This is the fourth entry in my intermittent series of posts focused on arthropods that can be dangerous if mishandled.  The first entry—about wheel bugs—is here, the second entry—about black widow spiders—is here, and the third entry—about hardwood stump borer beetles—is here.