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  • Archive for April, 2013

    trail2

    Before I went to the Azalea Trail in Lufkin I dropped by the Angelina College Forest Fitness Trail to scope it out. Located at the back of the college near the athletic buildings I found the parking lot empty save for a few cars towards the back of the lot. Looked like I would be alone for the hike, which I expected anyway.

    trail
    Part of this trail reminded me a bit of Turkey Creek Sanctuary a park in Florida near where Chris and I lived our first two years in Florida. I would go running there often and we hid our first geocache there. Ok, maybe it was the ambiance instead, the habitats are definitely different!

    rustyblackhaw
    I appreciate when trail systems post the names of some of the plants along the trail. Of course I end up finding signs that are out of place or the plant that it was labeling has died or been blown down. This is Viburnum rufidulum, rusty blackhaw.

    poisonivy
    Of course a walk in the southern woods is not complete with a little poison ivy!

    oxalis
    Oxalis dillenii

    ostrya
    Ostrya virginiana, American hophornbeam

    oak
    I think this is a white oak, Quercus alba, but I’m not positive. Anyone?

    maple

    May Apple
    Back near one of the creeks I found a patch of may apples, Podophyllum peltatum.

    May Apple

    May Apple

    gelsemium
    The only thing really blooming and providing color was Gelsemium sempervirens, Carolina jessamine. This is vine lights up the forest in the spring around east Texas and I’ve noticed quite a bit of it growing around my neighborhood.

    dogwood2
    Oh, well, I guess the dogwoods were blooming too. They really should bloom year round!

    creeperlog
    Virginia creeper ‘creeping’ along a downed log provided an interesting dynamic along the way.

    creek
    There are two creeks along the back end of the trail system. This one is Hurricane Creek, the same creek that I walked along at the Azalea Trail. Not nearly as trashy in this location but you can spot the road in the background.

    cherrybarkoak
    I decided that I really need a cherrybark oak, Quercus pagoda, in my yard. The foliage is dynamic and different compared to what we have in the yard at the moment.

    butterfly
    From consulting my butterfly book I think this is probably the Little Wood-Satyr, Megisto cymela. There’s a very similar species/subspecies and it seems that even separating the two is contended, but with the Viola’s Little Wood-Satyr the lower eye spot on the upper wing is slightly larger than on the Little Wood-Satyr. Either way, a very pretty species that was bouncing around on the floor of the trail.

    buckeye2

    buckeye

    angelinacollegetrail

    trifoliateorange
    Poncirus trifoliata, trifoliate orange. I didn’t realize it was an invasive/exotic. I have seen some gardeners trading it and using it in their gardens.

    violet

    Overall it was a lovely walk that I hope the locals actually use. The path was fairly clear on the main loop, the little loop at the far back was a little less clear with some brush hanging over the trail, but I think it was a great natural area to explore if in the area and you only have a short time to stretch your legs.

    flood8

    1 part steady downpour for several hours + 1 part super saturated ground = Sweetgum tree falling into pond with aid of pine tree.

    flood7

    So this flood event wasn’t nearly as bad as great flood of July 2012 and I honestly wasn’t expecting it to get like this. Thunderstorms moved through the area yesterday afternoon, we had some pea sized hail and steady downpours and then went to dinner with my parents and uncle who were in town for the weekend. When we came back we noticed the creek near our house was just below the bridge. Then we noted that the second pond in our little ‘town’ was up enough to be almost covering the platform in the middle of the pond. I knew we had to have some water in our yard but I really wasn’t expecting it to have what it did because it hadn’t rained as much as that day in last July. That day we got 14″ of rain!

    flood6
    But we got home and found the front yard was a giant swimming pool and then pulled into the carport when my dad pointed out at the sweetgum had fell into the pond. Well, I guess it was a good thing we didn’t pay to have the pine tree taken down (priced too much) but at the same time I wonder if the sweetgum would have been saved or it would have been stressed enough to come down anyway.

    flood5

    So, two trees down. Chris cut them up a little bit today but we need to burn our burn pile down a bit (too wet today to do it) and he needs to get his chains sharpened. So that’ll have to wait a few weekends at least.

    flood4
    If you see the duck box (which the ducklings hatched by the way!) and the small tree to the right, that tree is just barely in the water normally.

    flood3

    flood2

    flood1
    At least it wasn’t like July. I was worried it would be as we were supposed to have more storms last night but luckily all of the storms slid south of I-10 and stayed in Houston. Houston had its own battle of flooding too, so it wasn’t just us this time around.

    Now though we’re in ‘get the water oak down’ mode. We have a large water oak that is already leaning over the powerline running to the house and I can tell it could go at any time. So instead of facing the wrath of that we’re just going get it taken care of now instead of later. Not only that, hurricane season is coming.

    Cool….the joys of homeownership! Where’s my tent?

    bees12

    bees11

    bees10

    bees9

    bees8

    bees7

    bees6
    *note the pollen in the cells on the right*

    bees5

    bees4

    bees3

    bees2

    bees1

    Our bees are so friendly! Chris got in there on Saturday to switch out the sugar water and to see how the comb building was going. I hadn’t been able to see any comb being built through the window, but sure enough there were at least seven bars with comb, at least three of them with a decent amount of comb too. As I noted in one of the photos above, you can see pollen in one of them. Soon the queen will be laying brood cells and the hive will really be under way. The bees have been more active over the last few days with the rise in temperature once again. However we’re going to be getting another cold front late tonight that will probably make them stay closer to home for a day or two.

    I really love having the hive so far!

    summertanager5

    In Florida, at our house in Sunrise, every summer a spot breasted oriole came to visit the neighborhood for about a month. I looked forward to his visit during the four years we lived there, knowing that when he/she/it came back the second time that it would come back in subsequent years, and it did. Now, I doubt it was the same bird, but just knowing that we were on the migration route was cool.

    summertanager4

    Now it seems we’re on another migration route so we get to see different bird species. We have a lot of year-round cardinals and when we saw this red bird on Saturday afternoon I dismissed it at first as a cardinal. Chris did a double take and said it was a summer tanager, a bird I hadn’t seen before. My camera was handy so out it came for a few photos.

    summertanager3

    Cornell has their summer breeding range within our area, however I doubt they will stay here through the summer. Chris and I saw scarlet tanagers on our AT hike, mostly through Pennsylvania if I recall, so I was familiar with them. I had to look up the bird before deciding it was definitely a summer tanager and once I did that I noted that the females are yellow. So yesterday while eating dinner I noticed a fairly bright yellow bird fly toward the crepe myrtle in the backyard and decided it was probably the female. We tried to chase them down again but with no luck.

    summertanager2

    summertanager

    They are stunning birds!

    brokenpine3

    Oh goodness. Trees. I should have bought a house on a prairie.

    Yesterday was a good work day outside. I went and picked up a truck load of mulch for $10 at a local landscaping place, came home and did some mowing, and then spent some peaceful time weeding the makeshift veggie area by the side of the house. I’m letting the dill finish flowering and go to seed while the black swallowtails finish their life cycle of caterpillar and chrysalis before turing into beautiful butterflies. The onions and garlic have another month and the collards are almost done, bolting as we ‘speak’.

    Chris came home in mid-afternoon and we did a few things around the yard and then took a nap, afterwards deciding on the dinner movie theater for the evening. He was showering, I was on the computer telling Facebook about the summer tanager we saw earlier in the afternoon when shortly after I’d submitted the message I heard a crackling, rustling noise from outside. It sounded like a branch fell and I went outside to investigate. I wasn’t on the front porch long when my neighbor spotted me and told me “Your tree fell!”

    Sure enough I peered around to the backyard and there was what had been a perfectly alive and well pine tree earlier that morning as I mowed around it broken at its base and being supported by a sweetgum near the pond.

    Crappity, crap, crap. Actually it was more like damn, damn, damn.

    brokenpine2
    My neighbor and her boyfriend had been in the back room of her house and heard the sound too and were stunned to see the tree laying there. I couldn’t believe it either! I expected pine beetles to be crawling out of it but didn’t see any and there hadn’t been any sign of pine beetle infestation there anyway (no sawdust at the base). My next thought was perhaps it was red heart but I can’t tell from the broken base and I never saw one of the outer conks that are prevalent.

    So, I don’t know.

    brokenpine
    It is just so strange! All I think is, what triggered it? Did the ground shift a bit and then *bam!* it fell? I dreamed about it last night, imagining a sinkhole taking over our yard and other pines falling down.

    Ack. It just sucks to lose what seemed like a perfectly good tree. Chris isn’t going to attempt to cut it up due to its precarious nature so I’ll be calling for quotes to get it taken care of this week. I guess the ‘ok’ news is that now the sapling pine that was just in front of the pair of pines there will be able to grow and take over that spot, but now I’m worried about the pine tree next to it, will it fall someday?

    I think it was three years ago, right before we left for the AT, a storm damaged a tree at my grandfather’s house and it had to be cut down. I can’t remember his exact words but I think he said he had ‘tree-itis’. Well, Grandad, me too.

    azaleatrail

    Over part of Easter weekend I was in Lufkin, Texas to spend some time with Chris as he was doing a field job nearby. It was nice, taking advantage of a hotel room and having time to explore the area. I really wanted to go do a few hikes in Angelina National Forest nearby but was too chicken to go out there by myself. I probably could have driven a few forest roads and seen a lot of things anyway but instead I decided to see what was in the heart of Lufkin itself. After I found a couple of plant nurseries I decided to go explore two different parks in the city. One of them was the linear Azalea Trail.

    This is definitely an urban/suburban type of trail, made for walking or light exercising. I parked on the north side of the Lufkin Mall and walked over to where the sign is above. I had planned to do the entire trail up to the northern terminus but turned around maybe three-quarters of a mile in.

    sassafrass
    There were a couple of other folks out for the day, mostly walking. I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of interesting things along the trail including this small sassafras.

    oak
    The path follows Hurricane Creek, which is filled with litter due to its proximity to the urban environment, but I think that helped in providing some interesting habitat for what wildlife I did see.

    squirrel
    This squirrel was the only mammal I saw along the path and it wasn’t too nice in posing for me, dashing around the vegetation if I moved just a little.

    bridge

    hurricane creek
    I tried to find a clean section of the creek to take a photo of, you know garbage doesn’t exactly make for a pretty picture.

    Tent Caterpillar
    This caterpillar caught my eye causing me to stop, sit on the ground and try to get a good shot of it as it walked along the debris.

    Tent Caterpillar

    Tent Caterpillar

    Tent Caterpillar

    And then I saw a whole bunch more a little while later climbing up and down a pine tree. I was planning on looking them up but last weekend I was going through the latest issue of Organic Gardening and there they were displayed in a segment in the back. Eastern tent caterpillars. So, kind of a pest and not necessarily a much loved species, but they were entertaining for me.

    Lyre Leaf Sage
    One plant blooming profusely in our area of Texas right now is the lyre leaf sage, Salvia lyrata. It is really beautiful along the roadsides and even in my yard. I’ve been trying to mow around any of the clumps.

    Male Cardinal

    cardinal
    There were several cardinals bouncing around the tree canopies and this male posed well for a few minutes for me.

    dogwood
    Flowering dogwoods were providing a beautiful show in the woods around the area. This one was close enough and low enough for me to get a nice shot of.

    wisteria
    I turned around once I reached a massive wisteria vine. Did you know the flowers are edible? Despite wisteria being a very invasive growing vine, and I’m guessing this is probably the Chinese wisteria not the native Wisteria frutescens, but it is still a very beautiful flowering vine.

    And that was my walk, a little bit of nature in the city coming from Lufkin, Texas. I’ll have another small adventure from the city to a slightly wilder place to showcase soon.

    masonbees

    This is the back of our middle building, the shed/carport/my studio building. When we had our inspection last year before moving in the inspector mentioned that bees had been boring holes into the wood on the back of the building along the top near the roof. I mentioned this to Chris after we moved in but we never really saw the bees and coupled with the busyness of moving into we didn’t investigate into it.

    A few weeks ago I noticed that what I suspected to be mason bees hovering in the area. Since then we realized they were heavily utilizing that area and sure enough Chris found them chomping out holes to lay their larvae. Even if you stood near the back of the building you could even hear them chomping out the wood. Not so good.

    Last weekend Chris spent time plugging the holes and then we hung up three mason bee ‘houses’ for them to use instead. I actually haven’t gone to follow up and see if they are using them yet so this weekend I need to poke my nose in and see what’s going on. I thought it was funny that the houses we ordered happened to be the one that Chel wrote about on Sprout Dispatch in early March.

    So, that is nice we’ve got the mason bees out there!

    On Monday I had to get into our honey bee hive to check and see if the queen had been freed by the rest of the bees. I was extremely nervous about doing this as Chris is out of town and he’s definitely read more about them than I have but we went over everything before he left. I almost forgot that I needed to wear jeans when going out there and was about to go out with the top suit and some shorts and then realized that was not a smart thing to do be doing as a novice keeper.

    Jeans on and suited up, out I went.

    I was also going to be switching out the sugar water that had come with the hive. We won’t be feeding them sugar water permanently, this is only temporary until likely this weekend, something to supplement them while they get established. We had noticed a few bees buzzing around over the weekend in the flower garden but not enough for us to be satisfied with them getting enough food to get started. So, Chris put the sugar water in there and then promptly came in and brought three bees with him! Note: check clothes a second time before coming in the house. Don’t worry, the bees were returned safely outside without any harm!

    Anyway, back at the hive I had to open up the hive, move the bars slowly back and check out the little box that the queen was in. The bees were definitely noisy and got louder if I moved too fast, reminding me to move gently. It was fun to see how they hold onto each other, creating little tails of bees clinging fast as I moved the bars. Finally I arrived at the queen box and I noticed they had already started sealing wax on the top as I had to pull pretty hard to get the box off the lip of the bar. There were bees clinging to the outside of the box as I lifted it up and I did glimpse a bee inside the box but after I shooed the bees off the outside I noticed the inside was now empty. Hmm. I flipped the box over and noticed the ‘candy’ that had sealed up the bottom had been eaten through and thus the queen had been freed already. The bee I saw was likely just a worker bee exploring.

    I was glad of this because otherwise I was going to have to pry open the cork that was on top of the box and let the queen out myself. Next I replaced the bars back in order and then switched out the sugar water for the Mason jar of sugar water I had made up. Finally I put all the bars back in place and let them bee. (oops, I’m already subbing words…be for bee. hah!)

    Every morning and evening I open up and check the hive via the window on the front. They were quiet this evening, huddled together after this cool front that came through this afternoon. They have definitely laid down a line of wax along the tops of the bars but no significant comb being built yet.

    And if you know me in real life and know how my pets ‘talk’….well, the bees got their voice this afternoon. 😉

    African Iris

    African Iris

    Dietes iridioides

    luna6

    luna5

    luna4

    luna3

    luna2

    luna

    A few weeks ago I saw a wing in the garden. Just the wing, nothing more. I figured the cats had gotten to it, but I knew it was a luna moth, a species I’d only see online but never in person. The ferals frustrate me in this aspect, they like to chase after the lepidopterans in the garden and I’m not fond of that aspect of their disposition. Or their snake killing aspect…but I digress.

    Luna moths! Chris came to me a couple of nights ago to show me where two were laying low near the ground down by the pond. We had to walk carefully as they do blend in well with the grass. I did happen to see another one dead in the yard, just a wing, the following day so either cat, owl, or bat got it.

    A very interesting addition to the biota in our yard!

    We got up this morning, stopped for breakfast tacos at the gas station, and drove through rural Montgomery and Grimes Counties to get to R. Weaver Apiaries just outside of Navasota. If you are looking for bluebonnets, you Texans out there, FM 2 in Grimes County has a ton of bluebonnets in the ranch pastures, sweeping vistas of them. Very beautiful!

    The bees were very quiet on our way home, not a buzz, and then, as you see in the video above we put them into the hive. They are doing well, bees flitting about the garden right now. We’re doing a bunch of yard work today so we’ll be able to keep an eye on them. It would be awesome if next spring we were harvesting our first batch of honey!

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