Tag Archives: Biology

Berries and birds

I am almost, but not completely, compelled to camp next to this chokecherry (?) tree in my front yard to watch the birds (juncos, etc.) strip the tree and come back time and time again.

Last year I saw the flock of birds that stripped the tree and identified them, but I did not write down my observations, so, here I go again and I will record this time.

I write this nature post and I do not have either bird or berry tree identified. But, so, I adore berry and bird regardless.

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Filed under Birds, Field Log, Life in Balance, Nature Writers, Nature Writing Series, Plants and Shrubs

Ranchito blossoms: Flowers of Flying Hat (14-19)

In my continuing task of photographing all different species of blossoms for one year on Flying Hat Ranchito (less than 2560 acres in western America), I have six new pictures to post, only two have I identified.  I thought it better to start posting the ranchito blossoms even though identification is lacking because I don’t want to archive these beautiful plants and I think posting the unidentified will stimulate me to do further research, or possibly you-as-reader have a quick classification in mind.

This time last year, my posts focused on the wildfires and drought.  Today, pastures are green — there is some browning already — and county fire bans in my area are lifted.

14. Milkweed

15. Nightshade

16. Texas vervain (Verbena halei)

17. Unknown

18. Unknown

19. Annual Phlox, periwinkle

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Vacation chores

My Spring vacation ends today.  Tomorrow back to work, teaching.  On the list of chores for ‘vacation,’ several tasks were accomplished, some were not.  I changed the flatbed tire, carted the Case DX-55 for repair and managed cleanup in the corrals.  The tractor remains in the shop for repair.  The barn alleyway remains unpaved with rain coming tomorrow.  I shall have to wade through mud after the rain.

The unexpected came up.  I shopped for a lower-gas-mileage car, preparing to trade in the white F-250 (I’ll be left with Old Bull, the gray 2002, F-250).  Shopping for a new car ate up two days of the seven-day vacation.  Is that not the norm?  I did not purchase a new vehicle.

* * *

I spotted a male Western Bluebird yesterday perched on a yucca-flower stalk, occasionally turning around on the dead pods, flexing its wings.

This morning I saw two monarch butterflies, one in the grove and one near the house.  They fly higher than treetops.

* * *

Spring arrives in a couple of days.

* * *

I have continued to photograph each new flower I see on the ranchito.  I’ve not identified all of them, but they have been photographed.  Yellow predominates as blossom color.  Here are clover with yellow blossoms and a pale-leaf yucca whorl.  The pale-leaf I am confident in identifying, but as to clover, have you ever looked up how many clovers there are?  There are several genus and species listed on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website.  This clover abundantly erupts on the ranchito.

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Succulents, Wild Flowers of Texas

Yes, I know it’s a sparrow, but what kind?

Of course you know how it all starts out. Going to do one thing, then end up doing another! The rain ceased today, this morning actually, and I walked to the pond the see if it was overflowing (it was, but that’s another post). As I walked by the brush pile I had stacked for several years, I saw these birds flitting in the old mesquite stems and thorns. I thought: Ah, more white-crowned sparrows. I know you. I see you all the time.

Wrong.  I got back to the house, downloaded or uploaded the pics and they aren’t white-crowned, they have rufous coloring on their top.  How did I see white in the field?  Okay, I was mistaken.  Not the first time, nor the last.  Fair enough, I go to the Peterson’s.  There are several species of sparrows!  I knew that, but what rufous is it?  Ruffous-crowned, Ruffous-winged?  I finally broke down and went to the photo editor that I have, the Hewlett-Packard all-encompassing uber-editor to enlarge the photo and get some closer definition of attributes.  I take photographs with the full pixel rating: seven, eight megabytes of pixels so I can enlarge and view detail.  Yes, I know.  I am running out of space on my desktop after three years of blogging.  And, this is what I enlarged:


I go back and forth in my Peterson’s looking at all the sparrows, even the larks for goodness sakes. Tail is rounded, mustache? What’s a mustache on a bird?  I go to my Audubon field guide, but it does not even list any rufous sparrows. Oh, it’s an eastern region Audubon.  Figure that, will you?

I getting really frustrated not finding any attribute that is a definite signature until I look at the beak.  The beak.  It’s pink or brownish and the identity is finally achieved.  It is a Field sparrow with rusty cap, pink bill — a Spizella pusillad.*  It’s note is a tsee, having a ‘querulous’ quality.  Thanks to Peterson’s, I am relieved of puzzlement and doubt.

Starting out to check the pond, I end up spending time identifying a bird.  You know, the one with a pink beak and querulous quality to its note.

*Notes, corrections and additions:

For possible error in identity, please see the comments from Caralee and Rubia below.  The link provided by Caralee shows the Rufous-winged Sparrow in several colored photographs that correspond to my photographs of a ‘Field sparrow.’  A factor analysis is in progress to resolve identity.

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Flowers of Flying Hat (6-8): Sow thistle is not a weed.

Far field clouds, March 2012.

6. False Garlic, Crow Poison (Nothoscordum bivalve), March 2012.

This False Garlic flowers early and there are several colonies clustered together throughout the ranchito.  This False Garlic is closed and due to the rains and cold yesterday and today, I do not have an open flower to illustrate — but, I shall.  This is found in the lane to County Road 114, and other colonies are about the gate between the arena and the grove pasture.

7. Sow Thistle (Sonchus asper), March 2012.

Sow Thistle appears to be a weed, but it is not.  Authorities claim the milk of this plant relieves eye ailments.  I wonder if I could apply this to my left eye?  I think not.  I’ll rely upon Dr. Callanan, but then again…. This appeared one afternoon and then its flowers have closed.  This Sow Thistle inhabits the disturbed soil underneath the live oak tree to the southeast of the house.  I have read much about the categorization of ‘weed’ versus ‘plant.’  The term ‘weed’ seems culture-specific, a term of dislike, marginal.  Goats, sheep and cattle eat this with relish.  To them, it seems, this is a plant, not an obnoxious weed.  One person’s plant is another person’s weed?

8. Unknown.

These little-bitty guys erupt on the top terrace and emerge as small, almost unnoticeable flowers. As of today, I have failed to find their name, and I also need a closeup to gain greater resolution of their attributes. Today it is raining and the blossoms are closed.

More Violet ruellia, violet wild petunia (Ruellia nudiflora).

This is a another photograph of violet wild petunia, previously identified.  It has erupted in large numbers along Interstate 20 from Mingus to Abilene.

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Flowers of Flying Hat (5): Ground plum, not yummy

Yesterday evening as I came back a different path from the barn after feeding Star, I discovered this flowering plant, the Ground plum, milkvetch.  I spent over an hour perusing field books until I identified Ground plum.  I nailed the identification when I corroborated a field book description with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website.  Depending upon the species of Astragalus, some members are poisonous, but this species is not.  Even so, Ground plum is not a yummy plant although its fragrance is lovely — somewhat spicy I believe.

5. Ground plum, milkvetch (Astragalus crassicarpus?). March 3, 2012, southeast second-level terrace. See: http://www.wildflower.org/gallery/result.php?id_image=9002; Wills and Irwin, p. 138, especially.

I discovered a new link for plants: University of Michigan-Dearborn Native American Ethnobotany.  You must check this out for medicinal uses of plants.

This medicinal use of plants starts me thinking.  I may set aside an area in the barn to harvest some of these plants.  I already have a request for bull nettle to be sent up to Wisconsin for an indoor greenhouse.  Don’t let the bull nettle go outside!

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Flowers of Flying Hat (1-4): Late Winter blossoms

Human beings set goals, or at least I think they should.  On the other hand, doing what comes naturally has its attraction too.  I have set several objectives regarding nature observations on my 53 acres.  Here on the place — called variously, the ranchito, Flying Hat Ranch — I have sought to identify every tree on the place and have started a good list of American elm, cottonwood, mesquite, juniper, oak, and so on.  Identifying every tree continues to be a goal.  Tree identification was (still is) my first goal in field work on Flying Hat.  Other goals I have set up include:

observing another fox and taking its photograph,

identifying every bird I see,

identifying every bird I hear,

for one year, photographing every wild flower I observe on Flying Hat.

Achieving these goals, and the process of doing so, is personally satisfying and gives me narratives for this blog.  I have decided to start another goal-oriented project and demonstrate it on my blog.  I have begun taking pictures of the wild flowers on Flying Hat and my goal is to continue photographing and identifying flowers (all colorful blossoms) through a turn of seasons for one year – March 2012 – February 2013.  So, let’s see how far I can go with this project.  Here are my first photographs.  The No. 3 flower is disputable as a “Texas Star.”

(If I have made an error in typing, please comment or e-mail me your reasons for seeing the flower and plant differently.  I want to be right in my typing, but more than that I want the typing to be correct.  Note: All photographs are taken on the 53 acres of my ranchito; none are photographed off the place or off the ranchito grid.  For a precise location of Flying Hat, see location information in this blog footer.)

1. Verbena (Verbena bipinnatifida?). February 26, 2012, west slope of terrace, Fenster's field. See Wills and Irwin, p. 189.

2. Parralena (Dyssodia pentachaeta), of the Aster family. February 26, 2012, on back terrace and in Fenster's field east of the house. See Ajilvsgi, p. 148.

3. Bluebell bellflower (Campanula rotudifolia), February 26, 2012. See http://www.wildflower.org/gallery/result.php?id_image=3102; see notes below.

4. Violet ruellia, violet wild petunia (Ruellia nudiflora). February 26, 2012, Fenster's field, far field. See http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=RUNU; Ajilvsgi, p. 377.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

No. 3 flower and plant is probably as described in caption.  Thanks to Montucky of Montana Outdoors blog and Grethe of Thyra blog.  The issue seems to be resolved it you stand up the flower and look at the total plant.  The flower would droop like a bell and the leaves and stem favor the image in the citation in the caption: http://www.wildflower.org/gallery/result.php?id_image=3102.

Mary Wills and Howard Irwin, Roadside Flowers of Texas.

G. Ajilvsgi, Wildflowers of Texas.

Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller, Texas Wildflowers.

Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs, Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs (A Peterson Field Guide).

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Meadow lark with morning sun

Early morning landing.

Early this morning as I walked down the road to feed Star, I saw these meadow larks (Sturnella neglecta) sunning on the barbed wire fence between the house and arena pasture.  I walked quickly back up to the house, grabbed my camera and took a few shots.  The larks are skittish and I did not get close, but I edited the ‘Early morning landing’ above as the sunlight pierced the feathers, creating an illumination that I saw only when I enlarged the picture.  Fascinating.

The photograph below captures the small flock on the fence.  When I came back to the house after feeding Star I looked out the front window and saw that the flock (or another group) had come around to the front of the house and was feasting on insects and seeds on the front lawn.  You can click on the ‘Larks on barbed wire’ below and obtain a larger image.  I did not get a picture of the flock at the front of the house.

Larks on barbed wire.

I have noted that birds are singing more here at the ranchito since the weather has warmed and rains have come.  I saw my first Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) a few days ago perched on a T-post beside the road to the barn.  I have a goal to photograph the bluebird this year.  I have seen as many as eleven bluebirds bathing in the runoff water from the horse trough.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

To disclose my identification of the ‘meadow larks’ above, I have to add that my confidence in typing the above birds as meadow lark is fairly high, but with a bit of doubt about western or eastern.  When I got the Peterson’s guide open and starting reading about the meadow lark, there are at least two varieties, western and eastern, and I will have to look closer for the signature attributes.  The white edges on the tail (seen in the first photograph) are specific signatures for the western variety, so I go with that identification.  Besides, this is west Texas. 

I will look again in the morning at the flock, pending their reappearance.

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Juniper: an evergreen for all my seasons

Juniper in Flying Hat Ranchito grove, often referred to as cedar (J. Matthews, 2011).

(As a disclosure, I use “cedar” and “juniper” interchangeably.  See notes below from Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia.)

I grew up with cedar all around me, but cedar posts for building fence predominated.  T-posts (the steel ones) may be making fence construction faster these days, but I hold to the cedar post as a primary building material.  Allergies from cedar congest the lungs of Texans, particularly central residents who weather the Mountain Cedar every year.  A website dedicates itself to, “Cedar: The Allergy Plague of Trees.

All of that being said, the cedar or juniper holds personal value for me beyond the descriptions, quotes and links I attach in this post.

Of all the flora about me as I grew up and the plants about me now, the juniper radiates scent and memories, even beyond the majestic pecan in my far pasture.  I burned juniper in a Folger’s coffee can to sweeten the air at campsites and even in my apartment from time to time, placing the coffee can at the edge of the hearth.  I have taken cedar bark and twisted it into fine pieces and lit a single match to start a campfire, and I have carried cedar tinder in my backpack to start fire along the trail.  I cut cedar staves and posts one Christmas vacation to earn extra money and to say, I once worked as a cedar chopper.

Green juniper groves along the Colorado River near Bend, Texas, contrasted with bleached white-gray rock outcroppings, and I found old campsites of roundups in pastures about the river, the blackened rock, not the red, holding the remains of cedar fires.  My grandmother once pointed out a cow camp firepit near the Colorado that she had cooked for the crew and her husband-cowboy Jake, before his accident on the horse Hell’s Canyon.

I have camped near cedar breaks many times, but the one time I remember was on the Zuni Reservation, out in the middle of the reservation, by myself with junipers and coyotes through the night.  I built a small fire of cedar and munched on a juniper berry for its bitter effect.  I had sped to the reservation from Grants, New Mexico, and hastily set up camp, sleeping in my bedroll beside the fire the night through.  I was seeking a medicine man, but he never found my camp.

More often than not at Christmas time, my family cut a juniper tree from the ranch to place in the living room.  The tree may have been as short as three feet, at other times, five-feet tall.  I loved the aroma of the juniper as it filled the house for Christmas.  Tinsel drooped from the branches with those bubbly lights all aglow.

Near Abilene, on the road to Coleman, there is a park on the east side of the highway at Buffalo Gap, a broad cut in the hills that buffalo and migrants used to go into southwest Texas from the High Plains and Caprock.  The park has a large grove of junipers that have trunks three to five feet in diameter.  I have rested there many times and note the broad-deep shade the junipers provide in the Summer and windbreak during Winter.  From the Juniper Park — as I have taken to call it — one can see into Buffalo Gap and off in the distance the plains to the north.  This Juniper Park has been a lookout, a redoubt of some sort, for a long, long time.  I think I stopped there one time when I was traveling to Brownwood to take care of my aging mother, or it may have been another time, and I rolled the windows down to smell the juniper and place my hand on the fertile greenery I had known all my life, or that other day anew in late Spring.  I thought then, as I do now, that I will remember this day for as long as I live, for although my mother lay dying and I was teaching in a foreign land, the evergreen of juniper and its effect transcended my sorrow and sense of alienation from this world.  I have found home and peace and love beneath junipers for all my seasons.  To me, its fruit is never bitter.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Some juniper trees are misleadingly given the common name “cedar,” including Juniperus virginiana, the “red cedar” that is used widely in cedar drawers. True cedars are those tree species in the genus Cedrus, family Pinaceae.

In Morocco, the tar (gitran) of the arar tree (Juniperus phoenicea) is applied in dotted patterns on bisque drinking cups. Gitran makes the water more fragrant and is said to be good for the teeth.

American Indians have used juniper to treat diabetes; such treatments by the Navajo, for example, are under clinical study.[3] Clinical studies have shown that treatment with juniper may retard the development of streptozotocin diabetes in mice.[4] Native Americans also used juniper berries as a female contraceptive.[5] The 17th Century herbalistphysicianNicholas Culpeper recommended the ripened berries for conditions such as asthma and sciatica, as well as to speed childbirth.[6]

“Juniper,” Wikipedia, accessed December 25, 2011.

* * *

juniper, any of about 60 to 70 species of aromatic evergreen trees or shrubs constituting the genus Juniperus of the cypress family (Cupressaceae), distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The juvenile leaves of a juniperare needlelike. Mature leaves are awl-shaped, spreading, and arranged in pairs or in whorls of three. Some species have small, scalelike leaves, often bearing an oil gland, which are pressed closely to the rounded or four-angled branchlets. Male and female reproductive structures usually are borne on separate plants. The reddish brown or bluish cones are fleshy and berrylike and often have a grayish, waxy covering. They mature in 1 to 3 seasons and contain 1 to 12 seeds, usually 3.

Common juniper (J. communis), a sprawling shrub, is widely distributed on rocky soils throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Many ornamental cultivars have been developed. The berrylike megastrobilus of this species is used to flavour foods and alcoholic beverages, particularly gin, which is named after Juniperus through the French genièvre. Juniper “berries” have a fragrant, spicy aroma and a slightly bittersweet flavour. Used with venison, they remove the gamey taste. They are also used to season sauces and stuffings, in pickling meats, and to flavour liqueurs and bitters.

An important ornamental and timber tree of eastern North America is the eastern red cedar (J. virginiana), whose fragrant wood is made into cabinets, fence posts, and pencils. This species is an invader of glades, pastures, prairies, and other open grassy areas in parts of its range; thus, it is considered a troublesome weed by some botanists and land managers. The savin (J. sabina) of central Europe, Chinese juniper (J. chinensis) of eastern Asia, and creeping juniper (J. horizontalis) of eastern North America are other popular ornamental species with many horticultural varieties. The wood of incense, or Spanish, juniper (J. thurifera), of Spain and Portugal, and of Phoenician juniper (J. phoenicea) of the Mediterranean region sometimes is burned as incense.

Oil of juniper, distilled from the wood and leaves of several species, is used in perfumes and in medicines such as diuretics. Galls produced by junipers as a reaction to fungal infection are known as cedar apples. This fungus, cedar apple rust, completes its life cycle on members of the apple subfamily of the flowering plant family Rosaceae, which contains numerous species of trees and shrubs commercially valuable as fruit and ornamental plants. The growth of junipers around apple orchards and plantings of related genera is thus discouraged to avoid disfigurement or loss of these important cultivated plants.

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “juniper,” accessed December 25, 2011, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/308301/juniper.

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Walking with Great Blue Herons

The grove peninsula. This is one of several peninsulas formed by the meandering Salt Creek (December 2011).

Blue Heron tracks along a still pool of water in Salt Creek (December 2011).

I walked in the grove this morning.  Several peninsulas emerge in the grove, cut by the swift and long-flowing water of Salt Creek.  Upon purchasing Flying Hat Ranchito eight-years ago, I found a red metal chair on the peninsula I photographed, a solitary chair for the previous owner to muse, observe or rest.  I took the chair off the peninsula.

Wet and cold the air, I saw track of the Great Blue Heron that frequents the creek that meanders among the elm, oak and juniper.  I see one or two of them each day flying to the cow tanks about the ranchito.  The heron track I identified with my Peterson’s field guide to animal tracks, a new third edition I purchased when Border’s went out of business in Fort Worth.

I was not alone as I walked in the grove.  The Great Blue Heron — past and present — walked with me in the grove today.

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