Great Horned Owl Release at Cedar Hill Ranch

by Joyce and Mike Conner

In the afternoon of June 2, 2020, three young Great Horned Owls were gathered and placed in a large dog carrier.

1:  Sara Prepares the Owls for Their Journey

Their destination was Cedar Hill Ranch, Gause, Texas, for release into the wild after being saved and rehabilitated by All Things Wild Rehabilitation.

Later that evening they and their human volunteers arrived at Cedar Hill Ranch.

2. Owls in Carrier
3: Conners and Sara Ready for a Release

After a short drive to a meadow with ponds surrounded by mixed forest, the birds were released one by one. Conner grandchildren were visiting the ranch that day and were able to participate in the release.

5: Sara Releases Another Owl
4: Sara Releases an Owl
6: One of the Released Owls

One owl posed for photos high up in a nearby tree before heading farther out into his new home environment.

Little Foot, 6/2/2020

Another owl, four weeks younger than the other two, stopped in a nearby cedar tree, and posed for a long time. We later learned that his human caretaker had named him “Little Foot”.

After about an hour, the humans returned to the ranch house and left the owls to live out their days wild in the area.

Update

Six days later Little Foot appeared at the Cedar Hill ranch house begging for food by clicking his beak and screeching.

Watch Little Foot asking for food.
8: Little Foot Returns, 6/8/2020

We were advised by the All Things Wild staff to make noise with pots and pans so that he would not be comfortable near the house and would return to the woods. Although he flew away that evening, he reappeared the next morning. This time he flew directly up to us and pecked at our legs. This behavior indicated to everyone that he was not ready for release in the wild, as he was still relying on humans to provide food to him.

We were then told to lure Little Foot into an enclosure to hold him until Sara was able to get him that evening. Joyce tied a piece of raw chicken to a string and led him slowly several hundred feet into one of our chicken coop enclosures.

9: Luring Little Foot

At one point Little Foot grabbed the chicken and tried to get it away from Joyce. Although hungry, he was surprisingly strong.

10: Little Foot Grabs the Chicken Piece
11: Little Foot Waits in a Chicken Coop Enclosure

Sara and friends arrived that evening. They took Little Foot back to the All Things Wild Rehabilitation Center where he will live in their “flight” cage. They will feed him only live food for about a month to get him ready for a second release attempt.

12: Sara and Friends Recapture Little Foot, 6/9/2020

Can You Help?

All Things Wild Rehabilitation (ATW) is looking for places to release animals to the wild. Usually, they like a site to have a source of water and for landowners to be willing to put out food for the young animals for about 2 weeks until the animals learn how to forage on their own. However, we have been a release site five times and have never been asked to put out food.

If you find a wild animal that you think needs help, visit the ATW website at and review “Found An Animal?” information. If after reviewing that information, you decide you need to contact the center about the animal, call 512-897-0806.

If you are interested in becoming a release site, the following information is from their website.

How to Become a Release Site

The goal of wildlife rehabilitation is to return the bird or the animal to the wild. We release the rehabilitated animals on private property with permission from the owner. All Things Wild is always looking for good release sites. Here are our dream criteria for releasing most small mammals and raptors:

  • Acreage, preferably 10 acres or more, with woods,
  • No high fences,
  • Water year-round,
  • Away from busy highways, communities, houses, and lots of people,
  • Accessible by vehicle or hiking,
  • Willingness to do a soft release* if necessary, and
  • An appreciation of wild animals.

If you would like to offer your land as a release site for ATW, please email allthingswildrehab@gmail.com.Thank you!

*A soft release is when food is left out for released animals until they become accustomed to foraging in the wild.

More about Great Horned Owls

If you’d like to learn more about these amazing birds, please download this PDF fact sheet that Joyce made to help educate her grandchildren, based on information she found on the web.

Quail Release

by Ann Collins and Catherine Johnson

Catherine Johnson and I had a spectacularly rare treat this week. We were visiting the Bird and Bee Farm, where Catherine has created a marvelous wildflower garden. If you haven’t seen it, you really must go. It is full of color, texture, and scents. Guinea fowl and chickens roam free, gobbling up grasshoppers and other noxious critters. Catherine even shares the overflow (flowers, not grasshoppers!).

Bobwhite quail. Image by @JBL via Twenty20

Gene and Cindy Rek have turned their hundred-acre property into a prairie paradise. You may already know they sell laying hens of every description. They also sell Rio Grande turkeys, guinea fowl, and Peking ducks.* This week they added another member of the feather family: Bobwhite Quail.

After an early morning trip to Bastrop, they came back with two flax boxes with breathing holed punched in them. Inside were thirty pairs of breedign quail. Gene carried the boxes out in some tall grass and gently set them down. He cut the strings on box #1 and carefully lifted the lid, revealing an almost-solid carpet of mottled brown feathers.

Just as we were taking in the scene, it suddenly erupted and flew away. Not at all what I was expecting!

Here’s what we saw:

The next box we were somewhat prepared for, but it was just as exciting when it was opened and thirty quail breathed a sigh of ecstasy and got their first taste of prairie freedom.

While we stood, adjusting to this miracle of Nature, the birds immediately started calling to one another with their signature whistle of, “Bob White!”

Later we saw several of them on the pond margins, trying to make sense of this incredible gift they had been given. Hopefully, most will survive to repopulate an area that was once their native habitat before every scrap of nature was cleared away for cattle, monocultures, and civilization, before pesticides, GMOs, and chemicals.

This is supposedly quail. Photo by @Tereza via Twenty20

These birds were all full grown, but future plans include day-old chicks to be raised in the barn and released later this summer.

There will be a coming out party when they are old enough, and all of you are invited to the celebration. Cindy will let us know when it is. It will be fun: a step back in time and a step forward toward restoration of a native prairie, right here in Milam County.

Mark your calendars!


*The farm is open only by appointment, and they are booked many weeks ahead. Please call them at (512) 808-8533 to reserve an opening! You can drop by and look at the gardens at any time.

Nebulatettix subgracilis, Blackland Baby?

by Eric Neubauer

This grasshopper wins the award for best Texas Blackland camouflage.  It is so good that it could well have evolved here. Nymphs are especially difficult to see.

iNaturalist observation by E. Neubauer

Unlike some other grasshopper species, its appearance is fairly consistent from individual to individual. It is also relatively common, at least in my neighborhood. Observations at iNaturalist suggest a range from just over the border in Mexico, north up through the center of Texas, and just into Oklahoma.

This was my first big ID challenge. I started noticing these last fall soon after I joined iNaturalist. There wasn’t much help on iNaturalist with less than 24 observations, most misidentified, and few if any research grade. How can this happen with an everyday species? Well, first this species was named Encoptolophus subgracilis until recently. A recent genetic study of the Chortophagini resulted in a new genus and realignment of several species. The second is that grasshoppers don’t have a lot of fans and people tend to concentrate on the easy ones.

The view that gives the accurate ID.

Eventually I found the published article on line which provided some guidance. While a lot of the focus was on genitalia, which are rarely visible in live photographs, there were also details of the cranial ridges between the eyes for this and a half dozen related species. From that point on, all that was necessary to confirm an ID was a sharp, overhead photograph (at right).

The cranial ridges look like a bottle with slightly curved sides an a short neck to me. Another characteristic is the bright blue tibia which stands out against the salt and pepper body when the hind legs are flicked out during mating displays (see photo below).

This species can probably be found throughout Milam County from at least May through October.

Fun times for the dusky grasshoppers – blue area visible.

Texas Terrors

by Eric Neubauer

The owlfly (Ululodes macleayanus) isn’t really that scary to humans. It’s just an insect whose lineage goes way back to when dragonflies ruled the skies. It hunts at night and is closely related to antlions. Antlion larva dig pits in sand and hide at the bottom waiting from prey to slide down the sloping sides. I knew about antlions and encountered pits dug by larva, but never heard anything about owlflies.

This becomes the first iNaturalist observation of the Ululodes for Milam County (there are 800 in Texas, so they’re pretty obscure. I only got a single photo and was lucky to get that since it was perched on a grass stalk in the wind. It was taken with the macro lens I just bought.

You may recall the Anthrax pluto fly specimen I observed a while back. It turns out that the next week, Sue Ann Kendall saw another one, Anthrax larrea. I saw the same kind the next day! Between the two of us, we had most of the verified iNat observations in the whole United States.

I went through the Anthrax observations for Texas and found four as yet to be identified ones. So now there are seven. That the neat thing about this kind of research. Eventually there can be a lot of positive fallout.

It does appear to be one of the rarer species though since that’s only 7 out of 121 Anthrax observations in Texas.

Anthrax larrea

Caterpillar Season

Cindy Travis and Sue Ann Kendall

From Cindy:

I found a dozen of these caterpillars devouring my dill. When there was nothing but a stem left, they crawled up the side of my planter and crawled away. I thought they might find the nearby parsley and ingest it too, but no sign of that and no sign if them.

I suppose they are somewhere nearby spinning their cocoons.  Maybe I’ll see some pretty black swallowtails around soon if my nesting phoebes and barn swallows or bluebirds don’t get them first!

From Sue Ann:

I have had many of these in my bronze fennel plant, and I hope they have gone off to pupate, too! The fennel also hosted the caterpillar of the cabbage looper moth. I’ll plant dill next year, for sure. The more black swallowtails, the better!

More about the Black Swallowtail, from Cindy

Papilio polyxenes, the black swallowtail, American swallowtail or parsnip swallowtail, is a butterfly found throughout much of North America. It is the state butterfly of Oklahoma and New Jersey. Wikipedia

Eastern black swallowtail. Photo by @AngelsLight via Twenty20. Licensed use.

Black Swallowtail Life Cycle: Overview and Timings

StageTypical Duration
Egg stageGenerally 4 to 10 days, depending on temperature and host plant
Caterpillar (larval) stage3 to 4 weeks
Chrysalis (pupal) stage10 to 20 days (except for overwintering pupae)
Adult butterfly stage6 to 14 days
Facts about the Black Swallowtail

And More from Sue Ann

I had to add this observation from last night, as I was dining outdoors at the Central Avenue Bistro in Cameron (with safe distancing and all that). I felt something prickling my ankle and looked down to find this fellow. It must be on the last instar, because it’s big! I believe it’s a live oak metria moth (Metria amelia) given that it and many friends were falling from the live oak tree we were sitting under, though iNaturalist has yet to confirm me.

Hard to tell the front from the back of this one!

The moth looks like this, which really would blend right in with an oak tree!

Live oak metria moth. iNaturalist photo by xylochic627 (CC-NY-NC)