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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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

Day 4 – Harvey


Today is Day 4 of the Hurricane Harvey Saga in my part of Texas. The storm as predicted, moved back towards the cost and is still pummelling Houston and the surrounding area as it slowly makes its way down the coast towards Louisiana. Compared to what those guys have had to put up with, Austin has got off very light. All we had was about 7 inches of heavy rain causing low water crossing closures and some minor flooding.

For myself, very little damage from the strong winds. Lots of leaves and small branches down but no major tree limbs on the ground. A lot of the plants are laying a bit sideways and I will have to wait and see how many straighten back up before chopping them down.

The 5000 gallon pond had one pump that quit working and I replaced it this morning. I also cleaned out the other 4 pumps on this pond as the water has turned a real muddy color. There is probably at least one upturned pot that has dumped its clay into the water and it will take a few days for it to settle out.

I already mentioned the cypress tree that has blown over in the 6000 gallon pond in the last blog but as far as I can see that is all of the damage that we sustained. I plan on getting into the ponds tomorrow and cleaning out the leaves and cutting back the damaged vegetation. As I write this, the sun is shining brightly and there is hardly a cloud in the sky. Nature is such an amazing thing how the weather can change in the blink of an eye.

Oh yes, the stained glass window made it through OK and now I will take it down out of its tree and find a more stable place for it so I don’t have to worry when the next storm hits.

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Another Drive 8-19-2017


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With the weather as hot as it is here in Central Texas, I often drive around in my air conditioned car, usually out in the countryside, listening to Audiobooks.  I have probably put half of the 50,000 miles on the car doing just this. I like to explore the back roads and lanes off the beaten track and it is amazing the things I have come across. Mostly, I am out to find great pictures to post in my blog or to find yet another story but a part of me is on the lookout for that perfect 10 acres way out in the back of beyond as I still harbor thoughts of that little cabin in the woods. To be truthful, I am not sure what I would do if on one of these drives, I came across such an area that was cheap enough to be affordable to my limited resources. Would I take the plunge and spend my remaining years building a cabin and all that goes along with it or is that just pie in the sky and the dreams of an old man, not smart enough to realize how old he really is? In my case, the mind and spirit are very willing but sadly, the flesh is weak and I would probably kill myself with all of that work. At least I would die happy and be out in the countryside.

Yesterday was no exception as I chose to drive around in the Dripping Springs area on the west side of town. I found a couple of roads that I had not been on before and it is really surprising how often I come across collections of homesteads seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Some may be a collection of trailers, others are small houses with an acre of land and usually surrounded by broken down old cars denoting the status of the occupants who are probably honest hard working individuals trying to make a living. There are even larger houses of two or three thousand square feet set on several acres of land with manicured front lawns and large wrought iron gateways. the splendour of which is designed to outdo the neighbor the next estate over. There are all types to see when you get off the beaten track.

As I drove around, I found myself suddenly faced with this beautiful panoramic view as the landscape suddenly dropped off in front of me. I stopped quickly just to admire the view and luckily for me, nothing was coming behind me. I noticed an overlook to my left and pulled into it. Apart from the magnificent view, the first thing I noticed was the collection of beer cans and whisky bottles strewn all over the place. Quite obviously, this is a popular place for the local kids to park and drink beer and  probably make out with their girlfriends.  I could not help wondered how many young girls had drunk their first beers as they entered this grown up world then had lost their virginity to the young men’s advances, helped along by the booze. I wonder too, how many future generations have been conceived here.. This is the sort of place that is in all of the horror movies where bad things happen. Luckily for me, it was 4:00 pm in the afternoon and broad daylight so I felt pretty safe. Even so, it did conjure up some memories of some of the movies I had seen as I looked nervously around.

I got the camera out and was blown away with the incredible view in front of me. I could see for miles and miles as the landscape dropped away. Even facing the sun, I was still able to take some good shots. The panorama at the top is made up of four different pictures and pretty much shows the entire vista. The blue skies and scattering of clouds really brought color to the scene. The other pictures below are individual views of what was in front of me although, they don’t really do it justice. I didn’t have my wide angled or telescopic lense with me which would really have enhanced the shots.

Ah, the hidden beauty of Texas…

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Dripping Springs Farmers Market 2-1-2017


dsc_4906I was in Dripping Springs the other day to shop at Tractor Supply where I get my fish food and anything else that appeals to the country boy in me. I swear that I should have been born a farmer as I have such an attraction for the country life. This time around, I bought a couple of heavy duty tee shirts to add to my collection and wandered around looking at all of the neat stuff and wishing I was 50 years younger. Hell, I would settle for just 20 years younger.

On the way back out, I pulled into a Farmers market that is held every Wednesday in the middle of the small town. I had noticed it before but had never bothered to stop but this time, as I had my camera with me, pulled into the parking lot.

There were around twenty or so vendors set up each doing their best to sell their wares. I stopped at a tent that sold Empanadas and couldn’t resist the temptation of buying one of them. It was nicely hot and as soon as I got back to the car, I ate it enjoying every bite of the tangy taste of Mexican cooking. I could easily have gobbled down another two or three.

Music was provided by a guitar player who was very good. There were the usual merchants selling fresh garden produce. Another was selling fresh meat and many more specializing in a large variety of goods.

Well worth the stop if you are in Dripping Springs on a Wednesday afternoon.

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.