Our first chapter meeting presentation for 2020 was really interesting to many of us. I think at least I thought I knew a lot about dragonflies, but it turned out that I did not! Thanks to Cindy Travis’s presentation, I ended up wanting to learn more.
The first thing we learned was how to tell a dragonfly from a damselfly (they are both Odonata). The damselflies are usually much thinner and hold their wings upright, while dragonflies hold their wings out. Their eyes are oriented differently, too.
Cindy also shared the lifecycle of these interesting insects, and showed a film about their mating practices. Wow, it’s amazing they breed at all; it’s pretty complicated.
The nymphs are very interesting, too. They eat pretty much anything and go through many changes while they live underwater. They moult a LOT.
Once a year we set aside the seriousness of being citizen scientists and just get together to appreciate each other. The December Chapter Meeting does include some business, such as voting on the slate of officers for the next year and discussing our upcoming class, but most of the night is for food and fun: the Christmas Party!
As in past years, the Dworaczyk family hosted our party in their beautiful home. Sandra has so many beautiful decorations that it’s like a winter wonderland in there! She even has enough Christmas dishes for all attendees to eat off a beautiful plate with beautiful flatware, too.
The Master Naturalists outdid themselves with the food this year, and no one went away hungry. Anyone avoiding sweets was in big trouble, too! I hardly had any room after eating all the brisket and side dishes.
And the Fun!
After dinner and the chapter meeting, where the slate of officers was unanimously approved, the white elephant (or Yankee swap, or whatever) gift exchange began. As always, Don Travis made sure the rules were scrupulously followed to ensure maximum hilarity.
A lot of stealing went on, since there were a couple of very popular gifts (a barn bird feeder was very popular). Two poor participants had multiple gifts stolen from them. I hope they ended up with something they liked!
I got a boot-shaped wine carrier/vase holder made by Cindy Travis, so I was okay with losing the bluebird house and mosaic church bird house. Some people got what they wanted by colluding with their spouses, though, which makes me want to bring a spouse next time!
It’s amazing how hard the group works on coming up with wonderful gifts that their fellow Master Naturalists will treasure. We all are so thoughtful and really know what will appeal to our colleagues.
Sending warm holiday wishes to all of you reading this. I look forward to being part of the Board next year and to many interesting activities and learning experiences!
Better late than never, here’s a summary of what we learned at the November Chapter meeting. We’re really grateful to Donna Lewis for stepping up to the plate and delivering an informative talk based on information from the Texas Bluebird Society. Here’s a bit of what she shared:
Right now, people in our area are seeing bluebirds, mostly in the rural areas. The ones we see are Eastern bluebirds, though the Mountain bluebird and Western bluebird are also seen in parts of Texas. Note that the three species do crossbreed and that there are eight sub-species of the Eastern bluebirds.
They are in the thrush family, like robins, and usually live around two years, though they can live up to 6-8 years. They usually have blue eggs, with the occasional clutch of white eggs. They can nest from 2-4 times per year, depending on the conditions.
We had a large turnout for this month’s meeting, where Linda Friedrickson and Aloma Clayton spoke on keyhole gardening (modified raised bed). They are members of the Little River Basin Master Gardeners, so many of our members who are in both organizations already knew them. Both of these women have lots of knowledge about keyhole gardens, and Linda even built one this year at her new property.
The book to read if you want to learn more is Soiled Rotten, by Deb Tolman, who is a fascinating person currently living in Texas and basing her life on creative recycling and reuse. Linda pointed out that keyhole gardens are a perfect example of Tolman’s philosophy, because you can build then from discarded material. Tolman makes gardens out of all sorts of things, including an abandoned speedboat.
Aloma started the presentation all off by giving us the history of keyhole gardens.
They started in southern and eastern Africa, because trees were all gone and the soil depleted from years of mismanagement. It was a mess. Africans starved while we wasted our food.
Mahaha Mafou (not sure of spelling) in Lesotho (luh-soo-too) invented keyhole gardens to feed her family. She made hers from rocks with characteristic shape. They were popularized by CARE (an NGO) and USAID (US government), who helped spread it. They did this throughout the 1980s and on. It spread throughout eastern and southern Africa.
Our August Chapter Meeting speaker was our old friend, Tim Siegmund, from Texas Parks and Wildlife. He spoke on “Prairies, Woodlands, Wildlife, and Managing for Diversity.” He had many wonderful photos that showed how careful management of land can result in habitat for a wide variety of life.
First, he told us what shaped the land before we Europeans showed up and turned our post oak savanna into more of a thicket. For the most part it was maintained by the large grazers (bison, mammoths, prairie dogs, and such) and fires. Some of the fires were natural, but many were also set by Native Americans for many reasons, plus natural ones. Drought also affects the trees, especially wetland species.
In all, the land was lightly used, since the heavy grazers migrated, creating a variety of settings for different birds, insects, and plants depending on how recently they’d been through an area.
He then explained how settlers intensified the use of land. An important factor was that they built fences, so grazing became year round and focused. The cattle/sheep, goats and friends would repeatedly graze the same area, giving no time for deep-rooted perennial grasses to recover. Soon enough, plants like cedars, huisache, and mesquite would fill in the grasslands.