March Chapter Meeting Was for the Birds!

Our chapter meets on the second Thursday of each month. We always look forward to a great speaker, and this month was no exception. El Camino Real chapter member Ann Collins put together a presentation on the birds that came to her back yard over this past winter, and she brought together two other members to provide additional information. Here are some highlights.

Ann Collins tells us you can still enjoy birding, even if you haven’t memorized all the pertinent features. Her well-loved Peterson’s Guide also helps a lot.

Ann both started and ended the presentation, first sharing some of the interesting birds she’s seen this year (leaving out the old favorites we all know and love). Her discussion of the three types of warblers helped me a lot, because I always have trouble with them, too, but now at least I’ll know a couple more. And she is GREAT with sparrows.

It impressed me that Ann has feeders that hold 40 pounds of black sunflower seeds. Wow. She did say that meant she didn’t have to fill the feeders so often. She also told us about the shallow wading ponds she had made, which birds really like, especially is the water is moving.

Recording Your Sightings

Joyce Conner then told us about some ways we can record the birds we see online and help to support research. She compared the relative merits of eBird versus the Project Feeder Watch. To quickly sum it up, on eBird you can document any bird you see, anywhere. Plus it’s free, though they appreciate a subscription to the Cornell Lab, who sponsor it. In the Backyard Feeder Watch, you watch just one spot for the winter birding season and record only what you see there on the same days of the week each week. It costs $15 per year, and they send you a lot of information, calendars, etc., when you join. So, they each collect slightly different kinds of data, but both are helpful for researchers.

Joyce explains the intricasies of bird-watching software, while Jackie looks on.

Joyce also noted there are many other places you can record bird sightings (like iNaturalist where most of mine go, though I’m trying to get up and running with eBird, too).

Also, she was kind enough to share with us some wonderful materials from the Feeder Watch folks. There’s even a little poster we can put up!

Attracting Birds

Next, Cindy Travis shared how she attracts birds that aren’t the “feeder” type by making her own suet feeders. The recipe seems easy (and gooey). That will be shared in another blog post, so you can try it, too! Suet (which contains lard, peanut butter, flour, and optional dried seeds, fruits and nuts) is great for woodpeckers and other birds that like to climb trees, as well as many other birds that prefer more hearty fare than seeds.

Cindy shares her suet recipe. You can see samples on the table.

Parts and More Parts

At the end of the presentation, Ann came back to talk to us a bit about bird anatomy, which she freely admitted was not her specialty, but the original speaker who was going to cover it was off in Austin becoming a Master Birder, which sounds really exciting!

All these parts make up a whole bird.

The part of this talk that fascinated me was when Ann talked about there being different ways to identify birds. She says she does it visually, taking in the entire bird. She said she learned to read the same way, word by word. She compared the other main way to ID birds as more like phonetics in reading, where you learn all the parts and put them together, often identifying a bird by just one pertinent feature. (Our auditory learner friends often identify birds by sound, which makes it easy to know what birds are there that you can’t see; for me it’s usually woodpeckers and Chuck-will’s-widows.)

The sun sets over Milano, Texas.

I was only SLIGHTLY distractred from the beautiful sunset that was going on during the meeting. I really shouldn’t sit near windows!

Intense Hawk Action

I thought I’d share some action thoughts of the hawks who are nesting near my office in Austin.

The Hermits' Rest

Swooping! You can easily see tail stripes.

I got a request for an update on the hawks at my workplace. You know I just love requests. Since the people in our office spend a LOT of of our break time looking at them, there’s no problem with coming up with a report! The raptor couple are the talk of the water cooler, which pleases me a lot. We have a lot of budding birders being developed!

Thinking about sitting on that ledge.

Here are some of the behaviors we’ve observed:

  • Eating small animals. They like to do that at the parking garage.
  • Working on the nest. Every so often, a special new stick comes over.
  • Dealing with windows. There’s a report that one of them went BOOM into a window earlier this week. Both birds seem okay, now.
  • Dealing with ledges. While I’ve seen one of them successfully land on…

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Monarch Training at Bird and Bee Farm

The meeting was held in the chidken building. They did a great job on the projector screen!

Last time, we told you about the Wildscape program at Bird and Bee Farm. They also sponsor educational events, and our members attended a training on raising monarchs for release there on Sunday, March 3. It was presented by Karen and Steve Thier of Plano. We were also joined by monarch expert Bob Mione.

Bob Mione answers a question from the audience.

Bob brought a group of Master Naturalists from the Dallas area, who joined seven El Camino Real members and some curious neighbors for a total of 23 attendees. Catherine Johnson of the El Camino Real chapter served as the host for the event, along with the Reks, who own the farm.

Catherine Johnson introduces Steve Thier

Steve Thier gave a complete overview of the butterfly propagation (if that’s the right word) project that he and Karen have been working on for the past year, which has resulted in them releasing many butterflies, not only monarchs. They have also raised queens, swalllowtails and others.

Continue reading “Monarch Training at Bird and Bee Farm”

Voluteering at Bird and Bee Farm

Our member, Catherine Johnson, visited the Bird and Bee Farm to invite them to speak at a beekeeping workshop last year. There, she met the Reks, who own the farm, and discovered that they were working on making their land a habitat for pollinators, working with the Texas Parks and Wildlife and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Here’s how they tell it:

Bird and Bee Farm is a Conservation Partner in the Pastures for Upland Birds Program.  Over the past 150 years, agricultural land has taken over our native prairies.  Bird and Bee Farm with the assistance of our new partners are replanting our 100 acre farm to return it to Original Native Prairie-Oak Savannah Habitat.    

By establishing native tall-grass and native forbes Bird and Bee Farm will provide an Ecosystem and Habitat for many forms of wildlife including; Eastern Meadowlark, Northern Harrier, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Short-eared Owl, Dickcissel, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Mourning Dove, Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, and others.  This same habitat will support the Bees, Butterflies (we are on the Monarch Butterfly Migration Path) and other pollinators we so badly need to protect.  

From the Bird and Bee Farm website
The farm also has sheep and donkeys, to help protect the outdoor birrds.

As you could imagine, Catherine realized that working on this project would be great for our chapter. You see, there aren’t any public lands or parks where we can volunteer here in Milam County. Most of the other Master Naturalist groups can log many volunteer hours helping with state or local parks and other nature areas.

Beautiful Rio Grande turkeys. They can fly!

So, Catherine went to work and secured all the permissions needed to allow Master Naturalists to get credit for volunteer work helping set up the plantings, trails, signage, and other aspects of the wildscape project.

Beautiful chicken rearing and sales facility at Bee and Bird Farm.

Since then, the volunteers have helped clear an area for a pollinator garden outside the farm’s chicken house (by the way, the cleanest and happiest chicken world I’ve ever seen; read about it on my blog, if you’d like). They’ve brought in consultants, like Bob Mione, a monarch expert, for advice in soil preparatio, plantings, and fencing (to keep the beautiful guinea fowl from eating the valuable caterpillars that we want to see turn into butterflies).

This turkey would like to eat some caterpillars. But no, not in the special plantings, anyway!

Our next post will be about a wonderful event last Sunday at Bird and Bee Farm, where Master Naturalists from two chapters met to learn more about the life of the monarchs we hope to attract.

Getting Ready for Earth Day

Yesterday, the Environment and Recycling Ad-hoc Committee’s Earth Day subcommittee met to continue to work out plans. I was glad I could finally attend a meeting, because it was fun to see the team at work. I was joined by Ann Collins, Linda Jo Conn, Joyce Conner, Catherine Johnson, Rosie Johnson (guest and helper), Larry Kocian, Kathy Lester, and Donna Lewis (the leader of the bunch).

Nandina and Texas mountain laurel added beauty and scent too the meetiing.

What’s going on with Earth Day?

The El Camino Real Master Naturalist Chapter’s biggest outreach project each year is to host an Earth Day event, to share ways to protect the planet with the community. This year it will be at:

Rockdale Community Center, 109 N. Main, on Saturday, April 20, 10 am – 2 pm.

We were excited to learn about all the planned activities and tables. Our team leader, Donna Lewis, went over all the topics and who was planned to staff them, and we settled on where a lot of the tables would be. For example, the recycled tote bag giveaway will be at the entrance, so attendees can use the totes to gather information they want to take home. And the seedling giveaway will be at the exit, to keep those baby plants happy.

Donna Llewis explains something to Kathy Lester, while Linda Jo Con looks on. Joyce Connner, Ann Collins and Cathy Johnson study notes.

It’s great news that the local Girl Scouts plan to join us, as well as our friends at the USDA, who had a great display last year.

We have lots to share already, andwere thrilled to see some beautiful models of the lifecycles of insects and other organisms that had been donated by our Master Naturalist friends in Temple. We will get so much use out of them, including at Earth Day.

A silly selfie shows that Larry Kocian and I were also in attendance.

Whenever there’s an event like this, there are a lot of little details to attend to, such as advertising and signage. We’re grateful to have Larry Kocian to get us on the radio, and Cathy Johnson to contact all the newspapers and other media outlets. Donna is goining to check signage regulations and see if the city will make us a banner!

By meeting’s end the team was feeling pretty confident that we will have a great deal of interesting information at our event.

Storage needs

All the lovely supplies we have for our outreach projects are scattered at members’ homes, and we realized it’s a bit risky to do that, because the items might end up being irretrievable. I offered to store things in my company’s soon-to-be renovated church building, and suggested that the facility would be a nice, central location for future trainings and meetings.


We shared a wonderful meal, and are very grateful to Cathy Johnson for doing most of the cooking, as well as to everyone who brought additional food. That kept us going!

Earth Day is officially April 22 this year. Join us April 20 in Rockdale! (image source Earth Day Clip Art)

How can you help?

Fellow Milam County Master Naturalists, please let Donna Lewis know if you’ll be helping out, because we still need folks to staff the tables and generally be friendly. And if you have made tote bags, make sure to get them to someone on the committee. We can use more.

Also, the entire report of the meeting will be available in the members’ area of our website. There’s not enough blog space to include all the details from the meeting!

Everybody else, mark your calendars for April 20, and be sure to join us in downtown Rockdale for the event. There are new restaurants, fun shops and lots more that you may not even realize are in the area, so make a day of it!