Retired from the University of Texas and too old to play soccer anymore. Now, in the twilight of his years, time is spent writing in this blog, hiking and exploring Texas Parks, photography, working out, gardening and tending to the five ponds he built .
The Austin Pond Society held their annual pond tour over the weekend of June 1-2 returning after missing out on having a tour last year, 2018. The size of the tour was also cut back to a more manageable number easily covered on each day, Saturday for the South Side of the Colorado River and Sunday for the north side.
The tour had a few of the spectacular favorites plus several new ponds which have never been on the tour before. All, regardless of the size, had something to offer in the way of beauty and in some cases, originality. One of the highlights included a nest of Yellow Crowned Night Herons complete with three babies that appeared to almost be ready to fly the roost. Ironic that one of the pond owners natural enemies could hold so much fascination when babies are involved.The night pond that has been on the tour several times before was just as spectacular as it has always been.
If you click on a picture, it will enlarge and you can use the side arrows to move along. Use the “escape” key to return to normal size.
I have put together two slideshows which takes about twenty minutes to view but is well worth it as it shows the spectacular beauty of ponds of different sizes and types and all of the accompanying work that has gone into the landscaping and plants and flowers that make up the whole garden. One pond even had three live donkeys which attracted as much attention as the ponds for the younger members on the tour.
All in all, the tour was a resounding success and even though smaller than previous tours, has probably set a new standard in both number of ponds and quality.
Following the last wind/rain storm that we had a couple of weeks ago, the Spruce tree that I have in the 6000 gallon pond blew over. This is not really that surprising as it stands about fifteen tall and it’s roots are in an eighteen inch diameter shallow container weighted down with a couple of heavy rocks. For those of you that are unaware, pots and such when placed in the water are very easy to move around as the water makes them feel lighter and more buoyant. With this top heavy tree and the weightlessness (almost) of its base, it doesn’t take a lot of wind for it to topple. Spruce trees in the wild have a very extensive shallow root system that spread out in all directions with a lot of those same roots above ground.
Yesterday, I resolved that I would make the effort to upright the tree. This required that I get into the pond along with the fish and the turtles. I kicked around whether to wear my waders or to strip down to a pair of shorts and chose the latter. Actually, the water was not a bit cold and as I had just finished moving and stacking the rocks to stop Sandy from digging her way out, was a very welcome way to cool down.
The tree uprighting went very well and I managed to swing it back into place and retie the supporting cords. I found the rocks that had fallen off when it went over and replaced them. I could feel as I walked around that the amount of leaves and debris was more than I should allow as when that stuff rots, it tends to give off methane and ammonia which are toxic to the fish. So, I figured that as I was already in the pond, why not go ahead and clean out as much of the junk that I could. At the same time, I was able to reach in the bog and clean it of some of the very abundant plants growing there.
By this time, I was really in the swing of things and after completing the 6000 gallon pond, I moved over to the 5000 gallon one that is just off the deck and proceeded to jump into it. As well as cleaning the muck out of the bottom, I needed to trim the Umbrella plant and take out other excessive growth. The urn that is in the middle of this pond had stopped working and I surmised that the hose had broke and needed to be replaced but when I turned it over, it was just totally blocked up. A few pushes with the drain cleaning snake and it was free and clear which was a pleasant surprise. I needed to rebuild the base as I wanted to put a shelf above the water line for the many turtles in the pond to have a place to sun themselves. I bought that urn thirty years ago and installed it on the very first pond that I built and subsequently moved it to the rebuild of that same pond later years.
There was a nest of fire ants at the exact spot that I used to get in and out and they managed to bite me a few times even when I was in the water. Nasty little buggers, fire ants. I don’t like them one little bit. I finally finished all of work inside these two ponds. I didn’t realize how sore I was with all of the exertion until I jumped in the hot tub.
I need to get in the shallow pond and clean it out and cut back all of the growth as I can hardly see the water. I haven’t seen anything of out friendly Heron but that is probably that he can’t even see the fish it is so grown over. That and the two Scarecrows. This is the pond that the two Brown Snakes do all of their fishing so it will be interesting when that time comes. I also spotted a Whip Snake yesterday so we may have at least three of them living here. Probably wear the waders for this one…
Footnote. We had very heavy winds overnight and needless to say, the tree has blown over again. Oh well….
I was out doing my usual thing of driving and listening to Audiobooks and noticed that the sky was getting very overcast and that the wind was getting up. Before I had driven much further, the sky opened up and the rain quite literally came down in the proverbial buckets being driven sideways by the very strong wind.
I and many of my fellow drivers slowed down to a crawl with our four way flashers going. Of course, there is always the idiot that thinks he/she knows better or does not recognize the dangers and continues to drive at a high rate of speed and we had a couple of them. As I got closer to home, the rain had tapered off to just a steady downpour but on my street, it was covered in leaves and broken branches a sure indicator of the high winds.
Fearing the worst, I pulled into my driveway with no visible problems at least in the front of the house, to be met at the door by four very excited little dogs all pleased to see me. Whether it was their natural enthusiasm or the after effects of the strong wind and rain, I am not to know.
We walked out into the back yard where it was very visible that the winds had been very strong with a multitude of leaves and small twigs interspersed with the occasional larger branch littering the grounds and floating on top of the ponds. Other than that and the fact that a lot of the vegetation was beaten down things didn’t look too bad. I noticed that many of the large leafed plants like the Lilies, Tara and Canna, their leaves were badly damaged full of holes and splits showing the intensity of the rain and the power of the wind. I have a Spruce tree that stands in a pot in one of the ponds and it had blown over. When I checked the rain gauges, they showed that six inches of rain had dropped in probably a little over ten minutes.
Oh yes, the famous Murmuring Creek that my street is named after and that runs through the bottom of my garden was actually flowing just a bit. It never has any water in it at any other time except when we get a gully washer. All in all, considering the power of the wind and the intensity of the rain, we got off very light. Just Mother Nature doing her thing…
Every year around about this time, the Koi in my ponds decide that it is time to go through the annual mating ritual which is pretty dramatic to watch and for the fish involved. My little dogs obviously thought so as they barked very excitedly at the spectacle.
There is nothing gentle about it especially to the females and it is made worse by more than one suitor at a time. In fact, it is not a bit uncommon to see a single female being chased by a half dozen of the opposite sex all pushing and shoving and literally bumping the female in an effort to induce her to drop her eggs which they will then fight over to fertilize. Once dropped, the eggs, of which there are several hundred, can be fertilized by several different males and only in the case of selective breeding under controlled conditions by Fish Breeders are there any choices made.
The movie shows just how aggressive the males become and there is always an element of risk involved for the females. A few years ago, I had one female jump clean out of the pond and before I could get to her, Richie, one of my dogs had grabbed her and ran off down the garden. By the time I reached them, the dog had taken a large chunk out of the fish’s head. This year, I did not have anything quite so dramatic but did have two of the large Koi die, one in each of the big ponds probably due to egg binding or some other related problem. The big female Koi in the video are all of 24 – 36 inches long so are pretty big.
When all of the eggs are laid and fertilized, some semblance of peace returns to the otherwise tranquil ponds. The eggs themselves are at risk from getting eaten by the Koi themselves or by any turtles that may live in the pond. Even after the remaining eggs hatch out, the fingerlings are still subject to getting eaten by their elders and by the same turtles and in my case, Brown Snakes of which there are two that live in the ponds. So, for all of the hundred of eggs that get laid and are successfully fertilized, very few will ever make it to grow into larger Koi. This is not a bad thing as there is such a thing as too many fish in one pond.
Now it is a game of wait to see if any of the fingerlings survive. Next year, we will do it all over again as such are the ways of Nature.
The Heron is a very wily adversary and relies a lot on keeping the pond owner guessing as to when he is likely to show up. I spent a week at home only leaving when I absolutely had no other choice, like running out of food or keeping a pre arranged Doctors visit. Normal stuff except when there is a hungry Heron wanting to catch and eat your Koi and Goldfish. He kept no regular patterns and it meant getting up at the crack of dawn because as soon as it was light enough for him to see, he would swoop down from the tree that he had perched in and land on the Goldfish pond wall. If the fishing wasn’t very good there, he quickly moved over to the L shaped pond which is the shallowest pond out of the four big ones. The Heron knew he could safely wade in this pond and as the video shows, spent time pursuing and if he was lucky, catching and eating fish. Other times he would fly in mid morning, other times mid or late afternoon and even late in the evening. There was no telling when he would show.
On a previous run in with a Heron several years ago, I put wire fences around each of the ponds and then attached a doggy shocker which worked pretty well as eventually, that particular Heron stopped coming. I was Heron free for maybe 3 years before the current one has shown up. I went to work on the shallow pond and installed a system of cross-wires that diagonally dissected the pond and were about a foot above the water essentially dividing the pond up into small sections. I tried to install the doggy shocker but the wires grounded out in several places so the system would not work. I left the wires as strung and turned my attention to a more physical presence in the form of a Jet Spray Scarecrow. I had purchased one several years ago but due to non use and probably neglect on my part, this one leaked and I could not find a way to prevent it. I had no choice but to go on line and see if I could find another on E-Bay or Amazon and managed to locate several that were available. They were by a different manufacturer, Hoont, but as they were a lot cheaper, I quickly tagged one for $29.99 and went through the checkout process. I deemed that this was an emergency and paid additional postage to get it to me in three days in which it duly arrived. This one is brand new in an unopened box and I quickly set about installing it on the shallow pond.
The very next day, the Heron showed up and my first inclination was to rush outside and scare it away but I decided to watch from my vantage point indoors to see what happens. After exploring the Goldfish pond without any luck that I could see, it flew up into a tree above the shallow pond and then sat there for what seemed an eternity. It kept looking down at the shallow pond as if it so see a way for it to safely fish but it stayed in the tree. Then all of a sudden it hopped around and flew off as fast as it could. I went out and checked and the Scarecrow had been activated and as it is pretty noisy, was enough to frighten it away.
I immediately went back on line and purchased another for $25.00 from the same company only this one was a slightly used one. When it arrived, it was missing a couple of screws which I was able to replace and I installed it on the Goldfish pond. I was able to adjust them both so that they limited the spray to the distance of the pond meaning that I am able to walk around the ponds without getting soaked. As far as I can tell, the Heron has not been back as the fish are beginning to lead a normal life and are starting to show themselves again.
I am not suggesting for one minute that I can declare victory over this wily opponent as I am sure that it will not give up that easily. If, by chance, he decides to turn his attention to either of the big ponds with the the very large Koi in them, then I will purchase a couple more of the Scarecrows and get them set up. Here’s hoping that it wont be necessary.
Losing a much loved pet is very difficult for all of us and some of us grieve for a long time as we try to move on. The same is not true, at least for me when I lose any of the big Koi that live in my ponds. Fish, by nature, are cold blooded things and don’t do well in the cuddle department. I know that some people do not share my views on fish but I find it hard to even come close to any form of grief when a fish dies as they are sometimes apt to do.
A couple of days ago, I lost a big white Koi which was the biggest fish I have ever had. She was one of the originals so probably close to 38 years old which is pretty good for a fish in an unprotected pond. She was well over three feet long and probably weighed close to twenty pounds. I suspected that she was going to that big Koi pond up in the sky as she had been acting very lethargic the past few days and did not appear to be eating and sure enough, when I came out to feed them the other morning, I could see her laying on the bottom of the pond. It is my experience that these large Koi don’t float immediately and it usually takes a couple of days for them to get up off the bottom of the pond, I suppose as they start to decay and the gasses start to form.
After a real struggle on my part due to her size and weight as my net was hardly big enough, I managed to get her out of the pond. Close inspection did not reveal any outwardly visible signs of damage or disease so it must have been an internal problem of some sort. Anyway, dead is dead and after pulling on a pair of long sleeved rubber gloves, I carried her to the bottom of the garden and with some effort, tossed her over the fence for the vultures or other wild things to clean up. She was heavy enough that I managed to wrench the muscles in my left upper arm in the process causing me to light up the air with a few well chosen cuss words.
I have at least fifty or sixty Koi in three of the five ponds some of which are almost as large as the one we just lost. These are the second batch of Koi bought way back in 1980 following a refilling tap water incident which wiped out the original stock purchased in 1977. I have one surviving Koi from that original 1977 group and he is definitely the oldest and is at least 41 years old but being a male, is not among the very largest ones. There are also a couple of hundred or so Goldfish in three of the ponds and it is hard to stop them from breeding especially in the ponds that are populated by Goldfish only. Koi do a good job of keeping the population down as do a couple of turtles that are in the other ponds as they eat the eggs and young fry.
The occasional fish die off is not always a bad thing as it keeps the population manageable. I am glad though that I don’t have to make the choice of who lives and who dies. I’ll leave that to Mother Nature…
Here come the buzzards, Mother Nature’s cleanup crew and so the pendulum swings as it always does, in the grand scheme of things.
In keeping with the last two meetings that were held outdoors, the first at Zilker Botanical Gardens and the second at the AquaDome, the Austin Pond Society held the July Meeting at Mayfield Park, here in Austin.
This is also the same park that the APS has been helping the City of Austin clean and maintain the six ponds that are located there. Now that most of the work is finished at least for this go round, the Board decided that it would be a good idea to show off just what the Members have accomplished these past few weeks.
We turned this meeting into a pot luck and the food table was absolutely full up with all kinds of goodies, most of which were home made. Altogether, there were close to forty members that showed up. The Mayfield Gutsch Cottage located on the grounds served as a gathering and eating place to start the evening off before everyone moved outside to explore the grounds and ponds. Most people were impressed with the amount of work performed by the APS volunteers and commented as much. Jeannie, our President was quick to point out to the group the work that the City of Austin had done as their part of the project.
The Peafowls, both cocks and hens put on a great display and serenaded us with their loud squawking. One Peahen was proudly showing off her two babies and walked right up to me as if to say,”Make sure you get a good picture of me and my babies”.
The first of the two videos is the Business part of the meeting conducted indoors. The quality is not very good due to the poor lighting made worse by the row of windows directly behind the camera which cast big shadows on all of the people assembled there.
The second video is a short one taken outside of the Members as they walked around the ponds.
The next meeting is back indoors at the Zilker Garden Center on August 20th. The Speaker will be Steve from Hill Country Water Gardens. Hope to see you there.
Stories about family, faith, friends and funnies. Pull up a chair. Grab a cup of coffee and laugh, cry, ponder and inspire about ordinary events of this wonderful, ever changing, bubbling pot that we call "every day life".