The last camping trip we had in the spring was to Martin Creek Lake State Park near Kilgore. We had stopped here once on our way home from Caddo Lake when Forest was newly 2 for a short hike, to break up the long drive back to Houston with a then potty training toddler. Kilgore also happens to be near where my friend Michelle and her family used to live so every time we roll through there I think of her, even though she now lives an hour away from me in College Station.
We found ourselves chilling at camp one of the afternoons and I was bound and determined to take butterfly or dragonfly photos, both of which were frequenting the area. As I sat in the sun near the tent pad (that we weren’t using because we have a space ship for our car camping tent) I noticed something flitting about low near the ground. I took a few photos with a more wide angle lens and then got up to switch lenses. Eventually the insect behaved enough for me to snap some more detailed photos. Despite enjoying trying to learn some of our more gregarious insect species, an entomologist I am not.
Thankfully there’s the magical world of iNaturalist or else I would have been flipping through pages of online Google searches and weird image search phrasing (which I still do from time to time) to come up with a result. Quickly it told me it was Chironomus sp., though there were options for narrowing it down to an actual species but I didn’t want to claim that expertise. Chironomus is, to, well, cut and paste from Wikipedia: “a genus of nonbiting midges in the subfamily Chironominae of the bloodworm family, Chironomidae, containing several cryptic species that can only be distinguished by experts based on the characteristics of their giant chromosomes. The larvae of several species inhabit the profundal zone where they can reach relatively high densities. They use a combination of hemoglobin-like proteins and undulatory movements in their burrows to obtain oxygen in poorly oxygenated habitats.”
What a cool little bug to have encountered and just think about all of the bugs we’re walking by every day that are living their lives as we live ours, not knowing they even exist! I’m partial to its feathery antennae!
Over the 4th of July long weekend, the three of us buckled in and drove over to Austin for the weekend. It had been quite a while since we had just tinkered around Austin without camping plans, so Chris found an available hotel room in north Austin and we set off to do some Austin exploring. I even came up with a list of new things to do after trolling around on Google Maps and checking out various parks, but of course we resorted to going to the places we always go to! And they are good places, of course, but one of these days we’ll manage to see something new.
(Photos from my phone. I haven’t gotten around to process camera photos yet. At this rate expect those in December. hah!)
And then a hop over the Brazos River and we were heading west. We were close to Brenham when Forest announced his belly hurt, something that has become a common refrain over the last several months, starting with a trip to the recycling center and library, with the library portion being aborted for a trip back home. It happened again later on and then he mentioned it briefly when we were near school one day. Finally it occurred to me on this trip that maybe he was getting car sick. So, I spent the rest of the time in the back seat trying to keep his attention on other things instead of doing my car reading. I always look forward to long car rides because I can get huge chunks of reading in. I guess I’ll be looking into some car sickness remedies for longer trips—though as I’ve mentioned, even shorter trips are becoming problematic.
I suppose the one thing we did do that we hadn’t done before was visit Inner Space Cavern in Georgetown. It was one of the last few bigger named caves we haven’t been to (Caverns of Sonora is what we are now missing—though there are lots of other smaller caves that requires permits and such to get into) and Forest’s first cave experience. This one is right off of I-35—and it was found when they were building I-35 in the 1960s. One of the unique features is that in one of the rooms when everyone is quiet you can hear traffic driving above you!
In the lobby area there is a great map showing all of the rooms and tunnels that the cave has. It is much bigger than the main tour that most people go on. There’s a second tour that requires a bit more skill and direction, and then of course the other rooms are for technical caving. Inner Space was interesting, though not my favorite cave that I’ve been to.
After out dinner at Chuy’s, it was still early for getting a spot at the Barton Creek Square Mall where we planned to try to watch fireworks. We killed some time by stopping at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park to let Forest play at the playground and go for a little hike. The park had been on my list of places we could potentially explore and it worked out for this short outing. We ended up finding Wells Branch which comes into the park from the north and eventually merges with Walnut Creek later on. We never got that far along our creek explorations. There were a lot of bike trails through the juniper in the area.
The following day we found ourselves at Pedernales Falls State Park and swimming in the Pedernales River. In the morning we crossed at Trammel’s Crossing and found a quiet spot downstream just a bit. There was luckily a shallow enough area nearshore that Forest could play in and Chris and I took turns going into the deeper parts to wade and test our luck against the current. I can’t wait until he’s big enough to tube and we can start tubing some of these Hill Country rivers! I haven’t been tubing since college!
Roadkill porcupine on US 290. We saw it on the way out there and made a note to stop on the way back for iNaturalist photos. It’s my first porcupine, even after hiking on the AT! The map of sightings on iNaturalist is interesting: heavy in the northeast/New England through the Great Lakes, up into the Canadian Rockies, down into the Cascades and Sierras, into the American Rockies, and then down into Texas, staying central to west Texas. Sightings in the Hill Country are almost as dense as New England. There are no sightings starting in the 98th meridian or thereabouts and then pretty much south of the Great Lakes and Mason Dixon, with a few exceptions on that border area. So, nothing really in that large broad mid-west/southeastern area. Which prompted me to wonder what they needed that that area didn’t provide. I just thought it was interesting to see that spatially.
Of course Forest fell asleep on the way to Cedar Valley to eat dinner after a day of swimming. We had planned to eat dinner at a pizza place called Pieous but we caught them on their summer break and were closed. Next door was Hat Creek Burger and thankfully it had a play area, even though for the first while Forest was too sleepy to play.
Crossing the Pedernales River at Hammett’s Crossing on our way to Westcave.
We’ve been to Westcave many times but it has been quite a while since we’ve visited. Forest might have been a baby when we went last. Due to the holiday weekend the place was very busy. Nearby and across the river is Hamilton Pool which is run by the county and now has a reservation system in place for visitors so it is nearly impossible to visit randomly during the summer. Because of this I think Westcave is getting some of this overflow but even they still have limited tours down to the grotto. This time we actually hiked in their uplands, which was really lovely and I’ll share those photos when I process them. The tour was a bit annoying because of the crowd size. We have been used to visiting when there are fewer people and the fact that it was a bit long winded on the education aspect, that’s only because we know most of the tidbits already. We just wanted to look at plants and take our time!
We found ourselves back at Pedernales Falls later that afternoon for a second day of swimming. This time when we were changing at the bathroom I found an interesting insect. When I put it into iNaturalist and did a little reading this turned out to be the Dobson fly, the adult to the hellgrammite larvae Chris had been finding in the river! Really cool to see it in both stages!
Hopefully I can get my act together and get my backlog of photos from spring until now processed and get some posts written before the end of August. We have some big plans for later this summer that will involve even more photos and writing so I’d like to not be constantly catching up!
A week ago or so Forest and I were headed out to daycare and work down the driveway and I startled one of the local barred owls out of the swamp chestnut oak. It swooped low over the car and floated onto the electric pole on the property line. I stopped and got my phone out to take a few photos to show Forest since he was situated in a position that he couldn’t see the owl.
Then, a few nights ago as I was working in the edible garden another owl (maybe the same owl) hooted from the woods down the way. It wasn’t terribly far as it was still rather loud. I answered its call and we continued a back and forth conversation for a few minutes until I got tired of hooting. Later I heard another owl further distant as dusk began falling.
I hope “we” (beyond our control, but ya know) can keep the patch of woods across the street so that the owls continue to have a safe place to escape and enjoy their own life.
I’ve come to enjoy seeing the oleander aphids in the garden when they colonize the milkweeds and their allies. Of course they also feast on oleanders themselves but I don’t have oleanders so I’ve never seen them colonize on an oleander but then next time I am near one planted in a landscape I’ll give it a look. Oleander aphids are parthenogenic, which means the females basically clone themselves (I’m simplifying here but if you want to delve deeper you can read more here. I did a few papers on parthenogenesis in college on tardigrades and parthenogenesis and found it fascinating!) and can be winged or wingless. It looks like most of the ones in my photos are wingless, though I think I see a few winged ones on the milkweed in the first photo.
The first photo is a milkweed, probably swamp milkweed, but the rest of the photos are from a Matelea gonocarpos, an anglepod vine, that is in the Asclepiadaceae family and naturally started growing in the garden. I’ve left it where it is and it either rambles along the ground or it finds plants to climb nearby as it has done this year. It’ll die back a bit in the winter and comes back gangbusters every year. We have a few other places in the yard that it also occurs along the fence line.
I don’t find oleander aphids to be that pesky of a problem, though if you get annoyed with them on your milkweeds just knock them off with water or you can smoosh them instead of spraying them with a chemical. Honestly, the peskier problem on my milkweed tend to be the milkweed beetle, Labidomera clivicollis. Even the large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus isn’t as problematic.
Lately the flower garden has taken a backseat to any work as I’ve been continuing to work in the edible garden on the soil solarization as well as other projects but a closer look through of the flower garden and some much needed attention is due so I’ll be inspecting just what is happening with the life there soon!
Foxglove season has come and gone, late April and early May was peak blooming around our garden. In those early days of the spring garden the tall flower spikes of the foxgloves were a welcome sight to see as all of the other plants were growing and working their way into filling in. It helps that the deer steer quite clear of the foxglove so we never have to worry about an impending bloom being eaten and coming home to a disappointing scene. The only downside to foxglove is their biennial nature but such is the way the garden goes—sometimes you have to be patient to wait for a tiny window of blooming beauty.
We’re out of foxglove seeds, other than what our plants may have produced. Time will tell if any new plants will germinate but in the meantime I need to order or buy some seeds to get sown for future blooms!
Instead of my usual ‘Life Lately’ posts I thought I’d go through and share photos I’ve taken, mostly from my phone, the last few months. I may not have been writing much here but there’s been quite a bit going on.
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Back in May I started working on removing several inches of dirt, mulch, debris, and weeds from the garden path in preparation for soil solarization. I had been out there working one afternoon on my lunch break and as I was about to leave I remembered I wanted to snap a photo of my work. After I turned around I noticed something flittering in the dirt and thought it was a bird at first, going after a worm or bug that I’d turned over. Turned out to be a bat! I have no idea where exactly it came from but we do have a small bat house on a pine tree on the east side of the garden. Whether it fell out and flew down or it fell out of another tree adjacent/above the west side of the garden, I do not know. I took some photos and videos and the bat continued its meager attempts to start flying. After that second video I went to look for a long stick so I could help it grab on and I could lift it higher onto a tree but when I returned I didn’t see the bat. Either it scurried up the tree faster than I imagined or it managed to take off from the ground, which isn’t something they usually do. It was an odd encounter!
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Mid-May brought a little flash flooding to the area. We ended up with some tornado warnings after everyone in the office had gone out to lunch to welcome a new person to the office and when we returned and went back to work for about 20 minutes, the downpour got stronger. And then we had water rushing across the parking lot and down into the creek below. Another coworker narrowly missed having his car flooded and/or flipped into the ravine area below and moved it just in time!
I was feeling particularly good about my hair and outfit this day! I don’t think it photographs very well but to me my hair was falling well and the shirt was new and well, new clothes make you feel nice usually, right?
Ignore all the junk in the carport—this deer. For those who haven’t been reading here for many years, we have four feral cats. That’s after having inherited about 15 when we moved in 2012. (TNR experience here and yes, I’m aware of the issues with feral cats.) So, with that, we feed the cats. Chris had fed the cats one morning and said that one of the deer had poked her head through the side of the carport and started helping herself to the cat food! We thought it was funny the first time or two but then she continued! I pushed the cat bowls further into the carport (they are usually behind the lawn mower and in a much easier place to sneak food) and saw that she didn’t care and tried to walk in. I scared her off before Forest and I went to work/school. Later, Chris moved them further in. I had thought maybe the situation was solved but one evening I went to feed them and saw her come around the building. She looked at me and continued to walk around and into the carport! I was at the door to the shed where we keep the food and she walked to the middle of the carport with the four cats sitting there around their bowls and I’m five feet away. After a quick look at me, she bellied up and started digging in! The audacity! I scared her off and moved the bowls further over and between a bunch of other stuff in the carport so she would really have to work for it.
My parents were here for a few days recently and my mom said our deer friend was still trying to scope the situation out but didn’t enter the carport! The last thing I need is a too friendly deer. Chris recently relocated a racoon that was becoming too friendly and I have no idea what you would do for a deer other than shoot it and I’d rather not go that route.
Chris was out of town last week in Pennsylvania so Forest and I entertained ourselves early in the week before my parents came down. On Tuesday we grabbed dinner and headed to Spring Creek Park. I’d thought maybe we’d head to Kleb Woods for a hike but Forest wanted a playground and a hike and Kleb Woods doesn’t have a playground. After Forest had his fill of playing we drove to the back of the park because I wanted to find Spring Creek and check it out. There wasn’t a direct trail but we did manage to find a clearing and climbed over some piles of debris and then down into the creek. It was rather peaceful down there and much more narrow in this section than further downstream at Burroughs Park.
Our anniversary was on the 14th and I had only recently heard about the Van Gogh exhibit at the MFAH and knew it was on the tail-end of its exhibition. We took the day off work and went to see the exhibit! I believe I have seen one or two Van Gogh’s at the Kimble in Fort Worth but it has been so long that I do not remember. It didn’t matter, this was a fantastic exhibit! It was very crowded and you had timed entries but once you were inside the main exhibit you could stay as long as you wanted. I really loved his sketches and studies, sometimes more than his paintings. There was a lot of emotion for me, I think, as he has always been one of my favorite artists. Of course, a Dr. Who episode, Vincent and The Doctor, came to mind when I looked at his portrait and later read more about his mental health deterioration in association with a few of his paintings and you can’t help but wish you had your own TARDIS to reach through time and show him what his work would become.
Plumeria seedlings! Our plumeria trees put on pods at the end of last summer and only finally ripened and opened in early May. A quick Google search gave me the low-down on how to sow them and now I have five seedlings out of quite a bit of seeds. I’m glad it is only five though, not sure what I would have done with 30 plumerias.
About half of the soil solarization work. I’m just now starting to remove the second half so when these are done in about a week I can move the plastic over to the new area. We’ll put fresh mulch down in the other area.
Beach read! I’ve had this on my shelf for years now and I finally cracked it open. Randy Wayne White has several series based on, well, Florida being Florida, in the same vein as Carl Hiaasen. This one took a bit to get started but once it got rolling I was hooked and read it rather quickly. A few things annoyed me, mostly in regards to places being labeled as near each other in the book but in reality are in completely different areas. I know this was done for plot but it drove me nuts.
The beach looks lovely here but what you don’t see is just how much microplastic was in the water! I couldn’t believe it. So many tiny pieces of all sorts of plastic. It made me sick. I’ve also been on a doom and gloom kick regarding plastic and climate change recently and this didn’t help.
In May I managed to get some field time in, including a couple of rides on an airboat! It’s been a long time since I’ve been on one and being in the marsh brought back a lot of memories. I just needed a Publix sub to complete the day!
And Forest proud of his alligator/dinosaur shoes! We had seen them at Target but they didn’t have his size. After scouting another Target and finding the size he’ll need in 6-9 months I told my mom to check out her Target. She found them and mailed them to him and he was so happy!
Well, that’s a synopsis of life these days. Bits and blurs…and summer is moving right on by.
I thought I’d dig through some photo archives to showcase some fabulous lepidopteran pollinators this week for National Pollinator Week. I originally had a couple of non-moth and butterfly pollinator friends but then realized that I’ve not had a great track record of taking photos of them over the years so there aren’t nearly as many. So, we’ll make it all about Order Lepidoptera today! Someone with more time on their hands would spend time giving a little information about them all but I’m doing good just getting this out! Here’s a small assortment of beautiful moths and butterflies!
Zebra swallowtail, Protographium marcellus – Central Florida. So, remember when I wrote about seeing a zebra swallowtail back at Huntsville State Park in March? And I knew that I’d likely seen one in Florida but couldn’t remember. Well, I gave myself a good chuckle when I went through my Flickr photos and found this! Yep, I saw them! I’m pretty stoked that it was a decent photo, too.
There were many more I could have incorporated and maybe I’ll do another separate post soon!
I forgot, I should include our attempt to get the ghost orchid pollination by the giant sphinx moth back in 2008. Several people have been attempting to get better video and photos for actual species identification the last couple of years and we suspect that it will happen soon due to the amount of people trying to get it done!
Spring monarch butterfly season is now several months in the past but I thought I’d take some time to write about how it went overall. This season I opted not to use the tent mostly because I didn’t have a lot of tropical milkweed left from winter and by the time the monarchs started flitting through here we didn’t have a lot of new growth due to a late freeze in March. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop two females from egg bombing what milkweed I did have and I had somewhere between 40-50 eggs when I counted.
I started the season attempting to be hands off. Most of the milkweed I had was in pots from cuttings I’d begun rooting back in the summer and fall last year. There was a smidgen left in the garden but not enough to feed a bunch of tiny baby caterpillars. Around the corner in the empty lot where a lot of the green milkweed grows, I’d been checking frequently for any signs of milkweed emerging. Finally it seemed as if the lot went from no milkweed to full stems of it in about a week. Right on time! Just as the tropical milkweed was basically devoured down to stems I had a flush of green milkweed available.
This meant once to twice daily stops to the milkweed field to take cuttings. I started off by putting the milkweed in my floral tubes because the caterpillars were not as voracious but after a few days I started just sticking the cuttings straight into the pots because they would be eaten within hours. In all this time the caterpillars and milkweed were still contained to pots in a small section of the garden near the potting bench. It was accessible and I didn’t need to clean the cage! Sure, it was open to predators but I wasn’t going to worry about that in the beginning just because I knew I didn’t have much milkweed to feed them all.
Finally they started pupating. One by one they wandered off and I managed to keep track of many of them. Some went to the cypress trees Chris is growing out, others crawled across the path and onto the house or into other areas of the garden. I’d catch a glimpse of one in a J or even a chrysalis as I’d walk by the garden—they are sneaky—Forest even found two for me that were hiding out on empty pots under the potting bench! Because we were going to have the house painted in early April I kept an eye out for some of them that may not have emerged before the house painting but luckily we got through all of the eclosing before that became a worry. Though, I did end up moving a few who went to some poorly planned places like the lip of a trash can on the porch and some that were on the edge of Chris’ air compressor and some other odd items on the porch. I tied them up with floss onto the brugmansia above where the milkweed pots were.
Now we are several months out and the monarchs are mostly up in the northern part of the US and southern Canada now. I haven’t seen a monarch in weeks—I even looked at the butterfly garden at the zoo last weekend which is where I would normally see one year-round if I was going to. I haven’t seen any gulf frittilaries yet, though there is an abundance of other butterflies. Dragging my camera out to take photos hasn’t been something I’ve thought about doing the last few weeks so I’ll need to think about doing some butterfly stalking soon.
If you’ve got 17 minutes today, hit play and watch.
I have a lot of thoughts about this that I’ll have to expand on another day so I’ll leave it at this.
Right after we moved into our house we planted trees for our niece and nephew, Zoe & Grayson. I’ve taken photos with them over the years though we hadn’t done one in a while so when everyone was here for Memorial Day weekend I had them go out and take photos. They are growing up so fast—the trees and the kids!
Zoe is heading for sixth grade and middle school this coming year and Grayson is going to third grade! Time flies! My own kiddo will be 5 soon and thank goodness he gets one more year before heading to kindergarten.