Texas Genera

We started our main road trip for the year on April 14. We plan to visit 11 western states, with an emphasis on finding new plant genera, and then finish up the year canoeing in Minnesota. During the six months we’ll be gone, we will take two breaks for birding tours to Borneo (June) and the Amazon (September), and will take one more tour, to Chile, in November, shortly after returning to El Paso.

Opuntia lindheimeri (?), , Devils River SNA, TX
Above: Opuntia lindheimeri (Texas Prickly-Pear), Devils River SNA, TX.

In total, we hope to search for about 90 plant genera we have not seen previously. Our targets are scattered across the western U.S. except for a concentration of 19 possibilities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV), which therefore became our first major destination. We took 5 days to drive to the LRGV, visiting places such as Seminole Canyon State Park (SP), Amistad National Recreation Area, Devils River State Natural Area, and Padre Island National Seashore. Some highlights were numerous Black-capped Vireos singing on territory at Devils River and Hesperaloe parviflora (Red-Flower False Yucca, a very popular ornamental) in flower several places. A complete surprise while eating lunch along the Devils River was a closely associating pair of Yellow-throated Warblers, well west of their normal range. South of San Antonio we watched in amazement as a large flock of white Pelicans passed overhead, flying north – it took over a minute for them to go by and desperately trying to keep up, counting by tens, I estimated 1780 birds!! It was a magnificent sight!

Band-celled Sister, Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, TX
Above: Band-celled Sister, Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, TX.

We spent 8 days in the LRGV, but got off to a slow start, as we discovered that some of our most promising sites for new genera were not what we would consider truly natural habitat, but rather ranged from areas that had been heavily augmented by plantings, to places that had been regenerated from scratch starting with wastelands. While we applaud such efforts to revegetate with native species, we prefer to count sightings only from areas of continuous natural occurrence. We scrambled a bit, doing more research, and assessing the situation on a case-by-case basis, ultimately finding all but one of our targets in habitats we deemed to meet our criteria.

Roseate Spoonbill, Estero Llano Grande SP, TX
Above: Roseate Spoonbill, Estero Llano Grande SP, TX.

During our time in the LRGV, we experienced several severe thunderstorms, which historically are unusual in the region in spring. One had winds so strong I reoriented the camper to face into the wind, so that the canoe was not hit broadside. For ten minutes there was a procession of large tree branches blown across the parking lot at Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, which was closed the next day to repair damage. Later there was perhaps 20 minutes of quarter-inch hail. A few days later, an unbroken line of storms stretched from Mexico to San Antonio, a distance of about 200 miles, so there was no escape. We botanized as long as we could and then got off the dirt roads, eating in a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant while the storm line passed over. We were fortunate in sustaining no damage, but the nearby National Butterfly Center, a favorite fall destination, did not fare as well, with many trees down, roofs damaged, and their a/c system fried.

Stilt Sandpiper, Estero Llano Grande SP, TX
Above: Stilt Sandpiper, Estero Llano Grande SP, TX.

Estero Llano Grande SP was very good for birding, as usual, with 12 species of shorebirds (including many Stilt Sandpipers and a Baird’s Sandpiper, a species we hardly ever see in spring migration) plus a lovely flock of 11 Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. Elsewhere we had singing Painted Bunting, the most colorful songbird north of Mexico, and always a treat. At several locations, we saw flowering Hibiscus martianus, a stunning scarlet mallow, which we had previously seen just once before, on the opposite side of an impassible canyon! As we left the LRGV, we spent an hour and $16 to wash all the caked mud off the camper and make it habitable again.

Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Estero Llano Grande SP, TX
Above: Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Estero Llano Grande SP, TX.

Starting April 27, we spent a week crossing Texas from south (Laredo) to north (Amarillo), finding 4 of 6 target genera along the way. We had a very pleasant campsite in Blanco SP, complete with a stand of a splendid new species of Baby Blue-Eyes (Nemophila phacelioides). In a greenbelt in San Marcos, we watched a 4-foot Western Ratsnake climb up a juniper until it was 20 feet off the ground, then move laterally through the canopy from tree to tree, greatly disturbing a pair of Cardinals, but not catching anything.

Erythrostemon caudatus, Falcon Loop, N of Roma, TX
Above: Erythrostemon caudatus (Tailed False Nicker), Falcon Loop, N of Roma, TX.

The roadside wildflower displays in central Texas, especially between Austin and Abilene, were quite spectacular. We continued to watch the radar maps and the sky, encountering more thunderstorms and high winds. And we experienced a plague of large moths invading the camper while in the short-grass prairies of the Texas Panhandle, an issue that would persist in similar habitat in Colorado. We spent one full day in camp in Lake Colorado City SP to catch up on things. Wildlife here included Scaled Quail, Rio Grande Ground Squirrels, and Clay-colored Sparrows.

Hibiscus martianus, Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR, TX
Above: Hibiscus martianus (Heart-Leaf Rose-Mallow), Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR, TX.

I have been having chronic pain in my right shoulder, sometimes extending to my neck or down my arm, since October. X-rays showed no abnormalities, and I think it may be a nerve problem rather than a muscular issue. Since hitting the road, it had been even worse, to the point that I could hardly do any activity involving a bent arm (such as holding a book to read, or typing on a laptop) for more than about ten minutes. Eileen and I both wondered if it could be exacerbated (or even caused) by repetitive stress associated with working (laptop, microscope) in a somewhat “sideways” position on our dinette table in the camper, which seemed a bit high. So my main task on our day in camp was to lower the table by three inches, which seems to have helped some, though I still have sleep disrupted most nights and must frequently do stretches during the day.

Matelea reticulata, Prospect Park, San Marcos, TX
Above: Matelea reticulata (Netted Milkvine), Prospect Park, San Marcos, TX.

In total, during the 20 days covered by this blog post, we conducted 41 searches, 61% of which were successful, leading to 25 new genera. During this time we missed only 6 genera (most at two or three different sites), thus finding 81% of those sought. These are both fine results, and we hope the good luck continues.

Rio Grande Ground Squirrel, Lake Colorado City SP, TX
Above: Rio Grande Ground Squirrel, Lake Colorado City SP, TX.

One thought on “Texas Genera

  1. Amazing journey again. Thank you for sharing. About your hand/shoulder, If it is indeed nerve related, I would not recommend stretching but making surrounding muscles stronger. Nerve-strings do not willingly stretch, but get irritated. For me cold treatment and muscle excercises for upper body were solving my problem. I still would recommend to consult specalist. Take care!


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