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.

June in Donna’s Garden

by Donna Lewis

It’s heating up.

Gorgeous purple coneflowers

So here are the June photos of my pollinator garden.

Turk’s cap is enthusiastic!

After days of rain, the sun and the humidity have returned in force.

We have gone from too much rain to too much heat.  Now I have to actually think about watering my plants.   I have to do that while I stay in constant motion so the mosquitoes don’t eat me for lunch.

The first tall plants were beat down by the wind and rains we had.  Mostly purple Larkspur.  They were really pretty and the Swallowtails liked them alot.

There are so many different flowers that I cannot name them here.

Just know  I make sure that every plant or vine has some value to nature.

Zinnias, Indian blanket, black-eyed Susans, etc.

The tall sunflowers really fit the bill because they have both nectar and bugs. The nectar for the pollinators and the bugs for the birds. The cardinals and the wrens go crazy over them. Zinnias are just popping up and just about all the butterflies like them.

Sunflower and bee

Fennel is back and the Black Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs there.

Sunflowers and friends, not fennel

It’s a wonderful place to be if you are a pollinator or a bird. It’s pretty nice for me too.

Weird and New Nature Observations

by Sue Ann Kendall

In the past week or so, I’ve seen some pretty darned interesting sights on my north Milam County ranch. I thought I’d share a few with you all. Plus I have a bonus observation from Pamela Neeley.

We’ve been digging a lot of holes for fence poles this week, which stirs up the insect population. A couple of days ago, we saw something wriggling on the ground, and I realized it was a spider I’d never seen before. It had beautiful pale green markings and had a very large abdomen.

I wondered what it was, and iNaturalist indicated it could be an Giant Lichen orbweaver, Araneus bicentaurius. What a beauty. We are in some of the most western areas they are found.

The day before, I has spotted a rabid wolf spider, lying motionless and with its legs all curled up. That was weird. I went to look at something else, and when I came back, I knew what had happened to it. A Rusty Spider Wasp Tachypomplilus ferrugineus had stung it, and now it was dragging it up the wall to wherever it was going to enjoy its spidery meal. It turns out those wasps, which were new to me, prefer wolf spiders as prey.

This looks yummy!

Something else that was new to me this year was my discovery of a bunch of odd-looking, deformed Mexican hat flowers  (Ratibida columnifera or upright prairie coneflower). I wrote about them in my personal blog, but have learned more since, thanks to fellow Chapter member, Linda Jo Conn. Alongside of a field that had grown oats for silage, the flowers didn’t look quite right.

Since I know that the field next to the flowers got sprayed by herbicides more than once (the representatives from our ranch coop gave permission), I wondered if that is what caused the flowers to have extra petals, extra “cones” or oddly shaped flowers. I uploaded some of the images I had to iNaturalist and waited. Sure enough, Linda Jo commented that there’s a word for abnormal growth in vascular plants: FASCIATION. Now, isn’t that cool? The Wikipedia article on fasciation says sometimes it’s caused by hormones or by viral/bacterial infections. But, among the possible causes ARE caused by chemical exposure. Another possibility is excessive cold weather. Guess what we had in February??

Other than that, I’ve been enjoying the insects of summer. Wow, there have been some interesting ones here at the Hermits’ Rest!

And finally, just for fun, I wanted to share a photo Pamela Neeley took of a young praying mantis. Look at its shadow! It’s a giraffe!

Rainy Days at the Wildscape

by Catherine Johnson

The recent rains have delayed work at the Wildscape including planting free milkweed from Monarch Watch. 

Mason bee in nest!

Natives waiting to go in include new Side Oats Grama, Shenendoah and Heavy Metal Switchgrass, Maiden, Karl Forester, and Little Bunny grasses, Dwarf Adagio Miscanthus and Nolina for the Southwest garden.

New natives being tended include Common Bluestar and Wild Quinine (not pictured).

Between stones of the new patio will be Creeping Germander and Texas Sedge.  Soon, there will be more native plants for sharing.

Checking the Martins after Five Days of Rain

by Donna Lewis

The purple martins at my property had just started laying eggs the last time I checked them. So I knew they should have babies anytime now.

After the f days of rain, I knew I needed to check to see if water had gotten into any of the gourds. A wet nest can be deadly for birds.

Checking the gourds

The first thing I do is gather everything I might need to clean and replace wet nesting material. You should always clean the site and not throw  anything on the ground. All that does is alert snakes that there is food up the pole.

So, nesting material, recording paper, a sack to put debris in, and clean towels to wipe out the gourd should be taken with you as you go to the housing. You don’t want to have to run back to get something. It’s best to not lower their housing for longer than 30 minutes at best, especially when they are feeding young.

All my material is gathered

As I thought, there were eggs in three gourds and young in the other nine gourds.

New life

YEAH!!!!!  How exciting! I love babies. Sadly one of the gourds with eggs had gotten a lot of water in it.  The nest was wet and not fit for the martins. The eggs were cold. I had to remove everything, clean it and put in fresh pine needles.  It is possible that the martin might lay a second set, but not probable. 

I measured one of the oldest healthy babies to be five days old.  Now I will know when I should check on them again.

Babies!

A wonderful day.

Donna’s Garden, May Update

by Donna Lewis

Here is the May 20th update on my pollinator garden. Every year the garden is different depending on what comes back.

Wildflowers can’t be put down!

This year was really scary because of the freeze . I was not sure what might be completely dead.

We can thank the rain for some of this lushness.

But, and I love this part…90% of my garden was planted with native plants! They are sturdy!! I did have a few larger bushes that have not shown up and probably won’t.

All this beauty makes you forget last winter, almost.

But the garden is still a beauty. Everything is about five weeks behind its normal time to bloom. The vines are just now popping up, and some plants that like more sun and hot weather have not started to bloom just yet.

These natives are happy.

This is why planting things that are native to your area keeps the budget low. They come back!

The white flowers really pop in the shade!

Happy gardening!