Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Water; Madrone Lake, and Miller Creek

At Selah we are now seeing the effects of low fall and spring rainfall. During 2007 we were thoroughly spoiled by the abundant rainfall, when we had a total of 44 inches.

Miller Creek along the Bromfield Trail in July 2007 when the creek had a constant flow of water downstream.

However, during the last quarter of '07 we only had 2.46 inches, so from October 1, through December 31 was really quite dry. From January 1 to May 14 of 2008 our rainfall has been 5.38 inches. There have been 12 rain events, and all were less than an inch. Following each shower, there were high winds and warm temperatures which evaporated much of the water. We saw no runoff, and doubt that any was able to reach the groundwater reserves.

J David and I went on a walk Sunday, May 18, which was a wonderful cool day. We decided to walk the Bromfield Trail which starts near Hes' Country Store, follows Miller Creek downstream, and ends at Jacob's Ladder, a tank with a cement dam and low water crossing that J David built in 1971 and '72. Most of the pictures were taken then, except as noted.

When we entered the trail we noticed that the amount of water in the creek was low, and the water flow had slowed down in the past few months, and I decided that a blog on that portion of Miller Creek would be a good subject. I took pictures and transferred them to iPhoto, and started to write. Then on May 22nd I had a chemo treatment, and put off finishing this blog until I was feeling better. Yesterday I took some pictures around Madrone Lake, which are included.

Water is so important! It is essential for plants, livestock, wildlife and us, is beautiful to look at, and the sound of falling water soothes our spirits. Last summer, Jacob's Ladder dam featured the waterfall you see in this photograph taken 7/21/07.

One of the small creeks that flows down the canyon behind Hes' Country Story carries water from a spring high in the canyon. In spite of low rainfall, the spring there is still flowing. You can see a small amount of water on this low water crossing taken 5/26/08.

Near the beginning of the Bromfield Trail is a dam which has water flowing across it when we have enough rainfall. At this time there is very little water flowing over it.

Standing on the dam looking downstream is this nice view of Miller Creek.

As I sat on a rock for a short break David took my picture. It is hard to believe during this week of high 90's, that I actually needed a long sleeve shirt 8 days ago.

One of my favorite plants along creeks is Southern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum Capillus Veneris). If conditions get too dry it turns brown. When water is available again new fronds emerge. It needs wet limestone walls and limy water to be happy. We find it commonly here at Selah, where all of our rocks and soils are of limestone origin.

A close up of the delicate shiny dark stalks of Southern Maidenhair Fern with the leaflets of their mostly twice compound leaves.

A healthy young Texas Madrone tree grows beside the trail.

Not much water is flowing down the creek, but there is enough water to catch a nice reflection of trees.

The dam at Jacob's Ladder has very little water flowing over it now. There is still enough moisture to keep the water loving plants growing on the front of the dam happy. 

Last summer there was a time that the amount of water flowing into Madrone Lake exceeded the ability of the overflow/constant level device to move it downstream, and the water was up on the grass for a while. There is a valve that can be opened, which we did, to move the water quickly. Photo was taken July 23, 2007.

The water level now is down from its constant level by about 5 inches. Unless we get some serious rain, the level will continue to fall. Several years ago the water level dropped to below the bottom step. By then the temperature of the water was as warm as a bathtub. Photo taken 5/26/08.

A walk up the Nature Trail toward the center shows a dry creek-bed at Juniper Crossing. There may be a small amount of water flowing below the surface, but not enough to keep the lake level up. Photo taken 5/26/08.

As I walked the trail the red of the Scarlet Leather-flower (Clematis Texensis) caught my eye. Their seeds are quite eye catching too. Photo taken 5/26/08.

If you find yourself outdoors, and feel like dancing, try doing a rain dance. Who knows, it might actually help bring rain!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Birding Workshop held May 17 and 18

Selah staff members Steven Fulton and Colleen Gardner put together a new workshop to teach some of the basics of birdwatching. Justin Duke, the newest addition to our staff was involved in many aspects of the workshop, and in his 4 1/2 months here he has learned a lot about birds, including identification.

Eleven participants gathered in the Center for a delicious dinner before an evening of educational talks, pictures. and a night hike. There are lots of bird characteristics which help a birder identify the group a bird belongs to. They include beak shape and size which helps us know what that bird eats. For instance a Heron spears fish with a long sharp bill, a Warbler grabs insects with a small pointed bill, a Cardinal eat seeds with a strong stout bill, a Hawk tears meat with a hooked bill, and a Hummingbirds sips nectar with a long tubular bill. Feet and legs tell us whether a bird wades in water, catches and kills prey with its talons, or grips tree limbs.

Steven shows examples of bird characteristics, key markings, feather structure and bird silhouettes.

Suzanne and her sister-in-law Shy tackle an activity about bird beaks and food preferences.

Outside they listen for birds and discuss the importance of learning bird songs and sounds as a way of identifying birds that are difficult to see.

The group took a short break from birds to watch a bat emergence of Mexican Free-tailed bats at the Chiroptorium.
Hand-Colored-Lino Cut, by Margie Crisp

Upon returning to the Center, the group heard a fascinating talk by Sallie, a birds of prey rehabilitator. She told us about raptors and owls and the many things she has learned about them in her years of taking care of injured or orphaned birds. 

During the hike on Friday evening, Steven used his amazing ability to mimic a Screech Owl, and in response an owl flew to a branch within 20 feet of the group. I guess that the owl whose territory we were in wanted to find out what owl has invaded his area!
Pyrographic art by Kathleen Marie

I want to show everyone reading this blog some of the wonderful birds we see around the ranch. Since I collect nature art I decided to show examples of artwork done by friends and family. A volunteer at the ranch and good friend Kathleen Marie let me include some of her beautiful pyrographic art. My daughter Margie Crisp agreed to let me use some of her hand colored prints. Frances Sharp, my youngest daughter did a very nice set of painted wooden birds, and her Golden-cheeked Warbler is in the blog too. I also included an illustration that I did for the book about Selah, "Water From Stone".

Eastern Bluebirds live near our house in nestboxes so we see them frequently.
Hand-Colored Lino Cut, by Margie Crisp.

Black-capped Vireos live in areas where there are shin oak thickets.
Hand-Colored-Lino Cut, by Margie Crisp

Great Blue Herons are seen in shallow areas of Miller Creek and along the edges of tanks.
Hand-Colored-Lino Cut
, by Margie Crisp

Golden-cheeked Warblers nest where there are both Ashe Juniper and Spanish Oak. Woodwork & Painting, by Frances Sharp (website is about her goat ranch)

Painted Bunting(s) in Texas Madrone Tree, are seen here, and it is always a thrill to see such a beautifully colored bird. They look like escaped pet birds from the tropics.
Pyrographic art by Kathleen Marie

Carolina Wrens build nests in nestboxes and other places near the house so we see them often. They are small and their perky tail is so cute!
Pyrographic art by Kathleen Marie.

I keep a feeder full of thistle seed so a frequent visitor in my yard is the Lesser Goldfinch, which nests here in the spring and many of them stay here year round.
Pyrographic art by Kathleen Marie

Inca Doves can be heard here singing their mournful "no hope, no hope".
Pyrographic art
by Kathleen Marie

The male Vermilion Flycatcher is an amazing orange-red, and in spring-time they do a fluttering dance in the air, which shows off their brilliant plumage in order to attract a mate .
Water colored pen and ink illustration
by Margaret Bamberger, for "WATER FROM STONE".

The workshop group woke up before sunrise on Saturday morning in order to be out early to hear and see birds. The following list is most of the birds seen between 6:45 and noon. They are in the order they appeared on the list that I copied from one of the birders. Bold indicates that a picture of the bird is in this blog.

Indigo Bunting, Painted Bunting, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Lark Sparrow, Mourning Dove, Berwick's Wren, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Turkey and Black Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Lesser Goldfinch, Purple Martin, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Redwing Blackbird, Cowbird, Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, White-eyed Vireo, Black and White Warbler, Golden-cheeked Warbler, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Mockingbird, Cardinal, Black-capped Vireo, Titmouse, Caracara, Pine Siskin. A Chuck Wills Widow and a Screech Owl were heard on the night hike.

I've seen Eastern Bluebirds going in and out of bluebird houses, so they are here. Inca Doves and Carolina Wrens are here also but were not on the list from Saturday.

A few comments made by individuals attending the workshop:

Elaine said, "I especially liked seeing the Golden-cheeked Warbler."
Suzanne said,  "Sallie's raptors were amazing. Steve called an owl and he showed up!"
Darwin said, "I loved it - I'll be back!!!"
Susan said, "This was great! A weekend away from work & the clock was a real gift."

Sallie, our rehabilitator had a pair of hummingbird nestlings in her care, and because they needed to be fed every 15 minutes, she brought them out with her.  She is not allowed to use them to show the public. However, she did ask for my help in feeding them, and agreed to let me take a picture to share on this blog.

Birdwatching is gaining in popularity for good reason. It is a wonderful hobby, and takes one out into nature. you can find birds in the cities in tree lined neighborhoods, in parks and in the country. Avid birders often take vacations in foreign countries with birding tour groups such as the Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. There is the National Audubon Society and Audubon Chapters (Travis Audubon) in many cities, towns, and counties, that have newsletters, and regular birdwatching outings. 

Check it out - it is lots of fun, and birders are really nice people to be around. They are generally enthusiastic, fun, and very good sports. I've been out in freezing wet weather with a group to see a special Mexican hawk that was reported in Texas. We covered ourselves with black garbage bags to keep dry, and not a soul complained about the weather or how long we had to wait for the bird to show up.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wildflower Field Day on May 10

On Saturday morning 41 people gathered at the Historical Marker on Bamberger Ranch Preserve for a morning devoted to looking for and identifying wildflowers.

We saw 89 different species of wildflowers between 9 AM and 1 PM as we walked through areas that had a good mixture of flowers, and rode on the Bluebonnet trailer to new areas. We covered a number of different habitats, but of course there is no way to cover 5500 acres in 4 hours. It has been a very dry winter and spring, and there were no fields of mixed wildflowers that were obvious. However there were areas where the careful examination of 41 people means that you find a lot of different wildflowers.

There are plants that are blooming around the ranch that I know aren't on the list of 89, and a quick calculation tells me that I've seen at least 25 additional ones. I've been out twice this week trying to get some good pictures, and I've chosen a few to share with you. Some are large and showy, some are small, and some I never see unless I'm sitting on the ground and happen to look down.

The beauty of this little plant only shines when you look at it closely. If you click on this picture to see a larger one, you will see the delicate almost transparent petals on the flowers. Cedar Plantain (Plantago helleri) [Plantain family] is common and in wet years I see it everywhere. It is usually between 2 and 4 inches tall.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) [Caltapa family] has beautiful pale pink & lavender flowers that are 1 to 2 inches long. It blooms much of the year from May to September when it rains. It is a pretty tree with narrow leaves. It originally came from West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. You can buy them in nurseries and they adapt well to Hill Country conditions.

This beautiful Dogbane Leaf Beetle (Chrysochus auratus) was sitting on a Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) [Dogbane family] plant last year in late April, and I took this picture. Our Dogbane grows on the dam of a small tank fed by a spring. It is blooming now, but I decided to share my picture of the beetle with you.

The plants in this picture are leaning out from under a small bridge to catch the sun. Skullcap (Scutellaria sp.) [Mint family] is a pretty plant, and in spring I find it in lots of places.

Frog-Fruit (don't you love that name?) (Phyla nodiflora var. incisa) [Verbena family] is common on Selah, and I find it along our roads and ditches. It blooms from May through October, so I can almost always find some. I wonder how it got its name, so if anyone knows please tell me.

Greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium) [Aster family] was given its name because instead of having broad leaves it has many very narrow leaves that look more like threads than leaves. Navajo Tea looks similar but has yellow flower centers, and fewer threads. I like plant names that describe them.

Green Lilly (Schoenocaulon texanum) [Lily family] has blades that look like grass. In April and May when it blooms, I see flower stalks (1 to 2 feet tall) sticking up here and there in grass fields . The flowers are in a slender spike 1 to 3 inches long. Click for a large version to see yellow pollen.

Ground Cherries (Physalis sp.) are short plants in the Nightshade family, which is the same family as tomatoes and potatoes. The flowers remind me of tomato flowers.

Hierba de Zizotes (Asclepias oenotheroides) [Milkweed family] grows in lots of places and is an important plant for Monarch caterpillars. When leaves look chewed on I look for a caterpillar.

Purple Milkweed Vine (Matelea biflora) [Milkweed family] usually has 2 flowers at each spot where 2 opposite leaves meet on the vine. However, this year, probably because it has been so dry out here, this was the only flower I saw.

Sometimes plants that are closely related don't look at all alike. Purple Milkwort (Polygala lindheimeri) [Milkwort family] is a small plant that you wouldn't see unless you were sitting on the ground looking for little plants. It looks totally different from White Milkwort in the next picture, which is in the same genus.

White Milkwort (Polygala alba) is common here. It has slender racemes (flowers clustered on a stem) 1 to 3 inches tall. The plant stands from 8 to 12 inches tall. I love to see these mixed with other spring wildflowers.

I think that Prairie Brazoria (Brazoria scutellaroides) [Mint family] is one of the prettiest spring flowers. It is usually only 6 to 12 inches tall. With plenty of rain they may grow to 18 inches tall and frequently in a large group.

Prickly Pear (Opuntia sp.) [Cactus family] is common in Texas. There are many different varities, and I don't know which one this is. I love this picture because the flowers and new green pads are arising from an old "grandma" pad.

This vine has such pretty red flowers. However, the 5 red "petals" are actually sepals which are usually the green parts under a flower head. The real flower is in the center. Ratany (Krameria lanceolata) [Ratany family] grows close to the ground. The one in this picture is growing down in the grass close to the ground.

This is a common tree on the ranch that likes moist areas and is found along the creeks or ponds. Rough Leaf Dogwood (Cornus Drummondii) [Dogwood family] has little flowers in a cluster. In the spring when blooms make them easy to see, it is fun to note how many of them live here at Selah.

The Scarlet Leatherflower (Clematis texensis) [Buttercup family] only grows in the Texas Hill Country. It is a climbing vine that I find near Madrone Lake and the trail along Miller Creek. When we see a vine starting to grow we build it a little trellis for it to climb on. The seeds develope in a cluster and you can see one on the right side of the picture.

Scarlet Pea (Indigofera miniata) [Pea family] is a small plant which usually lies close to the ground. Its flowers are around 1/2 inch long, and their leaves are covered with soft hairs. It blooms from April to October, so they provide a bright spot of color from spring to fall. The Scarlet Pea is one of my favorite wildflowers.

Wand Psoralea (Pediomelum cyphocalyx) [Pea family] is a tall plant up to 3 feet, with pale purple-blue flowers. I don't find them often, but I'm always excited when I do.

White Evolvulus (Evolvulus sericous) [Morning Glory family] is a very small plant with stems 3 to 9 inches long, that may stand up or lay on the ground. This plant was about 2.5 inches tall. It's little white cup-shaped flower was a around 1/2 inch wide. This is another of my favorites.

Yellow Flax (Linum regidum var. Berlandiere) is a spring plant that stands 6 inches tall. It is common on Selah and I usually find in grassy areas. The flowers are from 3/4" to 1" inch across. Inside the flower red lines start in the center and spread toward the outer edge of petals. It is a beautiful but very delicate flower. When I pick them their petals fall off.

Our Smoke Tree (Cotinus obovatus) [Sumac family] has bloomed and the remaining blossoms that have gone to seed which looks almost like smoke from the tree. In summer the leaves are olive green above and fuzzy and pale green below. During fall the oval leaves turn red, so I think it's a very nice tree to have in all seasons.

I'm not a botanist, but I am an avid nature lover, and plants are among my favorite living things to look for and to learn about. If anyone questions my identifications, please let me know. I certainly want to be doing a good job, and I'm not above being corrected.

We had a rain shower last night (Monday), and the morning is cool. So enjoy those wildflowers before it get too hot.