Earlier this month, I noticed several bloggers posting about an event called ‘Walktober.’ It didn’t take long to find the common link: an invitation by Robin, of Breezes at Dawn, to walk, ride, kayak, or hike into new territory or old as a way of celebrating this season of transition.
While many participants shared images of glorious autumn color, we’re still surrounded by mostly-green foliage here in southeast Texas; color changes in our trees often don’t appear until mid-to-late November. Still, autumn flowers and grasses, ripening berries, and lingering summer blooms add both color and interest to the landscape.
At the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, seasonal variety on the prairie is complemented by the presence of a lake and riparian corridors. After visits on October 4 and 18, I became determined to allow even more time for exploring all of the Refuge’s delights.
Coushatta Creek, named for the tribe which began populating Texas’s Big Thicket in the late 1700s, rises in northeastern Colorado County, runs to the southeast, and eventually joins the San Bernard River.The lower part of the creek’s course bisects the Attwater refuge, providing a rich source of food and shelter.
A splash of yellow partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) shines against the creek waters A beetle, a spider, a thrip, and a slug share a rosy palafox bloom (Palafoxia rosea)
After crossing Coushatta creek on a small bridge, a trail leads to Horseshoe Lake. A magnet for many of the more than 150 species of birds sighted on the refuge, the lake fills with waterlilies and lotuses in season.
A single Maryland Meadow Beauty bloomed on a hillside below the lake. Introduced to the flower on the Nash Prairie, I’ve often found it in east Texas, as well.
The sandy trail leading to the bird blind was filled with sun-loving plants, including the small but lovely bracted fanpetals, and another flower that’s common here both in spring and in fall: crow poison.
Brandon Melton, one of the biologists on staff at the refuge, identified this camphorweed for me. Although I didn’t hike to the other side of the lake, I’m certain this plant figured prominently in the lovely yellow glow I shared in a previous post.
Insects were everywhere, of course. Some were familiar, but this small moth — a little worse for wear but still active — was a fine discovery. The adult reportedly flies from September to December, favoring many fall-blooming Texas species like Eupatorium spp.
Two common mistflowers were present on refuge land: one in a meadow near the lake, and one at the edge of woodland shade. After examining their leaves and stems, I’m more confident in my ability to identify the species in the future.
Even absent the sight of an Attwater Prairie Chicken, the prairie itself is remarkably varied and beautiful.
The sight of Baccharis neglecta gracefully bending before the wind makes one of its common names, ‘false willow,’ understandable. Other names, referencing Roosevelt, the Depression, and poverty, recall attempts to recover from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl by planting Baccharis species to revegetate drought-damaged soils.
Already fading but still lovely, heartsepal buckwheat spread across the land — a new addition to my growing list of favorite white flowers.
Here and there, the buckwheat was accompanied by a few remaining stems of Lindheimer’s beeblossom, or gaura. Gaura is derived from the Greek gauros, or ‘superb’ — a perfect descriptor for these flowers. The specific epithet honors Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer (1801-1879), Texas botanist extraordinaire.
If this companion of the pretty white calf I photographed nearby was trying to hide, he needed to find something more substantial than a stand of airy bladderpod.
While most of the leaves had dropped and the seedpods were drying, recent rains had encouraged new growth, including the emergence of this pretty bladderpod flower.
Coincidentally, I’d come across this somehow familiar plant on the west end of Galveston Island a week earlier. Finally, I found the common name: bushy goldentop. The name’s certainly appropriate, since the flowers are as golden as any goldenrod.
Perhaps the greatest surprise on the prairie was the widespread presence of Gulf Muhly, a pretty native grass I’d seen only in landscape plantings. It complemented both the heartsepal buckwheat and a variety of yellow flowers beautifully.
Of course sunflowers were everywhere. I was intrigued to find the common sunflower, Helianthus annuus, less common than swamp sunflowers or the so-called tickseed sunflower, which belongs in an entirely different genus.
But the final amazement of the day was this single white prickly poppy. One of my favorite flowers, it had set up shop in the midst of buckwheat and bladderpod only feet from the end of the auto route. If it weren’t entirely too fanciful, I might have imagined Nature saying, “Here’s one last flower, just for you.”