Hope “Springs” Anew

by Sue Ann Kendall

I’d really hoped something good would come out of those horrible winter storms we had last month. When I read the extent of the damage, as reported by Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, my heart sank.

The 11-day cold spell (10-20 February) in Texas was a disaster. Freezing temperatures covered the state and extended well into Northern Mexico. While many of the immediate effects of the freeze are clear, season long and multiple year effects may linger. The damage to the flora was extraordinary, and it is likely that nearly all above ground insects died over a wide area. Plants already in flower may have been so damaged as to not flower this year.

I immediately went out to look for the kinds of plants that the iNaturalist project that’s tracking the damage is looking for. It’s a work day, so I only had a half hour, but still I managed to find bees, butterflies, and some relevant plants. I’ll look for more this week and this weekend.

My husband and I had noticed a wet spot that we hadn’t seen before. It remained wet when the snow fell, which seemed odd. So, we went to check it out. It is near our arroyo, which has a number of springy areas (more this year than since we moved here) and a stream that runs into Walker’s Creek. We’ve never been able to spot the source of any of the springs other than one in our woods, which we can see coming from between two soil layers on a slope.

The spring that made this little pond is up that slope somewhere.

I have to say I made a bit of a fool of myself as I walked over there and heard bubbling sounds. I was ecstatic to find a hole about five inches wide, from which clear water was emerging, along with some bubbles. It wasn’t seeping, either, it was flowing pretty briskly. I’d finally found the source of a spring!

That shiny stuff is water!

Brief Aside

(Why was I so ecstatic, you ask? I have just loved springs my whole life. I was born and raised in north Florida, a place just chock full of springs, artesian wells, sinkholes, rivers, and lakes. The water level at my childhood home in Gainesville was so high that my dad had to be careful digging holes for trees, or he’d lose a shovel.

My happiest memories are of swimming in cold, spring-fed lakes or the springs in rivers, such as Fanning Springs, on the Suwannee River, on the way to where mom spent much of her childhood.

This photo of Fanning Springs, from Florida Spring Life, looks exactly like this spring did when I was young. You can see straight to the bottom of the spring area. In the distance is the river.

My mother’s family came from Green Cove Springs, Florida, a place that started out as a resort where people came to bathe in water from a deep, deep sulphur spring. My relatives lived right down the street from the spring (411 Spring Street!), so we often went to marvel at how deep the spring was, and to look at the little fish that lived in the short waterway that took the spring water to the St. Johns River. Once a naturalist, always a naturalist.)

Back to the Hermits’ Rest Ranch Spring

My semi-educated guess is that the reasonable amounts of rainfall for the past 2-3 years got at least three of the old springs on our property back up and running. And the water sinking in after the three winter storms, with all the ice and snow, allowed a new one to pop up. Maybe it was started in a mouse or rabbit hole, or maybe the extremely busy armadillos on our property helped.

Here you can watch it bubble, and see where the spring leads.

I get to dreaming that I can put some rocks over there and make a small dam to capture some spring water before it heads off to the stream in our arroyo. I don’t want to obstruct it, just briefly delay it.

My attempt at showing where the spring starts, where the water goes, and where it ends up.

But, who knows how long we will have a little spring to enjoy? My dogs love it, the red-wing blackbirds are playing in the wet area it’s made, and I even saw a merlin watching the meadowlarks and other birds. It’s like a buffet for that little guy!

Carlton says spring water is tasty. This is just before it falls into a depression and into the stream that goes to Walker’s Creek.
I wish I could have gotten a photo when the geese were closer! They were easily identified by their black wing tips and all the honking.

By the way, I’ve been hearing sandhill cranes all week, and some landed at Pamela’s place. And more surprisingly, a flock of snow geese flew right over me earlier in the week, honking away. I am in such awe that I forget to take pictures at such times.

Oh, and it looks like some frogs and turtles are still in our ponds, and I’ve seen signs of living crawfish (plus a dead one). Nature will persevere!

California Dreaming

by Donna Lewis

I was just going to show the monthly progress of my pollinator garden when the artic blast occurred. It was horrible. One of the things I dislike the most is COLD weather!  It ruined the garden progress, along with our water well.

The damage to our wildlife friends was severe. Many birds did not make it through the freezing temperatures. That was very sad for me. I put out ten times the bird seed that I normally use. I hope it helped some of the birds make it through. Nature can be swift and harsh when it wants to, then forgiving and magical the very next day. 

I guess it’s my age, but I always think of certain songs that seem to fit the moment and the mood. When the cold weather was on its third day or so, my mind went to “California Dreaming on such a winter’s day… ”   Then when the cold was fading away I thought of John Lennon’s  “Here comes the sun.”

Here are a few photos taken during the event.

I hope the photos I take next month are more cheerful.

Do what you can do, where you are.

What Can Survive Unscathed 200+ Hours of Freezing Temps in Texas?

by Carolyn Henderson

As I perused the damage to my live oaks, palm tree, shrubs, flowers, etc., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, I noticed that plenty of things were green and perky and flowering in some cases. This was less than two full days after the record breaking Great Freeze of 2021. I began documenting what wasn’t damaged by the horrible weather.

I documented Henbit Deadnettle (love to know where that name originated) in bloom and profuse. I found Annual Grass-Meadow, Common Chickweed in bloom, Red-seeded Dandelion in bloom, Common Cat’s Ear, and Asiatic Jasmine (which has now proven to be resistant to any type of attempt to remove it). There were others. What is amazing is that they suffered no damage in the snow/ice/freeze. They immediately perked right back up. Everything was not so lucky.

What is looking particularly harmed that surprises me is Texas Purple Sage and Prickly Pear Cactus. The leaves are shedding in mass off my Texas Sage – a favorite of butterflies and bees, and I found cactus that looks melted. The Texas Ag Extension Service advises to leave them all alone, don’t even prune, because it is believed many will come back given time and patience. 

Sad prickly pears

I’m going to go out and sing to my Texas Sage every day to encourage it’s return. Let’s hope it has a tin ear. 

P.S. In an aside, there is a picture of three Cedar Waxwings with their faces pointed toward the sun on Saturday. They seemed to be just taking it in. The chain saw cutting broken branches right below them, did not bother them. 

The happy cedar waxwings
Such beautiful birds!

The Friendly Pine Siskins

by Larry Kocian

With all the snow that has fallen on a wide area of the region, it’s understandable that our wildlife does turn to us for their sustainable needs, like food, shelter, water. The birds are one such animal that look towards our gardens, birdbaths, bird feeders for nourishment and shelter.

One example I am sharing with everyone is one that surprised me and gave me great excitement.  I got the family outside to experience this rare act of trust and absolute need between Nature and humans.  

The star of this report!

Early Monday morning (February 15), around 7 am, I ventured outside to tend to our domestic animals, to make sure food and water were available and to check on their wellbeing. The temperature was 7F and the wind chill of negative 20. Being outside was difficult and dangerous for prolonged periods of time. After caring for the dogs and cats’ needs, it was time to go to the feeders, after a warmup break inside.

As I approached the feeders, there were many species of birds, more than usual.  I store my bird seed in a small, metal trash can.  I set the can down by the feeders to fill them.  Right away I noticed this particular species of bird that did not fly away.  I was in aww and I thought what if I hold my hand out with feed so I could get the opportunity to feed a wild bird with my hands. This became a reality.  Immediately, the birds flew to my hand, appearing not to fear me. I wondered if they knew me well enough that they trust me or are they that hungry due to the 8.6 inches of snow that fell overnight with blizzard-like conditions.  I believe that it is both.  

Here come the birds!

Throughout the year, I supply food, water, and shelter for many species of birds, both native and migratory. It is very exciting and fulfilling to be a part of their lives.

Wonder!

I videoed the excitement right away, capturing the moments where these birds came to me for food. At first, I thought these birds were some type of Warbler, as there were Warblers in the mix of the many species present. I learned later that these birds are Pine Siskins. After further research,  I learned that every couple of years, Pine Siskins make unpredictable movements into southern and eastern North America.

Friendly bird

I got my kids and wife to go outside and try to feed these birds and the excitement grew.  We have been feeding them in this manner for two days now.  What a great opportunity to have the chance to let a bird land on you, fearless, and feed out of your hand.

Visiting Birds during the Snow and Cold Event:

Pine Siskins
Sparrows
Cardinals 
Warblers
Purple Finches 
Silver Waxwings 
Robins 
Bluejays 
Mockingbirds 
Grackles
Mourning Doves
White-wing Doves
Woodpeckers
Tufted Titmouse
Chickadees
Carolina Warblers
Starlings
Brown headed Cowbird