Austin Pond Society Annual Plant Swap 4-18-2016

DSC_1907For the second meeting in succession, the Austin Pond Society had to get out of it’s comfort zone and do things a little different than normal mainly due to the inclement weather we have had for the past few days. Texas experienced very heavy rain sometimes almost torrential resulting in flooding and the ensuing cancellations resulting from it. The monthly meeting that we had scheduled for this past Monday, April 18 is the one we know as our Annual Plant Swap at which our members bring and exchange pond and garden plants and anything pond related. Normally, as we are dealing mostly with pond plants we set up on the back lawn with our collapsible ponds that we have specifically for this occasion and our members are able to wander around and take their time in viewing what is on display with an eye to having first dibs on it if is there by the time we start the actual swap part of the meeting.

Due to the fact that it had rained all day, the lawn was off limits to us so we had to make do with the small overhang area outside of the back doors to the meeting room. We restricted the ponds to just one and all of the other plants were sort of distributed around the general area. Did I mention that it was still raining and we were glad to have the small amount of cover that we had. Three of the members even wore their waterproof rubber boots for the occasion.

The Board Members had been e-mailing each other throughout the day as we were making decisions on the fly whether to go forward or to cancel the event. The final decision was to go ahead and be damned with the consequences. As usual, we started off with a meal which this month was Pizza accompanied with salads and desserts brought in by the members. We tried to get a very rough count of the number of people we thought might attend to try to get the Pizza order somewhat in line the the number of attendees. Needless to say, we were way off and had enough Pizza left over to feed a whole herd of hungry teenagers. It was not wasted and found its way to several people’s homes some who were almost reluctant to take it home.

I should add that there were several Board Members who were not present having taken this opportunity to make trips to various parts of the country before the very busy upcoming time of the Pond Tour. Among them, Jeannie, our President, BJ or Publicist, Betty our Librarian,Nancy our Treasurer and last but not least, Juliette, out Secretary. Luckily, there was not a lot of business to discuss and Jeannie had left the proceedings in the very capable hands of Barb Lenhardt, our Programs and Special Events Coordinator. There were a few announcements and some discussion from the floor in a general question and answers session. The main piece of business came from Glen Hubenthal who announced that it was time to elect the Koi Person of the Year and asked for nominations from the floor.

Stephen Monfrini

Stephen Monfrini

There was only one name put forward and that was for Stephen Monfrini mainly for his work on performing along with Jeannie, very many Fish Rescues this past year. It didn’t hurt that Stephen is also the new Hospitality Chairman which almost always guarantees a lot of popularity. Personally, I thought it was a good choice as fish rescues are messy and are not a lot of fun especially in the big ponds so I was very happy to second his nomination. Well done Stephen.

Following the voting which was done by acclamation, it was time to get on with the business at hand, namely the Plant Swap. I was not interested in taking home any plants and neither did I bring any in although I have plenty at home that I would like to share. I made an announcement and passed out flyers showing what I had to give away just in case anyone was in interested. Then I busied myself taking pictures.
In a way, I’m glad that we had to do things differently as it did give me something to write about and different pictures to post. Anyone who happened to review the past three years of Plant Swap reporting would be hard pressed to tell the years apart. We got out of there early with very little cleanup to do as the members all left with brand new plants. Did I mention that they also had to take home any of those that were left over that they had brought in and were not taken.

Even though we managed to get it off, I would not call it a success. The inclement weather had a bearing on the number of attendees and I counted 35 members in all at an event that usually has more then 50 people. The area was too small and the plants were virtually on top of each other making it difficult to pick and choose and in the end, members just grabbed what they could without being as selective as they would have liked.
Maybe, we should think about holding a smaller Plant Swap in the Fall.

Below is the video of the Business Section of the meeting.

APS Plant Swap April 2016 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

If you click on any picture it will make it full size and you can advance by using the arrows. Use the “Escape” key to get back to normal size.

Watching the Rain

flooding in Texas

The Forces of Nature

Sitting at my desk and watching it rain
too wet to be outside today
lightening flashes and thunder too
as Mother Nature likes to play
the thunder like it sometimes does
shakes the house with the occasional boom
but it’s not the noise as we all know
that can send us to our doom
they say there is a chance of floods
as the ground has already had its share
and cannot absorb rain anymore
and the runoff could send us in despair
as water is a powerful thing
and can gather tremendous force
enough to move cars and buildings too
and wash them away to be seen no more
they say that this will not go away
and for several days it will stay
with rain and thunder all the time
making life difficult in some way
but this is Texas and we all know
Nature has to put on a show
and when she chooses to do her thing
all we can do is hope and pray
that no one gets hurt or loses a life
because it is not worth the strife
of worrying about material things
which might have value but can be replaced
for life is a priceless thing
too precious for words to describe
and we have but one and when it is gone
there is nothing left to carry on.

Springtime Walk at McKinney

DSC_1860I just had to get out after several days of inactivity and decided that I would take a walk at McKinney Roughs. Of all of the local Parks, this one is way up there as one of my favorite places to take a hike. I think a lot of it is because of the tall trees which are much more abundant on the East side of Austin than in the Hill Country which is subject to Junipers. Tall trees mean lots of shade and the lack of the Junipers was a blessing for my allergies which are really giving me a hard time this year.

I pulled into the Pope Bend Trailhead and just as I expected for a weekday, was the only car in the lot although the parking area had many very visible signs of recent horse activity. Lots of dropping and a very pungent smell of horse manure.

I went through my usual routine preparing for the walk and after consulting the map, chose to walk Buckeye and then branch off onto Pecan Bottom. I wanted to stay on the lower trails close to the river and I knew that I could do that by taking this route.

DSC_1826The difference in the scenery was very apparent from my first step on the trail. Everything was a lush green color with new growth in abundance far different from my hikes in January along these same trails. Indeed, the difference was so extreme that it was hard to recognize the trails as the same ones that I walked back then.

I had not walked more than 100 yards when I came across first a Road Runner and then a small red fox darted across the trail. Neither time was I ready and never had a chance for any shots. The birds were singing like crazy and it was such a glorious feeling to be out with Nature. Try as I might, I could never see the birds unless they were flying. They do a very good job of blending in with the scenery. I had not gone too far along when I came across the first snake of the year, this one was around 4 feet long and all black. It quickly hustled off the trail into the long grass. I could only get a glimpse of its head but it looks very much like a Texas Indigo Snake and is non poisonous. Further along the trail, I saw a rabbit bouncing off into the woods not more than 20 feet away. Again, I was too slow with the camera.

SnakeI walked on and then took Pecan Bottom which would bring me past the very large Pecan Tree that has been dated at 215 years old. It is a huge tree and my pictures do not do it justice. Further along the trail is another of these Pecan Trees that is probably just about as old as the first one.

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205 year old Pecan Tree

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This is the second tree and has to be just as old.

From there, I branched off along Deep Sandy where a much younger couple passed me both out enjoying the beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery. Further along the trail, we passed again this time with them heading back along the way they had come. It’s pretty sad that although they were not walking anymore than their natural speed and neither was much taller than me, they very quickly left me in their wake and were quickly out of site. Just goes to show that although I am walking as fast as I can, I no longer have any speed with it. Distance yes, speed no!

Deep Sandy follows the Colorado River for most of its length. The river showed signs of the recent rains by both flowing a lot of water and the color of the water itself which was a very dark muddy brown. Not a bit like the pristine clear waters that usually flows this part of the river.

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By now, I was on Coyote Road and the start of the climb back up the hill. The trails are not difficult but there were signs of the recent rains with the muddy trails and the horse traffic had cut up the trail just a little in some places. This would quickly dry out and future horses would beat everything back down. From Coyote I took Roadrunner back towards the Trailhead and my car. Roadrunner was a constant upward climb but not difficult walking. Along the way, I took the branch off to the Overlook at Meditation Point which gave me a grand view of the river and surrounding countryside. It was high enough that the Buzzards of which there were several floating on the wind currents, were on eye level and below in the valley.

DSC_1858I sat awhile enjoying the view and the solitude and marvelled at the miracles that Nature performs routinely every Spring without fail. She waves her magic wand and everything is green again. The bright new green of freshness.

I rejoined the trail and walked back to the Trailhead taking a few more pictures as I walked. My camera had been busy throughout the walk as not only were the trails looking so clean and fresh, there were also many different kinds of flowers showing off their pretty heads along the way. As I approached the Trailhead, a Roadrunner showed up and very obligingly stayed on the trail long enough for me to take its picture. Whether this was the same one as on the way out, I will never know but it was at the same spot as the first one.

DSC_1873I was still the only car in the lot when I got back and I sat a while before heading into Bastrop and Starbucks. Altogether, I covered exactly 5 miles on this hike and although the walking was a bit tough in some places, felt good just to be out. Looking forward to the next hike.

McKinney in the Spring 4-15-2016 (Enhanced) from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

The Heron, the problem for all pond owners.

dsc_0620I have had run ins with Herons for the past several years. Anyone that has a backyard pond will get a visit from these very large and beautiful birds usually to the detriment of the fish in their pond, sooner or later. The Heron is only doing what Nature has equipped it to do and that is to catch fish either to feed its young or to feed itself to stay alive. They are huge or at least they have a huge wing span of close to six feet and they also stand around four and half feet tall.

After several visits over the years, it became a contest between me and the Herons. In my case to prevent them from eating my fish and in their case, the ever ongoing challenge of feeding babies and themselves. I devised a method of fences around four of my ponds each powered by an electric doggie shocker. I even had to put crosswires up over the top of the pond as they would land on anything that stood out of the water such as a turtle sunning spot, a fish fountain and even an urn bubbler, in an effort to get close to the fish. The fifth pond is very small, only 350 gallons and I completely covered it with a wire mesh hinged cover.

I also invested in a four camera video system that each are activated by movement. The problem with this system which is still very much in place today is that any movement activates it. The wind blowing the branches or even a fountain splashing the water and it turns on and runs for two minutes meaning that there is a lot of wasted footage. Even if I suspect there has been a visit, I have to run through a lot of images just to check. Luckily it is all digital so it is no big deal to re-format and use the same storage card over and over.

One of my friends who also happens to be the President of the Austin Pond Society, lives about a mile from me as the Heron flies so we usually compare notes or send text messages if either of us gets a visit. We had a meeting just last evening and the subject of Herons came up. We both commented on the fact that neither of us had seen or been visited by the Heron(s) for several months. Just goes to show that you should never talk about anything that you don’t want to happen. It’s just tempting fate.

Heron on the shed roofI recently rebuilt the goldfish pond and took down all of the fencing around and over that pond. I had intended to leave it down in the mistaken belief that the pond was now sufficiently deep enough that the Heron would not attempt to jump into it as it had on previous occasions. I have that on video also from a couple of years back which dispels the theory that the Heron likes to walk into the water. One of the earlier videos shows the Heron jumping into the water after very carefully slipping between the wire fences around that pond and then standing and fishing after getting in. The pond was much shallower then only around two feet deep. After I finished the most recent rebuilding, the pond is now almost four feet deep in some places and well over three feet for the rest.

The only thing I can think of is that this is probably the same Heron returning after several months or so away and remembering that it was able to jump into this pond before I rebuilt it. The water is still a little cloudy and I can’t see the bottom but maybe the Heron can. If it had come last week, it certainly would not have seen the bottom as I had a severe case of algae bloom which totally turned the water green. I’m hoping that it is probably a little too deep for comfort and it will not try it again. Interesting that even though it was stumbling around in the water, it still managed to catch a fish. Natural instinct, I guess.

Two of the ponds which are also the largest, one at 5000 gallons and the other at 6000 gallons have very large Koi in them some more than 24 inches long and weighing in at well over twenty pounds. The Heron would probably not bother with them for two reasons. One they are too heavy for the Heron to lift out of the water and secondly, they are too big for the Heron to swallow. That leaves the two goldfish ponds one of which still has the wire fences around and over it and also a “Scarecrow” which is activated by movement and sends a strong jet of water across an area in front of it, enough to scare the birds and animals. I have a second “Scarecrow” which I will re-install back onto the rebuilt pond and hope that it will keep the Heron from trying to repeat this mornings little adventure. I really don’t want to put the fences back up and will only do so as a last resort.

I hate to lose fish, any fish even the goldfish of which I probably have well over one hundred. I also have around sixty large Koi and with the exception of the very biggest of them all who I have named “Big Bertha” none of the others have names or numbers. They are not like dogs and cats that you can make a fuss over or give them lots of love and get a lot back in return. After all, they are cold blooded and have no feelings to reciprocate. A fish is a fish is a fish…

This is the latest video

This is one of the earlier videos

Summer Time

DSC_1647As in, change the clocks one hour either forward or back
depending on the time of year
Spring forward and Fall back is how we remember
it takes a while to get used to the changes
not necessarily that sleeping and waking up are out of sync
which of course they are
but that for several months, I have gotten into a routine
now I have to change it
and in seven months will have to change it back

During World War 2, the clocks were changed twice
instead of one hour, it would be two
and it would still be daylight at 10:00 pm at night
that was in England during the “dark times” of war
changing the clocks didn’t help
they were still very “dark times”.

I read somewhere
that some states in the USA do not go along with it
They keep the clocks the same
throughout the year and the states around them
have to conform to their time
if they cross the borders.

I have an automatic self setting alarm clock
that cannot keep the time
it insists on being sixteen minutes off
and out of sync
with the rest of the world
I have tried to reset it
to no avail.

Thank Goodness, I am retired
unless I have to be somewhere
time is immaterial to me
I only look at the clock
to see if it is time to watch my favorite team
Manchester United, play soccer, on TV
for ninety minutes.

Now that I am old but not yet feeble
time is slipping away
where before, I was always reasonably sure
there would be another day
now, not so much
and eventually, it will be my time
and no longer will I care
about changing the clocks.

 

Zilker GardenFest 2016

DSC_1766Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin, Texas held their annual GardenFest this past weekend on both Saturday and Sunday. I attended to get pictures and write a story but also as a volunteer to man the Austin Pond Society table.

My shift was not due to start until 3:30 pm and I arrived around 1:00 pm so that I could wander around and take pictures. The Parking lot was already pretty full when I got there but as it was reserved strictly for volunteers, was well controlled.

Note: If you click on any picture, it will become full size and then you can use the side arrows to move from one to the next. Use the “Escape” key to get back to normal size.

I walked in the back gate and up the hill and the first thing I saw was Steve Blackson working the controls of a large train system with several different trains and carriages running around them. I knew that this was another of his interests besides being a member of the Pond Association. I stayed and watched for ten minutes or so and then made my way up the hill taking picture of the different exhibits and stalls which were selling all kinds of different things. I recognized many of the vendors from last year and although the layout was a little different,there looked to be just as many.

The Food Court was doing a booming business and this year, the GardenFest sold beer brewed by local breweries which also seemed well supported. I ran into several people that I knew and stopped and chatted for a while. I even had one lady recognize me from my coaching days with the River City Rangers.

I ran into another Pond Society Member and chatted to her for a bit.  We were standing by the big waterfalls in the Prehistoric section and there was this family taking pictures and asked if either of us could take a family picture of them. I pointed at Mary and she pointed back to me muttering something about me being the photographer. I took the camera phone and was lost trying to make it work. The guy came over and told me I had it backwards and showed me what to do. There was me with a $1500 camera hanging around my neck and I couldn’t even work his smart phone. Go figure…I eventually took some pictures but have no idea what they looked like.

At the duly appointed time of 3:30 pm, I took over helping to man the Austin Pond Society table. Our main focus this year besides trying to get new members was to spread the word about the upcoming Pond Tour and most of the literature on the table was addressed towards this goal. I shared the time spot with Ted Paone who is also this year’s Pond Tour Director. It was very interesting watching him work. As soon as someone, anyone paused and showed some interest, Ted was on them making his sales pitch and he was very good with it. Me, I just sat there and listened and only chimed in if there were more than one group or if I thought he had forgotten something. This was the easiest hour and a half I have ever spent as  a volunteer. Thanks Ted.

I did not return on Sunday having performed my mandatory duty on Saturday and with very little in the way of changes as regards all of the pictures that I took. Instead, I went hiking not content with climbing the hills at Zilker Botanical Garden the day before.

Below are pictures showing the beauty of Zilker Botanical Gardens.

Below are more pictures of the GardenFest 2016.

Hiking the Hogge Trails

DSC_1778The last time I was at Reimer’s Ranch a couple of days ago, I discovered that they had opened up two new trails named the Hogge Trails. I walked the first mile that led to the trails themselves but had decided that I would actually hike them on a different day which I chose to do this past Sunday.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous with the sun shining but not too hot to make it uncomfortable. Being Sunday, there were lots of cars in the Trail Bike Parking lot which is the one that I needed to start my hike. Most had bike racks on the back but there were a few that like mine, were without, indicating that we were hikers and not bikers.

DSC_1791After the usual preparation of changing into my hiking boots, hooking on my camera belt, loading in my fruit snacks and grabbing my hiking poles, I was ready to go. I took the trail that led to Johnny’s Homestead occasionally having to step off the trail to let some bikers come on by and after about a mile, ended up at the intersection where the main Multi Purpose trail meets with the new trail leading to the Hogge Trails. This one is about a mile and as I described in my previous blog, is a steady uphill climb giving me a wonderful view of the Texas Hill Country.

DSC_1774On the way out, I could hear voices behind me which seemed to be catching up pretty quickly. I turned and saw that I was now accompanied on the trail by two ladies each on a very large horse. We exchanged greetings and I asked if I could take their pictures which I did but only from the back view. I followed their tracks for the rest of the hike and contemplated how much horses seem to have grown since I had them 30 years ago. I couldn’t remember mine being anywhere near as large.

DSC_1782I eventually arrived at the gate which is the border of the original park and stepped into the new Hogge Preserve. There are two trails one listed as the Inner Loop of about 1.5 miles  and the other as the Outer Loop which is listed as 2 miles. I wanted to cover all of the trails and as they have not yet been listed on a map, I had no idea of the actual shape. I suspected that they would be like a figure eight but did not want to go off trail wandering around and decided to walk the Outer Loop. The first thing I noticed was the very large flat rocks that were laying around which I had not seen anywhere else in the park. There were also indications of controlled burns in many different areas. The trails were very nice to walk with a lot of green everywhere I looked. The Outer Loop took me to the furthermost end of the Park and then looped around heading back to where I started.

DSC_1784Just as I had suspected, halfway out, there was a signpost and a trail indicating the Inner Loop. It had 3 picnic tables which I gratefully took advantage of to rest and eat an apple before continuing on my way on the Outer Loop. I continued walking the Outer Loop until I came to a point where again, the signpost indicated that the branch off to the left was indeed the Inner Loop. I chose to follow it wanting to see how far it was to the other point of entry. My guess is that it is not too much more than a half mile or so. As soon as I reached the first signpost, I turned back and retraced my steps and rejoined the Outer Loop and headed back to the gate. I completed the figure eight just as I expected.

DSC_1779From this point on, it was a general downhill walk heading back to Johnny’s Homestead and from there, the mile hike back to the Trail Bike parking area. On the way, a couple of young female Trail Bikers passed me going in and as we passed, called out the usual friendly greeting that outdoors people always seem to have for each other. A little further on, a grey fox crossed the trail in front of me. Of course, by the time I saw it, I had no time to even get the camera off the belt before it was gone but I do remember that it had a very bushy tail. That is the second major sighting while out walking the first being a couple of deer at Pedernales Falls. I also saw several Wild Turkey footprints, the first I had seen of the presence of these birds although the Park is known to have them. The walk was very satisfying with flowers in abundance and views of distant streams. There were many places that the entire landscape was of tiny white flowers that just carpeted the countryside.DSC_1777

By the time I got to the parking lot, it had emptied considerably but still had a few cars. I chatted to a couple of young male cyclists just getting ready to head out. They wanted to know if I had seen any girls on the trail and I told them that if they hurried, they might catch the two I had seen on the Hogge Trails. It was all in good fun as they had no intentions of even heading in that direction.

DSC_1803I changed out of my hiking boots and sat by the car for a while just enjoying the sun and the silence except for the birds and just soaking up my bodily tiredness. Directly in front of me was the little grouping of Bluebonnets. As I sat there, the two aforementioned female cyclists pedalled back into the lot and  to their car. Altogether, I covered 8.5 miles on the trails and was very grateful for the fact that except for the muscles feeling a little sore, I otherwise felt good. Compared to how I felt the last time out, this was just wonderful. A lot of it is psychological probably because I really wanted to go walking today and the last time out, not so much.

I had to make a stop at HEB on the way home which also happened to have a Starbucks right next to it. So with groceries in my car, a Latte and listening to an audiobook, a very contented old man made the trip home to be greeted by two very happy Dachshunds.

If you click on one of the pictures to make it bigger, you can use the side arrows to move from one to the next. Use the “Escape” key to get back to normal.