Monday, June 30, 2008

CRYSTAL BEACH AND HIGH ISLAND



Had time for some birding between High Island and Crystal Beach this past Friday afternoon before meeting up with friends. High Island is about an hour northeast of Houston and an hour southwest of Beaumont along the Texas Gulf Coast. The Pelicans on this particular day were in rare form and groups of 30 or so of them were flying down the coastline, drafting in each others wake, moving along in wave-like fashion. They were really cool to watch! This went on for quite awhile so I decided to hang out and enjoy the show!


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The waves were up at the beach and it was fairly windy. The water on this northern Texas coastline is much browner than the water farther south due to the influence of the Mississippi River which drains into the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans. The flow of sediments from the midwest and all points south mixes into the gulf water near the mouth of the Miss. and flows to the Texas/LA side causing muddy waters. The muddy water is nutrient-laden which in general provides good food sources for fish and other aquatic creatures, but a big problem that we have in this part of the country is the DEAD ZONE. This is a large area of water in the gulf which becomes devoid of oxygen and causes massive fish kills and other marine life die-offs. When the dead zone starts to expand everything in the water has to either leave in a hurry or succumb to suffocation. The cause is now known to be too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the river waters deposited way upstream. These rivers (such as the mighty Miss.) travel hundreds of miles through the U.S., collecting runoff from farms, towns, commercial areas, before spilling their contents into the Gulf of Mexico. Excessive nutrients are added to the rivers and these deposits have a direct influence on our waters along the Gulf of Mexico, especially from the mouth of the Mississippi westward to the south of Houston. As you travel farther south in Texas, the water becomes clearer ever so slightly until you reach South Padre Island where the waters are blue!

SO....if you live 'up there' please remember us 'down here' and try to limit the use and over-use of chemicals and fertilizers on the land because they end up in the rivers and eventually in our beach water too!!!

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DOWNY WOODPECKER VISITS





Thursday I came home and found a DOWNY WOODPECKER entertaining himself on one of our pine trees. My husband has seen many of them in the woods in Northeast Texas where he was born and raised but I had never seen one down here. This is a first for me! Cute little bird, isn't it?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

BIRDS, REPTILES, AND AMPHIBIANS

Tell you what, I can hardly get out of my yard without something new popping up in the way of wildlife or outdoor amusement. This afternoon I had 2 different snake species, a frog, and a bird feeding chicks all within 30 minutes of each other! Of course, I had to grab the camera and get some pic's for the blog! First of all these sweet, little, insect-killing Carolina Wrens have been raising their second batch of young this year in my hanging gourd. She (and he) seem to be taking pretty good care of their brood and putting a dent in the insect population for us at the same time. It seems like they bring back a new morsel every 20 minutes or so, pretty much round the clock. You can hear the parent birds chattering nearby and then they sneak up to the gourd as fast as they can, deposit their catch, take a look around in there to be sure everything looks OK, and then off they go again!
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After wren watching for awhile I lowered my attention back down into the garden to finish my chores and turned to come face to face with a cute little Leopard Frog staring at me from beside the patio. Yes, we have a few frogs and toads in this yard.............but I'm thinking we should actually have a few more.......

Because we all know what frogs and toads attract......





SNAKES!!!






Actually, a Texas Rat Snake showed up first. He must have been offended by my garden watering and he crawled up onto the front porch. Well, we can't have that so we caught him with our snake tongs (modified from garbage pick-up tongs), and put him in the snake transporter (garbage can w/lid) to relocate him a bit farther from the house. We had no sooner started walking toward the truck when we saw a large Yellow Bellied Racer head across the walkway. Now I am thinking, "What is this, snake day or something????!!!" Anyway, YB Racer's are really beautiful snakes and non-poisonous. And they don't call them a 'Racer' for nothing! They can really scoot and they are very hard to catch and even harder to videotape! Tx Rat Snakes are also non poisonous, but they are kind of ugly (to me), usually get really BIG, and they are also very common here - so common that we get tired of seeing them. Neither snake is venomous. I have read that a rat snake can bite pretty good, but a YBR doesn't have the teeth to do much harm to a human (at least I'm hoping not).

Well, we couldn't catch them both as I only had one snake transporter and it was in use at the time. So.....I grabbed the camera again instead and got a video of him! Hopefully this guy will take off now that he's been spotted near the house (but I doubt it). I don't want to have to change my blog sight to 'Adventures in Snake Bites' if you know what I mean! :) Until next time, I'll keep those tongs handy......

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

STANDING CYPRESS!!!

This summer has been pretty darn good for surprising me with large stands of wildflowers and today was no exception!!! First it was the Bluebells popping up all over the countryside and now I have come across this huge stand of native STANDING CYPRESS just growing away and blooming it's heart out right next to the highway on my drive to work!!! This is definitely the largest stand of this plant that I have ever seen growing out in the wild. I was blown away by it!

The pictures don't do it justice, but I hope you can get at least some idea of how magnificent this plant looks en masse in the wild.

The blooms appear on top of a single rigid stem and line the top of the stalk with multiple tubular-shaped scarlet red flowers. And they are SCARLET RED too! Very brilliant in the sunlight and will certainly catch your eye. The plant stalks are really tall, over 5 feet easily, and the stems are covered with these thick, green, fern-like leaves that just beg you to reach out and touch them to make sure they're real! I was very surprised to see this plant growing like it was because although it is listed as a Texas native variety, I personally have never seen it growing here in central Texas. This was a first for me!


According to the literature, it's easy to start and establish from seed that can be purchased from native plant suppliers. It is listed as a biennial though, so you would have to re-seed a second year in order to have year-round plants. Apparently, it comes up as a rosette the first year and then in the second year it sends up that tall shoot to flower in the middle of summer! I can't wait to try some in my own garden!

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

YOU KNOW IT'S HOT IN TEXAS WHEN......


THE BLUEBELLS ARE IN BLOOM!!! And they are really showing off their stuff right now! They are right on time. It is about 100 degrees outside today and dry, dry, dry. If you are reading this from a cooler, wetter climate - please send us some RAIN!

Bluebells (Eustoma exaltatum ssp. russellianum) are a native Texas wildflower species. They bloom during the hottest, driest times of the year, typically right in the middle of summer after most of the other wildflowers have gone to seed. They aren't as abundant as they once were due to over-exuberant wildflower fans who just had to have them in their home gardens and dug up too many! They say they don't transplant well so it is best to purchase seeds if you want to try them, or just settle for pictures.

I saw these out in the pastures today and managed to snap a few photos. They are really something to see and will take your breath away as you come up over a hillside. Whole sections of bluish-purple can cover a field! They should not be confused with 'Bluebonnets' (which are also awesome) but which bloom in the spring. BlueBELLS are a much more purple-looking wildflower with a big, papery flower-head and yellowish dot in the center. They don't really look anything like a Bluebonnet and they don't bloom at the same time either.


Central Texas has an ice cream company named after this wildflower. Blue Bell Ice Cream got it's name from this beautiful summer-bloomer! The story goes that the Bluebell was always in bloom during the best months for ice cream sales (hot, dry, hot, dry) and thus they named the company after the wildflower. I must admit Blue Bell Ice Cream is pretty tasty, but it still doesn't compare with this hardiest of the hardy Texas inhabitant!
Yes, I know the video is shaky and the wind was blowing (just turn the volume down and you won't notice!), but you really need to view the live action clip in order to get a sense of just how FAR and WIDE these wildflowers can spread out and cover a field!

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