See the article in the March 2009 edition of TPWD magazine regarding our Haiku Hikes
Members of the Friends of
Government Canyon Education Committee, Bob Moyer and
Carol Law, conducted a “talk and walk” to explore
and discuss evergreen and other winter-adapted
Using specimens collected from his residential property adjoining GCSNA, Bob pointed out about a dozen of the most prevalent species that can be found with leaves, blooms, and fruit during the winter months. The live oak trees, the largest and oldest plants in GCSNA, have already dropped their acorns that are an important food source for wildlife and the male junipers are orange with their small, but potent, pollen-packed cones. The purple and fleshy female cones of the junipers are in abundance and, indeed, evidence found in animal droppings along the trail indicated how important they are for food as well.
After a brief introductory stroll among the oak-persimmon-mountain laurel groves in the pavilion area, the adventurers were ready to embark across the bridge and onto the Recharge Trail. The young hikers tested their new knowledge about the plants that they could see along the way – the similarities and differences between evergreen sumac and mountain laurel leaves; the plants that develop spiny points on their leaves to discourage browsing herbivores; the differences between the way parasitic mistletoe and non-parasitic “ball moss” bromeliads depend on their hosts. Although the colors of the winter landscape are predominantly subdued, the occasional splashes of color – red-burnished sumac leaves and berries, orange blooming lichens, purple prickly pear fruit – were all the more appreciated.
The walkers also noticed that, because of the lack of undergrowth, there were increased opportunities to observe evidence of wildlife activities and habitats. Burrows among the roots of trees, trampled trails through the dormant grasses, bird nests – things that are usually quite hidden when plants and flowers emerge after winter. By the end of our walk, everyone appeared happy and invigorated, and ready to find a warm place to enjoy the rest of the day!
January Hike to the Protected Habitat
By Bob Moyer
The adventurous and stalwart group I had the
pleasure of accompanying the first Saturday of 2008
were appreciative of the beautiful and dry weather
Several of them recalled drearier skies on
their previous outing to the Protected Habitat area
(“Pro-Hab”) around the same date last year.
Jo Ann Lieberman, the leader of the Pro-Hab hike,
divided the participants into two groups of eight.
Wiedy led the group I joined.
I quickly became aware that I was outnumbered
both by gender and by interest.
At the trail head, I offered a suggestion
intended to allow a better chance of seeing wildlife
during the early hours.
However, most of the hikers in the group were
soon engaged in spirited conversation as we embarked
With the permission of Wiedy, I scouted ahead of the
The hikers kept up a pace of about 2 miles an hour over rocky, and in some places steep, Hill Country terrain. Stops to admire the view or particularly interesting areas, such as a patch of sotol yucca plants, or the green hills rolling away to the horizon, were relatively infrequent, but appreciated. After about 3 hours and at least 6 miles, deep into the Pro-Hab on the Black Hill Loop, a decision point allowed the hikers the opportunity to start back out, or proceed for another 3-plus miles along the Cave Creek trail. All were enthusiastic to continue to the northernmost reaches of GCSNA!
Field Report for GCSNA Walk
October 20, 2007
By Robert Moyer
An enthusiastic group of visitors led by TPWD interpreter Carl Green assisted by Friends of Government Canyon Education Committee members, Dianne Simpson and Catherine McKee, met at the visitor’s center at 8:30 for a walk focusing on trees and woody species of the Hill Country. There was more than plants in store for this group as the migrating Monarch butterflies and other winged species seemed to steal the show!
Before the hike, one of the visitors asked if any Monarchs had been sighted yet. Carl answered that he had seen up to twenty recently near the visitor’s center. By the time the group had begun their walk, a host of the winged migrants greeted them at the Joe Johnston Route trailhead! And besides Monarchs, there were also queens, zebras, fritillaries, sulfurs, swallowtails, buckeyes, long-tail white stripes, and many other representatives of the Lepidoptera class.
Monarchs Reign in Government Canyon SNA! Buckeye on Golden-Eye.
As we proceeded up the Johnston Route, Carl took a fairly casual approach to allow the visitors to ask questions and to keep the pace informal and unhurried. He pointed out particular specimens of woody species that were near the trail including the natives brazil, agarita, ash juniper, Texas persimmon, live oak, Spanish oak, cedar elm, hackberry, hoptree (or wafer ash), mesquite, huisache, acacias, Texas mountain laurel and the introduced chinaberry. He noted that the location of GCSNA is at the boundary of several biotic provinces including the Edwards Plateau, Gulf Coastal Plains, and Blackland Prairie. Depending of the soil type and availability of water at any particular location, all sorts of species from these provinces may be found within the Natural Area’s boundaries.
Carl Green Discusses the Cones of Ash Junipers and Persimmon Fruit
Carl noted while examining a small hoptree that the giant swallowtail butterfly, largest butterfly species in the western US, lays its eggs only on this type of tree. In a matter of minutes, Carl found another hoptree with a strange looking caterpillar – the giant swallowtail! Carl gently nudged the little green fellow who immediately deployed his orange antenna and emitted a vinegary odor that could be detected by the group several feet away. Carl explained that this was a defense mechanism that discouraged predators and the hoptree was probably the source of the chemical. Later on, a deceased specimen of a giant swallowtail adult was also found near the area of the hoptrees.
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar on Hoptree Leaf and Adult
Carl discussed several of the adaptations that plants have to discourage animals from eating them, too. The spiny leaves of the agarita and young live oaks as well as the thorns on the brazil and catclaw shrubs are very efficient deterrents. Even the young cedar elm trees grow a sharp-edged barrier along their stems that would make it difficult to allow foraging. Besides the natural defenses of the plants, Carl mentioned that GCSNA does not seem to have the whitetail deer overpopulation problem. Many of the tender young plants that deer love, sometimes characterized as “ice cream” to grazing animals, survive quite well here. He noted that numerous predators, coyotes in particular, which survive in healthy numbers, probably control the deer population.
Cedar Elm Stem Defenses and Spiny Leaves of Agarita
We had not gone much farther than the Hoffman Hayfield area when it was already 11:30 and time to head back to the visitor center. Everyone in the group appeared to be satisfied that their time had been well spent as the fanfare of colorful butterflies waved goodbye among the yellow blooms of golden eye and broom weed flourishing nearly every step of the way!
Bats at Government Canyon State Natural Area
Presented by Niki Lake
October 27, 2007
On a cool Saturday morning in the GCSNA exhibit pavilion, Niki Lake, one of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department interpreters, was in character in preparation for her seasonally-appropriate "Bats" presentation. With her bat-mask, bat-video, and bat-activities Niki was set to offer the young ladies of Girl Scout Troop 617 a fun and educational treat (and perhaps a few tricks)!
Girl Scout Troop 617 gets batty!
The girls were very interested in learning about bats and Niki had her wings…er…hands full in trying to keep up with the questions that flew at her. Yes, bats’ wings are actually modified hands where the thumb and fingers are extended and covered with skin to make them air-worthy, but at the same time allow the animal to capture its prey. Bats also use sonar echo-location to bounce sound waves off flying insects in order to intercept them in flight. They then sweep the prey with their articulated hand-wings into their mouths. Bats consume millions of pounds of insects including mosquitoes and harmful crop pests.
Actual Bat-Specimens: a skeleton and a preserved Mexican free-tail bat
Although several colonies of bats are known to live at GCSNA, with the coming of winter they have probably left for warmer climates south to Mexico and Central America. But the girls were exciting about making their own bats as Niki showed them some tricks for making a wing-flapping version of their own. Time flew by very quickly and our visitors had to leave, their scout leader saying that they would "turn into pumpkins" if they stayed too long!