Christmas Bird Count Opportunity: December – January

by Linda Jo Conn and Sue Ann Kendall

Every year, the Audubon Society sponsors the Christmas Bird Count. This year counts will be held from December 14, 2019-January 5, 2020. It’s very important for keeping up with rising and falling bird populations in the US. You can participate in many ways.

One nearby project came to us via Kyle Watter, a park ranger with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Proctor Lake in Comanche, Texas. He wrote:

January 4th, we are hosting our second annual Christmas Bird Count. Last year, we recorded 99 species at our lake. The count incorporates six driving routes, each of which includes a portion of federal property. Some of the properties are off-limits to the general  public or are quite remote.

email, November 25, 2019

If you’d like to head to Proctor Lake, contact Kyle at or call the lake office at 254-879-2424.

While we may not live very close to Proctor Lake, we do have other opportunities to participate. The Bird Count project requires registration with a coordinator within one of the specified circles in this map.  The circles are 15 mile radius.  If one lives within one of the circles, they can register and sit in a lawn chair in their yard to count birds on the specified days. That is not our luck here in Milam County. 

Here are the observation locations nearest to Cameron.

As you can see from the close-up above, there are several circles in easier driving distance for us, such as Granger Lake WMA, Buescher/Bastrop State Park in Bastrop County, and McKinney Roughs Nature Park in Bastrop County aren’t too bad. Linda Jo points out that she knows that in the past, ECR members have traveled to all these locations for training or volunteer events.  

Linda Jo would like to especially recommend the McKinney Roughs location, because it is being led by Nicolaus Cowey, a very knowledgeable bird person. The count led by Sheila Hargis of the Lost Pines TMN chapter at Buescher/Bastrop would also be a worthwhile experience. Sue Ann really likes Granger Lake for its variety of shore birds.

Here is contact information on each of these locations. Contact the compiler to register and get more information:

Date: Saturday, December 29
Compiler: Byron Stone
Granger Lake, in Williamson County, is 35 miles northwest of Austin. The area is significant due to its reputation for harboring threatened prairie species like MOUNTAIN PLOVER and SHORT-EARED OWL. Other specialties and expected species include a variety of duck and geese, BURROWING OWL, HORNED LARK, SPRAGUE’S PIPIT, LAPLAND LONGSPUR, MCCOWN’S LONGSPUR, and as many as 18 sparrow species, including HARRIS’S and LECONTE’S SPARROW. The area offers diverse habitat, and participants will have the opportunity to count open farmland, fresh water, riparian woodland, and Blackland Prairie habitat.

Lost Pines/McKinney Roughs
Date: Friday, December 28
Compiler: Nicholas Cowey
This CBC is located in Bastrop County between the Bastrop CBC and Austin CBC circles and just a bit to the north. This count is a community collaboration between the Lower Colorado River Authority, Bastrop Audubon Society and the Lost Pines Master Naturalists. This year the count will take place Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018 and will include the properties of McKinney Roughs, Hyatt Lost Pines, Webberville, Utley, numerous rural areas around Elgin, many area county roads and neighborhoods including Crystal Lake, Bluebonnet Acres, Wilbarger Bend, Union Chapel and Young’s Prairie Road. The count also encompasses miles of the lower Colorado River. Count starts on Saturday, Dec. 30 at 6 am at McKinney Roughs Visitor Center. Plan to arrive by 5:30 am to meet up with your count group. Countdown will take place at 6:00 pm at the McKinney Roughs Visitors Center. Register online at

Buescher – Bastrop State Parks
Date: To Be Announced
Compiler: Shelia Hargis
We need many birders to adequately survey the birds in the circle area to find all of the expected species and the rare species visiting the area. We would especially like to have some feeder watchers, so if you live within the circle and have bird feeders including hummingbird feeders, please consider participating in that way. All groups will begin their day from a location of their choosing. We will meet at the end of the day for the countdown. Email to register or visit our website at for more information as well as maps of the areas to be covered.

Perhaps there is a date and location you will be able to participate.  This is a great opportunity to earn some end of the year volunteer hours. Please let Linda Jo know if you plan to participate, in case we want to coordinate rides.

Report hours as Cit. Sci. – Cornell / Audubon TMN Field Research Hours.

All about Bluebirds

Bluebirds chowing down on meal worms. Photo by John Martin, used with permission.

Better late than never, here’s a summary of what we learned at the November Chapter meeting. We’re really grateful to Donna Lewis for stepping up to the plate and delivering an informative talk based on information from the Texas Bluebird Society. Here’s a bit of what she shared:

Donna points out a bluebird fact as we all listen.

Right now, people in our area are seeing bluebirds, mostly in the rural areas. The ones we see are Eastern bluebirds, though the Mountain bluebird and Western bluebird are also seen in parts of Texas. Note that the three species do crossbreed and that there are eight sub-species of the Eastern bluebirds.

They are in the thrush family, like robins, and usually live around two years, though they can live up to 6-8 years. They usually have blue eggs, with the occasional clutch of white eggs. They can nest from 2-4 times per year, depending on the conditions.

Continue reading “All about Bluebirds”

Black Friday Opt Out-Side Challenge: November 29, 2019

by Linda Jo Conn

Are you eagerly plotting out your itinerary for a day of frenzied shopping on Black Friday?  Looking forward to the crowded aisles and long lines at the checkout stations?  Can’t wait to join thousands of others bargain hunting for Christmas season deals and gifts that the ads and commercials have been urging us to buy because they are deemed necessary for happiness and fulfillment on Christmas Day? 

Photo by Ann Collins.

Just thinking about all that hassle makes me want to pull back into my shell, just like this three-toed box turtle shown on the left.  Fellow ECR member Ann Collins observed this Terrapene carolina ssp. triunguis, a species of concern, in the suburbs of Milano in 2018.

I certainly will not be charging out of my front door before dawn on Friday to spend my money and rub elbows with other frenzied shoppers.   

What I am doing is challenging all fellow El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist Chapter members and friends to an alternate activity for the day: The Black Friday Opt Out-Side Challenge. 

Continue reading “Black Friday Opt Out-Side Challenge: November 29, 2019”

Take Our Survey, Please!

We hope you’ve been enjoying the autumn sunsets!

Hi there, friends. We’ve been planning the activities and speakers for the coming year. So that Donna Lewis can get started with finding speakers, and Pamela Neeley can work on finding activities for us to participate in, we made a little survey you can take.

We welcome your input, whether you are a current member, a lapsed member, a former member, or someone who might be interested in coming to a meeting just to learn about the nature of Texas. It’s important to meet the needs of the people who participate in the Texas Master Naturalist program here in Milam County (and the surrounding area), so we really want to hear from YOU.

Here’s the link to our survey.

Please share whatever you want to. You don’t have to answer every question, just provide any ideas you have, big or small.

Hey! We Have a Class Coming Up!

Let’s not forget that Kathy Lester is putting together another wonderful Master Naturalist class, which starts in January and will be held in central Cameron. Do you know anyone who would be interested in attending? All they need to do is call Kathy at the number below to sign up and get more information! Please share far and wide.

The class times are now 5:30-9:30 pm.

Girl Scout Event at Wildscape

We haven’t heard much from the Wildscape project at Bird and Bee Farm, but we got a report and some photos from Catherine Johnson this week. Let’s see what’s going on!

The Texas Master Naturalist, El Camino Chapter recently hosted a successful Milam County Girl Scout program.

A total of 97 people attended, including 52 Scouts.  USDA Conservationists Ben McNally and Tyler Lawson presented a program on soil and shared a walk-through tunnel. 

The soil tunnel

The Scouts enjoyed dinner, gifts, and tours of the Wildscape and the Bird and Bee Farn chickens.

Here’s a collection of photos from the event: