Thursday, December 18, 2008

A wonderful 70th birthday

Saturday and Sunday I had 3 wonderful parties to celebrate my 70th birthday. Considering my diagnosis of advanced cancer in September of 2004 I didn't expect to be here to see my 70th birthday. Of course I'm delighted to still be here.

Party number 1 was the family party where my children and grandchildren (most of them) arrived in the late morning for a lunch party.

My grandaughter Erin with her new puppy Abby (a Swedish Valhund).
My son Chris and his son Christopher came for the family party.

Eli and Gabriel, my youngest grandchildren, watched the preperations for our lunch.

David and my daughter Frances joined in the family fun.

Erin made a chocolate cake. There weren't enough candles so Margie cut it into a 7 (seven) and a 0 (zero), which showed my age, and looked very pretty too.

Party number 2 was a collection of friends that have been loyal field trip buddies, pot luck regulars, that share with me a love of outdoor educations (sometimes called "informal science education") who come to the ranch on a regular basis and swim, educate children, and enjoy the friendship of nature lovers.

A group of friends (including Dr. Chuck Sexton, a Biologist with U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rita Matthews, a nurse, and her husband David Matthews, a middle school teacher who brings his students on field trips to the ranch, and works with Mary Kay Sexton as a teacher and counselor at the Bamberger Adventure Camp each June), stayed in the kitchen to chat with me.

Mary Kay led the group in singing a song to the tune of My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. She wrote new words to it and named it "Margaret's Favorite Things".

Jerry Gatlin, J David and Chris Johnson were visiting on the gallery when I took this picture.

Sallie Delahoussaye, an educator who tells our students about rehabilitation of hawks and other birds of prey. She gave me as a "birthday present" the chance to be the person to release a young red tailed hawk that had been injured by a car. His injuries have healed, and he is ready to live in the wild again. She gave me some protective gloves, and handed me the bird and made sure that that I held his talons so they can't hurt me. (Photo by Jerry Gatlin).

I was thrilled by the opportunity to hold such a powerful and beautiful bird. (Photo by Chris Johnson)

As the hawk senses the opportunity to fly free he lifts his wings which causes me to close my eyes in response. (Photo by Jerry Gatlin)

Realizing that the bird was ready to fly away, I did the only thing that made sense to me at that moment, which was to throw the bird into the air in front of me. Chris Johnson caught the moment with his camera.

A Ring-tailed Cat ( a close cousin of the racoon) was captured in some one's attic, and was brought to Sallie's rehab facility. He is now ready to resume life in the wild. Sallie opened the door and he cautiously checked out the big world outside the cage. (Photo by Jerry Gatlin).

He decided that it is time to make his escape and got ready to leap out. (Photo by Jerry Gatlin).

The final photo of his rush to freedom is the end of his tail. He ran to a nearby truck and climbed up into the engine compartment. We left him and the truck, and when we returned we couldn't find him anywhere in the truck, so we assumed that he finally took off. (Photo by Jerry Gatlin).

Dr. Jose Lopez (my cancer doctor) and his friend Rhonda came out in in the late afternoon with a fabulous angel food birthday cake, topped with whipped cream, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. (Photo by Jo Swann)

The evening ends with a trailer ride to the "Kiva" where a fire is lit in a shallow BBQ pit. The Kiva was originally a cistern, and with the addition of a door and a rock seat around the interior, it has now been converted to a fire circle, outdoor classroom, or a place to sit and enjoy your friends by a fire. (Photo by Jo Swann)

The wind blew hard, and it seemed to whirl around the kiva and sends the flames blowing first in one direction, and then in the other.

The full moon peaked out of the clouds and lit the scene from time to time. It was very romantic and kind of spooky too.

Sunday night we had a "staff birthday party" at the home of Scott Grote and his family. A party is a special event for all of us. We enjoy working together, but it is nice to have fun together too!

This poem which I like very much, was written by Emma Verzwyvelt, a student at Clint Small Middle School when she visited Selah on a class field trip. She was in the 7th grade when she wrote this poem.

Serene as heaven, peaceful it is
ven cloudy, the lake still shines
ovely flower fragrance in the breeze
An everlasting rustle in the trees
ow can you love the sound of silence so much?

Photos were taken by me unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December trip to Dolan Falls to plant Tx. Snowbells

A group of hardy volunteers, including some "significant others" traveled westward with David and Margaret to the Devil's River area to plant more of the federal and state listed endangered Texas Snowbells along the river and its tributary Dolan Creek. It is always best to plant in the cooler weather, and it was cool and delightful on December 5th, 6th and 7th. The sun was shining and there were clear skies and moonlight at night.

On April 20th, 2008 I published a post on this Blog "April's Blooming Trees and Bushes" which included the Texas Snowbell, so for more pictures of the plants and history of the Snowbell Recovery Project check it out.

We have been propagating Texas Snowbells here at Selah for the past eight years from seeds collected in the Nueces and Devil's River watersheds. When we first started we used the gallery, the house and set up saw-horses for tables around the back of the house for the hundreds of plants we were growing. Five years ago, we put up a greenhouse for this kind of work, and we are no longer tripping over pots -- thank heavens, and thanks to Steve Fulton's hard work planning and assembling the green house.

Margaret and J David standing by Dolan Creek in Val Verde County. Dolan Creek arises from amazing springs along its course. The creek enters the Devil's River a short distance down stream.

In this picture of the blooms of a Texas Snowbell you can see what beautiful bell-like flowers it has. Note the underside of its leaves have a fine white pubescence which distinguishes it from its close cousin the Sycamore Leaf Snowbell. Botanists currently consider the Texas Snowbell (Styrax platanifolia var. texanus) a variety of the Sycamore Leaf Snowbell (Styrax platanifolia var. platanifolia), with the main difference between them being the presence or absence of pubescence on the underside of their leaves.

Yellow Bluff on the Dolan Creek was our main view from the cabin we stayed in. Along the river and creeks in the area, on the bluffs above the river, the weathered rocks were dark grey, but where the older rocks had fallen away the under-rocks were golden in color.

Dolan Falls belongs to the Texas Nature Conservancy. This photograph shows the main area of the falls, which are quite dramatic, and very beautiful. I have been fortunate to visit in the summer when swimming was comfortable, and swam in the clear water of the deep pool below the falls. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has the area along the Devil's River above the falls which is considered The Devil's River State Natural Area.

In this photo we have the entire work crew that went on this planting trip. From the left on the front row is Ann Cook, Margaret Bamberger, J. David Bamberger, and Amanda Fulton. From the left on the back row is Betsy Pheil, Steve Williams, Arlyn Cook, and Steven Fulton.

Sturdy, large corrals have been an essential ingredient in the success of the project. Note the two "steps" that are attached to the t-post. These allow workers to climb over the wire without having to dismantle the corral to gain access.

Heavy gage fence-wire and steel t-posts create the enclosures that range from 6 feet in diameter to 15 feet in diameter. Having a large protected area increases the chances of having natural replication in the wild. With multiple plants in each large corral we hope that there will be cross pollination, and seed production resulting in a new crop of seedlings every few years. I say every few years because in very dry years like this past year, the chances of a good crop of seedlings is very poor. They have deep root systems, so once they are well established, they survive well even through seasonal droughts.

Inside this large corral, Steve and J David remove the weeds that have taken root, and prepare holes to add new plants, either to replace those lost during the hot dry months, or to simply increase the number of plants. The ground was so dry on this trip that water was added to the holes as they were being prepared. It is important when preparing holes to make sure that they are the right depth and square.

The snowbells when first removed from their container need to have their roots untangled so they will spread out laterally as well as downward.

The plant is then lowered into its new spot and the roots covered with soil and gently packed down.

A slow release fertilizer is added around the base of the new planting to provide the nutrients the plant will need as it grows.

Steven Fulton worked in another corral getting plants into the ground.

Steve Williams takes 2 five-gallon buckets to the river and fills them to be used for watering the new plants.

Betsy hands a bucket of water to J. David who is ready to give each new plant enough water to help it get established, and to release some of the nutrients in the slow release fertilizer.

Several gallons of water are slowly poured around the base of the plant.

The final touch is to surround the base of the new plant with "pasta", which is usually grass. Pasta shades the ground, reduces evaporation, and as it decomposes, adds nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

Arlyn uses tie wire to secure the fencing to the steel posts. The corrals have protected the plants from deer, cows, and even 400 pound wild hogs!

Amanda writes information in the data book, which is the official record of the project. She indicates which plants died, how many are replaced and where new plants are located. Before we leave, the older plants are measured and that information also goes into the record also.

This is a 3 year old plant that is doing well. It is not only taller, but has spread out and has lots of leaves. A plant like this one makes us happy!

The Devil's river is a beautiful river, with crystal clear water flowing year-round through a dry and rugged region of West Central Texas. The source of water is some rain runoff, but primarily from the springs which are abundant in the region. The Edwards Plateau limestone holds one of the major aquifers for the state of Texas. Springs can be found in canyons and along the edges of the plateau. Because much of the flow of water is underground it is free of pollution.

I love the rugged deserts of Central and West Texas. The geology and terrain are fascinating, the plants hardy and interesting, and the rivers beautiful. Check them out on the web, and if you can, go see them for yourself.

These pictures were all taken in early December, 2oo8 by Margaret Bamberger, except the photos of blooming Snowbells, which were taken in April.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Traveling Seeds, or how seeds get to new territory

Seeds need to travel in order to colonize new areas. If all the seeds fell at the base of the parent plant, there would be fierce competition for light, water, and nutritional elements in the soil. So seeds get dispersed using strategies that defy gravity, use animals and/or wind to travel to new locations. 

Maple seeds are classified as samaras, which is defined as a dry, indehiscent (not opening at maturity along definite lines), winged fruit. If you throw maple samaras into the air they spiral down along a wobbly path. If there is wind I believe they can travel a fair distance before they hit the ground. Big-tooth Maple trees don't seem to make seeds every year. I don't know what conditions are responsible for seed production. It may be affected by the amount of rain or some other environmental factor, or it may be what their DNA is programed to do.

Many plants use the strategy that Buffalo Bur (Solanum rostratum) does which is to produce a seed with spikes which will get caught in the fur or feathers of a passing animal and travel with them. Eventually they will fall to the ground, and most likely will be far from the parent plant

Antelope Horns (Asclepias asperula) milkweed produces a typical milkweed pod, which looks a little like a horn before it splits open. In this photograph you can see inside the pod where the seeds are lined up with their fluffy parachutes not open yet. To the right of the pod are some open seed carriers that are just waiting for a good breeze to arrive and carry them off with their seeds to a new destination.

Grasses evolved in open windy places and depend on wind to carry their pollen  and many have fluffy attachments to their seeds. When the grass seeds are mature they loosen from the grass stem and are easily picked up by wind and carried off.  This photograph is of Bushy Bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) which has lots of fluffy attachments to catch the wind.

This photo is of some scat (animal poop) that contains seeds. Now, I don't know whose scat it is, or what plant the animal was eating, but these seeds are still intact, and will end up fertilized (in the right conditions). This scat is on a gravel road, which is not a good place for seeds to germinate, but if it was on soft ground and some rain fell on it, some of the seeds might start growing. So having animals eat their seeds and drop them somewhere else, is another way plants get their seeds spread around. Fleshy fruits that taste good to animals are especially well adapted to this kind of seed dispersal.

Tomorrow will be one year from the day I published my first post in this blog, "Welcome to the Bamberger Ranch Journal". When I started it I decided that I would publish one post each week which means that in one year 52 posts would be published. 

This post is the 52nd. It has been a wonderful adventure for me. It has not always been easy to write a post each week, and because of cancer treatments I didn't always feel well. But I have learned so much and have taken lots of pictures.  My friends that follow this blog say that they have learned to pay more attention to what is going on in the world around them. I have found that to be true for me too. I hope that you enjoy it and take the time to enjoy the world of nature around you!

I plan to continue for at least another 52 posts. If there is something that you'd like to know more about, send me a note in the COMMENTS section at the end of any post.

Going to Seed- pea family pods, and lots of berries

Humans eat lots of Legumes which are members of the pea family. We eat green beans, green peas, lentils, black beans, red beans, black-eyed peas and pinto beans, to name a few. We love them in our gardens, in our food, and wildlife find legumes in nature and enjoy them as a good source of protein. Mesquites provides an important source of food in the southwestern United States. Gamebirds, such as quail rely on them. Fur and game mammals find them a reliable source of food - antelope jack-rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and skunks to name a few. Small mammals such as chipmunk, ground squirrel, mice, rats, eat the pods, and deer eat the foliage and twigs.

Below are some of the members of the Pea Family (sometimes referred to as Legumes, or members of "Pea" or Fabaceae Family). The ones below are plants that are native to the ranch that I saw that happened to have pods when I was out taking pictures in late October and early November.

Members of the Pea Family have pea pods to hold their seeds. The flat pods of the Texas Redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis) seen here are around 3 or 4 inches long. In the late spring their pods are red and turn brown in the fall.

These pods on the Kidneywood plant (Eysenhardtia texana), are very small, less than 1/2 inch long. I don't imagine that such small pods offer much for wildlife food, but the blossoms provide excellent bee forage, and the leaves are good deer browse. It is also the host plant to the southern dogface butterfly caterpillar.

Golden-Ball Lead Tree (Leucana retusa) has bright yellow, globe-like flower clusters around an inch in diameter during April and May. Their pods are thin papery narrow brown pods 4 to 10 inches long. Leaves are bipinnately compound which gives them a lacey appearance. Deer and livestock brouse this plant heavily. Butterflies and bees love their nectar. (A picture of the flowers is below).

Flowers of the Golden-Ball Lead Tree certainly fit the name of the plant and seen to explode in the spring when they bloom. I love this plant and look forward to seeing its golden-balls against the spring green of it foliage.

The common understanding of the word "Berry" is a simple one, a small roundish juicy or fleshy fruit with a seed or seeds inside, and I think of Possumhaw, Rusty Blackhaw, Snailseed, Greenbriar, Carolina Buckthorn, and Madrone trees as having berries. However, if you look up specific terminology of say "fruits", in Plant Identification Terminology, an Illustrated Glossary, by James G. Harris and Melinda W. Harris, you find that there are multiple terms to describe fruits: take for example, a "Hip is a berrylike stucture composed of an enlarged hypanthium surrounding numerous achenes". If you're a botanical taxonomist this may make good sense to you, but I would have to look up at least 2 more words, and maybe more before I would even start to understand. The following examples are fruits that I consider berries.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), has multiple clusters of magenta or purple berries against its light green stems and leaves in the fall, and in my opinion certainly deserves its name "Beautyberry". It grows in shady spots in moist soils, and we have them at Selah along the Nature Trail above Madrone Lake. Its flowers which appear in late spring or early summer are not showy, but are pretty, being small and white or a delicate pink.

Carolina Buckthorn (Rhamnus caroliniana) is a handsome small tree, which lives comfortably in sun or shade. One of the native plants here, it is found in many places. It blooms in late spring, and I would probably miss the small blooms if they were not so popular with honey bees which are sometimes so thick that the whole bush buzzes. Its fruit which is round, is at first greenish yellow, turns red and finally black when mature. You often see all the colors at once which adds to its beauty. The berries provide food for birds. Deer like to browse the plant, and it is often seen growing in a thicket where it is protected from browsers by neighboring spiny plants.

Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) seeds are Christmas red, have a granular surface and ripen in November. I have eaten them and they taste sweet. Apparently they are enjoyed by a number of bird species. This is one of my favorite trees on the ranch. (I will devote a whole post to it soon.)

Rusty Blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) is a small tree that I associate with moist soils along creeks. The leaves are shiny green, simple and opposite. In the fall they turn a rust red, and are striking. Their fruit is pinkish (they have a dusty white surface, or bloom) then red, and black when ripe. They are listed as edible by Delena Tull in her book, "A Practical guide to Edible and Useful Plants". She indicates they "can be used in jellies or meat sauces, but they are best eaten raw." You have to be watching for them because birds like them so much that they may be gone before you get them.

Let me know if you find this kind of post with pictures interesting. I enjoy doing them and hope that they are informative and increase your curiousity about the world around us, both plants and animals.