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lindheimermm04-04-12.jpg In April I had the pleasure of speaking to the Comal Master Gardeners 2012 trainees about wildlife gardening, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to include a visit to the Lindheimer Home and gardens in New Braunfels. Ferdinand Lindheimer, an extraordinary naturalist and the first permanent-resident botanist of Texas, is particularly notable in part for his vast contributions in the collecting and categorizing of thousands of Texas native plants but also for his unique role in other aspects of Texas history. In fact, his skilled passion for Texas flora earned Lindheimer an honorary title, the "Father of Texas Botany."

lindheimergg04-04-12.jpg In preparation for writing this article, I drove downtown to the Austin History Center, which includes in its collection of archived books and documents one copy of the translated letters of Lindheimer to renowned botanist George Engelmann, enclosed in the book A Life Among the Texas Flora, by Minetta Altgelt Goyne (note: this is book is still in print and available for purchase). My goal was not to read the entire book that day but merely to get a feel for the passion behind Lindheimer's plant collecting, as well as to take a closer look at his personal and family history.


lindheimers04-04-12.jpgFerdinand Jacob Lindheimer was born on May 21, 1802 (some sources say 1801), in Frankfurt, Germany. Immigrating to the United States in 1834 during a time of political unrest in Germany, Lindheimer traveled first to Illinois and then to Mexico by way of New Orleans. For a short while, he worked on a couple of plantations in Mexico, collecting plants and insects in his spare time. Upon hearing about the Texas Revolution, however, he returned north to enlist in the army, missing the Battle of San Jacinto by a day. After completing his time in the army, Lindheimer farmed for a short while in the Houston area, all the while studying Texas plants and insects.



Silk Tassel, named after Lindheimer (Garrya ovata ssp. Lindheimeri), growing wild


Beginning in 1839, Lindheimer spent some time with George Engelmann, botanist at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, and Harvard botanist Asa Gray, eventually working out an arrangement to collect and send thousands of Texas floral specimens for categorization. This arrangement would last about nine years. Along with the specimens, Lindheimer wrote long detailed letters to Englemann, and much can be learned about Lindheimer, life and culture in the early settlement of Texas, and Texas' valuable ecology and geography just by reading the translated letters.

lindheimeraa04-04-12.jpgThrough Lindheimer's letters, we learn of his fondness for sweet native grapes and how pecans and persimmons were regular food sources. We learn of different wildlife he encountered, his attention to physical fitness and health, his understanding of local Native American tribes, and just how many species of cacti and yucca there really are in Texas. Often Lindheimer gave detailed accounts of the trials of travel or difficult bouts with illness, and finances were always a necessary topic to discuss with Engelmann, who paid Lindheimer for his plant collections. But sometimes, Lindheimer would add in the most interesting of comments, such as, "Dr. Koester's medical treatments here are mostly unfortunate, often ghastly. Do let me know [through your contacts in] Frankfurt whether he is competent at all to practice even as a last resort." [p. 117]


Texas Star (Lindheimera texana), growing wild


Sometimes Lindheimer's descriptions of the Texas landscape were so poetic that I longed to have been a witness to the Texas that once was. In reference to the area that would become New Braunfels, Lindheimer wrote: "It is sufficient that we are at least here, where the streams flow crystal clear over the rocky beds. The fluid element gleams emerald green, and in its greater depths the fish rush back and forth visibly. Powerful springs cascade down from the rocky hills. They are probably subterranean brooks that have gathered in the caves of the limestone boulders and suddenly come to the surface. Forest, grazing land, and land for cultivated fields of the best quality are available. But what does that matter to me? Palmate yuccas, cactus, and mimosas and the fragrance and blossoms of them all, that's for me. Here I have seen for the first time the total splendor of the prairies. Flower upon flower, richer than the richest Persian carpet....[p.112] If you are interested in Texas' natural and cultural history, Goyne's A Life Among the Texas Flora: Ferdinand Lindheimer's Letters to George Engelmann is an excellent source of enlightenment.



When Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels purchased Texas land for a German colony in 1844, Lindheimer served as a guide for the immigrants. He was deeded land in the new German settlement of New Braunfels and built his home on land overlooking the blue Comal River, and from there he continued his plant collecting, got married, and began his family. It is estimated that during his entire lifetime, Lindheimer collected between 80,000 and 100,000 specimens, many of which were discoveries of new species or sub-species.


santantaRW04-04-12.jpgLindheimer was known for his mild voice but strong opinions. He was an active supporter of freedom and justice. As a botanist, he was respected by many Native Americans, and in fact the fierce Kiowa chief Santanta was a regular visitor to Lindheimer's home. (Note: On the wall in the front room of Lindheimer's home one can see the painting above of Chief Santana by Ralph Wall; it was added to the home in 1980.)


lindheimeree04-04-12.jpgFor 20 years, Lindheimer served as the first editor of the Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung, a bilingual German-English newspaper that lasted more than a century. He published the newspaper from his house and included his own sometimes controversial writings. He was involved in local education and served as the county's first Justice of the Peace. After his retirement, Lindheimer returned to his passion for Texas plants, until his death on December 2, 1879.


lindheimerq04-04-12.jpgToday the Lindheimer Home is under the care of the New Braunfels Conservation Society. It has been restored to look much as it did during Lindheimer's lifetime.  John Turner, who gave us a tour of the Lindheimer home, was greatly involved in the restoration, which was completed in 1995.


lindheimerkk04-04-12.jpgStucco covers three sides of the main building, with the remaining surface exposing the fachwerk, or half-timbering, technique employed by German settlers, with rocks or brick filling space between the timbers.

lindheimerl04-04-12.jpgThe house has a second-story loft, as well as a cellar, and a second building sits where the former outhouse had been.

lindheimerc04-04-12.jpgInside, one sees much of the original furniture used by Lindheimer and his family.

lindheimeref04-04-12.jpgOriginal newspapers and plant specimens, as well as photographs and other items, are out on display. The image above is Lindheimer's granddaughter Sida and her husband.

lindheimeroo04-04-12.jpglindheimerh04-04-12.jpgThe Comal Master Gardeners do an exquisite job of maintaining pristine colorful gardens around the quaint Lindheimer house. The gardens are a combination of assorted Texas natives, popular favorites, and a selection of plants specifically named after Lindheimer.

lindheimervinea04-04-12.jpgLindheimer Morning Glory (Ipomoea lindheimeri)

The most notable perhaps was the dainty but beautiful Lindheimer's Morning Glory, freshly blooming just in time for my visit.

lindheimerp04-04-12.jpgThe Master Gardeners visiting with us said they hope to continue increasing the Lindheimer plants, especially those well suited for a garden (for not all of the Lindheimer plants would qualify as being ideal choices). After reading Lindheimer's letters that accompanied his plant specimen shipments to Engelmann, I'd like to also suggest continuing to add native plant species that Lindheimer particularly loved collecting from the Texas wild - what fun it would be to research those! For it cannot be questioned that Lindheimer's true passion was Texas flora, not just collecting it but experiencing adventure along the way. But the Lindheimer garden is truly charming, and I commend the Master Gardeners for their dedication to creating such a lovely setting that is both an array of color and a tribute to Lindheimer. It is a garden that is a pleasure to stroll through. In fact, I was so delighted with the Lindheimer Morning Glory that I made sure to purchase one for my own garden at the Wildflower Center plant sale soon thereafter.

lindheimeri04-04-12.jpgToday, many plant species (and one snake) bear the name Lindheimer in their scientific name. Depending on the source, there are at least 30 such species and possibly more than 40, but with taxonomic changes happening all the time, there is no way for me to confirm an accurate number. But after touring the Lindheimer Home and gardens and knowing that I intended to write this article, I decided to increase my personal collection of plants named for Lindheimer, and so far I am up to at least 7 (there might be others on the property):


·         Silk Tassel (Garrya ovata ssp. lindheimeri)

·         Lindheimer's Senna (Senna lindheimeriana)

·         Big Muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)

·         Lindheimer's Morning Glory (Ipomoea lindheimeri)

·         Lindheimer's Beebalm (Monarda lindheimeri)

·         Texas Star (Lindheimera texana)

·         Devil's Shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana)


I'm technically not counting Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens Lindheimer ex Gray), but some people do -- in any case, I have it. With luck, someday I'll be growing again White Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), which succumbed to drought, and perhaps I'll be able to add Balsam Gourd (Ibervillea lindheimeri), Woolly Ironweed (Vernonia lindheimeri), and others to the list.


lindheimerr04-04-12.jpgThank you to John Turner of the New Braunfels Conservation Society and to the Comal Master Gardeners for sharing a moment in time with Lindheimer with me. The friendliness of my tour guides, my love of Texas botany, and my being a former resident of New Braunfels made my visit just like coming home. Plus I had a great time speaking to the 2012 Master Gardener class. On the way home, I viewed wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country. What a great day!


Note: If you are wanting to visit the Lindheimer Home, you'll need to contact New Braunfels Conservation Society in advance to arrange a tour. In fact, I hear that the entire NBCS Conservation Plaza is a must-see, and it is a must-see I must see on my next visit!

Even though we were well on our way back home from Florida, we couldn't resist making an additional stop or two in Louisiana before the final home stretch to Texas. Beignets, check. Gumbo, check. Wildlife refuge, check.

 binocularsa03-16-12.jpgWe wanted to visit a wildife refuge in Louisiana to get an idea of environmental differences between it and Florida -- and if we had an opportunity, to sneak in a glimpse of the coast. The answer -- the Creole Nature Trail, a long wildlife-scenic highway route south of Lake Charles. The trail took us to the Cameron Prairie Wildlife Refuge, as well as several other viewing spots.


Cameron Prairie Wildlife Refuge's primary purpose is to support migratory birds, such as wintering waterfowl, as well as many other animal species with its 9,621 acres of marsh, coastal prairie, and old rice fields.

grebeandcoots03-16-12.jpg A Pied-Billed Grebe swims among American Coots

binoculars03-16-12.jpgA boardwalk and observation deck make it easy to look search for water-loving birds, and we observed White Ibises, different species of ducks, Great Egrets, Coots, Grebes, Great Blue Herons, and others.

bee03-17-12.jpgCarpenter Bee -- it's very difficult to capture an image of this fast-flying insect!

turtles03-17-12.jpg Of course, many other wildlife species live at or visit the refuge -- turtles, lizards, butterflies, insects, and, of course, alligators.

easternpondhawk03-17-12.jpgEastern Pondhawk

granole03-17-12.jpgGreen Anole, Shedding

scope03-16-12.jpgThe boys, throughout our entire trip, were quite the naturalists, and they were excellent at both finding and IDing wildlife species -- Louisiana was no exception.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds were the most plentiful birds we saw in southwestern Louisiana. Great numbers of large flocks were spotted time and again throughout the marshland and agricultural areas we visited.

rwblackbirdfemale03-17-12.jpgFemale Red-Winged Blackbird


bnstilt03-17-12.jpg Black-Necked Stilt

Leaving the refuge, we continued toward the coast, the roads taking us past miles and miles of marshland.Often we could see alligators along the road's edge, where marsh waters attracted a smorgasbord of animals on which an alligator might feast. Unfortunately, this also meant that we occasionally saw dead alligators along the road, a car or truck likely their source of doom. One deceased alligator looked to be at least ten feet long, and it was a very sad sight.

cows03-16-12.jpgAh, but we had adventures yet to come. We found that the maps we had and the roadway signs left something to be desired as we traveled that day in Louisiana. Trying to visit a particularly spot along the trail, we made a wrong turn, through no fault of our own (seriously), and after driving a bit we found ourselves on a road lined with curious cattle who splashed through the marshland to come over to see us. In moments lots of cows surrounded our Civic Hybrid, and those big cows made our little car seem smaller than ever.

I snapped a picture of a cow just outside my window but it apparently decided that it wanted nothing to do with us or my camera, and it ran, which startled another cow running, and another, and before we knew it, we were in the middle of a stampede of some 25 startled cows rushing toward, around, and past us and our little vehicle. cowsb03-16-12.jpgI had no choice but to keep moving my car in the same direction, very slowly, but it wasn't until we began to pass a few of them that one mooed a "Hey, it's okay" moo and the cows started to slow and calm down. The experience was a first for us, indeed, and in moments the cows just stared at us calmly again as if nothing had happened.

LAgullsb03-17-12.jpgBack on the proper road, we continued to discover more reasons to gripe about the maps and lack of decent road signs, but eventually we found ourselves at a ferry, which takes cars across a ship channel to another portion of the highway. Even there at the ferry, we had sign issues. There was a sign and painted road marks showing where to stop to await the ferry, but there was no sign telling us that after 5pm you needed to drive over to another place in order to get on the ferry. So the driver of the car in front of us waited at the posted place, and we waited behind him, and time tick-tocked and tick-tocked, until a local resident drove up and said, "Hey, after 5pm you have to go over THERE to get on the ferry," pointing to some place not visible from where we sat. Thank goodness he said something or we might still be at that stop sign waiting for the ferry.

LAgullsc03-17-12.jpgOn the plus side, the boys hadn't been on a ferry in a very long time, so far back they couldn't remember the experience, so it was nice to be able to drive our car onto a boat, then get out and walk around for a few minutes as we crossed the channel. The gulls and pelicans flying all around us made it even more exciting.

LAgulld03-17-12.jpgThe gulls in particular followed the ferry en masse, hovering just off the back as the waters churned around us. Perhaps they hoped some people would toss them food, but they honestly didn't seem interested in the humans on the ferry -- maybe instead they were hoping to spot some fish in the waters behind the boat.

LAgulls03-17-12.jpgLAbeach03-17-12.jpgSoon after the ferry ride, we found ourselves driving along the beach. We pulled over to look for shells and found them we did -- many were huge!

fulvouswhistlingducks03-17-12.jpgFulvous Whistling-Ducks

The Louisiana coast was so different from the coasts of Florida's peninsula, but it reminded me much of the familiar coasts of Texas. Clearly we were close to home! 


The sun went down as we finished our drive along the Creole Trail, and thousands of Red-Winged Blackbirds silhouetted against the sun's vibrant setting colors marked the final wildlife viewing of our vacation. It was time to get home to see Texas once again.

Thanks for joining us on our journey across the southern states to Florida and back. It created many memories of a lifetime for me and my boys, and we can't wait to go back!

Florida Bound: Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park


On our way home to Austin from the Everglades, we decided to visit one more state park along Florida's western coast, the Homosassa Wildlife State Park. This 210-acre park is a rescue facility for many bird and animal species native to Florida. Most of these animals cannot survive in the wild, but their home at the park is as close to their natural habitat as possible. That draws in many other animal species to take up residence, as well. The state park, with is spring-fed waters, is also a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned West Indian manatees, who eventually are released back to the wild.


Great Horned Owl

Because I have a lot of photos to show, I'm going to keep text to a minimum and only show my favorite images or ones that tell a good story. You'll see mostly birds and reptiles here, mainly because the mammals, including the endangered Florida Panthers and Red Wolves,  were too far away to allow for a good picture.


Wood Ducksbarredowl03-16-12.jpgBarred Owl


American Alligator



alligator03-16-12.jpg flamingod03-16-12.jpg Flamingos

grheron03-16-12.jpgThis Green Heron has a severe wing injury, and lucky for it, it has a home at the state park.

anhingasa03-16-12.jpgI watched a male Anhinga work several minutes to pull a section of leaves from a tree I was standing under. Once he pulled the short branch away, he flew over to the nest where his mate rested. She dictated where she wanted him to put it, and it was clear that she wanted it "just so." My husband might recognize this scenario.

anhingasb03-16-12.jpgEventually he got the branch in an acceptable spot.


Nolan and I sat down to sketch this beautiful alligator, sparking the interest of others who came over to watch us. The alligator seemed to appreciate our attention, and it kept moving ever closer to us. I'm sure that's the reason, right?

alligatorfeet03-16-12.jpg alligatortail03-16-12.jpg amercroc03-16-12.jpgBaby American Crocodile -- note the distinguishing "zipper" teeth characteristic. American Crocodiles are endangered.


For juvenile comparison, a baby American Alligator (to better see the jaw difference, look to the big guys above)


Brown Anole, showing his dewlap. This is an invasive species.


White Ibises, Juvenile and Adult


Great Egret

whiteibis03-16-12.jpg White Ibisredshhawk03-16-12.jpg     Red-Shouldered Hawk


flamingob03-16-12.jpgFlamingos, mildly bickering


Brown Pelicans, wonderful parents to their little baby. I watched the father add sticks to the nest, and both parents shared the responsibility of feeding their baby.

brpelicansc03-16-12.jpg Here is an image of the feeding process, made interesting by the very large bills of the parents.

whoopingcrane03-16-12.jpg Whooping Crane, Endangered

amerpelicans03-16-12.jpg American White Pelicans, with their visible "horns." These horns will be shed after breeding season.

rspoonbill03-16-12.jpg Roseate Spoonbill

sandhillcranes03-16-12.jpg Sandhill Cranes

skink03-16-12.jpg Broad-headed Skink, perhaps?

burrowingowls03-16-12.jpg Burrowing Owls

amereagle03-16-12.jpg Bald Eagle

louhippo03-16-12.jpgLu the African Hippopotamus. Part of the previous privately-owned attraction at Homosassa Springs since 1964, Lu the hippo was given special Florida citizenship in order to allow him to stay at the State Park's native wildlife refuge.

It was time at last to officially leave Florida and travel west toward Texas. Just to offer full disclosure about our Florida trip, we did sneak in two days at Orlando -- Epcot and Universal Studios. A detour, I admit, from the wildlife we focused on the rest of the time, but we wanted to have some butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Without going into details here, I'll just say that we had a glorious time, and butterbeer is yummy.

Florida Bound: Southern Everglades


alligatora03-13-12.jpgOne of the highlights of our Florida trip was canoeing in the Everglades at 9-Mile Pond, just a few miles north of the Flamingo Center. Arriving in the early morning, we were welcomed by an alligator drifting lazily across the pond.

blvulturesa03-13-12.jpg The alligator wasn't the only one to greet us -- several vultures awaited our arrival and that of the other folks doing the canoe trip with us. It didn't take long before the vultures began to attack and consume the rubber parts of cars foolishly left in the parking lot. This is why the vultures we saw all around the Everglades seemed to stalk us whenever we drove into a visitors area. Fortunately for us, we had been warned not to park in the 9-mile lot and also to make sure to cover our windshield wipers and sideview mirrors with bags to help protect them. The woman who drove the car above   didn't bother to move her car, saying, "Meh, it's a rental."

canoeingb03-13-12.jpg Our Park Ranger guide, Daniel, was excellent -- articulate, informative, and funny.

alligatorc03-13-12.jpg The canoe trip took us across 9-Mile Pond and then along a winding path through many Red Mangrove islands.

canoeing03-13-12.jpgSometimes we maneuvered through tunnels made from overhead arching branches, while the mangrove roots arched downward into the water. In case you are wondering why my son isn't wearing a life jacket in the image above, the Park Ranger let us take them off once we were in the shallow waters of the mangroves. I opted not to "rock the boat."

  mangroves03-13-12.jpgRed Mangroves create a community utilized by many different plants and animal species. Additionally, they serve as protection for the delicate ecosystem, especially during hurricanes.

flyingegret03-13-12.jpgWe saw the occasional alligator, and several birds took flight as we paddled our way around curves and corners.    

mangroveroots03-13-12.jpgThe upright Mangrove roots stood out of the water like stilts, supporting the tree above.

      ybladderwort03-13-12.jpg Bladderwort, a carnivorous plant, was plentiful in the waters below us. Bladderwort extends only its flower above water. Below the surface, bladders on the leaves trap and consume mosquito larvae and other tiny aquatic creatures.

    alligatorb03-13-12.jpgmangrovesb03-13-12.jpgOut in an open area of Spike Rush and scattered Mangroves, our group paused to discuss the movement of water through the Everglades ecosystems and how wildlife adapts to the flow of water in wet and dry seasons.

evergladesflow03-13-12.jpgPark Ranger Daniel also spoke to us about the historic flow of water that once supported the vast Everglades and how human development and drainage drastically altered the path of water on which the Everglades flora and fauna have long been dependent, leading to several species becoming endangered. Efforts are in the works to restore some of the water flow to the Everglades, but as you can imagine, it will take time.

syrphidfly03-13-12.jpgWhile we were stopped, Syrphid flies, Palpida albifrons, sought resting spots on our canoes, much to the chagrin of those in our group who at first feared they were bees. Great mimics, aren't these flies? I'm astonished I managed to get a picture, given the movement of the canoe in the water and the wary reaction of the flies to my camera.

fish03-13-12.jpgBelow us, we only saw small fish, but much larger fish can be found throughout the fresh to brackish waters.


Apple Snail eggs

mangrovesc03-13-12.jpgOne young Red Mangrove is all it takes to start an island, as materials collect under its roots and more Mangroves develop. Well, one young Mangrove and a lot of time!

thistle03-13-12.jpgspoonbills03-13-12.jpgAfter leaving the 9-mile pond, we headed south toward Flamingo. Along the way we spotted Roseate Spoonbills and many other birds at Mrazek Pond, which as it turns out happens to be a prime birding location.


Tri-Colored Heron


  Tri-Colored Heron and, I believe, a Lesser Yellowlegs.

bwteal03-13-12.jpgBlue-Winged Teal, Female

birdsatFlamingo03-13-12.jpgView from Flamingo, Southern Everglades

butterflies03-13-12.jpgDown at Flamingo, we walked about the Visitor's Center, enjoying sights of birds and butterflies. Manatees were mating at the marina, as well.

  skimmer03-13-12.jpgBlack Skimmer

blackskimmerd03-13-12.jpgI fell in love with the Black Skimmers, especially fascinated by the elongated lower mandible that allows a skimmer to, well, skim the water for its food.

blackskimmerb03-13-12.jpggull03-13-12.jpg           Laughing Gull, Juvenile

  gullb03-13-12.jpgOur visit to the Everglades was ever too brief. We have grand plans to go camping there for a full week sometime soon!


Pelicans, Key West

 We ended the day with a drive out to Key West, which is considered the southernmost point of the contiguous United States. We had some key lime pie, as one should do while in Key West. I'm happy to report that while the pie was delicious, my boys like mine better! Just writing this, I'm craving lime -- I think I best do something about that!

keywest03-13-12.jpgFrom this southernmost point, we pointed our car north again. It was time to head back toward Austin, but we still had a few stops to make during our journey home....

Florida Bound: The Everglades, Anhinga Trail


gbheron03-12-12.jpgContinuing with the story about our Florida trip, Destination Everglades, we couldn't help but fall in love with the Anhinga Trail, located near the Royal Palm Visitor Center, which is a few miles from the Ernest Coe entrance to the national park. The trail consists of a short boardwalk over a sawgrass marsh, where an abundance of alligators, turtles, snakes, and countless species of birds feed and nest.This trail is the must-see spot if you only have time for a short visit to the Everglades. I also recommend that if you can, stay until dusk.

Although we visited the Anhinga Trail on two different days, I'm going to combine images here.

vultures03-12-12.jpgIf the vultures that greet you as you arrive seem ominous, there's a reason for it, but it's not what you might think. I'll explain in my next post -- yes, more suspense!

I wasn't so clever as to get an overall shot of the boardwalk itself, as I couldn't draw my eyes away from the plentiful fauna.



The popular trail is named after this bird, a diving and swimming bird called the Anhinga.

anhingafeathers03-13-12.jpgThe Anhinga typically swims with most of its body submerged and only its neck and head above water, but it can also dive under the surface to search for fish. It is unable to use oil to waterproof its feathers the way ducks do, and as a result the feathers become waterlogged when it swims.

anhinga03-13-12.jpgThis is why Anhingas are often seen with outstretched wings drying in the sun.


cormorant03-13-12.jpgDouble-crested cormorant, above and below

cormorantb03-13-12.jpgAnother great underwater swimmer is the Double-Crested Cormorant, shown above. I got a glimpse of one swimming below the surface, but alas, I was too mesmerized to take a picture. Like the Anhinga, the cormorant often stretches out its non-waterproof wings in order to dry them.

greenheron03-12-12.jpg Green Heron

I think my favorite Everglades bird, if I were forced to pick one, was the Green Heron. The muted earthy colors of this gorgeous bird really aren't well represented by the words "Green Heron." The feathers were so uniquely stunning, I didn't even realize how brightly orange the heron's legs were until I got home to the computer. But I was just as fascinated by the way it stalked its food, crouching down low to study the water for any slight movement and being ready to quickly nab its prey.

greenheronb03-12-12.jpg gbherond03-12-12.jpg Great Blue Heron (also seen at top of post)


Wood Stork (Endangered)

During our first visit to the Anhinga Trail, an endangered Wood Stork graced us with its presence. The animals along the trail are remarkably complacent, and the Wood Stork was no exception. Off in the distance, we could see three more in a tree.

woodstorkb03-12-12.jpgI was surprised at how many people considered this bird unattractive. I found the lack of head feathers simply that which makes it unique. Baldness can be quite a sexy feature, you know. (Side note: For the record, I was totally Team Picard, not Team Ryker.)

alligatoraa03-12-12.jpg Of course there were plenty of American Alligators, big and small.

alligatorad03-12-12.jpgWe were even witness to the stealthy attack one made on a bird that was preening in the water. Poor bird. Happy alligator.

alligatorab03-12-12.jpgIt wasn't this large alligator, which didn't move... at... all. I suspect, given its size, that at other times it moves quite fast.


Black Vulture


Red-Winged Blackbird

cmoorhen03-13-12.jpgCommon Moorhen

palmwarbler03-13-12.jpg Palm Warbler

egret03-13-12.jpg Great Egret, above and below


littleblue03-12-12.jpgLittle Blue Heron

We saw lots of other birds, including Tricolored Herons, ibises, sparrows, and several that I'm still trying to accurately identify.


As the sky darken, birds came in to roost, like the White Ibis (juvenile) and Great Egret above. Parents settled in with their younglings in their nests, and multiple species decorated the trees like ornaments.


Sleeping Anhinga

alligatorac03-12-12.jpgAs it got dark, I took one final picture for the evening -- I wanted to see the eyes of an alligator on the water. I was rewarded with the reflection, as well!

Next tale to come, our canoe trip at 9-Mile Pond!

Florida Bound: Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk


Heading south from Turtle Beach during our Florida vacation, we were ready to see the wealth of plant and animal life that Southern Florida's ecosystems are known for. Of course, that means lots of birds and alligators and then some, but also turtles, lizards, air plants, insects, mangroves, mammals, and more.

greategretb03-12-12.jpgNorth of the Everglades is Big Cypress National Preserve, 729,000 acres that include a variety of habitat types -- swamps, hardwood hammocks, pinelands, mangrove forests, prairies, and marsh. Considered a buffer between development and the fragile Everglades, it is also an important watershed for the Everglades. The preserve is filled with some of the most diverse tropical and temperate flora and fauna found anywhere in North America. Unfortunately, being a preserve doesn't fully protect it -- off-road vehicles, hunting, trapping, and even oil drilling can be found in places within the preserve -- but overall it is a beautiful and valuable wildlife haven that is home to countless animal species, including the endangered Florida Panther and the threatened American Black Bear. 

Adjacent to Big Cypress is Fakatchee Strand State Preserve, which has a wonderful 0.6-mile-long boardwalk that takes you through characteristic habitat found throughout Big Cypress. It is the largest Bald Cypress/Royal Palm swamp forest in the world. The experience led to a new ongoing family joke -- the boys and I periodically declare one another a "Royal Palm in the neck."


alligatorb03-12-12.jpgWalking toward the boardwalk, we encountered the first of many wildlife sightings along the trail. Here the boys stand by an "alligators are present and potentially dangerous" sign, near which sits an example subject of said sign.

sleepingalligator03-12-12.jpgSince I was uncertain whether I'd have a chance for another great photo opportunity, I took a lot of photos of this American Alligator, especially because she was sleeping (until she was not... that story follows).


alligatortail03-12-12.jpgI'm utterly fascinated by crocodilian skin (alligators are part of the Crocodilia family). Of course, these images also bring to mind some of the longterm Floridian residents I saw at the beach. Their skin, damaged from decades of spending time in the sun, had wrinkles much like those you see here on this reptile. I find reptilian skin beautiful -- wrinkled, sun-damaged  human skin not so much.


Don't be tricked by their short legs -- alligators are all muscle, and those short legs can provide fast bursts of speed.

alligatorteeth03-12-12.jpgThose visible upper teeth are one way to tell an American Alligator from an American Crocodile. The latter have more of a zippered jaw look to their mouth.

Everything about a crocodilian's appearance says, "You are a fool if you mess with me." And I didn't mess with this alligator, being careful to stay many feet back and use a zoom lens. But I did crouch down to her level as I took pictures.

alligatord03-12-12.jpg And eventually, Mama Alligator opened her eyes and noticed me. She watched me take pictures for a while. I know that she didn't see me as a threat, but eventually she decided that she didn't like me being crouched in her low-to-the-ground visual range, no matter how far away I was.

alligatormouth03-12-12.jpg So she decided to let that be known, opening her mouth a little and staring me down as she turned her head toward me.


From that point on, she faced me to keep an eye on me, and the boys and I thanked her for her time and moved on down the trail.

alligatorbabies03-12-12.jpgA little ways away was a little 'gator pond of sorts. Across the pond were 6-month old alligators snoozing by the water's edge. There were nine in all, apparently, but I could only see seven that day -- the image shows four of them. I don't know whether the big alligator on the trail was their Mama, but I called her that. Or maybe I called him that.

fern03-12-12.jpgThe boardwalk led us along swampier portions of the trail, with beautiful and unusual plant life, lots of ferns, and even a giant Bald Eagle nest that has been in yearly use since 1991.

buttonbush03-12-12.jpg Button Bush


Tree after tree along the trail had companion plants called epiphytes -- air plants. Spanish moss, ball moss, orchids, epiphytic Bromeliads -- these are all types of plants that grow on trees, using them for support but taking their water and nutrients from the air, falling rain, and compost on the trees. They are not directly parasitic as other plants can be. We did, however, see some trees during our trip that had Spanish Moss so plentiful that it was shading out lower branches and as a result affecting the overall health of the trees.

stranglerfiga03-12-12.jpgAnother type of air plant that in time can cause the decline of a host tree is the Strangler Fig, and we saw examples of it along the Big Cypress path. Though it looks at first like a vine, it is actually a tree.


The Strangler Fig begins as an epiphyte in the canopy of the host tree, such as a Bald Cypress, and over time its roots grow downward and fuse together. The fused roots can become gigantic as they encircle the host tree, causing girdling and the eventual death of the host.

FLorchardspider03-12-12.jpg A common sight along the plants near the boardwalk were the webs of this tiny spider and its siblings and cousins, Florida Orchard Spiders.

greenanole03-12-12.jpg We felt pretty lucky to see the occasional Green Anole, a lizard native to Florida. Most of the time we saw Brown Anoles, native to Cuba and the Bahamas and considered invasive to Florida. They compete with the Green Anole for resources, and they sometimes eat the young Green Anoles, as well. A picture of Brown Anole is shown later in this post.

greategret03-12-12.jpg Here's another look at the beautiful Great Egret, that was shown with its reflection in the water at the top of this blog entry.

whibisa03-12-12.jpg I know this isn't a great picture, but I love the artistic appearance of the Ibis in the background.

whibisc03-12-12.jpgSpecifically the bird is an immature White Ibis -- in time almost all of its feathers will be completely white.

whibisb03-12-12.jpg Its long curved bill is perfect for poking around in the soft wet earth. As you can see, earthworms are a tasty favorite, at least for the bird. Side note: the boys and I bought some Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans (from Harry Potter) while we were in Florida. We now know from experience that earthworm-flavored candy is not a taste we'd like to encounter again.

branole03-12-12.jpg As we were leaving, the boys counted as many lizards as they could find. I think they were in the thirties when they spotted this Brown Anole with its recent butterly capture. I was so happy to finally have a picture of a lizard eating an insect -- but did it have to be an invasive lizard?

If you are visiting Southern Florida, I highly recommend Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. We continued our trip from there to Everglades, the next post in this series.

turkeyvulture03-12-12.jpgAs we were leaving the area, we happened upon a group of turkey vultures, who started walking toward, almost stalking our car. We wondered about this and drove on to the Everglades, soon discovering that vulture encounters were about to be a rather common, bizarre experience....

Florida Bound: Turtle Beach


shorebird03-12-12.jpgContinuing our journey south through Florida, we started our day with a trip to Turtle Beach, near Sarasota. Blue waters, near pristine yet gritty sand, plentiful birds, and few people -- our kind of beach. Just down the road was the more popular white-sanded Siesta Key Beach, but we opted to avoid that, especially since all we wanted was a quiet walk along the water and not a lengthy stay in the sun.

beach03-12-12.jpgbrpelican03-12-12.jpgThe waters were stunningly blue.


    Laughing Gulls and a Royal Tern, resting in the sun  


boysatbeach03-12-12.jpgThe water was cool and refreshing, and while the sand might not have been what one would consider soft, it was quite comfortable to walk on.

feet03-12-12.jpgWe left our flip-flops on the shore and walked barefoot for a good distance, looking for small shells and feeling the sand between our toes. It felt oh so good.

I felt like a bird stalker, taking picture after picture of the avian residents, but the birds didn't seem to mind.


Ring-billed Gull


Great Blue Heron


loganatbeach03-12-12.jpgThe sand wasn't good for castles, of course, but it was good for digging.

boysatbeachb03-12-12.jpgJust barely into the water, the level dips down quite a bit, and the undertow is immediately apparent. Add to that a brother ready to push you in, and you've got a wet splash in the making.


Laughing Gull and Ring-billed Gull

shorebirdb03-12-12.jpgRuddy Turnstone, I believe


After leaving the beach, we continued our journey south toward Everglades National Park, our primary vacation destination. Of course, we got side-tracked as we often do, and we stopped at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, adding to our adventures of the day. Next post!

Three thousand, seven hundred, and approximately fifty miles. That's the distance the boys and I traveled this spring break, from Austin to Key West and back again. Our destination was not actually the keys -- our main goal was to visit the Everglades, but we were so close to the southernmost point of the so-called contiguous United States -- who could resist driving a little farther?

pmartin03-10-12.jpgWe actually set out from Austin's own Hornsby Bend, where the CAMN class and I were having an afternoon of birding, and the boys joined in for the fun. Not just birding, mind you, but birding in the rain. This is how you encourage resolve and determine determination -- and prove to your kids that they won't melt in the rain. It was chilly, too -- see how the male Purple Martin has fluffed up his beautiful iridescent feathers?

redbud03-10-12hornsby.jpgNear the Purple Martin gourds, Redbud blooms added a cheerful spot of vibrant color to the dreary afternoon.

amercoots03-10-12.jpgThe American Coots were at the first pond en masse, acting a bit like goofy turkeys when they crossed the dirt road in front of my car. Once at the pond itself, they looked like the normal waterbirds that they are.

yuccab03-10-12.jpgThe dreary weather meant that I didn't take many pictures that afternoon, but I couldn't resist the lovely blooms of this yucca. Dreary, by the way, is one of my favorite words, not because of what it means but because of how it feels to roll the word off your tongue. Say it with me now: dreary. Dreary.


I do want to mention that with every big road trip, I have the boys keep some sort of journal. This time, we brought sketchbooks, because while descriptions and photographs can capture a point in time, a hand-drawn image inspired by nature says even more.

sketches03-10-12.jpgShown here are Northern Shovelers, a Ruddy Duck, and a Green-Winged Teal, all seen at Hornsby Bend that day. I admit we drew these later in the day, when we had dried out.

At this point it was time to get on the road, as we planned to stay in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that first evening. Allow me to express my disappointment that much of Beaumont, Texas, apparently shuts down by 8pm on a Saturday night -- so much for trying out local restaurants there as a midway stopping point. On the plus side, we got to Louisiana that much sooner.

The next day, it didn't take long to reach Florida, heading around and over the brackish Lake Pontchartrain (we took a drive through New Orleans) and zipping on through Mississippi and Alabama.

sketchesb03-11-12.jpgWe spotted the first pelican of the trip as we crossed over Lake Pontchartrain, and gulls were plentiful, as well.

At last arriving in Florida, I found it amusing that the first birds we saw in the state were familiar dark-feathered birds visiting the dumpsters near the gas station we stopped at. If you guessed they were grackles, you are right -- many of them were. But as we listened, we realized that some of them were actually small crows. The nasally caw-caw was the give-away sound, and we IDed the small crows as Fish Crows.


That is one black bird but not a blackbird. It's a Fish Crow.

Even so, I stared at this picture for a long, long time before officially posting it as a Fish Crow, because the bird wasn't close enough for its distinguishing features to appear clearly in the image (and it was another dreary day when I took the photo), and even though I waited for it to make its caw-caw before snapping the picture, as you can see from the image it bears too close a resemblance to the grackles it was raiding the dumpster with. But if you study the feathers and the tail and note the black eye, you'll see it's a Fish Crow.

LandN03-11-12.jpgFor our afternoon adventure in northwestern Florida, we stopped at Falling Waters State Park, home to the longest waterfall of the state, not because of it being high up, but because it falls into a sinkhole.


The park is in a pine forest, specifically a forest of Longleaf Pine Trees.


Many of the trees were producing buds, called candles, as you can see in the image above.

longleafc03-11-12.jpgIn order to protect the pine forest ecosystem, the park staff and volunteers work to control invasive plants and provide educational signs about native plants along the trails. They also regularly perform controlled burns, following nature's method of using fire to encourage plant diversity and limit overgrowth.


As you can see, plant life recovers, but what is held at bay is the growth of Oaks and other hardwoods that would vastly change the pine forest ecosystem.

fldogwood03-11-12.jpgUnderstory plants like Flowering Dogwood, Redbuds, Buckeyes, and more have the chance to grow.

redbud03-11-12.jpgCompared to the Redbud we saw at Hornsby Bend (scroll back up to see the image), this one at Falling Waters was loaded with more seed pods than I have ever seen.


Native bee visiting Southern Red Buckeye


Carolina Silverbells


Moss, lichen, and ferns add finishing touches to this beautiful park.

While we were walking the trails, we heard a sound somewhat like a monkey, and though we knew we were hearing a Pileated Woodpecker, it eluded us. We also heard a sound like a squeaky toy -- a Red-Cockaded Woodpecker -- but once again, we couldn't locate it, even with the binoculars. Alas. At the small lake, we did see a sign warning of potential alligators... the sign was next to the swimming area, if you could call it that.


Here a mosquito drinks nectar from a Flowering Dogwood bloom. Many people don't realize that mosquitoes drink nectar, both males and females. Only when females are aiming to produce eggs do they seek out a blood source. During our whole trip, the most numerous mosquitoes we encountered were in Falling Waters State Park. Perhaps it is because we arrived just before dusk, or perhaps it is because we didn't bother to put on our herbal mosquito spray. We were good about applying the lemongrass spray the entire rest of the trip. Fast learners, we are.

sinkhole03-11-12.jpg Along the park boardwalk trail, there are several sinkholes. Florida has thousands of sinkholes, formed after acidic groundwater dissolved the limestone rock below the surface, reducing support for the ground above.

The sinkhole that contributes to the state park's name is shown below. The spring-fed Falling Waters fall 73 feet to disappear in the sinkhole below.

fallingwaters03-11-12.jpg fallingwatersb03-11-12.jpg

After enjoying our walk in this state park of Florida's panhandle, we headed to Sarasota along Florida's western coast. Time for the beach and to finally reach our main destination, the Everglades!

Color Me Wild in Arkansas


I love bright colors that appear on the least likely creatures. Our trip to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas introduced us to several such animals, if not colorful then otherwise very cool, and include with that some very beautiful nature spots!

Hiking at the forested Devil's Den State Park, for example, proved to be both gorgeous in the grand scheme of things and scientifically fascinating right down to the tiniest little creatures. This young Five-Lined Skink had no interest in stopping for a picture, but I did my best to get one anyway. The blue coloration of the tail is just remarkable!


As the skink ages, however, it will lose the bright blue color on its tail, and instead its head will possibly turn red. Now, explain to me the purpose of either occurrence, would you please?

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big fan of spiders, so of course I have some to share.

arrowshapedmic07-11.jpgThis unusual but common spider is an Arrow-Shaped Micrathena. Specifically, she's a female Arrow-Shaped Micrathena. The males don't have those pointy spines.

spinedmic07-11.jpgUpping the ante to ten spines, this Spined Micrathena built her web just a couple of trees over.

spinedmicb07-11.jpgInstead of white, her underside is covered in thin stripes of yellow and black.

Spiders are cool and all, but so are their webs.


I don't know what kind of spider is responsible for this web, but ooh, how I love me a good creepy web. This one qualifies.

Down the hill, this little ant was working hard to take this giant insect wing somewhere.

antpull07-11.jpgI carefullly lifted the wing to reposition it on the rock so that I could get a picture, and the ant never let go -- as soon as its little legs touched the rock again, it went right back to work moving the wing, as if nothing had ever happened. 

armadillo07-28-11.jpgThe boys were delighted to find an armadillo searching for grubs -- it completely ignored them and went about its food-finding mission, even right at their feet. I wrote more about this cute armored mammal, also known as the Turtle Rabbit, over at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. I also wrote about black vultures, in case you are interested! I always am interested in vultures, 'cause vultures rock.

Not into oddly-named turtle rabbits or carcass-eating vultures? How about staring beavers?


I have about 20 images of this beaver, and they all turned out exactly the same, despite the fact that he walked about 10 feet during the process. By the way, we saw him at, amazingly enough, Beaver Lake. Think the lake belongs to him?

whiteLepid07-11.jpgOops I skipped ahead -- back to Devil's Den. This dainty little thing found an odd but comfortable resting spot on my youngest son's leg, which the picture will show is far more hairy than my son ever realized.

whitebrnuthatch07-11.jpgA White-Breasted Nuthatch tried to fool us into thinking it was a woodpecker. It and its friends might have been responsible for several nuts that nearly hit us on the head from the trees above.

butterflypuddling07-11.jpgButterfly puddling can occur in the strangest places. This is the first time I've seen it on a trash can. I really don't care to know what people have spilled there.

With so many insects missing from Texas thanks to our record drought, it was with pure relief that I watched so many butterflies and bees busy at work on the flowers we saw in Arkansas. These were up near Eureka Springs.

amerlady07-11.jpg swallowtail07-11.jpg

checkerspot07-11.jpg bumbleebee07-11.jpg Down at Petit Jean, an insect of a different sort came over to inspect the humans.

stickinsect07-11.jpgEither that or the stick insect found my ever-reliable and well-used Keens a potentially good camouflage spot. It couldn't have been expecting my pink feet to be so shockingly visible from inside the sandal.

egrettree07-11.jpgEver seen an egret tree? I'm so glad no one hit my car while I pulled over to snag this picture near a pond.

Arkansas, known as the Natural State, was just what we needed to have a break from the drought that's been drying up our home state of Texas. Arkansas has lovely green forests and beautiful lakes, rivers, creeks, and waterfalls...


Creek at Blanchard Springs


Blanchard Springs at the cavern exit

mirrorlake07-11.jpg Mirror Lake


Heron at Beaver Lake

to unique geological features, like the Turtle Rocks and caves at Petit Jean State Park.

turtlerocksb07-11.jpg cave07-11.jpg

I love exploring nature with my boys. Together we find all sorts of interesting things. How fascinating, for example, an old leaf on the ground can be!

leafskellie07-11.jpg   Arkansas, you'll be seeing us again. Until next time!


The Beautiful Yet Notorious Guadalupe River


During spring break, my parents came down for a visit, and we took a trip south to the Guadalupe River. It still being March, at temperatures in the 50s (degrees F) the water was far too cold for tubing, so this was more of a driving tour down River Road. The plant life was still in transition from winter, but spring buds on the trees marked the greenery soon to come.

guadalupea03-17-11.jpgWe started at the dam at Canyon Lake near Sattler and worked our way down River Road toward Gruene (pronounced "green"), a historic district located within New Braunfels (How's that for multiple places mentioned in a single sentence?). I used to live in the Sattler area in my teenage years, as well as in New Braunfels -- it was nice to return for a visit.


Around the dam outlet, spring was yawning and stretching, with new flowers, buds, and early wildlife. I didn't realize these lovely white blooms were dewberry flowers until I got home and saw the same flowers in my side yard.


An oddity in nature, a tree burl prompted this week's post at Beautiful Wildlife Garden, where you can also see some tree romance observed at the same river spot.


Here's a taste of things to come -- I caught so many pictures of pollinators visiting this beautiful Mountain Laurel in bloom that I'm devoting my next post to it:

bluebee03-17-11.jpgThe Canyon Dam outlet marks the beginning of the Lower Guadalupe, and people from all over come to enjoy the scenery and water recreation. In a couple of months, this river will be full of folks moving along the current in various floating crafts. 

huacosprings03-17-11.jpgAt low levels, the Guadalupe is popular for tubing, while higher levels bring out the canoers, kayakers, and rafting groups. But heavy rainfall can quickly turn the river to treacherous   whitewater conditions with potential for serious flooding. The picture above shows an area of rapids at Hueco Springs (sometimes spelled Huaco, pronounced "Waco" by the locals). The rapids look deceptively mild in the picture, and yet many deaths and near-drownings have occurred at this very spot, at both lower and higher water levels.

Back in my day (heh), there was a pool underneath the rapids that created a dangerous undertow that would trap people below the water if their tube flipped. I've personally been flipped and caught in that undertow and its washing-machine effect, and it's easy to panic while you try to find a way to push out, even if you are a strong swimmer. I felt very lucky that I didn't add to drowning statistics that day. Supposedly, they've made some changes to the spot to reduce drowning potential or at least guide tubes away from the pool. And in the rushing water of higher levels, inexperienced canoers have died when their canoe became wrapped around that large boulder seen in the picture. Sudden flash floods also have swept campers away. It's a beautiful spot but one to approach with utmost respect for the power of water. 

guadalupeb03-17-11.jpg Another word of caution if you are planning on visiting the Guadalupe. Water moccasins, or cottonmouths, are common along the river, particularly in warmer temperatures. I've seen them in the trees above the river, quite an alarming site when you are floating below them in a tube, and one time I almost stepped on one along a river trail. Given that these venomous snakes are most excellent swimmers and rather aggressive in nature (literally), it's best to keep an eye out and avoiding aggravating one if you run across it. But don't let fear of snakes keep you from visiting the river -- in general, these snakes are as equally uninterested in being your friend as you are theirs, and most people never see one. I guess I'm just that lucky! Just be aware, that's all I'm saying.

We finished up our driving tour with dinner at the Grist Mill in Gruene, a historic favorite for both tourists and locals. A fine day, with a promise of future and longer visits and fun.  


Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

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