Report on the ECR Seasonal Winter BioBlitz

by Linda Jo Conn

As I reported at the monthly chapter meeting, I was pleased with the participation and results of our first seasonal BioBlitz. We had 10 participants who have submitted 492 observations to date, which included 248 species. To view the observations, go to: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/ecr-seasonal-winter-bioblitz.

This was a low-key BioBlitz, promoting observations made at one’s place of residence to avoid travel and promote physical distancing during this time of COVID precautions. We enjoyed pleasant weather that encouraged outdoor time during the first part of the designated week, but it did get a bit disagreeable during the last days. Still, worthwhile observations were made.

Perhaps one of the first things noticed by plant observers was the lack of blooms. Yes, there were the typical cool-weather blossoms of henbit deadnettle, catchweed bedstraw, shepherd’s purse, and common chickweed, but also a lot of unidentifiable leafy green rosettes. 

Lichens, particularly the orange colored hair lichens, were definite eye-catchers in the drab landscape. 

Golden-eye Lichen Teloschistes chrysophthalmus Photo by Linda Jo Conn.

Some plants such as the American Trumpet Vine were identified by last season’s seed pods

American Trumpet Vine Campsis radicans photo by Sue Ann Kendall

Other plants were given a general tentative ID and hopefully will be revisited when blooms appear later in the year.

Fleabanes and horseweeds, unidentified. Photo by Ann Collins.

We observed birds. A Red-Shouldered Hawk is perhaps checking out the nearby martin house.

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus Photo by Debbi Sorenson

We observed reptiles. Well, one reptile observation was made.

Common Slider Trachemys scripta Photo by Ann Collins

We saw mollusks,

River Mussels Family Unionidae Photo by Marian Buegeler

And spiders,

Shore Spider Pardosa milvina Photo by Eric Neubauer

and insects,

Stable Fly Stomoxys calcitrans Photo by Sue Ann Kendall

And other arthropods, such as this intact exoskeleton of a white river crayfish.

White River Crayfish Procambarus acutus Photo by Marian Buegeler – reviewer said it was a great observation!

So, I thank you, sunasak, birdladymilam, marianmarie, eaneubauer, chenderson, dsorenson, potterswasp, jfcthornton, and debbi9, for participating in the BioBlitz.

 I look forward to joining you at the spring iNaturalist seasonal BioBlitz, scheduled for May 20-26. 

Happy iNat-ing!

The Great Escape: A Bioblitz Tale

by Eric Neubauer

Way back when TMN training was beginning, I heard Alan Rudd’s stories about little grasshoppers that jumped into the water to eat algae or escape with interest. Over the next year I encountered pygmy grasshoppers in just three places, locations including Taylor Park on Granger Lake on Day 1 of the Bioblitz.

On Day 3 I encountered some again, this time at Alan Rudd’s place, where I had seen some in the fall. It seems they remain active through winter in very sheltered areas. Unbelievably I ended up with a mating pair sitting on my finger, something that isn’t likely to ever happen to me again.

Give us some privacy!

How did this happen? I saw one sitting near the water and tried to scoop in up in a container I had along for photographing Pardosa spiders. Of course, being a grasshopper it immediately jumped out as I expected, but landed upside down in wet mud, and I could see her tiny feet waving around in the air. So I offered her my finger, which she grabbed onto and was happy enough to sit there while I took as many photos as I wanted.

As I started taking photos, I realized there was more than just mud stuck to her. Eventually I realized it was an entire male grasshopper. When I finished with the camera, I put the grasshoppers back where they came from.

A little later I thought I saw a grasshopper jump into the water and burrow in the mud. I wasn’t sure, because little frogs were doing exactly the same thing to avoid me. I took a photo, and sure enough it was a grasshopper, proving that Alan hadn’t been exaggerating.

Something in the mud

Whoops! After carefully looking at the supposed Paratettix hiding in the mud, I believe it is actually a frog, Acris blanchardi, so my underwater photo of Paratettix hasn’t happened yet. You’d think it hard not to be able to tell a grasshopper from a frog, but there you go. I’ve deleted the observation and resubmitted under Acris.

Acris blanchardi, not in the mud.

Linda Jo commented that this isn’t the first time such a mis-identification has occurred!

A Valentine to Our Chapter

by Jackie Thornton

We will be celebrating Valentine’s Day soon and at my age that doesn’t mean a dozen roses or a box of candy from a six-foot good-looking guy!  It is a time that gives me pause to think about the appreciation I feel for a group of people.

Here’s a Valentine from Sue Ann, saw greenbrier hearts in my woods.

I appreciate the value system of our Master Naturalist group. There has been due diligence in protecting us and still providing opportunities. On the state level, the Virtual Volunteer Fair was awesome, but the event impacting me the most is joining the Winter BioBlitz. Linda Jo has been such a supporter for all of us in participating in iNaturalist, but I always found an excuse. 

Excuses including: I need a new iPhone, more books, more expertise…

First time out I came back with my photographs and spent hours pouring over plant identification references. I don’t regret the time spent, but it was overkill when you have Linda Jo checking your work!  I ended up with three research-quality entries (my yaupon holly is shown below), and you would have thought I had just gotten a gold star on my research paper. ( Please do not ask me about lichens or mosses though.)  I encourage anyone hesitating to take the big step, take it!

So, to all of you that have worked so hard to keep us active, safe and appreciated, thank you and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Winter Bioblitz, Day 1

by Eric Neubauer and Sue Ann Kendall

Eric’s Report

Investigating the Granger Lake area is something I’ve been meaning to do for more than two years. There are over a dozen access points, so this was no small task, and I still had several to go when I stopped for the day. Although it was warm, few animals were stirring and it wasn’t until the fourth stop that I found anything noteworthy. That was the area called eOSR 3, which I suspect refers to further information on-line.

Burrowing owl

As I approached the parking area on CR 349, the road crossed a mostly dry deep ditch with a pebbly bottom. I immediately thought I might find some Stone Spiders (Pardosa lapidicina) there. I had recently encountered all four Pardosa species in the milvina group over in Burleson County and that left just four more Pardosa species to find in this area. It was my lucky day, because nature was unusually predictable. Nature even gave me a bonus as a Burrowing Owl flew up and sat on a fence post as I picked my way down into the ditch.

End of the story with the Stone Spiders? Not quite. After I got home I looked up photos of Pardosa lapidicina on iNat and BugGuide, and mine didn’t look sufficiently identical. There are three Pardosa spiders in the lapidicina group in the area, so I figured it must be one of the other two. After consulting a few scientific papers, I’ve tentatively identified mine as P. vadosa, first described in 1959, for which there are no living spider photos on-line. I’ve asked for expert help and await a reply. Reading between the lines a little, the western edge of vadosa range may coincide with the western edge of the Blackland Prairie. Father west, mercurialis takes over.

Here’s one of the Pardosas, perhaps a vardosa!

In more spider news, I’ve been finding these Trochosa sepulchralis in a small part of ditch on CR 418 adjacent to woodland. These are my most recent of eight observations and include a male and a female. Identification is difficult, but at least there are fairly recent papers on them. Camptocosa, Trochosa, and Varacosa each include similar species. The differences are subtle, so I’m not sure if I got it right. Not sure if these are adults yet, but they appear to be close. Incidentally, this species was first described from Philadelphia PA where I was born.

Sue Ann’s Report

My report is nowhere near as fascinating as Eric’s, mainly because I only saw two insects other than fire ants, and they were too fast for me. I did get some nice photos of tiny flowers, and spent a lot of time puzzling over grasses, including once when I accidentally said a bunch grass was Bermuda grass. I’m sure that made Linda Jo laugh.

But it was a beautiful day, so I enjoyed seeing what there was lots of and what’s just poking out of the ground. There is lots of henbit deadnettle, that’s for sure. I’m enjoying seeing it cover whole fields, even if that bothers farmers.

I went a little overboard and made 72 observations, but was pleased to see that put me over 2,000 iNaturalist observations. And I sure know what’s growing around my property in early February now! I had a blast!

Other Folks

I do want to point out that other members of our Chapter have made fun observations, too. Marian, Linda Jo, and Carolyn also got out and checked out their surroundings. Please go to the project page to keep track of our activities, and let Linda Jo know if you would like to participate! Just because it’s a bit chillier doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to get outside. My phoebes are certainly goading me!

Stats as of this morning. I promise to not report so many the rest of the week.

Making a Personal Impact with iNaturalist Observations

by Linda Jo Conn

Thursday, February 4, marks the day! Our El Camino Real Seasonal Winter 2021 iNaturalist BioBlitz begins at 12:00 am that morning and continues until Wednesday midnight, February 10, the following week. For some time, our chapter has not been able to gather as a group for a nature survey, so the week will be an opportunity to figuratively join forces to document the fauna and flora of the areas where we reside. Yes, this does include our personal property as well as our neighborhood and the places we go as we physically distance during the COVID restrictions.  So get that camera ready!

The BioBlitz is an iNaturalist project. See: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/ecr-seasonal-winter-bioblitz. Yes, you must be a member of iNaturalist to participate. And yes, to get volunteer hour credit for participating, you must email connlindajo@gmail.com and state that you want to join the project. OK, I can hear the groans from miles away. Must I again emphasize that iNat is a valuable tool that documents nature and is used not only by TPWD but other organizations and university researchers as well?

A prime example is the rare sighting of a live Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius) by Ann Collins on her porch in the suburbs of Milano.  It is the only Milam County observation on iNat and one of the few documented observations in Texas.  (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2710384)   Ann’s observation caused a lot of excitement and interest at TPWD.  Clint Perkins, a graduate student at Texas Tech, did field research on Ann’s private property and continues to review all mammal observations on iNaturalist.  

Eric Neubauer has the only observations of the Southwestern Dusky Grasshopper (Nebulatettix subgracilis in Milam County. (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/34920111)  Again, there are few documented sightings in Texas and those were probably not made at a state or city park.  

Countless unique observations added to iNat have been documented on personal property by a Texas Master Naturalist, but those species we may consider common or mundane also have a definite need for documentation.  I have personally noticed the apparent change in bloom times for wildflowers, the species of migrant birds I see, along with the disturbing spread of invasive species, and so I document even the ubiquitous species. Each and every legitimate observation has value.    

So what is the point of all this?  Some Texas Master Naturalists have been disgruntled by the exclusion of the time spent on iNaturalist observations on one’s private property as valid volunteer hours.  As a result, many have lost interest in using iNaturalist as a personal tool for sharing and learning about nature. 

Well, I have two points to make:

Number One:  Since approximately 95% of the land in the state of Texas is privately owned, neglecting to enter observations from our personal properties skews the data. I urge you to continue your contributions as citizen scientists by observing and documenting on iNat what you see around you every day.

Number Two:  This is an approved project where El Camino Real Master Naturalist members have an opportunity to observe at leisure on their private property and earn volunteer hours without having to travel to participate in a BioBlitz. 

So join iNaturalist and the ECR project. Take photos. Share them on iNaturalist. Report your volunteer hours.  It is that simple.