Thursday, May 12, 2005

Intimations of summer on Onion Creek

Perhaps my true calling as a blogger is to be the designated natural history writer for the Austin Onion Creek greenbelt. And, on Onion Creek, summer is icumen in. Spring is definitely on its way out. The flowers on my afternoon walk included lots of Gaillardias, usually called Indian blankets, large pretty sunflower-family plants in extensive orange-ish meadows. Here and there I see occasional patches of purple flowered skeleton-plants (lygodesmia) which look leafless, yellow cutleaf daisies, and two or three other yellow daisy species.
It rained 3 or 4 days ago, and so there is now a crop of white rainlillies, which will be gone in another couple of days. Cooperia pedunculata. Silver nightshades are increasing in prominence, as the weather gets hotter. Ditto white pricklypoppies.
I still see some clumps of small, but pretty skullcaps, belonging to the mint family. Spring leftovers. Two kinds, one fuzzy leaved and smaller, a scutellaria, one larger, a brazoria species. Everywhere, there are patches of of yellow Texas parsleys, full of wasps, and white hedge parsleys (torilis arvensis), the latter usually called beggarticks (not to be confused with beggarticks in other parts of the country, another plant) which form tiny seeds that stick tenaciously to clothing. If you walk through a lot of them wearing fuzzy socks, you will never get all the seeds loose, and the socks must be abandoned. I have some experience in this.

A bumelia, a small spiny and tough tree along some of the trails grabs at my shirt. Big blue mealy sages of spring are lovely now, but are also their way out.

Lots of summery Mexican hats now. They are very lovely flowers, when seen up close. They have big smooth glossy auburn petals, whose tips are have a variable patch of orange or yellow. Seen as a mass of flowers in a field, from a distance, the subtle beauty of the petals is lost, and instead it looks like a mass of _brown_ flowers, and you think, wow, a field of brown flowers, what a strange idea.

In the way of birds, today, unlike yesterday, I saw no indigo buntings, but heard several--they have a blurry, metallic, extended trill--as with many birds it is hard to imagine a biological origin for the sound--it sounds slightly but defectively electronic. A very fine yellow-billed cuckoo came sneaking by silently in branches surprisingly close to me on the trail, its plumage very elegant. I thought of a quiet riverboat gambler checking his cufflinks. I had a glimpse of a migrating thrush, but could not tell if it was a Swainsons or a wood thrush. Cardinals are everywhere--they are so common it is easy to forget how pretty they are. Birdwatchers are perverse that way.
A tricolored heron was moving slowly and studiously on his stilts in the creek.

Resuming the plant watching, some of the agaritas (a spiny barberry, berberis trifoliata) already have a crop of berries, which are quite tasty if you can find a way to get them off the heavily defended bush without loss of blood. The early settlers would put sheets under the bushes and beat them with sticks, and make jelly of the berries.

Overhead, a glimpse of a migrating flock of gulls, but I could not tell what kind, plus a slightly confused small heron of some kind, who was trying to be part of the flock, but with a different habit of flight seeming to have a hard time keeping up. Cliff swallows, barn swallows, and chimney swifts traced their arcs in the evening sky.

Finally, spitbugs, a lot of them this year. You see them as a white gob of spittle on many different species of plant. Concealed under the spit are sucking insects, sometimes called (don't ask me why) froghoppers.

Going to, we get this:
This spittle is a combination of a fluid voided from the anus and a mucilaginous substance secreted by glands on the 7th and 8th abdominal segments, mixed with air drawn in between a pair of plates under the abdomen. The mixture is forced out under pressure, as from a bellows, to make uniform bubbles. The tail, going up and down, operates the bellows and deeps the bubbles coming.

You needed to know this, right?

Cactus and spitbug gob
cactus and spitbugs

Gaillardias and prickly pear cactus flowers

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