When I arrived at Walden West for a third visit on Saturday, March 5, a number of changes greeted me. Any remaining autumn color had disappeared, and an occasional bird could be heard for the first time. Most obviously, the water level in the pond had risen substantially: so much so that it covered nearly all of the broken limbs that had been visible in February.
The pond’s greater depth provided my first opportunity to play with reflections stretching across the water.
Little rain had fallen in February, so there had to be another explanation for the water’s rise. It occurred to me that the area’s low elevation, marshy nature, and high water table often lead to water-covered roads and full ditches, especially when high lunar or wind-driven tides occur. Given days of strong southerly winds and water-filled ditches, it seemed reasonable to assume that the ‘pond’ had been similarly affected.
The first appearance of fresh crawfish chimneys around the pond’s edge certainly supported that explanation. There are at least 36 species of crawfish in Texas, and a half-dozen of those are burrowing crawfish, which rarely visit open water. They prefer water-filled chambers three to six feet underground; their chimneys typically signal wet ground and a water table very close to the surface.
As they dig, they use their legs and mouths to create pellets of mud, then build chimney-like structures around the entrance to their burrows with the pellets. The burrows themselves may be as much as three feet deep, and often have side tunnels extending in different directions. It’s hypothesized that the chimneys allow for better oxygen flow into the burrow; during droughts, the crawfish use mud to seal the burrow’s opening, preventing evaporation.
A plant that adapts well to moist conditions had begun appearing close to the crawfish chimneys. Large colonies of Wild Onion (Allium canadense) can be found in the refuge; by now, some may be blooming.
The initial bud is beautifully sculptural.
If you look closely, you can see the outline of the tiny bulblets (or bulbils) encased in the papery covering.
In time, the plant will produce both bulblets and flowers, with the flowers emerging between the bulblets. Aerial bulblets help to distinguish Allium canadense from other native onions such as Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum); this plant tends to spread through offsets and bulblets, and often fails to produce viable seeds.
Now and then, one of the plants seems to struggle with the process of opening. In this case, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower wasn’t quite up to the task.
While I heard a bit of chirping and twittering, the only birds I saw were a pair of Cardinals and a lone woodpecker. The woodpecker attracted my attention with its hammering on a dead tree; it flew off as soon as I appeared, leaving these holes behind.
Near the tree, a very young palmetto shoot — only four inches tall — had emerged.
In February, this doughy fungus had attracted my attention.
A month later, several of these ‘lumps’ on the same log had grown and taken on new form. I thought the second looked rather like a butterfly.
Throughout the woods, slender orange bush lichen (Teloschistes exilis) seemed especially vibrant. Lichens typically are categorized by growth habit, and this branch-dwelling lichen is considered ‘tufted’ and ‘fruticose.’ When fertile, the thready branches of the lichen itself form orange apothecia: small cup-shaped structures that release the plant’s spores.
Fewer flowers were in bloom than in January or February; most of those winter flowers had lingered from the previous fall, and the spring flowers are just beginning to emerge.
On the other hand, I was delighted to find my first Texas violet. Violets hybridize freely in nature, so species identification is difficult. Still, sources suggest the Missouri violet (Viola missouriensis) could be the one I encountered. It has the largest range of any Texas violet, and usually is found in partial shade in forested or riparian woodland areas, which is exactly where I found it.
Dewberries (Rubus trivialis) were coming into bloom as well, despite leaves turned red by recent cold spells. Extraordinarily thorny, the plant tends to creep along the ground rather than producing upright canes, and it’s quite common along roadsides and railroad tracks. The appearance of the first blossoms means that dewberry cobblers, pies, and jams are on the horizon; unlike blackberries and raspberries, dewberries produce their fruit in spring.
Still, even if I’d known her only as ‘Wasp,’ she would have been equally charming: a lovely harbinger of pollinators and flowers to come.