Reaching back into late February with this post to go with a couple of others I wrote about our hike at the REL Sandyland Sanctuary. I actually had to look it up because I was unsure of who Mr. Larsen was, and it turns out he was an executive with Time, Inc. and as a conservationist later in life he organized the Nantucket Conservation Fund and joined the board of The Nature Conservancy, who later dedicated this tract of land to him when it became a sanctuary.
I imagine it is a much different scenario out there at the sanctuary this time around. I had hoped to possibly visit it again when I was in Lumberton and Silsbee on Friday to get my second COVID vaccine but I had too much to do at work and needed to get back to the office for the afternoon. And being that it is a 2+ hour drive each way, I didn’t have much time to dally, though I did pop into the Southern Gardens nursery in Silsbee to look for a couple of plants.
I’ve begun to really love bulbous cress. It is an early spring bloomer and is an underrated spring ephemeral wildflower in our area. Of course you have to be in some more mesic or wetter areas to see it but it is a delight.
This particular species are only active in early to mid spring when the vacciniums are blooming and are considered to be one of the most efficient blueberry pollinator species. There’s a lot more great information here if you’d like to read more. A really cool niche species!
I am hoping we can trek over to SE Texas again this spring to catch some plants we didn’t see last year during our late spring/early summer visits.
It’s back to the grind for us this week, but last week Chris, Forest, and I checked out of state and drove to Arkansas to spend the week in a cute AirBnB cabin on the SE edge of the Ozark National Forest. Between cooler weather and the state of Arkansas not being on their spring break, it was fairly quiet for us on the trails except in a few areas. We could see that ramping up as we left our cabin on Saturday, the start of a glorious weekend meant an influx of ORVs, and canoes and kayaks being driven into the Ozarks as we passed heading south to I-40.
We hiked, we waterfalled, we did some rock scrambling and bushwhacking, put some out and back miles onto the Ozark Highlands Trail (and now I want to hike it!), did some relaxing on the front porch while reading and playing games, and overall enjoyed having very little cell signal. We even got to meet Old Man Winter once again on Thursday when we briefly saw snow at higher elevations in the mountains. Thankfully it only stuck around briefly but it was a very cold day for us, though we did explore one of the cooler sets of waterfalls we visited in the Boen Gulf area of the NF that day.
And between when we arrived and when we left, many of the spring ephemerals were beginning to open. I managed to nab a few Life List goals because of this and left very happy with our botanical finds. Chris did some salamander searching and I think Forest only wished it was summer so he could have splashed in all of the pools of water at the base of the falls.
The return was a bit somber because we had an inkling one of our last two remaining feral cats might have died after Chris saw a loose dog on our property via our outdoor cameras, and the cat never showed back up on camera later in the week. Sure enough, we found Ruby dead on the garden path not far from the front door. Little Callie has been mourning her and I’m more than a little worried for LC now that she doesn’t have an outside companion.
So, we are easing back into life. I’m looking forward to my second COVID shot later this week and Chris will likely find out if he received the placebo shot this week as J&J is telling trial participants now and will vaccinate them if they didn’t get the shot the first time. And of course, spring is in full swing here and I’ve got a garden to get working in.
Hope all is well out there with my readers in Blog Land!
Coming out of the stupor of winter has been cathartic. February was a mess but even in February I felt a shift in life. Getting my first vaccine shot amplified that shift but the return to blooming plants and insects flying about has really set in motion this feeling of life switching again. Being able to witness the evolution of spring in the yard has been delightful this year for so many reasons. It is always something I enjoy but I think February just wore me down that everything in nature is a marvel.
I was heading out to the edible garden on a walkabout with Forest last weekend when I noticed a fluttering shadow as I looked down on the driveway, just as we were passing the Chickasaw plum. It was a butterfly, so I looked up trying to find it and expected it to be flying directly overhead. Instead I found it nectaring on the plum alongside various bees and after a couple of photos with my phone ran inside to grab my camera. I don’t often see question marks around our yard so this was a thrill I wanted the good camera to document. And, I actually did run inside. Chris was just coming outside and looked at my oddly as I bolted up the drive way but all I had to do was mutter “butterfly!” and he understood.
The Chickasaw blooms are already starting to fade and I can only hope we finally get a crop of plums this year. But only time will tell on that. And soon other trees will begin blooming and new nectar sources will abound.
Finally we are entering into front porch moth season once again, that time of year when I leave the house in the morning there may be a couple of moths to be found resting on the side of the house. We’ve had a few friends visit over the last week and so I thought I would start a new series here on the blog, Front Porch Moths!
The first and more unique looking species is the Hubner’s Pero, which is relatively uncommon in this part of the US and is much more widespread in the mid-Atlantic region. Host plants include Alnus sp., Shepherdia canadensis, Prunus serotina and Salix species.
This tiny moth is relatively widespread throughout the eastern US but still, there’s not a ton of sightings on iNaturalist but enough to get a good idea on its range. I was having trouble figuring out its host plant and was going to say “Go with oaks!” because that’s the most common option and sure enough, I finally found a citation stating various oak species!
This particular species is fairly common here in Texas with occurrences wide spread throughout the greater south. Larval hosts seem to range from apples to oaks and Bug Guide even suggests various woody plants may be hosts. That is generally the theme with some of these moths because they are so under studied and many have multiple host plants.
Celery Leaftier Moth, Udea rubigalis
This snouty moth, as the name suggest, has larval host plants in your edible garden. They like your celery and brassicas and other similar plants. This particular species is very widespread and there’s a good chance you’ve seen this one before and not known what it was.
Stay tuned for more moths this spring and summer!
These days I almost always just keep the 75-300mm lens on my camera when out for a hike. Any time I use a normal lens I’m always sad because I can’t get a good photo of a butterfly or an insect and I would prefer the ability to get a good wildlife shot than a landscape shot for now. So, of course, that was the lens I had on me during our hike two weekends at the Sandyland Sanctuary. While it wasn’t quite a lepidopteran extravaganza it was fairly eventful and exciting outing!
The first find was this moth which I believe to be a Ruined Chocolate, Argyrostrotis deleta. My field guide has its range from Florida and along the coast into eastern Louisiana which mostly matches up with sightings in iNaturalist. However, there are a tiny handful of other east Texas sightings so I feel a bit more confident saying this is what it is, but I’m not for certain. I loved the rusty chocolate colorings on it and wish I’d taken a better photo.
I’m slowly getting better at telling the duskywings apart in the field but it always takes some verification when I get back home to make sure I’m right. Not long after this, I tried chasing another butterfly off into the brush but had no luck getting a photo. I finally realized what it was, a goatweed leafwing, after I emerged from the brush.
Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor, nectaring on the bulbous cardamine in the bottomlands. The cardamine was by far the most common plant providing nectar out there that weekend though a few more plants have surely started blooming since then.
Of course the highlight was the zebra swallowtails, of which this was the only one I managed to get a photo off. I also had to stalk this one off into the brush while it nectared for me to get a photo. The others we saw were too busy flying in search of nectar for me to even contemplate getting a photo.
I’d like to thank this black swallowtail for throwing me off. I really thought it was a different species of swallowtail but nope, “just” a black swallowtail. And I don’t say “just” pejoratively, I do like these butterflies, too, but they have a habit of tricking me into thinking they are something else! Or maybe I just need to be better about differentiating some of the similar species in the field!
All in all, it was a good beginning of the butterfly season hike for me and I’m just itching to see more of my lepidopteran friends in the coming months!
Yesterday we drove over to the Beaumont area, Lumbertson and Silsbee to be more precise, because I found a COVID-19 vaccine appointment over there earlier this week. Among our state’s list for current requirements in 1A and 1B is a BMI of more than 30. I had known this for a few weeks but vaccine distribution was far harder to find in January and February but some of the lists I had signed us up for in January were finally starting to have some movement but most didn’t have appointments by the time I saw emails or were still in the stage of, ok you are good to move forward but we will let you know when there are appointments. Earlier this week I signed up for a few more health departments in other counties a bit further away and the Beaumont area SETROC sent an email rather quickly to say if you qualified you could sign up for appointments. And did they have appointments! I couldn’t believe they weren’t completely gone—some days were filled but there were plenty of time frames to choose from. I couldn’t believe it! My BMI is barely over, 31, but it meant I fell into the category. Chris also fell into the category but he decided to hold off since he’s still in the Johnson and Johnson two-shot trial and hasn’t received his second shot yet (and we don’t know if he has a vaccine or placebo). But I wanted to seize the opportunity especially since we were just sick with maybe COVID, maybe not, since Chris and I never tested positive.
We drove over very early yesterday morning and the whole process was very fast, about 45 minutes since I was in the first appointment group of the day and a line was already forming when we got there. By the time I left there was barely any line and it would probably be a quick 20-30 minutes for anyone else coming later. My arm is a little sore today but no different than any other vaccine. I have to return on March 26th for the second shot.
Afterwards, I wanted to go to the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary, somewhere we haven’t been to since mid-February 2016! Forest was only 1.5 and still fit comfortably in the backpack carrier. I almost melted looking back at some of the photos from that trip and how tiny he was! And here he was now 6 walking the trails himself! I wasn’t sure if he would end up on the bottomland trail or not but we ended up traveling down it and I remembered the very large bald cypress tree that is somewhere midway through the trail. Sure enough, we came across it again and took a few more photos, this time exploring the back side of the tree and found it was hollowed out! The bottomland trail was much better this time around as last time Chris and I had to do some bushwhacking and lost the trail several times due to poor blazing and downed trees.
I’ll do a better post about everything we saw soon, but it was an excellent butterfly day! I wasn’t sure who would be flying but my day was made by seeing maybe a dozen or so zebra swallowtails! There were other butterflies of course, but I was very satisfied with the zebras! Not a lot was in blooms, mostly violets and some tinier flowers like bluets, but in the bottomlands the bulbous cress (Cardamine bulbosa) was ample and seemed to be the main source of nectar for any pollinators out at the time.
The hike was a great cap off to getting the vaccine. So, moral of the story: if you are a little fluffy and overweight, check your BMI! Some states are more strict with their guidelines right now so it may be a higher BMI number for you (I’ve seen 40 in some instances) but if you fit the 30 and over BMI and are in Texas, start getting on some vaccine lists. Here’s the Texas GIS Map of who does and doesn’t have vaccines and who you can get on with a registry if they have one. I was able to help a friend who also fell into the BMI category get one with SETROC as well. My parents managed to get their vaccine yesterday, too, but had to drive to NE Texas to get it because their county has been miserable at facilitating the vaccine for residents. One step down towards getting out of this pandemic!
Looking back at these photos from November feels like a lifetime ago. For one, it feels like nature was still abundant even if it was fall. There were butterflies and moths we saw during that Thanksgiving week we were camping—flowers blooming, nature was nature-ing. And now that we’re in this post-freeze haze and hurtling towards spring, I know growth is around the corner. But seeing these photos makes me happy. We’re going to go through the cycle once again.
The Painted Bunting Trail is 2.8 miles and divided by the park road which allows you to park at one of two parking lots and allows you to make the complete loop or ditch and walk the road back to your parking lot as necessary.
It was a gorgeous golden afternoon when we hiked and as we slowly descended down the hill there were amber and honey grasses leading the way. There was quite a bit of native grasses such as this little bluestem but I also came to realize that a good portion of it was the non-native and invasive King Ranch bluestem. What a disappointment!
This is probably one of the busier loops in the park aside from the river trails due to the parking lot access ease. There are a couple of other trails that I will share soon that aren’t as accessed but you can guarantee they will still be fairly busy during peak usage times at the park.
This is mostly a photographic post and a write-up at the end. These photos start Sunday afternoon February 14th and end February 19th. All of the snow was basically gone by Saturday and a few chunks of ice that had fallen off the roof and into the flower beds were gone on Sunday.
The two photos above were taken about 3:30 am when I got up to see if it was snowing. The glowing in the background of the second photo is a heat lamp on our lemon tree. We had a similar set up on the three citrus in the backyard.
What a whirlwind last week was. I think back to waking up about 1:30am on Monday February 15th after some sleet started pelting the windows and thinking that there had better snow at some point! We had missed the snow back in January and that certainly would have been better timing phenology wise. After looking outside and not seeing snow, I got on to Weather Underground and saw that the storm was entering into the Brazos Valley—we were next and it was certainly coming. Chris was still skeptical as he rolled back over to sleep. I mean, how many times do we get told something is going to happen in regards to snow, especially here on the fringes of Houston where we live—we are just far enough north to almost get weather events but we often fall into the Houston heat sink and then the weather changes. But at 3:30am when I woke up, the snow was falling heavily and I was amazed at how much the landscape had changed in two hours.
And of course somewhere around 4:30am the power went out and didn’t come back on until 3:45pm on Tuesday, and then it was only temporary as we had rolling blackouts after a few hours of the power returning. Finally, the power stayed on permanently around 9:45am on Wednesday. I’ll just say this, I’ll take a hurricane power outage over a deep freeze power outage. It isn’t like a hurricane power outage doesn’t come without its own issues—it is hot and sticky and things are a disaster but the pipes don’t freeze (ok, you may not have a house with pipes after a hurricane, so there’s that!) and you don’t have to wear four layers of clothes in your own house and three blankets to sit on top of you while you are at it. It’s miserable all around.
I mean, we certainly made the best out of it and had fun while we could. Forest didn’t particularly enjoy being cold so we didn’t spend a lot of time outside the first day. It was sunnier on Tuesday and we bundled him up in as many layers as possible and tried to keep him appeased so we could throw snowballs and walk around the neighborhood to see how everything was faring. The cell power outage was probably one of the most frustrating aspects until we figured out that we could power our internet router with the generator once we got that up and going. Phone calls went through which is how I managed to contact my parents initially, not long after their power went out (and stayed out until late Thursday afternoon). Texts were torturous to send and receive. More often than not a red undeliverable signal would come back, and forget even trying to send photos—even after we got the wifi up, sending photos was not going to happen over a text. Those bounced constantly. Without the cell service we couldn’t find out how bad the power outages were, much less what was happening in the rest of the state. Finally, with the wifi we could see the devastation across the state—the beautiful snow coverage but the terrible human toll it was going to have on folks.
One thing we realized and something we’ve kind of pondered before, is that we need a generator to power our well. At first we thought about getting a second generator for it because it has a different voltage system than our current generator but I think we may just upgrade a bit so we can handle the well and household appliances. And it isn’t like we would need to be running the generator constantly during a summer event because the pipes wouldn’t freeze then, but it would certainly be handy in these extreme temperatures again. A few years ago it got to 19* and we had a minor issue that Chris managed to unfreeze on the well itself but hopefully with our new well-house that brief low point wouldn’t be as big of an issue as several days with temperatures in single digits and the teens.
I think at some point in the near future I will work on an emergency preparedness post because I think a lot of folks didn’t really think anything was going to happen with this storm. And there were plenty of people who managed to have power on the entire time only to end up with a boil water notice later and they didn’t have any kind of stockpile of good water from when they had the chance.
A week later and grocery stores are still trying to recover. Chris did the first grocery store run once things were a bit back to normal and that was still a few days after the power was on fully. We read plenty of stories on NextDoor of how bad the grocery stores were in regards to perishable items. But even a few days later Chris said it was even worse than the early pandemic days. I went to one store on Sunday and even they didn’t have any bread yet and water was still sparse as not all public water systems are totally back on line yet. I popped back into that store again mid-week and there were a few rows of white bread but if you needed anything fancier you were out of luck.
The snow was fun, the power outage not so much. And after reading how we were 4 minutes and 37 seconds from complete grid collapse—well, I’m really glad we aren’t sitting in that disaster right now.
By this last weekend we were back to our more seasonable 60s and 70s and even the low 80s for some parts of the state. I was in my garden earlier this week pulling some weeds and felt the heat beating down on me and knew that we weren’t but maybe six weeks from seeing our first 90* day. That’s Texas for you.
PS: Abbott and Cruz have to go the earliest chance we get. Cornyn does too but he was just re-elected and we’ve got six more years with him, unfortunately. At the same time, the we’ve got to flip the state house as well. So, remember this next election season.
I have a bazillion phone photos and eventually, when I edit them, photos taken with my camera. In the spirit of actually posting in some kind of real time perspective instead of months later, I’m just going to share the phone photos now. I’ll break up the flower garden and general snow photos into other posts this week.
This was the edible garden on the morning of February 15th when I finally bundled up enough to venture outside. It was already very cold inside and the temperature was dropping rapidly there. It looked rather peaceful out in the garden and certainly better than having 2-3′ of water topping it as it has in the past.
On the 17th I made it back out as we were starting to thaw with temperatures rising into the 20s, plus we had had some sun on Tuesday that really helped work on melting some of the snow in the sunnier areas of the yard.
Finally on Thursday the 18th I felt like I could confidently uncover a couple of things and take a gander at the damage. It was in the mid 30s for a high that day. I found the pot off of this calendula and I’m fairly certain this plant is a goner. I covered it back up anyway because on some plants I’m just not sure what will or won’t come back. This kind of weather is new territory for us.
On the other hand, the mustard and Chinese cabbage I left uncovered was a pile of mush. I didn’t have enough blankets to cover or pots big enough to deal with them and I knew they were a lot more susceptible to the cold than the other brassicas. Many were already bolting and I didn’t feel like trying to baby them. So long, mustards! See you next fall!
The red giant mustard, which just a week ago was look beautiful in its burgundy hues, flattened on the ground. I think some of the centers could pull through but I was already fighting aphids on them and am just fine with this bed being emptied.
The carrots are to be determined. Their tops were burned considerably and I’m unsure if the roots themselves are going to be mush or not. I may just harvest whatever is there and we can eat on them in the coming weeks.
I was delighted to find that the strawberries looked unphased completely by the snow. I put two sheets down on the main section of them and as you see missed a couple of plants that were off to the side. When I finally pulled the sheets of the strawberries yesterday they looked fine, though any flowers that were there last weekend are gone and I’m unsure of the early fruits that were beginning. But we have plenty of time for more flowering so this will be good!
So, that’s the update out there for now. I am going to remove all of the pots here in just a bit and drag in sheets and towels to start loads of laundry. I’ll work on removing some of the sloppy mush from the plants that are definitely toast but will hold off a bit on other plants until I can see what their fate may hold. It will be wait and see, especially in the flower garden, for a while.
The snow was fun, but I would have appreciated it a lot more in January when everything was still dormant! Now, I’m ready for spring!
One bright spot this week was seeing all of the little birds floofed up in their winter plumage. Some would pop into our porch to take a break from the wind, giving us a closer look at how fluffy they looked! And being that it was so cold, they weren’t intent on flying away so quickly, which meant even if we encountered them in the yard they hung around a lot longer than they usually would. Many were looking for food and unfortunately couldn’t find a whole lot. Though, the cedar waxwings managed to find our one Carolina cherry laurel that had fruit on it. I noticed the cedar waxwings after I walked out to put something into the recycling bin and saw the flock fluttering among the branches of the tree. I paused and realized they were cedar waxwings, a species I don’t notice in our yard often. They were spooked a bit by me being nearby so they moved behind the tree to a dormant hickory to perch for a few minutes, taking turns moving back and forth between each of the trees. I went back out yesterday to try to find them after Chris mentioned seeing them again but had no luck. I was hoping for better photos. I may try again today since it will warm up to the tropical temperatures of the low 40s at some point and the sun is shining. The 70s are returning next week and with it better be spring.