My housemate in Austin, Anita, and I are taking a quick mini-vacation to Fredericksburg, Texas. I haven’t taken her many places since she moved here, and I knew she’d love the Hill Country, even while we are enduring weeks and weeks of incredible heat.
Yesterday, we drove out to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, a place you should also go, if you’re visiting the middle of Texas. It really is fascinating, especially in the spring or after a rain (due to flowers and little pools of water with tiny shrimp in them).
However, it’s very crowded in the spring and fall, so we discovered the great advantage of heading out early in the morning in midsummer is having the entire rim trail to ourselves (we saw one other hiker). We took Anita’s dog, so we didn’t try to climb the summit. Also, heat.
What I DID do, though, was put on my Master Naturalist hat (figuratively–I’d brought hiking boots, but forgot my hat), and see what kinds of plants, flowers, and other things I could spot. I’d never been to Enchanted Rock in the summer, so I did find some great surprises! And of course, I entered them all in my iNaturalist observations. Enjoy the photos, while I tell you about some of my favorite discoveries.
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.
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!
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.
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.
A quick share, because I am proud that the article I submitted last week to the Cameron Herald got published just as I wrote it, even with the informal parts intact. I was testing to see if light-heartedness would go over all right, and it did.
By the way, this is a fun paper to read, and subscriptions to the online version are very reasonable. What the heck, read about all the police activity and financial intrigue in a small town! Click the link above to subscribe.
I was a little disappointed to see that they used the photo of me grinning my head off rather than the one of Dr. Thoms, but I can see why they would want to feature local residents. The Thorndale paper also published the article, but with no pictures. I guess I am a byline collector, now.
My sister texted me to say I was in the newspaper. I said, yes, I know. Check the byline! It’s great to use my skills to volunteer for a good cause and help educate folks about the history of our area. We have it worked out where I and another volunteer alternate articles, so it’s not too much work, either.
I am pretty familiar with what lives around the Hermits’ Rest, probably because looking for moving objects is one of my best skills; I seem to have been blessed with better-than-average peripheral vision. That helps with birds, snakes, and stuff. It also helps with rodents, so I’m pretty darned sure we have some big old tree rats (Rattus rattus, my favorite Latin name), along with a heck of a lot of mice and voles. We always see them when Lee shreds the pastures (along with a whole lot of happy hawks, caracaras, and falcons).
The past few weeks, though, I’ve gotten a LOT of practice in mouse identification and spotting. It started when I saw mouse poop in one of the bathrooms. I was just glad it wasn’t rat poop. Lee saw that one and said the dogs “played with it.” Then, I saw some in the other bedroom. Uh oh. Worse, Lee found a mouse in his car. I figure they came in looking for the food that is always in there.
However, when my sister and I got in my (totally food-free) car and were greeted by a friendly mouse face, I knew something was up. She fled, and I escorted that one out of the car. I was concerned. Why are we suddenly seeing so many mice in the house and garage, I wondered?