Welcome to Our Blog

Hello, friends. This blog is where the El Camino Real Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists shares news, articles, and reflections. You’ll find our posts right under this introduction. We encourage your comments and likes, and of course, shares!

Texas Parks and Wildlife
AgriLife Extension

The Texas Master Naturalist program is sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Our chapter meets monthly on the second Thursday of the month. Because of the pandemic, we are meeting via Zoom. Contact us for more information on attending meetings and our future plans.

Our Mission: To develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas.

Things I Never Saw Before

By Sue Ann Kendall

One of the things I like about being a Master Naturalist is that I have learned to be a more careful observer, wherever I go. I’m happiest that I’ve been entering what I see on our ranch into iNaturalist, because I can see when flowers bloom or go to seed every year, when butterflies arrive, etc. Today’s butterflies included these:

Even though our observations on our own property no longer are approved by the state office, I still observe for my own study and analysis. I have a project where all observations here are stored.

But the public right of way counts!

This year’s been pretty interesting, which shouldn’t be surprising after the weird weather. I’ve been quite surprised to see common plants, like Indian paintbrush, not as prominent, with some new plants popping up.

What’s this white stuff?

One plant we have in super abundance is this annual trampweed (Facelis retusa). It’s really pretty in early spring. Then, when it blossoms, you don’t really see the flowers, just white buds, followed by exuberant star-shaped seed heads.

The little seed fluff sticks out and looks like a flower bud.
Here’s what the plant looks like, with leaves circling up a stem.

I’d never noticed this plant before, and it’s everywhere this year. Now it’s one of my favorites.

They look so cheerful!

Another plant I’d never noticed around here is small-flowered catchfly (Silene gallica). It’s another one of those tiny flowers from up high. At first I thought it was that chickweed or something.

Small-flowered catchfly.

Once you touch it, though, you know it’s different. You also know how it got its name. It’s sticky! It could certainly catch a fly. You can see all the hairs in the photos.

Here it is growing with some Carolina bristle marrow, trampweed

The little flowers range from pink to white. I had honestly never seen it before. Did I not notice it or did it come in with floods? Is it something that grows better after a hard freeze or two? I’m sure I just didn’t notice it, even though I’ve been trying so hard to identify everything here!

The third “new” plant I wasn’t even sure of its ID. None of the things that are suggested on iNaturalist really match the way it looks, but since I know plants can differ in color from place to place, labeled it dwarf blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium minus), and hooray, I was right! Linda Jo identified it for me. It’s another tiny little fellow, but it’s really pretty.

Another “new” plant really isn’t new. It’s a pink evening primrose. But I never saw one so white. I thought it was a petunia from a distance.

That’s quite a contrast to the usual ones, though they do come in many shades of pink.

One of the really pink ones. I know we’ve seen them a lot, but still, they’re gorgeous.
Look at all the bugs on this Black-eyed Susans!

There, I hope you’ve enjoyed a small selection of the fun discoveries I make right on the Hermits’ Rest Ranch. I’m so glad I’ve learned so much about nature in this one special place, thanks to joining the Texas Master Naturalist program.

Please join me, Donna, Pamela, Carolyn, and the others who have shared the nature where they live! Send me your pictures and some words, and let’s share the beauty in our part of the state.

Wolf Spider Identification

by Eric Neubauer

Although some wolf spiders are active year round, this is the time of year when they start to become more noticeable. Except for a few species that are relatively easy  to identify on sight, these can be very difficult to get down to species level. There are two main reasons. First, there a lot of genera and a lot more species. You are most likely to see are Rabidosa, Schizocosa, Pardosa, Hogna, and Tigrosa in our area which isn’t too overwhelming. However, the second and third of these include over two dozen species locally. The second reason is that most keys rely on microscopic details. There are macroscopic differences, but these haven’t been compiled in any comprehensive way. It may be some time before wolf spiders become as easy to identify as birds or butterflies, but I believe it will happen.

Unidentified juvenile Hogna. More on this one below.

Where to find them: wolf spiders live in diverse habitats. Margins of mowed areas, shorelines, road edges, and leaf litter are good places to look. They are noticeable because they run around in the open looking for prey. They they like to be where there is a way to escape whether it’s into tall grass, under leaves or onto the water’s surface. Many live in colonies, so if you find one, you can probably find more. I find the best time to look is when the temperature is above 70 and humidity is high. On sunny calm days, you can find them active at lower temperatures because the ground warms before the air. And, they aren’t always large. There are some species that have a body length of 0.15” or 4 mm when mature. Males tend to be smaller and a bit more lively than females, and they are harder to catch. As far as I know, none of the local wolf spiders have a dangerous bite, and they won’t bite without a lot of  provocation.

Rabid wolf spider Rabidosa rabida in a clear container

How to photograph them: good photos are important if you hope to make a species ID. Wolf spiders can usually be encouraged to run into an open container. Wolf spiders can jump, but do so more in a horizontal than vertical direction. They can climb, but not as well as other spiders. They will remain in the container until you get some good photos. Size is important, so if the bottom of the container has markings, you use them to scale the body length. Ventral views are important too. Looking up though the bottom of a clear container works. Others put the spider in a plastic bag so it can be flipped over. I try to release spiders close to where I found them when I’m finished with them. If you do all this, you might just have the clue that points to the species.

Unidentified Hogna, from the bottom (Hogna incognita)

Study populations, not individuals: Once you find a colony of spiders, visit it often and make a full collection of photos including males, females, females with egg sacs, females covered with spiderlings, and juveniles. Most experts wouldn’t dare identify a juvenile from a photograph at present. They do look a little different than the adults. However, from my experience working with two species, the juveniles are not only distinctive, but are more consistently patterned than the adults which will have developed some individual “character” in their appearance. In the future, the juveniles may provide the necessary clue for the species of an entire colony.

Thin legged wolf spider, genus Pardosa, with egg sac

Legs: I’ve noticed wolf spiders missing legs. Usually it’s one or two, but I have seen as many as four missing. Males are more likely to be missing legs than females. Legs can regrow, so you may notice a leg that doesn’t look like the others.

Pardosa male missing two legs, with a third that doesn’t look too good.

Recent Observation Notes from Bird and Bee Farm Trip

I continue to be surprised how finely placed the populations of wolf spiders are. At the pond dam, I found a couple of juveniles near the highest point. The first was one of my Hogna incognita (undescribed species). The other was Rabidosa rabida which seems to be species that appears everywhere in small numbers rather than being clustered in populations except perhaps around buildings. I found no more spiders until I got to the boat ramp at the far end of the dam. That’s where all the Pardosa were. The Pardosa may be all one species which would be good since most places I see them there appear to be multiple species that I haven’t been able to sort out.

I stopped at the Little River bridge north of Gause and found no spiders there. Then, I checked out the San Gabriel bridge on CR 487 east of Crossroads, which has an inspection road around and under the bridge. A bunch of spiders were in a pile of leaves that someone had dumped. I’d thought they were Pardosa at the time, but a closer look at the photos suggest Schizocosa juveniles. So, I found all four of the most prevalent genera in Milam County on my tour.

The H. incognita find was of interest. Although it seems to be mostly a Blackland species, this personally confirms it is present elsewhere, which I already figured would be true from other people’s observations. Nevertheless, its range may stop abruptly at the Brazos River. I’ll be testing that out in the next few months when they are active.

Here are some more wolf spiders to practice on. All photos by Eric Neubauer.

Exploring with Friends, Safely

Suna wrote about our Earth Day 2021 activity on her blog. Look for more posts from other members, soon!

The Hermits' Rest

Our Master Naturalist chapter is slowly and carefully starting to do some activities that fall under our guidelines for safety. We really wanted to do something for Earth Day, so a few members got all organized and set up some tables over at Bird and Bee Farm, where our Wildscape project is located. I headed over there, since I had some little pins to give out, and since I hadn’t seen most of them since last year.

By the way, check out my hair. It’s SILVER, from Overtone. No more 1-inch roots!

Our members had put together all sorts of stuff to give away for adults and kids, and by the time I left, they’d had nearly 80 visitors! Luckily, they were spread out over 4 hours, so we didn’t have any scary germy crowds. We were all very glad to see each other, which was a nice feeling.

Some…

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Earth Day 2021

by Donna Lewis

The beginning of this movement…

On April 22, 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson decided to do something about global pollution of our air, water, and land.

He knew that college students were the best ones to embrace this call to action.

Since then over 20 million Americans have demonstrated and worked towards saving this planet.

The work goes on.

As Master Naturalists we also work towards protecting our natural resources.

So put our planet in your thoughts,

Put it in your hearts,

Then put all that into action.

We have to succeed for every living thing.

By the way,  I was in college  in 1970, and proudly attended one of the first Earth Day Events, along with 3,000 other students.

Change Is Good at the Wildscape

by Catherine Johnson

Due to recent storms, we were able to see which native plants were toughest.  We have exchanged some for sumacs, elbow and Mexican honeysuckle bushes, Gulf coast muhly and brake lights yucca. 

Come see what’s blooming at our Earth Day celebration on  Saturday April 24, at Bird and Bee Farm from 8 am-12 pm.