Last week I turned on my porch light every night at “dark thirty” to attract moths I could photograph and submit to the National Moth Week 2021 project on iNaturalist.org. This year was a bit cooler and more moist than most of the past years, and also a bit brighter because of the full moon. Although I thought I did pretty well with my very basic mothing equipment and a “point-shoot-and-hope” camera, I was amazed by the quality and quantity of observations my Texas Master Naturalist / iNaturalist friends across the state of Texas submitted.
Becoming a Master Naturalist has truly changed my life for the better. One thing that’s enriched my life is using iNaturalist. I’ve learned so much about the world around me, in particular right where I live. Our property is north of Cameron and has woods, pastures, a creek, springs, and an arroyo. That means there’s lots to see! I thought I’d share some of the summer life from this year.
First off, I’ve learned to look down and look for anything on a leaf that doesn’t look like a leaf. However, this beetle wasn’t hard to spot. It’s teeny tiny, but was so shiny it caught my eye. I think I now have a favorite beetle, and have plenty here for it to eat!
The Mottled Tortoise Beetle is a member of the Leaf Beetle family. It is found on morning glory flowers, leaves, and vines as well as milkweed plants. Their spiny, flat larvae look more like little dark centipedes and they eat these plants while they grow and develop into rounder, shiny adults. Though they may punch holes into the leaves of the plants, they rarely cause enough harm to damage or kill the plant unless it is young or a seedling. They are not considered an agricultural pest or threat.
This week, I’m supposed to have been looking for moths, for this year’s National Moth Week collection. However, I’ve only located two. One is bright and cheery, plus it was on my car, which made it easy to see, while the other is one of those common brown ones that will soon be legion if the chickens don’t eat more of the armyworm moth caterpillars. I spotted it, because it was something that didn’t look like a leaf, but was on one of our tomatoes (which got damaged thanks to herbicide drift from the cotton across the road, grr.)
I’m always on the lookout for things that are blooming, because one of my goals when I retire is to compare when I have uploaded flowers over different years to see if they change. That’s why I keep recording observations on the ranch, even though it doesn’t count for Master Naturalist hours unless it’s part of an approved project (so, the beetle doesn’t count, but the moths do). I’m just curious about my local ecosystem and don’t need awards to motivate me at this point!
Most of the flowers I’ve been finding are in the pink to purple family, except those snake apples. I just learned they can also be called globeberries. Huh.
Of course, there are lots and lots of insects, particularly the differential grasshoppers who are dominating every moment of my outdoor life. Chickens like them a lot, though. The spiders have been interesting this year, though, and I’ve seen some new ones. I’ll also share the deep black beetle and one of the snakes that has been eating the eggs my hens produce. They seem to have gotten smarter and stopped hanging around in the hen house, which makes them easier to find and dispose of.
So, what’s thriving over where you live? Have you seen any of these species? We love it when you share your experiences on our blog! Contact me at ecrmnpresident at gmail.
by Carolyn Henderson, with additional photos from Linda Jo Conn
Young girls with boundless curiosity swarmed the Birds and Bees Wildscape Saturday, July 17, to perform public service in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Girl Scouts of the USA. The El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalists hosted the event.
Approximately 40 scouts and their leaders and parents attended the event. It started with talks given by Catherine Johnson, Donna Lewis and Alan Rudd. An additional 15 ECRMN members helped the girls.
Donna Lewis spoke to them about planting milkweed to help promote the continuation of monarch butterflies. Alan Rudd spoke about the control of mosquitos with a totally natural method. Many adults were particularly interested in controlling mosquitos. The scouts then put that information into practice by planting milkweed in several sections of the wildscape.
The girls and members were also excited to watch the release of many Bob-white quail into the pasture at the Bird and Bee Farm. The pasture is in the process of being returned to its natural state, and the quail were released to try to repopulate the area with a native bird that once was abundant in the area. They are rarely found east of I-35 now.
The girls also found stray eggs laid by other birds on the farm [guinea fowl], and monarch caterpillars that were already on the Milkweed plants that were to be planted Saturday. It was an informative and entertaining day for everyone and the scouts left with bags full of goodies and some native Texas plants to grow at home.
So much went on! Enjoy more photos, as well as some taken by Linda Jo Conn. What a fun day! Click a photo to see it enlarged.
I know you all were wondering earlier this year what I was going to do to this small garden in my front pasture area. The freeze took every single plant to the ground. Laid to waste.
I was not able to weed it, or really do any work in it like I always have for many years. Injuries, a few too many years…it all adds up. I have been 29 several times I think.
So, let’s talk about what the garden is right now. It looks messy to us humans. But, I didn’t plant it for us. I planted it for the wildlife. This garden had lots of native plants in it and a perch I made for birds to rest on.
I planted zinnias, fennel, yarrow, sunflowers, sage, coneflowers, salvia, cowpen daisies, and a host of native things that just blew in. Freebies! And very important, I made a perch for the birds to sit on.
Many gardeners forget to put something for the birds to perch on and get off the ground where they feel safe. I cut a cattle panel in two, then took some hognose clips and made it to where it would open up. The birds love it.
All those “native plants” I had put in for years came back after the horrible weather. Even the heat and too much water has not deterred them. But all the mess has lots of bugs in it. Food for hungry birds. So, I may have just given you a reason to get out of all that work, trimming, weeding and other back breaking work.