Mother’s Day on the Katy Prairie

KP_Moms_day-7 For my Mother’s Day present this year, my husband gave me what most mothers probably secretly want (especially mothers of three boys):  solitude, peace and quiet, a break from the housework, and a chance to just be myself, by myself.

I had found an opportunity to participate in a nature workshop at one of the sites belonging to the Katy Prairie Conservancy, not normally open to the public (the Indiangrass Preserve).  The workshop was called the Wild West Tour: Photographing Wildflowers and Breeding Birds, and it was led by Glenn Olsen, a Master Naturalist.  Glenn has over twenty years experience identifying plants and birds, and he shared this knowledge with the group of a dozen or so nature enthusiasts who gathered at the preserve’s headquarters early this Sunday morning.
First we walked along the path to the large pond at the end of the path near the office, and Glenn pointed out all the different types of flowers that were blooming along the path’s edge.  I am not usually the one who gets to to operate my husband’s fancy camera, but since we had decided that we 1) didn’t want to fork over $50 per person for both of us to come, and opted to just pay one registration fee and 2) it would have defeated the purpose and taken away from the experience to have to trek the younger kids out with us, and 3) we are too cheap to hire a babysitter, that it made sense for me to just bring his Nikon.  I can’t exactly go to a photography workshop without a camera, but we procrastinated so long on making the decision that this was going to be my gift that we never made the time for him to give me a lesson on how to work the camera to get the shots I wanted.  At first I was a little frustrated, but I kind of figured it out after a little while of fooling around.  I got some shots I wanted (including the ones here in this post, and some more I didn’t post), but I also missed a lot of shots due to poor technique.
After we saw all the different types of the flowers along the path, we wandered behind the buildings to check out the nests of the barn swallows that were flitting about.  We saw the marks on leaves where monarch butterflies had been feeding on a “toothache” tree, and learned about which plants are best to encourage butterflies and bees.  Glenn pointed out which species were native, and which were invasive, and explained which type of butterfly or insect fed on several varieties as we made our way through the workshop.  His knowledge was also pretty extensive regarding the range of common bird species.
About halfway through our time, we divided up into three groups and got into cars to do a driving tour of the Katy Prairie.  We stopped at a couple of places along the roads, getting out to get shots of various plants that Glenn elaborated on.
Eventually we made our way to another KPC site, which I think was part of the Nelson Farm section.  Here, we saw more wildlife, including big bullfrogs that hopped vigorously into the big lake, huge snakes that slithered into the water out of our site, and more birds.  We got some pictures of the pair of Eastern Kingbirds that flitted about.   There was a Lesser Yellow Legs that kept flying by that I did not get a picture of, and then we were treated to the rare sighting of a Hudsonian’s Godwit that I also was not able to catch with a camera (but did catch with my binoculars).  In the distance, White Faced Ibis flew over the prairie in flocks, settling in the marshes together.  We saw pelicans, cormorants, coots, meadowlarks, herons and egrets, as well as the ubiquous Red Winged Blackbirds.
On the way back, there was a nice shot of a Crested Caracara perching on a fencepost, but the people in my car missed the best angle because Glenn had moved his car to allow his passengers to get the shot.  One of the guys in my car was mad about this the whole rest of the workshop, and I assured him that if he drove around these back roads long enough, he would find another to get a picture of.  Sure enough, on the way home, I had a clear shot of another, who had gotten mixed into a flock of vultures feeding off some cow feet that were mysteriously dumped in front of a pasture gate.
I learned a lot about photography and about nature on this expedition, but I also learned I have a lot left out there to learn about.  I also had a great time just being myself (not “Mom”), being completely absorbed in an experience, and spending some time embracing the outdoors.  I am going to look for more experiences like this in the future, both guided and unguided.


Here are some of my other photos from today (not all, believe it or not):
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Fulshear Afternoon

bridgeWe went out west this afternoon.

It’s been a long time coming, this latest trip to Fulshear.  We hid some geocaches out there in 2012, and a few of them haven’t been found in a while.  One of the things on my list that I wanted to do when I recovered from my leg injury was this very trip: cache maintenance, exploration, and a little cache finding.

The kids didn’t want to leave the house but we didn’t care.  I did try to sweeten the trip with a stop at Essence House II for cookies and drinks before we started our journey in earnest, though.  Once they got outside, they had a good time.  The following are their portraits of outdoor play near the Brazos River bank:

AJ at Brazos Kaleb at BrazosThis area is one of TPWD’s canoe launch sites they built in late 2011.  I have yet to see the canoe launches they built out here show up on an actual paddling trail listing on the TPWD website, but this place does seem to be popular with people wanting to fish, play in the river, and shoot guns.  The boys almost always find 12 gauge shotgun shells down here when we go.

In the top picture, the fishermen on top of the bridge support had just walked up there – that was not possible last time we were down here.  The waters have receded a lot.  You can see the pile of branches on the supports showing the level the water had been at before.  We have been to this canoe launch quite a few times, although never to actually launch a canoe.  There are a lot of trails that go on past where we have our cache hidden.  Someday, we might hide more.  I let the boys explore a little within eyesight of me, but the inclines on the trails were too great for me to follow them right now, being just a week and a half post leg surgery.  I still have stitches in my leg and barely can handle any distance or terrain changes for the moment.

After this, we headed to the other canoe launch out here, about 3.4 miles away.  For people who don’t canoe, we sure seem to spend a lot of time at the launches. We were here to check on another cache, named for a Sasquatch story a cop told us out here.  It is also the site where a cross marker lay in remembrance of two people who were murdered near here and whose bodies were found in the river.

Today, there was another body out here, although we are fairly certain from the shape it was animal in origin, and not a human.  We noticed it when we parked, a brown roundish lump laying on the ground in between the parking spot and the cache site, not 20 feet from the cross.  We thought it was a dead deer, but when we got closer, we realized the brown color came from the blanket that was thrown over it.  There were maggots crawling on the blanket, and when my oldest son (foolishly) threw a small rock at the decomposing body, you could see the ripples underneath of what certainly was a huge colony of maggots kids on culvertmaking work of this carcass.  It started to smell and we were disgusted and walked away, none of us having the guts to lift the blanket and see what was underneath.  From the body shape, we suspect it was a large dog, or perhaps a pig or other small livestock. This picture of the kids sitting on the culvert just to the right of this disturbing find.

Ew.  After this, we were going to head for a small series of caches we have hidden on a country road about 6 miles east, but we decided to take a scenic backroad diversion to get there and then ran out of time.  Instead, we found a shady country road that might be ripe for a new cache series (although the nearby residents that we saw outside their homes were causing us to question this choice – it seemed like sort of a rough area – it had a “Deliverance” meets South Africa kind of feel to it, with unfriendly eyes and condemned shacks – which was a surprise because the road backed up to a very nice high end neighborhood).

So we drove back up to the main road (1093) and then entered the neighborhood of Fulbrook and found a couple of caches there.  Here is my log entry for one I particularly enjoyed:

Found it JustKeely found  Rocky Trail

I really enjoyed this cache, it was everything I like about caching. It was a short, scenic walk from parking, and we saw a blue heron and a great white egret in the pond. While signing the cache log, we saw some striking red, purple, and white flowers, as well as an interesting looking beetle. We saw a spider web with a small black spider with a white back on the walk back, and then we heard some bird just going at it, so we looked around to identify them. The smallest of our boys said it was probably a boy and girl boy talking to each other, and even though he got in trouble for talking so loudly and potentially scaring them off, he did appear to be right. Team Four Paw was also right when he speculated about it being woodpeckers. Two red bellied woodpeckers were getting into it, chasing each other around and tweeting. Well, on second thought, maybe it was two males and not a male and female – maybe they were fighting over territory or something. It was neat to see though. Thanks for the fun little outdoors experience for the day.

turks capThese are some of the flowers I saw.  Took me a while to identify these flowers because I am not that good at it, but I finally found it:  Turks cap, or Malvaviscus drummondii.  Here is another shot of them up against a tree.

tree flowersToo bad I didn’t get a picture of the woodpeckers.  I did get one of the beetle we saw, but it is not in focus.  The spider web would have been cool, but was too hard to try to capture with my cell phone camera.

I think the boys had fun, even though they were quite happy to be headed home after this.  I feel good about finally maintaining my caches, and about getting out of the house.  Hopefully, after I get my stitches out, my leg will actually heal up with no more problems and I can start hiking again.

Off-Beat San Francisco: Bay Area Blooms

If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

DSC_1909 can just find some to gawk at and take pictures of like we did…
July 2 2012
DSC_1910 DSC_1911 DSC_1912 DSC_1914 DSC_1946 DSC_1949 DSC_1953 DSC_1955 DSC_1963 IMG_4305 IMG_4306 IMG_4307
The last three shots are mine, from the Fort Mason Community Garden. The others are Jason’s, found along the way to the places I dragged us to. If you know the name of these, particularly the brown ones, post and let me know!

Columbus, TX: Texas History and Paddling Trail

This is the view looking out of the entrance to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Canoe Launch area in Columbus, Texas.

During the struggle for Texas Independence, it is said that the army of Santa Anna camped on one side of the Colorado River here, while Sam Houston’s army camped on the other.  They crossed paths nearby in a place now called Beason’s Crossing, and later met up at San Jacinto to end the battle to the benefit of Texans.

The Columbus Paddling Trail starts here, and weaves for 6.5 miles around a bend in the river, ending at Beason’s Park (where the above Crossing was, but which is now a shady place to have a picnic and recreate).  You can rent yaks and canoes from Howell Canoe Livery, located across the Colorado from this TPWD canoe launch, which you will find along 71 Business in Columbus, just across the North Bridge.

Here is more information about the paddling trail:

We had, of course, stopped here for a geocache find.  But now that we know what is here, we might bring the canoe out, or rent some yaks, or hide some caches along this route.  The bonus for us, besides learning some about Texas history and paddling trails, was seeing sensational wildflowers here.

Here are some photos Jason took:

White Prickly Poppy : Argemone albiflora


Violet Wood-Sorrel? Oxalis violacea

Firewheels, or "Indian Bonnets. Gaillardia pulchella

The North Bridge