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 in Milano, Texas.

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.

Bioblitz! The First of Many!

This morning, a semi-hardy group of Master Naturalists met at Wilson-Ledbetter Park in Cameron to see if we can actually DO a bioblitz. What’s a bioblitz? It’s when people get together and see how many observations they can make on the iNaturalist citizen science platform in a defined area during a specific time.

Do we look chilly? We are!

Our goal is to have as many observations as possible today, February 22, at the park. That means anyone who observes after our group blitz will also count.

Goofy selfie in which I could not fit everyone in.

Twelve of us came to the event, which is a great turnout! We gave some handouts to the people who were new to iNaturalist, showed folks how to join the project I’d set up the day before, and set off in groups, where experienced and inexperienced people were together. Our instructions were to take as many pictures as possible of the flora and fauna you encountered.

Different groups did their observations differently, with some people uploading photos as they took them and others choosing to take the pictures on their phones then upload them later. We also had a couple of people using cameras, and a couple of spotters/observers. Below are some action shots and a couple of the photos we took. Thanks to Meghan Land and Dorothy Mayer for sharing their photos.

One thing I discovered is that we have some great nature observers in our new class. One found a domestic cat carcass (no photo available, thankfully) and another found some beautiful eggs in a nest by an oak tree (perhaps from the nearby ducks).

Eggs found under a tree. Sparkly finger to show size.

Long-time members shared stories about previous projects our group has done in the park and helped identify some of those pesky forbs that were everywhere. It’s quite a challenge when so little is blooming, and many woody plants have no leaves yet.

We were much warmer in the conference room, with coffee.

After about an hour of photographing, we went back to the warmth of the Hermit Haus and practiced using the iNaturalist app to upload photos. It’s a bit of a learning curve, especially if you have an android phone and all your “experts” have iPhones. But, folks are already adding their observations to the project, and people are out there identifying them.

Here is what we have as of mid afternoon. We will certainly have more later!
Here are all the observations from our bioblitz, as of 3 pm today. The key to the colors is in the image above.

Just a few hours after the bioblitz started, we have over a hundred observations, and half the team has uploaded content. Not bad at all! Check the project page to see how many more observations have been uploaded. They will be trickling in over the next few days.

Where shall we go for our next bioblitz? Will you join us? Our goal is to visit all the parks in the county, so suggestions are welcome! Remember, Tania Homayoun of Nature Trackers, and our state iNaturalist expert, will be joining us April 18 for a special training with both an indoor and an outdoor component. We will let you know which park we’ll be holding that one at!

Want to Learn More?

Read more on using iNaturalist for bioblitzes at this link.

Amazing Nature Walk for 2020 Class

Yesterday was the first field trip for our 2020 class and some tag-along Chapter members. We literally visited a field! What a beautiful field it was, however, and we are grateful to Nancy Webber for inviting us to share the property she has been managing as a wildscape for over a decade.

Heading out for the walk, Nancy explains how she manages her property.

After a bit of gawking at the beautiful off-grid home on the property, complete with huge cistern, solar panels, and blazing wood stove, Nancy led the class through the riparian area and meadows in her property, somewhere between Davilla and Bartlett. She presented so much information about her property, how they manage it, and what they do with it.

We had fun spotting prickly pear that they dug up and hung from trees to propagate no more, and marveled at how few mesquite there were. On the other hand, the possumhaw was glorious, and everywhere!

Not my best possumhaw photo, but you get the idea.

We saw and heard many birds, which was great fun to the birders among us. A ladderback woodpecker and American robins were highlights, though there were many more. We knew there were also plenty of raptors around by the evidence of many former mourning doves.

Former dove.

We had fun finding dens of some of the local mammals (one of which had an interesting musky smell), spider webs in trees and on top of holes, and even a grasshopper and a sulphur butterfly.

The spider just left before I could take the picture!

Another fun activity was spotting the cool things the property owners had done to honor the nature in the area, such as decorated trees, a “portal,” and an entire area featuring various bones hanging from the trees. It’s a great place to play “guess the carcass!”

The two hours flew by, since the weather was pleasantly cool and the mud wasn’t bad at all. A couple of us lagged behind as we got all involved in plant identification and taking photos for iNaturalist. We just can’t help it, plus one was a new one to us (fringed puccoon, pictured below). I think Ann Collins and I may have hooked one of our class members on our hobby!

I wish we could tour more property of our members, to see how they differ. Hope you enjoy my photos. I am sparing you most of my iNaturalist photos!

We all had a great time on our field trip!

February Chapter Meeting Draws a Big Crowd

The El Camino Real Chapter Meeting on February 13 really filled our meeting space. It was great to have to go upstairs and fetch more chairs for all the members, 2020 class students, and guests that came to hear Dr. Alston Thoms talk about the indigenous people who lived in the Milam County area from the time of the Mastodons until the present.

The Hermit Haus was filled with so many guests and members! Dr. Thoms is sitting by the center post.

He had a LOT of content to cover, and an hour definitely wasn’t enough to take in all there is to know about this topic. Luckily, the website at Texas Beyond History has lots and lots of additional information.

Dr. Thoms made a great opening slide show wit pictures of us and our meeting building on it!

We learned about the Coahuiltecan, Tonkawa, and Atakapa (Bedi) people who made their lives moving from place to place to follow the food spots they knew of. They primarily ate deer, which have been the primary food source for people in this area since people showed up. They were able to get many types of prey using spears, adl-adl, arrows and such, and they also ate lots of our native plants, even ones we don’t normally eat (like false garlic/crow poison, which is good roasted a long time).

Later on, other groups moved in, but there are still descendants of the Coahuiltecan people in central Texas, after many of them moved to the missions, like the Alamo (bear in mind, its main historical significance is being an early Spanish mission).

Dr. Thoms in May 2018, leaving his talk at our meeting in Milano.

Want to learn a little more? I summarized his previous talk on my personal blog, and we even had a newspaper article on his talk.

At the Chapter Meeting

Lisa Milewski happily gave Donna Lewis her bumblebee pin.

We had a lively Chapter Meeting after the talk. Our first recertification award of 2020 went out to Donna Lewis, who is the first to sport a bumblebee pin on her shirt! Donna does so much work for our chapter, including bringing in our guest speakers and leading meetings when the President is unavailable (like next month, when I have the nerve to have scheduled a vacation at meeting time!).

Liz gets her treasured certification certificate.

Liz Lewis (no relation), a member if the 2018 class, also got an exciting milestone award, as she received her initial certification. She’s now working on setting up the graduation dinner for our 2020 students.

Look at that cool lizard and happy Master Naturalist!

And finally, Linda Jo Conn presented Debbie Harris with the WOW iNaturalist award of the month for her photo of a Texas spiny lizard. Get those photos in, because Linda Jo is watching out for good ones!

We have lots of activities this month, so be on the lookout for more blog posts in the next couple of weeks!

What's Up with Our Chapter?

Hello! It’s been such a busy time for the El Camino Real Chapter that we haven’t had much time to update you.

Marsha May sharing all her birding information.

First, our 2020 training class has been meeting the past few Thursdays, and it’s going very well! We have over ten class members, and every single one of them is bringing amazing talents and knowledge to our chapter. The classes have been attended by many of our current chapter members, too, because there is so much to learn.

For example, last week we had Marsha May, a renowned birder and former Texas Parks and Wildlife employee, who told us so many things about birds that even the most experienced birders didn’t know. (I learned how their lungs work, where there are two air chambers, so when they breathe out, it’s the air from the previous breath!)

The classes are a great way for current members to get Advanced Training hours and also get to know our new class members.

Coming Up

Next week is our February Chapter Meeting, which will feature one of our favorite speakers, Dr. Alston Thoms. He is an archeologist at Texas A&M University, and he will present a program about the original peoples who occupied the land around the Rancheria Grande here in Milam County. Knowing who lived here before us really puts the area into perspective.

A map of the Rancheria Grande, which was near current Gause, Texas. We have members who own property there. This image is from this Austin American Statesman article. The article would be great to read in preparation for the Chapter Meeting.

On the Saturday after the chapter meeting February 15) will be a wonderful field trip opportunity for our class members and current Chapter members. We will visit the property of one of our members, near Davilla, and get first-hand information on the flora and fauna in our area.

BioBlitz!

Our iNaturalist team (Linda Jo Conn, Ann Collins, and me) has set up the FIRST of our BioBlitzes for February 22. We will announce the location at the Chapter Meeting, and it will appear in our weekly email newsletter, so stay tuned.

What’s a BioBlitz? It’s where a group of people get together and record as many entries into iNaturalist in a set area that they can. We are planning to eventually cover all the parks in Milam County, which is a big job, but will provide wonderful data about our county for researchers. We’re excited!

Art by Sean Wall, on my wall.

Farther in the Future

Carlton climbs a fence.

Our Vice President, Donna Lewis, is working hard scheduling speakers for the 2020 Chapter Meetings. We’re excited to be able to announce that our friend, Sean Wall, will be joining us for the May 14 meeting. He’s an expert on wildcrafting, edible native plants, and using what you find in nature in all aspects of your life. For example, he painted this picture of my dog, Carlton, scaling our fence using pigments he found around him.

The Saturday after the Chapter Meeting, Sean will return to Milam County to lead a nature walk at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch, to see what kind of edible plants are growing in the fields, wetlands, and wooded areas there. The wildflowers should be pretty that time of year, too!

We hope to see you at some of our meetings and events. Our Chapter Meetings are open to the public, by the way!