Cleaning the Ponds at Mayfield Park, May 2018


 

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Julie Smith and hers Husband Phillip, along with Cory Ferrier, snuck out as I was getting ready to take the picture of all of them together. Their prerogative of course.

The Austin Pond Society has an ongoing project at Mayfield Park located in the center of Austin. The Park has six large ponds that were in woeful need of a little TLC and the Society decided that it was going to be our project at least for this year to provide a little love and care. Incidentally, note that the center circular pond is surrounded by 4 oval shaped ponds (the petals) along with one hourglass pond that contains a small waterfall (the stem).

Consequently, in cooperation with the City of Austin and with help and advice provided by Shane of Water Garden Gems, members of the Austin Pond Society have met several times to clean the ponds and the City has gone forward and provided additional electricity to operate the new filtering system and additional air systems that are now in all of the ponds.

This past Thursday, May 24 was deemed a pond clean up day or rather evening as several members of the Society showed up to get themselves wet and dirty. Altogether, there were fourteen people providing assistance and doing the grunt work from cleaning the ponds of leaves and debris, to repotting lilies and in the case of Steven, Jeff and Ruben, installing a new floating filtering system in the big pond and getting the pumps to work. To Steven, who is a Master Electrician during the day, this was just up his alley. The rest had different duties spread around the other five ponds. Glen was stuck in the last pond (the stem) for most of the evening, this one having the most leaves and debris in it. He seemed quite happy to be working the pond until he came across a water snake that was nestled in the Iris plants. From that point on, he was shall we say, a little cautious. Says he doesn’t like snakes but there again, not many people do.

As is usual at Mayfield Park, the work was accompanied by both the company and the very loud and raucous cries from the twenty odd Peafowls that reside there. One of them grew very attached to Jeannie’s Lexus and was very busy pecking the bugs off the front of the vehicle. It stayed there for the entire time we were at the Park and no amount of shooing would get it to move.

The APS would like to thank the following members for showing up and giving of their time and efforts. Jeff and Ellen Bennett, Mary Ward, Barbara Lenhardt, Nancy Reinert, Charlie McLear, Cat Bilberry, Anne Clarke, Cory Ferrier, Julie and Phillip Smith and finally Jeannie Ferrier and Steven Monfrini and Ruben Angeles. Me, I was there strictly to record the efforts and almost broke into a sweat a few times as I hustled to record what was going on. Ruben is a City of Austin Employee who is at Mayfield Park full time. Really nice guy to work with.

Jets_BizCard_Austin The evening ended with a veritable feast of Pizza from one of our sponsors. That make for me, six large slices of Pizza in three days which is more than I have eaten in the last ten years although I have to say, it was very enjoyable.

There is still some work to be done both by the City and our volunteers but it will not be until next month. Again, thanks to our members without whom, we could not perform these sort of tasks.

I recorded a movie of the different members all performing their tasks and also put together a slideshow of the still pictures that I took.

Cleaning the Ponds at Mayfield Park May 2018 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Mayfield Park Pond Cleanup May 2018 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Written 5/29/2018

The Snakes are on the Move…


I recently wrote a blog outlining the steps that I have taken to keep the dogs out from under the shed. I continued with that by sealing off the underside of the main deck to keep the dogs out of there as well.

One reason was because of the loud barking of the, “We found an animal/snake kind” which I determined to be coming from a corner under the deck by the house where I happened to have installed a trapdoor to get to the septic system drains. I pulled it up and below me was the usual scene. The snake backed into a corner rearing and striking at anything that came within range and two little dogs screaming their fool heads off in a vain attempt to get at the snake. Theirs was a lot of barking but not really trying too hard to actually make contact.

This corner just happened to have a water faucet and hose pipe within very easy reach which I turned on the dogs first to get them to quit and then on the snake in an attempt to drive it off in the opposite direction which appeared to succeed on both counts as the snake disappeared from view and the dogs were busy trying to shake themselves dry. This episode did it for me and a quick trip to Lowes to buy the material I needed and then back to work sealing off the far side of the deck. The work was not very difficult and I had it finished in a couple of hours.

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The snake under the deck was a Texas Rat Snake that can grow to be six feet long, The are relatively harmless and very useful for keeping the rat and mice population down. They would bite if attacked or harassed but are non poisonous. This particular one was about four feet long and beautifully marked and colored.

Thinking that I could relax a bit as far as the snakes go, I turned my attention to cleaning up the mess that I created the other day when I cleaned the ponds of leaves and debris and thinned out some of the many plants growing in them. I moved an existing tub that was on the walkway which contained a large growth of Lizards Tail, to the other side to make more room on the path and then decided to pull the weeds by hand that had accumulated in that area.

I was working away and not paying much attention to what I was doing and I nearly grabbed a handful of a very large snake that was already coiled and had its mouth open in a very threatening posture. This quickly brought me back into focus as I slowly stood up with no sudden movements. The snake was within easy striking distance of originally my face and then as I stood, my bare legs. I looked at it trying to determine just what type it was and although it looked for all the world like a rattlesnake with the right size, markings and color, apart from the aggressive posture, it made no attempt to strike me which it could easily have done as I was well within its range. I could not see a rattle on the tail neither did I hear anything vaguely familiar. Not wanting to take any chances as two of the dogs were on the deck and had not realized what was going on, I called them to come indoors, grabbed my camera and stepped back out. I was too late as the snake had already disappeared and although I searched around, came to the conclusion that it was probably under the deck which at the time was only a couple of feet away. The more I think about it, I think it too was a Rat snake even though it was not as brightly marked at the other one. This one was probably longer then the other and looked like it had recently consumed a Dove as there were a lot of new dove feathers littered about. It was also much bigger around the girth than the first one which may have been due to its recent meal.

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I considered this to be getting a bit much with two different and very large snakes in two days but the story is not over yet as far as snakes go. It is a bit anticlimactic as the next snake that I saw as I went out to check on the dogs who again were doing there barking routine, was a two feet long either Western Coachwhip or a Texas Brown Snake. I was very brave confronting this one as I shooed it away where it disappeared into the underbrush.

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Texas Brown Snake
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Western Coachwhip

I decided that this was all too much of a coincidence and the next day, I took Mikey into the vets to get a anti rattlesnake shot and then Gizmo in to have his follow up shot. Turns out that Ginnie had a rattlesnake shot and booster last year and is not due for another until August. After losing Richie, I can’t afford to take chances.

In retrospect, maybe I am the one that needs the shot as I couldn’t have gotten much closer to the one yesterday and if it had been so inclined and was a Rattler, could have easily bit me. One thing for sure, no more hand pulling the weeds. I’ll use a hoe in the future. If I had recognized it as a Rattlesnake, would I have killed it if I had something available? I honestly don’t believe that I would have unless it was in self defence prefering to try to drive them away back out of the yard. After all, they can’t help what they are and as frightening as they may be, it’s man’s inherent fear of snakes that makes the situation worse than what it really is.

Written 5/14/2018

Rattlesnake Deterrent

Austin Pond Society Meeting March 2018


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The third Monday of the month rolled around as it does on a regular basis which is also the day, actually evening, that the Austin Pond Society hold their monthly meeting. There were about forty two people that showed up and they were treated to a Chinese meal from one of our Sponsors, Bamboo Bistro. The food was absolutely delicious and there was none left at the end of the night. Thank You Bamboo Bistro. BTW, as a sponsor, they offer a 10% discount on all of their food by showing your APS Membership card.

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With the meal out of the way, the Speaker for the evening was Dr Geigel who spoke to us a couple of years ago. Dr Geigel is a travelling fish doctor although he treats any and all animals and birds no matter what type they are. For the evenings lecture, he focused on fish and fish ailments. At the end of his presentation he took many questions from the floor all related to fish illnesses.

Dr Geigel Video March Meeting 2018 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Following the Speaker, Jeannie, our President took over. There was very little official business, just a lot of general discussion. The evening ended with the drawing for the door prizes which always leads to much mirth and laughter as different and various people win the prizes. My apologies for the quality of this video. My original video camera that I had setup, the battery went dead so I grabbed a second camera and shot this without the use of a tripod. Again, my apologies.

APS Meeting March 2018 – Business from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

The next meeting will be on April 16, Income Tax Deadline Day. Hope you have filed yours in time. This meeting is our Annual Plant Swap when members bring in their surplus fish, garden and pond plants to swap or giveaway to anyone that either wants them or is willing to take them. However, at the end of the evening, any unswapped plants are the responsibility of the original owner who must take them home. If you are looking for plants (or fish) bargains, this meeting is for you. This is not restricted to just pond plants. Any form of garden plant can also be swapped, The one exception are any invasive species which also applies to pond plants. This is not to be confused with the Annual Swap and Sell Meeting held later in the year which is more about material items such as used pond and garden equipment. Hope to see you there.

This is the view through the windows of the Garden outside.

Written 3/22/2018

The Flowers in My Garden, November 13, 2017


DSC_1354The weather here in my part of Texas has cooled down considerably and has even got to where I need a sweater on some days, it is still not cold enough to kill off the flowers that abound in my garden. I have taken the liberty of putting together a video to music of the pictures that I took on November 18, 2017. By the time you get to read and watch it, it will be the very depths of winter for many of you. I hope that it brightens your day and gives you something to look forward to. Spring will be on the way soon, I promise as it routinely comes every year at least for the next few years anyway. Enjoy.

My Garden in November 13, 2017 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Written 11/13/2017 

 

McKinney Falls State Park 9-30-2017


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A view of the trail

With the recent rains, I knew the trails would be muddy in places and I wanted to walk on something more solid. I opted to walk the Hike and Bike trail at McKinney Falls as it is a 3 mile circular trail that is very nicely blacktopped and made for easy walking. It has one very steep place where there is a sign that bicyclists should get off and walk although I am sure that most  of them view this as a challenge more than a warning. It would get a little hairy if any hikers happened to be on the trail at this exact point as there is a blind corner that you can’t see around until too late…Come to think about it, I have yet to see a biker anywhere in this park probably that except for this one spot, the trail offers no real challenge to them.

Picnic area at the Upper Falls

A five picture panorama of the picnic area

I broke all of my rules today as normally, I very rarely get out to the Parks because of the numbers of people that use them on the weekends. It’s not that I am anti-people but I like to hike for the solitude amongst other things and that can be difficult with crowds of noisy families each with at least a dozen kids per family all talking and running at the same time. Mckinney Falls also has swimming facilities which is another attraction for these families and large groups of people.

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Another 5 picture panorama from the reverse direction

I parked in the lot by the Upper Falls and geared up in my usual fashion. I’m sure that I make quite a comical sight with my two cameras and binos strapped to my chest, my camera bag with a couple of other lenses on my back, my two walking poles in my hands and topped off by my wide brimmed hat complete with added kerchief around my forehead to soak up the sweat. Oh yes, add two water bottles to that strapped to my waist. I probably am carrying at least 20 pounds of gear, great for my muscles and cardio but awful tiring.

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A panoramic view of the Upper Falls

I walked past the Upper Falls and the throngs of people into the park area that is set up with picnic tables and firepits and is very nicely maintained. Onion Creek runs off to my right and I wandered over to take a look. The water was a muddy brown color from the recent rains and not very appealing so I got back onto the trail proper and started to walk. I took several shots of the park area and of a couple of the very large trees on the trail and have turned them into panoramic shots. I met several people on the trail and conversely, several passed me going in the same direction. None were families with kids as they preferred to be at the Falls area. Although I heard birds, I didn’t see any to take any pictures of. I passed an interestingly shaped tree and took a couple of pictures of it besides various flowers. The pictures below also include views of the trails.

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This tree is made up of 5 different pictures in order show the whole thing. I wonder how old it is?

 

Arriving back at the Falls, I chatted to a few people and took several pictures.  There was a photographic class going on the park area which broke up as I was taking pictures of the Falls.  Not sure what the subject matter of the course was about.

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There are 8 pictures in this pano

Altogether with my additional wandering around, I covered a little over 4 miles. I noticed that my old body and legs were nowhere near as tired as when I walk the regular trails. Must be that this much flatter blacktop trail is much easier to walk and for that I was extremely grateful.

Written 10/3/2017

Reimers Ranch 1-21-2017


dsc_4792-panoI hadn’t been walking for a while due to the cold snaps that we had plus the fact that I needed to devote my time to cleaning up the yard after those winter freezes. With that out of the way and a rise in temperatures back to my comfort zone, I decided to take a walk at Reimers Ranch.

I arrived there and chatted briefly with the Ranger at the gate and then made my way to the first main parking area which was pretty full. My intent was to walk the big circular loop around the entire park, a distance of about 5 miles.

Following the usual preparation with the addition of putting on a pair of hiking socks that I was trying out, I added boots, hat, backpack, camera belt and camera and grabbing my trusty walking poles, set of by crossing the road and then following the Multi use trail to the SW. After walking this trail several times before, I already knew which was the easiest way to go so that the big hills were down and not up.

The first thing I noticed was that the the Park Crews had been doing many controlled burns to lower the undergrowth which really consisted of tall grass in most places. We had had some rain showers since the burns so the smell was no longer in the air. Some of the big oaks showed signs of the burns and I hope they will come back in the Spring. Not all of the park had been burned as the area that the Wild Turkeys are supposed to be in was still OK as were some of the main trail further along. Even without the black scar of the burns, the remaining Park had a very brown wintery look to it.

As I walked this trail, the houses on the opposite side of the Pedernales River were visible. Must be a great place to live with a wonderful view and high enough above the river to not be bothered by any flooding.

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I took the Turkey Loop in the very forlorn hope of actually seeing a Turkey but to no avail. I probably would need to sit down for a while in a bird blind in order for the Turkeys to be brave enough to show themselves. Maybe one of these days…

I met several people out on the trail including two ladies on horseback who I stopped and chatted to for a bit. The horse on the left was a very friendly guy and kept nudging me to rub his neck and make a fuss of him.dsc_4813

I also met another couple who were willing for me to take their pictures. A couple of cyclists also passed me and as I don’t ask them  to stop, all I get are pictures from behind as they disappear into the distance.

I took several pictures of the different animal prints that I saw in the dirt with the hope of identifying them but could only positively identify one which is the White Tailed Deer

It looks like there could be several different animals in this group including Bobcat, Racoon, Coyote, Skunk, Deer and Opossum. The tracks were not fresh and had dried out making it not only harder to get a good picture but then to identify them.

When I reached the Kelly Prehn Trails, I decided to forgo that diversion and instead, kept on walking past Johnny’s Homestead taking the multi use long trail. In my view, this is the prettier part of the walk especially when the trail runs close to the stream which actually has water in it. The last time I walked this trail a couple of months ago, it was pretty dry. As  I was walking along, I could hear talking from behind and turned to see another young couple who were making good time as they walked. We stopped and chatted for a bit and I got their picture and found out there names were Moira and Reuben. They walked off and I was amazed that even though they were walking at a normal pace, they literally left me in their dust. I must really walk slow nowadays. Good job I walk alone most of the time as it is probably very frustrating for anyone that might walk with me. Taking pictures is only part of the excuse. I really am slow…

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They disappeared into the distance and I diverted from the main trail enough to get close to the stream and take a couple of pictures and then walked back on along the trail. This part of the trail does have an uphill climb but it is not too bad. I eventually made it back to the parking lot a very happy and tired hiker. I can tell that the weather is warming up as my “T” shirt was soaked requiring a change. If I didn’t wear a backpack, I would probably be OK but I carry extra camera stuff besides a first aid kit, a snakebite kit and additional clothes and wet weather gear not to mention snacks. It’s a good job that I am prepared as I had a problem with one of the additional parts that is attached to the camera and allows me to clip it onto the special belt that I have. Digging into my pack, I found the proper wrench to tighten up the loose part saving me a lot of headaches down the road. Like the Boy Scouts motto, “Be Prepared”.

I knew all of those years I spent in the Boy Scouts would pay off one of these days…

Riemers Ranch 1-20-2017 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Fixing the Bubbler…


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Showing the Bubbling Urn. This is the highest the water has ever reached. The wires in the picture are to deter my Heron friend who has a habit of landing on the Bubbler.

After putting it off for a couple of days, I bit the bullet and went about fixing the Bubbling Urn in the big pond. I was reluctant to have to get in the water but I realized that it is only going to get colder so why put it off any longer. I had another job to do in this pond as well as repair the bubbler and that was to cut back the very large Thalia plant that has been there for several years. The worms got at it and stripped it of all of its leaves and as they don’t grow back again, there is nothing for it but to cut the entire plant back.

So, I donned my waders and put on my water shoes after making sure that everything that I might need was close at hand. This included all of the necessary tools for the repair, cutters for the Thalia and finally, the skimming net that I use to clean up the dead leaves that are always dropping into the pond. Actually into all of the ponds.

The water wasn’t too cold and I quickly got used to it as I went about my business. It had been many years since I had actually worked on the Bubbler other than to re-connect it not very long ago and I had forgotten just how I had hooked it up the first time around. I had a length of one inch corrugated rubber pipe to which I connected a reduced piece of the same material all the way down to half inch as the Bubbler has a half inch connection on it. I don’t like re-using this material if it has been in the water for too long as it gets brittle and loses any of its elasticity and in fact will snap completely in half with very little pressure but I opted to use this particular two foot piece as it was already set up on both ends. I had to struggle to get the Bubbler back up on the concrete blocks that it currently stands on and of course, managed to get wet in the process. I forgot to mention that the Urn is almost totally filled up with solid sediment that it has gathered over the years making it very heavy to manipulate. I eventually achieved it and laid it on its side while I reconnected the half inch coupling which I already had connected to the one inch pipe, the end of which was on dry land.

I then had to struggle the urn to an upright position taking great pains not to break the half inch pipe and level it up before turning my attention to the piece of pipe on the side of the pond. This was just  a simple connection to the 1200 gph motor which I then put inside a screen bag and back into the water. I turned it on by plugging it back in and the water jetted up from the Bubbler for about a foot. Very impressive.

With that out of the way, I turned off the pump again as I will not get in any of the ponds with any of the pumps running…just in case and turned my attention to trimming the Thalia. This was a simple enough job as even though the stalks are thick, they are comparatively soft and cut easily. Next job was to dredge as many of the dead leaves off the bottom. I hate doing this as it stirs up the dirt and releases Nitrogen into the water but it is better that leaving them in to really contaminate it. While I was at it, I trimmed the large umbrella plant and the canes that grows on the side.

The fish seem to be used to me as they just move quietly out of the way without any panic except for the one that I inadvertently picked up with the dredge net. Now it did panic and also made me jump with memories of the dead fish I uncovered the last time in the water.

Satisfied with my work, I clambered out of that pond and turned on all of the pumps and everything was working just fine. A couple of hours later, the new Aquadine filtering system was already cleaning up the water which prior to my stirring it up, had been crystal clear to where I could see the bottom of the pond plus everything in it.

I cleaned up my mess dumping the cut Thalia onto the compost, put away my tools, patted Richie on the head for a job well done and drove to Starbucks to claim my reward. Now when I go on the next hike, I won’t feel guilty about taking time off from the ponds.

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Showing the cut back Thalia in the foreground.