I Found a Spring! And Pollinators!

I started out my morning nature break trying to find pollinators and check for damaged flowering plants for a survey of pollinators and plants used by monarchs on iNaturalist. I was very happy to have found bees and a butterfly, and was watching the water flowing in the stream with the dogs.

Then, Lee showed up, wanting me to help get the dogs back up so he could feed them. I said, okay, but look how well the stream is flowing! He noted that the runoff from the pond did not seem to be flowing, but the place where it dumps into the stream WAS making nice little waterfall sounds. So, where was the water coming from?

The stream is flowing so nicely and consistently that actual aquatic plants are growing.

Lee pointed out to a new puddle or marshy area that seems to have (no pun intended ) sprung up since the snow event happened. I’d been meaning to check on it, too.

The newly wet area. You can see it doesn’t have any water plants yet, so it’s new.

The puddle was very full, not like all the other ones that have dried up. Then, lo and behold, I spotted a little hole. That little hole was full of clear water, and it was bubbling up! I finally found the source of one of our intermittent springs! I was pretty excited.

Not much to look at, but it is full of bubbly water!

So, water is coming up from this hole (perhaps from the pond, who knows?), then flowing to the marshy puddle, then heading to join the pond runoff water, and on into the big hole that starts the stream.

I labeled the new spring’s path, since it’s hard to see for the grass.

Yay! Farther down, the water is running really fast, thanks to at least two other springs. We had heard that there have been springs all through that area, but most of them have not flowed since we got here, which was when the big drought of 2011-12 happened. I guess the aquifer has finally recovered! Wow!

This springy area has been holding up since last year.

Anyway, I was happy to find a Sulphur butterfly, a hairstreak and lots and lots of bees outside. They were pollinating the henbit and dandelions.

Also, one of the young willows in the small pond has started sprouting, plus I saw a bullfrog in that pond (and heard another one jump). I found one wolf spider and another insect that got away. That means some of them lived. This all makes me very happy.

I do hope to see turtles soon. I am worried about them. But, wow, so happy to have found a spring!

What’s in the Creek!

Today’s Bioblitz adventure took me and the faithful canine companions over by the creek again. I was trying to see if there are any different plants in the woods and creek side. Also, I wanted to let the dogs have fun. That they did!

Happy Carlton in the creek.

Mostly Penney and Carlton enjoyed the windy, sunny day by running, smelling and splashing. It was a good distraction from staring at plants.

I crossed the creek! (Also, check out that soil layer with all the big rocks.)

The dogs running in the stream inspired me to check it out, and I found some slimy algae.

Doesn’t that look shiny and fun?

It reminded me to check the water for plants. I found two cool things I never saw before today!

I’m not sure if it’s one kind or two kinds, but crowfoot is a cool name, and cursed crowfoot is a GREAT name!

All afternoon I looked for birds. I got a vulture photo, but all the other ones hid…until I was just about to walk through the gate back to the house. Suddenly, a bird was right in front of me. By the time I got the camera up, a little ruby crowned kinglet was right in front of me! It’s the first one I’ve seen here! A good day.

Hello!!!

It was a good day all around. I also had a great ride on Apache. I think he’s having fun, too.

A Doggie Expedition

Requests come in for more about the dogs. Ok, fine. Today, they were all wound up, so I took the dogs out to explore the woods and creek. They love that.

Carlton, Alfred, Penney, and Harvey check out one of the ponds.

We must have looked cute, because someone stopped to take a picture of us! Alfred insisted on taking a drink out of every pond or big puddle he came across.

Mmm this one is good.
Ah, small but tasty. Carlton likes it, too.

We had a blast, even though it was a bit chilly and windy. The dogs smelled many things, rolled in poop, and found things to chew on. Penney found a possum skull. Ick. No pictures of that! She wouldn’t put it down, and spent most of the afternoon enjoying it.

Here are some more photos of their fun.

Seen on a Walk: Ducks, Crawfish, Murmurations

Taking a walk in nature is good for your mood, so I have been out walking today. First I walked around our stream, looking for live crawfish, until it rained. Then, after the sun came out, I walked down the road to the cemetery and back, just to see what’s out there.

I really enjoyed looking at the water around our house. It’s so pretty.

I like the reflections.

I found no living crawfish, but saw many holes and castles (mud they leave while digging holes). I also found mushrooms, raccoon poop and general beauty.

I still can’t find where the front spring is, but it’s still flowing away. I made a movie.

I was in a hurry, so I forgot to turn the camera. But it’s pretty.

After the rain, it was so beautiful out! I wish the weather was always like this. It isn’t hot or cold. Birds are loving it, too.

Yesterday I’d seen some ducks behind the house, but the dogs sent them away before I could ID them. I was irritated, but hoped they’d stay. Sure enough, I was able to see them through the binoculars this morning. They were hooded mergansers! Fancy!

From Merlin Bird ID.

I really wanted a photo, though. I was excited to see them in the pond by the road on my walk. Of course, they took off. But, ha! I had the phone camera on burst mode! I got them flying!

Blurry, but recognizable!

Then, I heard a noise. It was the unmistakable sound of starlings. We have large flocks of this non-native bird around here. I knew they’d take off soon, so I waited a minute. Sure enough, they broke into two groups. It’s fun to watch.

It doesn’t take much to entertain me, does it? I just wish I had someone to walk with. I’d probably feel like going farther with a co-walker!

2020 Strikes Again! Flood!

Yesterday the wetness was just a preview. Starting last night it really, really rained. That storm system is quite intense! We’ve had over four inches so far, and others have had more. So, yeah, the ponds are now full.

Water flowing into front pond.

I was able to get out to drive to the office this morning, but soon after, Mandi called to tell me the road by the creek was flooded.

Here’s her photo showing a truck having trouble crossing.

Luckily, the surge didn’t last long and I was able to get back around 1pm. Lee had removed some debris from the road, so cars were safer.

You can see how much higher the water was. All that brown is balloon vine, which floats.

The chickens were very happy to have their new roof. The uncovered part of their run became a puddle, but the covered part was fine. They didn’t come out of the coop until I gave them some scratch.

Meanwhile, I had to feed the horses. I decided to walk, since I have that great new coat, hat, and gloves. I checked out the water, of course.

The trees you see are the creek. I’m always amazed how quickly this happens.

I dawdled a while watching the water flow, which I probably shouldn’t have done, since it started raining again. But it was cool.

Here, watch how fast the creek is flowing!

My coat protected me, and I was able to feed the horses and Big Red, who all seemed just fine. I enjoyed the exercise and once again surprised myself at enjoying bad weather.

Water flowing from the front pond to our happy stream.

So, it will be a chilly new year. I have pot toast happening, and some Prosecco for tonight. Happy New Year.

Sparrows of Hermits’ Rest

Today I am taking a mental health break and just having fun outside. I spent a really long time this morning watching the edge of the woods to figure out how many kinds of sparrows are flitting around in the brush. We get so many in winter, and it’s easy to see them with the cedar elm leaves all shed out.

Where there are sparrows

The first ones I saw were Harris’s sparrows. These are really easy to ID because they have black faces. We get them every winter.

Also they have very pink bills.

They aren’t common in much of the US, but you sure see them in the brush here. Sorry for these stock photos, but I couldn’t get photos.

The blue is the non breeding range.

Most of the sparrows were white-crowned sparrows. You hear them more than you see them. You hear their lovely calls all around you, then hear rustling. That’s the sparrows rummaging through the leaf litter looking for food.

Blurry but easy to ID.

When you finally see them, their heads shine at you, at least the males. They are vibrantly black and white. A spectacular little bird and lots of fun to watch, especially as they flit around in groups going from tree to tree.

I want a bug.

Others stay in one spot for quite some time. I guess there are lots of tidbits to eat there. I will spare you more blurry photos, but it was fun trying to get them.

Once I got out the binoculars and started looking that way, I found the third brush-dwelling sparrow at Hermits’ Rest Ranch in winter, the white-throated sparrow. They look a lot like the white-crowned, but have a bit of yellow above their eye near their beaks.

The bill also helps you tell them apart.

The Field Sparrows

We also have a variety of sparrows in the fields, completely different types. Most are vesper sparrows. These are the biggest ones, and their white tail feathers make them easy to ID. I never get close enough for a good photo, though.

There’s two of them. Take my word.

The vesper sparrows are here all year, even though the maps say they aren’t. There’s another smaller sparrow here now, which I’m not sure if they are savanna sparrows or song sparrows. Well, I’m better at this than I used to be!

We also have lots of meadowlarks right now. They fly really differently from the sparrows, though. And the killdeer are here in the fields, too. It’s quite busy!

Oh, I wanted to share one more visitor, a pair of greater yellowlegs, who have been sharing the pond behind the house with the huge great heron.

Three water birds.

I didn’t know yellowlegs swam, but for sure they weren’t ducks! Then they stood up and I knew what they were. There’s always something new to learn about nature.

Fog Magic

Last night was absolutely magical, if also a bit scary for people on the roads. It’s one of those things that can’t help but inspire awe as you witness what Nature can do in the right circumstances. As a Blogmas gift to you all, I’ll showcase some photos from my Master Naturalist friends as I tell my story and share theirs, too.

This photo from Larry Kocian gives you an idea of what it looked like at my house as the foggy evening started out.

For me, the magic started when Vlassic and I were walking back from feeding the horses, right at sunset. I noticed a red stripe along the horizon, where there was a break in the rain clouds that had hung around all day (but not brought anywhere near enough rain).

Here’s the fog from in town in Cameron, from Martha.

I suddenly saw a sliver of sun peek out from under the clouds. I got a few photos of the sun as it slipped through the gap and disappeared behind the trees.

The sun right in the little gap between the clouds and the ridge.

Then I noticed the mist. I could actually see fog forming behind our house, above the pond, and across the field. I knew we were in a valley, and guessed it was probably clear on top of the hill where the cemetery is.

The clouds are getting lower, and you can see mist forming right above the ground over on the left.

Right after I went inside, Lee came back from the office and said he was scared to death driving along the creek bottom to get to our house. The fog had gotten so dense that he could not see the road. A while later, Chris came back from a trip to Rockdale with the same report. Deep, deep fog.

You can guess from this photo, looking toward our house from Pamela’s property, that it was darn foggy down at the creek.

About that time, Pamela texted me, “Are you living in a cloud?” I said I sure was, and she told me she’d sat behind her house and just watched the fog creep higher and higher from where I lived to the hill where she lived. This is what it looked like from her house as it came up.

Here comes the fog!

Here are two pictures of roughly the same view from her house, one taken on Thursday when I was there, and the other from last night, both around sunset.

After Pamela sent me her photos, I started seeing more and more of them in my Facebook feed. Cindy Travis, who lives to the southeast of us, shared these beautiful images from her ranch.

Another Master Naturalist friend, Phyllis, shared what the fog looked like from her vantage point. Another beautiful sight!

Foggy mystery, from Phyllis Shuffield.

Later on, I found some amazing images from another Master Naturalist friend, Larry Kocian.

This one, from when the fog was really deep, is spooky, but full of beauty.

He was on a bike ride through the fog right at sunset and really got some great images (he’s quite a skilled photographer). Here is how Larry described it:

…[T]his was taken at sunset on the Country Club golf course across the street from where I live. The fog started on the pond and it grew rapidly and enveloped the entire golf course, making it look like a Halloween theme setting. But then it felt like being in the clouds, experiencing absolute peace and happiness.

Me and my little girl Clarice, (in this photo), rode our bikes into this growing fog bank. It was a great nature experience, being at the right place, at the right time, under the right weather conditions.

There was 100s of birds (unknown species) all over this acreage, enjoying the fresh water from the rains earlier in the day. Also the saturated atmosphere here at the surface, the fog, was very refreshing. It was like refreshing lotion going into the skin. This fog hid everything on the acreage, except for these trees, making them look like they were floating in the clouds. And as you can see, the sidewalk the leads to the pond way down the way disappears into the clouds. We were floating in the clouds, enjoying this unique moment in Nature.

Thanks to Larry for sharing the photos and description! You almost feel like you were there, right along with him and Clarice. And here’s a special treat: he made a video of riding through the fog.

Well, if that doesn’t convince you that our planet is worth taking care of, I don’t know what will. Evenings like this are rare, but the memories will serve as a balm to our senses for a long time. No pandemic can take that away from us!

Once more, our Master Naturalist buddies made sure to preserve these memories. I’m grateful to Pamela, Phyllis, Cindy, and Larry for sharing with all of us, along with my dear friend, Martha.

What’s in Burleson County?

I wanted to know. There are very few iNaturalist sightings there that weren’t made by Eric from my Master Naturalist chapter. He, along with Alan, who lives on and runs a fish farm near Somerville, wanted to do something about that!

Near the main house

So we met up at the property today, to see what kind of fun field trip we could come up with to educate chapter members about the area, how Alan has been managing the water — fish ponds, lakes, streams, etc.

One of the ponds, with Bad Patty, the dog.

Of course I had to get a tour! Let me say that was fun! Alan is a great tour guide, and I got to see all kinds of new plants and insects. The lake is great, and there are many different micro-climates on the property.

American lotus

My favorites were plants whose seeds rattle when they dry. And all the water plants!

I enjoyed talking to my friends and learning about raising fish, grasshoppers, and so much more. I can’t wait to go back. It’s outdoors, we stayed apart, and the weather was great.

I also made this weevil friend. It crawled all over me for a long time. It’s Eudiagogus rosenschoeldi.

Remember my resolve to have more fun? I’m still working on it! And doing it! Not all serious all the time!

A lovely variegated fritillary I saw.

So, are you having any fun?

Nature is Tough. A Good Lesson

On my last morning in Wimberley, I decided to see if I’d missed anything on the property. Sure enough, after saying hi to the cows, I found a nice tent camping spot.

There’s something for everyone here, as long as you like rustic.

I found a few more plants for iNaturalist, and took this photo to show those of you not from the middle of Texas what our limestone rocks look like. they have lots of water holes and sometimes fossils.

Limestone and cedar elm leaf.

Most of the trees here are live oaks or cedar elms, just like at home. The difference is there are more live oaks here and more cedar elms at home.

Very old oak.

As I was trying to find more plants I discovered where there’s a waterfall and pool when it’s rainy. There were chairs to sit and relax, so I did.

As I looked around, I saw many flowers and plants growing straight out of the rock, many in the creek bed. They must pop up fast! Their tenacity and drive to grow, thrive and reproduce inspired me!

It’s just plain encouraging to see the native plants in their homes. No one planted them, but as they say, they bloom where they’re planted.

How delicate. Its a hairy ruellia, the only one of those I saw.

Finishing my walk, I saw more and more signs that autumn is here, even way down south in the US. I’ll leave you with these vines.

Virginia creeper, creeping away.

I Avoided Falling into Jacob’s Well

We were planning to explore Wimberley this afternoon, but we quickly realized it was Market Day. It looked really fun, with hundreds of vendors. However, there were also many hundreds of attendees. As wild as we were being by going out of town, we were NOT going to hang out with huge crowds!

So we kept going and instead had a nice drive, punctuated by a stop at Buc-Ees.

I didn’t touch that dirty beaver.

After that we drove around the Canyon Lake area, where I’d never been. We ate at a nice Italian restaurant, then drive around a while more. It was so relaxing looking at all the scenery.

When we got back to where we are staying we decided to go visit a rum distillery. It would have been more fun if they were allowed to serve drinks, but I did get a bottle of craft rum.

The distillery was right near Jacob’s Well, which is a 140-foot deep artesian well on a river.

Jacob’s Well.

These are fairly common around here, with all the limestone aquifers. Of course, there are caves down there. Lots of people get lost in there. Thankfully, swimming season ended October 1. While it was slippery getting down to the well, I managed not to fall in.

Looking down the river.

There were beautiful gardens nearby and a nice playground.

Visitor center (closed)

I was happy to see a sign thanking Master Naturalists for their help. I also enjoy talking to a couple of young park volunteers. So fun.

Nice sign!

I amused the family by taking even more photos of plants. But they said it was nice to see me so happy.

Visiting a natural wonder was just what I wanted. It brought much more joy than buying a bunch of stuff would.

Looking the other way down the river.

We had a nice day!