Our trip to east Texas last weekend had us visiting the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve and two Big Thicket National Preserve units, the Turkey Creek Unit (and the Pitcher Plant Trail) and the Hickory Creek Savannah Unit (and the Sundew Trail).
I can’t recall where we saw the first zebra swallowtail adult fly by but we did end up seeing several along the Sundew Trail. One of them was flying slow and low to the ground, which at first had us thinking it was searching for nectar plants. But it avoided several flowering plants and I finally decided it was looking for pawpaws to lay eggs! From then Chris started looking for pawpaws and evidence of caterpillars. We were nearly done with the hike when he stopped us and said he had found one!
I got out my macro lens and started being a naturalist paparazzi and had some fun chatting with this sweet being. They were none too pleased with me when I tried to shoo a few harvestmen out of the picture and showed me their osmeteria, the two orange horn-like appendages on their head. Chris and Forest continued meandering down the trail and I proceeded to take out my camera and take a lot of photos, switching lenses for the macro lens to get up close.
The only other zebra swallowtail I have seen in Texas (or recall seeing) was one that darted around us at Huntsville State Park last spring. That state park and where we are in NW Houston is the far western end of their range. They are not common at all around here. But dig a bit further into east Texas and they start appearing a lot more, which is a lovely sight to see! I was tinkering around on iNaturalist to log my sighting and noticed someone had logged one in central Texas near Caldwell. That’s between College Station and Austin! I had to comment to make sure it was legit and even ran an reverse Google Image Search (I once found a fake entry in Houston for a butterfly that exists in Britain by using that technique) and nothing else showed up. The person who logged the entry mentioned they thought it was strange but there was apparently a stray zebra swallowtail well out of its range over there. It happens, of course, but still a bit odd! That said, if one appeared in my yard I’d do a happy dance! I’m still waiting for the occasional sighting of a zebra longwing to happen in my yard. They are transient in the Houston area, more commonly seen in Austin and San Antonio and of course closer to south Texas. But they are known to show up in Houston from time to time. I’ve got the passiflora to make them happy!
Definitely a great lifer caterpillar to add to the list!
Last Friday Forest and I ventured out for our first drive-thru food since this pandemic started. Chris had a field job south of town and took the opportunity of being so close to Galveston to get some fishing in after the field work was done. That meant he was not going to be home for dinner. When this typically happens, Forest and I will go and get food, maybe do a Target or craft store run after, and then head home. Or sub the Target/craft store for a trip to the playground. Since our usual habits are very much altered these days we waited in the drive-thru and took our dinner down to Kleb Woods.
We’ve steered clear of this park because of its proximity to town and the likelihood during high traffic times that it would be rather busy. But it was Friday evening and I knew that the north end of the park would be less busy, and so it was. A few cars were there but we barely saw anyone coming to or from their cars. We ate and then walked down the paths for a bit before turning back to the open space near the parking lot for Forest to run around and play games in.
Here’s a bit of what we saw—all phone photos.
This is his day time dinosaur shirt he made with some t-shirt paint I still had in my studio from a baby shower I hosted back in early 2014! A couple of t-shirts laying around and some creative energy from Forest resulted in this dino shirt. He had a sleep shirt, too!
I know Forest would have loved going to a playground instead but we made the best with what we had and still enjoyed an evening out. I’m hoping sometime this summer we’ll be able to return to a bit of normal habits but time will only tell.
I didn’t mean to go dormant over here this week. I had another post drafted called The Depths of Despair, where I was going to quote Anne Shirley after she found out Marilla Cuthbert didn’t want an orphan girl for Green Gables. Anne’s despondent and dramatic depths of despair is often how I’ve felt for the last few weeks and last week I was feeling it a bit harder. I scrapped that post but here I am to catch up a bit.
As the title suggests, there are scattered thunderstorms around today. Thunder is rumbling in the distance and Forest is rolling around in the living room floor in a blanket possibly pretending to be a dinosaur. I have no idea, but he’s playing by himself and isn’t pestering me at the moment so I can get a few words typed here.
The last few days I’ve ventured beyond the two structures that have defined my life the last few months, my house and our work office. I ended up at Lowe’s for an errand on Thursday, Forest and I got food from a drive-thru on Friday (our first take-out, and a treat!), and today I went to the grocery store. I hadn’t been to the grocery store since mid-March when the toilet paper and bread aisles were practically bare. It was a you get what you get and don’t throw a fit situation then but now it is almost like the Before Times. Since we’ve been buying for about three weeks at a time that felt like the most stressful part, making sure I had enough food but wasn’t over doing it and also navigating all the appropriate social distancing rules, while trying to breathe through a mask. I’ll let Chris return to being our designated errand person for a good while. I really did miss picking up my Starbucks drink to sip around the store. I have this one line a day 5 year journal and a few entries back from this time last year I wrote about trying Starbucks’ Pink Drink out last year. I was really sad not to be getting one of those while I shopped. (Oh man, I just realized I wanted to get popsicles at the store and forgot! *sad face*)
Yesterday we drove east two hours to the Big Thicket for a big outing. I’ve wanted to go back over there for several years now and we decided to plan and pack it all up and drove over for the day. We hit up the Watson Preserve, and the Pitcher Plant and Sundew Trails in the Big Thicket. It was a much needed botanical hiking trip and despite the heat and humidity we had a great day. The busiest trail was the Pitcher Plant Trail but even then the trailhead wasn’t packed like the Lone Star Trail has been. I’ll have some posts about those trails at some point in the next week or so. We did see several adult zebra swallowtail butterflies and noticed one was looking for a pawpaw to lay eggs. After that Chris was on a scouting expedition for pawpaws and ended up finding one nibbled on and he found a caterpillar! Very exciting! I also found a new to me hairstreak, too. I don’t think we’ll make that big of a trek very often for now but it was nice to escape the general confines of greater Houston.
To combat stress and stay active these last few months I’ve taken to bike riding. I’m up to about 7 miles for my longest ride but I average 4-5 miles on any given ride. It really depends on when I end up riding during the day, the heat, how I feel about going for a longer ride, etc, but I have really been enjoying it. I actually look forward to when I can get out and go for a ride every day.
As for the depths of despair, it is really a lot of the unknown that are making me crazy. Just like everyone else I presume. Chris registered Forest for kindergarten but will he actually get to go? If he doesn’t, how awful is ‘homeschooling’ going to be next year? Will he get to go back and say goodbye to his teachers and friends at daycare? When will we get to see our extended families again? Friends? Even the day to day parts of staying home can be tedious as in, we’re doing this same thing again tomorrow. Some days and weeks feel better than others. In many aspects I’m trying to enjoy the time with Forest as I can but then the tug to remain productive from a work standpoint also hits and it turns into this complicated dynamic. And work itself isn’t always productive due to standstill on various clients and the nature of our work in general, so that makes me worry about six months from now and the state of the work situation itself later. I’m trying to live day to day and enjoy what I can of everything.
The thunder has now stopped for the moment and Forest is now jabbering away while trying to play ABC Mouse from Chris’ computer so my focus is off. I’m going to work on editing some photos and see what other things I can get into for this holiday weekend. More photo adventures soon!
Our last stop on this Trinity River NWR tour was only a few miles away from the Knobby Knees Trail. If you look at the map you can see how the two trails get very near each other far back towards the river.
A whirlpool caused by the water rushing through the culvert under the levee we were walking on. Forest was enamored by this when I pointed it out to him because he had just begun creating his own little whirlpools in the paddling pool we have in the backyard.
In the middle of the mating madness for the pearl crescents I did manage to find a hairstreak that I figured out to be another dusky-blue groundstreak, like the one we saw at Lake Somerville State Park two months ago. Was that only two months ago??!!
Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes — this was exciting because it isn’t often you come across a black swallowtail actually utilizing a native plant for larval food source. Most of the time photos are of caterpillars on dill or fennel in a garden setting. I even had to do a double take when walking by because I wasn’t sure that’s what it was! I looked for more but only saw the one. Here’s hoping it turns into an adult one day!
While our hiking adventures at the Trinity River NWR weren’t long that Saturday a few weekends ago, they did let us see some things out of the ordinary and beyond our usual views here. I’m glad we trekked out a bit further and hope we are able to get back to east Texas again soon. I’ve got my sights set on the Big Thicket again!
After our hike at Brierwood Day Use Area we drove south to the town of Liberty where a few more day use areas were closer to civilization and had a higher liklihood of being maintained. Or, that was the thought.
This trail series begins at the back of Liberty Municipal Park. Forest looked sadly at the flagged off playground and wished he could play. I would have loved letting him run around for 30-45 minutes! A few people were out walking, a father and son were having batting practice on the ball field, and otherwise it was fairly quiet. No one else was going to the trailhead.
The first part was rather maintained and led to a bench overlooking a pond before it climbed up a levee and then descended down into the bottomlands. Our hope was to maybe make it to the river or at least find some loop to do.
Uh oh! The trail is submerged! We tip-toed around the drier spots as best as we could but eventually Chris and I got our boots wet and we switched Forest over to his small waders. If we could just make it to the boardwalk!
Luckily we spotted a swinging gate attached to the barbed wire boundary fence and made a beeline for that. Directly behind it was the levee and we could easily walk back down to the good portion of trail and back to our car.
Well, our trail choices weren’t looking so great for this day! I should have heeded the suggestion I had seen on the TRNWR website to check water levels on the river because at a certain height it meant trails would be flooded. We’d had some rain recently but I honestly didn’t think it was enough for it to turn into a swampy mess along the river, but I was wrong! That said, we had some fun and even Forest liked it after he got his mud boots on.
We had lunch back at that park bench overlooking the pond and the made our way for one last trail of the day.
Last weekend we trekked to the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge to try to do some hiking. We ended up at three different refuge unit day use areas, the first one being the Brierwood Day Use Area east of the town of Cleveland. I wanted to escape a bit further from our usual haunt of Sam Houston National Forest, or at least the west side of the forest, and also get into some different habitats. The Brierwood unit looked like it would be perfect for social distancing, and it was!
Trail map here —- I had to dig to find this, by the way. It isn’t easily found on the refuge’s website. The right combo of keywords in Google finally got it to show up.
We traveled deep down some rural county roads, past homes on stilts adjacent to bayous. At the parking lot we were the only ones there and a glimpse down the area near the map kiosk gave us an idea of what we would be hiking through—an area that was moderately overgrown and saw very little traffic other than likely local hunters and intrepid nature enthusiasts.
After lathering up in a heavy dose of Off, we headed for the unknown. I had thought we could be able to hike the entire six miles, just take it slow for Forest and have lunch somewhere along the way, but as you see in this photo, the trail was quite overgrown. I had worn pants, which Chris had questioned when we left the house, but I had suspected we might run into this issue. Plus, I knew bottomlands meant mosquitoes and I wanted that extra layer of protection. Definitely a win for this trail—long pants!
Also present were lots of physostegia, I believe this is False Dragonhead, Physostegia intermedia. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong! Later when editing this photo I noticed that mosquito just above the flower! An adequate symbol of this tract!
The trail narrowed from the large grassy area to an actual wide trail and we could easily get glimpses of the bayou. Down the slope we went to check it out. It was much easier to walk along the bayou when we could, so we would try to do that until the bayou narrowed and we were forced back up to the overgrown trail.
Despite the overgrown trail, I was having a lot of fun and enjoying the botanical sights! Many of these species I haven’t seen in several years because we just haven’t made it to this kind of habitat with a kid. Next time I will put pants on Forest and maybe it would be a better situation. Honestly, he put up with it for far longer than I expected!
If you are looking for something to explore away from everyone, this is a place to check out! Bring your bug spray, layer up in light weight pants and shirts, and you should be good to go. I would be on the lookout for snakes because this is definitely snake country, though we did not see any while out there. I would love to go back and hike the entire trail at some point in time but that might be a few years from now when Forest is a bit taller and more inclined to put up with an overgrown trail!
At least it was a scenic adventure!
Continuing to flash back to last August and September, another world really. I just read a journalist’s article on flying in this pandemic and how extremely nerve-wracking it is for everyone, somewhat post apocalyptic. I’m feeling fairly certain this big trip to Alaska was our last big trip for a a good while. And my flight to Florida back in January will be my last flight for several years. So going back to these posts and seeing life as normal, it makes me miss it all the more.
Our first stop after lunch on the day we arrived in the Denali area was to the Visitors Center to pick up trail maps and other information about the park. The Visitors Center was very busy with people planning trips on the various buses that travel through the park, others checking out the displays in the center, and folks looking for trinkets in the gift shop.
Soon we were on our way down the main park road to the furthest trailhead we could drive to in the park, the Savage River Loop Trail. There are a handful of trails in the front area of the park but in general the park service wants you to explore off trail. Find and area and just go!
The trailhead parking lot was full when we arrived and we had to circle around a couple of times to wait for someone to leave. It was rainy and chilly for our hike along the trail so we layered up before heading down the trail.
The overcast day really highlighted the color of autumn and only made me want to pile up in a cabin with large windows to look out while I sipped a cup of coffee and dug into a book! But we’d made the trek so of course we were going to pack in what we could of the sights while here.
Being as it was the end of the season there wasn’t much in the way of flowers blooming at this latitude but we did find one bloom that I later identified via iNaturalist as Mountain Harebell, Campanula lasiocarpa
The rain started picking up a bit on our return trek on the other side of the river so we didn’t linger as long over there. It tapered off again when we arrived at the road and walked over the bridge to return to our car. The views were so gorgeous and I wished we had all the time to wander through the mountains in the distance, taking our time to backpack in to regions that see very little foot traffic. That will have to wait for another year!
Two weekends ago on a warm, sunny Sunday we drove up to Sam Houston National Forest for another hike on the Lone Star Trail. We started from the Trailhead #6 parking lot on FM 1375 and found ourselves with a very full parking lot. We knew this was likely and the trail heads on FM 149 as we drove past were also quite busy. But we had a plan—go south from Trailhead #6 because we knew that heading east towards Lake Conroe would be busy. And we were right. During our hike in we encountered one family leaving and didn’t see anyone else until we reached the parking lot at FS 271 where we saw another family. They left down the trail ahead of us and we never saw them again. On our way out we encountered three dude-bros running with a dog but that was it. If we’d gone towards the lake it would have been a much busier trail!
We’ve been at this trailhead before and at the junction of FS 271 & FS 204 before, but it was the gap in the middle we hadn’t hiked. I need to go through and see what slivers we haven’t hiked on the western section of the LST because I think we don’t lack much in finishing that side. Then it will be just tackling the eastern side some more to wrap up a hike of the trail!
Local Adventures on the Lone Star Trail from September 2015 & Six Miles on the Lone Star Trail from December 2016. That last one was when I was trying to dabble in video before I realized what a time suck it was and gave up!
Forest is at a stage where he doesn’t appreciate when Chris and I tarry too long looking at plants or scenery–he wants to make some miles! It’s mostly because he’s decided he isn’t into hiking right now. The isolation has turned him into a real homebody and he just longs to be home to play here! But in the end he does enjoy the hikes, especially if there’s something that interests him.
Along the way we saw a dirt road paralleling the trail and then later passed a narrow two-track. I walked down the narrow two-track to the main dirt road and saw this sign. I was unaware there was an extensive multi-use trail on both sides of the SHNF and I would like to explore some of these trails eventually. Multi-use includes horses and ATVs.
At FS 271 Forest decided he wanted to collect rocks from the road for his rock collection so that required waiting for him to pick up rocks. Chris told him if he picked it up he had to carry it back and he managed to haul a few pounds of rocks back to the car!
Texas Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia reticulata—we stumbled across this pipevine by chance. Forest had paused for a moment back under the pine/mixed hardwood area and Chris and I both looked down at the same time. He realized right away that it was a pipevine and we tossed around id’s but weren’t sure which one it was. We ended up seeing a few more specimens along the trail and took some photos. Maybe we’ll return to see about flowers at some point. When we got back on the road I checked iNaturalist for pipevine around the area and it looks like this is the Texas Dutchman’s pipe! Nice find and a reminder to look down!
All in all a great section. I really do want to check out the multi-use trails soon because I have a feeling once you get down the trail it will be an excellent opportunity for not running into anyone other than the random ATV user. Might even be a great backpacking option, too!
Basically my thoughts run from COVID-19 to regular life in almost the same thought. “OMG, we’re all going to die!”…half a second later, “Mmm, looks nice outside, I think we’ll do pool in the afternoon and I’ll crochet while Forest plays!”
As someone who has been in exactly two buildings since mid-March, my own house and my work office, I have definitely felt a little bit disoriented at times. I haven’t even been to my work office in at least three weeks, maybe four. I have to run up there tomorrow to get a GPS ready for someone but otherwise I’ve been at home. Chris has been going up there some because no one else has been in his building or if the one other person who is there is actually there, he’s in a completely opposite end of the building. I’ve had him water my orchids for me but I’m finding myself missing them so I’ll be happy to see how they are doing when I go in tomorrow.
There is a noticeable increase in vehicle activity in the neighborhood compared to even just two weeks ago. Also, the amount of people out walking or riding bikes is slowly decreasing as is the various people who have golf carts driving around. We drove an hour or so east to Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge to go hiking this weekend and it was my first time seeing in ‘town’ since all of this happened. Yes, we’ve been to Sam Houston NF to the north twice but that goes into a more rural area and through a small town so I haven’t gotten to grasp how busy (or not) things were. As we came back from hiking yesterday we drove through the north part of Houston via Beltway 8, so plenty of city to see. It wasn’t as busy as a normal Saturday afternoon but it was far busier than I expected. It would have likely been different a few weeks ago but with the soft reopening starting this weekend restaurants had lines through drive-thrus and plenty of businesses were insanely busy (Hi, Home Depot!). We also saw plenty of non-social distancing happening and lots of non-mask wearing, including the odd dichotomy of two Chick-fil-A workers who were handing people their food in the drive thru-line…one had a mask and the other didn’t. Kinda one reason we haven’t tried eating out yet.
The saddest thing to see are the playgrounds and having to tell Forest he can’t play on them. One of the trailheads to the TRNWR was at the back of a city park in Liberty, Texas and the playgrounds were roped off. Our own city playground is also roped off, though you can visit the pond and grass area around it. I really do miss having Forest being able to play on the playgrounds and one of our favorite weekend activities was going to the library and then hitting the playground after. I have seen other libraries doing curbside pickup but so far our county has not instituted that and is still closed.
We have also not eaten out anywhere despite the increasing desire to get Tex-Mex. That desire was seriously amplified yesterday after our first hike but we ate our own food and stayed away from people and just did our hikes. We did look longingly at the snowcone place in Liberty with the line of 10 cars…
For now we’re going to see what happens in the next couple of weeks. But I suspect we’ll still be eating at home and grocery shopping every three weeks throughout summer. And any trips to the beach will have to be turned into trips to the backyard blowup pool this year. I am lamenting that we won’t have what was becoming a yearly Memorial Day weekend get together with my parents and brother’s family down here at the house.
The tomatoes are finally growing strong! We sowed cowpeas, beans, cucumbers, and some squash and pumpkins about two weeks ago. Many of those are finally starting to take off. With some rain showers we had over the last couple of weeks growth has been good.
I need to get on top of weeding again as I had pulled back on the gardening a bit lately. Summer heat and late spring rain is going to make the weeds go into hyper growth very soon.
Oof, my reading has taken a serious hit. My ability to focus is out the window and with audiobooks being out the window too, I have only completed one book in the last month. That was Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. It was a book I had briefly started back in 2017 but never got into before it returned to the library. I put myself on the digital list again like six months ago and it came in so I forced myself to read it. Forced is a hard word, I enjoyed the book, but because it had a time deadline I had to make myself read more than I would have normally. The book follows Ursula, born in 1910, as she lives her life over and over again through to the 1960s. Most of the book takes place between 1910-1945 with various alterations of her life that stay the same or are replicated in different ways. At times it got confusing but after I got used to the way the book was written I really enjoyed it. I’m currently reading the sequel, A God in Ruins which follows her brother Teddy as well as some insight into other timelines of her family. So far it isn’t written in the same way and is easier to read but I need to buckle down and read it before it returns.
I started making a crochet top two weekends ago but it has been nothing but a pain since I started. The directions were confusing and finally after many unravels and starting over I’m getting it to where I like it. That means heavy alterations in one aspect, changing up the main portion of the body. I’m finally to the point where I can see it through so we’ll see what it looks like in the end.
I have a few other things I’m working on now, too.
Watching & Listening:
My tv watching is slowly decreasing as shows end their seasons or series. Grey’s Anatomy and This is Us ended earlier in April for the season. Homeland finished its series up last weekend and left a mostly satisfying ending. I started watching that show while on maternity leave by catching up on seasons 1 and 2 and season 3 launched sometime later that autumn. I was hooked after that!
Outlander is back on but only a few episodes are left for the season. Better Call Saul just finished its season and boy, I love that show so much. There is something about the way it is shot but also just the time period it is in, the early to middle 2000s. I believe next season is the final season and I feel like there is so much left to get to before the start of Breaking Bad time period.
Good Girls is also back on and may only have a few episodes left as well. And lastly, Call the Midwife. All of these shows had been stacked up on Sunday or Monday evenings so my tv watching was crammed into earlier in the week which has been good for my free time (see: studio time!) later in the week. As these all wrap up I won’t have much to watch. Netflix and Amazon have been meh lately. I did break out my Anne of Green Gables VHS tapes and was sadly dismayed to find that the second tape to the first series is missing!!! I watched the first tape and then had to move on to Anne of Avonlea, which I finished last night. Ah, it was great to revisit that again and I’ll have to break my books out again soon. I will be digging around to see if I can find that tape or I might be tracking down a DVD of it soon.
Listening—honestly, not much. I might listen to 2-3 hours of podcasts a week at this point in time. Incredibly hard to listen while working at home but I’m trying to get back into them a bit.
Not sure. Kinda hard to look forward to things when you don’t know when you will be able to do anything again. I do look forward to planning local hikes. I wouldn’t mind sneaking in a backpacking trip locally sometime soon. A night in a tent would be nice.
Last weekend was the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge, though iNaturalist pushed it as less of a “challenge” and more of get out and enjoy nature safely and where you can locally. That didn’t put a damper in folks getting out to explore their greater local area, though, and I did my best to capture as much as I could on foot in the neighborhood. Some of these are from that weekend but many are just from daily sightings around the yard or just beyond! And of course this isn’t all of what I documented for the CNC, just a few highlights.
I have no idea what these eggs are. They were on our peach tree which is maybe related/maybe unrelated to the tree going downhill. We have a second peach tree that is thriving right next to it but this one is wilting and has been in the same wilty state for a couple of weeks. *shrugs*
One afternoon at lunch Chris had us come out because he’d watched a rat snake crawl into our wood duck box. Forest and I waited outside for several minutes before the intruder made an appearance and then disappeared back inside. Chris will be adding some kind of preventative measure onto the pole now!
I think this is Red Raspberry Slime Mold, Tubifera ferruginosa. As I was scouring the yard for anything to add for the iNat CNC I was drawn to a pine tree stump where I thought this was a fungus at first. The deer had left some scat on top of the pine tree and this was growing on it. I had seen another patch the previous day but it had already faded and a new patch, this one, had popped up. Subsequently I saw more of it on a hike we did in Sam Houston last weekend!
This poor caterpillar had recently been parasitized by a wasp. The eggs were laid on the plant seen here but also on the poor caterpillar. Not sure what became of the caterpillar as I eventually lost track of it. Most of the wasp eggs have since hatched.
I have several other posts from last week to share. I meant to write more last week but found myself without the energy or the focus to sit down and crank out a few posts. Hopefully I can remedy that this week before I fall too far behind! We ventured further afield for some hiking this weekend and I’ll have to share that as well!
But of course, as always, nature isn’t very far if you just go looking out your back (or front) door.