Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The progress of spring

Went bird watching today, too late to find many birds--the lateness occasioned by waiting around for a roofer who is going to give me a bid on hail damage to my house. So it is more a matter of watching nature than watching birds.

Still, it turns out to be a fine afternoon, birds or no, in the Onion Creek woods. I watched ants for a while. Being careful. Large red harvester ants are now active, and they will sting the hell out of you. I think they they owe their presence along my trail, and indeed their survival as a species locally, to the fact that the invasive fire ants populations don't like gravel slopes, where my ants are living. In most of central Texas the native harvester ants have been supplanted by fire ants. The harvester ants were the main food of the horned toad, actually a lizard, and thus the horned toads have become extinct locally. I haven't seen a horned toad in Austin in years.

All the trees are leafing out now except the pecans. The chinaberries should be in flower right now, but the hailstorm knocked all of the blossoms off.
Early spring flowers here in Austin tend to be white or blue or red, and later spring and summer flowers tend to be yellow. I don't know why. I see occasional Indian paintbrushes (bright red) by the trail, and much more inconspicuously, spiderworts, a very intense purple in the shade. Bluebonnets are planted on roadsides, but are uncommon on my walk. A short purple verbena species, very pretty, is much more in evidence. Red buckeye shrubs are in flower, but tend to be inconspicuous despite the large flowers, growing deep in the understory of the cedar elms.
I saw one or two mescalbeans in flower. Mescalbean is much favored by local landscapers because the shrub itself is native and evergreen and handsome and the flower clusters are spectacular like wisteria and are equally fragrant. Landscapers and nurserymen call this plant "mountain laurel" because the old common name I grew up with doesn't sell well, evidently. The mescalbean shrub produces pods containing bright red poisonous and hallucinagenic beans, used by the previous people of Texas for spiritual uplift. One bean, crushed up, can be fatal, supposedly, and thus the Coahuiltecan and Tamaulipan Indians used half a bean in their ceremonies. Or so I read somewhere. I was never tempted to try it back in the day.
Hey, a bird, at last, a little blue heron, first of the season, takes flight with a protesting croak. And now a hawk goes by fast, not a good view, but a glimpse of striping makes me pretty sure it is a red shouldered.
Back to the flowers. Yarrows, in the shade. A white anemone of some kind grows in the sun. Pink evening primroses grow in open meadows.
I hear cardinals and crows, but except for the hawk and the heron, it is a birdwalk without bird sightings. A walk in the flowers instead.

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