The Best Little B&B in Texas

Early buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis) with sleeping bee


After a long day of foraging, what bee wouldn’t enjoy the opportunity to take its ease on a buttercup’s petals, or to indulge in complimentary pollen once it awoke?

This bee continued to sleep until increasing sunlight and warmth caused it to stir, shake its wings, and fly off. Perhaps it had reservations at an equally elegant and well-appointed buttercup down the road.


Comments always are welcome.

Walden West ~ October Fauna

Walden West in October

Attributed to everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Valerie Jarrett, the well-known phrase — “You can have it all: just not at the same time” — seems first to have appeared in print in Betty Friedan’s 1963 book The Feminine Mystique. In time, a corollary emerged: “You can do it all: just not at the same time.”

During the recent holiday season I continued to visit Walden West, but time dedicated to writing for The Task at Hand meant less time for sharing photos. Now, it’s time to play ‘catch-up,’ rounding out my year with a series of three Walden West posts from the end of 2022.

In October, fauna outshined flora as I wandered through the woods. Birdsong continued to be scarce, but a trio of Crested Caracaras perched among the trees. Because they tend to seek prey in more open areas, these may have been resting after a morning of foraging.

Crested Caracara ~ Caracara plancus

At the edge of the woods, one of the most widespread damselflies in North America was at rest: the Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile). The insect thrives in residential water gardens as well as near lakes, marshes, rivers, and wetlands.

The male displays two blue, tear-shaped eyespots on the top of its head, while its predominately blue abdomen is marked with matching small black areas on segments 3, 4, and 5.

Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile)

Despite the disappearance of orb-weaving spiders, a large web had been stretched along one edge of the pond. Known as a ‘mesh web,’ it’s typical of work done by spiders in the Dictynidae: a family known for webs made of tangled, irregular strands.

An untidy but typical mesh web

Large numbers of migrating butterflies in mid-October suggested I might find  some at the pond; what I didn’t expect was to find one in extremis.

When a fluttering caught my eye, I assumed a butterfly had become entangled in a spider’s web. Instead, a Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exilis) was being carried off by a scourge of fire ants. 

The smallest butterfly in North America, the Western Pygmy-Blue’s wingspan averages only a half-inch. Its coppery-brown wings, touched with iridescence and fringed with white, are especially attractive. Naturally the ants were less interested in the butterfly’s appearance than in its usefulness as food. While I watched, they carried their meal-to-be toward a hole in the surface of the ground, then pulled it out of sight. How long the entire process took I can’t say, but from the time I spotted the butterfly until it disappeared into the larder was only a minute or so.

Down the hatch, so to speak

In time, I found a variety of living butterflies, including some I’d never seen. The Question Mark, Little Yellow (or Little Yellow Sulphur), and Checkered Skipper were ones I recognized.

Question Mark ~ Polygonia interrogationis
Little Sulphur ~ Eurema lisa
Common Checkered Skipper ~ Burnsius communis

The Southern Emerald moth is less common. Years ago, I found one resting on a dock in a local marina; this was only the second I’ve seen. Small, with a wingspan of about an inch, its color evokes celadon. According to Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA), it flies from March to October, so this one was right on schedule.

Southern Emerald ~ Synchlora frondaria

Hackberry trees serve as a host plant for Hackberry Emperor butterflies, as well as for Tawny Emperors and American Snouts. The Hackberry Emperor prefers wooded streams, forests, and riparian corridors: just the sort of environment found at Walden West.

Hackberry Emperor ~ Asterocampa celtis

 The most unexpected sight of the day was this weirdly impressive Gulf Fritillary caterpillar.

Gulf Fritillary caterpillar ~ Agraulis vanillae

The fleshy knobs called tubercles on its body, together with the obvious black spikes protruding from them, help to provide protection from predators. Like most caterpillars, Gulf Fritillaries also have setae, or short hairs, on their bodies; their black spikes are covered in tiny setae.

Obviously, it had been a good year for Gulf Fritillaries; large numbers of them fluttered everywhere. Monarchs may be the most publicized, but I think these butterflies are equally lovely.

Numerous as the Gulf Fritillaries, Salt Marsh Caterpillars (Estigmene acrea) were everywhere. Named for a presumed preference for grasses in salt marshes near Boston, Salt Marsh Caterpillars actually prefer herbaceous and woody plants as hosts. Variable in color, their grayish larvae darken over time to yellow, brown, or black, with yellow markings and long black or reddish hairs.

Master defoliators, the young larvae feed close together on the lower side of leaves, skeletonizing them in the process. Older larvae are solitary, and eat large holes in leaf tissue.

Salt marsh Caterpillar

Salt Marsh Caterpillar

The day’s most unusual find was an Eight-spotted Forester Moth caterpillar (Alypia octomaculata). Its striking black, white, and orange rings are accented by small black tubercules, and it has a cute spotted orange head. When I noticed this one, it was patrolling an area filled with peppervine: one of its favored host plants.

Adult Forester Moths act much like butterflies: flying during the day, sipping nectar, and displaying antennae thickened at the tips. Primarily black, the moth’s wings are marked with pale yellow and white spots. Although I’ve never seen an adult, this photo makes clear its attractiveness.

Eight-spotted Forester Moth ~ Alypia octomaculata

The day’s final treat was this little fellow. After months of following raccoon tracks through sand and mud, one of Walden West’s four-footed furry ones decided to introduce himself. The Algonquian Indian word for the animal, arakun, meant ‘he scratches with his hands.’ During the 1700s, American colonists dropped the initial vowel, and the name became ‘raccoon.’

Raccoon ~ Procyon lotor

Almost exclusively nocturnal, raccoons live almost anywhere and eat almost anything. Intelligent and curious, they’re perfectly able to pull a crawfish from its hole or dislodge the lid on a suburban garbage can.

Anyone who’s lived around raccoons has stories. My personal favorite involves the raccoon who broke into a Parks & Wildlife building on Matagorda Island some years ago. After removing a screen from the kitchen window, the critter found peanut butter on the kitchen table, opened the jar, and happily scooped out pawsful of its treat until rangers discovered it and put an end to the shenanigans.

Even at Walden West, it’s a lesson worth remembering: never underestimate the cleverness or persistence of nature’s creatures.


Comments always are welcome.

Investing in Gold

November, 2022

Given recent volatility in traditional markets, not to mention the goings-on in the crypto world, it probably was inevitable that purveyors of gold would make their own run at nervous investors; their advertisements are everywhere. While I don’t intend to start stashing gold coins in the closet as a hedge against inflation, I am a great fan of gold — especially the floral variety.

Year after year, the dependable Camphor Daisy (Rayjacksonia phyllocephala) brightens our coastal landscape in nearly every month, but especially from September through January. The plant is blooming now in even our most droughty areas, and its flowers are providing nourishment for a variety of insects. Just for fun, I thought I’d look through my archives to see what past years have offered.

January, 2019

Even in January, this Calligrapher Fly (Toxomerus marginatus) and a friend found flowers in bloom. This species of hoverfly benefits gardeners; it not only sips nectar, it feeds on aphids.

January, 2019

It’s not hard to spot a Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata). This one was nibbling on the plant’s ray flowers. You can see a bit of evidence at the far left.

December, 2020

Bees of every sort adore this flower. Here, an American Bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus) uses its long tongue to gain nourishment.

December, 2021

More than bumblebees visit the flowers. This Southern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa micans), still out and about in December, seems to be luxuriating in the floral wealth.

October, 2018

The soldier fly family name, Stratiomyidae, was derived from the Greek word stratiotes, or ‘soldier.’  The name refers to abdominal markings that resemble military uniform hash marks. In this species, Nemotelus kansensis, the pattern is especially clear.

January, 2019

There was a time when I believed this pretty white-striped insect was a bee; in fact, it’s a Yellow-shouldered Drone Fly (Eristalis stipator), a species of hoverfly that’s often mentioned as a bee mimic. It fooled me.

October, 2018

In the past week, all of the refuges have received from a half-inch to an inch of rain. That’s enough to coax even more gold blooms into existence, and to coax at least a few gold-lovers into investing more time with them.


Comments always are welcome.

A Salt Marsh Surprise

Galveston State Park

Receding waters during this season of drought have made many of our salt marshes more accessible. On Sunday afternoon, as I explored the flats on the bay side of Galveston State Park in search of Carolina Wolfberry (Lycium carolinianum), a favorite food of early-arriving Whooping Cranes, I noticed a flush of white rising above the familiar saltworts and seepweeds.

Making my way to the patch of fading blooms, I discovered a plant I’d never before encountered: a combination of tiny purple flowers and white bracts on plants a foot tall.

What I’d found is called Sea Lavender or Carolina Sea Lavender (Limonium carolinianum). It’s occasionally known as thrift, although it’s quite different from the Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima) that’s found on our west coast and in Europe.

In season, it produces masses of flowers that create a lavender haze above the ground. Even after its blooms fade, the long-lasting white bracts are quite attractive. Although I missed the height of its bloom this year, next summer I’ll know where to look for this lovely perennial.

That said, even a few of its tiny flowers were enough to tempt a flurry of Beach Skippers (Panoquina panoquinoides) into a visit. Closely related to the Salt Marsh Skipper, Beach Skippers are quite small — about an inch long — and can be distinguished by three small white spots on their wings. After mentioning their presence in Brazoria and Matagorda counties in spring and Aransas County in September, the Tvetens’ book, Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, suggests that this skipper also might be found around Galveston Bay.

Clearly, the Tvetens’ suspicion has been confirmed.


Comments always are welcome.

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.