Spotting a Kinglet

by Pamela Neeley

I spotted a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet in the window feeder this morning around 10:00 am.  With the metal screen in the window, I can get within two feet of birds if I am extremely quiet.

A photo of a website image of the crown

This is the second time I have identified this bird. The first time he was flashing his psychedelic ruby crown, a few years ago. 

Female, photo of a web page

Today, this male was enjoying the sunflower seeds. They winter in Texas but do not nest here.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo. Here are a couple from the web.

More about the Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Signs of Spring: Herons

More and more of the native wildflowers are blooming, but the other sign of spring here in northern Milam County are birds working hard to make new birds. This morning, I looked out at the pond behind our house and saw a Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage.

Look closely

I realized he had a big stick in his mouth. He’s making a nest! I think the nest is over by the creek. I do look forward to seeing the family.

Off to the nest.

I spot lots more little flowers on my walks. I often have to memorize where I see them when I’m horseback so I can come back and get pictures. Here are some recent arrivals.

Butterflies are everywhere, too. They are enjoying the dandelion blossoms mostly. I still haven’t gotten a red admiral to sit still, but they are also here.

It’s so much fun to watch the seasons unfold. It’s also fun to listen. Cardinals are calling loudly this morning, but they have competition from a woodpecker who’s giving a concert by pecking on different parts of a tree and varying the tone of its pecks. What fun. Barn swallows are swiping and chirping.

And the heron is chiming in, along with the crows. I miss the flock of starlings that descended yesterday and really made things loud!

The source of morning concerts at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch.

But wait! Late addition! Just now I found Snappy, or more likely child of Snappy, one of our big snapping turtles. The original Snappy is much larger.

If you want Latin names for my observations or to see more, visit the Hermits’ Rest Ranch Flora and Fauna project on iNaturalist!

The Rhythms of Nature

by Sue Ann Kendall

I have a project on iNaturalist where I record the flora and fauna on the ranch where I live. I started it right after I became a Master Naturalist in 2018 and am still contributing to it. My goal is to eventually analyze the data to see if flowers or birds are appearing around the same time or if there’s difference due to weather or climate, or what.

I especially love the tiny flowers, like this birds-eye speedwell.

I accumulated a lot of Master Naturalist hours while working on this project, since I go out on almost every nice day to see what’s new on the property. But, last year the program changed its policy, and now we don’t get credit for hours spent observing nature on our own property. I can see not wanting observations of the same twenty plants in a suburban yard, but we have 500 acres. I stopped for a while, but then I realized the project is still important to me, so I am still taking pictures and uploading, especially in the spring.

Last week I shared some of the earlier flowers in our fields and woods. This week some new ones have showed up, which always thrills me. I’ll share some photos of the new arrivals below.

We are also losing some birds and gaining others. The hawks are still here, red-tails and red-shouldered, along with the tiny merlins and peregrin falcons. And our resident harrier keeps hovering over the fields, hopefully eating a LOT of mice.

The amazing pair of great blue herons seems busy bonding, and the belted kingfisher who showed up over the winter is still flying around and making its unmistakable chirps. In addition to the crows and starlings, we have some visiting blackbirds that make a beautiful sound. I’m not sure what type they are but enjoy listening to them. And cardinals. Wow, do we have a LOT of cardinals, too. I never knew they flocked until I moved here.

Just one male cardinal
Action shot showing the beautiful tail of this barn swallow.

Yesterday, I looked into a willow tree behind my house with my binoculars and saw a loggerhead shrike, a dove, English sparrows, a pair of cardinals, and a festive group of tiny chickadees bopping around. That’s my kind of decorated tree. Oh, and some red-eared slider turtles were holding down the trunks (this was in a tank).

I was happy to see barn swallows already in their nests just a couple of days after they arrived. The tiny insects are here, so they are looking pretty happy.

Speaking of tiny insects, I am always seeing tiny flies and bees on the flowers. They are pretty hard to identify. For example, the fly or bee in this picture is much smaller than you’d think. That is a dwarf dandelion it’s on, not a regular one.

So, yes, it’s a fun time over where I live, and I’m glad I’m able to document the variety of life here in the northern part of Milam County. I look forward to seeing what others are observing. I’ve noticed lots of plum and redbud trees elsewhere, but I just have the buds on cedar elms and coral berry.

Besides all this, I’ve seen a lot of butterflies, such as sulphurs and red admirals, but no one will hold still for me. I even saw something big and black from a long way off. I look forward to more!

Thanks for visiting my part of the world. No matter what, the rhythms of nature keep on going, and that’s a comfort.

Colors Outside the Frozen Window

by Larry Kocian

Birds of different species gather outside this frozen window. They gather around water fountains and various feeders filled with a variety of seeds. On this cold, winter day, they gather in larger numbers as the frigid winds blow and frozen water falls from the sky.

Many birds make your home their homes too. Singing melodies in the trees, reproducing their species, maintaining a balance of insects around your garden. Some of these birds take up residence at your home the entire year. One such bird in the Cardinal. Others migrate to your homes at various times of the year, like the Pine Warbler. 

Last year in February, a catastrophic winter event occurred in Texas that brought Arctic-like weather to a place that does not see this type of weather. The Polar Vortex was very intense and unstable, causing cold air to shift unusually far south. In February 2021, several days of Arctic cold and deep snows paralyzed the way of life for all animals and birds. Many animals froze to death in the wild. 

Cold Northern Cardinals

I remember venturing outside with our family during that event to find hungry birds. Birds that became unusually friendly to gather food. Many Pine Siskins would land on our shoulders and hands, feeding on seeds that we had to feed them. 

Today’s winter event is a very brief taste of that time. Many birds visited the feeders today as the ground is covered with ice and sleet.  The following are birds we saw feeding today :

  • Cardinals
  • Chickadees
  • White-wing Doves
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Various Sparrows
  • Warblers
  • Purple Finches

Scissor-tail Beauty

by Donna Lewis

I am sure all of you have noticed the numerous little mini flocks of scissor-tails lately around the county.   They are a bird even amateurs can identify.

Male and female. Photo by Martin Hall on iNaturalist.

We drive to our destination and everyone in the truck says look, look, a scissor-tail!

They have something to say! Photo by the late Greg Lasley on iNaturalist.

So, why do these birds have this tail?  This bird is a flycatcher, so it needs to be agile and able to turn quickly on a dime and in mid-air.  To catch an insect you have to be fast.

She caught a fly! Photo by Judy Gallagher on iNaturalist.

Its tail splits in two to redirect its flight.  Pretty handy.

Scissor-tailed flycatchers (Tyrannus forficatus) are beautiful birds with a pearly gray head and chest, and dark wings and tail. They can be found all over Texas and Oklahoma.

Photo by HD Cooper on iNaturalist.

During the winter they will migrate south to Mexico and even South America. That is what they are doing now. Otherwise you would not see them in a flock.  They like to be solitary, except at night when they may roost together as a community.  A sleepover with your friends.

Photo by Lena Zappia on iNaturalist.

In some places they are known as the Texas bird of paradise.

Females (who don’t have as long of a tail as the males do) lay three to six eggs that are white or cream colored with some dark red on them. Lovely to see.

Keep your eyes up and you will see them now.


All photos are some rights reserved (CC BY-NC) and authorized for nonprofit use and were selected by Sue Ann Kendall to go with Donna’s narrative.