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!
Recently I had several clutches of Purple Martins fledge out into the world. There are more to come soon.
When they fledge, they make their first flight and leave the nest. A big step that must be successful the first time. Talk about pressure.
Right now they still perch on the gourd rack, but are out in the new world learning to fly, hunt, and socialize with their friends. They sing so loud and often; I know they must be laughing at the pure joy of it all.
How I have dreamed of flying and looking at the earth from above. I think many of us have that dream.
The Martins will be here in the US for about another eight weeks or so. Then they start to gather in huge roosts, waiting till their instincts tell them it is time to fly to their winter home in Brazil. They have dual citizenship.
In Brazil, they live in the trees until winter is over, and once again they return here to have their babies. It will be the only time they live in gourds or other man-made houses.
Their song is beautiful and one of the reasons they are so loved. It is so silent after they leave. I count the weeks till they return.
Imagine this…. eight women sharing two bathrooms in a cabin in the woods. Awakening early Saturday morning, I was in dire need of a toilet and both bathrooms were occupied. After climbing down from the top bunk, I really began to feel pressure.
Thank goodness, the first Advanced Training Class I had attended on Friday afternoon at the 2012 Master Naturalist State Meeting at Camp Allen in Navasota proved invaluable to my comfort and sanity. “Techniques for Teaching Leave No Trace Principles to Urban and Suburban Audiences” was the official class title, although a more descriptive sub-title given by the instructor was, “How to Teach Soccer Moms to Pooh in the Woods”.
Many urban and suburban people have trouble relieving themselves in the outdoors when recognizable restroom facilities are not available. Showing them simple ways to be prepared to fully enjoy the experience of being in the “back country” can be part of our enablement and education process. Necessary supplies listed by the instructor were: a small Zip lock bag, a wet wipe, and on occasion, a hand trowel.
Saturday morning, I was a Master Naturalist needing relief! I knew there were no plastic bags in the cabin cabinets, so I pulled an empty Kraft Shredded Cheese bag from the trash can. A couple of squares of Kleenex from the box on a side table in the living area sufficed for wet wipes. A six- to eight-inch deep hole to bury solid waste was not necessary at the moment for what I needed to do, so the trowel was not required.
Quickly donning jacket and shoes, I ventured out into the chill and walked into the darkness. The encroachment of the woods and my internal pressure precluded taking the prescribed 100 steps away from the cabin. Thirty steps did just fine. Blessed relief! The evidence was deposited in the cabin trash can.
I was fortunate my first training class gave me the information and permission to be able to make myself comfortable. I also became aware of the difficulty many would-be nature enthusiasts may have enjoying the outdoors because of the apparent lack of restroom facilities.
You’d think a Rabid Wolf Spider would be king of its domain. By the end of last week many had reached their prime and would be thinking about reproduction, but not this one, which was destined to become food for a spider wasp’s offspring instead.
I arrived with my camera as the wasp was dragging the paralyzed spider toward its nest. Unfortunately the early morning light was bad and the wasp was fast, so most of the photos were poorly lit and out of focus. Thus, I have to tell most of my story with words.
This is what I saw. The wasp was dragging the spider along. The wasp dropped the spider several times and appeared to wander around before returning. At first I thought it saw me as a threat and was taking evasive action, but as I watched it reach its destination, I realized how entirely focused it had been on the task at hand.
Wasps don’t have eyes in the back of their heads, so it couldn’t see where it was going while dragging the spider. Every time it dropped the spider, it had gone back to find the opening of its nest to reorient itself as it returned to the spider. It made no sense to drag the spider a long way and then find out it was in the wrong direction.
After dragging the spider about four feet and a couple of final yanks, the wasp and then the spider disappeared under the house skirting.
Most of us have these beautiful vines that come up on the ground, fences, and trellises. So besides being magnificent, who else appreciates them? Butterflies and birds, that’s who.
The vines only show up when it’s hot. Pretty lucky for us, because it’s hot here.
The Latin name for the passion vine is Passiflora incarnata. What you may not know is that many of the vines we have here are actually naturalized, not native. You can tell by the number of leaves on them which one they are.
If they have five leaves, they originally came from Asia and naturalized here. If vines have only three leaves, they are true natives. Both work well here and are host plants for the Gulf Coast and Variegated Fritillary butterfly. The vine also provides cover for other insects.
The Gulf Coast species is orange and black with silver under parts.
They use the passion vine as a host plant. They love hot weather, so only appear when the vine emerges. Pretty smart of them.
The second species of Fritillary is the Variegated variety.
They also use the passion vine as a host plant to deposit their eggs on.
The Vairegated Frittilary does not have the silvery underwings of the Gulg Coast. It looks more like a dried leaf when it has its wings up. Both Fritillaries appear in the summertime, and will leave when the weather turns cooler.
The passion vine is a great way to cover a large area in your garden. [Suna points out that the fruit is also edible and makes a lovely jelly.]