Hill Country grasses photoblogging

I had the privilege yesterday to participate in a field class on identifying the Texas Hill Country native grasses. The class was held on the Onion Creek Management Unit of the City of Austin’s Water Quality Protection Lands. It was conducted by botanist and Master Naturalist Tom Watson, a Land Steward for this beautiful acreage.

Examining the stolon structure of Curly-Mesquite, Hilaria belanger

When I took the Master Naturalist certification training last year, I was lucky to have several teachers that were very knowledgeable about grasses, and grasses were emphasized all through our training. Even so, it’s a difficult subject that takes a lot of experience to fully master. At best, after nearly a year of training, there were only a handful of the more familiar species I could identify without their flowering inflorescence, which is only present for part of the life cycle. I found this class especially helpful because we spent a lot of time on learning to better identify the structural vegetative features of family Poceae.


A grass everyone is likely to become more familiar with, due to its potential as a source of ethanol: Panicum virgatum, commonly known as switchgrass.

Finally, my favorite: The beautiful Eastern Gamagrass, Tripsacum dactyloides, interesting due to the inflorescence having both separate male and female flowers. The orange stamens are the most easily recognized as they are larger and visible for a longer period of time. The more delicate stigma is visible here, in Tom’s right hand, directly above his index finger.

Where I’ll be today

Pretty cushy volunteer gig.  Stop by and say hey if you’re in the neighborhood, and bring your recyclables for free glass-bottom boat rides.  A free glass-bottom boat ride at Aquarena on a beautiful Sunday, with mariachi music-what could be better?

Death of a wild parrot

Edgewater, New Jersey is home to a boisterous flock of wild Quaker parrots.  Unfortunately, for those birds and their human neighbors, it’s also the site of some of the worst industrial poisoning in the United States.

A heartbreaking story and warning from the wonderful BrooklynParrots.com:

The poisons that we place in our world will last for centuries. The species that we are extincting won’t come back. Humans will eventually wake up to the fact that lead, and uncountable other poisons in the air and water, are slowly and silently killing us. This will only occur once people begin to topple and fall, palsied, like my little green friend, unable to even raise themselves to eat.

My little green departed friend was one of those “canaries in the coal mine” and I really hoped he would make it. His death will only be marked here. Nobody, including the media, and especially the politicians, whose livelihoods are supported by the commercial poisoners, will make a peep about it. He will have died in vain, as so many of us do.

Here’s a related story from SierraActivists about the glacial pace of Superfund clean-ups in New Jersey. The post is a few months old, admittedly, but at the rate these projects are progressing, it’s likely still largely accurate. A September 8 NYTimes blurb listed 3 new Superfund sites added in New Jersey, which now has 115 sites, more than any other state.

More about the wild parrots of Edgewater.