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.
We got to enjoy some really great information on bats around the world from Cindy Bolch at our July Chapter Meeting in Milano. She brought lots of interesting handouts and gave us a really good overview of why bats are our friends.
A few highlights that I learned:
There are mega-bats and micro-bats.
The mega-bats are all found in Asia and use sight and smell to find food. Flying foxes are a primary example. They are just about as adorable as an animal can be (that was an opinion), and they have many specific adaptations to prey (fish, birds, etc.) or terrain.
Micro-bats are the ones here in the Americas and elsewhere. They primarily eat nectar, fruit, or insects and find their food through echolocation.
There are six types of bats found in Texas, though most of us are primarily familiar with the Mexican free-tailed bats that spend summers in this part of Texas eating lots and lots of insects. They spend days in caves (or under bridges as in Austin, Round Rock, and even Milano) and fly out at night to eat. Most of the ones we see here are females with pups.
The wings of bats have “fingers” spread out in them, making them very flexible and maneuverable. Bird “fingers” are all fused at the tops of their wings. Most bats mainly use their toes to hang on where they perch, but like I said earlier, some have long claws to catch prey, and a few, like vampire bats, can actually walk.
Even if you already knew a lot of bat information, you couldn’t help but be amazed by the variety of bats in the first video Cindy showed, and you couldn’t help but be charmed by the sweet baby bats in the second video. They look like flying dogs. Aww.
I know I’ll be telling lots of people the tidbits I picked up at the presentation!
Our June Chapter Meeting speaker was Marty Irwin, who had a long and successful career doing range conservation for Alcoa and other companies who performed strip mining for coal in this area. After Gary Johnson introduced him, Marty shared some pretty fascinating details with us, so I thought I’d summarize them for any who were unable to attend. (I was so busy writing that I didn’t get my usual zillions of blog photos. Oops.)
If I get any facts wrong, I apologize in advance. Also, note that his presentation wasn’t compatible with our laptop, so we all imagined what he was talking about as he went along. Thank goodness he was good at describing.