Snacky Hawky Time

Yesterday was my last day in the Austin office for a while. There were at most three other people on my floor today, so it was pretty darned quiet. At least no one breathed on me!

The excitement started when I was getting ready to go home. I had decided to walk the parking garage for a little exercise, for old times’ sake, and just started out when I heard all sorts of commotion, consisting of upset bird chirps, upset squirrel sounds and the unmistakable call of a red-shouldered hawk.

I ran to the side of the garage that looks over the courtyard and saw a lot of wings, flapping, and screeching. I followed the sounds of the hawk (certainly not a subtle hunter) to the oak tree next to last year’s nest. There he or she sat, triumphantly pecking away at whatever creature got caught in all that commotion.

Allow me to screech about my current meal.

I’m not sure, but I think it was one of the squirrels. I couldn’t get a good enough photo to tell for sure, since the sun was at an awkward angle. It certainly appeared to be a satisfactory snack.

I’m trying to hide over here. Go away.

I hung around a while to see what all the bird sounds were. I saw a mockingbird, what appeared to me to be a nuthatch, and some really pretty birds with red on them, but I’m not sure what they were. I wish I always had binoculars!

The other thing I saw all over the courtyard were these masses of leaves in the trees, mostly the cedar elms, but others as well.

There are dozens and dozens of these clumps of leaves.

I knew they just weren’t leaves the trees had shed, because they are stuck on their really well, no matter how windy it gets or anything. I figured there must be an insect or something in there, so I looked closer.

Aha, webs.

Sure enough, it’s webs that are holding the masses of leaves together. I wonder what it is? I’ve gone with fall webworm moths on iNaturalist, but am patiently waiting to see if that’s verified. If it is, we’re in for a lot of pretty moths at some point.

I’m so glad to have this oasis of nature right next to the building where I work in Austin. I often give silent thanks to whoever preserved this little bit of nature and added so many native plants to the courtyard to make it a wonderful respite for so many people. I miss my desk with a view of the hawk nest, squirrel nests, and birds.

And now, back to Cameron, where I shall avoid germs like…um…the plague.

Humble but Lovable, the Cedar Elm

It’s about time I paid tribute to some trees again, don’t you think? Enough of that introspection hoo-hah! Today I was inspired to write a little something about my favorite Texas tree, the cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia), because it just keps showing me how wonderful it is.

Also these beauty berries keep telling me they are beautiful, so okay, I put them in here. There are cedar elm leaves around them.

The cedar elm was the first native tree other than the live oak that I learned to identify. Yes, before the Ashe juniper (the one that’s not cedar, but is called cedar). There was one in my neighbor’s front yard, and it looked so different from the other lucky natives the developer had left that I just had to look it up. Then I got confused. Is it a cedar, or is it an elm? Apparently, it’s an elm. Here, read what something official says:

The common native elm in east Texas where it is planted for shade. Called Cedar Elm because of the rough, cedar scale-like texture of the leaves and because it is often found in the western part of its range with Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei), which is locally called cedar. The Latin species name means thick leaf.

Ulmus Crassifolia
Oaks and cedar elms mix at the work patio.

The ranch is chock full of them, which makes sense. We have their favorite terrain: near water, flat, and with a saucy hint of limestone to make them happy. The limestone is why they’re all over the hill country. The terrain is why they are all over Milam County.

Don’t confuse the cedar elm seeds with these inland sea oats. Of course you wouldn’t; this is obviously a grass, right?

Cedar elms are very easy to identify by their leaves, which have sawtooth edges and aren’t very big. Nature conveniently deposited one on my arm today.

Cedar elm leaves turn yellow just before they fall to the ground. Then they turn brown.

They’re deciduous, which makes me happy. That way I see a lot more in the woods at the ranch during the winter. Their leaves are dropping right now, and it’s like a gentle rain.

They make pretty displays.

As the picture above shows, they shed their little fruits and seeds at the same time that the leaves are falling. That’s a rare trait in the elm, and an easy way to know you have a cedar elm. Squirrels will eat them, if there aren’t nice juicy acorns nearby. Check this out!

By September or October, the branches are thick with clusters of flat, oval seed packets called samara. The samara looks much like a tiny green round ravioli, or those dots of explosive caps for toy guns of the past. These are the fruit of the elm tree, with the seed forming a reddish bump in the middle.

The many beneficial traits of cedar elm
Here are little branches blown down by the wind that show the seeds and leaf size. Look at all those leaves on the patio (those are just from today, since the building staff obsessively sweeps).

Since these are native trees, they also feed lots of native creatures. Here’s some sort of tent caterpillar or something that has made a home on a cedar elm branch.

Looks yucky, but, yay Nature.

The seeds appear pretty prolific, because they can easily become over crowded. We have some that need to be thinned out, which is always hard for Ms. Tree Hugger. But they can really grow thick, which makes it hard for them to grow tall and strong.

I’m happy to have them, filling the cedar brakes (limestone landscape common in the center of Texas) with something to break up the monotony of those dang Ashe junipers!

Resources

Cedar Elm, Texas A&M Forest Service.

The many beneficial traits of cedar elm, by Marilyn Sallee, Native Plant Society of Texas, 2011.

Ulmus Crassifolia, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Fall Beauty Is Subtle but Sweet

I’ve really been enjoying the weather and the fall foliage the past week or two. It got all windy in Austin and leaves were swirling like they did back in Illinois when I lived there.

One oak and many cedar elms

Here at the ranch the cedar elms are the ones that provide color. It’s not bright, but the trees have many shades going from orange to russet brown.

Yellow leaves!

There’s one tree with yellow foliage. I’m thinking it’s a mesquite. I didn’t look too hard. It must be something else.

Continue reading “Fall Beauty Is Subtle but Sweet”