Time for 2020 Blog Statistics

By Sue Ann Kendall

The start of a new year always seems to inspire folks to look back and analyze things. I got to thinking that last year was a hard year for our Chapter, since we had to stop meeting in person, couldn’t do a lot of the activities we’d planned, and only had a virtual conference to attend (nice as it was, it wasn’t full of hugs and chats). We certainly got more visitors in 2020 than in 2019 (granted, we didn’t start until February 2019).

We had 3700 visitors last year, not bad for a little chapter!

Our blog, though, provided us with a way to communicate with each other and to share what was going on in our own little slices of the natural world. I was really grateful to see how our contributions grew and grew, as the blog transitioned from reports on our chapter meetings to contributions from our members. We have a nice group of regular contributors now, as well as some Chapter members who contribute whenever they can.

In fact, there were 12 different Chapter members who contributed last year: me, Donna Lewis (winner of the “most contributions” award), Catherine Johnson, Eric Neubauer, Linda Jo Conn, Carolyn Henderson, Debra Sorensen, Joyce Conner, Cindy Travis, Larry Kocian, Ann Collins, and Sherri Sweet. What? Don’t see your name on the list? You can fix it by sending me some words and/or pictures (my email address is in the member area of our website).

Blog hits by month.

You can see from the previous graphic that our hits went up and down. There were two big months. Last February, someone went through and read every single article, twice, which explains the jump. But, last month, December 2020, really spiked. Did we suddenly become fascinating?

Hmm, December 23 was a bonanza of visits.

When I look at a month’s stats, I can always tell when a blog post came out, because we get a spike in visitors. But, that was a BIG spike! The next day was pretty big, too. I was very curious to find out what the heck got published on December 23 that was so darned fascinating. A look at the most popular posts of the year gave me the answer to “what” but not to “why.”

All Time Blog Post Stats. Hmm. Two of those got a LOT more hits.

I only figured out yesterday why Donna’s sweet post about being nice to a snake was so popular. Because of all those flags people are flying these days, the phrase, “Don’t Tread on Me” has become popular. Donna’s post must have come up in searches!

The other really popular post, Let the Tours Begin, by Lisa Milewski, was from October 2019, and was about the big event we held with the Rancheria Grande Chapter of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association. That link got sent out to a lot of places and shared often, so no wonder people looked at it. (Sharing posts is how you get people to look at them; you could do that, too).

How You Can Help Our Blog Grow

We’d like for more people to be able to find and enjoy the writing and beautiful photos from our chapter members. It’s great that we are getting more posts from a variety of members, but it would be good for them to be seen! People clicking on our blog links and sharing them are what gets our blog promoted more by search engines and WordPress (blog site). So, here are some things YOU can do:

  • Contribute. Send me (Sue Ann/Suna) your nature observations, research, fun projects, or reports of activities. You can type them in an email, put them in Word, write them on a piece of paper…whatever works! I can make them into fun blog posts, even if you aren’t a professional writer.
  • Read. When you see a blog post announcement on our Facebook page (or in email if you are one of our 37 subscribers), click on it. See what fellow Chapter members have to say! You might learn something. Or laugh.
  • Comment. Do you have something to add to a post? What about a question for the author? You can comment on our blog posts. Just put your name in there and start commenting! That’s how blog readers converse and build communities.
We’ve only had 79 “real” comments. Help us out!
  • Share. Did you find a post interesting? Copy the URL (the web link, at the top of the page) and paste it in an email, Facebook post, or message to a friend. Or, click the Share button on a Facebook post. Maybe someone you know will enjoy reading what you or another member wrote.
  • Talk. Mention reading the blog in conversations, when you’re explaining to a potential new class member what fun it is to be a Texas Master Naturalist, or if you’re asked what exactly we do. The blog is a good record of that!

This can help you, too! Writing a blog post gets you precious volunteer hours. Taking the photos and doing the research for an article also counts. It’s under Chapter Administration > Website and Social Media. This is something fun, interesting, and helpful that we can do while maintaining our pandemic protocols.

Oh yes, thanks for reading! Y’all are all the best!

We’ll Be Staying Home for a While

by Sue Ann Kendall, Chapter President

As you’re no doubt aware, the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging in Texas. The Texas Master Naturalist program’s advisors and administrators are concerned for the safety of the members of our program, so they have had to come to some difficult decisions this month.

I attended the monthly meeting for Chapter Presidents yesterday, and it was a hard one. Mary Pearl Meuth and Michelle Haggerty patiently shared with us the data they have put together about COVID risks in the counties where there are Master Naturalist chapters. It didn’t look good. They divided the counties into red, yellow, and green, by relative risk, and there were only two counties with chapters that were green, and four yellow as of last Friday.

The yellow and red counties as of December 12, 2020. Map from the TMN COVID Response page.

Milam County was yellow as of then, but it’s predicted to be red by next Friday, when they will update the map again. What does that mean? Here’s what Texas Parks and Wildlife says for red counties:

Counties with two of three factors pertaining to positivity rate of greater than 8% or more, OR a rapid rise in cases OR a hot spot:
• No face to face Extension-hosted or Extension-sponsored events.
• No guest speaking or presenting at other entities’ events.
• No overnight events.

TMN COVID Response page follow the link to read more about the guidelines

Many attendees at the meeting asked about whether drive-by events, outdoor activities, or solo activities would be okay. The answer was a reluctant, “No.”

No one was happy about this turn of events, but the current guidelines are set until the end of the year. It sounded doubtful that anything would change after that, but we will keep checking.

Implications for Our Chapter

Last night we held a meeting with some of the El Camino Real board who have worked directly with our recently graduated training class, to figure out how to do the graduation event we’d planned for this Saturday (December 12). After I explained what I’d learned earlier in the day, we had no choice but to conclude that we have to cancel the event, even though it was going to be as safe as we could make it.

Even if Milam County stayed in the yellow, we’d have more than ten attendees, and that’s all allowed in yellow counties. Plus, since we would have Board members living in Bell and Williamson Counties at the meeting, we’d have to abide by red county rules, anyway. Well, that was no fun.

Plan for Graduates

Of course, we want to celebrate our new members! Here’s what we will be doing right now:

I will send certificates out as soon as I can get Floyd Ingram’s signature on the graduation certificates. These go to our fine new members:

  • 1) Connie Anderle
  • 2) Marian Buegeler
  • 3) Carolyn Henderson
  • 4) Samuel Jolly
  • 5) John Montgomery
  • 6) Kaitlyn Montgomery
  • 7) Eric Neubauer
  • 8) Alan Rudd
  • 9) Debra Sorenson

I’ll also sign the certificates for those who have passed their initial certification, which include:

  • 1) Connie Anderle
  • 2) Carolyn Henderson
  • 3) Debra Sorenson

Kathy Lester will send everyone their Chapter t-shirts.

Lisa Milewski will send pins to the new graduates and nametags to those who get them, as well.

We will wait to give new members their gift made by Pamela Neeley later, since the are delicate and expensive to mail.

Plan for Chapter Meetings and Activities

Since we don’t have any idea when we can resume in-person meetings, we will continue with our Zoom Chapter Meetings. Don Travis will send all our members the registration link, which will work for all 2021 meetings. They’ll still be the second Thursday of the month!

We will be sending links to TMN activities that can get us our Advanced Training and volunteer hours virtually, such as TMN Tuesdays and the upcoming Virtual Volunteer Fair. Keep your eyes open for the weekly email!

I just want to thank all of you for sticking with us this year. I know some of us are unable to do virtual meetings, and that means we miss being together. Let’s hope things will turn around with the new year and slowly but surely we will be able to get outdoors and do some community science work together again!

May Chapter Meeting: The Houston Toad

by Sue Ann Kendall

We had our first online Chapter Meeting last week, and while it wasn’t totally hitch-free, it went well enough that everyone enjoyed the advanced training and meeting, I think. We had nearly 30 attendees, which is a reasonable number for our chapter at any time!

Our speakers were Dr. Paul Crump (Herpetologist) and Dr. Elizabeth Bates (Conservation Initiatives Specialist) from Texas Parks and Wildlife. They graciously provided the WebEx link for the meeting, since we didn’t have our shiny new Zoom account yet (we do now, thanks to Mike Conner).

Throughout our state the habitats for many species are dwindling.  @cameronrainer via Twenty20

Conservation of Rare Species

The first part of the session was about programs that exist in the US and Texas to protect endangered and rare species. It gets pretty complicated, since species can be listed as being of greatest conservation need at the federal level, state level, or both levels.

One thing that Dr. Bates stressed was the need to be pro-active about protecting these plants and animals. She encouraged landowners to take advantage of programs, such as Safe Harbor Agreements, to protect and enhance dwindling habitats. Something easy and rewarding that any of us can do is log sightings of rare and endangered species in iNaturalist. That way, researchers can see if they are increasing, decreasing, or staying the same.

You can find more information on this topic at the Texas Parks and Wildlife department site.

The Houston Toad

For the second part of the presentation, Dr. Crump, who has worked with the Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis) for many years, provided an example of the work that’s been done to protect and expand the range of this Texas native. The Houston toad took quite a hit when one of its primary sanctuaries, the Lost Pines area near Bastrop, burned so badly.

Historic range of Houston toad (from presentation)

Crump shared maps of where the toad used to be found and its current range (which does NOT include Houston), which includes parts of Milam County. Later he did say that only five have been found here. The Houston toad is the only toad that’s found only in Texas, by the way. There are eight other toads found in this state, but the one we usually see is the Gulf coast toad.

We learned that these toads like to breed in bodies of water that aren’t permanent, perhaps because they are less likely to hold fish and turtles that would eat their eggs and developing tadpoles. They’ve bred in many ponds and such, though. Their most sensitve time is right after they crawl out of the water, because they need leaf litter to hide in, and they are easy to squish. Eventually they head out to sandy soil where they can hide by burying themselves.

The smaller males tend to live a year, while females take two years to mature, due to their size. Most only breed once. We are lucky that there has been some success breeding them in captivity and setting the little ones in ponds (it’s way too expensive to feed them to maturity; it requires mega-large amounts of crickets.

Male calling for a mate. From presentation.

It’s easy to tell a Houston toad from a Gulf coast toad if you know where to look. Houston toads have more freckles on their bellies and are quite green where their neck balloons out while they call. Gulf coast toads have a large cranial ridge that the Houston toad lacks, too. Their calls are really different, with the Houston toad being much higher in pitch. Basically, you’ve probably never seen or heard one.

But don’t let that stop you from looking, because the researchers need data on where they have been sighted! Crump and his colleagues would also love to have more participants in the Houston Toad Safe Harbor Agreement, which is a way for landowners to agree to protect their toad habitat.

If this doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, the slide deck from Crump’s presentation is available on our website, and there’s great information on the TPWD website as well.

February Chapter Meeting Draws a Big Crowd

The El Camino Real Chapter Meeting on February 13 really filled our meeting space. It was great to have to go upstairs and fetch more chairs for all the members, 2020 class students, and guests that came to hear Dr. Alston Thoms talk about the indigenous people who lived in the Milam County area from the time of the Mastodons until the present.

The Hermit Haus was filled with so many guests and members! Dr. Thoms is sitting by the center post.

He had a LOT of content to cover, and an hour definitely wasn’t enough to take in all there is to know about this topic. Luckily, the website at Texas Beyond History has lots and lots of additional information.

Dr. Thoms made a great opening slide show wit pictures of us and our meeting building on it!

We learned about the Coahuiltecan, Tonkawa, and Atakapa (Bedi) people who made their lives moving from place to place to follow the food spots they knew of. They primarily ate deer, which have been the primary food source for people in this area since people showed up. They were able to get many types of prey using spears, adl-adl, arrows and such, and they also ate lots of our native plants, even ones we don’t normally eat (like false garlic/crow poison, which is good roasted a long time).

Later on, other groups moved in, but there are still descendants of the Coahuiltecan people in central Texas, after many of them moved to the missions, like the Alamo (bear in mind, its main historical significance is being an early Spanish mission).

Dr. Thoms in May 2018, leaving his talk at our meeting in Milano.

Want to learn a little more? I summarized his previous talk on my personal blog, and we even had a newspaper article on his talk.

At the Chapter Meeting

Lisa Milewski happily gave Donna Lewis her bumblebee pin.

We had a lively Chapter Meeting after the talk. Our first recertification award of 2020 went out to Donna Lewis, who is the first to sport a bumblebee pin on her shirt! Donna does so much work for our chapter, including bringing in our guest speakers and leading meetings when the President is unavailable (like next month, when I have the nerve to have scheduled a vacation at meeting time!).

Liz gets her treasured certification certificate.

Liz Lewis (no relation), a member if the 2018 class, also got an exciting milestone award, as she received her initial certification. She’s now working on setting up the graduation dinner for our 2020 students.

Look at that cool lizard and happy Master Naturalist!

And finally, Linda Jo Conn presented Debbie Harris with the WOW iNaturalist award of the month for her photo of a Texas spiny lizard. Get those photos in, because Linda Jo is watching out for good ones!

We have lots of activities this month, so be on the lookout for more blog posts in the next couple of weeks!

What’s Up with Our Chapter?

Hello! It’s been such a busy time for the El Camino Real Chapter that we haven’t had much time to update you.

Marsha May sharing all her birding information.

First, our 2020 training class has been meeting the past few Thursdays, and it’s going very well! We have over ten class members, and every single one of them is bringing amazing talents and knowledge to our chapter. The classes have been attended by many of our current chapter members, too, because there is so much to learn.

For example, last week we had Marsha May, a renowned birder and former Texas Parks and Wildlife employee, who told us so many things about birds that even the most experienced birders didn’t know. (I learned how their lungs work, where there are two air chambers, so when they breathe out, it’s the air from the previous breath!)

The classes are a great way for current members to get Advanced Training hours and also get to know our new class members.

Coming Up

Next week is our February Chapter Meeting, which will feature one of our favorite speakers, Dr. Alston Thoms. He is an archeologist at Texas A&M University, and he will present a program about the original peoples who occupied the land around the Rancheria Grande here in Milam County. Knowing who lived here before us really puts the area into perspective.

A map of the Rancheria Grande, which was near current Gause, Texas. We have members who own property there. This image is from this Austin American Statesman article. The article would be great to read in preparation for the Chapter Meeting.

On the Saturday after the chapter meeting February 15) will be a wonderful field trip opportunity for our class members and current Chapter members. We will visit the property of one of our members, near Davilla, and get first-hand information on the flora and fauna in our area.

BioBlitz!

Our iNaturalist team (Linda Jo Conn, Ann Collins, and me) has set up the FIRST of our BioBlitzes for February 22. We will announce the location at the Chapter Meeting, and it will appear in our weekly email newsletter, so stay tuned.

What’s a BioBlitz? It’s where a group of people get together and record as many entries into iNaturalist in a set area that they can. We are planning to eventually cover all the parks in Milam County, which is a big job, but will provide wonderful data about our county for researchers. We’re excited!

Art by Sean Wall, on my wall.

Farther in the Future

Carlton climbs a fence.

Our Vice President, Donna Lewis, is working hard scheduling speakers for the 2020 Chapter Meetings. We’re excited to be able to announce that our friend, Sean Wall, will be joining us for the May 14 meeting. He’s an expert on wildcrafting, edible native plants, and using what you find in nature in all aspects of your life. For example, he painted this picture of my dog, Carlton, scaling our fence using pigments he found around him.

The Saturday after the Chapter Meeting, Sean will return to Milam County to lead a nature walk at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch, to see what kind of edible plants are growing in the fields, wetlands, and wooded areas there. The wildflowers should be pretty that time of year, too!

We hope to see you at some of our meetings and events. Our Chapter Meetings are open to the public, by the way!