Donna’s Garden Starting in January and Going All the Way to December of 2021

by Donna Lewis

I was asked to show the progress of my pollinator garden as the year goes on and to say a few things about what I do as it goes forward.

Bonus dog!

As you can imagine, I can only mention a few things, because gardening is an ongoing project every day. Each year the garden is different. Sometimes Mother Nature supplies plenty of water and wind born native plant seeds. But sometimes she decides to hold on to her precious water. You must be observant.

Sleepy vines

Just the water alone can determine what plants will be successful.

Right now the garden is asleep, as it should be. The leaves protect many things beside the plants. They are the blanket that keeps things warm. There are butterfly chrysalis that stay there until Spring tells them it’s time to wake up. So, removing the leaf litter too soon can steal from the garden the very animals you are hoping to see. Timing is everything!

Leaf litter is on duty.

Is there a rigid rule that I use to know when it’s time to clean up the garden?

NO!!!   If I knew that I would be famous.

Keeping the good kind of litter in its place.

I usually start now to just tidy up a few things. Nothing major. We all know that the last freeze has not happened, and we don’t know when it will.

Last year’s stems.

I had to pick up the mess the storm left just a week ago. Many limbs and bushes were broken. I cleaned all that up and removed it.

We’ll see what comes back in this circle!

In January, as in all months, you want to keep the water sources for your birds clean. My bird feeders are not inside the garden, but just outside it. That keeps the seed debris, rats, and feral cats from living in the garden.

Lots of water options

Soon as it warms up, I will begin to see what vines, bushes, and plants are reborn. Some gave their life for the garden last year, and I will have to reseed or replant them again.      The real miracle of gardening is about to start again.

A great place for birds to hang out.

Is it a lot of physical work? Yes it is. But, to me nothing you love to do is really work. My goal as always is not just to have a retreat to renew myself, but to help the wild things that share the planet with us.

I always try to learn what they need, and that’s what I put in the garden.

So, we’ll watch the garden blossom together.

Rest on a bench while Donna’s garden rests!

Flora and Fauna at Walker’s Creek Cemetery

by Sue Ann Kendall, your blog editor

Many thanks go out to Linda Jo Conn, who suggested that our chapter members should get outside and visit a local cemetery. I have missed doing iNaturalist stuff and actually getting volunteer hours for it SO much since we’ve been asked not to make observations on our own property, which rules out the 600 acres around me. But, ha! There’s a cemetery right down the road, just oozing with history and life.

A different photo of the entrance, since my personal blog post on the headstones had my other entrance photo.

Yesterday was a pleasant, if rather damp day, so I took off, camera in hand, to go see what I could see at Walker’s Creek cemetery.

The main entrance. They really want you to know this is an older cemetery.

I actually didn’t make it off the Hermits’ Rest Ranch before I had to observe something. Look who was hanging out right beside the rake I use to get the gate to open when I’m not in the car!

Now that I have a firm grip on the fact that I need to check the head first, I knew this was an old friend, the water snake who lives in our front pond. I was surprised to see this one out in January. It made me wonder what other January life I’d find down the road.

I walked past Walker’s Creek, and checked out the damage from the recent flooding. I scared a very large red-eared slider while I was peering over to see if I could see any tracks in the mud, which also scared me. But, I was lucky and found tracks AND a skull, which I’m guessing is a coyote. Oh boy, I was already having a good time.

NOTE! You can click any of the small photos to see them larger, throughout this blog.

I made it to the cemetery and started taking pictures of plants. One thing that’s helpful is that most of these are the same plants I have down the road, so I could recognize them. At least I found a couple of different ones. Also, I quickly realized that, since the cemetery is regularly mowed and well maintained (ish), the most interesting stuff would be on the borders, so I declared anything within a yard of the fence was part of the cemetery. Heck, I was in charge of this solo expedition, right?

By the way, this post won’t have a lot of photos of graves. I wrote a long blog on the headstones and what I figured out about the past culture of the area where I live now on my Hermits’ Rest blog. If you like grave facts, check it out.

Click the “read more” to see lots of photos! And remember, if you want to know scientific names or details about any of my observations, you can check them out on my iNaturalist observations page. You can see if I got the IDs right, too.

Continue reading “Flora and Fauna at Walker’s Creek Cemetery”

Pied Piper of Gophers

by Donna Lewis

Yesterday, I was outside walking around picking up debris from our recent snow and ice storm, when I felt something following me. I looked down, and this really big Pocket Gopher was creeping along about a foot behind me. I stopped, it stopped. I started walking again, and so did it. It didn’t look injured so I could not figure out why it was out of the ground.

I think Donna has some food.

I tried to gently herd it back to a protected area, but it just kept by me. My dogs were in the house, or it would have really been in danger.

This went on for about 30 minutes, until I finally moved it under a huge pile of limbs from the storm. It went under and I did not see it come out again.

This is my GOOD side!

Maybe he knew I wouldn’t hurt him??? This is the second time this year this has happened.    If I could just get them to follow me out of my garden, I would really have some nature power…

Lucky for me I had my camera on the porch so I got a great  photo of him.

Goodbye my little friend…

My First-Day Hike 2021 in a Texas State Park

by Linda Jo Conn

It’s been quite a few days since I participated with other nature-loving folks in a self-guided hike at a nearby state park, on the first day of 2021. I think it has taken me that long to recuperate before sharing my adventure.

The four state parks closest to my home are each about 35 miles away. I chose to visit the Birch Creek Unit of Lake Somerville in Burleson County. The last time I visited it was on an El Camino Real Chapter field trip in October 2013.

Heron at Birch Creek

It was not a warm day, in the mid 50’s, so I did not have to worry about breaking a sweat.  My jacket felt good when I was not protected by trees from the wind. 

I initiated several physically-distanced conversations with several folks, including a couple from Iowa who had come to Texas to eat BBQ at Snow’s in Lexington the next day. (I could not resist wowing them with the fact that the famous pit master Tootsie is my former sister-in-law.) It was interesting to hear from each person where they had traveled from for this event. 

I obtained my printed copy of the designated trail showing locations of several orange flags marking points of interest. I walked down the path, stopped at the first orange flag, read about the lake in the pamphlet, proceeded along the way, and never saw another orange marker. I got totally and hopelessly lost. 

Freshwater Mussel

Eventually, I encountered an equally lost college student and her younger brother from Houston. We teamed up to find our way back to the park headquarters. Although not the ideal situation for nature talk, as we walked along I enjoyed answering their questions about the plants we passed and showing them interesting species such as soapberry, yaupon holly, and coralberry.  I even pointed out feral hog, deer, and raccoon tracks for their edification. I realized how much I have learned by being a Texas Master Naturalist and iNaturalist addict since that 2013 visit to Lake Somerville.  

Coralberry

 My hike about the park took a bit more time and effort than I had planned, but was certainly worth the experience.  Perhaps our chapter members can hike Mother Neff or another state park together New Year’s Day 2022. I will certainly appreciate some companions to guide and direct my steps.        

Horned Owl Sighting and Spider Discovery

by Eric Neubauer

Saturday, January 16:

6 AM: I currently have two Horned Owls calling at the same time from approximately the same nearby place. Typically, one starts and the second, with a slightly higher pitch, starts about a third of the way through so that the notes alternate. And, they’re still going on. This has been for at least 12 minutes.

Sunday, January 17:

Again, there was one on the power line in front of my other neighbor’s house at dusk. I watched him fly down to the ground, then up to the top of the fence, then up to the power line in front of my house. As it got too dark to see, it flew toward the back of my property and disappeared.

When interests intersect:

On Friday, I walked down to Alligator Creek for the first time in a while. On the way back, I walked slowly up the ditch looking for anything that moved. In a few places I found some tiny spiders.

I decided to go back today with a container to scoop up some the spiders for better photos. I looked carefully for about 50 feet without seeing any. Now where did I see those spiders the day before? Finally I saw one, looked around, and then it hit me: all I needed to do was follow the food chain to find the spiders.

Here were some small Texas Bluebonnet plants and other forbs, grasshopper nymphs, and tiny spiders. They were steps in the same food chain all gathered together for my convenience. On the Texas Blackland Prairie, grasshoppers and spiders seem to be the predominant arthropods. Take away the mixed vegetation of the prairie and there would be no grasshoppers, take away the grasshoppers and there would be no spiders. Take away the spiders and there would be no spider wasps, etc. I had noticed last year that the spiders’ gathering places shifted from week to week. No doubt they follow their food. Doh!

One of the Alligator Creek Spiders, identified as Dotted Wolf Spider Rabidosa punctulata by its location and subtle differences from the Rabid Wolf Spider.

Commonsense, but it took me a while to learn and understand. By the way, the spiders appeared to be a new Lycosidae species for me.

Here’s a rabid wolf spider Rabidosa rabida Eric found in another location.

And here’s his best photo of a dotted wolf spider.

Compare and contrast.