Various Up-Dates and Statistics

I realized recently that it has been a while (10 months) since I have written in this chronicle. I have no excuses, but I do have some reasons. When you are writing about the growth of vegetation and the development of a wildlife habitat, these things don’t happen quickly. Consequently, there is a certain time span that is necessary for the collection of interesting information. Maybe not 10 months, but certainly longer than one or two months.

That being said, here are some up-dates and some interesting statistics.

Rain

I have been tracking and documenting our rainfall for two years. I started in August of 2017. Today I went through the totals that I have recorded, and was amazed at some of the amounts and comparisons that I discovered.

Here is the most amazing comparison. Between August of 2017 and July of 2018 we received 24 7/8 inches. Between August of 2018 and July of 2019 we received 66 1/2 inches, almost three times as much. It probably is even closer to three times, due to the fact that my rain gauge only holds 5 inches of rain, and on September 21, 2018 the gauge overflowed, so I am not sure how much more rain we receive on that day.

In October of 2018, we got 17 inches of rain in one month. We usually think of April and May as our most rainy months. For those two months in 2017 we received only 2 3/4 inches, whereas in 2018 the total for those two months was 17 3/8 inches. You can begin to see why the total was so much higher this year.

It was so wet this year that a marsh developed in the south-east pasture. It was soggy enough for Regina to get the Gator stuck as she tried to make her way to the back of the pasture.

Butterflies and Birds

In the last post, I reported the number of birds and butterflies that we had spotted. As of this date the number of butterflies has increased from 17 species to 35. The number of bird species has increased from 25 to 49. These numbers are based on those species that have been photographed by Regina, and verified through the iNat website.

There are several explanations for the increase in numbers. There may not actually be that many more, but we are becoming more aware of what is in our environment. Also, Regina has become increasingly prolific and skilled with her photography, and probably spends more time hunting and photographing as time goes on. The other possibility is that we are actually seeing an increase because of the environment we are creating.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Cedar Waxwing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a time when baby ducks born by the lake would be killed rather quickly by the turtle population in the lake. For some unknown reason, that changed this year, as we have had three different groups of babies which have survived. They all come up in the afternoon at feeding time, and have learned to come through the fence in order to get away from the larger Canada Geese. Regina gives them their special spread of food. The babies even have their own Canada Geese escorts that guard them on their trip from and back to the lake at feeding time.

Baby Ducks with Escort

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegetation

Most of the native trees we planted in the south-east pasture have thrived. I think only one of them has died. We also planted a Maple between our house and the arena. It seems to be doing fine, except that it is now looking stressed by the summer heat. Hopefully we can help it along with extra watering.

Due to the abundant rain this year, vegetation in all the pastures has flourished. Now that summer is here, and the rain has lessened, growth has slowed accordingly.

Activity and Education

Regina has gone through training and has become certified through the Texas Stream Team to perform water monitoring on one of our ponds. Her monitoring is performed and reported monthly. She is also volunteering for Benthic (invertebrate) monitoring with the Texas Master Naturalist Elm Fork Chapter. Later this month she will begin her training to become a Texas Master Naturalist. She is very excited about this organization and about her training.

I am trying to hone my birding skills, and have begun to use the eBird app, which was developed and is monitored through Cornell University Ornithology. This app allows you to report all your bird sightings through a world-wide network of birders. The information is collected, analyzed, and made available for observation and conservation purposes.

Life is good!

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That’s What It’s All About

This gallery contains 10 photos.

As a result of our efforts to restore our acreage to a more natural state, we have been blessed with an abundance of living creatures, and Regina has been able to capture most of these in her photographs. In case … Continue reading

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Some Progress

A little more than a year ago (August 18, 2017) I began this chronicle type of blogging to keep track of the purpose, processes, and progress towards changing our property from a manipulated and manicured piece of land back to its more natural state. If you have kept up with my entries, you will recall that Regina and I have decided to slowly allow our little piece of the Earth to become what it wants to be.

The progress has been slow, and I realize my entries may have been even slower, but now I would like to catch up a bit, and share some of the changes that have happened, as well as some of the failures.

As you might imagine, Mother Nature, and especially the rain she provides, has a profound influence on the amount of progress. Since my last post at the end of March, we have had some rainy times and some dry times. In April and May, which should be some of our best rain months, we had only two and three quarter inches of rain total. June, by itself, gave us more than the two previous months combined, with three and a half inches.

Then came July. Boy, did we suffer during July. It was seasonably hot, with temperatures hovering around 100 for a lot of the month, and only three eighths of an inch of rain, and that was a generous reading of the rain gauge. Sometimes you want to see more rain in the gauge, so you just fudge a little.

August, so far, has been a pleasant surprise. During one eight day period around the middle of the month, we actually had seven and one half inches of rain. I know, that is hard to believe, but it was a very welcome relief, and the plants showed their appreciation as well.

I do think that our lack of rain during April and May hampered the growth of the wild flowers we tried to seed. There were also a couple of windy days before the rain when a lot of the seed was probably blown away. We need to plan this better next Spring.

The plot in front of our house has done very well. Of course, that area is watered. As you can see in the photo, the Sun Flowers have grown tremendously tall and dense. Somewhere in there are the two Plum Trees that we planted. I am afraid the Sun Flowers have stunted their growth a little, but they do look healthy. That area also had a lot of wild flowers, which have already been through their cycle of blooming. The Peach trees did themselves proud again this year. I think we need to be a little more aggressive in our bud-thinning on the those trees next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our experimental pasture has really become quite a field of natural beauty, and the trees we planted out there seem very healthy and happy. Even the Northwest pasture has grown a lot, since we have not had any animals grazing it this Summer. We continue to water the new trees in the experimental pasture on a regular basis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since we have stopped the weed eating around the ponds, the dragonfly population has grown exponentially. This morning, Regina went out to get some photos, and I went along to get some shots of her doing her thing. They are really fun to watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Incidentally, we have applied for certification from Texan by Nature, a conservation organization dedicated to developing projects just like ours. This is an organization which is endorsed by Laura Bush. I will let you know soon about our progress with this certification.

Meanwhile, just remember, none of us is responsible for fixing the entire environmental situation, all we can do is take care of the little bit we own, and encourage others to do the same.

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And The Beat Goes On

Well here I am again with my latest update to the process of changing our environment. It is now the beginning of April, and things are beginning to happen. Green is becoming more prevalent all around, birds and bees are showing up in larger numbers, we are able to open our windows to breathe fresh air and sleep with the sound of the wishing well fountain, and we are excited that Spring has sprung.

Honey bee on clover blossom

Regina picked up four native trees from the Denton County Soil and Water Conservation District – two Mexican Plum and two Vitex (Chasetree Berry), which I planted in the experimental pasture. These are small, but are already putting on growth.

 

 

 

 

Manual labor

Last month we cleaned out some dead stuff from the section in front of our house and planted three elderberry trees. Elderberry Wine anyone? Regina also spread some new wildflower seeds in the area.

Elderberry tree – look closely

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the Fall, D&L Feed hosted a honey tasting event. It was an enjoyable evening with good food, wine, and plenty of honey to taste from local beekeepers. Several years ago I thought it would be a fun hobby to have bee hives and collect the honey.  I found out quickly that beekeeping is not a hobby, it is a job! It was very interesting to learn about bees and their behaviors, however the hardest part is suiting up in your overalls, gloves, and veil when the temperature in July is 100 degrees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I digress.  At the event at D&L we met one couple who have a bunch of hives in the area close to us. The conversation eventually came around to exploring the possibility of putting some of their hives on our property. The first hive arrived on Thursday, with two more coming soon. The bees seem to be very active and happy. Now this is the way to have bees!

New bee hive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also hope to have some native bees (honey bees are not native) to help with the pollination. Their accommodations are ready and waiting.

Native bee habitat

 

 

 

Native bee habitat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far, there is not much activity from the wildflower seeds we spread in the fall, but it is early, and we have to be patient. We had seven and a quarter inches of rain in February, but only two inches in March. Hopefully, we will have the “April showers that bring May flowers.”

 

 

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BIENVENIDO

The designation we received from the National Wildlife Federation as a Wildlife Habitat can mean many different things.  It can mean you just have a sign posted on your front fence, it can mean you have good thoughts toward wildlife, or it can mean you have honorable intentions toward creating a habitat that is actually beneficial for wildlife. But none of that matters unless you actually have wildlife taking advantage of this new habitat.

Learning how to make an area beneficial and attractive to wildlife is a process. It involves such things as planting trees and flowers that are enticing, but it also involves leaving the environment as natural and untouched as possible.

The area just in front of our house is a good example. We purposely left it “messy.” It was a great temptation to get the weedeater and mower out there to clean that area, but we resisted the need for tidiness that we have been taught all our lives. It was not what we would have done in the past, but things are changing.

Yesterday, we bought two plum trees to plant in that area.  It was necessary to clean off the  spots where the trees were to planted, so out came the weedeater.  While I was digging the holes and planting the new trees, Regina took advantage of the fine weather, and decided to prune the two peach trees.  They produce better with some careful pruning.

Since the grass was thick around the base of the peach trees, Regina got into a bed of fire ants. These little guys can inflict a lot of pain very quickly. In order for her to be able to see and avoid the ants, I used the weedeater to clear away some of the grass. Lo and behold, I uncovered a burrow under one of the trees.  I regret that I exposed that burrow, but in my defense, I just didn’t know it was there.

For some time we have had another burrow under the driveway behind our garage. We are fairly certain it belongs to a skunk. Now skunks are not our first choice of wildlife, but one can’t dictate who does and doesn’t pick our habitat. We just have to be careful, and devise creative ways to keep it out of the chicken yard, and keep our dog from discovering it.

I don’t know whose burrow I uncovered yesterday, but it just proves that we are on the right track.  Someone else has decided that our habitat can offer safety and comfort. I hope I didn’t scare it away.

Welcome little one.

 

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The Next Chapter

It is time once again to update our progress on the conversion of our property.  We still feel very strongly about the need to return our pastures to their original, natural condition.  Come along with us as we detail our process.

We have now prepared two additional areas for wildflower and native grass production.  Agustin “scalped” and aerated the area in front of the large Pecan tree in October.  Regina followed behind him to spread Poppy Seeds and Sideoats Grama Grass.  I then put the sprinkler out and hopefully watered in the seeds before the wind blew them away.  We will see in the Spring.

    

The other area is over by the fence of the southwest pasture.  Part of this area had already been left natural, so Agustin had a little more difficulty mowing it. In this plot Regina spread Native Wild Flower Mix and some Sideoats Grama Grass.  That was also watered with the sprinkler.

These two areas are not regularly  watered, so we will be relying on Mother Nature to do the honor.  It will be interesting to see how theses areas develop as compared to the first plot that is on the sprinkler system. We are not getting any rain right now, only a little less than 3″ in the last three months. What we need is a good all-day three inch soaker, but that doesn’t show up in the immediate forecast. I know she is angry now, but I keep hoping Mother Nature will smile on us.

On November 17, we had a pasture consult. This was a very helpful event.  Three gentlemen came to our property, free of charge, to look at our pastures, listen to our plans, and make recommendations.

Ricky Linex, author of “Range Plants of North Central Texas,”  wildlife biologist, and representative of USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service was basically in charge of the consult.  With him were Steven Ray, the District Conservationist of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, and T. J. Helton, NPS Program Coordinator for the Denton County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Needless to say, the information we received that day will be invaluable as we continue on our journey to return our pastures to their natural state.  As we walked through our pastures, the gentlemen identified many plants and trees that are already growing and thriving.  We were pleased to discover that most of these plants are native.

One of the first recommendations was to not cut the dead and dying plants in the first area we planted last year.  Letting those plants decompose and drop seeds where they stand will be beneficial.  Another recommendation was to close off the southeast pasture, and allow no animals in that pasture for grazing.  That pasture has been available to our two big horses in the past, but the southwest pasture that has also been available to them, and still is, has ample room and forage for grazing.  The only down side to that limitation is that BJ will not have access to her favorite scratching tree. She does have another scratching tree in the front pasture, but, as with her mom, she needs options.

As the consult progressed, there were recommendations for native tree species. Almost immediately, we went to Meador Nursery in Denton, and purchased one Red Bud, two Mexican Plum, two Sumac, and two Persimmon trees, which are now planted in the southeast pasture.  We also purchased a 15 gallon portable water tank, and rigged it with a soaker hose, for the weekly watering required.

The southeast pasture will now be our largest experiment for converting our land to its natural state.  Wish us luck.

 

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Pasture Management

As part of our commitment to keeping our environment as healthy as possible, we have, for many years, rotated our fiber animals (plus two donkeys and a miniature horse) between two pastures.  This rotation helps each pasture recuperate for a few months while not in use.

The “back pasture” is used during the warm months, so the Alpacas can go into the large pond, also known as “Lake Regina,” to keep cool.  Our miniature horse will also get in the lake from time to time. This pasture is about four and a half acres. There is plenty of good grass for grazing, and the animals have access to the shade and fans in the round pen for afternoon naps.

When the weather starts getting cooler, like now, we move everyone to the “front pasture.” It is fun to watch the Alpacas on the first day.  They love “new digs.”   There is a lot of hopin’ and boppin’ – or as we call it “boinking.”  There is also a pond in this pasture, but the entry into the pond is steeper, and the boys don’t feel the need to go for a swim.  This pasture is about three acres.

Because we have not done any mowing in the “front pasture,” it has grown up beautifully with grass and wildflowers galore.  In fact, the foliage is so deep the baby doll sheep can easily get lost.  Luckily, they have Philipe (our single goat) to follow.

So, this morning, Regina drove the Gator ( a small four wheel utility vehicle) and marked trails for paths through the tall grass.  Agustin followed right behind her on his mower, and paths were created, including one to the water trough.  Agustin was in “heaven” – he loves to mow.  It was really great to see all the bugs, bees, and grasshoppers who had taken up residence in the tall grass.

                       

We will keep these paths mowed, and sometime this Fall we will aerate them and spread the cuttings from the wildflower patch in front of our house along the paths, in hopes that some of the seeds will catch and grow.

Stay tuned.  We are just getting started.

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