Sunday, November 29, 2009

Finishing Tract A

It’s hard to believe it was a week ago when I got up way too early and drove thru a thick fog to BCP Tract A to finish a job that started back in the spring. The job is covering virtually every square inch of a few acres of land in search of invasive plants. Once the invaders are found, we log the GPS coordinates, take a picture, and fill out a data sheet. Then we keep walking. But sometimes it isn’t just walking. Sometimes it’s climbing, hanging onto branches, grapevines, or whatever we can grab. Sometimes it’s sliding down hillsides or negotiating dry creekbeds. Our goal last Sunday was to finish Tract A before winter, before the leaves fell off the China berry trees and left us with naked, unidentifiable branches. Another motivation to wrap things up is that the city hunts wild hogs out there and getting shot is something we definitely want to avoid. We’re hard core and all but not crazy.
I met Gloria Blagg and Jan Hanz at the parking lot off Jester Rd. We carpooled to the site and headed out for the last known coordinates, in search of the last patch of Tract A that had not been covered. Although it is work, it’s a naturalist’s dream to have these un-peopled acres all to ourselves. This tract doesn’t even have what anyone would call a trail. The closest thing to that is the creekbed and a few narrow deer trails. We’ve seen amazing spiders, insects, endangered birds (Golden cheeked warblers), and more plants – good and bad – than I can begin to name.
It was chilly Sunday morning and we had had some rain so the moss and lichens were soaking up nutrients and sun probably ”knowing” on a cellular level that winter is on its way.

On one of trips I had missed, the group had run across some black, star shaped things. They picked them up and wondered what they were. Well, Sunday we solved that mystery. We found several little objects that looked like an acorn had fallen smack onto a mushroom.
But on further inspection we discovered that what looked like an acorn was actually a little puff ball of some sort. A little research netted the info that it’s called an Earthstar. I snagged this info from this site: “Earthstar Geastrum saccatum. How to identify it: Star like appendages, often curled under with a puffball-like spore producing body in the center. These odd mushrooms resemble cookies, laying scattered on the dark forest floor. Like the puffball, when ripe, the center sac gives off a puff of spores when poked.” Here's what they look like after they have popped and dried up.
We ran across some pretty pink flowers that we could not identify.
We found what we think are coyote tracks.
And of course no hike is complete without a gnarly tree and various holes.

Jan managed to go the entire four hours without falling. I was the first to go, much to Gloria’s delight. She laughed and poked fun at me, only to fall in the exact spot not ten seconds after I fell. The amazing thing is we’ve never been injured, snake bit (in fact I’ve seen more snakes in my back yard than I have on BCP lands), or even gotten a rash from the ubiquitous poison ivy. We have a great time learning as we go. We have catalogued a number of invasive plants like nandina, china berries, ligustrum, and Chinese tallow.
Here we are after we finished Tract A. We celebrated by going to Waterloo Ice House and having lunch. The church crowd looked askance as we made our way to the table with scraggly hat hair and dirt on our jeans. But we didn’t care. We raised our ice tea glasses and toasted to a season of hunting invasives as we await our next assignment in the spring.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fall report

If I wait for the time to write a long entry with profound insights, I will be too old to type. My goal is to just write things as they come – so here it comes. It’s been a busy fall, as I basically have a busy life. That’s a good thing as I see it. In September, Will and I vacationed in the Davis Mountains. When I am there, I feel like I’m at home. Being a reasonable driving distance from Odessa, it’s where my family would head out to on a rare family trip. I went to Girl Scout camp every year from when I was 7 until I was around 12 or so at Camp Mitre Peak. So the whole area feels comfortable to me, in a land embracing you kind of way. My friend Gloria and her son Eric were camping in the state park and my friends Beck and Anne were out there at the same time too. One afternoon we all happened to be at Balmorhea State Park at the same time. That was fun – to drive 7 hours and bump into someone you know one picnic table away from you. I took lots of photos on that trip and they can all be found on my Flickr site. But here is one that Gloria took of me showing off Mitre Peak.
Later in September I went to Odessa to meet little Jax and visit with his parents, his grandma (my BFF) and his great grandma. That was a super fun time full of babies, good food, laughter, and lots sweet moments. Those photos are also on Flickr except for this teaser here.
In late October I attended the Texas Master Naturalist state meeting. I was privileged to represent my local chapter by presenting a talk about our relationship with the Austin Nature and Science Center. I had a really fun time at the meeting. I met new people, learned new things, and had lots of laughs with my fellow Capital Area Master Naturalists. I forgot my camera so you’ll have to take my word for it that the trip to Mo Ranch, where the meeting was held, is one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever taken.
Back on the home front, I continue to tackle my yard. I fight back weeds, plant new things, and lately I put up a little plastic greenhouse shown here. Sometimes I take a book or magazine out there and sit. It’s like being a kid again and having a clubhouse. I’ll have to heat it when the temps drop down below 32 this winter but for now it’s quite pleasant out there.