In late June we took an evening out in the middle of the week, dinner at a new to us Tex-Mex restaurant and then a walk/hike over at Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve. The park is down near The Vintage in the Willowbrook area of NW Houston off of SH 249—so it is rather urban/suburban but once you get into the park it doesn’t feel like it unless you pay attention to the background noise of the roads in the distance! The park itself was very busy with joggers, strollers (not the baby kind–well, probably a few of those, too!), and fisherfolks. If we lived closer than a 25 minute-ish drive I know we’d be around the park much more often.
Driving up and down 249 over the last few years I had noticed the park being built but it wasn’t until recently that I put some effort into figuring out more information about the park. In early summer I had the intention that we would get out and do some evening hikes in the middle of the week but here it is the middle of August and this was our only foray into the greater world beyond our house during the weekday evenings. It didn’t help that for about half of July Forest and I were recuperating from an upper respiratory infection. Summer whizzed on by and I don’t know what happened.
Alas, there were some great things seen in our couple of hours spent circumnavigating Marshall Lake. Let’s rewind to June for a lovely post-rain stroll!
After getting out of the car we took off down a peninsula that juts out into the lake towards the west. We ended up having to make a loop out of it because there was no access to the main trails from there.
The buttonbush were in full bloom and an enticing stop for Forest to check out. A highly underrated shrub that really should be utilized more in the landscape.
While Forest and Chris were poking around looking at something else I meandered to a grassy clearing to look for wildflowers and spotted this tropical checkered-skipper…
and this pretty wedgling moth, Galgula partita.
As we rounded the corner on the east side we came across a stunning display of American Buckwheat Vine, Brunnichia ovata. I’ve always loved this vine but haven’t really been able to enjoy its full blooming glory before. The scene was perfect with a grey-ish sky and the darkness of the forest behind the vine to get some interesting shots. In my reading about the vine, it is/was apparently used for honey production in Arkansas but a producer was shutting down because the vine forage material was continuously being damaged from herbicide drift.
Eventually we came to Cypress Creek itself, a creek that flows quite a ways through northern Harris county before merging with the larger Spring Creek and not long after, the San Jacinto River.
This side of the park was heavily dominated by Passiflora incarnata vines, which were in full bloom and lovely as can be.
Another Clematis crispa, this time with some mood.
The suburban/creek interface.
Look at that passionfruit forming!
Halloween pennants are one of more common dragonflies I saw in south Florida and while I know they are in Texas based on iNat observations, I just do not see them. So, when I saw this one I was ecstatic! They are one of my favorite dragonflies!
We arrived back at the car close to dusk, hoofing that last quarter mile or so before it got too dark to see. It was a great feeling to have done a mid-week excursion like that and as I said, I had ever intention to do more but it just never came to fruition.
I think this late blooming foxglove covered in mold sums up what the garden overall looked like in July. I was finally able to spend some time on the flower garden over this last weekend, weeding two of the beds and tidying up a bit. I started working on the garden path again after having gone through it back in May. The grass issue in the path is aggravating and honestly I think we need to get one of those flame torches for weeding to keep this path in shape.
Frostweed, Verbesina virginica. I threw out some seeds from the frostweed that grows in the ROW around here because it is so lovely and the pollinators love it and I now have several plants growing in the garden.
Yellow star grass, hypoxis hirsuta. Another native, this one I bought in a gallon pot from a nursery and then divided the pot into three plants, which was rather hard to do as the corm was giant and tough to cut. I worried I was going to kill it but the plants bounced back. The deer have browsed once or twice but otherwise have mostly left it alone. I may divide them again in the spring so I can have an area fill out a bit more with them.
It is found throughout temperate North America east of the Rockies. Females prey exclusively on nymphs (immature stages) of true bugs (Heteroptera), predominantly stink bugs (Pentatomidae) and leaf-footed bugs (Coreidae). A female seizes a nymph, paralyzes it with her stinger, and clasping it beneath her, flies to her nest, a chamber she has excavated underground in sand. She uncovers a hidden entrance hole leading to a tunnel connecting to the chamber, and, clutching her prey, disappears down the hole to her nest. She lays an egg on the first nymph she brings to her nest, and then returns to stock the nest with additional prey. Her offspring feed on her prey, while she feeds on nectar at flowers. All other members of the genus
Bicyrtes are sand wasps that specialize in hunting true bugs.27 Biddinger et al. reported that prey of Bicyrtes wasps include brown marmorated stink bugs.28
From here—click through, there are interesting photos of them and their prey.
I haven’t been taking a lot of garden photos lately but after my weeding of the two flower beds I need to get the camera out and take some photos of a few things I found that I didn’t know where hiding in the jungle.
A little fishing, a little Easter.
Now that it has been many months and moons since we visited Inks Lake State Park (February 2019), I’m now yearning once again for those spring ephemerals. Though, autumn blooms are coming our way (SOLIDAGO, I SEE YOU!)—to revisit this site now would be an interesting study in contrasts!
We hopped onto the Lower Fisherman’s Trail on our way out of the state park after our long weekend camping. You can easily complete a loop of the lower and upper, which is what we ended up doing this time around but I skipped taking a ton of photos on the upper since we had already hiked that a few days prior.
Last week we had a tinge of cool air come in, highs only in the 80s. For once London was hotter than Texas! It gave everyone a pause and some excitement about cooler weather. Of course we’re back into the dripping humidity of high 90s and heat indexes in the 100s this week—so, a typical Texas summer. But seeing these photos again and remembering the temperatures for great hiking weather—well, it has me itching for a cool down again. And I’m loving the photo of the fairy swords up against the hollowed out rock—it looks like a magical place to play, something enchanting with the ‘fairies’!
I think I can eek out one more post from Inks Lake and then I’ll move onward to some other hikes and adventures!
Back in April during our camping trip to Martin Creek Lake State Park near Henderson in East Texas, we hiked one afternoon on the Old Henderson Road Loop. I had thought about doing a separate trail write-up for that portion of the park but instead I think I’ll be sharing separate portions of the flora and fauna we saw there over the coming weeks.
As we passed by a set of thistles one I noticed beetles crawling around on the flower heads and stopped to take a few photos. I think I interrupted some private bug moments going on but I took a few photos anyway! I really can’t find a ton of information about these species in a cursory internet search (I haven’t delved into Google Scholar or anything) but they are considered flower longhorn beetles and pollinators as adults. Larvae are found in decaying pine logs and stumps.
They are a really pretty species and as I look over other longhorn beetles online, I think I could easily get into learning about other beetles. Chris has spent some time for work learning about American burying beetles because they are a protected species but I’ve not really had the interest other than finding the random iridescent or dung beetle when we are out hiking. But these zebra longhorn beetles have propelled me to want to stop and check out flower a little more closely on our hikes!
It’s July 11, 2009, my 29th birthday. At this point we are already full throttle into planning our Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I mean, in the fact that we are pretty sure we are going to quit our jobs and pack away our things in early 2010 and head out on our thru-hike, pending on what our bank account looks like towards the end of the year of course.
With that in mind we are kind of on a roll to hit up a lot of places in Florida that we may not see for a while after we move out of the state, including a trip back to the Melbourne area to see the loggerheads nesting once again. Seeing these lumbering chelonids haul themselves onto the sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast of Florida one last time, lit up by moonlight and maybe the twinkling of lights from the condos beyond the dunes was something I needed to experience one last time. It had been of my most favorite things to do when we lived in Melbourne from 2002-2004, park in one of the beach parking lots and walk a few miles down and back along the shoreline during turtle season to scope out nesting females. If we got lucky later in the summer we would find hatchlings emerging, scurrying towards the waves lapping up on the shore to carry them out to the Gulf Stream and other oceanic currents where they will spend their lost years.
So, we did just that and I have some grainy photos from those beach moments. It’s the last time we saw nesting sea turtles and I do miss seeing that phenomenon terribly. But a few weekends ago I dug out our hard drives to look for photos for my friend Eliana, and I found a trove of photos that we never processed, including a set from our trip to Melbourne where I have memories of visiting Coconut Point Sanctuary but didn’t realize we had photos of the hike. I often rely on what I have on Flickr to remember some things we did but apparently Flickr lies—there’s more we have! I’ll be slowly going through these photos and processing them so I’m sure there will be more flashback posts like this one as time goes on.
Coconut Point Sanctuary covers about 62 acres from the Atlantic dunes on the east to the Indian River Lagoon on the west. It’s mostly a coastal scrub habitat with some thicker hardwood hammocks hugging the IRL section at the back side of the park. Let’s dig into the hike!
Christmas Lichen, Herpothallon rubrocinctum—a sure fire way to trick if you on the Florida Trail when you are looking for an orange blaze! Sometimes they are shaped in a blaze shape and you’ll think it is time to turn!
Also another pixie cup lichen known as deer moss. Since I didn’t have a close up photo I wasn’t comfortable pinning down a species but it is likely Cladonia evansii, which you see commonly in Florida scrub areas.
That is some fine Florida scrub land! Or if you say it fast as I do, scrublund. Scrublend? Either way, I can feel the heat emanating from the photo of this July day, possibly paired with a sea breeze coming off the ocean or IRL, so maybe it wasn’t nearly as stifling as I can imagine it to be? Thunderheads building inland—yes, this is a variation on a typical Florida summer scene.
One of the things I miss about Florida are all of these small pockets of preserves and sanctuaries, often part of a county’s endangered lands program. I know I’ve lamented before the poor public to private lands ratio that Texas has. As Houston continues to expand, expand, expand, large tracts of forested or farm acres are being put up for sale. Sure, some of it isn’t necessarily anything special—lots of loblolly pine and yaupon thickets—but it’s special to the wildlife. I wish there was better planning involved in leaving tracts of nature pocketed around acres of concrete and box stores but no one cares to think about that. So hard to change plant blindness—or better yet, ecosystem blindness. I know Florida faces the same thing in many ways—the state is wanting to build more toll roads and Orlando is facing the same growth issues.
And yet many more people are flocking to outdoor spaces thanks to social media—we need more of these places at “home” so people are more inclined to know what’s in their own backyard. Hah, I didn’t mean for this to turn into a lament about public lands but it was on my mind.
The last camping trip we had in the spring was to Martin Creek Lake State Park near Kilgore. We had stopped here once on our way home from Caddo Lake when Forest was newly 2 for a short hike, to break up the long drive back to Houston with a then potty training toddler. Kilgore also happens to be near where my friend Michelle and her family used to live so every time we roll through there I think of her, even though she now lives an hour away from me in College Station.
We found ourselves chilling at camp one of the afternoons and I was bound and determined to take butterfly or dragonfly photos, both of which were frequenting the area. As I sat in the sun near the tent pad (that we weren’t using because we have a space ship for our car camping tent) I noticed something flitting about low near the ground. I took a few photos with a more wide angle lens and then got up to switch lenses. Eventually the insect behaved enough for me to snap some more detailed photos. Despite enjoying trying to learn some of our more gregarious insect species, an entomologist I am not.
Thankfully there’s the magical world of iNaturalist or else I would have been flipping through pages of online Google searches and weird image search phrasing (which I still do from time to time) to come up with a result. Quickly it told me it was Chironomus sp., though there were options for narrowing it down to an actual species but I didn’t want to claim that expertise. Chironomus is, to, well, cut and paste from Wikipedia: “a genus of nonbiting midges in the subfamily Chironominae of the bloodworm family, Chironomidae, containing several cryptic species that can only be distinguished by experts based on the characteristics of their giant chromosomes. The larvae of several species inhabit the profundal zone where they can reach relatively high densities. They use a combination of hemoglobin-like proteins and undulatory movements in their burrows to obtain oxygen in poorly oxygenated habitats.”
What a cool little bug to have encountered and just think about all of the bugs we’re walking by every day that are living their lives as we live ours, not knowing they even exist! I’m partial to its feathery antennae!
Over the 4th of July long weekend, the three of us buckled in and drove over to Austin for the weekend. It had been quite a while since we had just tinkered around Austin without camping plans, so Chris found an available hotel room in north Austin and we set off to do some Austin exploring. I even came up with a list of new things to do after trolling around on Google Maps and checking out various parks, but of course we resorted to going to the places we always go to! And they are good places, of course, but one of these days we’ll manage to see something new.
(Photos from my phone. I haven’t gotten around to process camera photos yet. At this rate expect those in December. hah!)
And then a hop over the Brazos River and we were heading west. We were close to Brenham when Forest announced his belly hurt, something that has become a common refrain over the last several months, starting with a trip to the recycling center and library, with the library portion being aborted for a trip back home. It happened again later on and then he mentioned it briefly when we were near school one day. Finally it occurred to me on this trip that maybe he was getting car sick. So, I spent the rest of the time in the back seat trying to keep his attention on other things instead of doing my car reading. I always look forward to long car rides because I can get huge chunks of reading in. I guess I’ll be looking into some car sickness remedies for longer trips—though as I’ve mentioned, even shorter trips are becoming problematic.
I suppose the one thing we did do that we hadn’t done before was visit Inner Space Cavern in Georgetown. It was one of the last few bigger named caves we haven’t been to (Caverns of Sonora is what we are now missing—though there are lots of other smaller caves that requires permits and such to get into) and Forest’s first cave experience. This one is right off of I-35—and it was found when they were building I-35 in the 1960s. One of the unique features is that in one of the rooms when everyone is quiet you can hear traffic driving above you!
In the lobby area there is a great map showing all of the rooms and tunnels that the cave has. It is much bigger than the main tour that most people go on. There’s a second tour that requires a bit more skill and direction, and then of course the other rooms are for technical caving. Inner Space was interesting, though not my favorite cave that I’ve been to.
After out dinner at Chuy’s, it was still early for getting a spot at the Barton Creek Square Mall where we planned to try to watch fireworks. We killed some time by stopping at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park to let Forest play at the playground and go for a little hike. The park had been on my list of places we could potentially explore and it worked out for this short outing. We ended up finding Wells Branch which comes into the park from the north and eventually merges with Walnut Creek later on. We never got that far along our creek explorations. There were a lot of bike trails through the juniper in the area.
The following day we found ourselves at Pedernales Falls State Park and swimming in the Pedernales River. In the morning we crossed at Trammel’s Crossing and found a quiet spot downstream just a bit. There was luckily a shallow enough area nearshore that Forest could play in and Chris and I took turns going into the deeper parts to wade and test our luck against the current. I can’t wait until he’s big enough to tube and we can start tubing some of these Hill Country rivers! I haven’t been tubing since college!
Roadkill porcupine on US 290. We saw it on the way out there and made a note to stop on the way back for iNaturalist photos. It’s my first porcupine, even after hiking on the AT! The map of sightings on iNaturalist is interesting: heavy in the northeast/New England through the Great Lakes, up into the Canadian Rockies, down into the Cascades and Sierras, into the American Rockies, and then down into Texas, staying central to west Texas. Sightings in the Hill Country are almost as dense as New England. There are no sightings starting in the 98th meridian or thereabouts and then pretty much south of the Great Lakes and Mason Dixon, with a few exceptions on that border area. So, nothing really in that large broad mid-west/southeastern area. Which prompted me to wonder what they needed that that area didn’t provide. I just thought it was interesting to see that spatially.
Of course Forest fell asleep on the way to Cedar Valley to eat dinner after a day of swimming. We had planned to eat dinner at a pizza place called Pieous but we caught them on their summer break and were closed. Next door was Hat Creek Burger and thankfully it had a play area, even though for the first while Forest was too sleepy to play.
Crossing the Pedernales River at Hammett’s Crossing on our way to Westcave.
We’ve been to Westcave many times but it has been quite a while since we’ve visited. Forest might have been a baby when we went last. Due to the holiday weekend the place was very busy. Nearby and across the river is Hamilton Pool which is run by the county and now has a reservation system in place for visitors so it is nearly impossible to visit randomly during the summer. Because of this I think Westcave is getting some of this overflow but even they still have limited tours down to the grotto. This time we actually hiked in their uplands, which was really lovely and I’ll share those photos when I process them. The tour was a bit annoying because of the crowd size. We have been used to visiting when there are fewer people and the fact that it was a bit long winded on the education aspect, that’s only because we know most of the tidbits already. We just wanted to look at plants and take our time!
We found ourselves back at Pedernales Falls later that afternoon for a second day of swimming. This time when we were changing at the bathroom I found an interesting insect. When I put it into iNaturalist and did a little reading this turned out to be the Dobson fly, the adult to the hellgrammite larvae Chris had been finding in the river! Really cool to see it in both stages!
Hopefully I can get my act together and get my backlog of photos from spring until now processed and get some posts written before the end of August. We have some big plans for later this summer that will involve even more photos and writing so I’d like to not be constantly catching up!
A week ago or so Forest and I were headed out to daycare and work down the driveway and I startled one of the local barred owls out of the swamp chestnut oak. It swooped low over the car and floated onto the electric pole on the property line. I stopped and got my phone out to take a few photos to show Forest since he was situated in a position that he couldn’t see the owl.
Then, a few nights ago as I was working in the edible garden another owl (maybe the same owl) hooted from the woods down the way. It wasn’t terribly far as it was still rather loud. I answered its call and we continued a back and forth conversation for a few minutes until I got tired of hooting. Later I heard another owl further distant as dusk began falling.
I hope “we” (beyond our control, but ya know) can keep the patch of woods across the street so that the owls continue to have a safe place to escape and enjoy their own life.
I’ve come to enjoy seeing the oleander aphids in the garden when they colonize the milkweeds and their allies. Of course they also feast on oleanders themselves but I don’t have oleanders so I’ve never seen them colonize on an oleander but then next time I am near one planted in a landscape I’ll give it a look. Oleander aphids are parthenogenic, which means the females basically clone themselves (I’m simplifying here but if you want to delve deeper you can read more here. I did a few papers on parthenogenesis in college on tardigrades and parthenogenesis and found it fascinating!) and can be winged or wingless. It looks like most of the ones in my photos are wingless, though I think I see a few winged ones on the milkweed in the first photo.
The first photo is a milkweed, probably swamp milkweed, but the rest of the photos are from a Matelea gonocarpos, an anglepod vine, that is in the Asclepiadaceae family and naturally started growing in the garden. I’ve left it where it is and it either rambles along the ground or it finds plants to climb nearby as it has done this year. It’ll die back a bit in the winter and comes back gangbusters every year. We have a few other places in the yard that it also occurs along the fence line.
I don’t find oleander aphids to be that pesky of a problem, though if you get annoyed with them on your milkweeds just knock them off with water or you can smoosh them instead of spraying them with a chemical. Honestly, the peskier problem on my milkweed tend to be the milkweed beetle, Labidomera clivicollis. Even the large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus isn’t as problematic.
Lately the flower garden has taken a backseat to any work as I’ve been continuing to work in the edible garden on the soil solarization as well as other projects but a closer look through of the flower garden and some much needed attention is due so I’ll be inspecting just what is happening with the life there soon!