Snakes and Frogs


Frogs in the 100 gallon containers that I use to grow the lilies.

These past few days have seen some interesting encounters with the snakes in my yard and either in or around my ponds. It started when I heard the high pitched cry of some sort of animal or bird and not knowing just what it was, I set out to discover what was causing the sound.

It was coming from the direction of the large pond and it took some time for me to locate the source which was a partially swallowed frog in the jaws of one of the non poisonous Diamond Backed Water snakes that inhabits the area. This particular snake is all of 4 ft long. The frog was still alive with only the head and shoulders showing, the rest already in the snakes throat. There was nothing I could do for this frog even if I could have caught the snake as there was too much already down the snakes gullett. Even as I watched, the snake slid into the water and was gone as were the cries of the poor frog. I wonder how long they take to die inside of the snakes digestive system? Incidentally, as we usually associate frogs with croaking and grunting, hearing their high pitched cry of anguish is somewhat disturbing.

Garter Snake

Then yesterday when I was outside, I again heard the cry of an animal in distress and followed the sound to the same large pond. It took awhile for me to locate the snake as it was hidden in the plants growing there but I finally spotted it. It may well have been the same snake as there are at least two maybe even three of them. This one was within reach of my long handled hoe and I was able to slip it under the snakes head and shake it about for a bit causing the snake to release its hold on the frog. This one was only held by one back leg and the snake chose to release the frog who quickly scampered away I am sure, much to the snakes disgust. The snake was gone in an instant sliding into the waters of the pond.

Diamond Backed Water Snake. I call them Brown Snakes and I think there are at least 3 in and around my ponds. The biggest is about 4 feet and the smallest about 18 inches.

Today was even more bizarre as again, as I was out with the dogs just walking around, we heard the same familiar cry of an animal in distress, another frog as it turned out. This one was on dry land next to the Aqua Filter unit and was held by one leg by a much smaller Garter snake that was about 18 inches long. Even as I watched from a couple of feet away, a Diamond Backed Water snake came out of nowhere and made a grab for the frog. The Garter Snake immediately released its hold on the frog and rapidly disappeared leaving it’s prey to the Diamond Backed Water snake. The frog, realizing that it was free, smartly hopped off taking giant 4 feet leaps to get away leaving a very frustrated Diamond Backed Water snake who immediately turned its attention to me making several threatening advances before slithering under the base of the Aqua Filter unit with just its head sticking out. I made a couple of movements towards it and it withdrew its head each time.

Figuring that the excitement and that my lesson with Mother Nature was over for the day, I called the dogs, who had been very warily watching this whole series of events, and we went back indoors.

In retrospect, this was just Nature acting as Nature always acts with the different pecking orders in the food chain. In this case, the frog(s) were the original victim(s) followed by the large snake versus the smaller snake with the frog, a by product of this encounter, all acting just like Humans, the strong over the weak. I felt that I was intruding on this scenario as it was as Nature intended it to be but the anguished high pitched cries of the frogs was more than I could stand without at least trying to rescue them.

Just when I thought I had finished with this post, I was out in the yard this morning and thought I heard the familiar frog cry of anguish, this time, coming from the direction of the 100 gallon tub that contains a water lily. I grow the lilies in separate containers as the Koi tear them up when they are in the ponds. I went over to take a look and sure enough, there was a large frog in the jaws of very long, probably 3 feet of Garter Snake. This one was easy to deal with and I quickly “persuaded” the snake to drop the frog with a short length of hose pipe and then chased the snake out of that particular container where it quickly slithered away about as fast as it could go. I caught the frog and transferred it to another container and thought that was that until a little later, I noticed a frog back in the same 100 gallon tub. Whether it was the same one, who knows. They all look alike to me. I added extra water to the container so that the frog has a sporting chance to hop out when and if the snake(s) return. Frog paradise has now the added excitement of getting eaten by snakes. I wonder if there will be other additions to this story?

Such is the Law of the Wild…
Note: The pictures of the snakes are not mine but are downloads from the internet. I don’t have any pictures of them coiled.

Written 10/5/2019

Austin Pond Society June 2019 Meeting


Some of members that were present

This meeting was dedicated to a review of the recent Pond Tour held on June 1-2, 2019 where some of the owners that came to the meeting were presented with a plaque comprising of a picture of their pond that they had on display. Not all of the owners were available but those that were, graciously discussed their impressions that they had of the Tour with their ideas and recommendations for the future tours.

They and the other Members were treated to a quick meal of Chile and Chips plus the members brought in lots of desserts and salads to complement the meal. Following this brief repast, Barb Lenhardt, our President got the ball rolling as she had the Owners introduce themselves along with a new Member. She was followed by Ted Paone, this years Pond Tour Director who discussed the many aspects that it took to put on a tour of this size. He took the time to thank all of the many Volunteers and Committee Members without whom, none of this would have been possible and the Members gave him a big round of applause for all of his efforts. He did mention that in order to stay a happily married man, this was his very last time as Director and we thanked him for his efforts along with those of the many Committee Members and Volunteers that helped to make this a big success. So, if anyone out there wants to volunteer as next years Pond Tour Director, please contact our President at president@austinpondsociety.org

Barb’s Intro to the Pond Tour Meeting

He then led everyone through the slide show that Glen had put together with each owner that was present taking the opportunity to lead us through the various aspects of their particular set up whether it was a pond or a stream or a combination of both.

I started to film these interactions but quickly realized that I could not film the screen and the person who was talking both at the same time and gave up on the idea. Glen sent me a copy of his slideshow for me to post. I did a little work on editing and added music. Enjoy

The Austin Pond Society annual Pond Tour 2019. Pictures are by Glen Hubenthal with additional video work by Francis

With the end of the discussions, the evening came to a close.

The next meeting will be held on July 15th at the same place, Zilker Botanical Gardens and the subject matter will be “Building Your Own Pond”. Hope to see you there.

Written 6/18/2019

A Battle of Wits


Scarecrow


The Heron is a very wily adversary and relies a lot on keeping the pond owner guessing as to when he is likely to show up. I spent a week at home only leaving when I absolutely had no other choice, like running out of food or keeping a pre arranged Doctors visit. Normal stuff except when there is a hungry Heron wanting to catch and eat your Koi and Goldfish. He kept no regular patterns and it meant getting up at the crack of dawn because as soon as it was light enough for him to see, he would swoop down from the tree that he had perched in and land on the Goldfish pond wall. If the fishing wasn’t very good there, he quickly moved over to the L shaped pond which is the shallowest pond out of the four big ones. The Heron knew he could safely wade in this pond and as the video shows, spent time pursuing and if he was lucky, catching and eating fish. Other times he would fly in mid morning, other times mid or late afternoon and even late in the evening. There was no telling when he would show.

On a previous run in with a Heron several years ago, I put wire fences around each of the ponds and then attached a doggy shocker which worked pretty well as eventually, that particular Heron stopped coming. I was Heron free for maybe 3 years before the current one has shown up. I went to work on the shallow pond and installed a system of cross-wires that diagonally dissected the pond and were about a foot above the water essentially dividing the pond up into small sections. I tried to install the doggy shocker but the wires grounded out in several places so the system would not work. I left the wires as strung and turned my attention to a more physical presence in the form of a Jet Spray Scarecrow. I had purchased one several years ago but due to non use and probably neglect on my part, this one leaked and I could not find a way to prevent it. I had no choice but to go on line and see if I could find another on E-Bay or Amazon and managed to locate several that were available. They were by a different manufacturer, Hoont, but as they were a lot cheaper, I quickly tagged one for $29.99 and went through the checkout process. I deemed that this was an emergency and paid additional postage to get it to me in three days in which it duly arrived. This one is brand new in an unopened box and I quickly set about installing it on the shallow pond.

The very next day, the Heron showed up and my first inclination was to rush outside and scare it away but I decided to watch from my vantage point indoors to see what happens. After exploring the Goldfish pond without any luck that I could see, it flew up into a tree above the shallow pond and then sat there for what seemed an eternity. It kept looking down at the shallow pond as if it so see a way for it to safely fish but it stayed in the tree. Then all of a sudden it hopped around and flew off as fast as it could. I went out and checked and the Scarecrow had been activated and as it is pretty noisy, was enough to frighten it away.

I immediately went back on line and purchased another for $25.00 from the same company only this one was a slightly used one. When it arrived, it was missing a couple of screws which I was able to replace and I installed it on the Goldfish pond. I was able to adjust them both so that they limited the spray to the distance of the pond meaning that I am able to walk around the ponds without getting soaked. As far as I can tell, the Heron has not been back as the fish are beginning to lead a normal life and are starting to show themselves again.

I am not suggesting for one minute that I can declare victory over this wily opponent as I am sure that it will not give up that easily. If, by chance, he decides to turn his attention to either of the big ponds with the the very large Koi in them, then I will purchase a couple more of the Scarecrows and get them set up. Here’s hoping that it wont be necessary.

Written 4/8/2019

The Brown Snake


If you have been following my blogs, you will be familiar with the Brown Snake, an addition to my garden last Spring. He has been living close to the ponds sometimes varying which pond that he hangs out. I guess that is something to do with his hunger as two of the ponds contain Koi which are all much larger than he can eat. The other three ponds contain Goldfish which are much smaller fish and one time, I watched him slither out of the middle pond with a six inch goldfish in his mouth. I don’t mind him helping to keep my Goldfish population within reasonable limits as there are way to many of them with new ones hatching what seems like, all of the time.

Anyway, the last blog that contained information about this snake was entitled Texas Winter when I was wandering the garden taking pictures of the few flowers still brave enough to flower and came across the snake sunning himself. Most unusual as I thought that snakes denned up for the winter and semi hibernated. They probably do in places that have much colder winters than my part of Texas does.

A couple of days ago, I discovered where this particular snake has chosen to hang out. Like many Pond Owners, I have aerators on my ponds more to provide oxygen in the summer than this time of the year. The units are housed in small plastic boxes that used to have attached doors to keep the the rain off the pumps but due to the nature of plastic, it deteriorates very quickly when left out in the open and the first thing to go are the doors. So, the snake has discovered a very nice resting place that will also keep him warm when the aerator motors are running which is probably one hour out of every four at this time of the year as I have them on timers. This is a four foot snake curled up inside of this box. Hard to imagine…

I wonder if he knows that his tail is outside of the box? He stayed in the box for a couple of days and now has moved on. I wonder where this time. I will probably come across him in the unlikeliest of places and jump out of my skin at his discovery. Ah, the wonders of Nature.

Written 1/28/2019

Reimers Ranch 12-21-2018


A panoramic view

I took another walk at Reimers Ranch just to get out and about in the fresh air and the beautiful sunny weather. Hard to believe that it is winter time with the temperatures hovering around 70 degrees. Even so, Mother Nature, in all of her glory, has on her winter coat at least in my part of Texas. Everything is a drab brown color except for the Evergreen Oaks and of course, the Cedars with the occasional Possumhaw Holly showing its red berries.

Possumhaw Holly

I decided that I would walk the other half of the Multi Use Trail that I didn’t complete on one of my earlier walks on the Northern end of the Park. I parked in the Mountain Bike Parking Lot which had several cars in it. I noticed as I drove past that the Horse Trailer Parking also had several trailers in it so there was some activity and on a Friday to boot. A couple of bikers came in as I was getting ready after having completed their runs chattering away and quite obviously having enjoyed it very much.

Oh, to be young again.

I changed into my hiking boots and decided on just one camera as I set out taking the trail that leads to Johnny’s Homestead which, by the way, is nothing but a standing chimney as the rest of the building disappeared in a fire several years ago. It still serves as a map marker. I passed a young couple going in the opposite direction and we exchanged pleasantries. As I hit the Multi Use Trail, I turned south. This trail is very easy walking and only at the very end, does it get rougher going. I managed to get a picture of a Pine Warbler which for me, is quite an achievement as I don’t see many birds. Probably because I am too noisy as I walk along and also because I don’t have the patience to sit and watch. When I do get to see one, I have to rely on the zoom lens to bring them in close and then hope I can crop the pictures to get them even closer and with color.


Pine Warbler

This end of the Multi Use Trail also brings me close to the stream that marks the boundary on this end of the park. It runs roughly north/south and tends to dry up in the very hot weather. This time of the year, it has a nice steady flow and as with a lot of the streams and waterways around here, has dug itself quite a deep ditch/canyon to flow through. I walked over to the closest spot and took a couple of pictures but was not able to convey the depth of the canyon very well which is about 50 feet at this point.

Stream

The trail eventually veers away from the stream as it makes the turn to bring me back to where I started. The posted markers indicate that the complete loop is 4.7 miles. I am not sure how they measure it as both of my pedometers always show more distance. At this point, the walking gets a little harder as the terrain turns rocky and also with a grade increase both up and down. I met a horse and rider who were just starting out from the Horse Trailer Parking Area and we exchanged pleasantries and joking about her six legs of transport compared to my two. I finally made the turn back up the road and into the Mountain Bike Parking Lot and to my truck. The lot was quite a bit emptier as many of the bikers had already left as had most of the Horse Trailers when I walked by their parking lot.

View from the parking lot.

Altogether, I covered a little over four miles of pleasant and easy walking on a beautiful sunny day in Texas in the winter. The slideshow below is made up of the still pictures that I took.

A collection of photos

Written 12/24/2018

Reimers Ranch 12-13-2018


The far bank

With the weather so great, I just had to get out and take a walk. It was really a spur of the moment decision as I had not really planned on it. So, I grabbed my cameras and filled my water bottle and headed to Reimers Ranch. I had no specific plans for any particular trail and ended up at the River Bend Parking lot. This is the one that leads to both the swimming areas and to the river trails which is where I opted to hike.

The River Trail

I walked along the river trail taking pictures of the wonderful views including the Pedernales River. The walking is easy although there are a couple of places where the trail gets a little tricky like climbing up and over the rocks. The plan was to walk to River View parking No 1. at which point, I would make the difficult climb up and out of the canyon and take the gravel path that runs along the top of the bluff back to my truck.

The climb out
Quite a climb

As usual, exiting the river trails at River Parking No 1 was a challenge. This requires literally climbing up rocks that are placed in the form of a very rudimentary set of stone steps, easy enough for the young and agile but challenging to old people like me. I safely made it out and then started to walk back along the gravel path. This is easy walking although it too has washed out in a few places and needs some maintenance work. I could see the storm clouds off in the distance and wondered if I would beat them back to my truck as I didn’t fancy getting a soaking although I was more concerned for my cameras than for me. As it happened, I beat the rain and made it back with time to spare.

Thunderclouds building
Almost back to my truck before the rain.

I covered a little over four miles and as usual, took a lot of pictures and have put them together in the form of a slideshow set to music. Enjoy.

Written 12/23/2018

McKinney Roughs 12-15-2018


I had the hikers itch and so grabbing all of my gear, I headed to McKinney Roughs just to get back out in the fresh air and spend some time with Nature. The weather was gorgeous with the temperature around 65 degrees and just a few light clouds in the sky, perfect weather for being outdoors. 

I pulled into the parking lot and there were a few other cars, hopefully all making the most of the sunshine and getting their exercise. I went through my usual procedures of boots and gear and decided to take only one camera with me. I must not have been paying much attention as when I got out on the trail, I noticed that I had brought the one with the smaller lens. The two cameras that I have are the Nikon D 7200 and the Nikon D 7500 with the latter a little more advanced with stuff that I haven’t figured out how to use. I wasn’t about to go back as I knew that I could still get good pictures with the 7200. It was equipped with a telescopic 16-300 lens.

All of the trails were open with the exception of the short piece on Road Runner that has been closed for quite a while. I planned on walking down Ridge and then complete the circuit on Bluff Trail Loop and finally ending up on Woodland and home. I met several people out on the trail and stopped to talk to a couple of young men, named Seth and Parker. They were very interested in the lichen growing on the trees and rocks and I never thought to ask them why. They are both holding a twig with lichen on it in the picture.

I met another older gentleman who told me that he was “turned around” and wanted to get on the Coyote Road trail. We were on Bluff Trail Loop at the time and I showed him where he would have to go if he stayed on the trails. His comment was that he was going to “bushwhack” it as he could hear his friends off to one side. I heard them too as without another word, he struck off in a direct line from where the sound was coming from sort of forging his own trail. Luckily for him, he was walking downhill making the going a little easier. “Good Luck” I called out to him as he disappeared among the brush. Hopefully, he made it to where he was going.

I continued on as I had before following the trails and taking a lot of pictures. Most of the greenery is gone with the occasional cedar tree still green and breaking the monotony. The panoramic picture below shows of just how barren everything is looking. It is winter here in my part of central Texas although by comparison to a lot of the USA, hard to tell it.

Winter in Texas

It was quite obvious from the condition of some of the trails that there had been a lot of rain  fallen in the past week or so as the trails were deeply rutted with many footprints. They were at the stage where the footprints from the walkers and had dried in that condition and it was going to take a lot of hikers feet to make the trails level and more comfortable to walk on especially as no horses were allowed on this particular trail.

I made my way back up Woodland heading back to the parking lot and passed an older couple sitting on one of the many benches placed on that trail. This trail leads directly back to the office and is designed for anyone to take a leisurely walk. It is fairly level with no hills to climb.

I arrived back at my truck just as a young lady was saying goodbye to someone who had dropped her off. She told him that she loved him and as we passed, I said “I like what you just said, There is not enough of it in the world today”. She replied that it was her uncle and I thought how sweet it was to belong to a tight knit family such as that. I thought about it as I sat in my truck relaxing after the walk and wished for a moment that I had a different life. Luckily for me, the feeling soon passed as we are talking of a life gone by and we can’t turn back the clock no matter how hard we try.

I headed home stopping at the HEB that I usually stop at and the Starbucks right next door before arriving home. Altogether, I covered a little over five miles including the HEB shopping. It all counts as exercise…

Below is a video of the nine panoramic views of the park.  Both videos are best viewed in full screen.

The video below is a slideshow of the many other pictures that I took. Both videos are best viewed in full screen.

Written 12/17/2018