First Lesson Learned at State Conference Proved Invaluable

by Linda Jo Conn

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.   

Sassafras Cabin at Camp Allen Conference and Retreat Center

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. 

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.

Strike 2!

by Catherine Johnson

Snake adventures at our house continue.

Sami the dachshund found a copperhead by our back door. Yes, it is gone.

Sandy has fang marks on the black tip of her nose.

I have too many outdoor pets to worry about. We see more snakes because we are outdoor people.  We have been lucky except for one year when we had 18 copperheads around our house.

The Benadryl has kicked in.

Later today, we found Sandy had also been bitten.

Warrior Princess!

Making the Best Out of the Materials You Have Available

… the essence of engineering

by Eric Neubauer

I was hardly a fan of spiders, but circumstances have determined otherwise. The pandemic has kept me almost exclusively at home, and the Texas Blacklands appear to be excellent habitat for wolf spiders (Lycosidae).

In the past, getting identifications down to the species level almost always ended up in frustration, except for Rabidosa rabida. I have identified at least three other genera on my property, and there are likely to be more.

Rabid Wolf Spider Rabidosa rabida. Photo by the author.

This year, I decided to make observations of them as they grew up. My goal was to upload at least a hundred observations to iNaturalist before trying to identify them down to species level. I passed my goal by getting 23 in 43 minutes a few days ago.

This Thin-legged Wolf Spider (Genus Pardosa) is a young one. Photo by the author.

Lycosidae are generally considered nocturnal, but this isn’t entirely true. Daytime hunting is hit or miss, but a combination of high humidity after a rain, temperatures in the high 70s, and cloudy skies apparently combined to bring them out in the middle of the day.

This one is not identified yet. Photo by the author.

There is also a matter of technique. I’ve found that closely cut grass next to high grass is the best place to look and photograph them. You can just walk around slowly and watch for movement, but many will escape into the high grass. If you lead with one foot along the edge of the high grass, this flushes more of them into the low grass where they can be photographed.

There is one particular species that is so well camouflaged it’s impossible to see unless it moves. Right now, they are mostly a half to an inch long including the legs, and they are old enough to identify the genus.

Brush-legged Split Wolf Spider Schizocosa ocreata. Photo by the author.

You may also see holes of various sizes in the ground. At present, many are probably Lycosidae burrows. They can be enticed out with a blade of grass, but I’ve found they disappear back down their burrows too quickly to photograph, making it a two person job whenever that becomes an option again.

My habitat is returning prairie on blackland with paths mown through the high grass. Confirmed genera: Hogna, Pardosa, Rabidosa, and Schizocosa. Other non-Lycosidae genera including Dolomedes are encountered.