Insects in the Houston garden

As coronavirus gradually reduced our horizons during our recent stay in Houston, it was surprising how many insects one came across in the garden. Surprising because continuous chemical warfare is waged against termites and cockroaches, which would both soon become very widespread without it.

The presence of lizards and birds, such as cardinal, mocking bird and blue jay, does suggest that there are insects around, and if you go in the summer there will be mosquitoes due to large amounts of standing water. Fortunately these were not significantly around during our recent visit. We did see odd cockroaches, the great survivors, but these are not my favourite photographic subjects.

Bees were around on emerging spring flowers, but my two best pictures were of a monarch butterfly and a colourful paper wasp(?).

Click twice to see full screen.

Lizards in the Houston garden

Wander around the garden in Houston and there is usually the odd small lizard, a few inches long, scuttling out of sight or sunning itself on a wall. There seem to be two sorts.

 

The green anole (left) is native to the south eastern US. They have the ability to change colour to brown, hence sometimes called American chameleon, but these are not true chameleons. Their natural habitat is trees, although house walls seem to provide an alternative.

The brown anole (top right) is a native of the Caribbean, more recently introduced via pet shops and pot plants. This lizard is said to displace green anoles from their preferred habitat, so represents a threat to their long-term survival.

My third picture (bottom right) is probably a brown green anole, as it lacks the strong patterning of the brown anole.

Click twice to see full screen.

For reference here is a list of reptiles in Texas.

Spring in George Bush Park

Houston was only relatively recently wrenched from the Texas swamps (founded 1836). The city is now mainly a man-made environment where nature clings on where it can. There are some areas that are in a relatively natural state. George Bush Park is one of these, because it lies behind Barker Dam, which protects much of residential and downtown Houston from flooding after heavy rainfall events. So the park is regularly flooded in varying degrees.

We recently managed a lovely spring walk through a seemingly remote part of the park, actually just a few minutes from Interstate I10. The featured image shows one of the patches of swamp vegetation, which were probably typical of the area before Houston came along.

Much of the land is scrub interspersed with lakes. This new grass was growing just at the edge of a lake as the water receded. The grass was only a few inches high; getting the camera down to near ground level was essential here.

bush grasses

Highlight of the walk was the number of wildflowers in evidence. The spring sunshine had really brought them out. Bees and other insects were in evidence, not so persecuted here as in other parts of Houston. Here’s a selection.

 

Animal tracks in the mud showed signs of grazers and predators of varying sizes, but they keep well away from people, with good reason.

Footnotes

The park is named after President George HW Bush, who we saw was very popular in Houston in his later years.

The park is not virgin land; it was a ranch before being taken over for use as a reservoir.

Barker Dam leapt to worldwide attention during the dramatic events of Hurricane Harvey 2½ years ago, when the dam was tested to its limits.

 

 

Great Blue Heron

The great blue heron is a very large bird, the biggest heron in North America. We seem to come across the odd solitary bird fairly frequently when in Houston, in typical expectant pose waiting for signs of fish. These examples were in Archbishop Joseph A Fiorenza Park and beneath the bridge taking the I10 freeway over Buffalo Bayou. Amazing that this bird happily fishes while hundreds of cars and lorries thunder overhead.

The Audubon site gives good information on the vulnerability of this and other birds to climate change. Assuming that food sources hold up, they should still be around Houston for future generations.

Tagore Grove

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore

tagore ray millerRay Miller Park is a smallish urban park just by the busy Eldridge Parkway in Houston. In a quiet corner of the park it is a delight to come across Tagore Grove, established in memory of the Indian polymath Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). A calming space on the midst of all that busyness.

The featured image shows a panel containing the words of Tagore’s poem, shown in full above – a call across the ages, so relevant to these times.

Trade Deals

Trade deals are bandied around by its supporters as one of the advantages of Brexit. We will be able to do all these wonderful trade deals which will make us better off.

Let’s just take a reality check. Now I’m no expert in trade deals, in fact few people in UK are, because we were part of the EU team. That’s maybe the point.

UK is joining the big league of trade dealers. Let’s just suppose it’s a league of the 10 top world economies. All the other teams are highly skilled and proven in the world trade dealing. The UK is just putting together a team to compete with the others, all at the same time.

If it were football, where do you think UK would finish at the end of the season, with a cobbled-together team playing against the best in the world, with a highly congested fixture programme? Bottom, obviously.

History tells us that trade deals are used by rich and powerful countries to control and exploit other countries. The British Empire, for example, is replete with examples, from cotton to salt. The current trade war between US and China is part of that pattern.

But the UK is rich and powerful, you say, the 5th or 9th largest economy in the world. So we can deal on equal terms with the others. Maybe. At the end of the day, sheer numbers mean that the smaller economy will usually have more to lose by not reaching a deal.

I’m not betting that we’ll have any deals any time soon, and the prospect of a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU is as real as ever.

However, all is not necessarily negative. The impinging of reality on the Brexit project may result in Prime Minister Johnson agreeing to a deal that keeps us reasonably close to the EU. Of course, this would annoy the hard Brexiteers, just as he annoyed the DUP with the withdrawal agreement. We live in hope!

Featured image of President Trump attending agreement of beef deal with EU,
by The White House from Washington, DC via Wikimedia Commons.

Hottest Day

It has been England’s hottest ever July day. The air is hot and humid, more like summer in Houston. Becalmed all day, without the air conditioning that is regarded as necessary in Houston, I have to take a walk in the evening, now it is slightly cooler, despite impending rain.

We are lucky that Knutsford has a number of smallish green areas. As I walk I become aware of just how hot and oppressive are the streets around the town, heat emanating from the terraced houses and roads. Entering the parks there is an immediate change of atmosphere, cooler, more breezy. The grassy areas, surrounded by trees, have a different feel again, still refreshing. The small ‘walled wood’ is another perceptibly different environment, completely enveloped and protected by trees. By the lake that is the Moor pool a different quality comes from the relatively cool water.

In short, contact with nature – trees, grass, water – makes the extreme heat tolerable. More trees and lakes will not only slow global warming but make its effects more tolerable. More bricks and concrete make things worse. This is common sense, yet we don’t act like it is. The only alternative will be islands of air conditioning for those that can afford it, as in Houston.

As I return home, spots of the anticipated rain begin to fall. The roadside trees help my brisk walk home, removing the need for that umbrella. I pause gratefully in the relative cool under our beautiful weeping birch, before going back into the oven-like house.

Featured image taken in the shade of our weeping birch tree.

Trump Trade Deal: It’s Not About F*cking Chicken

In this excellent post Conor Boyle shows how the media have trivialised a rather important issue on different attitudes to government responsibility for food and health regulation in EU and US. As he says, it’s not about the chicken, it’s about the responsibilities of government, and whether people are left at the mercy of essentially unaccountable large corporations. This is one of the true costs of Brexit.

The Conversation Room

Don’t get me wrong, I like chickens. As a child I loved visiting the farm and feeding the little chicks in their pen. I just don’t think when deliberating what’s at stake for the U.K in signing a post Brexit trade deal with the United States that poultry should be the focal point of debate. 

From Jeremy Corbyn to the BBC it seems everyone has bought into the idea that  chlorinated chickens entering the U.K food chain is the number one objection to a trade deal with Donald Trump. It can be quite infuriating to see political debate on respected current affairs progammes ask “Does Britain really want chlorinated chicken?” As if the primary impact of a trade deal with with the U.S is the quality of KFC.

To clarify, in the E.U chicken producers must adhere to strict hygiene and welfare regulations throughout the process of rearing…

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Anhinga 2

This anhinga, taken at Brazos Bend Texas State Park in March, is poised, intent, ready to strike.

anhinga 2019

According to Wikipedia, the anhinga is also known as a snakebird, American darter, or water turkey. The stance is obviously a bit like that of a cormorant.

Katydid

Granddaughter spotted this leaf insect in Houston, and it somehow finished up on her hand. What an amazing camouflage, looking just like a leaf.

It seems to be a katydid, in America anyway. Brits call it a bush cricket, and the scientific name is tettigoniidae.The picture below shows the long antennae – it was once called a long-horned grasshopper.

katydid

The name ‘katydid’ is onomatopoeic, coming from the particularly loud, three-pulsed song – as is ‘cicada’, to which they are related. There are actually thousands of species in this family.

Information thanks to Wikipedia link in the text.
Thanks to momma for photographing on her iphone!

Green Ground Beetle

This stunning green beetle, nearly an inch long, was rooting around in the stones by the path at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas, in March.

green ground beetle

There’s a large family of ground beetles, of which I guess this green one is a subspecies. Beetles don’t appear to be well covered on the web!

Snowy Egret

At first I thought this was a great egret in Houston’s Hermann Park in March. Eventually I realised that it is actually a snowy egret, which is somewhat smaller.

 

The way the wind has whipped up the neck and tail feathers makes for an interesting effect (click to enlarge).

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, snowy egrets have a black bill and yellow feet, whereas great egrets have a yellow bill and black feet. Hopefully I’ll remember that for next time!

Blue Jay

Almost everywhere we go in Houston, particularly when near Buffalo Bayou, we can hear the raucus cry of the blue jay. Occasionally you get to see these beautiful birds and that brilliant flash of blue. But they do seem to be camera shy. What a nice surprise when this one posed on a car park near the bayou.

 

Being not far from the sea, this is probably the ‘coastal’ variant mentioned by Wikipedia, as opposed to the ‘interior’ or ‘northern’ variants.