Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Brazos Bend State Park - 2011 Drought

Brazos Bend State Park is close enough for a day trip, one that I try to enjoy as often as I can.  I visited a few weeks ago just to see how the park was handling the drought.  Shocked and saddened don't even begin to explain my initial reactions when I walked around Creekfield Lake (the paved path leading to the observatory) - it was reduced to a puddle.  There were alligator tracks leading to it - clearly the alligators were still around, but very few birds (and fewer species) were still fishing, wading in the remaining stagnant water.  The marsh side of Creekfield Lake wasn't in any better shape - those beautiful cattails, drying up, burned brown by the hot sun with nothing but cracked dirt trails around them.  Even the cypress trees are showing their stress in their brown leaves.  I was fortunate to be able to chat with a park volunteer who told me the small pump they have to bring water into Creekfield Lake just isn't enough to keep up, so they were no longer even trying - whatever happens, happens.  I can't help but wonder about the bullfrogs that you hear at dusk talking to each other.  The volunteer also said he expects it to take a few years for the bird and insect populations to recover -- birds won't come when there isn't water.  Here's a few shots of how Creekfield Lake looked on that day.

alligator tracks lead to the puddle that once was Creekfield Lake

A few remaining herons wade in the shallow water

marsh side of Creekfield lake - cattails burned & dried by hot sun

I also visited the 40 acre lake area - since there is more water here, there are also a LOT of alligators in close proximity to each other.  That day everyone seemed to be behaving themselves & the gators were easily visible in the shallow water.  My sister commented that the lake looked like an abandoned swamp.  On the west side of lake (with the sloughs), duckweed has covered the surface entirely, giving everything a deceptive healthy green color.  There were several gators here as well, but well hidden in the muck.  A few moorhens were fussing and a very few herons were fishing.  The lake level is down here as well since the park decided to no longer use the pump to maintain the water level.  The sloughs were dry and cracked.  It was easy to see where the gators were coming/going to the water - their tracks/slides easily visible in the preserved mud.

duckweed covers portions of the 40 acre lake

alligators are still there
sloughs along 40 acre lake are dried up, vegetation burned by heat/sun

alligator tracks/slides through what was the slough to 40 acre lake

It is very tempting to go off the paths & walk around in the dried up areas, but there are more reasons not too - alligators (there are over 500 of them in this park), habitat destruction (the drought won't last forever), bullfrogs and others than are hidden from view can easily be stepped on not to mention the snakes - although not always seen - be assured they are still there as well. Besides walking off the designated paths is a big break in the park rules.

Our area is forecasted to have some break in the current weather pattern in the coming days, so I plan to go back to look around and see what is still there as well as observe any changes in the fauna that I hear/see - do they really believe the weather is going to change? 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Weather Changes

Wow - we actually received measurable rain yesterday - officially 0.90 inches (UPDATE:  official total ended up at 1.26 inches) - which brings our August total to: (drumroll)....... 0.97 (UPDATE:  1.33 inches)... not much of a dent in our drought (UPDATE:  at least we did get 1/3rd of our average rainfall for this month).  But I walked around outside just to see if the rain had any affect on the outside world.  The most obvious & first change was the remaining green grass grew at least an inch overnight and the burned, dying grass is at least a little softer.  A hummingbird was flying around and there were a couple (2 exactly) new flowers blooming - both pink (wonder if that means anything).  The native passion flower is still struggling to survive much less bloom, but the lizards are still out & about.  I also noticed a few more flying insects (wasps, grasshoppers) venturing out.  Further out in the yard, where it isn't as protected, the wide cracks are no where near closing up (left my slipper in the picture for perspective). 

Here are a few quick pictures I took a minute ago - it is hard to spend much time in 99 degree heat (w/heat index of 104)... I'm really hoping fall will be better - if not at least wetter.

pink pentas finally bloom
dwarf humminbird bush hanging in there

native passionflower still struggling

sensitive brier - wildflower
lizard or anole - love his hands

crack in yard

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hot Hot Hot

Yes - we continue to experience record breaking temperatures and drought.  I know I've posted several times about our weather, but I along with many others are just surprised that the pattern continues with no real break seen in the future.  Just to give you an idea:

August 21 - August 29  our temperatures will range in the upper 90s - mostly 99 & 98 and mid to upper 70s for the night, but we do have a few chances of rain - only 30% (better than the 0% we see most days).  In fact today we had 3 alerts:  1 heat advisory & 2 air quality alerts - crazy stuff.
Our historical averages for these same dates are lower 90s (would feel chilly) during the day and lower 70s for night (wow winter). 
The .07 inches of rain we've received so far this month hasn't added much to our total rainfall (historical average 3.84 inches for August).

September - our historical average temperatures should range in the mid to high 80s for day and right at 70 degrees for nighttime.  September is also our big rain month - averaging 7.12 inches -- which coincides with our most active time of hurricane season.

We continue to have high pressure over our region that does bring us beautifully clear days, but the combination of the heat and dryness/drought only make our temperatures stay high.  Sadly most everyone in the area hopes for a tropical storm or even category 1 hurricane, just for the rain. Unfortunately these high pressure systems also steer all rain-bearing tropical systems away.  Trees are dying, farmers are selling off their cattle because there isn't always hay available to feed them. 

I recently drove to a local state park where the drought is even more evident - their marshes/ponds have become puddles, the birds for the most part have left, there are only a few insects (mostly robber flies), nothing like you'd expect to see.  The park staff said it could take a few years for the birds to return in full force as well as the insects.  Their trees are also stressed & turning brown, and although they expect to lose a few oaks, most of the trees are expected to survive.  They gave no prediction how long it would take for the park to recover as a whole - refilling marshes & ponds, etc. 

I've posted a picture of a ladybug (lady beetle - which ever you call them) because this is something we haven't seen this year.  Nothing green for the aphids to eat, no aphids, no ladybugs.  We usually have a colony in our backyard during the summer & we enjoy watching their life cycle, but we haven't seen anything (not even mosquitoes).  I just hope we get some relief - real relief, not just enough rain to make mud & a mess, but some to make a dent in our deficit.

Interestingly there are madatory water restrictions going into place in many cities that addresses water usage during certain times.  We don't usually water our yard (cost too much), but we have had to water our house -- waiting for the ground under the house to crack open wide enough to swallow our house or at least our foundation.  So far so good, but we need help fast.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


We have been getting small amounts of rain here & there, but not enough to make a dent in our exceptional drought situation.  Looking back through some pictures that I took last year, you can see how the drought was already starting to effect Texas.  I'll be adding pictures to this post as I run across them - just to illustrate it's effects.
Sam Rayburn Lake, East Texas, November 2010

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Black & White Boots

Hard working shoes/paddock boots.

I recently took this picture as part of a photo challenge about shoes.  I have never participated in these challenges because #1 - I didn't have a lot of time, #2 - professionals throw their photos in there as well and #3 - I don't usually think my photos can stand up against others.  Although I really liked the way this one turned out, even if my subjects thought I was a little nuts - nearly laying flat on the ground while they were lined up leaning up against the fence.  This picture also forced me to learn how to add vignette to a picture - I know it is a very few easy steps, but only if you know which steps.  I've also sent this picture in to another very popular blogger's photo challenge for black & white photography (again professionals are in the mix).  I don't expect to even make the final groups of these challenges, but at least I've tried.  My only regret - I didn't pan up & get a picture of their faces while they were hanging out -- I kept my promise that I would only get their feet... maybe next time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Aunt Jemima

On a recent road trip through central Texas, we decided to search out Aunt Jemima's (Rosie Lee Moore) gravesite, (we read about it in a book).  Originally a resident of Texas, she worked for the Quaker Oats Company and became the last actual person to tour/represent the Aunt Jemima character for the company.  Although the characterization of Aunt Jemima has been discussed many times over the years as being a negative representation of African American women, Rosie Moore viewed the character as a positive opportunity.  There are discrepancies in Rosie's story during her association with the Quaker Oats Company, including the length of time she portrayed the iconic character; some say 17 years, but her headstone says 25 years. The gravesite was declared a historial landmark in 1988, although I didn't see any special notations/markers.

If you'd like to visit - following are (hopefully) more exact directions than what we had from our guide book:
From Hearne (which is North of College Station Texas), turn towards East on 351 (you actually have to drive through 2 blocks of a neighborhood towards the west, then make a turn towards the East.  351 is the overpass that goes through town, by the Pizza Hut).  From Hearne, travel about 4 miles (there were stretches of 351 that were under construction during our visit & turned into a dirt road - but speed limit remained 65 mph (yikes), 351 is a little twisty & hilly - I didn't drive as fast as the posted speed limit or the locals) to the community of Blackjack (truly a community since only 45 people were recorded living there in 2000), which is a point that FM 2549 & 351 intersect.  Turn towards the North on FM2549 and drive for 1.7 miles (our book said a couple of miles), and turn towards East on CR 229 (which is named Pin Oak Drive (white dirt road)).  Then a short ways down on the left you'll see the Hammond Cemetery (also called Hammond Colony African American Cemetery).  When we visited, the main gate under the sign was locked, but a gate a little further down was open.  Her grave is under some trees & now a few bushes are grown up too - but hers is not too difficult to find - walk NW from the gate (depending upon which gate you enter - more North or more West).  Someone had tied a red bandana to a bush beside the headstone. 

I've been unable to locate a picture of her, but did find one of the character found on the company's label during her time (50s & 60s). 

Aunt Jemima as seen on pancake mix box
Rosie Lee Moore's final resting place, with red bandana close by

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kitten Kitten

At our house we not only have critters on the outside, we have animals in the house as well.  Currently only our cats share the house with us (at times we've had caterpillars, praying mantis, turtles, and whatever else we are observing at that moment).  Both of our cats are rescues and they are very different from each other.  This one pictured is about the size of a kitten, although fully grown.  She's about 7 lbs and still a bit on the wild side - she plays, but with claws, and doesn't really care to be around a person's face.  She has made great progress in that she'll sit on your lap (when she decides the mood is right) and she'll come when called - again when the mood strikes her.  It is interesting to watch her go about her day, knowing a little about her past & how it truly affects how she relates to things at the present.  She doesn't really do any non-cat like behaviors, but her past truly shaped her fears and desires.  She's no special breed, but she is special to us.