To Edge or Not to Edge?

by Donna Lewis

Hello all.

Keeping our gardens looking neat is something most of us do. For years, when I lived in Houston, I would use a weed eater and trim with a pair of scissors.  Yes I was crazy. I thought the garden looked great!

Away with the weed eater!

So, over the years, as I learned more about nature and taking good care of it, I have altered the way I do things.

How many of you have had the awful experience of zipping along with a weed eater and cut a poor little frog in half?  I can hardly write about it. But you know it happens…so what to do?

Our toad friend.

I have found a safer way to edge the garden.  Yes it is a little more work, but my little friends are worth it. Use a sharp-shooter shovel and go slow. You will see the frogs and toads move before you hurt them. Then, you pull all the grass away from the edge, and it actually lasts longer than cutting the tops off the grass. I also find that if you edge after it has rained it’s even easier.

My technique. Doesn’t it look good?

Just a little tip from someone who loves all the critters.

Monarch Update

by Catherine Johnson

The baby monarch caterpillar I found is now a chrysalis, along with the Wildscape guys.

Here’s Baby preparing to attach.

When they emerge, they may be the last monarchs to migrate.

Making the J shape.

They are hanging on to a silk web by a Cremaster-hook.

Chrysalis complete

I gently moved the first chrysalises and repositioned them. They must be hanging upside down and with enough space to fully open their wings. If they dry with wrinkled wings, they do not survive. 

The whole group.

Have You Been Seeing Flocks of Small Purple Martins?

by Donna Lewis

I have been getting numerous calls from people about this phenomenon. 

There’s something on the fence, but what?

Most of our purple martins have left our area for Brazil now. There could be a few lost souls who just don’t want to fly fast, but most have gone south. So, what is it that everyone is seeing, including myself?

Mystery birds on a wire.

We are seeing northern rough-winged swallows.  They are in the same swallow family as the purple martins. Their Latin name is Stelgidopteryx serripennis. They are smaller and make much less noise.  Unlike the martins, they fly closer to the ground to catch live insects.  They also perch lower on fences.  Their breasts are white and they have smaller blunt-looking tails.   

Northern rough-winged swallow in Arizona. Photo by heyitshelios on iNaturalist.

The rough-winged swallows are going south also, but stop around Mexico. They are solitary unless they are migrating.

This will help you ID them in flight. Photo by davidpickett on iNaturalist.

For me the way I really know them is that they are much quieter than our martin friends. But for a moment I was reminded of the Martins and it brought a smile to my face.

Have a wonderful stay in your winter retreat little friends.

Remembering Alston Thoms

by Sue Ann Kendall

One of my early Master Naturalist memories was learning about the Native Americans in our area from Alston Thoms, a professor at Texas A&M and friend to many in our chapter, especially Mike and Joyce Conner. I always looked forward to his presentations, whether in person or virtually. We had him scheduled to speak at this month’s chapter meeting, but we hadn’t heard from him. We just learned he passed away in June. I wanted to share our condolences to all his family, friends, students, and colleagues. He was a treasure trove of knowledge about the people who lived in Texas in the past.

Here’s my favorite photo of Dr. Thoms, at our meeting location in Milano

I wrote a little about him and put a link to his memorial in my personal blog, and just wanted to share it here. If any of our chapter members would like to share more, please do.

And speaking of people who volunteer their time…yesterday, I also found out that one of our Master Naturalist mentors, an amazing human being named Alston Thoms had passed away in June, and we hadn’t heard about it… If you read his memorial page, you’ll see what a real treasure the world lost when his life ended. I learned so much about the Native Americans who lived in this part of Texas from him, and I always hungered to learn more. His teachings will live on through the work of his graduate students and the many Master Naturalists he generously taught through the years.

Here’s what I said about him in my blog from early in my Master Naturalist career:

We also had a very interesting speaker, Prof. Alston Thoms, an anthropologist from Texas A&M. He is an expert on Native American history, and focused the talk for us on what people ate in past centuries in this area. It was lots of roots and berries, cooked in earth ovens (which he does yearly for his grad students). The most “duh” moment came when he asked what the most common food source would have been. It took a while to realize that of course, it was the white-tailed deer. It’s been in the area as long as humans have, and always on the list for what’s for dinner!

I could listen to this guy all day long.

Proud of Me, May 14, 2018

So, please. If someone you care about is no longer with us, share your memories. They can mean a lot, even to people who didn’t know them, and the little things, their quirks, their stories, their adventures…they can mean more than you know to someone else.

Surprise at the Wildscape

by Catherine Johnson

While I was watering and checking milkweed at the Wildscape, I discovered for the first time, Monarch caterpillars. 

Wildscape caterpillar

So many creatures can kill them, and the fowl were roving (it is, after all, a chicken farm). I decided to take them home and raise them in my house. I have done much research on this topic and also took home milkweed stems.

They stayed in a covered container with damp paper towels in a warm bedroom.  I have since received an enclosure and vials.

The enclosure

One baby from my house was added to three from the Wildscape.

Three from the wildscape and the “baby.”

One night the Wildscape Caterpillars formed J’s . Next morning, only one was alive and shaking. My baby was ok. I saw head parts in the paper towels and was relieved to see they had shed their skin for the last time and were now a green chrysalis. I left about 20 minutes and missed seeing the last one turn! 

Shed skin and chrysalis
Chrysalises, through their screen

Baby is still going thru instars. Right before they emerge, I will space them out so they can spread their wings, dry and be released back to the Wildscape. We hope to release hundreds in the future.

Vials and chrysalises

Interesting fact: bigger caterpillars will eat babies emerging from eggs.