Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Where the wild things are: on the hill!

Walking sticks have appeared
on our porch.
It must be spring, because all kinds of wild creatures are presenting themselves for observation at our country home.

We’ve seen some rare-to-us birds in the last few weeks. A golden-cheeked warbler perched on a branch outside our picture window a week ago, begging to be observed. These warblers actually are rare: they are listed as an endangered species. They only nest in the oak-juniper woodlands of Central Texas, and boy, do we have lots of home sites for them! We have continued to see him occasionally, and this morning we saw two––maybe a pair nesting nearby? This is the ultimate for an amateur naturalist––providing habitat for an endangered species!

Although this is a terrible picture, perhaps it's the perfect picture of a rare, shy endangered bird. Can you find him?
A Nashville warbler has been hanging around for several weeks, enjoying the birdbath. On Sunday, a summer tanager spent the day with us. We heard his call and knew he was not one of our regular visitors.  He finally landed on our picnic table so we could identify him.

Pine siskin (left) and Carolina chickadee
enjoy the seeds.

Another harbinger of spring (not at all rare) has arrived: chuck-will’s-widows. We’ve been hearing their night calls for several weeks.

A cottontail has been hopping around the yard. When we first moved in, many cottontails lived here. But we brought two cats and a dog with us, and the rabbits moved out.  We’re down to one rickety cat now, and this dog isn’t interested in chasing them.  I guess the rabbits (or at least this one) decided it was safe to return.

Our resident checkered garter snake finally woke up from his winter nap. My daughter and I startled him this weekend as he swam with the goldfish. He leaped out of the pond, and then slithered away slowly, and if to say, “Yeah, I’m back. It’s no big deal.” 

That same afternoon, I walked out into a field to inspect the first prickly pear bloom and heard a rustling to my left. I looked over to see a rather large snake crawling up a cedar tree.  I came back with binoculars and my budding herpetologist, and we spied him lounging on a branch about 40 feet high. We think he was a coach whip.

The fire ants are busy making trails across the driveway.
Of course, the whitetail deer are ever present. A pair skittered away as I went to my car one day last week. We don’t usually see them near the house, thanks to the presence of our dog, Iris.

Other recent sightings include a leopard frog squatting on the edge of the minnow pond. He appears to be dozing, but I’m sure if something edible came within reach he would leap into action. Lots of squirrels have been raiding our black oil sunflower feeders. My husband has harvested a few of them for our table. Free range, hormone-free, and . . . free! And before you ask, they taste like chicken––little bitty chickens.

Night before last, a coyote chorus serenaded us. We were sleeping with the windows open, on a quiet spring night. We awoke to the sounds of yipping and howling from the next-door neighbor’s property. I lay there smiling, because their song was so clear and distinct and perfect for the night. They sang for only a few moments, and then slipped away to their next engagement.

Oh, how I love living in the country!


  1. One June afternoon, a friend and I were seeing loads of walking sticks on every creosote bush we stopped at just S of Abq...mating season! That year they were on my screen windows...never seen that many. Yes, so many interesting creatures beyond town. Has the drought affected your wildlife numbers, like up here?

    1. Yes, the drought has probably affected insect numbers, especially. We are seeing a wider variety of birds, however. That might be due to unseasonal weather, though.