The Fennel Forest

by Donna Lewis

I know you all were wondering earlier this year what I was going to do to this small garden in my front pasture area.  The freeze took every single plant to the ground. Laid  to waste.   

I was not able to weed it, or really do any work in it like I always have for many years. Injuries, a few too many years…it all adds up. I have been 29 several times I think.

So, let’s talk about what the garden is right now.  It looks messy to us humans. But,  I didn’t plant it for us.  I planted it for the wildlife. This garden had lots of native plants in it and a perch I made for birds to rest on.

I planted zinnias, fennel, yarrow, sunflowers, sage, coneflowers, salvia, cowpen daisies, and a host of native things that just blew in. Freebies! And very important, I made a perch for the birds to sit on.

Many gardeners forget to put something for the birds to perch on and get off the ground where they feel safe. I cut a cattle panel in two, then took some hognose clips and made it to where it would open up.  The birds love it.

All those “native plants” I had put in for years came back after the horrible weather. Even the heat and too much water has not deterred them. But all the mess has lots of bugs in it.  Food for hungry birds. So, I may have just given you a reason to get out of all that work, trimming, weeding and other back breaking work.

Remember who we are gardening for…

Donna, the happy bird girl

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.

Update on My Purple Martins

by Donna Lewis

I could hear the joy of singing this morning inside our house. Outside they were really loud and proud.

The new Purple Martin young are learning to fly, and take care of themselves.  In August, they will fly to Brazil, where they will stay till next February. Right now they are learning how to catch insects in the air and drink on the fly.   

Watching them put on the brakes as they near the gourd rack is very amusing. Sometimes they have to circle several times till they can stop.

Going fast is their thing; slowing down takes practice. I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to fly above the trees for hours.

I shall miss them when they leave.  I wonder if they sing in another language when they are in Brazil?

Hot Outside and the Butterflies Love It

by Donna Lewis

I was only able to catch two species because the rest were too fast for me.

The first is a Sulphur ( yellow) butterfly. It’s either a Cloudless Sulphur or a large Orange Sulphur.   Pretty hard to tell.  For sure it like’s my zinnias.

Sulphur butterfly


The next beauty is one of my favorites, it’s a Tiger Swallowtail, the yellow version. Notice it’s on a zinnia also.

Tiger swallowtail on a zinnia blossom


So…I wonder what would be a great nectar plant to put in your gardens? ZINNIAS.  They are so easy to grow and everyone likes them. How easy is that?

Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Roy would have loved this.

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