Like Dipping Water With a Sieve

Mesquite trees ~ Frio County, Texas

From 1845 to 1847,  German naturalist Dr. Ferdinand Roemer traveled across Texas observing, collecting, and detailing discoveries in a journal published in 1849, after his return to Germany.  The expansive title — Texas ~ with Particular Reference to German Immigration and the Flora, Fauna, Land, and Inhabitants — is justified, as Roemer was a curious, keen-eyed, and accurate observer.

After arriving in Galveston via steamship from New Orleans and traveling up Buffalo Bayou to Houston, Roemer departed for New Braunfels. Along the way, he stopped in Gonzales and Seguin, and spent time at the historic El Capote Ranch. Eventually, he explored the area around New Braunfels in the company of Ferdinand Lindheimer, another German who already had acquired some fame as a botanist; in time, Lindheimer would become known as the Father of Texas Botany.

During their time together, Roemer and Lindheimer followed the course of the Guadalupe River for several miles below New Braunfels.  Roemer’s description of the mesquite trees he encountered during that trip came to mind when I discovered a lovely stand of mesquite in ranch country south of Devine on May 9:

A natural prairie or meadow one-fourth mile wide extends between [the Guadalupe] and a gently rising chain of hills, on which mesquite trees (Pleopyrena glandulosa Engelmann) were scattered. These mesquite trees, which spread also over a great portion of northern Mexico, give to the prairie of Western Texas much of its peculiar character…
The trunk is gnarled and now and then bent, thus making it unfit for lumber. They seldom obtain a thickness of over one to one and one-half feet in Texas, nor a height of more than twenty to thirty feet…
The foliage resembles the so-called acacia, inasmuch as it is plumeous. The individual leaves, however, are much narrower and the whole foliage is more graceful and transparent.
To find shade under a mesquite tree is like dipping water with a sieve.


Comments always are welcome.
For an entertaining and informative article about mesquite trees in Texas, click here.
My copy of Roemer’s journal was published by Copano Bay Press, an independent Texas press dedicated to bringing back important works of Texas history.

Red and Blue ~ Those Texas Hues

Indian Paintbrush

Perhaps a true appreciation for Texas’s size requires leaving its cities and taking  time to roam among its unincorporated areas and settlements. Many places carry names even most Texans never have heard and, depending on your chosen spot to roam, the appearance of the land can vary wildly.

Last weekend, I chose to roam north and somewhat west of home, in the territory generally referred to by coastal dwellers as North of I-10.  Among its unfamiliar settlements — Burleigh, Sunny Side, Monaville — unbroken swaths of familiar wildflowers covered the land, unseen by flower-seekers cruising the primary highways. Sometimes, red Indian paintbrush served as the primary attraction; elsewhere, bluebonnets held sway. Occasionally, the flowers combined in a single field, creating an extraordinary sight.

Even the most skilled photographers can’t truly capture the glow of these flowers, or the bluebonnets’ fragrance. But if you enlarge each photo, you may get a glimpse of their wondrous beauty; I wish you had been there to see it.


Bluebonnets with perennial rye grass (Lolium perenne)


Comments always are welcome.

Nature’s Alchemy

Even in a post-freeze year marked by continuing drought, Texas wildflowers can put on quite a show. It’s tradition here to set aside at least one spring weekend for “going to see the flowers,” and last weekend was mine.

Many consider our fields of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush to be iconic, but they’re often rivaled by other wildflowers. The Christian City Fellowship, a large congregation between Sealy and Bellville, has allowed acres of flowers to bloom on their property; the huge patch of yellow flowers there certainly caught my eye.

After a quick U-turn, I pulled into a parking lot at the back of the church and found myself gazing at the largest colony of Nueces Coreopsis (Coreopsis neucensoides) I’ve ever seen. With its pretty red detailing and frilly ray florets, it’s an especially attractive flower, but the history of the field was equally compelling.

The church was open, so I ventured inside to ask permission to roam the property. A young man offered permission with a smile, then mentioned that the flowers had changed dramatically. In past years, the fields had been covered with bluebonnets. This year, only an occasional bluebonnet bloomed amid the coreopsis; Nature as alchemist had transformed blue into gold.

Was the change due to last year’s freeze? Had drought played a role? Whatever the reason for the change, the result was beautiful, and I lingered a good while luxuriating in the sight — until I remembered that bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush were waiting down the road.

Nueces Coreopsis


Comments always are welcome.

Pink Floyd ~ Still Flying After All These Years


Pink Floyd in 2018 (photo credit: Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

Vagrants — birds that wander beyond what we think of as their natural range — can turn up almost anywhere. Some are blown off course by severe weather during migration; others veer the wrong way or overshoot their target due to navigation-impeding genetic mutations.

But Flamingo No. 492, popularly known as Pink Floyd and presently living la dolce vita on the Texas coast, isn’t exactly a vagrant. ‘Escapee’ would be a more suitable word.

The striking bird  came to live at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas in 2005, part of a group of thirty-nine flamingos shipped to the zoo from Africa. On June 27 of that year, two flamingos were spotted outside their enclosure near a lake on zoo property, but attempts to capture the birds failed. The pair flew out of the zoo, spent a week in a nearby canal, then left Kansas for good,

Word of the birds’ escape caught the public’s attention when Pink Floyd was spotted on Lavaca Bay here in Texas on May 23, 2018. It was the first time the bird had been spotted without the Caribbean flamingo that had been its traveling companion through Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Texas.

Pink Floyd in 2019  (Photo credit: John Humbert)

On May 20, 2019, a team from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Coastal Fisheries Division spotted Pink Floyd again while helping the Texas Colonial Waterbird Society conduct a survey of birds in the Corpus Christi area. Julie Hagen, a member of the Coastal Fisheries Division, said Intern Myles Cooley spotted the bird. According to Hagen, “Last year, they were like, ‘Wait. There’s a flamingo. So this year we’re just like, ‘Oh what’s up, it’s back — or maybe it never left.’ We don’t know where it goes.”

Video still from March 10, 2022 sighting (Video credit: Dave Foreman)

Most recently, the bird made news after being spotted on March 10 at Rhodes Point in Cox Bay near Port Lavaca. The Coastal Fisheries division confirmed its identity as No. 492 after making out the bird’s still-attached leg band on the video.

Despite the sightings, there aren’t any plans to attempt a capture. Officials say there’s no easy way  to do so without disturbing other wildlife, and the bird obviously is in no distress. I don’t keep Pink Floyd on my play list, but when I make it to the mid-coast again, you can be sure a big, pink bird will be on my watch list.


Comments always are welcome.

Walden West ~ February 1

Since the first day of February fell on a Tuesday, I made my second visit to the spot I’ve come to call ‘Walden West’ on January 30 and 31. Tucked between freezes, the days were sunny and mild, with sunlight emphasizing the green of emerging grasses; although the water had receded somewhat, enough remained to reflect the clear, blue sky.

At first glance, I thought a turtle was lounging in the middle of the pond, but I discovered it was only a turtle-friendly log. Perhaps one day in the future I’ll find an actual turtle there.

Many of the trees surrounding the water had lost their leaves, making the details of their trunks even more interesting. This trunk, which I take to be a Dwarf Hackberry (Celtis tenuifolia), had been split along its length, giving it a scroll-like appearance.

Nearby, a Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia) still held a few leaves.  The most common elm in Texas, the tree often is found near streams, in flatwoods near rivers, or on dry limestone hills.  Its seeds ripen in fall, helping to distinguish it from other native elms.

Cedar Elm

Winged Elms (Ulmus alata) have larger leaves and seeds that mature in the spring. Its leaves also provide a bit of color, but its most distinguishing feature is the wide, corky ‘wings’ on either side of its branchlets; the specific epithet alata is from the Latin word meaning ‘winged.’

Described as a “small and slender component of the understory in the wild,” the Winged Elms at Walden West fit the description perfectly. The examples I found were relatively small:; none reached more than six or seven feet.

Winged Elm

Among the insects that feed on the foliage, wood, or plant juices of Winged Elm are caterpillars of the Question Mark butterfly and the Giant Walkingstick. If I keep an eye on the elms, I might find another walking stick in the coming year.

Winged Elm leaf and ‘wings’

In nature, change is constant, and I found quite a change when I sought out the pretty, algae-decorated tree that caught my attention in early January.

January 1

On this visit, the obvious damage wasn’t particularly deep and it was limited to one side of the trunk, but it pointed to the presence of another creature in the woods.

January 31

Since the mud surrounding the pond was covered in tracks made by white-tailed deer, it seems reasonable to assume that one of the deer visiting the water also had damaged the tree with a ‘buck rub.’

Before and during the rut, or breeding season, bucks rub trees with their antlers as a way of marking territory, working off aggression, and intimidating other bucks.

But the earliest rut in Texas occurs in the Gulf prairies and marshes: an area which happens to be home to Walden West. Since the breeding season is well over, and since buck rubs also serve to communicate a buck’s presence to other deer by scent left on trees, brush, and saplings, it’s entirely reasonable to assume the damaged bark was the result of a buck attempting to establish his territory or dominance.

Dwarf Palmettos

Scattered among the elm, hackberry, yaupon, and oak, Dwarf Palmettos (Sabal Minor) add an interesting accent to the land surrounding the pond. Slow growers and usually stemless, the leaves arise from underground stock and are especially attractive when young.

One of our most cold-hardy native palms, dwarf palmetto can be found in a variety of habitats, including maritime forests, swamps, and floodplains. Its fragrant white flowers are followed by clusters of small black fruits that are enjoyed by a variety of birds and small mammals.

The palmettos also provide a hidden-in-plain-sight napping spot for the Green Tree Frog (Dryophytes cinereus). This is the third such frog I’ve found at the San Bernard Refuge; each had chosen a palmetto blade for its spot. If you look closely at the second photo, you can see the reflection of the inch-long frog on the palmetto’s stiff and shiny leaf.

In the grasses surrounding the palmettos, a Milkweed Assassin Bug (Zelus longipes) was busy preparing its dinner. Using its long mouthparts, it had captured and immobilized its prey with a paralyzing toxin. In time, it would ingest the creature’s dissolved body fluids through those same mouthparts in the same way that we use a soda straw.

Looking upward, I found the trees hosting a variety of vines. Colorful Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) encircled many of the trunks.

Equally attractive but less bothersome Greenbrier (Smilax bona-nox) twined through trees and shrubs alike.

Its fruits, said to be favored by opossums, raccoons, squirrels, and songbirds, must be tasty; very few remained on the vines.

The most exciting discovery of the day involved Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides). Neither a moss nor a parasite, Spanish Moss is an epiphyte: a plant that absorbs nutrients and water through its leaves from the air and the rain. Like Ball Moss (Tillandsia recurvata), it’s a flowering plant, but I’d never found evidence of its flowers.

When I decided to try a backlit photo of its tangled strands, I discovered something odd. Rust-colored bits were everywhere. At first, I assumed they were insects; looking  more closely, I discovered they were seed pods.

A tangle of Spanish Moss
Opened Spanish Moss seed pod

At the edge of the woods, Early Buttercups were blooming: their waxy leaves reflecting the light.

Early Buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis) with hoverfly

Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) seemed to find them equally attractive.

Drummond’s hedgenettle (Stachys drummondii), a member of the mint family, contributed a lavender accent.

The first Ten-petaled Anemone (Anemone berlandieri ) I’d seen this year was a bit worn around the edges, but still delightful. Named for French naturalist Jean Louis Berlandier, its common name is misleading, since the plant has no petals, only petal-like sepals, and their number can range from seven to twenty-five.

Even at the beginning of February, signs of impending spring were everywhere. Seedlings of the Cedar Elm ringed the pond.

Basal leaves of the native Dwarf Plantain (Plantago virginica) were less common, but more obvious.

And finally, shrugging off the cold, new Turk’s Cap plants (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) were thriving.

In time, their vibrant flowers will ring the edges of the pond: a sign of spring arrived.

Turk’s Cap


“Is not January the hardest month to get through?  When you have weathered that, you get into the gulf stream of winter, nearer the shore of spring.”
~ from Winter:  The Writings of Henry David Thoreau


Comments always are welcome.
For an introduction to the Walden West project, click here.