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.

It’s Pretty Over at the Wildscape

by Catherine Johnson

There are many plants in full bloom in the Milam Wildscape Project. 

One cool morning Kim Summers and I began preparing the Garden for Nature Days in November.   

Kim is invisible!

We saw many butterflies and the last of hummingbirds for the year. 

Enjoy the pictures or better yet take a ride over to Bird and Bee Farm, conveniently located between Rockdale and Milano, and take home a beautiful bouquet. 

Summer’s End

by Donna Lewis

I took a walk in the garden and just outside to look at the new emergence that the rain we had a week or so ago had brought.  Many things I thought were dead came back to life, maybe just for a short time, but it shows us nature trying to repair herself.

Toad is happy to have some water.

Fall is here, and things will change as they are supposed to do.

Hawk on the lookout for tasty morsels.

The land will rest for a while.  We will wait for spring again.

As the saying goes…a picture is worth a thousand words.


Hey there, readers. This is Sue Ann. Our frequent blogger, Donna, has been in a lot of pain this summer, and has hurt her back again. Please send all your good thoughts her way, so that she can heal and get back to taking care of the life in her garden.

Donna, we appreciate you so much!

Learning about Biodiversity

by Sue Ann Kendall

This is what I intended to post last month and forgot to. Seeing the spoonbills on my property yesterday made me realize I’d forgotten to share this with our Chapter and friends. I hope you enjoy these belated observations.


On August 18, I enjoyed a visit to the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections. Pamela Neeley and I drove over and met up with Linda Jo Conn and her granddaughter, who’s high school age, and enjoyed it as much as we did, I think. We were sad that more of our group couldn’t join us.

Art is from 3D images of animals.

Our guides were curators Heather Prestridge, an ichthyologist, and Gary Voelker, an ornithologist. They were informal with our small group, informative, and entertaining as well. I had a blast learning about how many specimens they have, how long the collection has been growing (since the 1930s), and how they preserve the animals for research.

Specimen jars. Stop here if you don’t want to see preserved animals and such.

The collections of herps (snakes, lizards, frogs, etc.) are immense. It’s cool to see where they all come from. There is much from Texas but also around the world. They are preserved in formaldehyde.

The fish were fascinating as well. My favorite was the box fish. There were just so many to categorize. Wow. There’s a lot of work for their grad students and volunteers! The other thing they do with the specimens is take tissue samples and freeze them (really cold) for future research on DNA and the like. What a resource this is!

Of course the birds fascinated me. I was probably really annoying with all my questions but wow, there were things here I’d never seen before, like the Hoatzin. What the heck. This bird’s young have claws on their wings!! It’s also called a stink bird, because it digests food in its crop, which is smelly. It’s a really different bird!

Pamela is amazed at the hoatzin bird

Dr. Voelker was great at sharing information about the birds. We saw the largest and smallest owls and an awesome variety of kingfishers, some that were an indescribable blue. Africa has some darn colorful birds.

Look at these roseate spoonbills. They are so many shades of pink. and I was fascinated to see the bill up close. Such specialization!

There was a lovely domed collection of hummingbirds that had been donated to Heather. Someone had it in their family for years!

That’s something else!

I’ll spare you the details but we learned about 3D imaging and printing of specimens. They find what’s in the animals’ stomachs and can ID them. Huh.

And look! A giraffe skull! Look at the horns!

They didn’t talk much about boring old mammals but I checked them out.

Spoonbills in Milam County

by Sue Ann Kendall

I still get the feeling sometimes that I live in an aviary. I can’t believe how many interesting birds drop by my property and let me observe them. Yesterday was a particularly good day, because in addition to the storks who’ve been visiting for a couple of weeks, I found something different, a roseate spoonbill!

There you go, three storks, one very pink spoonbill, a great blue heron, and a great egret!

It was especially good to see the spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) in person and watch it eating up close through my binoculars, since I had seen some specimens when we went to the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections last month. Oops, I just realized that I hadn’t written up that event, so darn it! You can go read about it in my personal blog post, So Many Dead Things. Below are the specimens I looked at.

Linda Jo Conn investigates the spoon-shaped bill as Dr. Gary Voelker looks on. Heather Prestridge, who gave us our tour, is holding the specimen.
You can see the variety of shades of pink they have, depending on what they’ve been eating.

The spoonbills are coastal birds, which is why you don’t see too many of them here in the middle of Texas. I’ve seen them one other time, though. According to Wikipedia as reproduced on the iNaturalist site, many were seen outside their usual range in 2021, so perhaps this behavior is continuing this year.

They’d just finished feeding, so I don’t have a good photo of that.

They are fun to watch as they eat, swinging their bills from side to side to catch delicious (and hopefully pink, to keep their feathers pretty) foods. The one I saw was parading alongside three storks on the shore of the tank behind my house, which appears to be a hotbed of small edible items these days.

I wonder if this one got separated from his or her buddies and took up with the storks, which also hang around in small groups. They were getting along just fine and didn’t seem to be bothering my resident shore birds at all.

Here’s some more about their eating habits:

This species feeds in shallow fresh or coastal waters by swinging its bill from side to side as it steadily walks through the water, often in groups. The spoon-shaped bill allows it to sift easily through mud. It feeds on crustaceansaquatic insects, frogs, newts and very small fish ignored by larger waders… Roseate spoonbills must compete for food with snowy egretsgreat egretstricolored herons and American white pelicans.

Roseate Spoonbill, iNaturalist
These guys fly with outstretched necks, like the storks, and unlike herons.

I’m wondering if I’m seeing so many interesting shore birds here lately because other shallow waters have dried up from the drought. I’ve also been enjoying a tricolored heron and a kingfisher. I’ve seen the resident green heron more and more recently, as well.

Keep your eyes open as you drive through Milam County, especially as migration time approaches. You’ll be seeing snow geese, sandhill cranes, ducks, and other interesting birds. Admittedly, you will probably find many of those by also listening. Those geese and cranes make quite a racket as they fly by. Look for the dark wing areas on the geese and listen for the clacking sounds of cranes.

I hope you enjoyed learning about a fascinating visitor. Here are some more of my photos of the spoonbill and friends.