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

Encountering Coachwhips

by Pamela Neeley and Phyllis Shuffield

Pamela: Remember the snake encounter I had right after the storm?

I was walking out of house to meet the mail carrier and something ran between and over my feet and ankles. When I turned to chide the cat, it was a snake.

Sue Ann says: Pamela may have forgotten the one she found in her toilet on March 19, 2020.

Watched snake long enough to see it was about 2′ long, light green/slight tan mixed in, no spots, no stripes, non-venomous head, fat middle, slim tail and fast. When it ran away from me, at the steps of the porch it turned and looked at me – and then went on into the flower bed. The light/medium green color blended into the grey of the porch – same value! perfect camouflage.

I searched all photos of non-venomous snakes I could find on internet. Thanks to Donna Lewis, I got the contact information of Dr. Crump at Texas Parks and Wildlife. I received a call back from him and he identified it – with all the disclaimers that come with an ID – as a coachwhip.

Why? Because: they vary in color from pink in the west to black in the east; they are fast; they are fat; AND they are curious. Dr. Crump described coachwhip behavior as “curious, and looking back to check is typical.” That was the final clue to the ID. So the valuable identification clue is that it paused long enough to turn itself around and look at me before continuing on.

Yea! I have a coachwhip here! Good mousers, etc. One of the good guys. I wanted to post a photo of the pink variant, but could not locate one that would copy.

Thank you, Dr. Paul Crump.

Suna says: Here’s a photo of a pink one by Jake Scott from iNaturalist. Used with permission.

Phyllis: Coach whips are really neat to watch. They will stop, raise up out of the grass as if to ask, “What are you looking at?” They will also come up from behind you and slither through you legs. And if you run, they will chase you and whip their tail at you…yep had all this happen several times.

I had some in the puppy pen area. Once they moved into Club Med for puppies and mice, I didn’t have a bad problem with the mice. However, I had help quit once because he got chased by one.

Snow Time with Pamela

by Pamela Neeley

[Various members of our Chapter are sharing their snow memories from January 3, so we can look back on them in the future. Here are photos from Pamela Neeley’s farm just north of Cameron.]

These photos are when the snow first started. Later the trees you see will be full of snow and their branches touching the ground. If you want to see any image larger, just click on it.

Ruby the dog growled at the snow, with the ridge of fur on her back while she explored. She preferred to stay on the road and not walk on the actual snow. She was happiest back in the house on her sofa!

After the snow had fallen more, the art looked very interesting, and the evergreens had a heavy burden to bear (around town, a lot of limbs broke).

Later on, the farm was visited by a large flock of black vultures. There were at least 30 in the sky, while at least four of them rested on fence posts.

Water Feature Fun for Beauty, Conservation, and Natural Habitat

by Pamela Neeley

Note from Suna: Pamela Neeley from the El Camino Real chapter has been working with water features on her property for the past few months (years), creating not only areas of beauty (sight and sound), but places for aquatic plants to flourish, and wildlife to sustain themselves on. I toured her property a couple of weeks ago and encouraged her to share some of her ideas and techniques with fellow Master Naturalists. Maybe you can borrow of her creative thoughts some in your own gardens and wild areas!

Here’s another example of a dripping faucet connection caught into a container. Cats and dogs like this one, too.

Snake in the Toilet!

I love this place! 5 stars! Photo by Pamela, through a window.

While we aren’t having meetings for a while, we are able to have our own adventures out in nature, or if we’re lucky, nature comes into our homes.

Chapter member Pamela Neeley is well known for having a home that’s welcoming to creatures of nature. People who have been to our meetings may recall that she recently had a skunk that liked to come in and check out her cat food.

It would come in through the pet door and make itself at home. It never sprayed or anything, but was quite clever.

They have the best restaurants here at Chez Pamela.

When Pamela tried to block the door, the patient skunk slowly but surely worked out how to remove the barriers, so he or she could search for snacks. Cat food is really delicious, apparently.

I guess the skunk got along well enough with Ruby the dog, though Ruby did alert Pamela to the skunk’s presence.

Skunks CAN make good pets, but that’s not something we Master Naturalists would suggest as an option. Besides, this is a wild one, and fully operational.

About that Snake

Pamela also has cats. They go in and out that same door the skunk used. Sometimes cats bring presents, as cats are known to do. Earlier in the week, the present Apollo brought was long, thin, and not dead.

The snake was first spotted heading into what Pamela calls the “scary room filled with boxes,” from where she had no chance or removing it. Since she’s so used to critters, she went about her business, until yesterday, when she noticed Apollo the cat was stalking the bathroom. Aha!

Well, hello!

The snake was taking refuge in a nice, damp place. That can scare the pee out of you!

After taking a bunch of pictures, Pamela contacted her team of friends on a group text for suggestions. And she got dressed. That’s important.

Ideas came quickly from her amazed friends. One idea was flushing, which was immediately rejected. That’s not being kind to our reptile friends!

Other ideas were use a mop, use one of those pick-up sticks that help the elderly, kitchen tongs, a net, and so forth.

Pamela chose the large towel method. She was ready to fling it into the bathtub if it got too wiggly, but it turned out the snake just curled up and she could easily get it in the towel. It was probably relieved.

Pamela took it to the woods a good ways from the house, and everyone was relieved.

What Was It?

Closer image of the scared snake.

Naturally, everyone in the Cameron ladies’ text group wanted to know what kind of snake it was, especially those of us who are Texas Master Naturalists. Pamela knew what to do, and uploaded it to iNaturalist, suggesting it might be a brown snake, judging from the markings she noted.

Soon she got feedback that the snake was a coach-whip snake. Now she’s glad it didn’t do its characteristic whipping action on her. Since the snake may have been in her house as long as a week, she also hopes it ate some scorpions or other annoying creatures while it was a guest in her home.

Share Your Stories!

Now that we are mostly sitting around looking at the nature around our homes, please share what’s going on with you! Maybe it will make up for all the meetings and classes that have been canceled. I already have one to share tomorrow, so stay tuned.