Milkweeds and a Woodpecker

by Lisa Milewski

Milkweed Report

Members of our chapter have been participating in a Monarch Watch Milkweed Project, where we each try to grow some plants and carefully monitor them. Mine don’t seem to be growing as well as some of the others’ plants. Maybe I’m over-thinking!

I picked up the plants on May 2. They are antelope horns (Asperula).

That’s the plants, bottom left.

I planted them on May 4 in a raised bed garden (formerly my vegetable herb garden that didn’t do well since I am still learning how to get a green thumb.J  However, I left the fern leaf dill for the black swallowtail caterpillars which love them are doing well. 

The planting spot.

They are in mixed soil (1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite).

Since the planting, I have tracked the rainfall and dates I hand watered the plants. I take photos of them every week for my logbook. Here are the most recent pictures:

I’m going to try to add the grass clippings around and not water too much, maybe?  Wish me luck. 

Annie the Woodpecker

I told the people at last week’s chapter meeting about Annie the red-bellied woodpecker, who has been hanging around the food pantry in the church building in Hutto where I do a lot of my volunteer work.

We’re hoping to discourage her from pecking away at the wooden cross on the property, but not chase her away entirely. I have really enjoyed watching Annie. These pictures are taken through a dirty window, but you can see her pretty well!

July in the Garden

by Catherine Johnson

Last weekend, Bird and Bee Farm reopened again after selling out twice. A diversity of customers from Houston, Dallas and surrounding counties came, all practicing safety rules. 

The ducks and some guineas were a popular attraction.

Some plants were for sale, while the Master Naturalist table gave away nature books donated by Donna Lewis as well as nature brochures.

Plants and books for sale.

The highlight for me was giving the first tours of the Milam Wildscape.

One gentleman said the giant hibiscus was the prettiest flower he had ever seen. A Houston firefighter is coming back in the fall for native plants from the garden. 

hibiscus flower
The beautiful hibiscus flower

I will send out notices on future events and the next quail release. Enjoy some more photos from around the garden, until next time!

One More News Item

Remember when we released quail into the rehabilitated prairie area? They must be doing well, because we found eggs!

Bobwhite eggs. Such a great sign.

The Checkered Beetle and the Painful Plant

by Marian Buegeler and Sue Ann Kendall

This month’s iNaturalist observation of the month was this beautiful image of a checkered beetle (Trichodes bibalteatus), photographed by Marian Buegeler of our 2020 class.

Marian reports:

[It] is sitting on a vine that iNat identified as sorrelvine (Cissus trifoliata). It is a beautiful vine that grows like crazy all over the family farm. 

I have always referred to this vine as poison ivy, because anytime I come in contact with it I break out in a nasty rash that gets identified at the docs office as poison ivy/poison oak.  

The flowers.

Sue Ann adds: The iNaturalist entry says that sorrelvine is a member of the grape family, and native to the US. It’s very common in this area (Sue Ann’s family lives nearby and reports they have it on their property, too, and it causes allergic reactions as well, though maybe because it’s near actual poison ivy).

From Marian: Here are three more pictures of insects on the sorrelvine.

Another beautiful beetle on this vine.
It must be delicious.

I put these on iNat and they have been identified as Grapevine Beetle (Pelidnota punctuate), Delta Flower Scarab (Trigonopeltastes delta), and Bumelia Borer (Plinthocoelium suaveolen). Although, only the Bumelia Borer has reached research grade status.

This is definitely a scarab.

I have also seen lots of wasps and grasshoppers enjoying a meal at this vine. It certainly seems to be the place to eat! I just wish I wasn’t allergic to it.

Do any of you readers have more experience with this vine?

Nature around the Johnson House

by Catherine Johnson and Sue Ann Kendall

Today, Cathy is sharing some of the wildlife she’s found around her home outside of Rockdale. That moth is amazing, isn’t it? We hope you enjoy this photo essay!

From top left, clockwise: Gulf Coast Toad and toad house, black witch moth (I think), wolf spider, milk snails, leopard frog.

Toad Abodes and Frog Fun

by Pamela Neeley and Sue Ann Kendall

Last week, Sue Ann got all excited when she spotted a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) in her little pond at her ranch. She also saw 14 bullfrogs and a Gulf Coast toad, and wrote a blog post about it. When she mentioned the leopard frog at our July Chapter Meeting, lots of members chimed in that they’d been seeing them in large numbers this year.

Toad in the water, frog well camouflaged on the shore.

This morning, Pamela went out into her garden and found a truly magnificent leopard frog specimen. We agreed that this had to be shared.

Hello! How do you like my eye stripe?

The stripes and the way they got through the toad’s eyes are so interesting, and the color is almost glowing! Pamela measured its belly print at over three inches. That’s a big one.

Look at those long legs! You can tell it’s a true frog.

Pamela mentioned that she has more than one toad house on her property, which some of the frogs apparently use, too. Here’s the really pretty one.

Any toad would appreciate such a fine home.

But the plain ones work just fine, too, as long as you leave the bottom open, so their bellies can rest on the dirt.

Perfectly adequate toad home.
Now you can see its pretty white belly.

Making a toad abode is easy and fun. Here’s a great page Pamela found, from the Houston Arboretum Nature Center on how to make toad abodes of many charming styles, along with a lot more information about them. Don’t forget, they will need a source of water!

What kinds of toads and frogs do you have where you live?