Mike McCormick Explains Purple Martins

by Carolyn Henderson

Mike McCormick, considered the largest houser of Purple Martins in the area, shared his wealth of knowledge with the El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist on Saturday, June 18. McCormick lives south of Buckholts in Milam County with thousands of Purple Martins and a few family members. He has been housing the birds for more than 40 years and has grown the number of seasonal residents steadily every year.

Purple martin house with adults waiting for fledglings to fly

There are approximately 65 Purple Martin houses at his place – all made by him. He’s also helped many others get started with some extra houses. 

Up close of the three fledglings that haven’t decided to fly, yet.

ECRTMN visited at the optimum time. All the babies are starting to fledge. Members learned how to house them and keep them coming back. McCormick also clarified some untrue facts about the migrating birds. For example, a 6-foot-tall martin house works as well as a 12-foot-tall house.

Martins in flight

Thanks also go to Donna Lewis, organizer of the event, and Ms. McCormick, sister to Mike, who fed us and kept the cattle herded.

Volunteering at the Gault Site

by Michelle Lopez

by Michelle Lopez

My husband Oscar and I went to the Gault Archaeological site and helped clear huge trees and branches that had fallen during a recent tornado. Got to meet some fellow Master Naturalists from other groups. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet Dr. Mike Collins, who bought the land/site and donated it to the Archaeological Conservancy to be able to preserve it.

The entry. We are always up for more field trips here!

There was also a film crew who are in the process of making a documentary about the site. It was exciting learning about the history, and I’m still very surprised that this place has been there for so long and I only heard about it when Dr. Clark Wernecke taught an archaeological class about it. It was fun meeting him as well; he’s a very cool guy.

About the film

Olive Talley is doing an awesome job on this documentary trying to get the word out about this hugely important site that literally changes everything scientists thought they knew about when people were living here locally. This site suggests 20,000 years ago!! That’s much earlier than 13,500 previously thought for the Clovis culture. 

Clark W. explaining about the site.

Here is a link to be able to follow the documentary. 

https://gaultfilm.com/

Enjoy some photos from our day!

Wildlife Rescue – The Red-Tailed Hawk

by Larry Kocian

It was Wednesday, March 16, 2022, and we were enjoying spring break.  My wife was on her way to Bryan, Texas, with her mother, to pick up our niece for a spring break visit.  It was about 3:00 pm and past Milano on the south side of highway 79, she saw a hawk just standing there.  She thought the hawk must have prey on the ground and is trying to get.  The hawk was standing right in the grass and almost on the shoulder of the highway.  She continued her way and was in Bryan for several hours.  Upon her return home, she noticed the hawk in the same location, when she passed the area.  She turned around and pulled over in the grass passed the shoulder to see what was wrong.  

The hawk

My wife, her mom and our niece got out and saw the hawk was standing there looking around, but it was not moving its feet or wings.  They were careful not to get too close because they did not want the hawk to fly into the highway.  Her mom said the bird looked so pitiful, like it was seeking someone to help it.  It was about 7:30 pm by the time they got back in the car and started calling any wildlife rehab center they could find on google.  My wife knew there had to be a place to take the hawk, because when we go to the Renaissance Festival, we like to watch a presentation called “Birds of Prey.” In this live show, they explain how they acquired each bird and how it came to be rescued and rehabilitated.  The birds in the show were not able to be released back into the wild, so they used them for educating the public. Everyone they called was closed and they could only leave a message.  They did not want to leave the hawk there, but they were running out of choices.  They did not have a cage or any idea of how to approach a hawk to attempt to detain it.  

After she got to rehab

Then my wife remembered our friend, neighbor, and fellow master naturalist Catherine Johnson. My wife called Catherine’s daughter Rosie Johnson and then Rosie and Catherine got on the phone together. They gave my wife the number to the wildlife rehab called All Things Wild. However, All Things Wild is only an intake center, so they were still in the same boat, no cage, and no knowledge of how to capture the hawk. But thankfully they also gave her the number to another fellow master naturalist, Donna Lewis. My wife called Donna, and Donna was on it. Donna started calling all her contacts for wildlife rehab.  Before Donna hung up to start her search for help, she mentioned the Game Warden.  

My wife’s mom looked up the Game Warden, Derrik Rennspies, and my wife called and talked to him.  He agreed to come and bring his raptor cage and secure the hawk. Before he got there, Donna and her neighbor and friend, Holly Jentsch, showed up. Holly put a white sheet on the shoulder of the highway so approaching vehicles would be cautious.  When he arrived, the Game Warden turned on his lights to caution other drivers. He then put the white sheet over the hawk and the raptor cage, then carefully got the hawk inside the cage. When he was putting the hawk in the cage, he saw a dead animal, maybe a mouse or rabbit close to hawk. The hawk was most likely trying to get it.

Her red tai,

Now they had the bird secured, but there was still the problem of where to keep it overnight. Donna and Holly agreed to keep the hawk overnight and then my wife and I would transport it to College Station the next day. Game Warden Rennspies put us in contact with a wildlife rehab that would accept the hawk.  

The next day, 3/17/22, my wife and I, along with our niece, met Holly in Gause at Coats Grocery to pick up the hawk for transport. Once we secured the raptor cage in the inside of the truck, we took off for the wildlife rehab in College Station.  

She still had some energy!

Once we got there, we met wildlife rehabilitator, Krista Bligh. Krista is a wildlife rehabilitator through Texas Parks and Wildlife with mission of taking in injured or orphaned wildlife and releasing them back into the wild. She is not funded by the state, so she does wildlife rehabilitation out of her own pocket, as well as donations. She currently takes in a wide range of species, and she never knows what she will get. Currently she is feeding a litter of baby opossums as well as nursing other red-tailed hawks. Last year, she got in two orphaned baby bobcats, three orphaned baby foxes, and numerous injured and orphaned opossums, raccoons, squirrels, and the list goes on.  She explained that a huge part of wildlife rehabilitation is also educating the public. Not many people are taught about wildlife, so it is common for people to accidentally kidnap a baby from their mom, since they are left in odd spots for a wide range of time. The most common kidnapped wildlife are fawns (baby deer) and baby bunnies. By educating the public, she can save more animals by allowing the animals who are not needing assistance to stay and free up her time for those that do.  

Removing her from the box

Krista is currently a senior Wildlife and Fisheries Zoology major at Texas A&M University. She aspires to attend Vet School with the eventual goal of opening an official wildlife center for the Brazos Valley since it is so incredibly needed.  

Krista and Cherie Kocian

Once we got the hawk out of the truck, Krista was prepared to pick her up out of the cage. Her first impressions were the hawk had some neurological damage and possible internal injuries. She examined her and said she must have been grounded (not able to fly and hunt for prey) for a while because she was emaciated. Neurological damage can also come from eating poison or poisoned prey. Before we left, she said ask for updates at your own risk because the hawk did not look good. Based on the hawk’s size and weight, Krista believed the hawk was a female hawk.  

We contacted Krista the next day, 3/18/22, and the hawk was doing well.  She had her on oxygen to give her a boost while she was rehydrating her as well.  She was going to start her on semi-solid foods that night. She had no apparent external injuries, but she was not quite stable yet. She wanted to go very slow with her since she suspected she had internal injuries on top of the neurological issues and slight emaciation.  

Coming out of the box

Update a week after finding the female red-tailed hawk 3/23/22:  She is doing great.  She has been eating like a champ and Krista will be evaluating how well the hawk can fly very soon.  

Update as of 3/25/22: She is doing well and will be doing a test flight tomorrow to see how strong she is and how far she can fly.  

Update 3/28/22: After a few days of building her strength flying, she flew like a champ and is back into the wild.  

Back in the wild!

What a great ending to this story.  After 13 days from being found on the side of the highway, the hawk was rehabilitated and returned to the wild. 

Game Warden Derrik Rennspies-254-482-0892  

Wildlife Rehabilitator Krista Bligh-979-676-3974

What’s Blooming (and other things) along the Highways and Byways of Milam County?

by Carolyn Henderson

Spring bloomers are out in force this week. In two quick roadside stops, I found 17 interesting bits of nature, and 14 of them were native flowers. I was headed to the ECRTMN Birds and Bees Wildscape, but got sidetracked, so I thought I would see what’s blooming instead.

Fantastic shot of this vesper sparrow!

It started near the wildscape where I photographed a Vesper Sparrow, which is more common in New Mexico and Arizona than Texas, but it’s here. And then I found a Wild Turkey running down FM 334. I got one picture of it before it jumped/flew/ran from me.

Turkey time!

Via Rockdale, I went down Spur 77 toward Cameron. There are lots of Texas Bluebonnets out and Texas Paintbrushes are starting to come up. Southern Dewberries are in profuse bloom. If there are no more freezes this spring, there should be plenty of dewberries. I also found Wood Sorrels, Sword Leaf Blue-eyed Grass, Tenpetal Anemones and Imported Red Fire Ants in very large ant hills.

Moving on to Hwy 36/190 headed east past the Y, I found Eastern Redbuds still in bloom but changing over to leaves, Texas Toadflax, Drummond’s Phlox, Slender Vetch, Narrowleaf Puccoon, Hairyfruit Chervil, Texas Prairie Parsley and Groundsels.

There is an array of colors on the highways and byways of Milam County. In another week or two I suspect wildflowers in a massive bloom (assuming no late freeze). I hope you can take a drive to enjoy it.

Posting all these on iNaturalist has given me a new quest – to figure out where they get these names! I mean “Hairyleaf Puccoon?” “Texas Toadflax?”  Almost every plant was picked up by Plants of Texas in iNat, so they are native.

Finally, love is in the air. There is a Mockingbird across the street from my office admiring and attempting to attract this other bird (him) reflected in the window. I’m amused. He’s frustrated.  

Lovelorn

Tree Girdling at Wilson Ledbetter Park

by Carolyn Henderson

Ten troopers from the El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist met up Saturday, March 12, to attempt to rid Wilson Ledbetter Park, in Cameron, Texas, of an invasive species. With the very experienced guidance of Cliff Tyllick, we managed to wear ourselves out after three hours of Glossy Privet girdling. I’m not so sure about the trees. 

Cliff Tyllick explains tree girdling

Tyllick has years of experience girdling trees in the Austin area. Much of his work is done through grants and conservation organizations in an attempt to hold back Glossy Privets and some other invasive species. He also has done a program on girdling for Texas Master Naturalist at the annual meeting in 2019. 

Tyllick draws lines on bark to be removed
Bark is removed between the lines

Is it more difficult than cutting down the tree and poisoning it? Yes! So why do it this way? Girdling doesn’t require the use of poisons that could contaminate nearby plants, animals, or water, and it eliminates noisy large equipment (as well as the need to carry it down long trails). It eliminates spreading of the trees by seed while killing it slowly. If it’s in a wooded area, you can let the tree decompose to fertilize the ground.

 All pulp material is removed to prevent regrowth

And why would there be a need to remove the invasive Glossy Privet that produces flowers and shade? They hinder the growth of native trees and flowers in the area. They outgrow native trees in height, which hinders the growth of native Texas species growing below them. Bees and butterflies do like the flowers, but that stops them from pollinating native Texas flowers.

Members walk toward the ill-fated Privets.

There is a specific format to do the girdling in so that it will take out the plant in one effort. The outer bark must be removed for about the length of a hand. Then the pulpy matter left must be removed by using tools to scrape it away. Once it’s removed, it is washed with soap and water then cleaned with an alcohol and water mixture. This combination keeps it from regenerating what was removed. If you’d like to see it in action, check out this video:

It was hard work, and most of us were worn out, but learning a new process was interesting, and we got to enjoy the company of our chapter members. As an aside, Tyllick’s wife, Karen is an archeologist by training and a PhD. She found some relics in the park. Thanks to her for our group picture. We were all smiling because we said “Girdling” instead of “cheese”. It was really funny at the time, which was at the end of the day.

ECR chapter members smile big after all the girdling.