Monday, August 26, 2019

I'm Being Bombed From Above!

I was working on a jigsaw puzzle at the workbench out in the barn

and this Black Widow plopped down on my puzzle-board!

Mud daubers are a fact of life around here, carrying their carefully crafted balls of mud from - well, wherever, to some nice dark corner somewhere 

where they build their depositories in any convenient little nook and crack.

Today one landed on the workbench beside me, then for some inexplicable reason, dropped her ball of mud before climbing down through the bench-dog hole.

but not to worry. It wasn't long before she was back with another, apparently more suitable, ball of mud.

Once each cell is completed, before depositing an egg and sealing it off, she will switch from mud to spiders as she stocks the cell with from one to several spiders to feed the resulting larvae.

Sometimes, especially with these fat Black Widows, the daubers lose their grip before reaching the cell. During the spring and summer I find them laying all over in the barn.

The spiders aren't actually dead at this point, just irreversibly paralyzed, which keeps them fresh while the egg transforms into a larvae which can then eat them.

Seems a little gruesome, but before you grimace and shudder about the barbaric practices of the insect world, they are just doing what evolution dictates they do. Unlike us humans that, with alarming regularity, do things like spout doctrines of hate and oppression from high-office, line up men, women and children on the edge of a pit before shooting them dead because they are Bosnian and not Serb, or vice versa, or, coming back to home again, (USA) passing out blankets deliberately infected with smallpox to Native Americans because we've decided it's costing us too much to feed them in the concentration camps we've confined them to as we rape their native lands for profit.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

OK Dude, That's Close Enough!

This guy, still in velvet, (July 17) is one of six bucks that have been hanging around together this year and they seem to pass through the property once a week or so. All but one have racks about this size. The runt has a slightly smaller rack.

They usually all take off with startling collection of hooves hitting the ground when they see me, but today I was getting ready to close the rear-barn doors because we were making a run to the PO Box, and found myself being watched by this one. No sign of the others.

He even stayed there, about 35 feet from the door, as I threw a scoop of corn and feed out under the feeders.

 Within a minute or two he had moved down to just outside the living-quarters doors where I threw the treats.

I don't know why I bother with the feed (If you look close the feed is the little brown specks among the bright corn.) because he and the doe's that come down here regularly seem to prefer the corn and will only occasionally clean up the feed.  (More often than not, it's the raccoons that scarf down the feed. They plop down on their butts and without looking down, reach out with their front paws and pat around on the ground, grabbing up the feed while leaving the corn lay.)

Today we left the rear doors open when we departed on our little trip because closing them would have chased this guy off before he was done, not to mention forcing me to get withing 15 feet of him. . .

Update, Aug 6: OK:

Still in velvet (Though it looks like not for much longer):

Still hanging around despite the seismic crew that's been working in the area with their noisy vibrasize trucks, always three in a convoy, for the past few weeks. (And no, I didn't give them permission to come on our land. I used to work in that industry and know better, so made them work around us.):

And coming even closer!

This time he was standing 10 feet away just outside the barn door next to my computer desk.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Trail Repair

There's a reason I don't go into the woods on the property during high winds, and the other day (early June) we got a healthy dose of high winds which shredded The Wife's garden umbrella and brought several tree-tops down into our "yard"

When the winds calmed down I spent a day running the downed treetops through the chipper, then went out the next day and found a few trees down across my trails.

I just leave the smaller ones, the ones where I can see the ground on the other side before stepping over, lay where they are and incorporate them into my daily walks. (Lift those knees damnit!)

But around these parts, as is the case in most the country, stepping over a log without being able to see where your foot is going to land is not a highly recommended practice. Such as happened when this pair came down, right across my trail, which is just about in the center of this photo. Or at least that's where it's supposed to be.

I've got two chainsaws, a medium one for normal people, and a monster for those times when the medium (18") saw is just not big enough. I rarely get either one of them out anymore, keeping them on the shelf drained of gas and chain-oil,

but this blockage was beyond my handsaw. No really, the handsaw was too short for this job; it's not that a he-man like me wasn't up to the task of cutting right through those logs with nothing more than arm-power (OK, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. . . It would probably have taken me a week and two trips to the emergency room to cut these by hand. . .)

But that wasn't the worst obstacle I found out there.

The scale is difficult to judge in the photo, but my newly rerouted trail makes a sharp right and slips under the trunk right in the center of the photo, just this side of that first major branch - and even with my hat on I don't have to duck to walk it.

That honor goes to this 70' oak that snapped off at ground-level and fell right down the length of my trail, like it thought I cleared that space with my own sweat just for it to lay down in.

In that first photo I was standing near where the tree snapped off, here I am standing in my trail on the other side looking at the former top end of the downed tree. The crown is laying on the ground in front of me but still towers a solid 20' over my head. Jutting up in the center-left is the remains of an 8" tree that the falling oak snapped off about 6' in the air on the way down.

This is the second time I've had to reroute the trail in this spot to get around a new obstacle. I wonder if that means anything??

As long as I had the chainsaw out I figured I could remedy a long-standing issue (Or should I say long-laying issue?) on another part of the trail.

This 24" oak log was laying there across my trail before it was my trail, but climbing over it by stepping on top to get a look at the ground on the other side before stepping down again, and doing this pretty much every day, twice a day, (Once in each direction) has taken it's toll on the rotting wood and the footing has been getting treacherous, especially when it's wet.

So, after careful measuring, if by-eyeball can be considered careful, I laid my 18" chainsaw flat and stabbed it through the log at the lowest point it would still go all the way through and cut a horizontal slot. Following that up with a couple of vertical cuts and I had cut myself a proper step.

That should hold for a while.

                             At least until the next wind-storm. . .

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Just Make Yourself At Home Why Don' Cha

Came inside (through the side door in the barn) to help prep our meal the other day and found this just outside our rear door! (This was back in June.)

Later I spotted her with these two and was a little surprised because I had seen her with just the one a couple times recently. Then, because of the size difference between these two, (Hard to tell in the photo but the one in front is noticeably smaller than the other.) I decided it's more likely that the smaller one belongs to the younger doe that has been hanging around with the older one. The younger doe is much more jittery and that makes her camera-shy.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Dash-cam Shenanigans

I was making the weekly run into town to collect our mail - you know, just minding my own business.

(Dash-cam images aren't the greatest, which is disappointing considering how much the dang thing cost. We bought ours a long time ago and I'm sure they are better now, but we aren't too inclined to spend the money for an upgrade.)

But when you come up over a hill and the road in front of you is black with vultures, you just hope they aren't sitting there waiting for you!

Fortunately they weren't.

There was a smallish feral hog laying there and frankly I'm not sure what the attraction was. By this point it was a head attached to an empty skin, but even so, a few of the vultures were  reluctant to leave it as I approached.

Not two minutes later (It's a 17 mile one-way trip on slow, narrow, twisting county roads so the drive takes  lots of minutes but these two incidents were jammed all together.) I was stopped by this goat just hanging out in the middle of the road. Clearly she was on the wrong side of the fence, but that happens around here.

Even so, the horse desperately wanted to know what that goat was doing out there in the road and I wasn't entirely sure it wasn't going to jump the fence to get a closer look.

With the goat running down the road and the horse following as far as the fence would allow, I crept along behind, getting absolutely no help from the work-crew that was just standing there watching. (There's a small private cemetery right there and they were getting ready to do some yardwork and apparently goat-wrangling isn't in their job description.)

The road is a lane and a half wide and the goat was taking its chunk out of the middle, so I coasted along behind.

Aah, cool! She's getting tired and has had enough of this game.

Oops, spoke too soon.  Off we go again.

Finally she wanders far enough off to one side that I can nudge my way slowly up alongside her. Of course the closer I got the faster she ran, but at least this time she stayed just far enough to the side that I was able to get by.

Rear camera view

But the game wasn't over yet!

Once I got by she came back out of the weeds she had half stumbled into trying to get away from me and gave me a look that let me know in no uncertain terms I was the rudest person in the whole world and Karma was going to get me. And I'm afraid I proved her right. (The rudeness part that is.)

I backed up towards her and down the road we went again, this time in the other direction, with me in reverse.

It took forever to push her back to where I first spotted her not far from a pen full of her goat-mates, but we finally made it. (As you would expect, traffic is mostly non-existent back here so that wasn't an issue.)

I'm sure she was pretty damn glad to see the back of me as I finally returned to my original mission and headed on towards town.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Dang It, I Said Greasy Side Down !

They replaced this office with a double-wide. I guess the thinking is the double-wide won't be quite so easy to blow over. . .

Monday, August 5, 2019

Awning On a Budget

On one of my previous rigs, this one based on the Ford E-350 van, I had one of those Fiamma awnings. It was permanently mounted, very expensive; and rarely used.

When it came time to build The Van, my current rig based on a 2010 Sprinter, I saved a ton of money by not installing an awning.

Two years later I retired and instead of living in The Van during the week in the parking lot at work, I was spending my time in her out camping, or using her as a man-cave when at home, and this change in circumstances re-generated the desire for some sort of awning.

Initially I took care of that, at least the out camping part, with a slightly modified E-ZUP, which I wrote about here.

But this fell short in two key areas. It didn't allow me to keep the side door open during light rains, and to avoid the hot westerly sun pouring in the open side door (which is open a lot when I'm camping and at home) I would, if even possible, have to make sure to park The Van in the proper orientation.

Being a cheap SOB I wasn't really interested in the usual awning options, which start at about a grand and go up from there, (the awnings-in-a-bag are less expensive but don't work because The Van is too tall to deploy and stow them without a ladder) so I decided to experiment with a tarp.

OK, now that you've judged me with derisive cries of despair; I'm not talking about a ratty old blue tarp that explodes into shreds at the first wind after a couple weeks in the sun, though they are temptingly inexpensive.

No, instead I did some homework and came up with a sturdier, less obtrusive, and lighter version that promises to survive more than a few weeks, though it did cost me about $40.

There are other options out there but I chose the Free Soldier tarp and teamed it up with a couple of sturdy, collapsible 8 foot poles, ($7 each) some lengths of para-cord (A couple of bucks) and some ground-stakes. (About a dollar each for 4 of those sturdy steel nail type stakes.)

The UV and waterproof tarp, though weighing in at just a shade over 2 pounds, is really well built and can take some punishment.

And it has a load of tie-points, like 19 in all, including 5 down the ridge-line that each include pole-tip grommets.

 With a little experimenting I found that I could tie off the front van-side corner of the tarp by taking a line across The Van and tying it off through one of the holes in the front-left wheel, (It took a few tries to get the length right but now it's easily repeatable.) then stand in the open rear door, take the line tied to the rear van-side corner, reach up high and pull it up over the top of The Van, give a few tugs to coax the awning to slide up the windshield and into position, then step back down and tie off the rear line to the left-side door-hing. (The hinge actually acts as a jam-cleat so I just wrap the line around it once and I'm done.

At this point the near-edge of the awning has slipped up over the roof and under the edge of the solar panel which keeps it in place.

Now I stake out the two far corners, then the two mid-line ropes, and prop the mid-line up with the adjustable poles.

And I'm done.

Once I got the routine down, it takes me about 10 minutes each to put up and take down. Probably 5 minutes longer than deploying or stowing a Fiamma, but at about 5% of the cost I think I can afford an extra 5 minutes.

It's not a perfect solution. That would be a free-standing awning with no ropes and stakes, that, in addition to being UV and waterproof, is also storm proof, a radiant barrier, and self deploys/stows.

If anyone ever comes across something like that for less than $100 please let me know!

When it isn't raining, and I'm camped under shady trees, I don't really need the awning.

Except sometimes those trees are constantly showering anything underneath them with debris and little black bugs. (Too small to see here)

In that case it does a great job of keeping unwanteds out of my dinner. . .

When it comes time to stow everything away the awning with ropes still attached and stakes go into a small kit-bag which gets hooked to one of the D-rings that the collapsed poles get strapped to just inside the rear door to keep them from wandering around as I drive.

For the purpose of this photo I removed the E-ZUP and the camp chair which normally get strapped vertically in the space to the right, between the awning/poles and the rear door with the dangling blue bungee. I'm thinking I may not put the heavy E-ZUP back, at least for a trip or two.

Update: I have decided  the E-ZUP just isn't necessary anymore in The Van and have relegated it to the barn where it will be pulled out to provide project-shade on occasion, such as next time I have to dig up the septic-tank hatches. . .

As an added bonus, instead of buying a high-end one-man tent that weights about the same for the very few occasions when I might do an overnight backpacking trip, (I don't have the passion for backpacking that I did when I was younger, but I know of some hot springs in New Mexico that are a little too far to reach on a day-hike and doing the Dog Canyon Recreation Trail over two days instead of trying to cram it all into one would certainly make it less intimidating.) I can throw the tarp and 6 light-weight aluminum stakes in my pack.

Combine that with the two hiking sticks I always have with me anyway, and for a two-day one-nighter excursion (About all the food/water I can comfortably carry without spending an inordinate amount of my life staying in tip-top shape, and with nothing more to prove at this stage in my life, what's the point of hiking miserably?) the tarp,

makes a very serviceable shelter.

Mate that up with my heavy-duty poncho, also always carried, used as a ground-cloth, and my sleeping pad and bag, and I'm good to go!

If the weather warrants, and with pole-tip gromets on each of the 5 ties along the ridge-line, the tarp is long enough that both ends cans be rigged as in the photo above to  provide a bit more protection.

Not as elegant as an actual tent, but considering the budget savings I can rough it for the occasional night. Besides, a little roughing it once in a while is probably good for my pampered ass.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Adventures With a Nightjar

You're far more likely to hear a Nightjar than you are to see one, and considering that they are nocturnal that's not so surprising.

Where I grew up in Michigan we had the Whippoorwill variety. With it's distinct call, usually heard at or just after dusk or at or just before dawn, we knew they were around, but I can't remember ever actually seeing one.

Here in Central Texas, at least on our property, we have the Chuck-Wills-Widow variety. Not only is the call different, consisting of three separate "words" as opposed the the Whippoorwill's slurred two-word sound, and some say it sounds like the bird is saying "chuck" (a short sharp cluck sound) "wills" (a slightly less accented bridge between the chuck and the widow) "widow" (an exuberant, loud, and sharply punched, two syllable finish) but at 12" long this bird is also about 25% larger than the Eastern Whippoorwill.

I've known since we first moved out here that we had this particular type of nightjar on the property, it's kinda hard not to since these things are also much louder than the Eastern Whippoorwill, but until recently I had never actually seen one.

There's a reason for this.

Internet photo

They look like bark, or leaf-litter, and when in trees, instead of perching across branches and standing up they perch along them and hunker down for the day, often with their heads right down on the branch as well. (This one must have been startled by, or at least 'interested' in, the photographer.)

But this spring-summer I have had the opportunity to see one almost every day. That's because she has nested right near where three of my trails intersect at the back of the property.

See the two eggs right in the center? She laid them pretty dang close to the trail, which is where I'm standing when taking this photo.

And I use the term "nested" loosely since they don't build nests but just lay their one or two eggs on a bit of ground that looks good.

But even then she's not easy to get a decent look at, let alone a usable photo of. Here I have the camera (cellphone) in burst mode and in this frame you can see (Well maybe you had to be there. . .) her swooping in behind a seedling long-leaf pine near the back fence as she does her "broken wing" routine.

This is the next frame and she's scrabbling on the ground to convince me she's hurt and easy prey. In the next frame she was gone.

Another time she played chicken with me, swooping straight at me until swerving off at the last moment. It happened so fast I wasn't sure I caught any images until I got my phone back to the computer later.

Every day I'm back there (which is actually every 3rd or 4th day because I have temporarily bush-whacked new trails back there that loop around where she's at so I don't disturb her too much and I only go check on her a couple times a week.) I manage to get brief glimpses of her, but she's really good at keeping something, rock, leaves, branches, between me and her so I can't really get a good look.

Despite her proximity to the trail it took me a couple weeks to figure out the general area where she was actually coming from, then a few more days of stalking (Which really just consisted of me moving carefully up one of the three trails as I approached the area) before I managed to capture this shot.

See that bit of bark laying on the ground just left of center? That's her.

I came back one day with my real camera and, at nearly full zoom, managed to get a slightly better photo

She looks all serene and relaxed here in the dappled sun,

but zoom in closer and you can see that she's keeping an eye, tucked up under that heavy brow, on me. (I wonder if that heavy brow helps when they run into things in the dark?)

The next instant she was in the air.

But burst mode on my real camera

didn't do much better at capturing her.

She was too fast for using the viewfinder or screen

so it was just point and track in the general direction while holding the button down, and these were the only two images of some 50 that captured her at all.

As this photo from a bird-rescue place shows, it's no wonder these things are so loud!

They have a small beak, but a really big mouth. This helps with snatching up insects out of the air in the dark.

Update, June 30:

I had hoped to eventually catch a glimpse of the hatchlings, but it was not to be. A few days ago she was sitting on her two eggs as usual, today she was gone and there is no sign of the eggs, nor any bits of shell, at all.

Early Ornithologists postulated that sometimes Nightjars will pick their eggs up (In their beaks as they have very short legs and tiny feet.) and move them, but the general consensus among today's Ornithologists is that that is highly unlikely.

Given the various snakes, raccoons, possums, bob-cats, coyote, fox, and feral hogs we have running around, a far more likely explanation is that her eggs were found and eaten, including the calcium-rich shells.

Sad, but it's all part of the natural process.