Belly Botany at Orchard Park

by Linda Jo Conn

John Pruett, Connie Anderle, Ann Collins and I joined forces at Orchard Park in Cameron for a nature survey.  Eric Neubauer arrived at the city park earlier to look for spiders and at the aerated pond and was leaving as we arrived.  The park with its old pecan trees is neatly mowed.  The paved walkway around the park was used by walkers and joggers during our visit.  Several bordered rose beds, wildscape areas, and a huge purple martin house installed in the past are apparently not maintained as intended, but I envisioned a person or small group with the time, energy, and desire to add to the beauty and utility of the park volunteering their efforts here.

Purple martin house at the park

I was disappointed to learn that the Cameron City Manager is leaving for another position.  During a conversation I had with him regarding the Great Texas Wildlife Trails Adopt A Loop Project, I was impressed with his vision and plans to incorporate more natural areas into the landscapes of the city parks.    

Strolling around the park “at the speed of botany,” we did some “belly botany.”  Most of the plants in bloom were below the height of the mower blades. One remarkable observation was the abundance of white widow’s tears (Commelina erecta).  I observed only one blue dayflower during the visit. We were pleased to see straggler daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis) and turkey trot frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) carpeting the park. Wing pod purslane (Portulaca umbraticola) was in bloom and the tiny delicate flowers of erect spiderling (Boerhavia erecta) required a closer look. 

Among the animals observed was a fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) checking out the future pecan crop and several crayfish mounds (Cambaridae family).  While Connie was trying to point out some rice stink bugs (Oebalus pugnax) she had spotted, my eyes focused instead on a tiny sharpshooter (Draeculacephala sp.) on a blade of grass.  

As a destination for your daily walk or to just sit and relax in the shade of the pecan trees, Orchard Park on East 6th street across the railroad tracks from the Cameron Yards is a place to go.

Araneae, Odonata, and Anura at Apache Pass

by Linda Jo Conn

Eric Neubauer and I joined forces Wednesday, July 7, to investigate the diversity of wildlife at the Apache Pass Event Center on the San Gabriel River, a unique location on the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail and a stop on the Brazos Loop of the Great Texas Wildlife Trail promoted by Texas Parks and Wildlife. 

Damselfly

The mowed, fertilized and herbicided open areas of the privately owned location did not hold a lot of appeal for exploration, especially since the Bermuda grass was dripping wet from morning dew.  The peripheral areas along trees and fence lines were the more interesting locations for plants and listening to bird songs. 

A frog!

A gravel bar beside the flowing river was the high point of the visit.  It was teeming with spiders, damselflies and small frogs.  A naturalist’s paradise!

Eric with the “spider scoop” (a white plastic storage container)

Eric brought his awesomely simple spider scoop which made the photography and inspection of spiders a snap as well as his advanced (compared to my point-shoot-and hope) camera and his vast knowledge of spider identification.  As usual, the adventure was a learning experience for me.

One of Eric’s spiders.

The number of colorful damselflies we observed was incredible, as well as the many tiny frogs and toads Eric was also able to spot and point out.  I am certainly looking forward to another visit when the river is flowing at a slower rate.  If you decide to drive over that way yourself, be sure to visit the gravel bar along the river.  And visit iNaturalist.org for the day’s observations by eanuebauer and connlindajo

Blue Birds Hitting Window Panes

by Donna Lewis

The second week of May brought an issue up at my house that I have not had before.  Blue birds hitting my windows trying to catch insects. I was worried they would hurt their beaks and my window panes.

I tried putting objects in front of the window, placing furniture inside of the house that showed thru, decals made just for this purpose and just waiting outside to scare the birds away. All with no luck.   The pounding went on all day.

Then Linda remembered that we had saved some plastic construction fencing from when our house was built.   Strong and lightweight. So we put some up around the house and it worked.

Bird Proofed!

I don’t know what was different this year that caused the birds to do this, I just hope it doesn’t happen again.

Shutting that one blind helped, too.

Belly Hunting

by Carolyn Henderson

“Belly Hunting” for teeny, tiny flowers is hard on the leg muscles. On Sunday, I went to Wilson Ledbetter Park to take pictures to post to the Great Texas Wildlife Trails (GTWT) Adopt-a-Loop project in iNaturalist. It was a follow-up to pictures posted in February before the Great Freeze of 2021. I discovered that the park is covered in teeny, tiny flowers, and plenty of larger one, too. 

Field madder

If you attended the March meeting of ECRMN, you remember that Monique Reed, retired Botanist for the state, called it belly hunting because it requires getting down on their level which is really low. I opted for a lot of squatting trying to stay out of the way of the ants. 

Common stork’s bill

Some of the teeny flowers I encountered were Field Madder, Common Stork’s-bill (very pretty flower), Bird’s-eye Speedwell in abundance, Black Medick, Scarlet Pimpernel, and Carolina Crane’s-bill. It isn’t difficult to find them because they are currently abundant in Wilson Ledbetter Park. I have included pictures of these flowers.  Often, I came across patches with five or six of these in a space about the size of a square yard. I didn’t see any bees out there, which is a little worrisome, but there were several types of butterflies, flies and ants. 

Scarlet pimpernel

I also recorded the larger flowers – which don’t require frequent squatting. I challenge you to locate Grape Hyacinth, Texas Baby Blue Eyes (some of these are twice the normal size that I’ve always found), Poppy “Winecup” Mallow, Cretanweed (they have darkened lines at the edges of the petals but look similar to dandelions), two different types of Blue-eyed Grass, Fine-leaf Fournerved Daisy, Floating Primrose Willow, and Canadian Meadow Garlic. Here’s a hint: the last two are located near/in the lake/pond. Some are on the fence by the cemetery. 

Bird’s-eye speedwell

If you’re active in iNaturalist, they’re easy to get identified. If you’re not, you can sign up. It’s free. Enjoy a walk in the park surrounded by many types of flowers, birds and butterflies. I will buy lunch for the first person to find all those flowers at Wilson Ledbetter who posts the pictures in a blog here. I am not liable for any bee stings – in case they show up. 

Carolina crane’s bill

Happy belly hunting.

Black meddick, not to be confused with bur clover. But it’s easy to do so.

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!