Sunday, October 07, 2007

Article: Quest for nature in Uvalde

A fritillary butterfly on frost weed

A couple of weeks ago I decided to take another stab at attending a nature oriented festival. This is one in a series of nature festivals for me. Two years ago I started this trend with a trip to the Rio Grande Valley for a butterfly festival. Then last year I went to Roswell, New Mexico for a dragonfly festival. I’m not up to anything so grandiose this year, in fact, I’d thought I would skip the whole nature-fest scene. Then my friend Elizabeth pointed me at one in Uvalde. That’s far but not too far. We could do it in a day trip.

Uvalde lies in the Texas Hill Country River Region. They hold both a Spring and Fall Nature Quest every year. (You can find out about the next one at: www.thcrr.com). Since Uvalde is about 2.5 hours away (or 4 hours if you go the way we went), we missed the morning’s activities. We did arrive in time for lunch and the afternoon tours. Elizabeth and I opted to go on a butterfly hunt. We hopped in a van with the other tour members and headed down a dirt road toward a remote ranch.

I was impressed to find the other tour members had come even farther than we had: Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma, Mexico. I had thought we’d be the most far-flung since this festival is rather small. And they all knew each other. Their conversation focused on which was better, to be a bird watcher or a butterfly watcher. The consensus was that it is easier to be butterfly watchers and it is therefore more fun.

Fun or not, they took the whole thing more seriously than Elizabeth and I. For example one woman named the species of each of the butterflies she saw as the van drove down the bumpy dirt road toward the ranch. Maybe her view was better than mine but I could hardly even see those butterflies. We passed a group of wild turkeys foraging alongside the road but they hardly raised a comment from our fellow butterfly-watchers.

Finally we reached our destination at the end of the road high in the hills. I thought we would be in for a bit of hiking, seeking out those elusive butterflies in every nook and cranny of the rugged landscape. We started at a patch of frost weed on a sunny slope a few feet from where we parked. We spent about an hour examining every flutter of colorful wings that came anywhere near those flowers, never traveling more than a few dozen feet. It was nice. There were quite a few butterflies. But it lacked drama, no matter how our guide yelled that we should rush to see his newest find.

Later we drove about a quarter mile to view butterflies along a creek. There really weren’t many there but there were other interesting things. I got some photos of a lynx spider eating a hairstreak butterfly. That was pretty interesting to watch. And I spotted a tiny jumping spider with indigo eyes and bright blue pedipalps. A tiny frog blended perfectly with the pebbles on the bank of the creek.

While Elizabeth and I had fun on our tour of Hill Country butterflies, I think we didn’t fit in in crucial ways. We aren’t dedicated enough as butterfly watchers. For example, we didn’t even bring a butterfly field guide. Secondly, we’re more active and more interested in hiking around to see wildlife while getting some exercise. Another point is that we are not part of the butterfly clique. It’s probably more fun if you know the other people. Elizabeth and I aren’t outgoing enough to insinuate ourselves that doesn’t go out of its way to include us.

Surprisingly, the age distribution was skewed way toward the high end . Apparently butterfly watchers are all retired people. I imagined all ages would be interested but especially families with preteen children. What better way to teach children about the wonders of nature than to experience the diversity of everyone’s favorite insects? Maybe the kids were missing because school just started. There’s another Nature Quest in the Spring. Elizabeth and I may go. If we bring her kids we can at least attempt to reverse the trend.

Photo: This tiny frog blended perfectly with the rocks down by a creek.
Photo: Hairstreak butterflies were the most common types we saw.
Photo: This little jumping spider was no doubt waiting for an unsuspecting butterfly.
Photo: I have no idea what kind of bug this is but I thought it was cute.
Photo: Virtually all the butterflies we saw were feeding on frost weed, which is enormous and plentiful with all the rain we've gotten this year.

6 comments:

kizzy said...

that jumping spider is awfully cute.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that while you may, eventually, be old enough to fit in with butterfly watching, you'll never be old enough to attend another lavendar festival!

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