Fury Friends of the Forest

My husband loves technology. I love wildlife (and so does he.) So what better way to bring those two things together than a wildlife camera. Last winter I set up the camera and slowly began defining the best place to observe the wildlife that lives in the woods behind our home in Austin, TX.

Bubbles the tailless raccoon

Bubbles the tailless raccoon

This summer the drought returned with a vengeance and the creek behind our house dried up in July. In August I started, on occasion, setting out buckets of water just beyond the fence. The result was fascinating.

I started to not only see animals that I have not seen before, but I started to see some frequent visitors. These frequent visitors are full of personality. Perhaps the most vivacious is a no-tail raccoon that I have named, Bubbles, and her sidekick, Rocky.

They are not the only characters in this documentary. There is Bucky the buck, Foxy the fox, Mitzy the mouse, Peter the possum, Armand the armadillo, Coco the coyote, Kitty the feral cat, Henny the hen and Skeeter the squirrel. Each reveals a little bit more about themselves each time they pass in front of the camera.

Bubbles and Rocky sharing the bucket

Bubbles and Rocky sharing the bucket

Bubbles and Rocky sometimes spend hours just playing in and around the water bucket. Bubbles is clearly older and in addition to her missing tail she also has tattered ears, but she seems as nimble as the younger guy. She even snatched a moth out of the air for a meal, and it’s all caught on camera just before dawn.

Skeeter the squirrel is an obsessive little thing. Every morning at first light he scampers around sniffing the area, seeing who passed by in the night. And Mitzy the mouse seems to always be a few steps ahead of Kitty the feral cat. However, Kitty looks like she is ready to destroy just about anything that slithers, hops, crawls or flies.

When Henny the hen arrived one day out of the blue, it took less than 24 hours for Coco the coyote to pass on through. Coco looks thin and secretly I’m routing for her to catch up with Kitty. Foxy the fox looks a little healthier. But whether they are predator or prey they all look thirsty.

Skeeter the Squirrel getting a drink

Skeeter the Squirrel getting a drink

At first I watered them with rainwater captured in our rain barrels. But then I noticed that had mosquito larva in it so I switched over to watering my plants with that water and setting out fresh water for the wildlife. I only water my yard on the scheduled days the city sets forth in effort to save as much water as possible.

It is a comfort to me to know the wild things that I share this forest with are healthy. I gladly share in the resources that I can acquire during these drought conditions. Some might say that is altering the natural balance of their life. To be honest, that ship has long sailed. The forest we share has been impacted and altered for hundreds of years now and even more so since 1958 when this house was built next to the creek.Doe in drought

Invasive plants have further altered the landscape. They line the creek beds, sucking away the life-giving waters and shading out the native plants. The loss of native vegetation means lack of nutritious food sources for wildlife. The invasive plants also alter the soil, which impacts the grubs, bugs, frogs and bacteria.

But I digress. I’m happy just knowing that the woods are full of creatures both large and small. And I delight in the fact that I can silently observe them with my wildlife camera.

Wildlife observed to date: Raccoon, fox, mouse, skunk, possum, armadillo, coyote, deer, squirrel, anoles lizard, Texas spiny lizard, gulf coast toad, Med. house gecko, tree rat, hognose snake

Birds: Screech owl, great horned owl, common night hawk, chimney swift, blue jay, common grackle, white wing and morning dove, Carolina chickadee, Carolina wren, house sparrow, house finch, lessor gold finch, northern cardinal, northern mocking bird, Baltimore oriel, curved bill thrasher, blue grey gnatcatcher, red bellied wood pecker, turkey and black vultures, coopers hawk, red shoulder hawk, Tennessee warbler, cedar waxwing, Mississippi kite, tufted titmouse, European sterling, great blue heron, painted bunting, ruby throated and black chinned humming birds, ladder backed woodpecker

Other: Feral cats, chickens

Foxy- the Grey fox

Foxy- the Grey fox

Screech owl- Oct. 2015

Screech owl- Oct. 2015

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Wildlife Behind the House- July 2015

It gives me a thrill to look at the photos from the wildlife camera we have set up just outside the fence behind out house. I love seeing the types of wildlife we share this small space with, what time they are active, and even knowing the temperature. On some days I can remember what I was doing, or how the dogs reacted to something.

For example on this last reel of photos a random chicken shows up, then five days later a coyote enters the frame. The coyote looks thin and thirsty which is not surprising since we are now in the driest July on record. We had a very wet spring, but July has been dry and hot. The coyote also might have been attracted to the feral cats that frequently cruise through. (I secretly hope the coyote eats the cats since they are not a native species to North America. And they kill millions of birds each year.)

I made a short slideshow with the images from the camera as it was fixed in one location from April to mid-July. Activity speeds up as the summer gets drier and I toss a watermelon on the ground. A very industry raccoon snacks on the watermelon for almost 4 hours one morning.

In this very small space of about 8 square feet that the camera is able to record images, there are approx. 10 species of animals and birds that pass through. Many are frequent visitors.

Thank you to William Orbit for the music in the video.

 

 

Sociology in a Sauna

On occasion I make it to the gym to swim or work out if the weather is nasty, but I prefer to exercise outside. Last week I ventured to the Gold’s Gym at prime-time after work to try to shake off a long day with a few laps in the pool.

After my swim I decided to sit in the dry sauna to warm up and dry off. My eyes where still adjusting from taking off my goggles when I opened the door to the small sauna- only to find it was packed with about 15 people. I squeezed into the top corner and could not have predicted what was about to happen.

Maybe I’m old school, but I don’t think the crazy hot sauna is really a hospitable environment for electronics. The other 15 people would not agree with that statement. Each person had a device and was listening to music, checking emails, Facebook and even taking pictures- I’ll get to that in a minute.

The woman next to me was decked out in a trash bag looking space suite that I thought they quit making in the 80’s. Her makeup was pouring off her lush, black skin and pooling on the collar of the suit and she was mouth breathing very loud. The man next to her decided a crowded sauna was absolutely the right place to do some yoga moves and grunt through each pose.

But the chick in front of me took the cake. At first she wasn’t looking at her phone, but then saw everyone else was so she pulled out her giant iPhone 6. She surfed around briefly on Facebook, then decided the sauna was a great place to capture a selfy.

She lined up her phone to get a good photo, puckered her lips, sucked in her cheeks, flipped her long blond hair around and snapped a few choice shots. I wanted to tell her to take her hat off so didn’t get such a shadow over her eyes, but I let it slide. She seemed so pleased with the way she looked in the hot sauna that I didn’t want to rain on her narcissistic parade.

Unfortunately, she didn’t check her background. If she had she would have noticed that I had moved my big old, white leg just behind her right shoulder. No one looks good in a sauna. They look even worse with a giant, middle-aged woman’s thigh photo bombing their precious selfy.

At one point she grew frustrated that her phone wasn’t able to follow her commands because her hands were too sweaty to navigated the touch screen. But, then again we were in a dry sauna so she might have expected that.

People came and went during the 10 minutes that I spent in the tiny room but there was never less than 15 people. I feel certain each one of them came pretty close to voiding the warranty on their smart phones on that day.

 

 

 

 

Trail Report- June- 2015

I love riding on the trails.  Well- I love riding horses pretty much any where, any time.  After the Memorial Day floods of 2015, there was a lot of debris and mud on the trails at the barn where I ride. But a few amazing women did a little trail work and now we can ride again.  I also love my GoPro and learning how to edit on iMovie.  So I made a little Trail Report news reel to share with the other riders.

I Like Lists

Looking into Mexico from Texas.

Looking into Mexico from Texas.

What can I say? I like lists. I like lists so much that I take a vacation every spring with my family to make lists of the birds we see. But even before we step foot out the door or pack a bag, I make lists of where we will go, what we might see and how long it will take to drive there.

Birding is about observation, tracking and cataloging as much as it is about getting into nature. The Greater Texas Birding Classic gives my husband, mother and myself a reason to make a crazy run around the state to count as many birds as we can see in 6 days.

This year we are planning on increasing our reach by heading out to Big Bend National Park to start our listing of birds. Big Bend is known for a few types of birds that can only be found in the strange and wonderful ecosystems of the park. From there we will journey to the Rio Grande Valley, up the coast, then inland to our home in Austin.

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List From Smith Point

In the past we have witnessed around 250-275 species of birds per trip. Texas has amazing birding and the spring migration is where its at if you are an avid birder. The migratory birds journey up from Central and South America on their way to points north and Texas is smack dab in the middle of three major flyways.

The other benefit of this mad dash around Texas is it takes me to places I’ve never seen and would never normally travel to unless I was looking for birds. Last year we touched the very tip of Texas at Boca Chico at the mouth of the Rio Grande River and the Gulf of Mexico. This year I’m hoping to visit 3 state parks I’ve never been to before so I can get a little closer to having visited all 92 state parks in Texas.

Sable Palms Birding Center south of the boarder fence between Texas and Mexico.

Sable Palms Birding Center south of the boarder fence between Texas and Mexico.

The other thing I like about our journey is it blends together my love of Texas history, sociology, travel and nature.  We get to see so many great historical sites and some wonderful snapshots into the human activities of small town life, the oil boom of south Texas, campers at parks, and other birders who are on their own quest.

I make a lot of lists in my life. Most are for work, some are for daily life tasks, but the ones I make of the birds are purely for me and purely for fun. Well, I guess they aren’t all for me, I load them into eBird to be a citizen scientist to do my part to help better understand the bird populations and migrations. Stay tuned of for updates from the road on The Atomic Cowgirl Facebook page.

Adding to the list on the Texas Coast.

Adding to the list on the Texas Coast.

 

 

Wildlife in the Woods

Our nephew helping us move the game camera.

Our nephew helping us move the game camera.

A year ago, my husband and I moved around the corner from our old house into the home we are in now. One of the main reasons we moved was because the property of our new house is buffered on 2 sides by greenbelt with a little wet weather creek and thick woods. Even though we are in the City of Austin, we feel like we are in the country within the confines of our little sanctuary.

In January we decided to document the wildlife that lives in the small greenbelt that buffers the neighborhood and connects up with Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. We installed a game camera on a tree that was near the little path that the animals made in the woods.

Grey Fox walking through the woods at night.

Grey Fox walking through the woods at night.

In the first two days we found that the woods have a ton of wildlife. The first photo was of an armadillo, then a fox, possum, deer, feral cat, squirrel, birds, a big buck, mouse, and finally kids playing in the woods.

Since then we have moved the camera to several different spots to see if we can capture photos of any other species of animals wandering through. So far we don’t have a photo of a cotton-tailed rabbit, jackrabbit or a coyote, but we’ve heard coyotes on more than one occasion. However, I don’t think we have bobcat this close into the city.

When the weather gets warmer, we will move the camera closer to the creek to see if we can document any type of reptiles. We have also documented over 25 species of birds that live in the area or migrate through.

Here is a list of all the wildlife we’ve seen so far in the yard or in the woods behind the house.

Game Camera hiding in plain sight.

Game Camera hiding in plain sight.

Mammals:

Armadillo, Fox, Raccoon, Squirrel, Mouse, Deer, Possum

 Birds:

Great Horned Owl, Screech Owl, Red Shoulder Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Crested Cara Cara, Carolina Wren, White Wing Dove, Mourning Dove, Red Bellied Wood Pecker, Downy Wood Pecker, Ladder Back Wood Pecker, Chimney Swift, Purple Martin, Cedar Waxwing, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Great Tailed Grackle, American Gold Finch, House Finch, Lessor Gold Finch, Blue Grey Gnatcatcher, Tennessee Warbler, House Sparrow, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Black Chinned Humming Bird, Back Crested Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee.

Press Release for Texas Children in Nature

“Every Kid In A Park” Initiative Addresses Problems of Inactivity and Obesity, Promotes Health and LearningQvhzU1-3db00eef65d1469b9f002fbe66554262

AUSTIN — A new National Parks Foundation initiative announced Feb. 19 by the White House emphasizes goals shared by a growing Texas coalition of partners with chapters in major cities, the Texas Children in Nature collaborative.

The ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative gives fourth graders free admission to all National Parks and other national lands during the 2015-2016 school year.

“We are so excited about the new ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative,” says Jennifer Bristol, Coordinator for Texas Children in Nature. “In Texas this really expands the efforts that many of our partners are working on to create more access to nature for families in our rapidly growing state.”

Bristol says kids 12 years old and younger already can play for free at all Texas State Parks and many city and county parks around the state. She said studies show children and their families who spend more time in the outdoors tend to be healthier, happier and smarter.IMG_4785

With children spending up to 8 hours per day indoors, sedentary with media and only minutes per day playing in the outdoors, experts say this is a step in the right direction.

Texas Children in Nature is part of a national grassroots movement that ignited after the release of author, Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods. Louv participated in a summit held this week in Chicago to publicize the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative.

“[This] announcement and new initiative may well be a turning point,” said Louv. “It will help support the people who have worked so hard, many of them for decades, to connect children to nature. It will encourage new actions by local government, education, religious organizations, the health care professions, and, crucially, by our business communities. The greatest change must happen beyond government, in the daily decisions that all of us, as individuals and members of families, take in our daily lives. Ultimately, only we can make sure that every child receives the gifts of the natural world.”

Richard Louv and experts from around the nation will be speaking on this topic this spring the Children & Nature Conference being held in Bastrop at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort on April 7-9. The Conference and Gala are being co-hosted by the Children & Nature Network, Texas Children in Nature and Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center. The three day event will bring together leaders from the conservation, health, education, technology and built environment communities to explore ways to encourage families, schools, churches, non-profits and businesses to support getting kids off the couch and into nature.

The surprise of Nature.

The surprise of Nature.

Registration is required for the event. More information can be found by visiting the conference webpage.

“We really want to make outdoor time, family time in Texas,” says Bristol. “The announcement of the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative and the Conference coming up in April are both great steps towards raising awareness that all children and families need to have access to nature to be healthier and happier.”