Gravely Mountains

Gravely Mountains
Gravely Mountains in Morning Light

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Playing in the Rio Grande Valley

I spent all of last week camping out, going birding, enjoying the scenery of South Texas and the Corpus ChristI areas and finding butterflies. I also had a great time with a few of my friends. We had beautiful, albeit somewhat warm weather while we were camping and only got a little rain while we were tucked away in our beds in Corpus Christi. 

We found a wonderful butterfly garden at Falcon Dam State Park.  I took a whole bunch of pictures and then tried to ID them.  I found a list made by another person from the day before which had very few of the butterflies I saw and lots I didn't. Here are a few pictures of my favorites:

This is Painted Lady

This is very common and is called the Two-Barred Blue Flasher

Sickle-winged Skipper

Phaon Cresent

We were very disappointed to not be able to visit Bentson-Rio Grand State Park and Santa Anna National Wildlife Refuge.  Both of them were still flooded and may be flooded for a couple of more months. But we did enjoy views of the river near Bentson-Rio Grand State Park.

A View From the Levy Back to the River

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fighting the Good War on Veteran's Day

Today, as usual, I spent some time in my ongoing battle against Nutgrass, AKA Nut Grass -  Purple Nutsedge – Cyperus rutundus.  This is an international invasive that causes massive problems around the world and great economic damage to farmers. The country of origin is not known but it came from some warm place and loves lots of hot sun  and some water, both of which it easily finds here. 
Some of the more mature nutgrass

My weapon of choice, the trusty Chopper Doper

The nuts of nutgrass
The nutgrass army was waiting  in their trenches, both over and under the landscape cloth in the butterfly garden. I came armed with my cultivator/hoe, fondly called Chopper Dopper, a 5-gallon bucket, and gardening stool.  Soon the battle commenced with me loosening and then feeling for the connecting fibers between the nuts of nutgrass.  These guys are impervious to beheading, It's the hidden nuts that are their life force. Soon I was getting out whole squads of them at once, then going back to find the nuts still gripping the landscape cloth. Platoons of them filled my 5 gallon bucket at the rate of one per hour. 
Two nuts clinging tenaciously to the landscape cloth under the mulch. One is at the bottom middle of the picture and the other is to the left near the top of the picture.

 Finally I had almost routed the entire unit from the 5 or 6 square feet that was this day's battle ground. Soon, that is in another 3-5 days, I'll have an entire section of the garden cleared out.  Then I'll have to be diligent on fiinding the survivors before they can regrow more troups. I'll also be assisted by my ally,  Frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora, a wonderful  little plant that also grows very aggressively here. I plan to take pieces of plants, with a little root attached,  and just move them over to the area that I will have twice weeded visible nut grass. The frogfruit  will soon spread and help prevent nutgrass from becoming a monoculture again.  And it will provide food for butterflies and bees while making it's cute little white flowers. 

A small cleared area.  This takes a couple of hours. 

And more battles waiting for soldiers:
The Cattails are taking over around the VIS pond.  They are on my battle list as well.

Ragweed is another invasive. Rain will help be be able to pull the plants up but the millions of seeds will sprout again next year.




Monday, November 8, 2010

Bird du Jour

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge serves as a  winter home for many birds.  In the summer, it gets very quiet with only a few wrens, sometimes a shrike, herons,  egrets, roseate spoonbills, morhens, and a few other species. .  But in winter.... suddenly we are playing host to millions of geese and ducks but also to many other water, marsh and prairie birds.

The first bird I photographed today  was a Wilson's snipe - the first I've seen this season.  We usually have a few using the pond.  It gets real hard to find them when they are sleeping in the grasses around the pond as they are so cryptic. But against the water, their strips, warm brown color and long bills make them easy to find and identify.
Wilson's Snipe 

Snipe feed on larval insects, worms, crustaceans, mollusks and some seeds.  This one was feeding in the mud.  They use their bills both as sensors to feel their food and as very flexible fingers.  They can open the ends of their bills without opening the entire bill.

Snipe are one species of birds that occur in enough numbers that they are hunted. With guns, as well, of course, with a gunny sack on a dark night in the scariest place your tormentors can find.  The Texas hunting season is from October 30 to February 13, 2011.  But this snipe is on a protected area so he probably won't get eaten by a human.  But he'll be fair game to a coyote or bobcat. And alligators sometimes get wading birds, but I think this guy's legs are too short to get in water that will hide a 'gator. And he'll provide lots of pleasure to our visiting birders who come from all over the world.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Workday at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Time:  Friday, November 6, 2010

At six o'clock, a great horned owl greets me as I sit on my trailer stoop drinking coffee.  Soon it is joined by the dawn yipping of coyotes.

I'm in my fifth day working as a live-in volunteer and living in a trailer supplied by Anahuac. Today I'm slated to do trash pick-up, then make a mold of a toothache tree, Aralia spinosa. I also need to continue weeding the butterfly garden.

Then I'm  running the trash route in my big hunker of a truck - I need two hands to pull my myself in - and listening to the Houston traffic report, listing street after street of traffic problems.  I realize I have a different traffic problem- I can hardly drive for watching the birds. The sky and telephone poles and a few still standing trees - most died in Hurricane Ike - are full of hawks - red tailed, kestrels, and harriers. Killdeer are playing chicken with me by sitting on the road until I am almost upon them. Clouds of red-winged blackbirds are everywhere and there are other clouds of thousands of tree sparrows. They sit in huge groups of several hundred to several thousands on the forbs, filling most of a field,  then fly in waves to land again.. In the skies, they looked like the blackbird clouds but with flashing white undersides and a lighter flight. The skies are stitched by flocks of snow and greater white-fronted geese as well as white and white-faced ibis. Great and snowy egrets stand in wet fields and ditches.

Later, I find and identify the Aralia spinosa and get ready to make a latex mold of it's warty trunk.  Then I decide I needed to document the steps and go back for my camera. On the way back, I see the refuge staff has started a controlled burn to make more habitat for our geese and ducks that are just starting to arrive here. The smoke is so beautiful that I have to take lots of pictures.

A picture of the controlled burn
 Then I find the latex is a semi solid and will not work so I drive down to check on the birds in a wet site in the non-hunting area. It is full of white-faced and white ibis, great and snowy egrets, several kinds of ducks, dowichers, greater and lesser yellow legs, and snow geese. Again I have take lots of pictures.That hunky pickup makes a wonderful shooting platform. 

A view of the wet area with ibis and egrets


Mostly snows with a few greater whited fronted geese

I ended  work by weeding  nut grass. So far, I've worked a total of about  5 hours there just removing nut grass.  I've cleared about thirty square feet and removed five buckets of grass. So I'll be working on this project a long time.

I'll try to catch you up on my living arrangements and the the gardening plans to replant after Ike killed most of our trees and parts of our prairie and butterfly garden.  And I'll try to get the mold made and share the process with you.  This will be part of the displays in our new visitor center which is scheduled to open sometime during next February.  So plan to come visit us next spring.