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.
Adventures in raising littles to become budding naturalists in their own back yard and beyond. The wonders of the natural world await if we could only take the time... Follow me on Twitter @naturemomtexas!