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This week has been challenging.  There have been conflicts that have kept me inside.  Imagine that!  Work to do that can’t wait.  And even the weather has conspired against walking.  Storms beset us and the trails have been heavy with clay.  It is not the same walk when your feet become collectors of added clay soles.  And then there are celebrations that happen during lunch.  But I did manage a quick walk on Monday with a few shots of Skeleton Plant and White Avens now that they are beginning to fruit.  It is good intentions to get outside that get altered by commitments.  Just as an exercise program begins to taper off as you see the benefits, walking on a regular basis suffers when there are distractions.  And the heat is coming.  That is another story, altogether.

White Avens flower and fruit

White Avens flower and fruit

Skeleton Plant Flower
Skeleton Plant flower

Skeleton Plant Fruit
Skeleton Plant fruit

 

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I walked down toward the Falls through the coolness (that’s relative) of the Elm Grove and then passed a walker coming up the trail.  She said the Roadrunner she had just seen was not happy to see her.  I paused and then moved ahead slowly.  I heard a rustling in the underbrush ahead and as soon as the trail turned, I waited.  Just ahead the Roadrunner was standing in the middle of the trail looking away from me.  I slowly pulled out the camera, turned it on and began to raise it for a shot.  Another walker approached from below.  The wary bird was not waiting for me.  He had had plenty of intrusions and took a beeline back into the elbowbush thicket.  No shot of that hot rod for me.  Here is one shot of a Prickly Pear.  I was waiting for the bee that is pollen-diving among the stamens to surface, but I did not have the patience and the sun began to bear down in the process.

Prickly Pear bloom
Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri)

Photography is one of those pursuits where the obvious is not.  Bright sunny days do not yield the best color and the soft light of an overcast day can be your best friend.  I set out with a shot of a Cloudless Sulphur in my mind.  I missed the best shot, waiting just a fraction of a second too long to pull the trigger, but this first shot illustrates my point.  If you could only see what I had in my viewfinder that wasn’t recorded!

Sulphur on Prickly Pear

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

Each year the procession of blooms along the trails and through the months is essentially the same. There are better years for some plants and they are found in more places; then there are the lean years. But after just a few years of noticing what is blooming when and where, patterns are there to be followed. You look for the Venus Looking-Glass where it was last year and there you find it. We saw the first ones today for this year. The Winecups are back again, too. The patch of Skeleton Plants is not as strong as last year, but it is there and there seem to be more locations. Green Milkweed Vine is blooming in its vegetative way in the same shady spot. The last Wednesday walk of April was small number in number of walkers but well rewarded in variety of plants. The Roughleaf Dogwoods are at it in a big way. We had seen a concentration of Sulphur butterflies in one section of the trail over and over. Kiki solved the mystery today by noting the large numbers of Two-leaved Sennas along that section of trail and remarking that they are host plants for those butterflies. It is nice to note the patterns and to then know the reasons for them. Sometimes the reasons remain a mystery. There again, mysteries are usually solved by observation of patterns and gathering of background knowledge. Get to know your own outdoor area, put together the patterns and some time in the future you will solve a few of those natural mysteries. Enjoy the rest.

Green Milkvine

Green milkweed vine (Matelea reticulata)

This time of year is great.  We have had a couple of fronts on the weekend to cool it down and the week will be just right to be out and about during lunch.  I tried to get several shots of a couple of butterflies on a stand of wooly white, but between their skiddishness and the ants I stood in but did not see, those shots are not.  Today’s best is of a winged insect that I do not know.  Anyone know what this is?  Three flower shots including Skeleton plant, Ratany and Prairie Brazoria follow.  Last is a scene from the Homestead Trail, with a footbridge crossing a ravine.

Unidentified Insect

What is this? Some type of fly? Tell me if you know…

Skeleton Plant

Skeleton Plant ()

Ratany

Ratany ()

DSC00404

Prairie Brazoria ()

Homestead Trail scene

Today was the fourth scheduled walk for all of us to share our plant and animal knowledge with others who are enthusiasts and anxious learners.  I missed out on the first half hour of the stroll, but I caught up with a splintered off portion of the initial group, or I guess in reality they caught up with me.  I had spent the morning attending an historic session of a Committe of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.  They were considering a proposal by the Dallas-based Creation Research Institute to begin offering a Master of Science Education degree based on creation science.  The proposal was denied, but the Board members heard public testimony on the merits of the proposal and then had a lengthy discussion before they came to the decision to deny the proposal.  I am sure you will find articles on this in tomorrow’s newspaper.  I was there, on my own time, in support of my fellow Board members of the Texas Academy of Science.  We provided comments urging the denial of the proposal through our spokesperson, Dr. Jim Westgate.

Back to the Trail.  Walkers today saw a good show of the end of the early bloomers and strong appearances from some of the same plants seen lately.  We keyed out the Black Cherry from its leaves and branches, pointed out Nose Burn and saw the end of the Two-leaved Senna blooms.  The Snakewood was still blooming as was the Wafer Ash.  I am not sure what the group saw when I was still searching for them, but I spent time trying to photograph a Red Admiral that did not cooperate very well.  The Rain Lilies were spectacular, as were the Prairie Larkspurs near the wet meadow downstream of the Falls.  A number of fleeting Sulphurs were in the bend of the trail where we have seen them lately.  No photos, they were much too active for quick shots from the hip.  So I leave you with a “documentation” shot of the Red Admiral, the red berries of Possum Haw and a shot of Texas Thistle.  Check back for a report on a dainty blue to lavender flower we are yet to ID.

Look Close for the Red Admiral
Look close and you will see a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Possum Haw
Red berries of the Possum Haw (Ilex decidua)

Texas Thistle
Texas Thistle (Cirsium texanum)

You never know what wonderful, fruity, tropical-sounding plants you will come across on the trails at McKinney Falls.  We saw a blend that any smoothie would envy for our Earth Day walk.  Kiki wanted to check out a tree that she saw flowering last Friday.  That turned out to be Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) or Horse Apple.  These trees have several great stories associated with them, not to mention a place in the economic history of Texas.  This large specimen was dropping catkins all along the trail so we looked up and spotted it in the canopy overhead.  We soon noticed a series of specimens of Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) along the trail’s edge just up from the Horse Apple.  We were joined by Dyanne and Julia for a trip down towards the Falls to check out whether the Mexican Buckeye was blooming.  It wasn’t, but there were many other great finds along the way.  Just across from the cement picnic bench (careful if you use that, there is a healthy bunch of poison ivy under it) was a nice Pink Mimosa (Mimosa borealis) with a crouching Nipple Cactus (Mammillaria similus) at its base.

The day turned warm, maybe kind of fitting for Earth Day 2008, and we made our way back inside after spotting nearly all of the vines of the park.  I hope you get a chance to get outside and enjoy your day.  Think about your personal impact on the environment and do something good today to walk lighter.

Pink Mimosa

Pink Mimosa bloom

Mammillaria

Mammillaria flower the size of a silver dollar

Black Cherry

Black Cherry (no blooms) leaves and branches

Osage Orange

Osage Orange branch with small flowering catkin