Native Beauty

Once the weather settled down a bit yesterday, the local insect-eating birds had a feast (including my chickens). There were a couple of phoebes sitting on our fence wires and zipping down to pluck tasty morsels, but the most excited birds had to be our barn swallows, who view our home as a very nice barn to live on.

When will that human LEAVE?

We discovered a new nest right above the door the dogs use to go in and out. They are a poly family, I guess, with an extra member to help feed the little ones once they hatch. Here are two of them looking displeased at me while the third one was in the nest thinking about pooping on me, no doubt. Because they are so close to the dog door, their chattering and chirping is very easy to hear in the family room. Luckily we like our noisy neighbors.

Getting back to Austin

This morning I drove back to Austin later than usual, so I’d be sure to be able to see any flooded spots along the road. I saw a lot of places that obviously were road closure spots over the weekend, judging by the debris patterns.

Just to the left is the main road, with soda machines. Apparently a church got all messed up, too.

The saddest thing, though, was driving by the old building in San Gabriel that held the hamlet’s only “business,” two soda machines. It was surrounded by red tape declaring it a danger. The darned tornadoes got it. Here’s an article.

Today is another day

Happily, today turned out to be beautiful. Anita and I enjoyed looking at some of the native plants and insects we pass by on our walks. Two were right outside our house, next to a steep rocky slope.

Cedar sage outside the Bobcat Lair (our Austin house)

No matter how hard the landscapers try, they can’t get rid of all the beautiful plants that were here before the development was here. Case in point is the cedar sage you see here. It’s native habitat is cedar brakes on caliche, where the ashe junipers are located. They like the rocky hillsides. Yep, these beautiful flowers cover the rocks our house sits on, right under the native trees that got to stay when the neighborhood was built (now they qualify as “heritage” cedars, so allergic people can’t cut them down).

Slender false pennyroyal

Nearby were these lovely little plants with tiny pink blossoms. There are many tiny plants with pink blossoms this time of year, but these looked different from all the others I’ve been finding. Sure enough, they are slender hedeoma (Hedeoma acinoides). There is not much about them in iNaturalist, but a quick check of their habitat shows it’s mainly the middle of Texas. It’s a local! Further checks found that their common name is slender false pennyroyal. I learned something new!

At the mailbox, my housemate, Anita, started jumping around, and I saw that there was a large winged insect flying and landing, which caused that reaction. I got everything nice and calm so I could photograph it.

Extreme crane fly closeup.

It appears to be a crane fly, but I’m not sure which one it is. It could be Tipula tricolor or Tipula furca, juding by the wings. I assume someone on iNaturalist will set me straight. I thought it was nice of the crane fly to hold still so I could get such a good picture!

What have you been seeing? Care to share?

Hike on Bull Creek

Our Austin house is minutes away from Bull Creek District Park and Greenbelt, a popular recreation destination and one of Austin’s most charming assets. It’s sad that Anita and I haven’t made our way over there after living in the Bobcat Lair for over a year. Today I was working from home and needed a break, so we grabbed my son and his partner, had some delicious barbecue at the County Line. There we enjoyed all the turtles and the massive carp hanging around wanting to be fed.

Check out those BIG fish.

Then headed over to check out the greenbelt. This was sort of a reconnaissance visit, since we knew we would not have time to go on a long walk or explore much, but we had plenty of fun.

big trees.
I skillfully hid a car and a trash can to get this view looking toward the road.

There are beautiful oaks here that you know were here all along, not planted by someone.

Ah, peace and quiet in Austin.

What a joy it was to explore the quiet creek and riparian area in peace and quiet. This place can be quite busy, but we shared it only with a mother and her two sons, who reminded me of myself twenty-something years ago. The littlest one was buck naked and running around with a stick, poking it into chunks of algae and laughing in the way only a little kid with all the time in the world, cold water, and a stick can laugh.

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Finished the Bug Book

Not much going on here, because I was busy researching the history of our Cameron properties for a blog post yesterday. I’m learning a lot about the church and the houses around it. I’ll share links to other posts on this topic, in case folks are interested. Here’s my favorite aerial shot of the neighborhood in 1960:

The area of old Cameron around our office building, which used to be the First Christian Church.

But, otherwise I am still reading a lot. I finally finished Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live. I would recommend it to any of you naturalists, biologists, entomologists, parasite lovers, and such.

I was fascinated by the last chapter, where they talked about about sourdough starters and how the microbes and such on the hands of the bakers make breads taste different. I was wondering about this, since the sourdough my friend Barron’s wife makes always tastes really good to me, but some other people’s is just to “sour” for me. Now I know why!

My other favorite part of the book was where the author, Rob Dunn, tells us not to mess with the spiders in our houses, because they are our friends and eat all sorts of things that we would LIKE for them to eat. Another tidbit was that most of the things people think of as “spider bites” are really staph infections. I was surprised, but there was plenty of research backing it up, according to the HUGE notes section.

So, there’s a book review for you. It looks like my next non-book club book will be the one Barron recommended that’s about the mind-gut connection. More microbes for me! Whee!

Creatures Great and Small

My potted Texas mountal laurel is going to bloom! I didn’t kill it.

Yesterday the weather was beautiful, so Anita, the dogs, and I spent the late afternoon outdoors in Austin. Honestly, I just wanted to get some exercise and enjoy the air, but I just can’t stop with the nature observations. I guess iNaturalist is the winner there!

Trailing lantana, invading our hillside. Can you see ants on it?

As we walked the dogs, Anita asked me what a pretty white flower was. I could see it was a type of lantana, but it was not in a spot where anyone would have planted it. So, I submitted it to iNaturalist and hoped for the best.

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What’s in Bloom? Who’s Happy?

Stork’s-bill lights up the lawn.

That’s the question I asked myself this weekend. So I wandered around with my head down to see what’s there.

I

Speedwell is so tiny, but it lights up the ground as it opens by midday.

was surprised to find the lawn (sorta) around our old church property blooming away. Granted, they were tiny wood sorrel, blue speedwell, and pink storks-bill flowers, but they were enough to keep at least four kinds of small butterflies happy.

These are prettier in person. Their bodies look blue.

I saw lots and lots of these lovely tropical checkered skippers, plus elusive little sulphurs and a hairstreak. And my friends the fiery skippers still are hanging around. Not bad for December.

The fiery skipper loves the wood sorrel.

Looking Up

When I looked up, I noticed the big oak tree (the only tree on the property) seemed to be shaking, even though there was no breeze. Then I heard a whole lot of chattering.

The tree is holding up well, even though it lost some limbs in recent storms.

The tree was filled with fat, happy squirrels. They ran up and down, jumped over branches, and tussled.

I’m a happy rodent.

Why were they so happy? Well, it’s autumn, and this tree alone has provided enough acorns for an entire city of squirrels. Why go elsewhere?

The ground is solid acorn. Busy tree.

I wish you the bounty and happiness these little guys have found. I also hope you are finding the life and beauty wherever you are. It’s there!

Glorious Autumn

I interrupt my sharing from the conference I attended to share what a lovely afternoon my spouse, dogs and I had at the Hermits’ Rest yesterday.

buttefly back
This is the back of a red admiral butterfly. I just love how this photo came out.

I came home from work, and just felt like taking a long walk. I gathered a few dogs and started my usual route around the property. As I went down toward where the arroyo stream meets the woods, something smelled wonderful. I realized it was a large bed of fall asters. The little valley had trapped the aroma.

monarch
Asters and small bees.

The aroma had attracted more than just me, too. The flowers were literally abuzz and aflutter with bees of all sizes and at least six types of butterflies. I was really happy to see Lee come down to see me, so he could enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds with me.

not_bee
The monarch was in flower heaven.

I really didn’t take all that many photos, because we were just observing. Still, I have to share that we got at least one migrating monarch in the bunch! There were also Gulf fritilaries, a red admiral, fiery skippers (lots), and some painted ladies.

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Experiencing the Balcones Canyonland Preserve

balcones
This lush, moist, fern-covered scene is typical in the preserve.

My next Master Naturalist conference field trip was to see the part of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve that abuts Concordia University, in the beautiful western hills of Austin. This area is full of endangered and rare plants and animals, including the beloved golden-cheeked warbler (who is not here right now). In addition, this series of preserved areas is interesting because it’s administered by multiple agencies, which is unusual. It’s also very big, as you can see from this interesting map.

So, an intrepid group of naturalists took a van over to the beautiful Concordia University campus (it’s beautiful, because they made a ton of money when they sold their very valuable but confining old location and bought this large property with plenty of room to grow).

jared
This is Jared. He learned about nature from his grandfather, who shared his Cameron property with him.

We were met by the people in charge of the piece of the preserve that we were going to tour, and some really nice student workers who all really seem to love this property and know a lot about it. One student even had roots in good old Cameron, Texas (shout out to the Davenport family). I really enjoyed talking to the young people about their observations of the area. If they keep it up, they will sure have a fun life ahead of them.

Continue reading “Experiencing the Balcones Canyonland Preserve”