Friday, December 12, 2008

Moon Beams in the forest on the eve of the largest full moon

Not too many people knew this event occurred last night. I didn't until a neighbor brought it to my attention. One thing I like about The Woodlands - people get into nature. When I was a child, my dad and I generated many memories in the dark scary forests. When the moon was out bright, I could go outside in the middle of the night and find the ghosts of the forest along with the wolves and the bear (which were fabricated by stones my dad threw into the forest when I was not looking).

Last night the moon was not only a full moon, it was the largest full moon for the next 15 years. I'd call it Santa's moon this year. I could just see Rudolf and the reindeer practicing their flight under the backdrop of that spectacular moon. With its brightness, there was no need for a flashlight except in the very darkest part of the woods. What is it that makes a person feel eerie when in the woods at night? I shot a few woodsy photos where I could see the moon as a backdrop for the forest. One can see all sorts of strange images drawn by the leaves and branches.

Take a look at the link from Earth Sky about the event itself. The writer explains "perigee", when the moon is closest to the earth. That happens more frequently than every 16 years, but coinciding with the full moon orientation is another matter. You will need to mark your calendar for November 14, 2016, to see it again. Mine is marked. I will probably have to use a wheelchair then to get out to see it, but it is worth going outside in cold weather to view it.

Take a look at these photos and see what you can detect in them. What time of day do you believe these photos were taken?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Acorns or no acorns, the woodlands squirrels must eat

I have noticed that we have no acorns this year on any tree nearby. It first came to my attention when I observed a squirrel outside in the Yaupon eating the berries. Then I thought, if the squirrels are going to eat the berries all winter, what about the Robins in the Spring? What will they eat? Last year, this little guy was eating acorns at this time of year. He has been eating pine cone seeds until recently.

Well, if you noticed what I noticed last year, then there is a clue for you as well. We had a bumper crop of acorns last year. My White Oak produced so many that I thought I was going to go crazy with the acorns hitting the roof and lying all over the patio. Then too, the squirrels were burying the acorns all over the yard, so grass was damaged by their need to save the food for a "rainy day". The acorns were everywhere last year, all over the street, driveways, ... just everywhere and varying species of Oak all contributed to the abundance. There are zero acorns this year. The only ones I have seen were on a few limbs that were toppled by Hurricane Ike but had been in the tree all year as broken limbs, unable to break lose to fall to the ground. Those were all rotted out and useless for food.

So did the hurricane knock all of the acorns off the trees? No, that would be very doubtful. Actually, this is a cyclic pattern of Oak Trees. They usually produce a small amount of acorns in the off year cycle, but this year it appears to be nil. So what to do? Feed the little guys or just let nature do its thing? We will lose some to hunger I think, if we do not feed them. Yet this is the way nature takes care of its own. The birds will have to seek alternate food (worms for example) to continue their trek north in the Spring. They will compete for the berries in the winter, but I have not seen any Robins yet. Where are they? I heard that some of them are staying up north but winter looks pretty harsh this year, so I expect to see them soon.

I am going to provide them and the birds with some seeds in my feeder, but they will have to fare on their own for most of their food.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

How did the forest fare from the winds?

Some folks believe that Hurricane Ike destroyed those trees not protected by the wind. One resident questioned why would we keep these trees which used to be in the forest but now are left exposed to fall on houses? In the same breath, the implication is that we do not live in the forest in The Woodlands. I want to assure everyone we do live in the forest. We have a program for reforestation to replace that which is deficient. We also maintain the forest through a management program for disease control, to maintain the integrity of the forest plant diversity, and the general health of the trees. Special attention is given to replacing invasive with native plants. Many seedlings as well as young trees are planted each year.

So here is the dilemma. We saw many trees fallen by the storm in our residential streets and yards. After all was over, the cleanup was very large. So some residents questioned the value of having the trees. We live in The Woodlands, a master planned community of the forest.The trees are and have always been part of our values here. They are the reason the community exists as it does, in a seemingly endless tangled web of paths and streets bounded and entwined with natural green areas. All green areas are intended to be part of the forest with the exception of the golf courses. Even those are supposed to have native trees and bushes.

So were the fallen trees more numerous in the green areas and the yards than in the forest? I took this question to the new county nature trail park on Flintridge. The Spring Creek Reserve area is a large protected section of forest, easily accessed by residents of The Woodlands. Any casual observer will note the large number of fallen trees. My conclusion is that the forest may have more fallen trees per given population than the ones in the homes. One reason for this is the interactions between the trees during the fury of the hurricane. For example, a tree that is uprooted by the storm is likely to fall on other trees during the storm, causing tons of weight to shift on the ground. That causes other nearby trees to be uprooted. Then there is also the "kiss" effect. One tree falling on another will damage the the other by reducing light and just pushing the other tree to an unstable or leaning posture. The density of the vegetation does not necessarily block the wind and protect the trees as some might conclude. IN fact it can have the opposite effect, like a fence. One pole can withstand heavy wind whereas the pole will fall with the fence if attached to the other boards. In other words, the lifting and pushing of a stand of trees and bushes can be considered just like a wall and gives way to the power of the wind where as a single tree lets the wind move around it, less surface and thereby less resistance. Although many fell, many of them will continue to survive for years in their new leaning and tangled positions.

So no, the trees of the forest are not more protected from the winds than the trees in the yards. And no, the trees are not as much a threat to homes as some would lead us to believe. We value our forest and can exclaim now that out trees did exceptionally well in riding out the storm. I sincerely believe that we dodged a bullet because we had healthy trees and vegetation. What we have has been through many many storms in the past. This is good reason to keep native trees and not displace them with invasive trees nor any trees that don't belong here. See related article for a different perspective.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Energy, Biofuels, the forest and our economy

Truly this is a mouthful, but we endear our forests, so we pay attention to what is happening as these things interlink. We must have transportation and it must be at an affordable price for us to exist. Under extreme financial pressure, diminishing available consumables, and higher costs of transportation, our country is searching for solutions. These are all connected, and I hope we are all paying attention.

So here we are, talking about this relative to our East Texas forests. Now there is a trend to seek fuel sources using natural and unnatural biodegradable techniques. Major oil companies are funding research into these technologies. It all started with corn. We all know that corn will produce alcohol. Heaven knows, there has been enough movies about illegal liqueur-running in the back woods for decades. Production of alcohol in the backwoods is a well known fact. Corn whiskey is relatively easy to make. Now our cars are using it for fuel. 10% of what we get at the pump is distilled corn "whiskey" (i.e., ethanol)! However, we do have problems with this strategy. We burn food to reduce the amount of petroleum that we consume! It is really diluted gasoline that we burn in our cars today. In turn, the prices of a major food staple has risen considerably. So the strategy of adding ethanol to gasoline is having a negative economic response. Even those people who can't afford to own automobiles are negatively affected by this oil conservation strategy. This is now a recognized fact, and many businesses are scrambling for their piece of a future change to alternate biofuel sources.

They want to use our forests! We have many components for fuel in our forests. After all, we used to get our energy from there. We would burn wood, primarily cellulose. Put fire to wood and it generates heat, a form of energy. The answer seems not to be in fire since it is so inefficient. Instead, researchers are looking into biodegrading methods, that is, let the natural bacterial decay that occurs every day in the forest be our means to producing energy.

Do you have a compost pile? I do. I take the fallen leaves of the trees, crush them to some extent and put them in a compost bin. The bin is a heavy wire mesh that I can easily empty and turn over every month. I stimulate decomposition by adding egg shells, raw potato skins, raw green leaf leftovers, coffee and tea bags. The composition occurs because we have bacteria that will break these things down. That process generates heat and the process then accelerates. Wood also will break down but at a much slower pace than the leaves. Basically, what remains after one year of a compost pile, is the cellulose and nutrients for plants that result from the breakdown. I point this out because it is what happens in the forest. Various carbon gases and liquids are produced in the process.

Companies are now seeking ways to harness these by-products and even more. They want to find ways to use the cellulose, the backbone of the forest, to produce fuel. To do that, one must find organisms that will break down cellulose into carbon chains. Yes, even alcohol is a carbon chain. When it burns, water and carbon dioxide are produced as by-products. So you see, the environment is affected as well. When you burn something, you are feeding the global warming cycle from gas emissions into the environment. Of course the forest takes a substantial amount of the CO2 and produces oxygen through photo genesis. It also produces some carbon-chain liquids and gases, especially on the forest floor where the leaves decay. Where is all of this heading?

Let's say that our science is successful. Our universities come up with a viable solution to this approach. Then the forest becomes another money producing resource. Its cellulose is valuable. What's more, in the science labs, microbes are synthesized as a means to break down cellulose. So the question is asked, how would these new microbes be controlled as to not harm our forests? Could they make our forests sick? Possibly, but not likely since the targeted cellulose would be dead, not living matter. The more likely problem would be the enemy of the forest - humans. I call us the enemy because when it comes to money, we as a race have destroyed forests for thousands of years. Just think, 1500 years or so after the Ottoman Empire, there remains a large amount of land without trees where there were forests before. Why? Because the Turks paid a bounty for trees which protected tax evaders. To get those taxes, the forests had to be destroyed (in their eyes). We can look at the Amazon jungles today to see what happens to forests given economic reason.

Our economy is severely stressed. We need alternate fuel sources. Is this a good way to spend our money? Will we be opening up our forests to tree cutting for fuel? Will we be turning our forests into tree farms so that we can have gasoline? I surely hope not!!!!! Let's think about the environment, retaining the natural forests and seeking alternate fuel sources in the wind, the ocean and the sun, not our forests nor our crops.

References -

  1. Forbes article - Beaker Fuel November 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Backyard Hummingbirds in The Woodlands

This little creature moves so fast that you may not know what it is. Is it a
bug? Is it a bumble bee? No! It is a Hummingbird! Darting hither and thither, one
can become crossed-eyed trying to follow its movement. Then suddenly, you see it
perching on the tiniest of twigs. It has to rest between feeding binges.
Watching these birds for several hours, one can see patterns emerge. This little male has several favorite perches. He prefers a tiny twig that is fairly long relative to his body size. The twig must give him a clear view of his domain. He is very possessive of his space. So he stays very busy chasing off would-be dinner guests. Thus the darting behavior.

Then came the female. She was allowed to feed when he was not in the neighborhood. It is my suspicion that he was out visiting his other girlfriend next door when I was able to catch some photos of this little lady.

For the next couple of days, she was running off the others until the guy returned and chased her off. She fed more inside of the Hummingbird plants than did the male. She did not get up on the perches and monitor the area like he did. She would just attack everything that came to the table while in the backyard, then would disappear for as long as an hour. The female tended to catch more insects than the male. She would be high in the air at times, obviously catching something about 20-30 feet off the ground. That could have been flies or mosquitoes.

These are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. They are the dominant and possibly only one of two species in this area. The other species is the Rufous. These Ruby-throated nest right here in our backyards. I suspect this one has a nest near here and is feeding her brood now, but she managed to keep me unaware of her nest. According to my bird book, she can be nesting as far away as 1.3 km and feeding here in my backyard. I noticed that each time she arrived, I could hear her chattering as if to say, "if there is anyone else here, you'd better leave".

Don't think that the little lady is dull and only gray with white wing tips. She has the iridescence on her feathers that is typical of Hummingbirds. When the light hits her just right, you see these green and blue colors. As the sun reflects off of the bird in the flowers, her colors become very evident. The female is quite beautiful in fact.

So the next time you go outside and have the opportunity to observe these beautiful and interesting creatures, try to see where the male is watching and if there are any females lurking around. Keep an eye for a family, maybe two youngsters and their mama. The male does not play a role in the upbringing of the brood. The female will protect them, but after a couple of weeks out of the nest, she will run them off to fend for their own well being, unlike the broods of other backyard birds.

Montgomery County had two observers participating in the 2006 Texas Hummingbird Roundup, reporting two species of Hummingbirds in the county.



  1. Species of East Texas - Texas Parks and Wildlife
  2. Identification of Hummingbirds - Texas Parks and Wildlife
  3. Texas Roundup of 2006 - diversity of sightings

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Woodpeckers in The Woodlands Texas

There are three species seen here in The Woodlands, and they all have red heads! If you are not careful, you may call them all Red-Headed Woodpeckers, but only one is. The true Red-Headed Woodpecker has clean crispy black and white markings and a large red area on the head, whereas the Red-Bellied Woodpecker has a smaller reddish area on its head and belly, and black and white checkered-like markings on the wings. The Pileated has a crest on his head as evidenced by the photo below. I have included a photograph I took of the Red-Bellied species. I keep seeing the Red-Headed Woodpecker but have no photograph to show you yet. The two birds are exactly the same size, about 9 inches long. Another red-head here is the Pileated Woodpecker (photo below). These are larger, about the size of one of our local Crows.
Backyard Birds 7-8-08-2

If you hear an annoying tapping noise on the roof resembling a hammer hitting metal, don't fret; it is only a male woodpecker establishing its territory. Similar to several types of birds which are territorial, the Red-Headed, Red-Bellied and Pileated varieties can make their point known for an entire block! There is nothing like a 6AM wake up notice from the local male woodpecker.

A reader provided this photograph of the Pileated Woodpecker.
One of these days, I will take a photograph of the smaller Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, which is on the endangered list and makes his home in this area. He is about one inch shorter than the other two. His red markings are much smaller. There are few places he is seen, so I would not expect to see one here inside of The Woodlands. More likely, we would see one in the protected Jones Forest or on Spring Creek.
Red Headed Woodpecker submitted by Lisa Griffis

The Red Headed Woodpecker is spectacular but is a bit more shy to people than some of the other sister species. There is no doubt what species it is when you see it in the forest!

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy is a popular small backyard woodpecker that likes to regularly feed from a hanging suet feeder. I had a family of  four in my backyard all summer and can't say how much I enjoyed them!


  1. Woodpeckers of the East Texas Piney Woods by Texas Parks and Wildlife
  2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology


  • Pileated Woodpecker photograph courtesy of Nelda Blair
  • Red Headed Woodpecker photograph by Lisa Griff

Friday, June 13, 2008

I am the Great Black Dragon - Story of a Dragonfly on the pond

You heard me. I am THE great Black Dragon. I am known by this name. The buzz on my pond is that I am dreaded by those delicious sleazy vampire-like night flying creatures seeking the blood of their victims. So be it. They are my prey. In case you doubt my position in this world, all you need to do is look at me. So here I am!

My story today is my entire life. I will see about 60 nights and days and then be gone. Glorious is the day and quiet is the night. My time is the day. I will seek out all the mosquitoes I can hold in my belly, then love, work and play in the sunlight and in the rain. I will quickly move among the bulrushes, flowers, and grass around the pond.

Reedy Pond-15

I must tell you about the spot where I met Mrs Black Dragon, my love. On MY day in the sun, my true love came to me. I happened to be at one of my favorite hangouts, the Golden Rod. The afternoon light glistened off of the rod as I was fluttering around.

Reedy Pond-13

Then she came, and she too was fluttering and of course with a little flattering as well. I mean, who could see me and not issue those words of flattery! Well, here is the missus doing her business amidst the leaves.

Reedy Pond-14

We hooked up and became the proud parents of little black hunger mucks who think they own the pond. At first they were eggs on the plant leaves. Then they came out of their shells and became almost like us. For several human months, our little ones will be unable to fly. Humans call us "larvae" when we are children. During this stage of our lives, we are vulnerable to enemies like fish and birds, but some day we do grow up and flit about like me. Then one of the children will say "I am the great Black Dragon"! As teenagers, they have now met their cousins on the other side of the pond and realize how big this world must be. These cousins thought they were something to behold, until of course they saw ME! Look! These cousins are blue, of all colors!

Reedy Pond 2-7

Then I brought their striped distant cousins to meet the children. The little ones learned a lot from these distant relatives. Who needs to be big to be fast? They learned again that their father is the best of the best. I challenged Mr silver to a race. I just could not keep him on the track however. He does not know how to fly from one place to another in a straight line. But after all, I AM the great Black Dragon!
Reedy Pond 2-3

It is tough to be humble when you are perfect in every way. We have been on this planet for more than 300 million years. Think about that. There are a few other things you should know about us:

1. My children feast on those vampire-like bugs as well. They chow down on Mosquitoes like you have never seen! You would do well having some in your yard.

2. You may not know it, but you need me also in your backyard. I bet you get buzzed all the time and it's usually not by me. Give me a pond with plant life and I will go to work for you to get rid of the buzz of your life.

3. You people always call all of us "dragon flies" but do you know that i am actually a Damselfly? Remember the striped dragonfly above? Well, he is a real dragonfly, but I am the king!

4. We are official in the animal kingdom. We are insects, but a special kind with a special function in the ecology about us. Please do not poison us. We do not sting, nor do we hurt you humans in any way.

1. A Beginner's Guide to Dragon Flies

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Woodlands Reedy Pond an artificial flood control pond aging to a naturally rich ecology of its own

Who says a man-made pond is artificial? Ten years ago, one could note a near desolate body of water with a few Cattail reeds on the shore accompanied by a few other shoreline plants. There was no visible life in the water, not a frog, not a turtle, not a minnow. This pond appeared dead. Little would a casual observer know what was happening in that water and how the birds and wind were changing the pond's ecology. The landscape was bare with the exception of some natural retained forest in clumps and made-planted non-native grasses on the ground. Then, this pond was only about 4 years old. It was built as a retaining pond to control flooding.

Ten years later, this body of water is breaming with life of all sorts. The transition from artificial to natural habitat is highly evident. There are at least two species of turtles, several varieties of frogs and fish, several species of trees, several varieties of wildflowers, water lilies and other aquatic plants, ducks, wasps. dragonflies and other forms of life. Raccoons, rats and possum have always been on the pond at night. Sometimes there is track evidence of a White-tailed deer or two present. Our Parks Dept planted a number of native trees over the years which now thrive in the park, adding to the landscape. Residents have planted a few trees along the shoreline and in the green area also. Some of the native pine trees in some areas of the pond are now light deprived by an invasive species of tree, the Chinese Tallow. The community recognizes this issue and has a plan to remove the Tallows this fall and replace them with native trees. The pond usually contains plenty of fish with a natural ecology distinguished by shoreline plants, turtles and water fowl. It has a very large exposure to the sun which causes over heating, large CO2 concentrations, and algae growth in the summer. Inversion of temperatures in the fall causes some of the algae to surface and causes a stench. The pond has suffered at least one fish kill over the past few years, probably due to the oxygen level of the water. Therefore the pond requires human intervention to maintain it's ecology. That process the Parks Dept usually does adequately. Sampling of fish species indicates that the perch and bass share a symbiotic life cycle and have a natural relationship just like in other nearby ponds. The quantity of baby fish normally reveals a very healthy pond and an adequate natural restocking life cycle. In latter years, catfish have been introduced into the pond, perhaps putting the pond a little out of ecological balance. Deliberate stocking of the pond originally excluded the catfish. Also noted recently is Alligator Weed appears to be on the pond. This is also an invasive plant which comes from South America and needs to be removed, if I have identified it correctly.

The enemies of the pond? The two legged ones are the primary enemy of the inhabitant of the pond. Some people who do not understand how the ecology works. Some throw their trash in and around the pond, and some introduce species into the pond without proper regard to ecology design. We have many visitors now from inside and outside of The Woodlands who are not in tune with the workings of nature, but like to enjoy the natural amenities of the park. Another enemy of the pond is the water runoff from the local neighborhoods which brings excessive nutrients into the pond, primarily in the form of nitrogen from artificial fertilizers.

Despite the problems caused by visitors and the stresses on the summer pond to its dependent inhabitants, the pond has naturally maintained itself and diversified over the past several years without much human intervention. This year is shaping up to be an exception. There are more outside visitors using the pond daily. Some ignore the rules and take fish out of the pond for example. Some just throw their trash on the ground and in the water as they stroll around the pond. Some visitors are in route to other destinations by foot, leaving their garbage on the ground when walking the dog or involved in other recreational pastimes here. Therefore, before introducing the primary objective of this post, I wanted to note the external influences on the pond's ecology. Now to its primary objective, the 2008 living pond.

I have included some photographs here of the plant life along the pond and how the ecology works with references below. Also included are photographs emphasizing beauty, value and appreciation of such an amenity in the neighborhood.

First let's begin with the plants along the shoreline. These are primary contributers to the bottom of the food chain for the pond's inhabitants. The Cattail is one such participant in this ecology. From Texas A&M's Aquaplant, a Texas cooperative extension program :

"Submerged portions of all aquatic plants provide habitats for many micro and macro invertebrates. These invertebrates in turn are used as food by fish and other wildlife species (e.g. ducks). After aquatic plants die, their decomposition by bacteria and fungi provides food (called "detritus") for many aquatic invertebrates."
Reedy Pond-12
This I call the golden rod. With the right light, its beauty in early summer is something to behold. Later on in the season, the birds will relish its fruit.

Reedy Pond-11
This is a more proper photo of this plant in a more normal lighting situation.

Reedy Pond-13
The Cattail with the tree line as background, clouds drifting by overhead, and the sunlight peeking through the trees from the west, captures somewhat of a romantic tranquil moment on the pond.

Other shoreline plant life includes the Bald Cypress trees, some of which are about 7-8 years old now.
Reedy Pond-16
Cypress tree planted as a seedling for the future of the pond, to provide shade and a root system for small fish, frogs and ducks to hang out. Only about 15-20% of the shoreline will have this tree. Most of the shoreline will have the bulrushes and the reeds to provide a very healthy place for the fish to reproduce and survive. A Cypress dome (their above-ground root system) is known to be excellent places for diverse lifeforms within the pond ecology system. Our ducks like to hang out around one of the larger domes on this pond.

Reedy Pond-18

In this photo the pond simply functions as a mirror. On a lazy summer afternoon, the wind was lightly pushing the trees to and fro and moving puffs of clouds over the pond. Here is a mirrored image of the sky and underlying landscape as a reflection off of the water of the pond.
Reedy Pond 2-5 Minnnow

These flathead minnows are the bread and butter of mosquito control. They eat larvae near the banks of the pond, as part of their diet. This often missed fact about the ditches and ponds of the area explains why the mosquito is not usually so prevalent around bodies of water. Larvae are near the bottom of the food chain. Additionally, it has been found that pond spiders like to eat the mosquito larvae.
Reedy Pond 2-15 - baby estuary

Here in the reeds and water grasses is where you find the bottom of the food chain. Mosquitoes will lay their eggs here; decaying vegetation provide food for various bugs and worms; newly hatched fish hide here and feed off of the lower food chain sources. I have not seen a snake on this pond with one exception years ago.
Reedy Pond 2-14 Small Turtle

Sometimes if you stop and look closely, a new inhabitant will appear. This little turtle surprised me. All the Red Ear turtles jumped in the water but this little guy just kept an eye on me.
Reedy Pond 2-13 Willow Tree

There is one Willow sitting on the banks of the pond. This also adds to the diversity. I do not know how this tree ended up on the pond but it is a welcome occupant. Birds like to nest in the Willow and the ducks appreciate the Willow's limbs over the water for protection.
Reedy Pond 2-9

A submerged garden reveals the rich ecology on the floor of the pond. This is the defining point of the pond itself. It is not a lake due to the shallow nature of the body of water and that vegetation is rooted on its floor from one end to the other.
Reedy Pond 2-8
At the surface, one will find a floating species of plant, but notice its root system down to the bottom.
Reedy Pond 2-7

The blue dragonfly was abundant in the full sun this particular day.
Reedy Pond 2-6 Blue Dragonfly

Reedy Pond 2-3

But this unusual dragonfly was also there. I caught him in my lens in flight, a very difficult feat to accomplish.
Reedy Pond-8 Dewberry

Dewberry vines produce fruit for the birds along the shoreline during the Spring and early summer. This is one of the last berries quickly ripening.
Reedy Pond-13

The Black Dragon as I call him. There will be a article on him in this blog soon.

Now for some wild flowers on the pond in June, just to remind the reader - take time to smell the flowers:
Reedy Pond 2-2

Reedy Pond 2-12

Reedy Pond-7

Reedy Pond-6


There is more about this pond in the parks section of the blog. Click here.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

An early Spring Stroll amidst The Woodlands Texas forest

In The Woodlands, there are many miles of pathways for a variety of Spring strolls through the forest. This stroll was in Panther Creek Village in February.

On one quiet cool day, one observes the squirrels everywhere digging up acorns they planted in the fall. Many of them are beginning their courtships and establishing territory where they will raise their young. As one passes by these little creatures, the sole sound one hears is their sudden startling movements over the leaves and twigs on the ground. One looks up and sees very bright green leaves just beginning to show themselves on some of the small trees and brush. Look down and one sees the first of the wildflowers starting to cover the ground or the first blooms of the Trumpet vines as in this picture. Or after so much rain as we have experienced this year, one of the many small bogs hidden in the pine needles on the ground, soaking and creating the acidic water that fuels many of the forest plants and trees.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Frogs in The Woodlands Texas area

Croak… croak …croak….

We have an excellent Herpetology resource just a few miles down the road near the airport in Jesse Jones Park – Mike Howlett. Last night at McCullough school, he presented a “how to” identify local frogs and toads. Not only was the material excellent, but also his humor was super! Have you ever wondered what was making those noises outside (and sometimes inside)? He offered a few memory tips to identify these amphibians by their call and believe me; seniors need help in this area. Amphibians are endangered by our environmental non-consciousness just as birds, insects and animals. Ant poison is often over applied resulting in more than the inconvenience of these creatures. Construction in sandy soil areas has endangered two frogs and they are on the national endangered list. Their living environment has been more than encroached. It has been mostly removed. Introduction of species from other locations and competing amphibians for food sources, as well as lawn and garden poisons and fertilizer also affect the environment of these creatures.

Common toads and frogs in our area include the small Grey Frog, Gulf Coast Toad, Houston Toad, Cricket Frog, Spring Peeper tree frog, Western Chorus Frog, Rio Grand Chirping Frog (not native but here in abundance), Grey Tree Frog, Coats Grey Tree Frog, Green Tree Frog, Squirrel Tree Frog, Bull Frog, Bronze Frog, Southern Leopard Frog, Narrow Mouth Frog, and Herder Spade Foot Frog. Each one has a unique call. One can see the eggs on top of the water after a big rain. Toads’ eggs are laid in a double row and frogs’ eggs are laid in a glob.

Each of these creatures makes a unique sound. That is the way they manage to call their own species for social gatherings and mating. We humans are fortunate to be able to discern those calls, well enough to be able to go out, sit down and identify all the frogs in a given area and even be able to estimate the populations by their calls. Texas Parks and Wildlife sponsors a catalog process, which monitors area ponds and forest areas for their amphibian populations. One can adopt a pond for monitoring and cataloging by attending a class and getting the materials, including a CD of sounds for identifying these creatures.

OK, now let’s talk food chain! What creature is at the top of the food chain on some ponds and will eat a Crawfish? It is the Bull Frog! He will eat about anything that moves that is within reach of that sticky tongue. Those pinchers of a crawfish do not faze him at all. What is a threat to small birds that comes to take a drink on the pond? Again … the Bull Frog. Picture a frog with a mouth full of feathers. What looks like a snake but has legs? A Skink. What are those lizards called that change colors? Nope, not a chameleon, but an Anole! What are those translucent lizard-like creatures on the windows and sometimes get into the house at night? Mediterranean Geckoes. They are not native here but they are thriving here.

Later this Spring, I will go out in rain to listen to these creatures and hopefully I can find the time to get certified in frog monitoring on one of our Woodlands ponds. I may take one of my grandchildren with me. The children attending this lecture were obviously very interested and came to look at the living frogs in the bottles that Mike brought with him.

I highly recommend attending this Woodlands Association series of lectures on nature. The remaining lectures this Spring are “The Quiet Invasion” (invasive plants on March 26th and “Beyond Butterflies” on April 17th (should also be an interesting one for children).

Now let's change that croak to Peep ... peep ....peep


Loose banjo string sound...........Loose banjo string sound (bwang?)


I went away with a much different appreciation for an important resident of our forest.

1. Any book store: look for Amphibian field guides in the Texas book section.
2. Jesse Jones Park:
3. Texas Parks and Wildlife kids stuff:
4. Texas Parks and Wildlife Texas Amphibians Watch:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge - Liberty

Although this is a little out of the scope of this blog, it is an example of what can be done to restore our forests. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planted 50,000 native hardwood trees in the refuge as part of a reforestation effort.

Chronicle article by MICHAEL GRACZYK of the Associated Press.

Related article (Conservation Fund)