Wild babies

It’s that time of year again, so let’s review:

What do you do if you find a tiny fawn all by itself?


Very good! Carry on.

Hot hike

Went on a hike yesterday morning on some new land recently obtained by the City of Austin Water Quality Protection program. For the most part, it was a great hike and the acreage is gorgeous. About three/quarters of the way through, on our way back, I got overheated during an uphill climb across a ridge. Not heat exhaustion or anything too serious, just way too freaking hot, and I’d have to say it was my fault for not pacing myself and trying to go too fast. The last leg of the hike was therefore pretty tough, and I was embarrassed and angry at myself to boot. I wasn’t the only casualty — a college student got into some fire ants and had a bad allergic reaction and a fellow Master Naturalist hurt his back pretty bad. We couldn’t just stop, though. There was no way out except to hike it.

Overall, still a good day though.

It threatened rain in the morning but didn’t deliver much, just enough to make it hot and muggy.

Canopy, from on high.

Classic upland grassy savannah.

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?

GBBC. Get outside and make a difference

Valentines, shmalentines! Do something that really matters – take part in the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

The count dates are February 15–18, as in this upcoming Friday through Monday.

Anybody can do it. You don’t have to be an expert, you can do it by yourself or locate a group in your area to hang with, and it doesn’t have to to take much time — you only need a minimum of 15 minutes, and you can record your observations online.

Here are the hows and whens.


Why do it? What difference can you make anyway?

Bird populations are constantly changing. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to keep track of the complicated patterns of movement of so many species over an entire continent. The information from GBBC participants even more valuable as scientists try to learn how birds are affected by environmental changes.

The information you send in can provide the first sign that individual species may be increasing or declining from year to year. It shows how a species’ range expands or shrinks over time. A big change, noted consistently over a period of years, is an indication that something is happening in the environment that is affecting the birds and that should be followed up on. GBBC information also allows us to look at what kinds of birds inhabit different areas, such as cities versus suburban.

All the information from the GBBC and other surveys goes into a massive bird database called the Avian Knowledge Network. AKN now holds 36 million records of bird observations which are used by scientists around the world.

It’s been my experience and observation that a lot of us liberals talk a big line about science and the environment but too often, we don’t put our asses where our mouths are, even when something as easy and as important as this presents itself.

Now, go outside!

Out in the tules

In our artificial human-crafted environments, we can stop time or rearrange the evidence of its passing.  At least, that’s the illusion to which we willingly submit in our closed spaces where the light is always how we want it no matter the hour, the temperature just right no matter the season, the surfaces uniform and constant, unaltered by persistent wind, slow thaw, sudden flood.

However, time and its passage is an underlayment to most nature writing, in one way or another. 

I realized I have been saying goodbye to the land for some time.

One thing I love about Chris Clarke’s writing is that it always sounds like he has meditated, pondered a while, turned over and over the thing that moved him to write, and also the best way to make us see it with the attention it deserves. It’s difficult to effectively show the drama of the natural world, and the constant threat of its imminent demise, and Chris does it here with a solemn fullness.

All landscapes die and are reborn, and the apathetic, the soulless would take that as an excuse to further wound the land, as if mortality was sufficient grounds for murder.

In nature, time is always moving and the evidence of such is displayed in a disparate but balanced patchwork. Abrupt events that unilaterally and uniformly disrupt that are usually, predictably, the work of humans seeking to construct yet more artifice:

It was the wildest thing they could imagine and they killed it: an outcome both improbable and unsurprising.

The Lost Country, part one

Good word for the netroots to ponder


A transitional zone between two adjacent ecosystems.

The boundary or transitional zone between adjacent communities containing the characteristic species of each, such as the edge of a woodland next to a field or lawn.

A narrow and fairly sharply defined transition zone between two or more different communities. Such edge communities are typically species-rich.

See also, edge effect.

(Triviality: also one of the most significant episodes ever of Six Feet Under )

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.

“Fundamental to life” – Special showing of The Unforeseen

If you’re anywhere in the Central Texas area on October 27 or 28, you definitely don’t want to miss this:

The Corral Theatre in Wimberley, Texas, is having a sneak preview of award-winning Austin director Laura Dunn’s new film, “The Unforeseen,” on October 27 and 28

Sponsoring the film is the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association. Tickets for the Saturday screening, which features Dunn in a Q&A session, are $20. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit Hays County Community Action Network. Tickets for the Sunday show are $5. The theater opens at 6:30p.m., and the film starts at 7:30 p.m. Movie goers may need to bring a sweater and lawn chair for this special screening.

The late Governor Ann Richards in The Unforeseen. “I don’t know what the technology is going to be that saves them.”

On a related note, Ruth tackles the same issue over at Cab Drollery

Canyon Gorge update

My stat counter tells me some of you may have seen the news that Canyon Lake Gorge will now be open to the public. If you are in the area and can get into one of these tours, trust me, it will blow your mind.

A rare opportunity to see the results of a natural “big bang,” a geologic feature that was created in the space of three days.

New canyongorgeorg (say it fast three times) website.