Monday, July 28, 2008

Hot summer days, occasional summer rain

The day after my last post was published, we finally got a rain that was more than a sprinkle. Hurricane Dolly came ashore, and though we were far from the eye, we got some much needed rain from rain-bands that spiraled out from the center. The total here at the ranch was 2.01 on the official rain-gauge by the corrals. It was not enough to change the water level significantly in ponds, but the response of grass is noticeable. Our offical rainfall for the year is now is 8.6 inches.

This photo was taken on July 6, before the rain from Hurricane Dolly.

This photo was taken on July 31, after the 2 inches of rain from Hurricane Dolly, and the emergence of green is quite striking.

This photo was taken on July 30, and shows how the new sprouts of Little bluestem arise at the base of last year's plants. In winter and during droughts their vital juices remain in the roots, and when the weather is appropriate they sprout anew.

The three pictures below show Carter Tank last July, in December, and this July. This is a large tank with a relatively small watershed, so it takes a lot of rain to fill it up, even when the ground becomes saturated. These pictures clearly show what happens when we get below average rainfall for 12 months.

Carter Tank in July of 2007 when it was almost full after a very wet winter and spring.

Carter Tank in December of 2007. Very little rain fell during the fall months and the tank level was 12 feet lower than in July.

Carter Tank is almost empty on July 30, 2008 after a very dry winter and spring. The recent rain didn't produce enough runoff to make a noticeable difference.

Recently when I was out walking I noticed a number of woody plants with immature seeds or fruit. I usually notice fruit when it is ripe and has interesting colors, but this year I'm trying to get pictures of fruit at different stages .

Carolina Buckthorn (Rhamnus caroliniana) has green fruit until it turns red in late summer. They remain red for a couple of months and finally turn black in October.

This photograph of a Shin Oak (Quercus sinuata) shows acorns developing.

Native grapes (Vitex sp.) are all over the ranch. I'm not sure whether these will be red, purple, or green when they're mature.

One of our former teachers here at Selah came by for a visit. Lew Hunnicutt is now a dean at Frank Phillips College at the Allen Campus, at Perryton in the Texas panhandle. Lew is on the left, Justin Duke on the right.

Aiden gets a smooch from Buttercup, Colleen's Basset-hound, as we visit at Madrone Lake.

Kathy Wilson (aka Kathleen Marie [artist]) enjoys swimming in the clear water of Madrone Lake. In spite of the intense heat we have been having, the water is still cool and refreshing.

Aiden is a very social young man. Whenever I hold up a camera he says, "Cheese".

A visit to the Chiroptorium for an emergence is always enjoyed. J. David and I never get tired of seeing the bats stream out of the cave and disappear into the sky. It is especially nice at this time of year because they emerge when it is still daylight. They stay out during the night searching for food and return in the morning. Females with young still in the nursery area come back in the middle of the night to nurse their youngster, and then go out again.

The bats formed a really nice column Tuesday evening 7/22. The researchers have been doing monthly census counts but they haven't sent us the numbers yet for June and July. In May there were around 110,000 bats. We think that the babies will be starting to fly soon.

Out on a walk I noticed this amazing Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) vine up in this tree. You can see the big vines clinging with their tenticles to the the trunk . Their 3 part leaves (trifoliate) are very large. Poison ivy is often growing on the ground, or maybe I just notice it there because I'm usually looking down to make sure I don't step on a snake or into poison ivy which I am very allergic to. (Urushiol is the allergenic oleoresin found in the sap of poison ivy, can stay on clothes or shoes indefinitely, so you can give yourself a bad case from touching them. You can even get it from petting a dog that rolled in poison ivy).

Not much is blooming here right now, but I have noticed the Fall Gumweed (Grindelia lanceolata) which adds a spot of yellow along the road near the Center.

Wild Buckwheat (Eriogonum annuum) stands 2 to 6 feet tall. A wooly white fuzz (pubescence) covers the stems and leaves. In this picture you only see the tiny flowers, which are usually at the top of the plant so they stick out above the tall grasses in a field, and are easy to spot.

For a night or two after the rain from Dolly, there were lots of clouds, and the sunsets were spectacular.

All photographs by Margaret Bamberger.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

First 3 weeks of July are hot and dry in 2008

So far this month it has been very dry with temperatures often above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I avoid the heat by being outside only in early morning and in the evening when it is cooler. Critters that live outside have to find ways to deal with the heat, and plants just have to "tough it out". Some of the pictures are about what the lack of rain and high temperatures are doing to plants, creeks and lakes on the ranch.

For me the summer months, when I'm not outside with a group of campers, tends to be my time for doing computer work (such as writing this blog) and other inside jobs. J. David and the staff do a lot of work outside in spite of the heat, and believe me, I worry about them.

Lois Sturm works for us as a secretary, assistant, and does lots of "special assignments". Colleen Gardner, who is the Preserve's Executive Director gets Lois' help when her schedule gets tight. Lois moved here from Pennsylvania, has now purchased a house in Johnson City, and is becoming a Texan.

Aiden Fulton celebrated his second birthday on July 4th. I gave him a frog backpack which he put on and wore for the rest of his visit at the ranch house.

The Fulton's went to Yellowstone National Park for their summer vacation. Steven holding Aiden and standing next to Amanda, are seen here in front of a beautiful waterfall that flows over black lava. They had a wonderful time.

When visiting J. David's son Doug, his grandson Casey came in holding this beautiful bird and asked me what kind it is. It's a Painted Bunting, and it was the first time I'd gotten to see one up close. The poor bird had flown into the window and knocked himself silly. After a few minutes, he revived, and flew away shortly after this picture was taken. The male has the bright blue head, red chest and tummy, green wings with a golden cast in certain light and red on his rump. The female of this species has green on her back and wings, and yellow-green beneath. The males of all of the North American species of buntings are colorful, and the females and juveniles are much less showy.

A robust and hairy jumping spider ran across the newspaper I was reading. My camera was close at hand so I got this photo of it. I looked it up in my "Spiders and Scorpions of Texas" Field Guide by John Jackman, and identified it as a Bold Jumper (Phidippus audax). They have 8 eyes, but you can see only 4 of them in this picture. It also is large (this one was a little over 1/2 inch or about 9 mm.),very fast moving and alert. I find jumping spiders fascinating, and love taking pictures of them. The detail of their eyes, hairy body and legs, and especially those iridescent chelicerae (the front jaws, each side consisting of a stout base with a fang at the tip) make it a fearsome looking beast.

A Western Ironweed (Veronia Lindheimeri) was blooming high in a canyon where we have a spring. I'm sure Ironweed is found in many places on the ranch, but if I have a camera and see it, I take a photo of it.

When I first came to the ranch, David had the limestone trough (upper left portion of photo) to release spring water into the Catfish Tank. In the past 14 years evaporation of water high in lime content has created the new stone in front of it. As the water evaporates, the minerals are left behind that form the new rock, known as travertine.

This circular form was created of limestone blocks that are laid without mortar, and when the water is flowing underground it fills up with clear water. When we have water again, I'll be sure to have a picture of it in this blog.

In the midst of this drought, I didn't expect to see any showy wild flowers. On the west side of the ranch there were scattered bunches of Bluebell Gentians (Eustoma grandiflorum), which are among the most beautiful flowers I know of. It was an unexpected thrill to see them blooming on July 5th.

I usually take pictures of the Chiroptorium from the front, but I like this one that shows the road going up the hill.

This bat emergence was thick and if you click on it to get a large image, you can see some of the bats in the distance. Most of the time the bats fly out in a single column but the night I took this picture they divided over our heads and flew off in 2 directions.

This picture taken on July 2nd shows how much the lake has gone down this spring. Now, almost 3 weeks later, it is down another step. Last summer the water stayed at a fairly constant level which was 3 to 4 steps deeper than it is now.

Megan, Willow, Morgan and Grey joined a large group of Math Camp students to see a bat emergence. .

This weekend the Honors Math Camp visited for a weekend of relaxation combined with a work project here at Selah. The 6 weeks long camp is directed by the math department at Texas State. " The Texas Mathworks Honors Summer Math Camp is an intensive summer program for outstanding high school students who are excited about doing mathematics -- the goal of the program is to develop our talented youth by providing challenging courses in a unique learning environment." Dr. Max Warshauer started the camp in 1991 and this is their 16th year to visit Selah.

J. David talks to the students about history of the ranch, as well as environmental and conservation issues. He tells them how he became interested in ranching, and how he turned a cedar choked ranch into a beautiful place.

Dr. Max Washauer presented us with a plaque which states that in appreciation of being able to visit the ranch, they declared July 19, 2008 was a "Nature Awareness Day."

I decided to walk from the Chiroptorium to the Center (one mile) and as I did I noticed that many plants are showing drought stress. This photograph of a Rough-leaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii) shows the response typical of it, which is curled drooping leaves.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees that grow along the creek that is now dry show drought stress by their color change from green to red-brown. Normally they don't turn brown until November, just before they lose their leaves for the winter.

This little plant, Parallena (Dyssosia pehtachaeta), is doing well along the edge of the road where it has little competition. It is drought and heat tolerant.

The little yellow flowers of Parallena are pretty, and the leaves, when rubbed between your fingers smell sweet.

Even though there has not been much rain, the clouds are still beautiful. This was a pretty sunset with clouds reflecting deep pink from the west.

If you have to be outside when it is very hot, be sure to drink lots of water, and rest in the shade to cool down. I love Texas except when it is over 100 degrees.

All photographs are by Margaret Bamberger (except the Fultons in Yellowstone, which was taken by Steven's brother).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Workshops About Land Stewardship

Stewardship of land involves practices that enhance water both in aquifers and on the surface, encourage native plants, especially grasses, and provide adequate food, water, shelter, and space for all native species of animals. Some places that look pretty to our eyes don't fit those criteria - think of the average golf course.

However, land that has been taken care of with good stewardship practices is beautiful because it is balanced and the needs of humans, native animals, and plants are all taken into account.

Big Valley from top of hill.

There are open spaces with beautiful grasses and wildflowers, wooded areas with a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, and water, either in creeks or in man made lakes.

The headwaters of Miller Creek flowing July of '07.

Small dam along our creek in summer of '07.

Our Hill Country Land Stewardship Workshop
is described as "A day on the Ranch with emphasis on "Stewardship" for the large or small landowner or anyone considering buying land, who wants to know how to improve land for all plant and animal species. Transportation is on the Bluebonnet. This eight hour, out-door workshop will be conducted by our experienced ranch personnel. You will look at and examine the many projects that demonstrate the principles that have been successfully used on this ranch. The subjects include:

"Cedar-management: clearing second growth cedar, selecting cedar to keep, and maintaining cleared areas free of re-growth cedar. Tools to use. Erosion control and re-vegetation of cleared land.

A cedar thicket is difficult to walk through, has little to no grass on the ground. However, leaving some thicket as a refuge for wildlife is important.

Workshop attendees try their hand at cutting small small cedars using lopping shears. (Photograph by Dudley Harris)

"Water: spring development and dams for water management, grasses for watershed health.

Leroy Petri the man who designed and created the spring fed, gravity flow water system here at Selah talks about spring development at one of our unboxed springs. (Photograph by Dudley Harris)

Madrone Lake was constructed in 1988 and has never dried up completely, though we have seen it down as much as 6 feet from its level when full.

"Grasses: the least expensive and the most effective conservation tool a land owner has. How and why it works so well.

Native grasses, mostly Little bluestem and Seep muhly on hillside of a canyon.

"Tree planting: because of the threat of oak wilt we don't know the future of oaks in Texas. It is important to plant a diversity of trees to provide shade and habitat for the future. Learn planting techniques and tree care. We have secrets you need to know.

J. David demonstrates the proper way to plant a tree in the Hill Country. (Photograph by Dudley Harris)

"Managing land for wildlife: elements of good wildlife habitat, census taking and proper balance with domestic livestock, furnishing supplemental water and feed for deer and non-game species.

Whitetail deer are plentiful in the Hill Country and managing their numbers is important for land health, as well as for the deer's health. (Photograph by SH)

"Endangered plants and animals: there are both plants and animals whose needs should be considered. There are specific projects at Selah for propagating endangered species, as well as management of resources for visiting birds.

The African Scimitar-horned Oryx is the subject of the Species Survival Program that we participate in. Selah is one of the places that provides them with a large amount of rangeland.

The Golden-cheeked warber is one of the endangered birds that lives here. It needs a combination of old cedars and Spanish Oaks. This photograph was taken in mid-March when they first arrive after wintering south of the border in a warmer climate. (Photograph by Amanda Fulton)

"Wildlife Agricultural Exemption will help you to determine your eligibility and the procedures to qualify for a tax exemption."

Finally, "8-hour workshop includes a short hike, coffee breaks and lunch. Dress for the weather."

The website for the ranch has a list of workshops being given during the next 6 months and a link to the registration form if you'd like to sign up. In our Stewardship Workshops, we also hold one on Water, one on Grasses, and one on Trees and Shrubs, which go into the different aspects of stewardship in much greater depth.

Photographs by Margaret Bamberger unless otherwise noted.