My New Friend the Water Snake Returned

by Donna Lewis

Well since I wrote about the yellowbelly water snake eating my toad friend, it returned.

I thought it had left since it had eaten my little friend.  Sadly, it liked the hole the toad had wallered out and decided that it would take up residence there.

Hole, before filling in

So, now I could see its head poking out the hole under the water faucet every time I used the hose. All I could think about was it might be a girl and she would have her babies there. Not a good thing.   

I didn’t want to hurt it, but it needed to go back to our woods, where the pond is. My Linda also said it must go. She would have been happy to get the shotgun and blast away. I could not let that happen.

So, all I could think to do was to remove the little area under the faucet and fill it in. Of course, the snake was in the hole while I got started. How exciting.

Tools are ready!

I put on my snake leggings, just in case it wanted to bite me. Then I got everything I might need to do this task.  I got a hoe, shovel, dirt, and some rocks and put them close to the area.

Protection

Then, I lifted the flat rock that I placed there to keep the water from making a hole.  As soon as I lifted it, Mr. or Mrs. Snake came flying out and lunged at me. 

I had the shovel, so I flipped the snake away and started trying to scare it. I kept moving towards it and flipping it about five feet away. It actually was bucking in the air!  It was both terrifying and funny at the same time. 

At last, the snake finally decided I meant business and took off across the pasture.  Yes!

I quickly dug out the hole and then filled it in with all the stuff I had assembled. This was last week, and so far no snake.

All covered up

Who would believe this, but it’s true. No snake was hurt during this adventure.

Closing Down the Martin Houses

by Donna Lewis

So, the sad day has finally arrived for purple martin landlords. Our friends have gone to their winter home in Brazil.  It is so quiet now without their beautiful song and chatter.

The martin houses must be cleaned, closed, and information about what was in the nest after they left recorded.

Normally, I just have poop and dead bugs in the houses. But, surprise, surprise, there was a little more this time (in the apartment house, not the gourds).

Ready for anything.

I opened the first slot that opened four compartments and yellowjackets came flying out at me.  Oh boy. I managed to only let one sting me on my hand, which got really swollen.

So, how do I get the little devils out? First of all, never use pesticides in a bird house of any kind. The residue could hurt newborn babies who have no feathers.  They are pink and blind like baby mice, very vulnerable. What I do is I take tongs and yank out the nest, then run like heck. Well, maybe not run anymore, just walk real fast. Then I wait for the adults to move on.

This year there were two red wasp and two yellowjacket nests in my apartment house. It took me six hours to get them all out.  I will close up the gourd house another day.

I left the apartment house open for now until I can safely clean it out with the wet vac, then wipe it with a wet cloth. I let it completely dry. Then, I put a cover over it till next February, when the martins return.

The main thing is to be careful when you look in the houses, and secondly not to use pesticides .I will miss my friends and hope they survive to visit me again.

Belly Botany at Orchard Park

by Linda Jo Conn

John Pruett, Connie Anderle, Ann Collins and I joined forces at Orchard Park in Cameron for a nature survey.  Eric Neubauer arrived at the city park earlier to look for spiders and at the aerated pond and was leaving as we arrived.  The park with its old pecan trees is neatly mowed.  The paved walkway around the park was used by walkers and joggers during our visit.  Several bordered rose beds, wildscape areas, and a huge purple martin house installed in the past are apparently not maintained as intended, but I envisioned a person or small group with the time, energy, and desire to add to the beauty and utility of the park volunteering their efforts here.

Purple martin house at the park

I was disappointed to learn that the Cameron City Manager is leaving for another position.  During a conversation I had with him regarding the Great Texas Wildlife Trails Adopt A Loop Project, I was impressed with his vision and plans to incorporate more natural areas into the landscapes of the city parks.    

Strolling around the park “at the speed of botany,” we did some “belly botany.”  Most of the plants in bloom were below the height of the mower blades. One remarkable observation was the abundance of white widow’s tears (Commelina erecta).  I observed only one blue dayflower during the visit. We were pleased to see straggler daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis) and turkey trot frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) carpeting the park. Wing pod purslane (Portulaca umbraticola) was in bloom and the tiny delicate flowers of erect spiderling (Boerhavia erecta) required a closer look. 

Among the animals observed was a fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) checking out the future pecan crop and several crayfish mounds (Cambaridae family).  While Connie was trying to point out some rice stink bugs (Oebalus pugnax) she had spotted, my eyes focused instead on a tiny sharpshooter (Draeculacephala sp.) on a blade of grass.  

As a destination for your daily walk or to just sit and relax in the shade of the pecan trees, Orchard Park on East 6th street across the railroad tracks from the Cameron Yards is a place to go.

Araneae, Odonata, and Anura at Apache Pass

by Linda Jo Conn

Eric Neubauer and I joined forces Wednesday, July 7, to investigate the diversity of wildlife at the Apache Pass Event Center on the San Gabriel River, a unique location on the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail and a stop on the Brazos Loop of the Great Texas Wildlife Trail promoted by Texas Parks and Wildlife. 

Damselfly

The mowed, fertilized and herbicided open areas of the privately owned location did not hold a lot of appeal for exploration, especially since the Bermuda grass was dripping wet from morning dew.  The peripheral areas along trees and fence lines were the more interesting locations for plants and listening to bird songs. 

A frog!

A gravel bar beside the flowing river was the high point of the visit.  It was teeming with spiders, damselflies and small frogs.  A naturalist’s paradise!

Eric with the “spider scoop” (a white plastic storage container)

Eric brought his awesomely simple spider scoop which made the photography and inspection of spiders a snap as well as his advanced (compared to my point-shoot-and hope) camera and his vast knowledge of spider identification.  As usual, the adventure was a learning experience for me.

One of Eric’s spiders.

The number of colorful damselflies we observed was incredible, as well as the many tiny frogs and toads Eric was also able to spot and point out.  I am certainly looking forward to another visit when the river is flowing at a slower rate.  If you decide to drive over that way yourself, be sure to visit the gravel bar along the river.  And visit iNaturalist.org for the day’s observations by eanuebauer and connlindajo

Blue Birds Hitting Window Panes

by Donna Lewis

The second week of May brought an issue up at my house that I have not had before.  Blue birds hitting my windows trying to catch insects. I was worried they would hurt their beaks and my window panes.

I tried putting objects in front of the window, placing furniture inside of the house that showed thru, decals made just for this purpose and just waiting outside to scare the birds away. All with no luck.   The pounding went on all day.

Then Linda remembered that we had saved some plastic construction fencing from when our house was built.   Strong and lightweight. So we put some up around the house and it worked.

Bird Proofed!

I don’t know what was different this year that caused the birds to do this, I just hope it doesn’t happen again.

Shutting that one blind helped, too.