This milkweed species has been on my radar to find since last year when I saw several folks post theirs for the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge. It is a more coastal species relegated to particular prairie habitats and of course, we had to seek those habitats out. When we went to San Bernard NWR last month I knew there was a great chance of seeing them there because there were several logged sightings on iNat. If all else failed and we couldn’t find a plant or two I would pull up the app and see if we could find one using that method.
We lucked out by finding them in the former cattle pasture in front of the San Bernard Oak Trail. There were plenty of plants to check out and we found even more of them throughout the refuge. As best as I can tell, despite some weird notation on the USDA Plants Database for a location in Maryland, this plant is endemic to Texas. Most of its range is along the middle to upper Texas Gulf Coast with some sporadic sightings further south and then, interestingly, up in the DFW area. It has a look-alike species, A. verticillata, whorled milkweed, which is also in the region but much more wide-spread than this species. I still have not seen that particular species.
It’s a lovely plant, not much for a monarch caterpillar to chow down on but I’m sure one wouldn’t turn its nose up to it if given the opportunity! I’m thinking of doing a milkweed painting series eventually and I’ll be adding this one to the list to paint!
My 30s were a ride. The first four years went smoothly enough but the next several were a rollercoaster. Having a kid and changing your life will do that, I suppose. I know that when I turned 30 everything seemed wide open for the decade. After having a rather adventurous 20s, from graduating college and moving to Florida and spending most of that time soaking in everything the state had to offer, my 30s were about winding all of that down and settling into life. I have spent plenty of this decade wistful for those years of my 20s. The mid and late 30s were rough in all of the ways. While there are some wonderful moments (Forest!), I’m glad to see them go.
Obviously I’m not the only person in the world to be having a birthday during a current pandemic. Maybe you squeaked by before mid-March and will get your turn next year, but there is definitely something to be said for having a birthday during all of this mess. Memorable to say the least! My mom is also having a milestone birthday later this month, turning 60, and at one point a year or so ago I had tinkered around in my brain with the idea for us to take a girl’s birthday trip to Scotland or something. I never really formed that beyond the idea and now it appears that was a smart plan as we would have never made it to Scotland or just about anywhere else outside the country at the moment. Maybe we will make that happen in a couple of years!
I have no grand plans for 40. Or my 40s. Ok, I do. Write books, read books, make art, make gardens, learn all the things in nature, soak it all in, more time with friends, more time with family, more traveling, more just being…just showing up. If the pandemic has shown me anything it is that time isn’t to be wasted, or that time is meant to be wasted in the best ways possible with friends and family or just a good book.
So, goodbye 30s! You started in Vermont on the Appalachian Trail and you’ll end in three hours while cozy in a house you could have only dreamed about while you slept in that tent on the AT.
In one of my recent posts I know I mentioned that it seemed that all lepidopterans had taken to a quiet spell around the yard, though we would have a friend visit on occasion. This dun skipper would be one of those friends to visit back on June 20th, however after our recent rain over the last week or so our lepidopteran friends have started slowly returning. I’ve found a few bean leaf rollers in the garden which means one of my favorite butterflies, the long-tailed skipper, should be making more appearances around here soon!
Thankfully growing the echinacea within the fence has allowed them to bloom and with that, attract pollinators. I can almost feel the heat radiating from these photos which were taken sometime in early mid-day out there. All of the plants tend to wilt for an hour or two at the highest point of the day in the Texas sun but the echinacea were performing their blooming duties and not even attempting to look parched. I think Forest and I had gone out to harvest a few things and I noticed the butterfly which in turn had me head back inside with our garden bounty and come back out with the camera. Lately I have almost always been keeping the 75-300mm lens on to take photos of whatever insects and because frankly, I’m lazy. I’ve been preferring the tight, closeup shots anyway.
Dun skippers are rather widespread throughout the eastern half of the US. As their name suggests, they are a rather nondescript grayish brown which makes them fairly easy to distinguish from other skippers that have markings on their wings. Their caterpillar host plants are various sedge species so keep that in mind if you’d like to attract the larval stage into your yard and garden. I know a lot of folks don’t really think of sedges as something they want to keep around, there are some weedy and invasive species out there, but there are quite a lot of really lovely and interesting native species that are attractive in the garden. I’ve been trying to slowly add some into one of my garden beds over the last year and have been pleasantly surprised with how they look.
In the meantime, I’m on the lookout for more butterfly species to appear around here.
Do check out that bee friend joining in on the nectar sipping in the second to last photo!
Over a month ago now, I noticed a giant swallowtail ovipositing on the rue. I had bought pots of rue a year or two ago just for this reason and to have another source of food for when they came through and found my citrus instead—it was a place to relocate them as necessary. But in this time I had yet to see any activity on the plant and thought that maybe nothing would come of it after all. But then as I took a break from pulling weeds, sweat rolling down my entire body, I saw an adult visiting and as soon as her abdomen curved I knew it was a female. I watched in awe for a few minutes and after she left I searched for eggs. I found two eggs and later only found one caterpillar. I kept tabs on it for a few days until it too disappeared. We have a healthy wasp population and there are plenty of other predators. I should have opted to raise it in the butterfly tent but I wasn’t in the mood at the time.
Every time I head out to putter in the edible garden I poke around the rue and fennel, still hopeful for more swallowtail eggs.
June came and went. If parts of spring seemed to crawl by, June and the rest of summer are zooming by. Someone up north posted about noticing signs of fall migration beginning and I thought, NOOOOOO! But I too have noticed a slight change in the light already, life is shifting for the downward slant into another season. We’re still well in the height of summer but the movements are already in place.
Verbesina alternifolia, wingstem.
I accidentally pulled a lot of these seedlings up earlier in the spring, mistaking them for their cousin frostweed, which I also have planted in the garden. I will hold off longer next season because I do love this plant so!
The garden has changed so much over the years. There are only a few pockets that even resemble what it looked like from 2012-2014 or even 2015. So much has shifted, died, been replaced, or thrived so much it took over a section. I often find myself wistful for some scenes that no longer exist.
My goals of having a garden full of Salvia coccinea are not playing out so far. This was my chance to have a filler plant, something that self seeds well to tuck into all the places that didn’t have plants since we weren’t going to make it to a plant nursery for the foreseeable future. The deer’s palate has prevented this flush of color and I’m thoroughly disappointed as in years past it has been a reliable performer.
My abelmoschus hibiscus are thriving out in the edible garden. Several plants came back from the roots this year and have been producing wonderful blooms over the last two months. Honestly, I would love a second fenced off garden just for flowers!
So much has already changed in the weeks since I took these photos.
Now that we’ve returned to being rather homebound for the next few weeks or so, I look back at our hikes in May and June with envy. Hopefully cases will get under control here in the next month and we can begin venturing out again. I have plenty back logged here to write about and will be trying to do more nature in the neighborhood again.
Seeing Turk’s cap hibiscus thriving and in bloom elsewhere makes me wistful for what was once in our yard. We once had a thriving set of plants around a sweetgum tree. They bloomed profusely and filled out the area around the tree so well and then the next season the deer found them and they died. A shame, really.
The last and only time I had been to the San Bernard NWR was back in 2012 for the Migration Celebration. I had gone solo because Chris was working on a field project in Beaumont. In fact, that weekend I drove the entire Sam Houston Tollroad around Houston—3/4 of it in a single day. The last 1/4 was on my way home from Beaumont the next day. I left home in Northwest Houston and traveled down to San Bernard for the event and then headed east across the Houston Ship Channel to I-10 and went to Beaumont to visit Chris. It was a lot of driving that weekend! Now Houston has a third loop being build, Grand Parkway, with only a couple of sections still under construction. Ah, urban sprawl!
The mosquitoes were out for our hike this weekend back in early June so we lathered up in bug spray. The worst was along that initial section prior to reaching the boardwalk and the water. Mosquitoes always abate a bit when there’s moving water nearby with aquatic wildlife to keep larvae under control.
We spotted several patches of aquatic milkweed, which at first Chris thought was swamp milkweed. Swamp milkweed usually has a pink tone to it and I was wary of his initial response. We continuing seeing white flowering milkweed and I knew it couldn’t be a big anomaly of white flowering swamp milkweed and it was likely aquatic milkweed. When we got back into some cell service I checked to make sure and that was what we were seeing along this trail and other areas in the refuge.
I was surprised to see this growing in the flooded area within the slough along the boardwalk. I didn’t realize it could handle such an inundation.
We meandered our way down the boardwalk inspecting plants and looking for animals and then we finally arrived at the Big Oak. In 2003 it was named the champion live oak for the state. I think it has since been dethroned because when I look up live oaks on this list it comes up with a live oak in Colorado county.
I think that’s what both of these are but the one with the damaged wing I’m not as sure about.
Banded Watersnake, Nerodia fasciata
This little snake was near the first boardwalk on our way into the hike but we didn’t get a great look at it. It returned to its location when we were making our way back to the truck and this time we approached it cautiously so we could get a better look at it.
Other than one car leaving the two-track entrance on our way in to the area, we saw no one else on our hike! Very quiet out there for the hike.
I have plenty more to share from San Bernard so stay tuned!
Halloween pennant dragonflies were a mainstay to my experience living in south Florida. They are very common and easy to spot, quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Kind of like red-winged blackbirds as they were similarly abundant in the Everglades. And then we moved and while both of those species are here in Texas, I don’t happen to live near their preferred habitat. While I do live near a pond and have plenty of dragonflies around here my most common species here are common whitetail and green darner dragonflies among some others. No Halloween pennants to grace my yard!
This lovely male (see here for comparisons on sexes) was found at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge a few weekends ago near some impounded marshes on the western side of the refuge. While Forest and Chris made a beeline for the boardwalk overlook I was sidelined along the side of the marsh taking photos of the dragonfly! I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to get a few snaps in when I so rarely, if ever, see them.
+This little 16 year old isn’t doing too well at the moment. He spent a few hours at the vet yesterday getting blood work and x-rays done on his abdomen. He’s dropping a little weight and hasn’t been wanting to eat and his behavior is very different over this last week. I’m waiting for some more blood results and the x-ray results but it may be a bowel obstruction of some sort. Which at 16—might be the C word. We aren’t ready for this yet! Our spry little kitten was going to live forever! Samson will be gone six years in August and it still seems like last year. So, send some good love to Leo via the interwebs!
+I’m sipping my first Starbucks drink after four months, a Venti Decaf Americano. Chris went to the store this morning and I had him pick me up a drink since there’s a ‘Bucks at the Kroger. I poured it into another cup once he brought it home. Ah, nothing like that first taste of a coffee!
+As for the grocery store, I’m sure you’ve seen how much Texas is in the news along with other states because our governors were all, “OPEN IT UP!” Our grocery store is in Harris county, which just issued a Stay At Home Order again, so we’re pulling back on grocery shopping again. We were still getting our big haul about every three weeks but Chris had started going once a week to get fresh fruit and any other random things we had run out of. Plus, he’s been doing some local (and a few non-local) field jobs this last six to eight weeks so he has been going to get field drinks and food as well. Now we will do our best not to sneak in those random outings again. I think I mentioned in my rant last week that when I had last gone mask usage was nearly non-existent. We stopped by last weekend on our way back from a hike and mask usage was already climbing. This time he said there was a woman at the door enforcing customers to wear a mask. He said some customers were grumbling about it but they were complying–I guess ones who wouldn’t left. Hmmm, maybe if we’d done this consistently two months ago?????
+With all of that we’re pulling back on our hiking as well. We were hiking anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours away and while I think we would be fine with our closer hikes in Sam Houston, doing the two hour stuff is a no-go again. For those we already took everything with us and planned for no stopping other than getting gas but that seems too risky now with hospitals filling up. We’ve also postponed a trip to visit my parents because of the drive and the exponential increase in cases. Not sure when we’ll put that one back on the tentative books.
+The Saharan Dust has been a bit of a downer here with none of those glorious sunsets others have shown because we’ve had rain and clouds at the same time. It was mostly a soup mess yesterday and today it is brighter but you can see it looks slightly yellow. Chris said he had dust splatters on his windshield this morning. With the rain this week our humidity has skyrocketed to unbearably disgusting after that wonderful week two weeks ago where it felt like late September and we had our first cool front. That feeling is a mere dream now as you are bathed in sweat seconds after stepping outside.
+My agenda this weekend is probably not going to involve a ton of outdoor time due to the humidity. I do have a pile of cucumbers to pickle and some beans to blanch and freeze. It has been a decent start to the summer garden and I’m kind of thankful that I don’t have enough tomatoes to can this year. Work has been incredibly busy and even trying to find the energy to do something with the harvest in the week has seemed daunting. Having to peel and can tomatoes would have sent me over the top. Some chores, maybe finding some reading time, and getting some play time in with Forest is on the agenda!
You’ve gotta watch the new video from The Chicks…
Time to get going!
June has proven to be incredibly busy for work so any of the intermittent downtime I had in April and May has gone *poof*! Which is one reason my writing here has tapered off once again. I did want to share two little nature bits from the yard yesterday evening that I took with my phone. I still feel a little bit traitorous when taking “good” photos with my phone. Like, I should really go get the point and shoot at least, right? And yet there’s that convenience factor of shooting on my phone so I can easily upload and share and that wins out. The photos from my phone usually look decent on my phone and even with the iPhone10 having a better quality camera, I do notice differences in quality when compared with a point and shoot. I have no idea why I’m going on about this other than maybe to say, excuse the quality? The other problem I run into is if I take the dSLR out it will be a week or two (or month) before I get around to processing the photos. All this is to say, hey, look, I actually took photos recently and I’m going to share them here in a closer time frame reference!
First off, butterflies have been a bit quiet around here lately. We get a few every now and then but it hasn’t been busy for them in several weeks, maybe over a month. I’ve been enjoying the dragonflies and other insects when I see them. Now that I’m thinking about this, moths are also not very prevalent right now.
Tuesday evening we went out to the potting bench and I noticed a hairstreak fluttering around. It briefly landed on me, too. After I noticed it was not the average gray hairstreak I went to grab my phone to take a few photos. It was a Red-banded Hairstreak, Calycopis cecrops.
Not sure what is driving this slow down in pollinators—the heat or lack of rain—which we just remedied that last one. Here’s hoping the tides will turn and more will be flying soon!
Catching up on the last bits of our trip to east Texas last month as I am going to have more photos again soon because we trekked back over there today to see snowy orchids in bloom and to walk around a tupelo swamp. I still have photos from a trip to San Bernard NWR a few weekends ago to process as well, so more is coming!
Red Milkweed, Asclepias rubra – We are on the hunt to find seeds of these. Looks like Everwilde had some at one point but they are currently sold out.
Single-stem Scurfpea, Orbexilum simplex – This was a neat find along the trail near the house and the bracken fern and I was able to figure it out in the Wildflowers of the Big Thicket book on our drive home last month. It has since changed names from what it is labeled as in this book.
It was really great to return again this month and see what has changed since I took these photos. What a place to visit on a monthly, even a weekly basis just to see the changing of the blooming seasons!