We had a big surprise rain event yesterday. No one was expecting it, but they were happy nonetheless. I hit some really hard rain in southern Milam County and was very glad for the rain mode in the car. There were waves on the road.
But the real topic today is rain lilies. Rain lilies (white ones) are a common plant around here. They pop up some time in summer, usually, in large masses after a good rain. I found it interesting that the Wildflower Center has two Latin names for rain lilies: Cooperia pedunculata and Zephyranthes drummondii. Apparently, the ones that bloom in the spring are different from the ones that bloom in the fall (no clue what the summer ones are). It has some cool alternate names, too: Hill Country rain lily, Prairie lily, Rain lily, and Flor de mayo.
Here at the ranch, we have always had these really pretty yellow “rain lilies” that pop up around the same time as the white ones.
When they came up this year, of course the first thing I did was look them up on iNaturalist, which is how I found out they were called copper lilies or Rio Grande copper lilies (Habranthus tubispathus). It says they are escaped ornamental plants from Central America that have naturalized. I can’t imagine anyone planted them in our pasture, but who knows? They definitely seem to appear most often in Texas.
It’s been a busy few days of observation here at the Hermits’ Rest. It’s hard to say which of the things I’ve seen has been more interesting to me!
The first thing I found has been intriguing me for a few weeks. I kept seeing a red-bellied woodpecker on a short tree stump on our property, right next to the road. I figured out why on Thursday when I was driving home and saw the bird entering a hole in the stump. I realized it must be a nest, so next time I drove by I stopped, and I could see “someone” in there, but it doesn’t show up in the photo (sigh, I realize a lovely woodpecker would have made the picture more exciting).
Next time I drove by to show my friends and spouse, and the woodpecker wasn’t home, but there was a beautiful hawk watching us from the next dead tree (which is still there because it was home to last year’s woodpeckers).
That sure teaches us to make sure to keep some of the dead and downed trees around! They make nice homes for beautiful nature friends.
This time of year there are a lot of butterflies around, especially the frittilaries. I got this nice photo of a variegated frittilary this weekend.
But what a lovely surprise came when I was showing some visitors our neighbor’s peack tree! The plum tree, which is finished fruiting but still has its protective net on, had one overripe plum still on it. This had let to a frittilary festival! There were at least a dozen of them flying around and enjoying plum juice. They landed on our heads and hands, making it seem like we were in a butterfly garden in a zoo. What a great experience
That’s right, I am excited about termites. You see, every year we get these interesting tube-like dirt structures on the parts of our property with the heavy clay soil. I always wondered what they were. My spouse said they were made by some kind of termite. I was confused, since they do not appear to be near any wood, which I identify as termite food.
So, when they showed up this year, I took some pictures, and uploaded them to iNaturalist in hopes of finding more information. I couldn’t find anything, though. Luckily, my Master Naturalist colleague, Linda Jo Conn, knew what it was (desert termites) and identified it for me. I was surprised to see very few sightings of Gnathamitermes tubiformans in the database.
Linda Jo referred me to her own observation of this very interesting beneficial termite, and there I found a link to a great article all about these fascinating creatures. They build walls around food sources like grass blades (out of clay, spit, and such) to protect themselves while they harvest it. So, all those cool tubes I saw were protective tunnels.
They mostly live underground, and according to the article:
“Their tunneling makes soil more porous. which improves the infiltration of rainfall and can improve plant growth in these arid areas.”
McDonald, A.K., Muegge, Mark A., and C. Sansone: Desert Termites Gnathamitermes tubiformans, 2010, Texas AgriLife Extension.
I am now trying to be more careful not to squish them.
During the four days of the week when I’m in Austin, I do yoga three days at lunch. But on Wednesdays, I’m on my own. Sometimes I just work, but often I take a walk around the area, which has some interesting plantings and natural areas as well. The office is on land that used to be full of deer when my kids were little. Now there is a lot more office space and less deer land.
Anyway, I decided to give myself a challenge last Wednesday, which was to see how many new iNaturalist observations I could make during the lunch hour. I wanted to focus mainly on things that were blooming or bearing fruit, but if something else interesting showed up, I’d take advantage of that.
So, off I went with my trusty iPhone X, which takes reasonable pictures, sometimes. I took pictures of the native/nativized plants that had been planted around the buildings first. There were some really beautiful agaves that I just had to record, even though I know they are landscape plants. Look at this Queen Victoria Agave!
It’s the longest day of the year, and from what I hear, the most fun holiday in Sweden. So, happy solstice, midsummer, or whatever you’re enjoying today.
Since rain in summer is so rare in these parts, I’m happy to report that it rained for three days in both Austin and Cameron this week. It wasn’t the flooding that happened on the Texas coast, but it was enough to help out the plants and at least slow the evaporation of the ponds/tanks at the ranch.
If you look carefully at this photo from yesterday of the pond behind the Hermits’ Rest house, you will see a lot of black around the edges. That’s where the water line has gone down. On the shallow edge of this one, it’s retreated at least six feet. The rain wasn’t enough to cause runoff, which is what fills the ponds, but at least an inch went in from direct rain.
We still think it will be a long, dry summer. The heat already took care of most of my crops, but I think I’ll have some okra!
Tomorrow there will be a post about a marathon of citizen science I did yesterday, so stay tuned for more nature fun.
In my zeal to record all the things blooming around the Hermits’ Rest, I’ve been wanting to record all the lovely grasses that are producing their seed heads this time of year. They’re actually just glorious to look at right at sunset, when the silver bluestem practically glows as it waves in the wind. Heck, even Johnson grass (the bane of Texans’ existence) looks pretty that time of day.
I enjoy the grasses, especially since one of our field trips was to the herbarium, where we learned to use the keys to identify grasses by their seeds. Unfortunately, that is not a skill I have. Nor do I have a microscope, or even a really good camera. This means, sadly, that I sort of stink at grass identification.
Still, I throw my photos up on iNaturalist in hopes that someone will know what I am looking at. Sometimes it works, as in that rescue brome up there, but often it doesn’t.
Thank goodness for the helpful naturalists on the site, though. One of the Texas Parks and Wildlife urban wildlife biologists, Sam Kieschnick, has often consirmed my observations. His profile on iNaturalist proclaims his love of the project. The number of contributions he makes confirms his passion. I admire how he helps educate so many peopleand helps them contribute to scientific research along the way.
I’ve mentioned before that I have been contributing to iNaturalist as part of my Texas Master Naturalist volunteer work. My project is identifying the plants and wildlife I see here at Hermits’ Rest Ranch. It’s lots of fun, and I can upload photos right from my phone. The pictures here are a few things I have seen in the last few days.
I realized I needed to do more to share my information with others, which I hadn’t been doing while I was just trying to figure things out. Thankfully, Linda Jo Conn, a member of our El Camino Real Master Naturalist group contacted me and let me know what project (group of observations) I should assign my observations to so they will all be together. She also suggested that I start my own project about the ranch collection.
I managed to create a project, Hermits’ Rest Flora and Fauna, though I would rather narrow it down geographically than just have it be my own stuff from Milam County. At least this does leave out my observations in Travis County and elsewhere, though. If you are on iNaturalist, I’d love it if you’d follow this group!
I’m going to try to follow some of my other favorite members and their projects, too.
I’m glad I’ll be able to share my findings with others now. I am having so much fun identifying the plants and animals I see around here! I’ve identified a couple of butterflies, too. I just don’t have the right camera to get bird photos. I’ll keep working on it!
Anyway, if you are on iNaturalist, I’d like to see your observations, so let me know who you are!
I am beginning to think it’s not some green thumb I have, but more like the windows in that Bobcat Lair house make everything bloom. Case in point is this parlor palm I have had for a long time. I think it came in an arrangement when a family member died. I’m pretty sure someone who has not spoken to me since 2006 sent it, so it’s old. Obviously, it’s happy in this house. It’s grown a lot, andit has these cute little buds.
I just had to share that little blossom with someone, so you got it. And as a bonus, here is a pretty plant growing in our Austin neighborhood. I should probably figure out what it is. When I do, I’ll add that. But isn’t it pretty? Probably some kind of “red hot poker” thing.
One of the hardest things about the Hermits’ Rest is trying to plant things and make them grow. The area is most assuredly difficult for growing non-native flowers or most vegetables. No wonder I concentrate on what shows up naturally!
Ranch plant report
I’m sad to report that the early heat wave has fried my tomatoes and most of my flowers in the raised beds. But, zinnias and a marigold that popped up are fine, as are all the herbs (they look spectacular, actually, especially the bronze fennel). And the sunflowers I planted from last year’s seeds are definitely worth the price. I’ll have to take some pictures soon.
In the bed beside the house, free basil is, as usual, growing away, amid even more sunflowers. Hiding in there is some okra and random lavender that seems okay. At least all the sweet potato vines died out.
Back in Austin
At the Austin house, Anita is having great success on the lower deck with her succulents and cacti. I am having less success on the top deck, which gets a lot of sun, but there are things that are alive, and we did get our bougainvillea to survive the winter. It’s all happy.
This leads me to orchids. I am not the hugest orchid fan on earth (that would be my friend Lynn Molitor). But, I am sentimentally attached to them, because my mother’s main hobby during her last years in south Florida was raising orchids, and I have many great memories of her watering them and naming all the ones that were blooming (after Mom passed away, the orchids went to Lynn’s father, and eventually to Lynn, at least in spirit). So orchids remind me of my mom.
And inside our Bobcat Lair house, we apparently created the ideal location for houseplants of all kinds, especially orchids. I used to always have one blooming on my desk at work, then I’d take it home, so I now have a good number of orchid plants.
Much to my happiness, they seem to like the low-E glass in our windows, and have responded by blooming like crazy, with nothing more than watering and monthly fertilizing. They are all in east-facing windows, which don’t get burning sun thanks to the glazing.
In addition to the three blooming now (including my favorite, the brown one), there are two more getting ready to bloom, at least if the woman who cleans the house hasn’t watered them to death. I think those are probably the white phalaenopsis ones. We will see!
And yes, I know I need to learn what the danged orchids are called. I hope Lynn reads this and fills me in. Then I’ll update.
Today my husband and I were talking about our long-term personal goals. I said that my most important one right now is to remember to live in the moment. It’s becoming more and more of a habit over the past few years, and while my meditation practice has helped, I honestly give most of the credit to spending time at the Hermits’ Rest.
Being away from all the traffic, people, and noise in Austin is a real balm for my soul. And while there are things I must do, like feed the animals, water the plants, and such, even those chores provide me the opportunity to just enjoy what I have here. To me, nothing smells better than my horse on a hot day, and it’s hard to be all involved with outside issues when you are looking for beautiful eggs in the hen house.
Plus, the darned dogs make us smile all the time.
Part of what I like about this place is that it isn’t all fancy or full of spectacular beauty (I was comparing it to a friend’s hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where my dad came from and where the natural beauty is so thick it is almost overwhelming). You have to look for the amazing natural wonders in central Texas. And that looking makes you slow down and really SEE what’s around you.
That’s been a real gift for me. I’ve always been an observer, but the years spent on this ranch have helped me hone it to where I just can’t help but stop and really look at what’s going on around me every day. I think my mental health improvements alone have made the purchase of this land and construction of our house worth it! After all:
By the way, if you look at the limestone on the house, you’ll see it is full of fossil shells. This layer of the limestone is called the “rattlesnake” layer, because the fossil shells look like rattlesnake rattles. This limestone came from a quarry near Georgetown, Texas, which is not too far from us. I love being surrounded by fossils. I’ll post more on them another time.
This informally Zen-like goal of taking the time to enjoy where I am and who I am at any moment is why I am so fervent about protecting our natural areas, our plants, our wildlife, and all who live here. People need to connect to the earth. I think it’s a basic need.
What about where you live? Is it easy to live in the moment? Can you find the beauty wherever you are? I hope so, because it’s everywhere (including the Bobcat Lair, our Austin house).
My whole life I’ve heard about katydids but, I guess I’d never seen one in person until yesterday. I was driving into the parking lot at work, when I saw a bright green leaf, but the leaf turned out to be an insect.
I quickly parked my car and went over to see what it was. Of course I took a picture so I could upload it to iNaturalist. What a cool bug it was, too!
When I uploaded the photo, I saw lots of potential katydids, but I figured it was probably the most common one. That turned out to be wrong, as the person who reviewed it for iNaturalist said it was actually a Central Texas Leaf-Katydid, which is more rare and more local. That’s cool!
I also sent up two flowers to be identified after I got to the Hermits’ Rest yesterday. They are two of the more late-blooming wildflowers. I am pretty sure I got the ram’s horn right. That’s one I look forward to every year. We only have a few:
The next plant I am not so sure of. We have quite a bit of it, but when I uploaded it to iNaturalist, there wasn’t much about this one, if, in fact, I identified it correctly. It appeared to be Lady Bird’s Centaury, which must be named after Lady Bird Johnson, right? It said it had not been reported yet. That sounds fishy to me, so I am awaiting a correction from one of the botany experts by morning. It’s great to have the opportunity to learn this way.