I began keeping a nature journal decades ago. Below are excerpts from those journals sharing my experiences with dogs, cats and horses, and observing the natural world in Austin, Texas.
The last day of winter doesn’t feel like winter. Growing up in New Jersey, today might have brought snow. Back then we wished for signs of spring. Here in Texas, especially decades later, the signs of spring have been with us for weeks. Redbuds in bloom, primroses, bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush all over the hillsides along 290, Blake Manor Road and the pastures at the barn.
The owl huddles over her clutch this morning. She has laid three eggs so far and there may be a fourth egg hiding under her now. The first egg appeared on Tuesday morning, March 10, and each subsequent egg has been laid a day apart; so Thursday, Saturday and today, if she has laid another.
The female screech owl has been in the owl box for over a week now. I was convinced it was the female when she began trilling before she left the box each evening. Each night she leaves a little later. Last night shortly before 7 a second owl (probably the male) dropped into the box, so we know now there are two owls, that this is a pair, and the female is now in the box. Instead of names we have given them numbers like wolves: M20 and F20, “20” for the year. Waiting for the first egg begins.
There was something different about the owl this week. On Wednesday, instead of sitting tall and upright in a corner of the box the owl was bent over, tearing at something along the edge of the box. This is the first time the owl has brought food into the box.
The Harris hawk, a female, sits on the gloved hand of her handler. She is a deep chocolate brown with splashes of chestnut on her feathers. Her legs are rusty brown also, stretching to white feet marked by black tips. She is remarkably social, if a bit nervous, and doesn’t seem to mind the crowd of people edging toward her.
It snowed tonight; fat, wet flakes that coat bare branches of the Monterrey oak and Bradford pear and layer a quarter inch of snow on the lawn furniture. Winter has returned and so has the owl.
The owl was not in the box this morning. Or yesterday. And probably not the day before either (when I didn’t check) because he did not poke his head out of the entrance as the sun set. It was too dark to see clearly then, but usually I can detect a shadow, the outline of his face protruding from the box.
Where is winter? The early cold snap in November has faded, forgotten in the month’s 70-degree temperatures. Each front brings a welcome drop in temperature, but I sit here and think of snow in Montana and Wyoming and I am envious. Poor Willis in his heavy coat. We ride in breezy, sunny afternoons and his fur is damp with sweat.
When I step outside the cold air brushes my face. 38º. Winter. This is how the last day of the year should feel: cold. The owl is tucked into his box. He is the best gift to us this year. To be able to watch him guard the place we have made for him and raise a family will be the best gift of 2020.
Willis was treated to a myofascial release session yesterday from Chase of Cadence Therapy. It is deep work, but at the same time light work. Watching, it doesn’t look like Chase is doing much, but Willis obviously feels something judging from his licking, chewing on his crossties and lead rope, turning his head sharply to the side to watch her.
The owl huddles in the owl box, curled up in a corner against the cedar wall. He has been in the box each day now for over a week, even on warm days when the temperature rose into the 70s.
Summer’s heat is smothering us. Day after day of temperatures above 100º with an even higher heat index slowly wears us out. We were cruising along nicely through the summer with mornings in the low 70s when the heat and humidity suddenly shot up. Plants and grass are drying up.
Wallawa Lake is quiet at 6:30 a.m. Only a few fishermen are at the marina, readying their boats, and campers walking their dogs, or, just walking. Like me. I like to sit at a picnic table that juts out toward the water where I can look for the adult eagles and a female common merganser I’ve been watching.
Summer drifted in this week on a wave of heat and humidity. For the most part, June has been up and down in temperature, tempered by frequent rain showers. Some wildflowers are going to seed. At the end of May, the Sierra Nevada trail that was flooded with coneflowers, Indian Blankets and lemon beebalm.
I first saw the filly only hours after she was born, lying in a corner of the shed under Kai’s watchful eye.
Liam has a new buddy. Aubrey’s foal arrived Monday, April 22, sometime between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. I was riding Willis in the fields behind the barns and paddocks when I saw a long-legged tiny horse standing next to a huge bay mare in the paddock next to last year’s colt and filly. On the other side of the shelter stood another mare with a foal, so there were now two foals.
The titmouse nest sits empty, a few rays of morning sun lighting the moss and twigs and sawdust. If I look hard enough, I can see the tip of a single speckled egg. Or maybe it’s just my imagination.
The first foal of the season came into the world on Monday, April 10, at 2:00 a.m. “Liam” looks just like his mother with a long white blaze from his forehead to his nose. All legs, he toddles alongside Miss Mae, who is never far away.
The ringtail shows up nightly and now there are two! Tim’s sharp eye spotted the difference between two ringtails in photos, but it wasn’t until the trail cam caught two together that we were sure.