Friday, August 22, 2014

Native sedge vs the invasive

This week's topic at Wetland Plant Identification class was Cyperaceae. It's all Latin to me.

The class covered flat sedges, spikerushes, beakrushes, bulrushes, true sedges and saw grass used in local wetland restoration. My spinning brain couldn't take in all of it.

My main goal was to learn the difference between Cyperus virens/Green Flatsedge and Cyperus entrerianus/Deep-rooted Sedge.

Cyperus virens is a native. Cyperus entrerianus is an invasive that displaces our natives. You see both plants in ditches and wetland areas.

The invasive is on the right.

The Deep-rooted Sedge, native to South America, was introduced into the United State around 1990.
It has spread rapidly through roadside mowing, construction and agricultural activities.

Seeing the sedges side-by-side, I can see the difference. However I will probably still ask for a sample stem to take with me into the field for comparison on seed collection days.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sharing a boardwalk with a young night heron

I was mostly alone.

A guy on a bicycle was the only human I saw on a back trail at Baytown Nature Center on a 90-degree morning.

Then I saw this Night Heron on the right side of the boardwalk (below).

Other birds had taken flight when I approached the walkway. It is a no-fishing area so the shorebirds are less tolerant of people.

But this immature heron stayed.

Was it just curious? Defiant? Hurt?

We scrutinized each other.

I asked silently: "Is it OK if I pass by?"

This is the look I got.

Is that a yes?  Or is that no?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Today's poser: Differential grasshopper

This grasshopper landed in front of me and turned in circles.

The chevrons on its hind leg indicate it is a Differential Grasshopper, a major pest for farmers and gardeners.

The adults usually began appearing in mid July.

I assumed this grasshopper was posing because I was carrying a camera so I shot its portrait.

Is that your best smile?

Really you don't have a "best side."
Even your backside is quite lovely. Would I lie to you?
Then I kept shooting thinking I could possibly get a cool pic of the grasshopper taking off.

However the grasshopper wasn't in a hurry to move on. But I was hot -- temp was 87/feels like 96 -- so I walked around it.

So long, grasshopper.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A different swallowtail in the garden

It was tough to get a photo of this  Pipevine Swallowtail because it was fluttering nonstop along the Turk's Cap.

It had a ragged wing, which may have affected its flight plan.

The blue metallic color often associated with the Pipevine Swallowtail wasn't a standout on this one. Maybe I'll see a more colorful one next time.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A walk in the park on a hot August day

A bird party interrupted.
We eyeballed each other. I blinked first and walked on.
Whew! The mower missed it by that much.
An orange dragonfly strikes a pose.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A skipperling evokes memories of a dedicated naturalist

Trying to figure out what to properly call this little orange butterfly brought me to the Tvetens' butterfly book and flood of memories about John Tveten (1934-2009).

John Tveten was a naturalist, photographer, author and fellow Baytown resident. I met him while I was working at the Baytown Sun. 

It was an encounter that still makes me cringe when I remember my stupidity. 

I was a punk reporter assigned to do a short piece about his book, Coastal Texas: Water, Land, and Wildlife (1982).

The next day I was horrified to realize I had misspelled his name throughout the piece.

"I can't believe you got it wrong when was right there on the front of the book," he said to me quite evenly. But I can imagine it was a line he had shouted with extra exclamatory remarks when he saw his named spelled Tveton.

You can't apologize enough for something like that. I made plenty of mistakes during my newspaper career, but that is one that still horrifies me.

A few years later when I was working at the Houston Chronicle, we got to know each other a little better. He wrote a nature column so I saw him a couple of times a month.

After about 25 years, Tveten and his wife ended the column in 1999 to work on more books.

I left the Chron in 2012 and now have more time to spend outdoors appreciating what John and Gloria Tveten documented so enthusiastically.

Looking at descriptions in their 1996 book  Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, I believe this is a Southern Skipperling. The book says:
This tiny orange butterfly ranks as North America’s smallest skipper. 

It is abundant throughout the Houston area from at least March into November, frequenting open, sunny fields and roadsides as well as urban lots and gardens.
The Southern Skipperling is bright orange. Some specimens have narrow black borders or dark veins, and the male has a tiny black stigma on the forewing. 

Beneath, both wings are orange, with a distinct light ray running across the hindwing from base to outer margin. The white ray can easily be seen as the butterfly perches with folded wings or sips nectar from a flower, and it is diagnostic of the species.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Swallowtail caterpillars munch fennel

On a fennel plant about 2-feet tall, four Black Swallowtail caterpillars were spotted today at Baytown Nature Center.

This was the fattest of the four caterpillars on the fennel.

Can you spot the caterpillars.
There is a similar sized plant on the other side of the bed, but we didn't see any caterpillars on it.