Friday, September 11, 2009

Some Wonders

I'm always amazed, every day, at the wonders of the natural world. Even when I'm weeding in the pastures! Yesterday, when I was leading Maisie in, I spotted a Horse Nettle plant, but couldn't remove it because I didn't have gloves or clippers with me. I just tried to remember where it was in the pasture so I could find it again. This morning after turning the horses out, I went back to find it - it took me a while of walking back and forth in the area where I remembered that it was - it was somewhat hard to see because it was a smallish plant, not in flower, and in among some taller grasses:

Where there's one, there are often more - I found three plants there and one more when I was walking back to the barn through another pasture. Horse Nettle (also called Bull Nettle) is a member of the Nightshade family (Solanum) and is poisonous to horses. The leaves and stems have small spines, and the flowers are white (sometimes violet) and the berries are yellow. The plants are more toxic in fall. Here's a set of plants in flower (not from our pastures) along a path behind my house - in our prairies and native areas we don't remove it because it is a native plant and is not invasive:

While I was out with the clippers anyway, I removed a bunch of Spotted Knapweed plants. These tend to grow along fence lines or in disturbed, compacted areas near the gates. This plant is very invasive in pastures, and is a plague in parts of the West, occupying thousands of acres. The plant secretes a chemical that makes it difficult for other plants to grow nearby. Luckily, we don't have too much of it in the pastures:

We've had the good fortune to have an Orb Weaver spider establish a web just by the front walk to the house - it spans an amazing distance and is high enough off the ground that we can walk under one of its guy threads without bending:

The spider is in the center, and I think it might be a male, since males are smaller than females - perhaps one of you spider experts out there can comment.

And for the final natural wonder, several days ago there was a very large hawk sitting on one of the pasture fences. As soon as I could get my husband to come over with a telephoto lens on his camera, it left, but he managed to get this shot from about 75 yards away:

Although we've had occasional sightings of Bald Eagles, from what we could see of it, it appeared to be a very large Red-tailed Hawk.

On a horse note, neglected Maisie finally got some attention yesterday - we managed a nice 40 minute trail ride - I worked on giving very small half-halts with my seat to control her speed and it worked beautifully.

Enjoy your fall - I think it's the best time of year to be outside!


  1. Your posts are like a breath of fresh air, Kate! Lovely photos.

  2. I did not know that plant was horse nettle and poisonous to horses! I have some growing near the pasture gate (inside the fence) and I stomp on it whenever I walk by in an effort to kill it because I never have my gloves. I guess I need to remember the glove next time and actually remove it!

    Excellent photo of the hawk...that's a big one!

  3. There has been a really big hawk (or a pair of really big hawks) circling in the skies above my barn and the neighboring field lately. I love their cries, but I'm worried about what the sudden influx of predators means -- the barn owner said there's also been coyotes in the field at night lately. I hope the barn cat doesn't become dinner for someone!

    Great pictures of the hawk, by the way. We seem to specialize in Really Big Hawks here in Denver and Littleton, but I never seem to have my camera handy when a good picture presents itself.

  4. Katharine - where we are, the hawks are on the increase right now because of the time of year - we have our normal residents like the red-tails but lots of others move in for the winter - I saw a Northern Harrier the other day doing its "hover-in-place" routine while hunting for rodents. The barn cat should be OK with the hawks - a coyote can take one but the biggest predator of cats is the Great Horned Owl.

  5. It is a good time to be looking out for poisonous plants as some become more palatable as they wilt in autumn.

    Lovely spider and hawk, and the hack sounds agreeable! It is a great time to be out and about :D

  6. Fall is my favorite time of year. Great pictures, especially the orb weaver. I'm fascinated by those spiders. I had a Cat Faaced spider (body looks like the head & face of a cat, big female spider, google cata faced spider images to see) outside my house one time. I watched it reweave its web daily and even saw a teeny tiny male come courting. At first I thought he was a little bug, but she didn't snare him and then I realized it was the male. He was very cautious in his approach as she was playing hard to get. It was like have a PBS nature show in my own backyard.

  7. Great photos, again. I remember feeling so guilty one year when a spider wove a beautiful web right across the top of the double door into my feed room. No way for me to get in except through the web. All that work, and I ruined it.

  8. while you enjoy your fall we here in New Zealand are enjoying the most beautiful blossoms and spring bulbs. Taranaki is a province famous for its rhododendron festival and magnolias. Loads of gardens open to the public. Its a great time of the year ....but yes with the spring growth comes the weeds. I dont think it matters what time of the year....the weeds keep growing. Good on you for keeping such a close eye on the ground

  9. I'm not a big fan of weeds and always wonder why they grow so fast and are so abundant. Wouldn't it be nice if the flowers did the same without any coaxing.

    The hawk is beautiful, they are so majestic when they take to the skies and soar effortlessly.Great photo of him before his flight.

    I don't think I've ever seen a spider web quite that huge, it must have taken a long time to spin that one.


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