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  • Archive for the ‘Nature in the City’ Category

    While in Austin a few weekends ago we happened to be looking for another place to explore after Chris dropped by a plant nursery near Georgetown. He came up with Berry Springs Park and Preserve, a Williamson County park. On first glance when we pulled into the park I was a bit skeptical about what we would find, however we ended up being pleasantly surprised!



    Goldenrod were afire on the edge of the prairie when we arrived. The park was busy but not crowded. In addition to there being a large open space along with a gorgeous pecan grove, the property was an old homestead as was evident by the old buildings in the central area of the park and the remanent donkeys behind the abandoned buildings. Elsewhere around the park there are camping opportunities! I thought that rather unique for a county park.



    Good light streaming through the pecan tree canopy!


    One end of the very clear pond.


    The trails were open for the most part and while it had been cooler that morning the temperature had warmed up considerably and we were feeling it in the prairie.


    There was not a lot in bloom on the prairie for this time of year, however the blooms we did see brightened the browns of the grasses quite nicely.




    This is some kind of ground cherry/Solanaceae that I haven’t been able to identify. Anyone?



    I saw this interesting vine and couldn’t figure out what it was. I almost nabbed a fruit for identification and seed saving but ended up leaving it. Later when we were at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center I found it in their garden with a sign, Cucurbita foetidissima, aka buffalo gourd. Check out that second link, it has a lot of fascinating information about the plant as well as an awesome shot of its root system!




    After we wound around the trails in the prairie and passed some other primitive but very pleasant looking campsites, we found ourselves back near the stream and pond. The water was very clear and I spotted a crawfish hanging out on the bottom.


    I tried to get closer but ended up scaring the poor thing.


    Back in the shade along the stream, the path meandered along some wetland areas. I found a seed pod to a Clematis which we later found a flower to identify at C. pitcheri.








    The pond spillway near the back path.


    We ended up at the fishing pier at the pond after our hike and ended up staying there a bit longer than anticipated. A woman and her two kids were attempting to fish and she was having trouble getting the tackle on the pole. She asked Chris for help and well, Mr. Fisherman that Chris is, he helped the woman and tried showing them how to catch the fish. I think he would have stayed all day if he could.



    One of the donkeys at the abandoned house in the middle of the park.

    This is a cute little park and definitely an asset to the local residents. I don’t forsee this being a destination for out of town visitors but for locals in the Austin area looking to diversify their outdoor experiences and find an out of the way park that might not be known, definitely stop in and visit this place. The pecan grove at the front of the park is gorgeous and begs to be picnicked in! Throw some frisbees, run around. Maybe get a campsite. It’s a great park for being in a suburban area!

    For an earlier trip here, see this post and this post.


    For most of the summer it seemed as if we were go-go-go or bury our head and do some kind of house project, well, that last part was Chris. August was our month to recuperate a bit, though Chris has been out of town for work a few times so he hasn’t gotten to recoup as much as he has wanted. We layed low last weekend but still wanted to do something fun and outdoors. The summer has been awfully hot as I think it has been for much of the country. Paired with barely any rain compared to the deluge we had in the spring and the summer has been difficult to deal with. For our little excursion we opted for Burroughs Park as I had explored there before and knew it had diverse enough habitat for us to feel as if we were getting some good nature enjoyment in.

    The perils of a baby on your back! He plays with my hair if he’s on my back!


    Capsicum annuum along the trail.

    Erythrina herbacea

    Forest has grown since we last used this backpack back in June so he was sitting a little higher than I think he should have. We didn’t think to change it until after the fact and well, we didn’t want to mess with taking him out and putting him back in and risk getting a fussy baby, so we left it.

    Cnidoscolus texanus, bull nettle



    Ilex opaca, American holly

    Old barbed wire near the boundary of the park. We stopped to inspect what looked to be a seep.



    We oohed and ahhed at the lovely water elm swamp as we passed by. It was still as beautiful as it was when I was last there. We could see traces on the vegetation of where the water levels had risen during the flooding in May, at or above my head.



    Trifoliate oranges



    Leaf cutter ant trails.

    American beautyberry

    This one stumped us. The leaves are in the next two photos. It is obviously (I think!) some kind of cucurbit but I’m not sure if it is native or a stray non-native. Anyone got a clue? We only saw it in a few places so it was not common.



    Someone fell asleep about halfway into the hike. I need to see how other people manage their kid’s sleeping in a backpack like this. I don’t know if I need to fashion some kind of cushion for him or what.

    A rain lily from the recent rain the week before.

    Spring Creek at the north end of the park.





    I am looking forward to more weekend dayhikes over the coming months to stretch our legs and explore!

    I’ve written about Kleb Woods twice before but last weekend was the first time Forest had been there. We didn’t have a ton of time to do a longer hike and I wanted to stay relatively near the house so we chose this small park to do a little outside rambling.

    This time we explored the north section of the park, taking the stroller and a sleeping Forest along.



    I spotted a Passiflora incarnata fairly quickly but found no fruit or flowers.

    The downside to this park is that it is overrun with yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria. Ideally they would burn this park on occassion but I think they come in and do some manual removal of the plants. Yaupons are native but this habitat would definitely be healthier with an burn every so often.

    We crossed a dry forested wetland that was invaded by Chinese tallow.

    A fading pluchea plant.


    Yaupon berries in time for the holidays.



    And we spotted another Amanita muscaria off the trail.

    It was a great walk but I wish the park was a bit more diverse in their habitat!

    Last weekend we took Forest out for his first ‘hike—he strolled, we hiked—at our local state forest, WG Jones State Forest. Chris and I have been there a few times and thought it would be a great outing for us to stretch our legs and to get away from the house for awhile. The forest is split in two by a road, FM 1488, with the larger tract being on the south side of the road. This tract also has the most trails.

    We set off from the western most parking area on 1488 and Forest managed to stay asleep during his transfer from truck to stroller. I had debated wearing him in a carrier but knew that he’d likely be asleep when we arrived. Plus, the carriers can be hot in our weather and Forest is generally a ‘hot’ baby, so I didn’t want to overheat him.

    Our first wildlife encounter was with a southern leopard frog jumping across the trail. Chris spotted it first and I managed to get my ‘I saw it’ photo before attempting a better photo. The better photo was ruined because our frog friend was skeptical of us and hopped away too quickly.

    A lot of the trails in this forest were likely old logging trams but there are several real single-track trails that spur off of these wider pathways. We found one to head down but somehow along the way managed to get off the trail and wound up back on another wider trail.

    The stroller did well through here, which was good to know. I was a bit worried it wouldn’t navigate the single-track well.


    I think this is an Amanita sp. but I’m not sure. There were quite a few different fungus we saw on our hike that are highlighted below.

    Cucumber Mosiac Virus on Beautyberry
    I believe this might be cucumber mosaic virus on the beautyberry. We have it in our yard too, on the native beautyberries that are part of the landscape.



    I’m not sure on this fungus as it appears to be on the old side. There were two species I thought it might be, however I’m not going to guess. Anyone??

    A sweet little lobelia, I think Lobelia puberula.

    And a sweet little spiranthes orchid.



    Amanita muscaria
    Amanita muscaria, not edible and probably poisonous.

    Coltricia perennis  ?
    I think this is Coltricia perennis but another fungus expert might know better. Not edible.

    It was a great first hike for the little dude and a great hike for me to stretch my brain—on learning things again—and my legs!

    Over the weekend Chris and I were in Nacogdoches and spent some time around Stephen F. Austin State University and their outdoor botanical parks. The first one we stopped at was the Pineywoods Native Plant Center on the north side of the campus. The directions to get there were a little sketchy for our Garmin to figure out, but eventually we found it. There was a family event going on with kids running to different stations to learn about nature—at one station I saw something called the ‘Bird Olympics’. I wonder what that was about?

    After walking around the front part of the center we found out there were trails out beyond so we grabbed a map and headed down those. The trails were pretty busy with bikers, hikers, and joggers.


    The tree ate this bench.

    Spring is trying to come out, but it was still bare on many of the trees and shrubs in the area.

    I was captivated by this little scene at a creek crossing with this palmetto in the corner. The palmettos here in this part of Texas are Sabal minor, and thankfully don’t have that wonderful sharp blade that Serenoa repens, saw palmetto, has.


    I think Chris and I were discussing that this tree might be shagbark hickory, but if anyone else is good at identifying trees by bark and this isn’t right, let us know!

    An iris that I spotted and soon we found several in a small wet area.


    A little plant nerd humor! Afterall, SFA is known for its forestry degrees!


    The walk around the area was lovely and they have an extensive native plant collection as well. I took some photos of some of the more interesting native plants but I will showcase them in another post later on. We also walked around the Gayla Mize garden and the main arboretum which will also be showcased in another post. An excellent place to wander around if you are ever in deep east Texas!

    Part I in case you missed it.

    After scoping out the fungus I saw a very interesting swamp area, an area that reminded me of Little Slough, substituting water elm for pop ash and pond apples. And of course no epiphytes covering the tree branches.

    It also reminded me of months of tromping around the Big Thicket 2.5 years ago. I’m definitely a wetland and swamp person.



    Ilex opaca, American holly. I love, love, love to see these plants when they become well-formed trees. Their trunks are so thick and sturdy, they look like they’d be a good tree in a landscape.

    inland oats


    After meandering through the wetland for a little bit I hopped back onto the pipeline right-of-way before ducking back off on another trail on the north side of the wetland. It headed east before turning alongside what I later realized was the perimeter barbed wire fenceline for the property. I crossed a small creek that was flowing pretty quickly beneath the culvert that went under the trail, taking runoff downstream to Spring Creek.

    I’m not sure what kind of ants make these piles, but I didn’t want to find out.



    I’d just stopped to take a photo of this trifoliate orange when I noticed a man and woman coming from the north down the trail. I asked how far it was to the creek and they replied that they had not actually seen the creek because the path eventually turned and was flooded in that direction. I opted to continue on and see how badly flooded it really was.

    Not twenty yards further down the trail I saw orange balls on the ground. My first reaction was WooHoo! Citrus like in Florida! and then I whipped back into reality and knew they were trifoliate orange fruits.

    Curious because I had never seen trifoliate orange fruit before, I opened one of them up. It was quite full of seeds and not much pulp, but despite knowing it might not taste good I gave it a few licks. It really wasn’t that bad and wasn’t as bitter as I was expecting. I probably could have juiced them and added a bit of sugar and the whole deal would have been a tasty treat. Instead, I left my discovery on the ground for the forest critters.

    After my taste test, I continued on down the trail. The trail took a steep (relatively speaking here, this is southeast Texas after all) jaunt downhill and it was very clear I was not going any further. The creek had overtaken the trail along the bank and this was as far as I was going to go. I backtracked and immediately nearly ran into a jogger. I warned him of the water but he didn’t hear me due to the earbuds in his ears. He turned around quickly and then detoured to another trail that I’d bypased about fifty feet beforehand. I followed it around until I saw him returning, blocked yet again by flooded trail. It looked like I’d be heading back the way I came.

    When I arrived back at the creek I’d passed a bit ago I noticed a small singletrack that went along the edge of the creek. It faded somewhat as I continued west, brush and downed trees keeping most people from allowing the trail to remain open. The path was still visible though and so I made my way over the logs and brambles and found yet another right-of-way. Not quite ready to head back yet I decided to go back towards Spring Creek only to be stopped by flooded trail that I didn’t feel like wading across. As I pondered my next plan I heard loud thumps echoing in the forest.

    Woodpecker. Somewhere.

    I listened a few more seconds and determined the direction it was coming from. Cautiously I eased over to where I could get a glimpse of it. Ivory billed woodpecker—haha, I wish. Just a good ol’ pileated woodpecker going to town on a sweetgum limb.



    I took a short video. I apologise for the shaking. It was difficult to keep the the long lens straight and I was starting to get shaky due to lack of coffee and the need for something to eat as it was already lunchtime.

    The pileated sealed the deal for the end of the hike and I turned back to head down the right-of-way to try to catch the pipeline I’d walked on earlier and head south. Eventually I made my way out but I know I will definitely head back sometime in the future to explore again.

    It has been awhile since I’ve done any Nature In The City posts so yesterday I got outside to a local park to explore. Burroughs Park is part of the Spring Creek Greenway project and part of the larger Houston Bayou Greenways around the metropolitan area. In the spring of 2012 I visited another park further east down Spring Creek, the George Mitchelle Preserve.

    I took a lot of photos so I will be breaking it out into two posts, with the second post coming later this week.

    First off, I was surprised by the size and activity in the park when I arrived. There’s a long, winding road that goes up the middle of the park and I had to drive it to arrive at the far north parking area to get to the wooded hiking trails. As I drove through though, I noticed a lot of soccer games going on at the facilities in the front; runners, bicycalists, and rollerbladers on the paved sidewalk and roads; and quite a few people fishing and picnicking at the pavilions. I was also excited to see in their fishing pond ten or so weeping cypress trees planted in the pond! I have never seen them in plantings aside from the two in our yard. Needless to say, this place was hopping with activity on a Saturday morning.

    As I was scouting this place out for a hiking destination I was aware the trail system was much more intricate than the posted trail maps allowed for, with multiple smaller trails branching off here-and-there, so I kept that in mind as I started out.

    Within the first few minutes on the trail I encountered a man with his two children. Good, there was some activity back here! When I made it to a trail junction I saw folks off to the left so I went right. After that it was pretty quiet until later on in my hike.

    As I was walking the trail narrowed a bit and I found a mesic to wet area that looked enticing so I jumped off trail to explore. A tree had fallen over to provide interest and I saw royal fern (Osmunda regalis) scattered about with a few other ferns. Popping up here and there were Chinese tallow trees, to which I ripped up the saplings I could. No need for them to continue making havoc.



    A little ways down that trail I found myself crossing a pipeline right-of-way. I had several options and decided to head downhill where I could visibly see it was wet. I didn’t go too far down the pipeline and then found what appeared to have been an old trail that was overgrown. It looked enticing so I jumped off it to see where it would lead.

    I found a little patch of patridge berry, Mitchella repens, which was fun to see.

    The forest floor.

    With the pipeline still in sight to my left, I found a dry drainage. I was surprised it was dry since we’d had several inches of rain at the end of the week. I opted to follow the drainage to see where it led. If it went nowhere I could easily turn around to go back to where I came from.

    My adventure down this trail rewarded me with a fading cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, finishing up its blooming in the middle of the creek.


    The drainage dropped me back out on yet another trail and to the left I could still see the pipeline, so I hadn’t meandered very far off whatever course I had been on. Rotting logs and dead trees provided ample opportunity for fungus encounters.




    We’ll have to continue our explorations in the park another day—so stay tuned!


    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.

    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!

    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.

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

    Oxalis dillenii

    Ostrya virginiana, American hophornbeam

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


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

    May Apple

    May Apple

    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.

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

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

    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.

    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.

    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.




    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.


    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.


    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.


    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

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

    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.

    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.

    Last weekend I was coming down with a bit of nature deficit and needed to get outside a bit. Weeks and weekends have been going by in a blur lately and with Chris in the field we haven’t been camping much. It has made me realize how much I miss being outside.

    I had an errand to run over in The Woodlands so I decided to drop by the George Mitchell Nature Preserve. The Preserve is located smack-dab in the middle of suburbia and if you aren’t careful you will drive right past the sign for the turn into the parking area. I did and had to turn around. The sign is small and almost inconspicuous, going with the theme of The Woodlands. If you aren’t familiar with the city it is an upscale area that had done a good job of utilizing nature and keeping their woodlands, but it is really difficult to tell what is in a shopping center until it is too late. Their signage blends in and is very small.

    I don’t do a lot of hiking by myself so I was feeling a little timid walking around by myself at first. But I enjoyed being able to take my time, walk slowly and see what I could find. It is still early in the year for many things to be blooming but I was surprised to find a few things out there.

    The preserve is a mix of bay, some pines, live oak, and mixed hardwoods with a lot of yaupon and American holly thrown in. The trails are wide open and clear, at least the hiking trails. I did detour and take a bike trail on the way back, which was narrower and not as well maintained. We’d just had a heavy rain the day before so the initial trail entrance was heavily flooded and muddy, but the rest of the path was not in bad condition.

    Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens. I took this for an exotic at first but upon closer inspection I realized the plants looked familiar and then wracked my brain trying to come up with the name. I’d remembered seeing it in the Big Thicket last spring/summer but it had not been in bloom. I’m glad to have seen it blooming, it is a beautiful flower!

    The paths are marked well.

    Laccaria laccata?
    The recent rains have created some mushroom growth in the park. This variety was common along the paths. I consulted my mushroom guidebook and my best guess is this is Laccaria laccata. Apparently its growth forms are highly variable, which is why my initial thoughts did not lean towards this being it, but upon closer inspection on Google I believe I’m right. But, I’m willing to be corrected if another fungus expert is out there!

    Laccaria laccata?
    I didn’t waste time switching to the 65mm lens to see what I could ‘see’ with it. Loving what I found!

    sand macro
    I then found a hairy plant that beckoned for a close up and then was stunned to see what the sand crystals looked like through the lens.

    bedias lake
    The main loop led to a short side trail to Bedias Lake so I detoured off to see the water for a few minutes. Water was rushing in from the stream to the west, runoff from the rains I’m sure.

    A large leafed clover—not sure on the species, no flower.

    Same clover viewed as a tree.

    Sycamore leaf…

    opuntia humifusa?
    After leaving Bedias Lake I detoured off into the bike trail that wound itself up the middle of the loop. I had been following the very loopy trail and decided to cut through a clearing knowing that the other side of the trail was close. I’m glad I did because I stumbled across several cacti. My best guess is this is some kind of Opuntia, perhaps humifusa. But, I’m not sure. I’m not very good with my cacti and need to get a field book for them.

    white fungus
    I did try to look this fungus up but gave up almost immediately because I did not have enough information to make a qualified decision. But, they are very pretty. Another sighting on the bushwhack I took.

    And finally, almost through with the bike trail I stumbled across this violet blooming.

    I’m sure I will be back to this preserve in the future, finishing up the whole loop and seeing it when more plants are blooming. This is a great preserve to have in a neighborhood like The Woodlands. If you are in the area, stop in and check it out!

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