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.

That’s a Wrap for Nature Days!

by Catherine Johnson

Over the course of four Saturdays this November, 88 people attended Nature Days.  Thank you, Bird and Bee Farm, for the space to reach out to support those interested in benefiting natural resources and areas. 

Donna, Kim, Janice, Alan, Debra, Dorothy, Gene, Cindy, Don, Cindy, Patricia, and Rosie were volunteers for the final Saturday. Enjoy these photos of some of our visitors and Chapter members on this beautiful day.

Third Nature Day: More of the Same

by Catherine Johnson

The third Saturday of Nature Days was rainy and cold.

Handing out plants

Guests arrived from Heidenheimer, San Antonio and Boerne and they toured the Wildscape.  Carolyn staffed the tables and discussed nature topics while Rosie helped with handing out plants and children’s gifts. 

Happy visitors with their goodies.

All the visitors plan to come back to visit in the spring.

This Saturday is the last of Nature Days for the year.  Great weather is predicted!  We should have Fall Asters, seeds, native plants, and nature gifts to share. Come visit us and let us know how your garden is doing!

Second Week of Nature Days: Chilly but Sunny

by Catherine Johnson

Our second Saturday of Nature Days on November 12 was cold and windy. Super Troopers Scott, Linda, Kim, Gene, Cindy, Patricia, and Rosie arrived bundled up for work.  New friends Kenny and Donna attended and harvested plants. 

Guests drove in from distances, including Salado, Taylor, Buda, and Driftwood.  We shared nature stories and how all were committed to benefiting natural resources and areas. 

One family brought their own picnic to the garden- what a surprise!  Children hid in the garden, picked flowers, and enjoyed the fairy garden.

Join us this Saturday to “Discover the Wonder,” as our friend, Greg Hensley, says.

Fish Ear Bones

by Sue Ann Kendall

Last night, our Chapter Meeting speaker was our own Alan Rudd. He happens to know a lot about fish, thanks to his training and profession of managing fisheries and lakes. He used his knowledge to show us all how little things we think don’t matter can have huge significance for those of us studying the natural world.

I have to say he had some excellent props for his talk. The first one he broke out was a dead fish. Yep. Alan proceeded to start the dissection process on a nice-sized crappie (a delicious member of the sunfish family). All he did was break its neck and extract something very small with his tweezers.

Ready to work on the fish. The tweezers are important!

What was it? It was a stone-like thing that grows in the ears of all fish, called an otolith or ear-stone. Every fish has them. It helps them hear. What use could that tiny thing be to research? Alan had wondered that himself, when he first studied fish anatomy.

Eric can’t bear to watch (not really)

It turns out that otoliths are pretty cool. They are not bones, but more like stones. You see, bones grow in a process of taking away parts and growing new ones, thanks to components of bone called osteoblasts and osteoclasts. That’s how we get the porosity of our bones.

The only way I could remember this was to take a picture.

The ear-stones in fish grow by depositing new layers, like an oyster grows. So, they end up being solid. The stones in different types of fish look different, too, so you can tell where one came from even if the fish isn’t there. It turns out you can learn a lot from them, after all.

Not shown: the people who were grossed out by this whole process.

Alan shared with us a collection of ear stones from fish he’d harvested lately. They were very light, but quite hard. Then he shared how he came to find out how they help research.

Alan is asking who gives a rat’s patoot about all those teeny tiny bones in baby fish?

He spent a summer doing research on salmon in the Pacific Ocean, abord a gigantic Japanese fishing boat, which had a whole fleet of other boats along with it. In addition to Alan, there was another American who was researching Dall’s dolphins, who sometimes got caught in the giant nets (over a thousand miles were put out every night–that adds up to a lot of salmon). Thanks to the other researcher freezing dolphins that had drowned and sending them off to research facilities, it was discovered exactly what the dolphins ate in the wild. How? By identifying ear-stones in their stomachs! Previously, it had been thought that the dolphins only ate squid, because all they found in formaldehyde-stored specimens were their beaks and that big bone they have. Freezing gave more info and saved the ear-stones. Progress. Yes.

Alan also shared how research had found that fish deposit a white layer every May (no one knows why) in their ear-stones. This lets you figure out many things about a particular fish. You can count the rings to see how old it was, but you can also inspect how closely together the rings are to determine how fast or slowly the fish grew. For commercial fisheries, you want fast-growing and healthy fish, and you can check on that by ear-stones. Who knew?

Bonus fact: Alan once found a 12-year-old fish in a very acidic lake. Its slow growth had let it live longer. Huh.

Bonus fact 2: Crappie breed every year at the full moon in March. They swim around looking at the moon until the right time (I made that part up).

I assure you this knowledge was much more fun to acquire via Alan’s talk. He is a good speaker, and his theme that knowledge builds slowly on the work of past researchers made a good point. Even the little things we discover doing citizen science can help someone make a big discovery someday.

First Week of Nature Days Success

by Catherine Johnson and Sue Ann Kendall

From Catherine

The weather was great for the first Saturday of Nature Days. Visiting under the oaks surrounded by wildlife was fun. 

Rio Grande turkeys and mason bee houses

Thank you to Carolyn, Donna, Scott, Suna, Debra, Gene, Cindy, Patricia, and Linda for making it a success. Linda was a real trooper for walking the entire garden with me. Also, thank you to Alan for bringing cypress trees and to Mike for the bee houses.

The best part of my day was meeting the couple who drove up from San Antonio and left with many native plants, including one of Debra Sorenson’s Turk’s Cap.

Visitors and their haul!

“Help ‘root’ people where they live so they can create their own connections and join others to care for natural resources”.     

Craig Hensley

Join us this Saturday at Bird and Bee Farm (1369 County Road 334, Rockdale, TX) from 9am – noon.


From Sue Ann

I enjoyed the chance to talk to members of our Chapter as well as visitors. I also took lots of photos of the plants and animals I saw, which I hope you will enjoy.

The highlight of the day for me was showing some visiting children the mason bee houses we have to give away and explaining to them how they worked. The young people got so excited about the idea of taking one home to welcome some busy pollinators.

Donna Lewis tries to give Scruffy a treat. Apparently, she was plumb full.

I took home two cypress trees, too, and am looking forward to planting them by one of our ponds!