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80 Acres: June 16, 2006 - MoonScape [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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80 Acres: June 16, 2006 [Jun. 16th, 2016|03:42 pm]
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The rain stopped a week ago; the winter grasses are brown or browning, the early wildflowers have gone to seed.  But soil moisture is still good. The tallgrasses (switchgrass, Eastern gama, Indiangrass, big bluestem) are doing very well (switchgrass in the secondary drainage is taller than we are.)   There's an area in the east grass we call "The Bowl" because it's a roundish area that seeps in wet weather as it slopes down to the old drainage line.  It stays green longer.  When we got the place, it was covered with broomweed (non-native), bare under the broomweed with a few scattered grass plants, not doing well because of the chemical defense of the broomweek.  Today it looks like this:

You can see the upslope edge (pale beige of dry grass)
Every different shade of green, every native plant, reveals something about the soil where it is.

I took that picture sitting on one of the little lawn tractors at the bottom end of the bowl, the much wetter end (just dry enough to drive on now.)  In the foreground are large flowering sedges mixed with meadow dropseed.  Under them are small flowers, such as meadow pink (Sabatia campestris) and coreopsis and prairie bluets (ranging from white to light lavender.) You can't really see the scattered taller Texas bluebell (actually a gentian, Eustoma exaltatum (prev. grandiflorum) in this image (there were two, but too far away to show.)  It was very bright, hot, and breezy, which made photographing individual flowers...tricky.

The lower end of the Bowl is now rimmed with switchgrass (mostly) and Eastern gama that we planted for erosion control (along with the checkdams.

Bowl-low-end-06-16-2016      Bowl-SW-corner-mowed-6-16-16
A mowed maintenance trail across low end of The Bowl; R-pic shows the SW corner of the bowl--see brown grass beyond; secondary drainage turns left at clump of trees.  We spooked a bird from the switchgrass that then perched in the tree to the L.  More on that later.

We have four gentian-family wildflowers in wet years like this, but I don't usually find three of the four in the same general area.  Sabatia campestis, the meadow pink, likes wet soil and is found only in wet years in the lower to mid-Bowl, peaking in late May.   Texas bluebells (not  bluebell, but since there aren't any real bluebells here, that's what pioneers called the gorgeous big gentian, Eustoma exultatum, was E. grandiflorum) likes areas that have been wet, or are moist, but I've seen it flowering in the worst soil in a dry August.  I was told by several "grandmother" age women, when we moved here, that these used to be so common that girls cut them to make wreaths for their hair and used them for table decoration.   And the tiny Centaureums (two species, one "clumpy" and one "straggly") grow on various thin, unpromising, well-drained and even dry soils when they feel like it, any time from late April into July.   But today I found all three in bloom in the Bowl in mid-June.  In fact, in one "corner" of the bowl, I found the wet-loving Sabatia within two feet of the dry-ground Centaury.

Sabatia-campestris-06-16-2016 Centaury-Bowl-06-16-16
L: Meadow pink growing in among large sedges;  they grow scattered in grass, sedges, and young Maximilian sunflowers.
R: One of the Centaureums, the same pretty rose-pink as the meadow pink.

Eustoma exultatum varies in color, but always some shade of purple, often with white

Now about that bird.  I saw three birds fly out of the switchgrass as I drove past, two one way and one the other.   After I stopped the tractor and got off to take pictures, I began to hear what I thought was a dickcissel calling.  We have them only on wet years.  When my husband joined me, the bird flew from a different clump of switchgrass to the top of the little "bodark" (bois d'arc, Maclura pomifera) and there I was with camera in hand.  I mentioned quite breezy, right.  The top twigs of the tree were moving around some, and I was not in the best position (sun-wise) but I did have a zoom lens, my usual "out for a walk in the field) lens, so I did the best I could.  And when put in the computer, brought up to 1:1, and then run through a histogram adjustment, this showed up:
At full size in the computer, the black V collar, yellow in the front and cheek, confirm the ID
Male Dickcissel, and given the date, probably breeding here this year.

If you have any kind of photo-manipulation software, it's alway worthwhile to take catch pictures of birds and other wildlife, because about half the time I can get an ID even if it's a very imperfect picture in terms of bird photograph (as this is.)

Also tucked in under the sedges and grasses were other wildflowers than the gentian relatives:  small coreopsis (not sure of species), prairie bluets, "leftover" gaillardia stunted by too much water (!).  Toward the edges of the bowl, on the east, more and more leftover gaillardia and lemon horsemint.  Only one or two flowers were left on any gaillardia plant, but the lemon horsemint is still holding on well.

From the bottom of the Bowl, I turned up its east side, and from there followed the mowed track around the dry woods.  The seepage-watered "dry-woods swale" is now filled with Coreopsis instead of Goldthread.   But now I need to resize and crop more of the images I took this morning, so that part of the day will be in a different post.

[User Picture]From: blueeowyn
2016-06-16 09:30 pm (UTC)
Lovely photos. I've been thinking of your place as I hear about the rains in TX. The bird photo is an interesting bit of timing, my DH recently posted about a bird ID website (http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/photo-id/) ... I have no opinions about its accuracy or safety but the timing was interesting.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-06-17 12:03 am (UTC)
Rain here always brings rapid growth--and exuberant growth if in the warm 2/3 of the year. In what used to be normal years, there was a more gentle transition from rain to the summer drier period, with an equally gentle transition from cooler to hotter temperatures, but both last year (when the rains extended to the first weeks of June here, and the end of June in Austin) and this year (when the rains ceased abruptly the first week of June) the rains went from every-day-for-weeks to none, and temps below normal to very hot, within a week. Last year's flooding rains in May and early June changed to no rain at all and temps quickly climbing into the 100s. Austin began having rain again before we did--we had no rain until mid or late October. Very hard on plants & animals (and humans!)

I hope we don't go right into the 100sF and do without rain for six months--it's happened before, but we were just recovering from 8 years of below normal rain, 5 of them fiercely below.
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2016-06-16 10:02 pm (UTC)
Lovely grasses, that must be a good sign that they are growing all together in the one area. And what a beautiful bird. Reminds me of the (more plump) lady that hangs about on my backyard's tree and washing line; different species but similar beak and colouring, though she is slightly more plain in colour (albeit a beautiful sheen to the feathers) and lacks in the "bib".

Edited at 2016-06-16 10:03 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-06-17 12:35 am (UTC)
It's certainly good to have this area go from almost barren to mostly vegetated, with the water absorbed up-slope coming out slowly rather than rushing down to erodes the soil. The variety is interesting; it reflects the different soil depths and the amount and duration of soil moisture...the Bowl is not uniform, with everything mixed in evenly. Those differences--in soil type, depth, and moisture-holding through time, in slope and orientation--are revealed in what chooses to grow where. And the differences themselves are partly natural and partly man-made. The end of a ridge that creates the slope, is natural--limestone, with fossils, and bits of coral--there was a reef here once. When Europeans arrived, it was a mix of tallgrass and midgrass prairie and islands of woods--along the little streams, on some slopes.

Put under the plow to grow cotton, it proved less suitable than river bottomlands, the heavy clays to the east, and wore out, at that point converted to corn, then small grains, and finally (at some point having been terraced, imperfectly) to pasture, with some areas of it planted to "improved" range grasses. Under reasonable management, and combined with a neighboring field downslope, it was OK in that--aside from the loss of native species where tillage and planting of the alien grass dominated-- until that manager died and both fields were leased to someone known to mishandle land by overgrazing and lack of maintenance. We were here to see that transition, and when we bought it, we evicted the bad manager and his too-many cattle. By that time, this land had no tall-grasses left east of the creekbed, the other grasses had been eaten down to the dirt, and an inch or two of rapid rainfall produced a brown flood across the near meadow, gouging out the cattle trails even deeper.

Luckily for us, the first seven years we owned the place, rainfall was close to the "old normal." That gave us time to build the checkdams and gabions to slow runoff, mow down the alien invasive weeds (which the cattle hadn't eaten) and spread some native grass seed in the worst spots. So by the time the drought began, in 2008, there was a lot of recovery. There's still a long way to go, and the goals have changed from restoration (in terms of original species functioning as they did) to functional restoration with a mixed grassland/savanna that will provide habitat for wildlife and water management services but will not have the same plant species to get there--since climate change is already proving that won't work.
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2016-06-17 12:47 am (UTC)
Interesting. ^-^ So much history. I wish all farmers and landowners would take such care.
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