Blog of the El Camino Real Chapter, Texas Master Naturalists, Milam County, Texas
Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall
The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!
The second week of May brought an issue up at my house that I have not had before. Blue birds hitting my windows trying to catch insects. I was worried they would hurt their beaks and my window panes.
I tried putting objects in front of the window, placing furniture inside of the house that showed thru, decals made just for this purpose and just waiting outside to scare the birds away. All with no luck. The pounding went on all day.
Then Linda remembered that we had saved some plastic construction fencing from when our house was built. Strong and lightweight. So we put some up around the house and it worked.
I don’t know what was different this year that caused the birds to do this, I just hope it doesn’t happen again.
When we learned about scientific names in the training classes, we were introduced to how the name of the person that initially described them is often appended to the name. At the time, it seemed rather redundant.
As I found out recently, it can be very useful. I’ve been trying to untangle the lapidicina group of Pardosa wolf Spiders in Texas. These are the largest of the Pardosa spiders around here, and they like rocks, especially limestone outcrops. Their common name is stone spiders because of it.
I’m not aware of any in Milam County, but there are some at Granger Lake just next door. There are also some along Brushy Creek in Williamson County and several places along the lake near Belton in Bell County. In total, there are four species in Texas, which are apparently found in limited areas that don’t necessarily overlap.
Here’s what happened. P. sierra was described by Banks in 1898 from specimens collected in Baja California. P. atromedia (California) and sura were described subsequently. In 1959, Barnes decided they were all the same species, P. sierra, which had an immense range in southwestern U.S. and in Mexico. This was based on similar morphology of genitalia.
Then, in 2010, Correa-Ramirez et al. looked at the genetic code of specimens and concluded that they were indeed separate species, and that atromedia was in California, sierra was in Baja California, and sura was everywhere else. Additional studies may eventually add to these ranges, but for us it’s very likely that Texas has sura and not sierra. The other species in Texas are lapidicina, mercurialis, and vadosa. They are difficult to tell apart and all appear to come in a variety of colors and patterns.
[Better late than never, we’re catching up with contributions!]
Earth Day at the Birds and Bees Wildscape proved to be a banner attendance day for both members and visitors. There were 15 members of the El Camino Real Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist present to visit with the 80+ visitors that came to the site Saturday, April 24.
Members visited with visitors and handed out bags full of goodies. There were pamphlets, booklets, posters, wildflower seeds, vegetable seeds, bird feeders, painted rocks, and snacks to be had. They also got to stroll through the wildscape and the bird farm.
The wildscape has quite a few blooming plants. I found Zizotes Milkweed and Butterfly Milkweed that are just starting to bud out. Verbena and Blue Sage were big draws for butterflies and bumblebees. The rose bush was in bloom, and the Malabar Spinach is making a strong comeback.
Alan Rudd and Scott Berger hung Mason Bee nests, and Alan gave several to members. He’s tracking where the most of them get nested in the area to decide the best places to put them. Alan, I, and a cute little blonde-headed girl also discovered a stinging plant hanging out around the flowers. It really stings (see our recent stinging nettle post!). Ask the little blond-headed girl. Painted rocks and chocolate chip cookies couldn’t even stop her fussing.
Members got Guinea eggs that had been laid in the wildscape under a plant, and some new native flowers to plant at home. Alan Rudd took many of the eggs to hatch. I hope we’ll get to see pictures here.
And a word of caution, wear gloves when cleaning out around the flowers, and don’t leave your phone in your back pocket when you go to the outhouse (that happens to be plumbed).
This week, I bare handedly pulled what I thought was a little weed in my garden. Hot Dog!!! The little beauty was a stinging nettle plant (Urtica dioica).
Stinging doesn’t really describe it; it’s more like intense pain instantly!! The family and genus comes from the Latin uro which means “I burn”.
Being a Master Naturalist, I try not to label anything a “weed.” Everything has a purpose for someone. Nettle plants actually have a lot of good things nature and humans can use them for. Here are some examples:
This nettle is the host plant for the Red Admiral and Question Mark butterflies.
It makes a soothing tea.
Parts of it are edible when cooked properly.
The stinging nettle is not to be confused with the larger Bull Nettle, which also has redeeming qualities, like beautiful white flowers.
But, beware to handle it with care. Some leather gloves might help.
I bet, at least for a while, I will be more careful.
PS: This post was from the end of April, but your blogger has had some issues getting posts done. Time to catch up!
[We realize there has been a gap in blog entries. Don’t worry; next week there will be a lot of catch-up posts. Your blog poster has had some “issues” and been out of town, but they are resolving and she’s coming back to Texas soon.]
Today my head’s all full of learning, because I attended the Texas Master Naturalist program’s latest in the Be the Change series, which is a part of our diversity and inclusion initiative. The things I learned completely dovetailed with some of the things I’ve been observing and thinking about in my time in South Carolina, so I’m just processing away.
I’m one of those “well-meaning white people” who want to help create a more diverse world and be good allies (or co-agitators, as someone said today). I know that some of our good intentions do not go over well, though, so I’m in the learning stage (which today I discovered to be a good thing).
The speaker I listened to today was Alex Bailey, of San Antonio, who founded the Black Outside organization.
Black Outside, Inc has one simple mission: Reconnect Black/ African-American youth to the outdoors through culturally relevant outdoor experiences
Bailey did a great job of coming across as friendly and funny, even when he was making points that could make listeners uncomfortable. One of my favorite things he reminded us was that, although many of today’s black youth have little camping or wilderness experience, that was not always the case. As he pointed out, Harriet Tubman just didn’t pile all those people into an SUV and drive them to safety. He also reminded us that rural black folks have a rich history of fishing, hunting, and living off the land.
While Bailey talked to us about the importance of observing, learning, and reflecting (see graphic below for his actual words) before trying to bring the outdoors to young people of color, he gave us a lot of insights, including some about swimming. He pointed out that well meaning event organizers often include water activities without letting the families of the black participants know they are coming up. Why is this a problem?
Hair. That’s the problem. In my day, that may have been an issue, too, because swimming, afros, and Afro-Sheen didn’t go together well, That’s nothing compared to some of the elaborate hair styles young black people have today. You know, those braids could be ruined under water. And if you do an activity that requires a helmet (in or outside water), well, some styles won’t fit, period. Young people might miss out on fun, just because they hadn’t prepared a water-friendly hair style. (And yes, a lot of black women where I am today are NOT dunking their heads.)
That’s just one example where pausing to learn about cultural differences can lead to better experiences. And that’s one reason why Bailey suggested that, rather than volunteer to teach black kids directly, allies can provide materials or training to black mentors who can then work with the kids, who really benefit from seeing people who look like them in positions of authority about nature and the outdoors. That makes a lot of sense to me!
For sure, this was a very helpful step in my journey toward being a good BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) ally and a better Master Naturalist, and it reminded me how much I still have to learn. I’m quite glad for that!
I highly recommend that all of you, whether you’re a Master Naturalist or not, head over to the Be the Change page on the Texas Master Naturalist website and listen to this presentation. It’s a great way to get an hour of Advanced Training! You will also find a link to Bailey’s interesting TED Talk and other useful information.