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

Blessed Rain 10/24/2019


The previously blown over Cypress Tree

Well we finally got some very welcome rain last night. Actually a lot of rain, at least two inches at my house accompanied by high winds. Lucky for me, the Spruce tree that is in one of the ponds did not blow over as it has done in previous high winds. We have not had any significant rain in over three months prior to this and on my drives around the countryside, stock ponds, small creeks and such are bone dry. It is going to take significant rain to bring everything back to normal.

It has been so dry that I have recently cut down almost all of the greenery in my garden, something I normally do following any frost that we may get in the winter. This year, it will not matter how hard it freezes as the only thing that will be affected are the plants in and around the ponds, at least from my perspective.

I even had to turn on the heat inside the house as the temperature indoors had dropped to 65 degrees, a little too low for comfort. Obviously, we are through with the air conditioning for this year. This is typical Texas weather where we go from 100 degrees to 90 degrees and then to 65 degrees all in the space of a couple of weeks. At least it is now great trail hiking weather although I don’t like hiking immediately following heavy rains as the trails are usually pretty muddy and tend to build up on the boots. I have enough problems in just carrying my body weight around without the addition of several pounds of wet dirt.

Maybe I’ll take that walk tomorrow or the next day and give the ground time to dry out a bit…

Written 10/25/2019

Work on the Ponds-Part 2


Before. The overgrown pond before the cutting back.

The fourth pond that I have is only around 1500 gallons and is only two feet deep. This shallow depth is a problem for both regulating the water temperature and keeping the fish safe from the predatory Heron that comes sneaking around occasionally.

After the episodes with this beautiful bird way back in the early part of the year, I finally resolved the issue with the use of a Scarecrow. This gadget has an electric eye that activates it to spray water very noisily resulting in scaring the Heron away. Of course, the Scarecrow is not selective and sprays anything in range that activates it, including me and the dogs. The other problem is that any vegetation that blows in the wind in range of the electric eye, also sets it off. The two that I had installed and activated back earlier in the year added $25.00 a month to my water bill due to their indiscriminate actions. With the water color on the 3000 gallon pond so cloudy, see the earlier blog, I had shut down that Scarecrow and as the vegetation grew in the 1500 gallon pond, shut down that Scarecrow also.

In this case, the vegetation, mainly made up of green and black Taro and Iris had taken over the pond and it was almost impossible to see the water. It was fine when the Taro, which are both fast growing and very tall stood upright but as is often the case with tall plants, as they age they begin to droop and before long, the surface of the pond was just a mass of stalks and leaves. This did help to keep the water cooler and hide the fish from the Heron but was taking oxygen from the water at an alarming rate. Coupled with the tell tale signs of methane and ammonia gasses bubbling to the surface and the loss of five 12 inch Koi and two Goldfish convinced me that I needed to do something and do it fast.

The completed and cleaned pond taken from the same spot as the picture of “Before”.

I opted to change into a pair of my old soccer shorts and put on a pair of water shoes that I use in the ponds. I had kicked around the idea of putting on my waders because of the possibility of meeting the Brown Snake but decided against it as it would have been way too hot and uncomfortable. I was also relying the the common sense of the snake to get out of the pond knowing there was a human in it. As it happened, the snake spent his time in his usual spot on the wall between the two ponds sunning himself not more than 5 feet from me at times. It is not a poisonous snake but all snakes will bite when cornered.

It was slow and steady work as I cut back plant after plant. Some I was able to pull up by the roots which was a good thing as I would not have to deal with them again. Others, I just cut back knowing that they would probably regrow and I would have to do this down the road.

Picture taken from the opposite side of the pond after the cleaning.

After finishing with this part of the job, I had the task of removing the dead material from the bottom of the pond which was much less that I initially figured. Even though I have a Pond-o-Vac vacuum cleaner built especially for ponds, it is usually quicker to get in and physically remove the dead muck and debris using a net. After completing all of the heavy work, I cleaned the skimmer and the filters and checked the pump which is working just fine. I then reactivated another Skippy Filter to help clean the water and finally ended by turning on one of the oxygenators. Now all we have to do is wait for the water to clear.

The next day I worked on cleaning up all of the material that I had cut back and cleared out of the pond and there was a lot of it. I have found that it is easier to use a pitchfork that I happen to own that I know for a fact is almost 100 years old having belonged to Clark, my Stepfather’s brother at the old farm back in New York State. It still works well and is ideal for picking up the long stalks of the Taro. I don’t know how many trips I made to the compost pile but it was a lot. I was a lot cooler the day before when I was working in the pond itself but cleaning up the mess was very hot work in the 90 plus degree weather.

I finally finished the work at least for a while. Things won’t grow as fast during the really hot weather and it won’t be long before it is Fall, only another month. As with the small pond, I had to reactivate another one of the scarecrows with the vegetation out of the way, the few remaining fish that are still alive, are possible food for the ever present threat of the Heron.

This pond is the next on the list to permanently close down in the next year or so mainly because of the shallow depth. I am getting old whether I like it or not and need to start thinking of the future which eventually includes selling this house and moving elsewhere, probably in an assisted living complex. I know that I cannot keep working on things as I presently do and must plan accordingly. It’s hell growing old…

Written 8/5/2019

Work On The Ponds-Part 1


The 3000 gallon pond showing the newly installed unit on the far side.

Those of you that regularly follow my blogs are aware that I have four ponds ranging in size by gallons of 6000, 5000, 3000 and 1500. The two large ponds are pretty much established both mechanically in the equipment that is hooked up to keep the water clear and also in skimmers and waterfalls. Both have Aquadyne Filtering systems which are top of the line when it comes to this type of equipment.

The 3000 gallon pond was the last one that I “remodelled” making it deeper by raising the exterior walls by 3 feet or so above ground. Incidentally, the rocky ground in my part of Texas is only a foot or so below the ground level hence the need to go upwards. The water depth is a little over 4-1/2 feet. This is the home to a lot of goldfish probably a hundred or more who have the run of the pond. They do share it with a turtle and a very large 4 feet long Brown Snake that uses this pond as his very own smorgasbord although as far as I can tell, is not making any dent in the number of goldfish that the pond contains. I often see him resting up and sunning himself on the wall dividing the two ponds usually after having caught a meal. All a part of nature. This is also the pond that the Heron busied himself with at the start of the year although I haven’t seen it in several months. This could be due to the fact that the water in this pond with the current filtering system is pretty dirty, hence this blog.

The Savio Unit

The problem originally started when a hose failed overnight resulting in the loss of a couple of thousand gallons of water, which lowered the level of the pond considerably. All I could see was a mass of goldfish of all shapes, colors and sizes in what remained of the water in the bottom of the pond which was less than a foot deep. I was in immediate trouble to keep enough oxygen in what little water remained in order for the fish to survive and rushed to pull a couple of oxygenators from the other ponds which I knew would be good for a few hours overnight. Placing them in the water immediately stirred up the residue of dirt, leaves and fish droppings turning the water into a not so lovely shade of brown. At least it had oxygen for the fish to breathe. At the same time, I had turned on the system that I use to keep the ponds topped up so that fresh clean water was getting added. As that increased in volume I had to contend with the chlorine in the City tap water and was adding dechlorinator as the pond filled. It took several hours and finally we had the pond water level to where it belonged. The problem now was the quality of the water which was a dirty muddy brown color. The oxygenators did not help as they constantly kept the water stirred up not giving the residue a chance to settle but I had no choice with them. They had to stay in there at least for a couple of days to bring the oxygen levels back up.

Two days later, I took a chance even with the dirty water and removed the oxygenators and returned them to their ponds and installed a smaller and less powerful one. I was hoping that the pond filtering system that was already installed would, over time, take care of the problem of the dirty water and by the number of times a day that I had to clean the filters, it is working. With the big oxygenators off, the water also had the chance for the sediment to settle. However, it was way too slow and after a week, the water was still pretty dirty. I did not lose any fish except one that had jumped out of the pond overnight probably to escape the attentions of the Brown Snake and I found it the next day.

A different view. I could not find any other place to install it and have no way of hiding it from view so I chose water quality over aesthetics.

I had in my possession from one of the Fish Rescues that I had been on, a Savio Filtering System which consists of a large 60 gallon barrel that contains filtering material and a couple of different type filters that sit on the top. Quite a simple system really and I have six others around on the other ponds that I have built. We call them Skippy Filters and they do exactly the same thing as the commercialized model does. Three of mine are in 20 gallon containers and the other three are in 100 gallon tubs. I spent some time hooking up this system using an existing pump that had come with the unit when I acquired it. It was pumping too strong and I had to make some modifications by adding a valve to check back the flow otherwise more water was coming in than was getting pushed out. Needless to say, the pump lasted overnight and quit so I had to buy a new one adding to my frustration. I bought a less powerful pump requiring more work on the piping but do not have to regulate the flow of water with the valve. Good job I am handy with tools and know how and after 30 years of since I built the first pond, one would hope to have learned something.

The system works fine and although it has only been installed a couple of days, the water is starting to clear up and I have already had to wash the filters in the unit. I had to reinstall the Scarecrow just in case the Heron decides to pay a visit as with the water much clearer, the fish are visible to him (or her).

For Part 2, read about where I turn my attention to the smallest pond (in volume) to clean it up.

Written 8/5/2019

APS August Meeting 2019


Getting ready for the meeting.

The third Monday of the month saw us once again at Zilker Botanical Gardens Clubhouse for our usual Austin Pond Society Meeting. This was attended by exactly 40 members a couple of whom were brand new. Welcome to you from this friendly group of “Ponders”.

As usual, the first thing we did at 6:30 pm was to feed the inner man (or woman). Barb, our President had stopped by HEB to pick up ham sandwiches and the members brought in the side dishes and deserts. Someone, had brought in a bowl of curried rice with hard boiled eggs and it was delicious adding some spice to the otherwise dour and uninteresting taste of the ham sandwiches, at least in my mind. Of all of the things that we sample, those sandwiches are far back on my list of favorite foods. Just my 5 cents worth…

Click on a picture to enlarge it and then use the side arrows to move to the next.

The meeting started at 7:00 pm with Barb going round the room and the new members were given the opportunity to be introduced and say hello and a little bit about themselves. It is always fun to hear why they are interested in ponds and ponding.

There was quite a bit of business which included the upcoming elections of Officers. Barb mentioned that there are a few vacancies including Hospitality, Librarian and Pond Tour Director that need to be filled for next years Board plus the Board Selection Committee that is headed by Margaret Boeneke, (Membership) is needing two additional members. Officially, all positions are open but generally speaking, the members are content with the current Board Members and do not replace them if they plan on continuing in their positions. All of the positions are important but by far and away, one of the most important of all is the Pond Tour Director without whom, there is not a Tour. As with most organizations of this kind, we have trouble finding volunteers to act on the different committees and even on the Board itself.

On a separate note, Julienne Smith, our longtime Secretary of 8 years, announced that she is not going to run again and will join the members as one of them. We thank Julie for her long service and due diligence in keeping us all in order. She will be missed on the Board. Add that position to those that are open.

Ted Paone receiving his award as the Koi Person of the Year with Glen Hubenthal and Barb Lenhardt, President.

Other business included the presentation of the Koi Person of the Year Award to Ted Paone for his contributions as Director on the past two Pond Tours. Later in the evening, Ted gave a quick outline of drip watering which he has in his yard.

Video by Sam and BJ Jenkins

The highlight of the evening was a presentation by BJ and Sam Jenkins entitled Ponds 101. It was a video that Sam had put together of them building the two ponds and bog at their home in Bastrop. Sam narrated the video and it was set to music and was very nicely done lasting about 20 minutes or so, Following the video, BJ took over answering the questions put to them by the membership. All in all, a very successful presentation.

Business Section Video

The meeting ended with the usual drawing for the door prizes and announcements of upcoming events. including the Photo Contest which is scheduled for the next meeting, September 16 along with a scaled down version of the Swap and Sell Meet. There are also a couple of Members Only events on the Calendar. Check the website and the Stream for further details.

If you are interested in joining the Austin Pond Society, visit the website at https://austinpondsociety.org for more details. If you want to become a Board Member, contact Barb, the President at president@austinpondsociety.org

Hope to see you at any and all of these events.

Written 8/21/2019

I Wish I Could Fly


Flying off into the sunset

Have you ever thought of a reason why
that birds should fly up in the sky
when all we can do is walk on the land
no matter how hard we plan
and even though we all might try
we know that we can never fly.

My dogs run and jump and play
with paws on the ground to help them stay
firmly fixed as they walk around
no thoughts of flight nothing that profound
as content with life as it stands
flying is just not in their plans.

The fish in my ponds all behave
used to their life below the waves
and even though they may swim and jump
they are much too solid a lump
to leave the water just a little way
and flying for them is only play.

I envy the birds to have this skill
to come and go at their will
sometimes walking on the ground
alert to danger that is all around
a quick little hop and away they go
leaving the danger far below.

Painted Bunting

Written 7/11/2019

Austin Pond Society 25th Pond Tour for 2019.


Yellow Crowned Night Heron nest with three babies.

The Austin Pond Society held their annual pond tour over the weekend of June 1-2 returning after missing out on having a tour last year, 2018. The size of the tour was also cut back to a more manageable number easily covered on each day, Saturday for the South Side of the Colorado River and Sunday for the north side.

The tour had a few of the spectacular favorites plus several new ponds which have never been on the tour before. All, regardless of the size, had something to offer in the way of beauty and in some cases, originality. One of the highlights included a nest of Yellow Crowned Night Herons complete with three babies that appeared to almost be ready to fly the roost. Ironic that one of the pond owners natural enemies could hold so much fascination when babies are involved.The night pond that has been on the tour several times before was just as spectacular as it has always been.

If you click on a picture, it will enlarge and you can use the side arrows to move along. Use the “escape” key to return to normal size.

I have put together two slideshows which takes about twenty minutes to view but is well worth it as it shows the spectacular beauty of ponds of different sizes and types and all of the accompanying work that has gone into the landscaping and plants and flowers that make up the whole garden. One pond even had three live donkeys which attracted as much attention as the ponds for the younger members on the tour.

All in all, the tour was a resounding success and even though smaller than previous tours, has probably set a new standard in both number of ponds and quality.

Written 6/5/2019