I thought I had enough photos for at least two more posts from our trip to San Bernard NWR but it looks like I only have a smattering of photos that don’t really congeal into a write-up about a specific trail. The rest of our time at SBNWR was spent popping in and out of an assortment of trails near the wildlife drive.
These Swamp Rose Mallows, Hibiscus moscheutos were seen on the main road into the refuge as we crossed Cocklebur Slough.
We ducked into the Bobcat Woods Trail as we waited for another family to leave the Wolfweed Wetlands area.
And a pleasant surprise, a viceroy (Limenitis archippus)! I’ve yet to see them around our house and this is my first sighting in Houston. We saw several others flitting about the willows near the Wolfweed Wetlands area.
We climbed up onto the overlook at the wetlands and enjoyed the scenic but hot views into the wetlands. It was not unlike a view of many impounded areas in south Florida that a lot of birders utilize! The heat ran us off from further exploring the levees around the impounded areas–that would be better suited for a cooler season!
After our tour at the wetlands we drove down to the end of the road and viewed Cedar Lake Creek which has a boat launch at the end. A few trucks were parked, trailers empty, folks on the water fishing. We contemplated the Cedar Lake trail, which was short, but decided to head for the Scissor-tailed Trail. It was mid-day at the point and the sun was high. I actually loved this trail but the downsides are lots of poison ivy and the mosquitoes were thick. We walked it quickly with Chris swatting mosquitoes for Forest as the two of them basically ran back to the car!
In all, I will be returning to this refuge during different seasons. There’s a lot to see and being that it traverses bottomlands to fresh and salt marsh along the way, there’s quite a diverse array of habitats to see!
Like many folks, we attempted to go and see Comet Neowise on its once every 6700 year fly by of Earth. Last Friday evening we drove out towards Waller and Hempstead and parked ourselves on the side of a narrow road adjacent to some cattle pastures. As dusk set in we listened to the coyotes come out as the cows mooed in the distance. It was a rather clear evening with some haze on the horizon to the west but most of the clouds dissipated as time went on. We stared at the sky from the back of the truck and saw nothing but stars. The Big Dipper came out and we knew to look down from there but still, nothing. Chris called a friend who had seen it from his home down near Shiner and Sweet Home (much darker out that way) and got a few tips. After adjusting where we were looking we sat out there for a while longer and finally gave up. We determined there was too much haze and we couldn’t see it.
Saturday evening proved to have too many clouds to the west so we didn’t bother going out but then Sunday Chris said someone had mentioned being able to see it from a quarter mile away at the city park! I was surprised to hear this but we gave it a go last night. A few other folks were there so we socially distanced and kept masks tucked away in case things got busier. The person who had seen it the night before was out and gave us the direction he had seen it. Dusk finally fell and we kept our eyes out but nothing was visible. And then the person who had spotted the night before said he found it. Chris looked through his binoculars and found it as well! We are much closer to light pollution than where we had been on Friday night so it was very difficult to see it without an aid but once you knew where to look you could faintly see it. Trying to set my camera up to see it was another story! I could see a couple of stars that were near it so I looked for those and then had to play around with the manual focus before I got it configured enough to take a variety of shots at different shutter speeds and f-stops. They aren’t Nat Geo worthy but they are a cool memento for a once in a six millennia occurrence!
That said, after we saw it from basically around the block from our house we were kicking ourselves for not seeing it on Friday night, a much clearer and scenic evening! My parents attempted to see it from suburban Fort Worth on Friday night and didn’t get a look and then tried again out in Decatur but didn’t see it. At this point unless you have binoculars it would be difficult to spot—but give it a whirl! It is worth the sight before it fades from view!
Back in March when the pandemic got going here Forest and I would have lunch in his treehouse. It was cooler then and much more doable. We’d eat lunch inside and then move to the back balcony to have a treat in our “treat spot” while we watched the turtles on the downed log in the pond. I honestly thought by May that we’d have transitioned him back to daycare and Chris and I would both be in the office full time. Oh, how naive we were!
We haven’t had lunch in the treehouse in months, mostly because we’ve moved onto other things we do at lunch but it also quite hot out there right now. One thing we’ve been consistent with is our 3pm (ish) ice cream/popcicle break. It really morphs into a whatever kind of break, though Forest is pretty consistent about having a popsicle. While I haven’t gained weight during quarantine, I also haven’t lost any weight despite my fairly regular daily bike riding activities. Having a daily ice cream isn’t helping that! So, I’ve laid off that lately and now that there is no ice cream in the house I should probably keep it away for a good while! I just remembered there’s leftover birthday cake still out in the fridge in Chris’ man-cave. Oof.
While many aspects of these times are challenging (trying to work 40 hours a week during a time frame everyone else is working but also somehow manage to keep Forest just entertained enough to stay out of my hair so I can focus) there’s been a lot of fun for these months at home. I miss the whims of going wherever, whenever but we’ve made do. Between little outings locally and finding the most interesting things to do around the yard, we’ve had fun! In the spring we were all about finding the leaf cutter ants and looking for other nature bits. Then we moved on to more poor time once things heated up—water always rules in these parts! No beach trips so we’ve had to improvise and enjoy what we’ve got where we’re at.
Being around the garden more has meant that Forest is also around the garden more. That has piqued his interest in sowing seeds and wanting to grow anything he can get his hands on, weeds included! I’m letting him go with it at the moment because he is so interested and trying to answer all of his questions. The questions get a little tedious sometimes because he’s at that age where he wants to know how and why things work and trying to be in the mood with the patience for it all can get overwhelming.
He’s been very into blanket fort building this summer and there is always a blanket or two stretched between the ottoman and the oversized chair, pillows propped up for doors. Toys are constantly scattered throughout the house and I would be lying if I said I never reach into the recesses of my memories to think of how lovely my floors used to look in the pre-kid days. Once or twice a week we have a big toy cleanup, though he is finally getting better about cleaning up without whining and throwing a fit about it. TV has worn thin around here, no longer the attention holder it was earlier on in this stay at home time. So, the toys come out, art and craft material comes out and before I know it he has concocted the idea to make kites out of large mulberry leaves, complete with yarn for a string. Nevermind that I can’t get through to him that they aren’t going to fly like a normal kite—it is the process of doing it that matters.
And now someone is begging me to play Legos with him and so I must depart for a few minutes of building before I have to move on to weekend chores! I’m sure we will find time to test out those kites later today along with many other expeditions around the yard. There’s only a few more weeks left of this routine before it changes. We’ve decided to start off with online kindergarten, though I look wistfully at the folks who are transitioning to straight homeschooling for the year as it looks a lot more forgiving in regards to time—the ability to do the work at your own pace. I’m worried about how much actual online work will have to be done but I guess we will have to cross that road when it comes in mid-August. In the meantime, I’ll keep holding tight to the here and now and enjoying it for what I can.
I initially wrote the title of this post as calling this particular species as Texas bluebell. But upon further digging my lumping of all Eustoma sp. together as a Texas bluebell seems to be the wrong way to go. There are three primary species in the US, Catchfly Prairie Gentian Eustoma exaltatum, Texas Bluebell Eustoma grandiflorum, and Showy Prairie Gentian Eustoma russellianum. But then you dig a little further and depending on which site you read, some of these turn into a subspecies of E. exaltatum and other people will use the common name Texas bluebells for them all—and well, maybe it doesn’t actually matter, because common names are common names and this is Texas and any flower that can remind you of Bluebell Ice Cream is probably a great flower to be loving!
The last time I had a post on bluebells was back in 2011 when we saw them at Tandy Hills. This time these were in a moist area (with potential to be rather wet at certain times of the year) along the side of the main scenic loop at San Bernard NWR. We were taking our time along the drive, admiring the different plants and scoping out anything we wanted to look at a little closer. I spotted this patch and the light was just right so I jumped out while Chris and Forest enjoyed the A/C.
Luckily the area wasn’t wet, though there was a bit of mud in some areas as I tip-toed around, but I found the area fairly easy to navigate. It was late morning so the sun was easing up in the sky but not quite so harsh that it made for bad photos.
We took a drive up to Sam Houston NF last weekend for a short hike on the Lone Star Trail again and several pastures near Montgomery were covered with bluebells! I do think those were likely E. grandiflorum. After seeing the first field Chris thought perhaps they were sown like that but we saw several other fields of them and they were really show stoppers. To be honest, they would give the bluebonnet fields in April a run for their money! I later regretted not pulling over to take a few photos. I’m sure they are likely there every year but since we typically haven’t done a lot of hiking in recent years in the summer due to the heat and having a little kid, we didn’t know about it. Our summers are usually reserved for areas near water or visiting venues with some respite from the heat, such as family visits. Obviously this year we are adjusting and Forest is old enough now to handle the heat better.
I’m thinking of attempting a few paintings of these photos and if I get around to it and they look decent enough, I’ll share them here!
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!