Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Giant reservoir spiders in lieu of Bush Park zombies

For want of West Houston zombie sightings, not to mention suitable candid Canon shots of them, here are at least a few suitably zoomed Texas-sized creepy crawlers right in time for Halloween.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Invasion of the Mushrooms ... during the pumpkin season

It's mushroom time again in Houston. They are all around us, often in large circles on open grassland and lawns. Must be the right climate again, but by no means does it only happen a certain time out of the year. Here is a take of the current crop:

Mushrooms on green adjoining Memorial Loop Trail (Terry Hershey Park/Trail) East of Langham Creek
near the bat houses on stilts

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Texas Armadillos - One live, One roadkill, One natural history museum exhibit

Armadillo on top of Addicks Dam Road at sundown
Armadillo shell exhibit at Houston Arboretum
A common road-side sight in Texas: Shell of dead Armadillo - The head
 and innards are gone; likely an indication that the carrion-eating vultures
 may have already had a go at the carcass. 
Vultures perching on tree branches

Monday, October 22, 2012

Noble Road Trail in George Bush Park offers suburban wilderness experience

Noble Road Trail is at least one degree wilder than TerryHershey Trail or the former Barker-Clodine Road that runs North-South through George Bush Park and is now closed to motorized traffic inside the reservoir. Both of the latter are paved, and are great for biking, but Noble Road Trail is best explored on foot. It offers a much closer encounter with wetlands wilderness than the open trails, and offers a rich tapestry of bright colors and hues, even after the large-scale bush fire a little more than a year ago transformed the landscape into mere shades of ashen gray and charcoal black. 
Foliage tunnel on Eastern End of Noble Road Trail in Barker Reservoir in the afteroon
Light at the end of the green foliage tunnel
Noble Road Trail near the lakes close to Barker Dam on a late afternoon
Part of this road which used to run across what is now the Barker Reservoir may still qualify as a gravel road, but some stretches are pure hiking (or dirt-biking) trail covered with tall grass and other vegetation, and puddles of water can be encountered along the way even days after a good downpour. The greenery can get pretty high -- especially in summer and fall - and ditches running alongside some sections of the trail fill with water after heavy rainfall any time of the year. It may remain there stagnant for weeks and end up being covered by a coating of green algae or other water-borne vegetation.

Drainage ditch alongside Nobel Road Trail with standing water

Algae-covered ditch inside Barker Reservoir
Green surface at water hole lined by trees
A large area South of the segment of Nobel Road Trail that runs East-West is a designated wetlands restoration area.

This grasslands habitat was devastated by wildfire in 2011, but the vegetation is back and flourishing amidst the blackened remnants of what were stands of small trees. 

Trees charred in 2011 wildfire on wet ground that is greening again

Charred trunks of larger trees now host fungi. It's nature running its course. Decomposing the dead organic matter, and again turning the erstwhile wasteland into a sea of lush green, dotted on the edges by plentiful blooms. 

burnt trunk of large tree covered with fungi

Landscape inside Barker Reservoir alongside Nobel Road Trail

Noble Road Trail brings you at least one step closer to nature. A sign at the trail head ominously warns of unspecified dangers of the wilderness, while offering zero hints as to how to guard against the hazards of leaving the paved roads and civilization behind.

Trail head with trail marker and sign warning of hazardous plants and animals

No mention of poisonous snakes, spiders, or wild hogs. Hike at your own risk – and better still -- research the risk beforehand. 

Well, the boy scouts have been there and have left evidence of their commitment to community service in the form of benches inviting the occasional hiker to linger in the midst of the wilderness for a bit, to observe, and  to reflect.

Solitary bench alongside the trail

So if this is suburban boy scouts’ territory, it can’t be too bad. Right? But be prepared to see snakes along the way, at least in wet conditions around the puddles.

Coiled up snake on gravel road

These critters will come out and coil up right on the trail and you are running the risk of stepping on them, especially if you have your head titled upward looking at birds aloft in the sky or sitting in a tree, or you are busy scanning the thicket for movement and unusual colors.Watch your step. 

Heron in the Thicket
Small bird on a twig on the edge of a wooded area
Noble Road Trail is great for bird watching as are the banks of the waterways in the area, and dragonflies and butterflies are also abundant at least part of the year. Commonly seen: Gulf fritillary, migrating monarchs, and – less commonly -- swallowtails. 

Monarch butterfly on green leaves

Some butterflies and specimen of the ubiquitous common whitetail will even share the trail path with you, four wings more than you that could take them anywhere else in the reservoir notwithstanding. 

Common Whitetail Dragonfly

While the variety of wildlife is rich and diverse, it also varies over the course of the year. As do the colors of the landscape and flowers dotting it. 

Images of the flora in the Fall:

Summer and Spring Flora

Snakes in George Bush Park - Buffalo Bayou wetlands habitat inside the Barker Reservoir

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wildfire Aftermath - George Bush Park a year after the fire raged inside Barker Reservoir

A wildfire devastated large swaths of George Bush Park in West Houston a year ago, leaving a wasteland in its wake. 

But nature is showing its resilience and has been re-greening the area from the bottom up, aided by much more frequent and abundant precipitation starting in January and through the remainder of the current year, causing the low-lying areas in the reservoir to fill with run-off several times already after heavy rain, including this week.

The grassland and bushes are back as if nothing had happened. The trees that were lost, however, will not be replaced as quickly. What's left of them -- charred skeletons sticking up into the sky -- provide an eerie reminder of the impact of last year's record-setting drought followed by large-scale fires.

Regreening of the meadow in the wetlands restoration area, but the trees singed by the wildfire
in September 2011 are beyond recuperation
Fungus growing on a charred tree trunk
Landscape along Noble Road Trail inside Barker Reservoir

Fungi at work helping decompose charred tree trunk
Silhouette against evening sky of a burnt tree that remained leafless
all summer and will eventually come down in a storm
Orange-colored sunset glow behind a web of branches bare of leaves provides reminder of the bush fire that laid waste
to this wooded area of Barker Reservoir a year ago