Purple Martins: A Field Trip

by Sue Ann Kendall

Thanks to some impressive detective work, a group of folks from the El Camino Real Master Naturalist group, along with some Master Gardeners and friends, got to visit what may be the largest privately-owned collection of purple martin houses in the US.

Who, What, Where?

For years, people had been telling our resident purple martin expert, Donna Lewis, that there was “a guy in Milam County” with a whole lot of purple martin houses. She never could find out where the “guy” was, until the intrepid Cathy Johnson got wind of where he might be. So, they called him up and visited the place recently. It’s probably the highlight of Donna’s birding career.

Donna and Cathy just had to show all these purple martin houses and the mega-house to the rest of us.

Well, of course, they knew we’d all want to visit, too, so they arranged for us to visit the beautiful ranch property of Mike McCormick, a ways outside of Buckholts in Milam County.

Field Trip!

We headed out this morning and were treated to a drive through some of the most beautiful countryside in this area. Cathy and I were in the lead car, and were really relieved to find the place, since Apple Maps had no idea where it was.

Beautiful property in Milam County.
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Bats at the July Chapter Meeting

We got to enjoy some really great information on bats around the world from Cindy Bolch at our July Chapter Meeting in Milano. She brought lots of interesting handouts and gave us a really good overview of why bats are our friends.

A few highlights that I learned:

Cindy Bolch and her bat information.

There are mega-bats and micro-bats.

The mega-bats are all found in Asia and use sight and smell to find food. Flying foxes are a primary example. They are just about as adorable as an animal can be (that was an opinion), and they have many specific adaptations to prey (fish, birds, etc.) or terrain.

Here’s a bat going after a frog.

Micro-bats are the ones here in the Americas and elsewhere. They primarily eat nectar, fruit, or insects and find their food through echolocation.

There are six types of bats found in Texas, though most of us are primarily familiar with the Mexican free-tailed bats that spend summers in this part of Texas eating lots and lots of insects. They spend days in caves (or under bridges as in Austin, Round Rock, and even Milano) and fly out at night to eat. Most of the ones we see here are females with pups.

The wings of bats have “fingers” spread out in them, making them very flexible and maneuverable. Bird “fingers” are all fused at the tops of their wings. Most bats mainly use their toes to hang on where they perch, but like I said earlier, some have long claws to catch prey, and a few, like vampire bats, can actually walk.

Also at the meeting, Linda Jo Conn received her 2500 hour pin.

Even if you already knew a lot of bat information, you couldn’t help but be amazed by the variety of bats in the first video Cindy showed, and you couldn’t help but be charmed by the sweet baby bats in the second video. They look like flying dogs. Aww.

I know I’ll be telling lots of people the tidbits I picked up at the presentation!

Cathy Johnson got her 250 hour pin! The first of the 2018 class to hit that milestone!

Caterpillars Galore!

by Larry Kocian

A few weeks ago, I noticed a Swallowtail butterfly flying frantically in my tropical garden, going back and forth. It would land on this volunteer plant that I didn’t know what it was until now. I realized that this Swallowtail was laying its eggs on this plant.

Happy babies

It turns out the volunteer tree is a Prickly Ash. After the egg laying, I noticed five caterpillars a few weeks later. They look like bird poop. They were happily eating each day and staying here.

They did a good job chomping at the ash!

I would check them daily. Then over time, I noticed one disappeared. Then the next couple of days, two more disappeared. Oops.

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What Goes Yip-yip…Eww?

We thought you’d enjoy a story about a fox and a skunk.

The Hermits' Rest

I’ll tell you! It gave me a happy surprise yesterday, and who doesn’t love a happy surprise? I especially love one that leads to nature observations and stories.

I was leaving work around 5 pm, as workers tend to do, and turned left out of the parking garage. That road leads between two sets of offices, but is shady and has lots of trees. It once was a lovely park-like area, and some parts of it still are.

I looked ahead after making the turn and saw something in the road. Usually, you see deer, since the herd that’s always lived in the area is still here. But, no, this looked more canine.

As I got closer, I ruled out dogs. As I got even closer, I easily ruled out coyotes by looking at the tale. It was a native gray fox! You usually don’t see them when it’s light…

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Reclaiming Mined Land

by Sue Ann Kendall

Our June Chapter Meeting speaker was Marty Irwin, who had a long and successful career doing range conservation for Alcoa and other companies who performed strip mining for coal in this area. After Gary Johnson introduced him, Marty shared some pretty fascinating details with us, so I thought I’d summarize them for any who were unable to attend. (I was so busy writing that I didn’t get my usual zillions of blog photos. Oops.)

So, here’s his Facebook picture, appropriately enough, with a large buck.

If I get any facts wrong, I apologize in advance. Also, note that his presentation wasn’t compatible with our laptop, so we all imagined what he was talking about as he went along. Thank goodness he was good at describing.

Mike Conner got his 1,000 volunteer hour milestone pin, too. Congratulations!
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