Down By the Brazos

The Brazos in Flood ~ 2016

The longest river in Texas, the Brazos rises near the eastern boundary of Stonewall County, east and slightly south of the town of Lubbock. Flowing 840 miles across the state, it drains into the Gulf of Mexico roughly halfway between the Brazoria and San Bernard wildlife refuges.

Like any river, its course is far from straight. Communities that grew up along its banks testify to that by their names: Meeks Bend, Big Valley Bend, Horseshoe Bend.  Fort Bend, a blockhouse built to provide protection against Indian raids in the 1800s, eventually gave its name to Fort Bend County: the home of Brazos Bend State Park.

Brazos Bend provides everything that makes a park appealing: miles of trails, well-designed campgrounds, picnic spots galore, and a rich variety of plants and animals. Alligators are a primary claim to fame. Visitors often ask one another, “Have you seen any alligators today?” But there’s more to see than alligators. Here are a few sights that delighted me during a visit last Sunday.

An early arrival meant dew drops still could be found on this tiny leaf of a newly-energized grapevine (Vitis mustangensis).

Only feet from the parking lot, a diminuitive mushroom caught my eye. So tiny that the shadow on its left side was caused by mown lawn grass, it was just over an inch tall, with a half-inch wide cap.

For the inexperienced like myself, identifying mushrooms can be especially difficult. In this case, translucency offered a hint; this ice-like beauty may be a Marasmioid mushroom. My photo hardly does it justice, but you can see better examples here.

Fuzzier than the beach tea (Croton punctatus) found on our dunes, wooly Croton (Croton lindheimeri) lives up to its common name. According to Flora of North America, C. lindheimeri can be distinguished in part by the rusty/orange color on young growth, and sharp leaf tips. This plant certainly seems to fit the description.

An especially small morning glory, Ipomoea lacunosa has been described as “growing in low areas adjacent to creeks and rivers.” Proximity to the park’s 40 Acre Lake apparently suited these; their long vines twined over a substantial area. Sometimes called Whitestar, the diminuitive native blooms well into October.

Whitestar morning glory

Along a shaded trail, a Texas endemic I’d seen only once before was coming into bloom. Even smaller than the Whitestar morning glory, Texas pinkroot (Spigelia texana) is easy to miss. Other Spigelia species, like the woodland pinkroot, are more colorful, and often are used in garden plantings.

Spigelia texana at Brazos Bend
Spigelia texana bud and bloom at the San Bernard refuge

Butterflies, like this Queen nectaring at a species of Heliotrope, were common.

To my delight, native lotuses (Nelumbo lutea) still were blooming. A flower as much as twelve inches across can make it hard to include both the entire flower and a tiny damselfly in the same photo, but the pairing did bring a smile.

The most interesting find of the day involved this common garden spider, Argiope aurantia. When I first noticed it alongside the path, it didn’t seem to be doing anything other than what spiders often do: hang out in their webs awaiting prey.

Sometime later, once again passing the spider on the same path, I noticed something different. It seemed to be holding a ball of white silk unlike anything I’d seen before. Although the egg sacs of A. aurantia usually are larger, it’s possible that this was an egg sac in the making, especially since the spider clearly was ‘working’ the silk as I watched.

James Trager, a biologist/naturalist for the Missouri Botanical Gardens’ Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, Missouri described the process of Argiope egg sac creation in a comment on the Prairie Ecologist blog, edited here for length:

When the time comes for egg laying, the mother spider produces an uncompleted upper half of the egg sac’s papery outer layer, followed by an inverted basket of soft yellow silk, which will form a padded receptacle for the eggs.
Laid in a single mass, the eggs — held together by a slightly viscous fluid — are pushed up into the inverted basket by movements of the abdomen. Then, the layer of yellow padding around the egg mass is finished, followed by an outer, water-resistent but porous layer which protects the eggs and allows for gas exchange.
The whole process takes an hour or so.

In fact, it had been just over an hour between my sightings of this particular spider. Whether I found it creating a small egg sac may be debatable, but one thing is certain: whether coming or going along nature’s paths, the sights aren’t always the same.


Comments always are welcome.

85 thoughts on “Down By the Brazos

    1. I wish I’d spent more time with it. It truly had the look of an ice sculpture — quite a compelling little thing. I’ve seen flowers whose petals become translucent when wet, but never anything like this.

  1. I like the photo with the damsel fly on the lotus petal. What an exercise in scale. I like the delicate oranges and yellows of the center of the lotus flower. What a winner. The Brazos’ banks are near to where a cousin of mine has her property. When it floods, we worry about her cows!.

    1. I think lotus structure is fascinating, and the yellow does shine. The damselfly was so tiny; it had to be less than an inch long. I’m surprised that I was able to capture it, since it was some distance away and I only had my macro lens.

      You probably remember the Brazos flood of 2016. Sometimes, you have to resort to the old ways to cope with things like stranded cattle.

    1. Many thanks, Vicki. This park has received enough rain that many of the plants seemed to be reviving, or at least surviving; even without lurking alligators, there was plenty to see. Birds were in short supply, though. It may be that they’d found more congenial conditions in other parts of the park. Perhaps I’ll find some next time.

    1. The Brazos has played quite a role in Texas history, but it’s understandable that you wouldn’t have heard of it. During the early and mid-1800s, steamboats were common on the river. As I recall, they could navigate 350 miles or so inland, and were important for the development of commerce. The top photo was taken at Bell’s Landing in East Columbia during the 2016 flood. Josiah Bell established a plantation there, and not far away Carrie Nation ran a hotel for a few years. It’s a fascinating area.

  2. It’s interesting how four people on the same outing, never far apart, noticed many of the same things yet missed some others. In addition to the Croton you showed, the next day in Galveston I found instances of the other species you mentioned.

    How quickly the Spigelia bud loses its yellow as it opens. That’s a good off-center placement of the lotus’s center.

    1. For example, you found the aquatic milkweed, and I never saw it: probably because I was focused on the butterflies and the Heliotrope at the time. Of course, even when we go out as individuals, the same holds true. For every thing that we notice, there are innumerable things that escape our attention — and we never know what they are.

      I have a photo of the entire lotus flower with the perched damselfly, but I really didn’t like it, and thought this one worked better. One plant I want to check out again is the small white flower we found among the lotuses. I assumed it was the same native burhead that I found at the San Bernard refuge: Echinodorus cordifolius, but I’ve learned that there’s another native, E. berteroi. We only have two species, so sorting them out shouldn’t be hard.

      1. I’ll finally start in on Brazos Bend tomorrow. By the time I finish showing pictures from there and Galveston I’ll be pretty far out of sync with the calendar. Oh well, better to have too much to show than too little.

        1. Absolutely. I’ve about given up on keeping to the calendar, although it has occurred to me that an October, 2021 photo might well do for October, 2022. As my archives have expanded, pairing different species of a genus regardless of date has occurred to me as well. As soon as the front rolls through and conditions in the piney woods become more comfortable, I’m more than ready for east Texas to add to the pile of waiting-to-be-posteds.

          1. I have three posts scheduled for next month that will show pictures from our 2021 Bastrop visit a year earlier. So much was happening last October that I didn’t manage to squeeze in all the pictures I wanted to. I’ve shown pictures from New Zealand and the Southwest, among other places, on various anniversaries of my trips there.

  3. Wonderful photos. The flowers are lovely. I am quite familiar with the Brazos since it flows through the eastern third of my city. I have crossed it many times to get to various businesses east of where I live. A small dam was erected quite few years ago near the university. So that part is called Lake Brazos, more or less. The river water always looks rather murky and surprisingly even with the drought in my area, it is a mostly a full river.

    1. Many of our Texas rivers have that muddy look, even when not roiled by flood. I first got the know the Brazos, San Bernard, Colorado, and San Jacinto, and none would qualify as sparkling. Then, I discovered the Sabinal, Frio, and such, and discovered the difference a nice limestone river bed could make. Still, the Brazos is my neighborhood river, and I love it, and the history attached to it.

      Those wetlands at the upper end of your lake (called Lake Waco up there) are one of the spots I very much would like to visit. Apparently Lake Brazos is good for fishing, too; it’s neat that it’s right in the middle of the city.

    1. I wish I’d taken a front-view photo of that spider when I first saw it; it was on the opposite side of its web. On the other hand, this view of the underside clearly shows the presumed egg sac, so I always could pair it with a top view from my archives. I’m glad you enjoy seeing it, Derrick.

    1. I spend a good bit of my life being amazed, GP. To be honest, there’s a direct line between five-year-old me running into the house to show my mother a [fill in the blank] and seventy-five-year-old me posting my newest find and saying, “Would you look at this?!” I love that you take the time to look!

    1. I remember your affectionate mentions of Brazos Bend. It is rich in alligators. I first heard one bellow there, although I didn’t see it and didn’t know what it was. After one experience of seeing one bellow, I’ll never mistake that sound again.

  4. It’s good to have a keen eye, an abundance of curiosity, and to take the time to explore. Wonderful reporting, Linda.

    1. I always enjoy the variety that I find in nature — and your posts have been a wonderful model for how to present that variety in an understanding and appealing way. On this trip, birds were fewer than usual, but I suspect the wading birds were hanging out in other areas of the park where more water was available. There were twitters and snippets of song in the trees, but I only recognized the sounds of the cardinals and chickadees.

    1. It’s always special to find a Texas endemic, and this one is especially lovely. As always, once I’ve spotted something it becomes easier to find it again. Had I not found and identified the ones at San Bernard, I’m not sure I ever would have seen this one, since it grows low and is truly tiny.

  5. I am in awe of your close up photos!! And although I’ve learned many things from your blog, I’m embarrassed to say that my newest lesson is that there are alligators in Texas. I honestly didn’t know that.

    1. Alligators in my part of Texas are the reptilian equivalent of sparrows; they’re ubiquitous. If you do a search here using the term ‘alligator’ (search box on the right side of the page), you can see everything from teenage gators to grandpas — including some of mama gators with their babies sunning on their mother’s back. Here’s one of my favorite photos.

      1. Wow! What a great photo! It reminds me of the time we saw an alligator on the beach on Sanibel Island. Wasn’t supposed to happen, and yet there he was. Seriously, I love your blog…it’s a wealth of information!

        1. I really appreciate those kind words, Ann. Sanibel Island surprises me as a place for an alligator, but they show up around here on front porches and freeways, so why not? They found one off the beach at Galveston a while back. As I recall it was after Hurricane Harvey, and the supposition was that so much fresh water flowing downstream had brought the creature with it.

          1. Sanibel actually has a few too many alligators. (Although the one on the beach was a young one that had lost it’s way, and was returned to the Sanibel river, where they thrive) But two people have been killed by them. The first was a man walking his dog at night and the gator attacked the dog. The man tried to save it, and was bitten in the leg and bled out before the ambulance could get there. People were willing to live with that. But a couple years later, a woman who was landscaping a yard was attacked by a gator that was in a nearby pond, and killed. After that, they stopped simply relocating them and started killing any gator over six feet long that was deemed a nuisance. Normally, Sanibel is a wildlife refuge, but they are trying to find a balance, and it isn’t an easy decision!

            1. This article suggests why there’s more of a problem there than there is here. Between Sanibel Island’s relatively small size and policies that were put in place, confrontations were inevitable. In Texas only one death by alligator has been recorded since 1836, and that was a drunk guy who went swimming at an east Texas marina — diving right in by the sign warning about alligators. As the saying goes, there’s no cure for stupid!

    1. You’re right to notice that it isn’t a Monarch. You easily could have missed the mention in the text that it’s a Queen. Here’s a good site for sorting out the Monarchs, Queens, and Viceroys. It’s not always easy to tell which is which.

        1. If I understand what you’re saying, you’re wondering if Monarchs can be split in the same way as bees, which can be carpenter bees, honey bees, leaf-cutter bees, and so on. I’d say ‘no.’ The largest category, ‘butterflies,’ already is divided into Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and Queens (Danaus gilippus), among many other species. It’s interesting that the Viceroy belongs to a different genus and species (Limenitis archippus) even though its appearance is so similar to the others.

          The ways of taxonomists are a mystery to me; it’s hard enough to learn these creatures’ names, let along explain why ‘this’ species lands in ‘that’ genus!

            1. How wonderful! I’m just now seeing the first of the migrants come through; there will be many more in October. I often see them at work — a sight denied true office-workers.

    1. On more water-rich visits, I’ve loved seeing the Green Herons, Purple Gallinules, and Moorhens (apparently now known as Common Gallinules) walking across the lotus leaves. On this trip, I only saw one Great Egret and one smaller white bird at 40 Acre Lake. I’m eager to go back when the weather moderates a bit and check out Elm and Hale Lakes.

  6. Love the whitestar morning glory. No garden spider graced me this year. Whether from one of those or a different spider, several times I’ve come across clusters of just hatched baby spiders.

    1. I was surprised to find a morning glory that’s so small. It’s a great addition to my collection of favored white flowers; that bit of purple in the middle is delightful.
      I don’t know which species has hatched, but right now there are baby spiders running all over the boat I’m working on. The number and variety of spiders that set up shop on boats amazes me. I’m sure some fly in on their silk, get caught in the rigging, and decide to stay.

  7. The Brazos in flood, the delicate mushroom and the spider with its egg sack are what caught my attention this time, Linda. It’s also possible that the spider was wrapping up dinner. I’ve often watched them do that. I’ve also seen lots of egg sacks, however. My first experience with that was the black widows that lived under our house when I was growing up. The female would have a number of them in her web. I never saw her making them, however. She would also kill and eat her husband.

    1. At first glance I wondered if it was wrapping prey. In real time, though, it didn’t look anything like the wrapping procedures I’ve seen. The sac seems a little small, but on the other hand (she says with a grin), it might be an inexperienced mother. I once watched a mallard lay her eggs on the welcome mat on the back deck of a trawler, so there’s no predicting how these things will happen.

      I recently learned that what I’d assumed were very young garden spiders lurking around in the web probably are males, which are considerably smaller than the females. Live and learn, indeed!

      1. Female spiders can make me a bit nervous. Imagine wrapping your food up live, shooting it full of venom, and having it dissolve so you can suck up its juices. Then there is the business of the females killing their mates so they can eat them too. But I’m not particularly fond of flies. So spiders do have their positive side. Have you ever been bitten by a spider, Linda. It can be nasty.

    1. I wish you could visit. It’s funny. I often read other blogs and think, “I wish I could go there.” It rarely occurs to me that I’m in the middle of some pretty interesting areas, too. If you ever find the opportunity to head this way, I’d be more than happy to play guide for you.

  8. Lovely set of photos, beautifully captured. I’ve been to Brazos Bend, though it’s been quite a few years. It’s a glorious place, as your photos demonstrate, Linda.

    1. It had been some time since I’d visited, and I enjoyed it. The weather was beastly hot but for some reason the mosquitos and deer flies that have been scourges at the other refuges weren’t anywhere around. I suppose lack of salt marshes could be the reason. I’m eager to go back now and spend some time in other areas where I’ve seen interesting flowers and birds in the past.

  9. It looks and sounds like a wonderful outing. The little mushroom appears to me made out of ice crystals.
    Just curious–did you take the photo of the Brazos River last Sunday. With the drought in Texas, I wouldn’t have expected the stream to be so full.

    1. I just added the date of the river in flood to the photo; it was 2016 when 16.5 inches of rain swelled the river and created havoc. It’s hard to believe it’s been six years. A friend and I drove down to East Columbia before the roads were closed; that’s where I took the photo.

      I very nearly posted the mushroom in its ow post titled “As Nice as Ice.” It seemed crystalline to me when I saw the photo. At the time, it only seemed translucent; hooray again for the macro lens.

  10. You have some spectacular photos today, Linda. That butterfly is a dazzler. And I’ve never seen a mushroom like that — I’m not even sure I would have thought it a mushroom. So delicate and lovely.

    1. I never would have noticed that tiny mushroom had it not been such a pristine white in the middle of so much green grass. I knew at the time it was translucent, but I never saw its resemblance to ice until I looked at the photo on the computer. I’m glad I could find some better photos to link to, because it truly was an unusual sight.

      I’m seeing more butterflies every day now, including Monarchs. I’d say the migration is underway, or at least beginning.

    1. I’m afraid you wouldn’t get that many steps if you rambled with me. I can spend more time going less distance than nearly anyone I know — I learned early on that if you don’t slow down, you miss a whole lot of good stuff! I’m eager to go back once the weather changes a bit, especially if we get some rain to help fill up the lcks and attract the birds. It’s a huge place, with plenty of trails I’ve not yet explored.

  11. What a lovely series of images! Your powers of observation are so keen.

    You’re right about that little mushroom resembling an ice sculpture. Kudos on noticing the spider on the return trip. All too often, I forget to specifically look for things I saw heading one direction that might appear different on the way back.

    “The Damsel and The Lotus”. Sounds like a good title for a novel. The photograph is wonderful!

    Our son lives in Fort Bend County, so Brazos Bend State Park is on our list of must visit places when we’re there. It always offers something interesting.

    1. That’s a great title you came up with! I’m not much for fiction, but “The Damsel and the Lotus” might make a great kids’ book. I’d decided to carry only my macro lens that day, and was afraid trying to get closer would spook the damselfly, but the photo pleased me.

      Sometimes I’ll intentionally take the same path twice, looking on one side as I go and the other side as I come back. I’ve been known to take auto routes twice, as well: first ‘scouting’ and then really looking. But most of the time I just ramble, and see what I can see.

      I knew you had family in the area, but not so close. If you and Gini ever are here for a visit that allows a little free time for visiting, it would be wonderful fun to meet at Brazos Bend — just to meet, if nothing else!

  12. I love all the flowers you found, Linda. The spider? Well, it’s a bit creepy, but oh-so-fascinating in the detail and the information you’ve provided. Little jaunts like this make me wish I’d ventured out more when I lived in Texas (but thanks to you, I don’t have to get mosquito bites and can still see the sights and learn things!)

    1. The nice thing about this spider is that it’s essentially harmless to humans. It might bite if you picked it up and harassed it, but even then you’d not be harmed. I like their colors and their design. Now, I’m going to keep an eye out for their egg sacs. I read that people actually search out those sacs and bring them home to their gardens, so the babies can hatch, grow up, and eat their garden pests!

      On this little jaunt, I was amazed that there wasn’t a single mosquito around. I can’t explain that, but I certainly appreciated it.

      Could you do me a favor and reply to this comment with “something” — just a word of hello, or whatever. I didn’t get an email alerting me to your comment, and I’m wondering if it was a temporary glitch or if I have to consult with the WP gurus. Obviously, your comment posted, and it showed up in my notifications tab. It was just the email that didn’t come through.

  13. I never tire of morning glories. Doesn’t matter how common or widespread they may be, I still love them in all their forms. Your lotus and damselfly brought a smile to me, as well. Such a small and delicate damselfly on such a large flower. And I love how the spider offered up a different view when you passed it the second time. So often that’s the case if we stay observant. Just love it.

    1. It’s been quite a revelation to me to discover how many native morning glories there are. I grew up with the standard purple-and-blue climbing up porch railings, so tiny white ones in the grasses, or big yellow ones on the beach, always appeal.

      Sometimes, a full identification isn’t necessary for a photo to have a bit of ‘oomph.’ This damselfly may have been a forktail, or this, or that, but in the end it was relative size that mattered, and I surely did enjoy the sight! As for giving something that proverbial ‘second glance,’ sometimes it’s more than worth it!

  14. That was a truly special visit, with so many wonderful things to observe. The tiny mushroom and the morning glory particularly appealed to me but then there was the butterfly and the lotus – so many beauties to love!

    1. After a little jaunt like this, I try to show a variety of things: something for everyone, if you will. And even if a photo doesn’t quite meet what lives in my mind as ‘publication worthy,’ like that tiny mushroom, sometimes it’s worth posting anyway, just because it’s so unusual. I was glad to find some other images to link to, so that translucent quality could really be seen.

      Those morning glories are the cutest things. They do climb, but these all were twining through the grass. They certainly caught the eye of this white-flower lover.

    1. Your comment gave me pause. After thinking about it, I think ‘smaller than an alligator’ would depend on which flower and which alligator. A lotus blossom is bigger than a baby alligator, after all!

  15. Had I seen only the pictures but not the title, and not being familiar with the plants of Texas and their environments, I might have mistaken this post as another from the Walden West series. So much to see and enjoy. I think my favorite of the collection would be the tiny Texas Pinkroot. Ooops, nope that’s not my favorite. Of course the opening shot with those wonderful dew drops takes the honor. But all are delights.

    1. I thought of you when I found those dew-covered leaves. Those were about the last I’ve seen, too. We’ve moved into another dry period: good for starting work at a decent hour, but less interesting photographically. I enjoy finding oddities, and a true endemic belongs in that category for me. These are delightful little flowers. I had hoped for more photos when I went back to Brazos Bend last Sunday, but alas: there wasn’t a sign of them anywhere. It’s time to move on!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.