We drove to the farm on Thursday, and have been enjoying glorious spring weather. These “hog plum” bushes line the little dirt road leading to our place. They are fragrant as well as lovely, and this summer should yield small, tart plums that are wonderful for making plum jam.
The first wildflowers are appearing. We only have a few of these Indian paintbrushes in our pastures, but we watch for them eagerly each spring. They flower before the bluebonnets bloom, and can range from a deep pink to orange…I don’t know why.
Awaited with even more anticipation than the paintbrushes is the arrival of the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. This tiny bird (4.75 to 5 inches long) breeds only on or near the Edwards Plateau in Texas. It winters in Mexico, and returns to its breeding grounds each year in mid-March. These small warblers nest in “cedar breaks,” of Ashe juniper mixed with oaks and feeds mostly on insects. Our farm has warbler habitat. They like to nest on north-facing slopes covered with mature Ashe juniper, which they use to make their nests, interspersed with oaks and other hardwoods, where they often place them.
For the last two weeks I have walked the warbler habitat on our farm, listening for the calls of the males as they claim their nesting territories. Last week I heard no warbler calls, but on Saturday, I was rewarded by songs of several on the cedar-covered “mountain” along the east boundary of our property. The closest one was still some distance off the trail, so I pulled out my cell phone and called up my Audubon Bird app. I located the Golden-cheeked Warbler information and held the phone above my head while I played the call. After a couple of tries, I heard the calls coming closer. Soon this handsome fellow was sitting in the tree above me loudly proclaiming that this territory belongs to him!
The tree branches were thick, and I was afraid to relocate for a better view, so I took what photos I could through the vegetation. There are no wall-hanger images here, but at least you can see what birders everywhere look for each spring in Central Texas.
If you are interested in learning more about this shy bird, you might try to find a copy of The Golden-Cheeked Warbler, A Bioecological Study by Warren M. Pulich of University of Dallas, Irving, Texas, illustrated by Anne Marie Pulich. It was published by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1976 and provides not only facts about the bird and its habits, buts a fascinating look at its breeding range and estimated populations by county at that time.
I continued my walk, accompanied by our dogs and Cousin Molly. The trail wanders along the top of the mountain, marked by cut branches, stone cairns and these trail markers placed by friends and family. The first one is located on the south end of the trail just as the trail levels out. If you leave it to your right, you will enter a short trail that soon loops back to the main trail.
The second marker, cheerful garden gnome, marks the juncture of the “Warbler Canyon Trail” which comes in from the left, with the main trail.
The third marker, this lovely Indian princess, includes a container where rainwater collects to provide a drinking water source for birds or other small critters.
Vegetation along the trail varies with the season. There are a few small pincushion cacti like this one. Later in the year they will have tiny red flowers, then more of the red fruit.
This trip I spotted these three mushrooms of a kind I haven’t seen before. From a bit of research, I think they are probably a variety of “stinkhorn” mushrooms. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect they are called phallus something-or-other.
Our other activity this trip has been watching the lovely cow affectionately known as B1. She is due to calve any day now, but as of a few minutes ago, she is still "expecting." We hope to be present for the birth, to assist if she needs help.