Considering we’ll be staying close to home for the foreseeable future I figured it would be nice to start a new theme here—Neighborhood Nature! I definitely encourage you to join along if you’d like and showcase what you see around your own neighborhood.
Yesterday evening we went out for a walk and right off the bat I rescued a caterpillar crossing the road. I took a few photos of course and later when I tried to identify it on iNaturalist nothing seemed to fit. I opened my caterpillar book and still had a hard time thinking any of the potential families that I knew would fit. Then my book haphazardly fell open to a page with a green caterpillar in a different section and so I flipped back to it. Sure enough it appeared similar. I went back to iNaturalist to look at that species and of course that one wouldn’t have been suggested because only one other person had shared a photo of the larvae, everything else had been the adult moth. The single photo looked similar enough so I went to Google and checked a few other sources and I do believe my caterpillar book was correct— Roland’s Sallow, Psaphida rolandi! A cute little addition to the inventory of the area around here.
Our goal for the walk was to head down to the park to check on the leaf cutter ants, Atta texana. They have made a huge mount off to one side and there are several trails that the ants have created leading to various trees that they are harvesting leaves from. It’s pretty cool and Forest loves to check on the leaf cutters that we know of in the neighborhood. —This is a video, not sure why it isn’t posting as a video.
These two moths were on the house one morning last week and were different enough that I thought I’d take a few photos of them. iNaturalist easily identified them for me so that was helpful!
What nature is going on in your neighborhood this week?
It’s looking more and more like our hike at Lake Somerville State Park two weekends ago is going to be our last hike for a good while. Last weekend we had camping reservations at a state park just an hour from here on the west side of Houston but opted to cancel due to the rain forecast. It was a good decision but I was already concerned about using the bathrooms. Most state parks do a decent job of cleaning up every morning but still…you can only control the surfaces you know, right?
And even up to this weekend I thought that maybe we’d get out and go somewhere less busy to hike this coming weekend, however it is looking like a few things are happening: a) too many people out on trails so we’d have to drive a bit further to get away from people, which is doable. b) imminent lockdown orders. Several counties in Texas are working their way into lockdown mode and though Houston/Harris county hasn’t gone that way yet (later edit as I drafted this earlier—they are now on stay-at-home-mode) (we are a county north and usually follow right after—also an edit: our county says they don’t want to do this yet because they still have faith people are going to be smart *snort*), Galveston county to the south of there did go on lockdown yesterday as did Dallas county the other day. It isn’t long before it happens to us. Which is fine, but still…I’m going to miss getting some hikes in this spring. But I’ll gladly give those up if we can get this damn thing under control sooner.
Every evening I find myself saying that I really need to finish reading the book I’m reading but then my lizard brain just reaches for the phone to endlessly scroll the latest on the virus and to find out which politicians are really idiots (that, of course, we already knew but boy, do these seal the deal. Dan Patrick I’m looking at you. Also, WTF Rand Paul? You’re a damn doctor!). So, I’ll take a breath and revisit these wonderful sights from our hike—and in the meantime I’ll be walking in our neighborhood and seeing what nature is doing around here.
Pointed Phlox, Phlox cuspidata—this is a nearly endemic species to Texas—all sightings on iNat are in Texas, though USDA Plants Database suggests it can be found in western Louisiana and areas of OKlahoma.
Suffice to say, my nature will consist of taking notice of everything in our neighborhood and in the backyard and when I do get out to drive to the store I will probably be in awe of the changes going by that I’m not witnessing on a daily basis.
As we walked around Skagway and then over to Yakutania Point to go for a hike in the afternoon, we noticed a ton of these wooly bear like caterpillars. They were everywhere! I didn’t identify them until I got home a few months ago and put them into iNaturalist. A more northern and western species, the larval stage of these moths feed on “poplar and willow, but also feed on alder, basswood, birch, maple and oak.” The adults are variations of brown with some patterning like so many moths out there and their larvae are definitely the most colorful thing about them!
If there’s one thing we can count in in spring here in Texas it is that the bluebonnets and paintbrushes will continue to rise out of the soil and bloom. The sandyland bluebonnets (Lupinus subcarnosus) were the species blooming on our trip over to Lake Somerville State Park last weekend. Only a few paintbrushes (Castilleja indivisa) were seen but there were plenty of other wildflowers to gaze upon. We did find these wonderful patches of bluebonnets nearly 2 miles down the trail in an open field as it sloped towards Nails Creek.
This weekend is rainy and cooler and so we’re not leaving the house to explore much. I suspect we’ll look for quieter places to get out and on the trails here over the next few weekends and stay away from busier city parks. I need more early spring wildflowers before they transition to other seasonal wildflowers!
If you are anything like me right now you are probably a bundle of nerves. My friend Eliana posted a photo the other day from some travel around Alaska—they emerged from the YK Delta and saw what was going on and had no urge to return to Florida immediately—so they took a trip to Kodiak. The photo was this beautiful sunset photo of oranges, reds, and purples and looking at the photo made me feel like things were normal. They are now heading back to Florida and all this.
But since we’ll be at home all weekend I will probably work harder on editing more Alaska photos and getting blogs written for the week. The last set of photos I have edited that I haven’t shared are from walking around Skagway, Alaska. And of course looking at these photos everything seems normal, too. My only knowledge of Skagway before this trip was from my Grandad who had gone there back when I was a kid, probably on a cruise. From the few people I talked to about it it was their least favorite city along the ports we were going to be visiting. But after touring the town and reflecting back on it, I think I kind of like it more than I thought I would!
Despite it being very blatantly touristy right out the gate from the ship, once you get back into town a bit you get a bit more of the historic aspect of the area, particularly with the National Historic Park.
One perk of Skagway was this amazing park! Definitely there for the locals, there were plenty of kids from the cruise ship partaking of the slides and swings! We stopped here several times throughout the day for Forest to expend some energy.
Despite going in a majority of the shops we didn’t find much of anything we wanted to buy for a souvenir. We did find a shop called Due North Stationary that I wished later I’d bought a few more things from, in particular a Skagway t-shirt that was not touristy looking.
We did wander around this little kitchen garden behind a restaurant for a few minutes and ogle at the seasonality of the vegetables they were growing—none of this would be alive growing in Texas at this same time, too hot!
The best part was getting off the the main drag and into the side streets and seeing how the locals actually lived. Oh, and if prices in the other ports were pricey, we found Skagway to be even more-so. Our lunch was at Northern Lights Pizza and I’m pretty sure we spent around $50 or so for lunch getting various pasta dishes. It was really tasty food but you kinda had to accept that prices were not Lower 48 quality. We’d see this again once we got into Anchorage and Denali.
Ah, to go back to this point in time…I don’t dare even think about planning a vacation this year.
Ah, late February, how long ago you were. I casually said in that post that I was wondering how seriously we should be taking Covid-19. It was already on my mind and had been since January. When I flew to Florida there were people with masks on and it didn’t take until I had a conversation with someone at Billy Goat Day for it to register why. And then the flight back home, other people with masks on. It wasn’t a lot but it was enough to think a little bit harder about the implications.
Sometime around that post I told Chris we should add a few extra items to our groceries. We did and then started getting a bit more. I think the toilet paper panic was starting early last week but it wasn’t horrible when Chris made his last big grocery store visit last Wednesday evening as 45 was giving his speech full of lies and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson came out as having the virus. And Thursday the world changed and people started taking it seriously. Our NextDoor was full of people on Monday being blasé about it and on Thursday and Friday those same people suddenly became interested in their health.
We’ve known several people impacted by the travel restrictions. Chris’ mom and step-dad were to be traveling to Israel and then to somewhere else in the region for a cruise. Israel effectively closed their borders and that basically sent their plans, a year in the making, out the window. Our friends Marc and Eliana had been in the YK Delta of Alaska doing field work without cell service for several weeks and when they came back into service they found their next travel plans thwarted. They were also supposed to be in Israel this month for a birding contest and then a guiding a birding trip in Portugal in April. I know Eliana has another bird guiding trip sometime this summer to Colombia as well. Oof. I watched as several Florida Trail hikers and some folks I know on the Arizona Trail come back to reality after a few days on trail and find what was a cursory worry about covid-19 turning into a major worry. And now most major trail associations are warning thru-hikers to postpone their hikes to a later date. I also watched as a group of three women changed their plans for the Camino to the PCT—traveling by a mostly empty plane, then taking a bus, and starting the other day at the US/Mexico border. Here’s hoping they actually don’t get sick and holed up in a tiny mountain town with very few hospital services. I know it would be incredibly disappointing to postpone a hike but if stomach bugs travel trails like wildfire, I hate to think what this would do.
For now we are going to work and Forest is going to daycare. Daycare was already at half capacity or less last week due to spring break and this week it is even more so. They instituted new guidelines for pickup and drop off to keep parents out of the building. Our office is already sparsely populated and a few people are working at home for various reasons. We’re really taking it day by day on that front. Just seeing everyone else ‘working’ from home with their kids…well, if we can get by with this for a bit longer maybe it will make it easier when we transition over to working at home.
We have enough food to last us a month at least, though I know we’ll run out of treats first! I’m sure we’ll make a grocery store run for fresh fruit eventually because Forest lives on strawberries.
What a time to be living in.
Stay safe out there folks and wash your hands!
Yesterday I wanted to get out and do some hiking and thought it would be nice to head west to Lake Somerville State Park. We haven’t been there since I was pregnant with Forest in May 2014! Not for lack of interest, though. Every time we checked into going we would find the state park closed due to one of the various flooding events over the last few years. Harvey did a number on the parks and just within the last month was the Somerville Trailway between the two units open once again. Our last good hike on the trailway was in 2013 with our AT friend Redhat.
Wanting to do something but also do some of the social distancing we’re all supposed to be participating in, hiking sounded like an ideal thing to do. And off we went! This post is specifically about the butterflies and moths we saw along the way and I’ll have another post in a few days with other curiosities seen!
Mournful Thyris Moth, Thyris sepulchralis
Chris found the first of these moths but they were very common along the trail here. I even found two in our yard this afternoon! You’ll see more of them further in the post.
Dusky-blue Groundstreak, Calycopis isobeon—This one is new for me! I noticed it was different as I was photographing it, though I have been tricked by gray hairstreaks in the past, thinking they were a different hairstreak only to find they were gray hairstreaks when I got home. Not so with this one!
Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus
Goatweed Leafwing, Anaea andria—I was really happy to see these as I’ve only had passing glimpses of them in the past. There were quite a few along the trail and finally one stopped to sun for a bit and let me take a few photos!
Falcate Orangetip, Anthocharis midea —I think I’ve seen this one in passing in the Austin area before but I’ve never had the chance to get a photo of it—and this still isn’t great but at least it’s a photo!
In all we did just under five miles. It was a sunny and warm March day, leaving me with a bit of a sunburn on my arms after. Lots of great things along the trail and I’m just so thankful for butterfly season once again! Oh, there were also monarchs but I didn’t get any photos of them. I logged two others on Journey North the other day that we saw in our yard. Milkweed isn’t quite in a good enough state for egg laying and I haven’t checked on the local green milkweed yet. Might have to walk around the block this week and see.
As this date started approaching I wondered how I was going to be able to write anything about it. And I find myself sitting here unable to really figure out what to say. Time flies. I miss the ability to be able to get up and do this sort of thing and yet my brain could definitely not focus on a thru-hike right now. I think I’ll come back here in a few weeks or later this year when our Katahdin anniversary comes up and see if I can write anything more. But I just wanted to commemorate this day by posting here. I love you, Appalachian Trail!
Camping two weekends ago at Huntsville State Park was pretty fantastic. The weather was gorgeous for late February and everywhere the signs were out that spring was coming and there was no stopping it. On Saturday we took a 7 mile hike around the lake and got to see what was blooming or beginning to push through the pine needles.
Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger – the squirrels at our campsite was all about looking for whatever scraps might be left from campers. One of them wanted to become our BFF and hop into the food containers which required constant vigilance even if we had the lids on to our food boxes.
We set off down the trail before lunch with the intention we’d stop somewhere along the way to eat. With Forest along for the hike that means more stops for 5 year old grouchies and for snacks!
Rose Vervain, Glandularia canadensis – We found the cluster of rose vervain we had previously seen a few years ago and found another patch elsewhere down the trail. There wasn’t a lot in the way of showy wildflowers along the trail and if you were looking for that, this was going to be it!
American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana – The pokeweed stopped me a few times because I kept thinking of skunk cabbage but it was not the right habitat or region. There was quite a bit of pokeweed popping up.
Japanese Climbing Fern, Lygodium japonicum at the southwest end of the lake we cross just below the dam on a bridge across the stream. We stopped for about ten minutes to check out the scene and see what was going on in the area.
Roundleaf Ragwort, Packera obovata – I was hoping to see some of this as I knew it was going to be on the south side of the loop, based on previous hikes. And the lovely patches of yellow mixed in with the palmettos made a delightful scene.
It was Forest’s longest hike yet and he did well despite some crankiness about 1/3 of the way in. Hiking with kids is always a challenge but he enjoys it when we do go hiking. The last twenty minutes were rough because he knew we were almost done and there was plenty of “How much further?” going on. I’d like to get back out to this state park sometime again this spring and hike the perimeter trail in full—something we have only hiked in a few sections. It’s longer and less traveled. That was one good thing—and I guess bad in some way—that the Chinquapin Trail was pretty busy that day. Good in that Yay! People are using a trail!—and bad in that — Grrr, lots of people on the trail! But still, it wasn’t anything like national parks can get—but it was nice to see that many people tackling this long of a trail and a variety of ages doing it, too!
And we’re full into pollen season now—so, spring is here!
We arrived in Skagway, AK and had approximately 12 hours to do what we wanted. Our first thing on the agenda was to take the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway up to the Canadian border, cross it, and then turn around and come back down to Skagway. I’ve gotta say, all that made me want to do is take that train all the way to its final destination somewhere in the Yukon. You’ll see…
In this area the Klondike Highway parallels the railroad and river. This is the Skagway/Fraser US Customs Border crossing, though the actual border is nearly 8 miles north of here. During the train ride we also had a guide coming over the speaker to tell us about the local history and one of those interesting tidbits was about what is painted on the cliff face here, On to Alaska with Buchanan. Turns out, back in the 1920s a business man from Detroit would bring youth to Alaska to get out and see a bit of the country. You can read a bit more here.
Eventually the train detoured from its journey next to the Klondike Highway and turned east towards Warm Pass Valley where we were able to stay on contour with the mountains instead of traveling over a bridge across the valley floor.
It was here that I finally got out onto the back of the train car to take photos outside and got wonderful whiffs of alpine air. That fir tree smell was intoxicating and I wanted to bottle it up and take it home with me.
My topos tell me Laughton Glacier is just beyond this mountain here. I must say I was definitely interested in wanting to explore this part of the Tongass National Forest, which is something you can actually do via train. There are a couple of trails, including the Chilkoot Trail that you can be dropped off and picked up at—we saw the Laughton Glacier trailhead at the apex of where we turned at Warm Pass Valley.
Forest was really enjoying the train ride. I was a bit nervous about him having the attention span to enjoy it as well as him having motion sickness, something he’s developed a bit over this last year. But he did magnificently well!
Next we passed an old steel cantilever bridge that has been out of commission since the 1960s. I can’t imagine trying to build this thing 100 years ago—and honestly, think about all of the major early engineering feats from dams to the Panama Canal, what labor must have gone into those. A bit more information about the old bridge here and here. Additional photos from the Library of Congress here. Now the rail goes upstream a bit and crosses a smaller bridge and then goes through a short tunnel in the mountain instead.
Once we emerged from the tunnel we got glimpses of the old Trail of ’98, which is the old gold rush trail of 1898 in the greater Skagway area. I believe the tour guide said thousands of people were traversing this trail daily, passing each other with mules loaded down with months of food for the backcountry. And what is amazing is just how well worn that trail still is!
Soon, we were nearing the border crossing! Considering I’d felt poorly when we’d crossed a few days prior at the Washington/British Columbia border and hadn’t relished it as much as I’d wanted, this was a bonus do-over! Plus, by train in a remote location! How cool!
I would definitely recommend doing this trip if you find yourself in Skagway. It’s a little touristy but if you don’t have a ton of time to spend in the area but want to see something other than the very touristy parts of town, do take this trip. I would definitely be up for the other routes the train provides and spending a few days in Canada and then making a return trip back. The scenery was spectacular and of course we lucked out with great weather!
Ah, these posts are making me want to go back to Alaska again!