Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fire Ants And More

Prior to coming to Texas, when I'd hear about the ferocity of Fire Ants, I'd always think to myself, "Yeah Right! How bad can an ant be." I've amended my thinking and now have a healthy fear of all ants!!!

It seems to come, as an attack out of nowhere. You're just innocently standing around or picking something up, when you feel a sting that instantly gets your attention! I thought the little critters bite, but contact with them definitely has the feel of a sting! Sure enough, my Internet research says that Fire Ants only bite enough to get a good grip and then start stinging in a circle. They will sting beyond the duration of their poison. The sting creates a blister that itches and burns for as long as 3 weeks! Note the blister in the web of my hand. Once the blister subsides a small round scar will remain for awhile longer, as a reminder of the power of a little ant!

This is an interesting picture of Fire Ants in that they have been banded for research. Now there's an unusual job! It seems their venom has some medicinal value.

Although Fire Ants are described as red with black abdomens and about one quarter inch in size, mostly all you'll see is a swarm of red mite sized ants. My research says that an attacking Fire Ant gives-off a pheromone that calls to the others. Fire Ants are aggressive to ANY disturbance of their activity. I caught myself recently ready to flick an ant off the Hummingbird feeder, and thought it strange that it would stand-up on its back legs and reach towards my finger, when I got close to it. I then noticed the red and black body. "Excuse me, Mr. Ant." No more disrespecting an ant's space, at least not if it can get you first!!!

This is an Internet picture showing a field full of Fire Ant hills. We saw large hills like these along the roadsides in Florida. We didn't know what they were at the time other than just ants.

In hard packed ground like here in Texas, their nests won't be as obvious. I read that they like moist places, so particular caution will be needed in watered lawns, gardens, and near birdbaths. Since we're on the topic of Texas bugs again, let's just do an update of others encountered.

This is an Internet picture of a female Dobson Fly. You can tell its a female by its small pinchers. Roy and I encountered one of these on a gas pump. My research says that they are night flyers that are attracted to lights. I think I'll purchase gas for the vehicle during the daytime!

This is the male! What's with these huge bugs in Texas? Roy and I surmise that it's the endless Summer here. Final note: Dobson Flies will bite if annoyed, but are not poisonous. Of course, Roy had to test his luck and push on the back of the one we saw. Men!

Now for a sweet butterfly. I was sitting outside near dusk and had one of these flying around erratically and landing head down on the tree branch above the picnic table. This behavior is consistent with its Internet description, along with being a butterfly that feeds on tree sap, rather than flowers. This picture from the Internet has a slight difference from the butterfly I saw. Note the one dark spot ringed in gold on the fore wing.

This is the picture I took. Note the two dark round spots on the fore wing with a splotch of white in them. Both butterflies are called Hackberry Emperor Butterflies, but mine is a subspecies specific to this area! I find that kind of cool, as I had read that the Balcone Fault is a demarcation line for certain ecological systems and species distributions. It is also considered the official starting point of the western states!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Central Texas Seasons

It's amazing that the temperature can be over 100 degrees and there still be a sense of the changing seasons. The plants have peaked, darkness comes earlier and stays later into the mornings; the nights are cooler, and signs of school starting are everywhere. Thinking about the change of seasons around the country and having lived here long enough to feel the cycle of the seasons, Roy and I have decided that the four season of Central Texas are Hot Summer, Comfortable Summer, Cold Summer, and Spring!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Blanco State Park

During these hottest of the hot Summer days, Roy and I have decided that checking out local swimming holes is a good goal. Not having been in warm water that is over our heads for more than 20 years, and thinking about actually swimming; we both went to our first location with nervous jitters. It's apparently like bike riding in that you never forget how to do it!

We went to Blanco State Park. It is set-up like a greenbelt of picnic areas along the Blanco River. The river runs through the center of the community of Blanco. There are spillways along the river that help keep sections of the river full of water, even in a drought year. You can swim anywhere along the river, but they also have a swimming pool built into it. Given the drought, we aren't seeing the swimming pool area at it's best.

It can look like this. Maybe we'll get to see it this way in the Spring.

We rented inner tubes and paddled ourselves quite a way up the river. The river was shallow enough in some places to stand out in the middle. There was a nice bedrock bottom. I'd forgotten how much muscle power it takes to climb on and off an inner tube repeatedly. I could feel the corrosian cracking off my joints, but by the time we got back to where we started, I could barely hang onto the tube any longer. We played like we were twenty year olds, and got sun in places that hadn't seen the sun in many years. Over the next few days we could feel where the river had hydrated out skin and conditioned our hair. That felt nice. We paid for our afternoon of youthfulness with a week of achy bodies and feeling our age. We look forward to another swimming trip, but with flatter floats and a little less exhuberance.

There are some rental cabins and a lodge, that are not affiliated with the park, close to the main swimming area. The state park has a camping area, and possibly cabins, too.

This is the road next to the river. The bridge crossing it is Highway 281. It runs through the community of Blanco and past the entrance to Miller Creek RV Park only 6 miles away. With an annual state park pass; the Blanco State Park swimming area is free to use as often as one likes, and is easily accessible. A local told us with a hot Summer like this one, we should be able to go swimming clear through to Halloween! Wild isn't it!!!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hill Country Mysteries

The unraveling of some Texas Hill Country mysteries started, when I began searching the Internet for clarification on two similar, but different trees referred to as Live Oaks.

One of the trees has a single trunk.

The other has multiple trunks. The leaves appear to be the same. It turns out that the single trunk tree is indeed called a Live Oak, but the tree with multiple trunks is referred to as a Texas Live Oak. The Texas Live Oak is said to grow only to the north and west of the Balcones Escarpment. Hmm? Balcones; I've seen that word around here. I better research what the Balcones Escarpment is, and so the story begins.

The Balcone Escarpment is a cliff face created along the Balcone Fault, when over millions of years the area east of the fault slid 700 feet lower than the western side of the fault. This fault runs parallel to Hwy 35 through the center of Austin. To the west of the fault is a large area known formally as Edward's Plateau, but more affectionately as Texas Hill Country. The area to the east of the escarpment is referred to as a coastal plain. Hmm? Why would it be called a coastal plain when we are so far from the coast? Maybe researching that topic, would answer the question of why I'm finding seashells in the desert.

Here are some I've collected in the R.V. park. As I'm sure you've already guessed, the ocean at one time covered this part of the Earth. These shells are kept safe buried in the soil until, through erosion, they eventually make their way to the surface. Trying to accept the age of these shells is more than I can wrap my mind around!

The ocean shoreline of prehistoric times is said to have risen and fallen many times. The hills have rippled terraces suggesting multiple shorelines. I wouldn't typically be so interested in an area's geology, but Texas Hill Country so blatantly displays the time period that created it. I've got a lead on dinosaur tracks and some rare prehistoric trees in the area. I look forward to finding them. More on that to come.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Home Grown Watermelon

It appears that if you stay in one place long enough, that even as full-time RVers you can have a garden.

My first attempt at growing watermelons only yielded one, but "Oh My!"

It was everything that I had hoped for and remembered about watermelons I'd eaten as a child. Each bite had a crispness that melted in one's mouth with so much sweet juice as to nearly drown.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Old Tunnel

When we first heard of going to the Old Train Tunnel to view the bats emerging, we envisioned being in a remote area hiking through weeds in the dark down to a train tunnel in a hollow. We were pleased to find that the tunnel that has been inactive since the 1940s is now managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Daily viewings are available and a nice presentation about bats is given prior to their emergence. The tunnel is currently housing around two million bats, but at times goes as high as four million.

Here's some bat information we learned:
1. The Mexican Free-tailed bats are also called Brazilian Free-tailed bats.
2. Most bats have a flap type tail, but the free-tailed bats actually have a narrow rounded tail that protrudes from the flap.
3. Different species of bats will live in the same cave, but they each have their own area.
4. Mother bats find their own young to feed, even in caves of millions!
5. Bats in Texas are born in March and are ready to fly by July.
6. Some caves are maternity caves and some are not.
7. Bats eat their weight in insects nightly!
8. Bats can fly 60 miles an hour.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bamberger Ranch

We recently visited a 5,500 acre private ranch outside Johnson City that conducts ecotours. The ranch is an inspiration for its beauty, land restoration, and David Bamberger following his dream. This is the official Dept. of Parks and Wildlife video giving an overview of the ranch.

We were visiting the ranch primarily to see the world's only man made bat cave, and the Mexican Free tailed bats emerging from it. The open air ride to the cave by itself was well worth the $5.00 entrance fee!

This cave is made from 3 inverted cement swimming pools, and can house up to a million bats. At present it houses 160,000. If interested, go to the Bamberger Ranch link on our homepage to read the interesting history of the "chiroptorium". Chiroptorium is a term coined by Mr. Bamberger, and is presently in the process of being adopted by Webster's Dictionary as the official word for a man made bat cave. The prefix, "chirop", comes from the formal term designating the order of bats, and "torium" from the word, auditorium. I'm hooked on bats, and look forward to three other observation locations. More on those to come!