Sunday, September 2, 2018

Our Library, Our Trail

Yesterday's first-Saturday-of-the-month hike on the Madrone Canyon Trail at the Laura Bush Community Library was a hot one! I came prepared to lead the monthly hike, in Jean's absence. I was particularly curious to see the canyon after two months of no guided hikes. When no one appeared by 10:05, I did the one-hour-long hike alone. Each hike is a different experience, but this time was like no other. The canyon was filled with the songs and calls of birds! Our group hikes are usually devoid of bird sound. I suspect, because I was walking slowly and quietly, my presence didn't alarm them. With my binoculars I was able to see a Black-crested titmouse and/or a Tufted titmouse. Travis Audubon says these two species hybridize and their ranges overlap in Central Texas.

Desert willow Chilopsis linearis (Cav.) Sweet is a native tree that blooms ethereal in summer.

The Queen of the Canyon, Texas madrone Arbutus xalapenis, is sprouting forth new growth.

The exceptionally hot temperatures this summer and low rainfall have left the canyon parched. There is plenty of nocturnal life as evidenced by the scat I've seen on the trail, loaded with seeds of the Texas persimmon Diospyros texana Scheele.

Devil's shoestring Nolina lindheimeriana (Scheele) S. Watson offers its seeds to a trail passerby.

I hope you show up at the Trailhead by the sign and bench for the next guided hike on Saturday, October 6th from 10 to 11 o'clock. And if we're very quiet, we may see and hear birds!

Paula Tuttle
Texas Master Naturalist

Friday, June 29, 2018

Canyon life, past and present

Two families came out for our June hike. In fact, a few were the youngest hikers we've had this year. All ages, shapes and sizes can hike the Madrone Canyon Trail!

At the beginning of each hike, Jean explains the history of the canyon: "Over the past hundreds of millions of years, this area has been alternately under and above the sea. Many different layers of sediments were laid down, creating different kinds of sedimentary rock. Ocean and salt marsh organisms created hard layers of sedimentary limestone and fossils." And fossils, like this bivalve mollusk, have been found in the canyon, the former shells of an ancient sea creature.
This hiker found a bivalve mollusk fossil which he put back where he found it, in keeping with good trail etiquette.

Here, a different kind of shell, the eggshell of a bird, possibly the Bewick's wren (pronounced Buick) often seen in our canyon. Chicks have an "egg tooth" used to exit the shell, making a nice clean opening from which to emerge. That's how we know this bird egg didn't fall from the nest.
Happy hiker found a bird's eggshell!
Oftentimes, hikers will find bones of animals, like these vertebrae, pieces of a mammal spine. Can you guess what all three of the hikers' finds have in common: seashell fossil, eggshell, and bones? Hint: All three contain this mineral. You'll find the answer at the end!

Finally, flowers! Berlandier's sundrops, Square-bud primrose and Sundrops are all common names for Calylophus berlandieri

Here's another primrose, where you can see the bud, flower, leaves and fruit (seed pod) of the Bigfruit evening-primrose, Missouri evening-primrose or Fluttermill, all common names for Oenothera macrocarpa.  

Flower buds were on the stalks of Devil's shoestring or Ribbon grass, both common names for Nolina lindheimeriana. 

The common name of this plant is Lady Bird's centaury, (Centaurium texense).  It is in the Gentian family of plants and similar to another centaury often seen on our limestone canyon walls called Mountain pink (Centaurium beyrichii).

The answer to the above question is: calcium carbonate. Congratulations, if you guessed correctly!

Due to the July 4th holiday weekend, we will not lead a hike on the first Saturday of July. The same goes for August, no hike planned, just because it's so hot! But you're always welcomed to hike the canyon on your own.  Jean and I will be back for a hike on Saturday, September 1, 2018 at 10 am.

Keep cool!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Madrone Canyon in May

The first Saturday in May was a perfect spring morning for our hike on the Madrone Canyon Trail. Four cheery hikers showed up.
Speaking of cheery, before our hike, our group was greeted in the parking lot by a Mockingbird melodiously singing from a treetop and exuberantly fluttering into the air, attracting attention to himself.

Some plants had buds about to open.

Twisted-leaf yucca (Yucca rupicola)
Devil's shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana)
We found two different species of primrose blooming.

Square-bud primrose (Calylophus berlandieri)

Taking a closer look at Missouri primrose going to seed
Seed pods of Missouri primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa)

Lindheimer's silktassel (Garrya ovata ssp. lindheimeri)
were also setting fruit.
Engelmann's sage (Salvia engelmannii)
We saw many white flowering plants in the canyon, like these:

Barbara's buttons (Marshallia caepitosa) 

White milkwort (Polygala alba)

 and more wildlife...
Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Blustery weather for the April Hike

Daisy Girl Scout Troop 42420 from Eanes Elementary showed up for the first Saturday of the month hike of Madrone Canyon Trail, despite the cold and wind. In fact, there were so many girls and chaperones that Jean and I split into two groups. Once we got down into the canyon, below the steps and out of the wind, we could concentrate on looking for new blooming plants.
As you may know, the Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) is the state flower. Each inflorescence is made up of many blue flowers with white patches. Sometimes you'll see the patches are reddish. Studies have shown that the white patch turns red due to the age of the flower, thus the viability of the pollen in it. The bees will avoid the flowers with the reddish patch and go to the ones that are white containing the viable pollen, conserving energy and achieving pollination--a win-win!

Descending the stairs into the canyon to get out of the cold wind, we saw Prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida).
At the start of the trail, we're greeted by Blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum).
Let's face it, there are lots of small yellow flowers. But if you look closely at the back of the petals of Four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa), you see four veins.
Did you know, the orange color of the Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) are not the flowers, but bracts like a poinsettia?
We picked a Wild onion (Allium canadense) to identify it by its onion scent. 
Wright's skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) was amply represented in the canyon.
Daisy Troop 42420 from Eanes Elementary and chaperones
Handsome Sphix moth rests on the library window.
The next Madrone Canyon Trail hike will be May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, wind, rain or shine!


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Springtime in the Canyon

The first Saturday of February was nasty, no doubt about it, raining with a North wind. Jean and I were not at all surprised when hikers failed to appear.  Regardless, we went down into the canyon to witness the subtle changes. There were lots of rosettes popping up. It can be difficult to identify a plant by the clump of new leaves, but we made an educated guess at a couple and will confirm later when they bloom. Despite being a perfect spring day on March 1st, we had no hikers again. The changes from February to March were pretty significant. I took these photographs of some of our observations.

Engelmann's daisy (Engelmannia persistenia) rosette found near the steps.
When in bloom, the entire plant can create a yellow dye.
Barbara's buttons (Marshallia caespitosa) is seen popping out near the steps.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium augustifolium) is in the Iris family, not a grass at all. 

Lots of Dutchman's breeches (Thamnosma texana) can be seen along the trail.

Plenty of sweet smelling Agarita (Berberis trifoliolata) is all over the canyon.

An occasional Four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa) can be seen flowering in the canyon.

Star moss is among the many mosses in the canyon from the spring rains.

Lindheimer's silktassel tree (Garrya ovata ssp. lindheimeri) is in bloom.

Missouri primrose (Enothera missouriensis) will soon have large yellow flowers.

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) later will have small yellow flowers.

Golden pucoon (Lithospermum incisum) is a new one for me, but Jean is familiar with it.

The adult Twisted-leaf yucca with a slight leaf twist.

This is what a juvenile Twisted-leaf yucca looks like before the leaves twist.

Lots of Lady beetles are back!
April 7th will be the next Madrone Canyon hike, and we'd love to show you around!


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

First Hike of 2018

Jean led the first hike of the new year without me because I was down with the flu. But fortunately for the blog, a Texas Master Naturalist in-training, Lauren Kalisek, was on the hike and she took notes and photographs! Seven hikers in all joined Jean! Here's Lauren's write-up of the hike:

"Starting at the trailhead, Jean discussed the geology of the Balcones Canyonlands, how a shallow sea 100 million years ago led to the limestone and rock deposits that make up the canyon. Over the millennia the area uplifted to a plateau that was then eroded by area streams into the canyonlands we enjoy exploring today. The name "Balcones" derives from the early Spanish explorers to whom the limestone cliffs seemed to resemble balconies.

"As we walked into the canyon we were interested to see what the winter season would show. Immediately we encountered male Ashe Juniper ready to release pollen in the coming days.

Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei) male cones about to release pollen

"We admired Devil's shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana), Seep muhly (Muhlenbergia reverchonii), and Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) along the trail. We stopped to inspect a seep that provides a steady water source impacting the area plants. 

Evidence of a seep: Seep muhly (Muhlenbergia reverchonii), Nostoc commune and moss

"The moisture in the canyon is conducive to the development of Nostoc, a type of cyanobacteria, that appears green and rubbery along the ground like seaweed in moist conditions, and that goes dormant in dry weather. Cyanobacteria are some of the most ancient lifeforms with their fossil record going back more than 2 billion years. We were able to get a close look of some Nostoc in the prairie area of the trail.

Jean holds a dried example of Nostoc commune, a cyanobacteria

"We discussed the benefits of Juniper duff as building soil and supporting vegetation in the Canyonlands. As we paused to take a look at the first Madrone we encountered on the trail, Jean explained that the trees are rare and considered endangered in Texas. They do not have root hairs so they need ideal soil conditions. This could be why they are often found growing in the midst of Ashe Juniper to share in the soil benefits around these trees. The tree bark sheds each year, starting off lightish red in the spring and darkening throughout the summer and fall. 

Small Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) growing from the duff beneath an Ashe Juniper

"We also discussed distinguishing between evergreen sumac and madrone trees as they resemble each other at first glance. We also observed Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) and Dutchmen's Breeches (Thamnosma texana) which appeared to thrive in the winter conditions (though not in bloom). When crushed, their leaves have a distinct aromatic smell.

"We emerged back at the trailhead with a better appreciation of the canyon in winter and a desire to come back and see how it changes throughout the coming year."

Thank you, Lauren, for writing such an interesting write-up of the hike and for all the photographs match your write-up beautifully!

The next hike is Saturday, February 3 @10 a.m. Hope to see you then!

Paula Tuttle