Observing Milam County: Nashville Historical Marker 11-03-20

by Linda Jo Conn

Driving east on Hwy 79 toward the Brazos River Bridge at the Milam/Robertson county line, a convenient paved pull-off invites travelers to stop, stretch their legs, and perhaps read the inscribed granite markers telling the history of this area.   The curious will learn that this was the site of the town of Nashville, founded by early Texas empresario, soldier and statesman Sterling Robertson and named after his former home in Tennessee.  Nashville was also the first Texas home of George C. Childress, chairman of the committee that drafted the Texas Declaration of Independence. 

Fellow TMN and iNaturalist Eric Neubauer and I met at the pull-off for a ‘socially-distanced’ investigation of the flora and fauna of the area.  A grasshopper expert, Eric took his bug net up the slope of the right of way see what was willing to be netted.  

Eric nabbed several species of grasshoppers with his net, including a ‘new for him’ species.

Being more of a plant person, I focused my attention on things with roots that tend to remain stationary (until the wind blows).  I was pleased to find Texas grama (Bouteloua rigidiseta) in abundance as well as patches of other native grasses:  silver bluestem (Bothriochloa laguroides, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and white tridens (Tridens albescent). 

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Texas grama lost out on the designation as the state grass of Texas to the larger species sideoats grama.  

When the spring of 2021 arrives, this roadside area should be a go-to place to enjoy a solid blue slope of Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) in bloom on the ROW.  Literally hundreds of bluebonnet rosettes dot the ground.  Other plant species I was pleased to observe were Zizotes milkweeds (Asclepias oenotheroides),  ‘new to me’ species Barrens silky aster (Symphyotrichum pretense), winecup mallows (Callirhoe involucrata), and turkey tangle frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). 

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Lupinus texensis, one of the five bluebonnet species recognized as the state flower of Texas.

I was elated to observe another ‘new for me’ species blooming at the location:  Willowleaf aster (Symphyotrichum praealtum).  It is one of several species of aster-like flowers blooming along the roadsides during this time of year that can be challenging to ID without photos of diagnostic plant parts. 

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True to its common name, willowleaf aster sports leaves resembling a willow tree. 

Eric shared his grasshopper finds with me, including a wrinkled grasshopper (Hippiscus ocelote).  Eric also shared the scientific names of each species, which I, not surprisingly, promptly forgot.  Another reason I appreciate the resources and users of the iNaturalist.org website.

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A monochrome of brown, this wrinkled grasshopper (Hippiscus ocelote) is actually an intricately marked individual. 

Eric and I traveled back down the highway to Milano to join Catherine Johnson at the Milano Wildscape for further observation and investigation.  Next week, interested chapter members will participate in a ‘socially distanced’ stroll down CR 364 at the Sugarloaf Mountain bridge near Gause. 

Birding Software Discovery

By Sue Ann Kendall

I’ve been having fun this weekend doing iNaturalist observations near Wimberley. I made over 100 observations and had a blast. I’ll share more about that later this week.

I’d seen some interesting birds, too, but was unable to get any photos other than this one.

Black vultures. Out of a screen window.

The black vultures were enjoying an armadillo across the road, and I got to listen to them croaking away, as well as to listen to their wings as they flew. Ah, peace and quiet.

Anyway, I was watching some little birds catching bugs and wondered what they were. It was hard to see through the screen, and I’d forgotten my binoculars. So, I fired up Merlin Bird ID, from Cornell Labs.

Sure enough, I realized quickly that they were little blue-gray gnatcatchers. I hit the “Yes, this is my bird” button and it asked me if I wanted to record it on eBird or your Cornell Labs Life List. Why, yes, I would!

Added to my brand-new list.

Those of you who use eBird might find this really handy. I love the Merlin software, because it helps you narrow down birds to ones that should be where you are and of similar size, color, and habit. That makes ID fun!

Here’s the starting screen.

Since there must have been dozens of phoebes, I made sure to record that one, too.

It’s cool that it shows you a map of where you are.

The Cornell folks also use the data we report for their research, but I don’t think it goes into the eBird database unless you report it to that account. I guess I should change over to get more hours, or maybe this way will count. They only added this feature this month!

This app is much more fun now! It’s great for beginning and intermediate birders. Recommend it to your friends who want an easy way to keep a life list.

Invasive or Inviting: The Wild Morning Glory

By Larry Kocian. Adopted from a Facebook post on Milam County Veggie and Plant Exchange, September 22, 2019.

Free from nature, these vines (also known as tie vine —Impomoea cordatotriloba) make an appearance in late spring, early summer. In mid- to late summer and into autumn, they are showy with their purple/lavender colors.

Tie vine is just as pretty as hybrid morning glories, just with smaller blossoms.

Some people say invasive. I say not, because they are easily controlled by going into the garden and removing/sculpting them. I let mine climb, and they do climb into the mimosa trees. I do control some when they wrap in the wrong place or too much on a particular plant/tree.

My point is that most natural occurring plants that are labeled invasive are not at all. I always encourage everyone who reads this to go outside and get to know your garden. It’s very therapeutic.

Continue reading “Invasive or Inviting: The Wild Morning Glory”

Mystery of the Fuzzy Mat Plant

Since this post features one of our members, I thought I would share it here, too – Sue Ann

The Hermits' Rest

Sometimes you see something so often that you forget it is interesting. That’s the case for a weird plant I’ve been seeing on our driveway ever since we built it. It always looked like bits of cotton had gotten into one of the usual spurges that line our driveway.

Here’s the plant from a distance. You can barely distinguish it from the road base.

I finally got it into my head to take a photo of it an upload it to iNaturalist, so I could figure out what it was. I took the photo on our cutting board, hoping for better contrast.

Well, that didn’t go well at all. The plant simply does NOT photograph well, and the recognition algorithms couldn’t figure out what the thing was at all. It was guessing owls and such. I tried for a better photo, but didn’t get much further.

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What’s Blooming?

This is the time of year when everything is crispy and shriveled. But still, you can see life moving along, if you look carefully.

After talking to Linda Jo Conn last week about how many shriveled images were being uploaded to iNaturalist now, I got curious as to what floral beauty I could find at my place, the Hermits’ Rest Ranch.

So, my dogs and I set out to see what we could find. I looked in a meadow, a woodland border, and a riparian area. The pond still has plenty of marsh marigolds in it, but I can’t safely get to them for photos.

You can see how thin the leaves are on the broomweed. The stems are a nice and bright green, which looks good against all the brown foliage everywhere.

Most of the flowering plants right now seem to have two characteristics: very few or very thin leaves and small blossoms. The two most common examples are the prairie broomweed and yard aster, both of which look practically leafless and have tiny flowers.

These little asters are pale pinkish purple and widely scattered on the plant.
I had to take this over a fence, so it’s not frat. It’s hiding among the seedheads of the spring flowers.

In slightly shadier areas I saw a few rather tired looking prairie false foxgloves, a flower I’ve always enjoyed running into. They also have sparsely flowered plants with few leaves. I am guessing all three of these plants are high on drought tolerance lists.

I know the Mexican ruellia that’s still hanging on does well in droughts, because it did well at my Austin house, too, throwing those seeds out all over my xeriscaped garden. They are hard to get rid of, which for the most part is a feature I value a lot in a plant.

This is a “Mexican petunia” blossom that had just been expelled from the plant.

Other plants I saw were turkey tangle frogfruit, which has been going strong all year, and a lot of pretty grasses. Since I stink at grass ID, I just look at the fluffy ones, watch the ones that blow in the wind wander around the area, and admire the dignified nodding stalks.

My mother called these matchstick flowers. I thought they were really matches and was apprehensive around them for a few years as a child.

I know others in our Chapter have been out looking for flowers, such as Conni Jo, who found a lot of flowers to photograph for the wilfdlower brochure we’re putting together. Have any of you others seen any stalwart bloomers out there braving the heat and dryness? Let us know. Share some pictures!