All about Bluebirds

Bluebirds chowing down on meal worms. Photo by John Martin, used with permission.

Better late than never, here’s a summary of what we learned at the November Chapter meeting. We’re really grateful to Donna Lewis for stepping up to the plate and delivering an informative talk based on information from the Texas Bluebird Society. Here’s a bit of what she shared:

Donna points out a bluebird fact as we all listen.

Right now, people in our area are seeing bluebirds, mostly in the rural areas. The ones we see are Eastern bluebirds, though the Mountain bluebird and Western bluebird are also seen in parts of Texas. Note that the three species do crossbreed and that there are eight sub-species of the Eastern bluebirds.

They are in the thrush family, like robins, and usually live around two years, though they can live up to 6-8 years. They usually have blue eggs, with the occasional clutch of white eggs. They can nest from 2-4 times per year, depending on the conditions.

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Let the Tours Begin

By Lisa Milewski

On Saturday, October 12, 2019 the Rancheria Grande Chapter of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association conducted a tour of several significant, certified sites along the El Camino Real in Milam County. 

https://photos.smugmug.com/Milam-County-Historical-Commission/Milam-County-Historical-Commission-2019/El-Camino-Real-Tour-2019/i-g5QZxqm/0/094e64ef/X2/El%20Camino%20Real%20Tour%202019-27139-X2.jpg
Local history buffs John Pruett and Geri Burnett discussed county and trail history along the route. 

The tour started in Cameron at 9:00am and ended back in Cameron at the Milam County Museum at 5pm.   

Dr. Alston Thoms, Professor of Anthropology at A&M, and Dave Cunningham provided rich and insightful commentary about Sugarloaf Mountain and the surrounding area.

Dave Cunningham

The Tour began with an introduction by Dave Cunningham on the Sugarloaf Bridge as well as a brief history of the area.  Sugarloaf Mountain is privately owned and permission is needed for tours/hikes. 

Sugarloaf Mountain
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Bryoventure III at the Big Thicket

by Ann Collins, with additional photos by Linda Jo Conn

Linda Jo Conn and I just got back from “Nature Nerd Nirvana” – a phrase coined by a fellow traveler this past weekend. Ten lucky participants were able to trail along after Master Teacher Dale Kruse on Bryoventure III. We spend three glorious days immersed in the flora and fauna of the Big Thicket National Preserve. Talk about herding cats; Dale actually had a whistle to keep us rounded up!

Finding mosses everywhere in the Big Thicket.

Dale arranged lodging at the Research Station in Saratoga, Texas. We brought our own food and “drink,” but everything else was furnished. Not exactly the Plaza, but more than adeqquate for our needs.

Extreme dragonfly close-up

Trails in the Thicket were in great shape. There hadn’t been too much rain, so there were few muddy ruts in the roads. Of course, some of us managed to get in water deep enough to seep in over out boot tops – not me, of course! One trekker actually fell in and another, who shall remain nameless, fought her way across a bay gall (that’s an area dominated by sweet bay and holly) on a fallen cypress log. Such fun to watch!

We were supposed to ignore all the vascular plants and focus entirely on the bryophytes – like that was going to happen! Fortunately, birds are somewhat difficult to see with so much vegetation, and the trees are so tall!

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Monarch Training at Bird and Bee Farm

The meeting was held in the chidken building. They did a great job on the projector screen!

Last time, we told you about the Wildscape program at Bird and Bee Farm. They also sponsor educational events, and our members attended a training on raising monarchs for release there on Sunday, March 3. It was presented by Karen and Steve Thier of Plano. We were also joined by monarch expert Bob Mione.

Bob Mione answers a question from the audience.

Bob brought a group of Master Naturalists from the Dallas area, who joined seven El Camino Real members and some curious neighbors for a total of 23 attendees. Catherine Johnson of the El Camino Real chapter served as the host for the event, along with the Reks, who own the farm.

Catherine Johnson introduces Steve Thier

Steve Thier gave a complete overview of the butterfly propagation (if that’s the right word) project that he and Karen have been working on for the past year, which has resulted in them releasing many butterflies, not only monarchs. They have also raised queens, swalllowtails and others.

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Getting Ready for Earth Day

Yesterday, the Environment and Recycling Ad-hoc Committee’s Earth Day subcommittee met to continue to work out plans. I was glad I could finally attend a meeting, because it was fun to see the team at work. I was joined by Ann Collins, Linda Jo Conn, Joyce Conner, Catherine Johnson, Rosie Johnson (guest and helper), Larry Kocian, Kathy Lester, and Donna Lewis (the leader of the bunch).

Nandina and Texas mountain laurel added beauty and scent too the meetiing.

What’s going on with Earth Day?

The El Camino Real Master Naturalist Chapter’s biggest outreach project each year is to host an Earth Day event, to share ways to protect the planet with the community. This year it will be at:

Rockdale Community Center, 109 N. Main, on Saturday, April 20, 10 am – 2 pm.

We were excited to learn about all the planned activities and tables. Our team leader, Donna Lewis, went over all the topics and who was planned to staff them, and we settled on where a lot of the tables would be. For example, the recycled tote bag giveaway will be at the entrance, so attendees can use the totes to gather information they want to take home. And the seedling giveaway will be at the exit, to keep those baby plants happy.

Donna Llewis explains something to Kathy Lester, while Linda Jo Con looks on. Joyce Connner, Ann Collins and Cathy Johnson study notes.

It’s great news that the local Girl Scouts plan to join us, as well as our friends at the USDA, who had a great display last year.

We have lots to share already, andwere thrilled to see some beautiful models of the lifecycles of insects and other organisms that had been donated by our Master Naturalist friends in Temple. We will get so much use out of them, including at Earth Day.

A silly selfie shows that Larry Kocian and I were also in attendance.

Whenever there’s an event like this, there are a lot of little details to attend to, such as advertising and signage. We’re grateful to have Larry Kocian to get us on the radio, and Cathy Johnson to contact all the newspapers and other media outlets. Donna is goining to check signage regulations and see if the city will make us a banner!

By meeting’s end the team was feeling pretty confident that we will have a great deal of interesting information at our event.

Storage needs

All the lovely supplies we have for our outreach projects are scattered at members’ homes, and we realized it’s a bit risky to do that, because the items might end up being irretrievable. I offered to store things in my company’s soon-to-be renovated church building, and suggested that the facility would be a nice, central location for future trainings and meetings.

Mmm

We shared a wonderful meal, and are very grateful to Cathy Johnson for doing most of the cooking, as well as to everyone who brought additional food. That kept us going!

Earth Day is officially April 22 this year. Join us April 20 in Rockdale! (image source Earth Day Clip Art)

How can you help?

Fellow Milam County Master Naturalists, please let Donna Lewis know if you’ll be helping out, because we still need folks to staff the tables and generally be friendly. And if you have made tote bags, make sure to get them to someone on the committee. We can use more.

Also, the entire report of the meeting will be available in the members’ area of our website. There’s not enough blog space to include all the details from the meeting!

Everybody else, mark your calendars for April 20, and be sure to join us in downtown Rockdale for the event. There are new restaurants, fun shops and lots more that you may not even realize are in the area, so make a day of it!