Common buckeye

This common buckeye butterfly at Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza Park in Houston was being quite coy, just revealing one of the three ‘eyes’ on its upper wing.

These are said to be common in North America. They migrate north in the spring, so we probably just caught this one (March) before that event. This really is a rather beautiful butterfly!

A thousand posts!

It seems I have reached the magic number of 1000 posts, since I first started this blog in 2016. So many words and pictures. What was it all about? The issues that seem important to me, mostly well away from the mainstream. The photographs I took with my various cameras, mostly very portable travel zooms.

The important thing to me is that I did it, made the effort, tried to do something creative 1000 times, tried to reflect on important issues hundreds of times, went through that publication process 1000 times – that’s all I have to say here, publish and be damned.

It’s helped me to refine my thinking and my photography. Alas, I’m not sure what the benefit might have been for you, dear reader. And special thanks to those of you who have commented, helping me along the way. Great to touch another mind, even if briefly. And great to know blogging friends from all over the world.

I had this bright idea at the beginning to index the posts (using the display-posts shortcode) so that I and others could see what I’d posted on any particular subject. For example: in my passion for the natural world and photography – birds , and in my passion for raising of human consciousness – New Renaissance. I don’t look at these indexes often, but they can be quite useful. See top of page, if you’re interested. [Since WordPress has a limit of 100 display-posts entries, the alphabetically-ordered lists of posts are no longer complete. Anyone know a solution?]

At such a milestone, it’s appropriate to ask, whither now? The blogging habit is now ingrained, so I’m unlikely to stop anytime soon. Salutary to realise that to become an expert blogger would probably require 10000 posts – that’s about another 50 years at the present rate. So, amateur I will remain. And I celebrate the grace that has allowed me the time, health and resources to continue with this process.

To close, I’ve included my current favourite photograph, from Barmouth last year. Thanks for reading!

Towards Tywyn

American bittern 2

We just saw a couple of American bitterns during our day at Brazos Bend State Park in March. We heard more, with that characteristic booming “oong, kach, oonk”, as Wikipedia says.

They just stand about in the vegetation, waiting…

The Houston area is in this bittern’s winter range; they travel north to breed in the spring. We were maybe lucky they were still there.

Not too neat

After a winter and spring of neglect, the back garden was looking decidedly untidy. More to the point, I could not effectively feed fruit bushes or plant new flowers in that tangle. So it had to be made more neat and tidy, like traditional gardening. Days and hours later, there is much more to do. Some plant feeding has taken place, albeit far too late in the season, and I’m looking forward to at least some berries off the fruit bushes, roses and flowers in the patio planter.

Here’s the transformation of some fruit bushes. I’ve left some of the weeds and the rampantly spreading Spanish bluebells.

My dreams are now a tangle of pulled up dandelions, buttercups, clumps of grass, goose grass, baby’s tears, bluebells and much more – now considered weeds, where days before I admired their beauty. And the horror of those forced to flee my predations as their damp hidy-holes are uncovered – the scuttling woodlice, centipedes and millipedes, various beetles and spiders, fast- and slow-moving worms – and the discovered slugs and snails consigned to a gluttonous paradise in the compost heap. And the thought that there will be less food and cover for the newts in the pond, and for any visiting frogs. So there are patches of tangle left in messy confusion, providing sanctuary for these friends.

I realise that I am repeating the age-old conflict between the agriculturalist who tills the land for food and flowers, and wild nature living in its own glorious profusion. Maybe Buddha would agree with my solution – a balanced ‘middle path’ between the neat and tidy ‘productive’ soil and nature’s gloriously diverse tangle.

Now for that flower bed by the pond…

Roseate Spoonbill

We’ve seen roseate spoonbills before at Brazos Bend State Park, but never close enough to photograph. This year, finally, there was a group in a rookery close enough to the visitor pathway.

Of course, the unusual spoon-shaped bill provides for specialised sifting of food from the mud. Like flamigoes the pink colouring comes from their diet, so shades vary in different locations

If you really want to see some great spoonbill pics go to Ted Jennings’ site.

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbirds are pretty common in Texas, although it’s not that easy to get a good shot of the red patch on the wings. These were reasonably obliging at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas.

If you don’t see the red patch, they’re easily confused with grackles. If you look at the wikipedia entry, the females are rather different, with fairly dull marking. We saw some hiding in the trees, separate from the males.

Spring blues

Blue flowers en masse are popular in spring on both sides of the pond – bluebells in England, blue bonnets in Texas – and in many English gardens there is lots of blue muscari, or the similar blue lyriope in Texas.

Featured image: blue bonnet meadow, Houston.

Fishing below Barker Dam

I spend some time watching the fishers in the rush of water where the outlet from Barker Dam merges into Buffalo Bayou to continue its journey to the sea.

The Great Blue Heron just stands in the water, motionless, waiting for what seems to be a rare opportunity.

The snowy egret stands on a rock or respectfully by the bank, away from the Great Blue. The technique is the same, waiting for an opportunity with intent concentration.

Finally, the cormorant swims in the water below the rush. From time to time he dives into the turmoil, swimming toward the current, often emerging with a fish in his beak.

There’s no doubt which is the most successful technique. A throng of around 10 cormorants is harvesting most of the fish. Heron and egret get the occasional consolation.

Phaon crescent

Just catching up with photos from our March visit to Houston. This butterfly at Brazos Bend State Park took a bit of identifying. It’s similar to some European fritillaries, but this one is called a phaon crescent.

The wing patterns are quite striking. Apparently these are quite common in the Houston area and much of Texas.

Coot family

Baby coots are just so cute. This family was feeding on the lake in the evening sun at Stover Country Park, Devon.

According to the Wildlife Trusts, the saying ‘bald as a Coot’ refers to the white patch, or frontal shield, just above the bird’s bill, rather than its lack of feathers.

At Garner State Park

We visited Garner State Park mid March. This Texas State Park lies on the Frio River, an hour or two’s drive from San Antonio. There are extensive camp grounds and many recreational opportunites afforded by the river and surrounding hills. On a very hot day we could just get a flavour of this picturesque area, see the following photos.

This impressive and popular park was built as a New Deal job creation project and is named after John Nance Garner, who served as Roosevelt’s vice-president from 1933-1941. This is a model for government action when times are hard for the people. Thousands benefit from this historic government investment every day.

The good old Texan attitude to covid-prevention is shown on the sign on the back of a camped pickup, see featured image.

Great blue and snowy

The point where the outflow from Houston’s Barker reservoir runs into Buffalo Bayou is a great for a spot of fishing. Here a great blue heron waits patiently, intent on the running water. A snowy egret waits to the side, a good distance from the prime spot.

All neat and tidy

During the 39–45 war the houses on our road near the southern edge of Lincoln were fortunate to have a long allotment appended to the end of the back garden. In childhood I loved this shaggy space, rows of vegetables and rhubarb, fruit bushes, a deep hedge where redcurrants and brambles grew, patches of weedy long grass, waggly old apple tree to swing on, and a chicken coop, until the fox got in.

After the war the allotments continued for maybe 10 years. Then the land was sold by the Council for house building. Our outdoor space was reduced to the back garden, with lawn, fruit trees and flower garden plus surrounding privet hedge, and the front garden with rose bushes and more privet.

As I got to help out, I soon realised that the purpose of gardening was to keep these spaces neat and tidy. The privet needed regular trimming, any ‘weeds’ appearing among the flowers were hoed away, imperfect leaves were removed, lawns were regularly mowed and plantains removed.

That was until my brother and I grew older and destroyed the lawn by continually playing soccer, or football as we called it. But that’s another story.

I’m led to reflect on this as I look at today’s English suburban gardens. Sadly, the modern trend has been to destroy many front gardens to create car parking, or simply to create low-maintenance areas of gravel or tarmac, even weirdly coloured synthetic grass. All neat and tidy. And lifeless.

Back gardens have also suffered to a lesser extent. Expanses of decking or stone patios create more lifeless, tidy spaces. Weeds and insects are destroyed with toxic chemicals from the Garden Centre. All this part of man’s apparent continued assault on nature. But all neat and tidy.

Thankfully there is increasing awareness of the devastation of insect and bird populations caused by this domestic obsession, and the equal dedication to low cost neat and tidy farming, with its sterile monocultures, hedges shaved to minimal depth, lack of field margins and spaces for field-nesting birds, no wildlife corridors.

It is clear that in this respect the trend of modern life is a sustained attack on nature. Nature is not neat and tidy with sharp edges. It’s alive and messy, with shaggy edges. Biodiversity needs to be encouraged everywhere. Gardens, fields and parks must include wild space for nature. Weeds are actually plants well suited to their environment. Within limits they can be tolerated, providing a variety of sustenance for nature. Crops will not thrive on denatured monocultures for centuries. This neat and tidy obsession needs to end. Now.

Featured image is Eden Park Recreational Area, London, via Wikimedia Commons.

Crumb wars

Throw a pile of crumbs or seed onto the prom at Crosby, and it doesn’t last long. First, the gulls take the best bits.

Then comes the starling cleanup squad.

It’s all over in seconds.