Exploring Three Rockdale City Parks

by Linda Jo Conn

A couple of weeks ago, several ECR members visited three of the city parks in Rockdale. 

Eric checks out the park up close

The first was Wolf Park, which is located on Main Street in town where the former American Legion Hall once stood. When we arrived, a crew was at work erecting the framework for a Christmas tree near the pavilion in the center of the lot.

Yard asters, still blooming

The closely trimmed city block has a border hedge of holly festooned with Carolina snailseed (Cocculus carolinus ). The lawn contains the usual scattering of straggler daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis), turkey tangle frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), and yard asters (Symphyotrichum divaricatum). A couple of large lilac chaste trees (Vitex agnus-castus) and a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) are the landscape trees. 

Carolina snailseed and holly

Leaving the busy scene at Wolf Park, we drove across the railroad tracks to visit Sumuel Park which was funded in part by a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant. It has a splash pad water feature (unused this summer due to COVID), a playscape, picnic area, walking trail, basketball half court, restrooms, and free WiFi.  

Upright Prairie Coneflower

There was a bit more nature to observe at this park, including upright prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera) and buttonweed (Diodia virginiana) in bloom. A black vulture (Coragyps atratus) watched our activity from a nearby tree.   

Black vulture keeps watch

While Eric Neubauer captured another image of a grasshopper, Donna Lewis tried out the swing set. 

Master Naturalists know how to have fun!

I suppose the high point of the visit to this park was our discovery of an enormous cottonweed tree. ECR nature explorers Debbi Sorenson, Donna, Scott Berger, and Eric physically distanced themselves around the tree for a photo to show its size. It turned out that this tree had already been noticed by our ECR chapter. You can read more about this towering cottonwood on our ECR website:   https://txmn.org/elcamino/chapter-projects/special-projects/big-trees-of-milam-county/ .  

That’s one amazing cottonwood!

We traveled on to Moultry Park, located behind the former Aycock School on Baxter Street.  The park was being enjoyed by a mother with her young children when we arrived. A spacious area, it contains a basketball court, baseball field, and restrooms. 

Buttonweed at Sumuel Park

This park visit was a sobering and disturbing personal experience for me. The adjacent brick building, used by various community organizations until a 1993 fire, remains in ruins. I could literally hear the echoes of children chattering in the hallways, chalk screeching on the blackboards, and bouncing balls in the gymnasium.    

Orange Sulphur butterfly

We did observe some interesting species in and around Moultry park: an appropriately named three-ribbed darkling beetle (Eleodes tricostata), a flighty orange sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme) visiting a camphorweed flower (Heterotheca subaxillaris) and several mounds of harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex sp.). 

Hooray! Harvester ants!

The area is a perfect habitat for horned lizards. 

The darkling beetle

Eric stalked what he has identified as a common thread-waisted wasp (Ammophila procera) until we were both able to take photos of the large wasp. 

The big wasp

He also graciously pointed out a couple of grasshoppers (Melanoplus sp).

One of the many grasshoppers Eric spotted.

After some unexpected and serendipitous happenings at the park we headed to our homes for the day. A good time was had by all. I think. You will have to ask Donna about that. 

Cedar Park in Milam County

by Linda Jo Conn

Driving past the roadside park on Hwy 79 between Milano and Gause on my way to Sugarloaf Mountain Bridge, I told myself that one of these days I was going to stop and investigate the place. So, on the way home, I stopped and looked around. 

It is a typical roadside park. Surrounded on three sides by a chain link fence supporting several species of vines, it has a circular drive, the usual brick and cement tables and benches, and some large cedar trees.

Later, when using Google Maps to enter the GPS location for my observations into the iNaturalist.org website, I discovered that this small roadside park actually has a name:  Cedar Park. Not surprising. Cedar trees are the dominant trees.

Bird’s-eye speedwell.

Although the area is closely mown, there were a few flowers to observe. I saw my first Bird’s-eye Speedwell (Veronica persica) and Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis) blossoms of the season. There were the usual roadside park plants of Straggler Daisies (Calyptocarpus vialis), Crow Poison (Nothoscordum bivalve) and Green Poinsettia (Euphorbia dentata).  

Climbing the chain link fence were common vining plants:  Mustang Grapes (Vitis mustangensis), Carolina Snailseed (Cocculus carolinus), and Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). 

The most memorable plant of the visit stayed with me a while. The park must have been covered with grass burrs (Cenchrus sp.).  You may call them sandburs or stickers. Not noticeable in the short vegetation while I was walking about, they showed up as I was about to get into my truck. There must have been hundreds of them stuck to my jeans and to the tops and soles of my tennis shoes! It took a while to remove them.

Grass burs. Not fun.

Cedar Park is a shady, convenient place to stop on the highway and was visited by several travelers while I was there. Fortunately none had children or pets wanting to romp on the grounds. That would have been a memorable stop for them also. Ouch!

Mountain Getaway

by Catherine Johnson

Linda Jo, Donna, Eric, Scott, and Catherine Bioblitzed  the areas around Sugarloaf, Lone Mountain,  and Little River. 

We identified many plants, met some new neighbors and their dog, and had lunch on the historic bridge. It was soo beautiful outside, and we all learned a lot.

Enjoy these photos from the day!

Nature Will Find a Way

by Catherine Johnson

While others are away in the cool mountains,* a group of us decided to check on the condition of the El Camino Real Master Naturalist Butterfly Garden in Milano, which we started a number of years ago. 

The Butterfly Garden

It is  in complete disarray but still with butterflies and other insects trying to hold on to smothered natives.  A memorial on the site is also in complete disarray. We are considering possible solutions to make the area respectful.

Sulphur butterfly.

Eric Neubauer and Linda Jo Conn did some BioBlitzing, and Eric was later given a tour of  the Milam Wildscape, which he hadn’t visited before.

iNaturalist volunteers at work.

Unexpected Adventure

As we worked on the Butterfly Garden, I gained Master Naturalist volunteer hours for Nature Improvement in Public Areas, learned what false garlic and Carolina Snail vine look like, learned what a pipevine swallowtail butterfly looks like, and got to know new member Eric.

Carolina snail vine (the seeds look just like a snail!)

While in Milano I also got to hear lots of trains and watch the lowering of the flag at the post office. It was a balmy day balmy day and a good one for exercise! 

Oh, and we found odd gourds near the train tracks. That was unexpected.


*She is referring to the Chapter President, Suna, who has escaped to Utah. She will post!

Native Fall bloomers and Catatonic Carpenter Bees

(or another day at the Bees and Birds Wildscape)

By Carolyn Henderson

A sea of color is in bloom at the Milam Wildscape project at Bird and Bee Farm outside of Milano. Most of the blooms are courtesy of native Texas plants. On a follow-up trip on Saturday, October 24, to check on the Malabar Spinach vine I am trying to keep trimmed, I was met with a surprise of different colors and some catatonic bees.

There were many shades of purple, pink, orange, yellow, red and white from a variety of plants still thriving.

The most surprising was a Cypress Vine (below) that had sprung up, wrapped itself around the awning with the spinach, climbed about four feet and proceeded to bloom since I was last at the site. 

Cypress Vine, growing like crazy

There were also Lavender Leaf Sage, American asters, Southwestern Cosmos and some pink flowering vines full of catatonic carpenter bees.

The carpenter bees had attached themselves to a few different flowers but mostly to this plentiful pink flowered vine (Suna says: coral bells Antighonon letopus). They seemed to be in a state of hibernation – probably temporary. They could be touched with almost indiscernible movement from them. (I thought they were bumble bees until I put them on iNaturalist.)

Also in bloom and growing were goldshower, cut-leaf crane’s-bill, Indian blanket, white and pink roses, and a frilly, white shrub-like flower. A pair of Gulf Fritillary were also weathering the cold front on a tropical sage.

If that’s not enough, a great group of volunteers were planting more including a couple of trees.  (Pictured l to r : Carolyn Henderson, Pamela Neeley, Scott Berger, Liz Lewis, Catherine Johnson, and Donna Lewis (kneeling). Most of the foliage is putting out “babies”, and the “babies” are available for adoption to be planted at your place. For information on that, contact Catherine. You also can volunteer to help grow the wildscape by contacting her.

Volunteers, plus that good kitty.