Birds at the Park

By Carolyn Henderson

Birds where everywhere Sunday at Wilson-Ledbetter Park. I came upon a few out of the ordinary species while walking the park to contribute to the GTWT Adopt-A-Loop project with the Texas Nature Trackers/Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and iNaturalist

Normally, flora is abundant in that park, but most things were wilted, or dried up and gone, which is primarily due to the lack of rain in August and September and mowing. I heard on the local weather report that September has been a record dry month here in Central Texas. There were a few butterflies, but they were sparse, too, probably because there are very few nectar-producing plants right now. But the birds showed up. 

There were domestic mallards that I would called mottled, mallards, mallards x muscovy cross, black-bellied Whistling Ducks (juvenile), and pekin ducks. The ducks appear to be intermingling. 

There were green herons, great blue herons (which kept stealing fish from the green heron), and a great egret. Watching the Great Egret fly over the pond was beautiful – until it landed (see top photos). It was comically ungraceful when it landed in a large patch of floating primrose-willow. 

There were also domestic geese that have been living in the wild there for a very long time. The geese and most ducks  were amazingly indifferent to humans standing amid them. All of the pictured birds have been verified for research grade on iNat except the Geese and Mallard x Muscovy, the latter of which was the suggestion by iNat.

Usually sparrows, mockingbirds, and grackles are there, but I did not see them Sunday.

If you’re a bird watcher or just want to earn some volunteer hours, it’s an interesting place to spend a little time. If you don’t yet use iNat and want to, they are having at least three programs on the use of the program at the annual meeting next month. You can attend virtually if you aren’t going in person.

Milkweed Project Update

by Donna Lewis

The Milkweed Project a few of our El Camino Real Chapter Master Naturalists started last year is still ongoing.  We were given a grant to obtain these.  Chapter member, Cathy Johnson, applied for the grant for us.

No matter what the weather throws at us, we love it.  We actually want the conditions to be as close as they can to nature, and we all know the Mother can be unpredictable. If we provide too much help, we can not call them natural.   

I had planted four areas of Zizotes.  Weather and critters have taken out three of the areas, with one remaining. I have never watered the plants this year. I wanted them to be on their own.

I also have some Antelope Horn plants that started growing on our drive shell driveway from seeds I planted some time ago.  I want to have an open buffet for the Monarchs!!!!

 Thryothorus ludovicianus, Carolina wren. Photo (c) Joseph F. Pescatore – used with permisison.

Just another note: while I was looking at all the milkweed today, I heard some interesting chatter on some of the milkweed plants and some other native cowpen daisies.  I stayed still for a moment, and saw that there were two Carolina wrens upside down going after insects on the plants.

These are interesting little birds.  We had four sets of babies this year in our barn. They are so tiny at birth. 

So many many wild things to see, so little time. By the way, one of the best books I have for Monarchs is the book  Milkweed, Monarchs and More by Ba Rea, Karen Oberhauser, and Michael A. Quinn.

In the Media: Citizen Scientists

By Sue Ann Kendall

Do you get the Texas Co-op Power magazine? It’s actually one of my favorites. The writing is great, and I’m always learning something about rural Texas on its pages.

What’s that on the cover?

This month, I was excited to see “citizen scientists” right on the cover. Who could they be talking about? Sure enough, when I turned to page 8, there was a lovely article all about opportunities to contribute to science around the state.

Hey, that’s Craig Hensley!

Though the article talks about many opportunities, we’re in there, too. Some of our favorite projects, like CoCoRaHS, are mentioned, along with Nature Trackers and iNaturalist. There are photos of Tania Homayoun and Craig Hensley doing their stuff for Texas Parks and Wildlife and using iNaturalist.

Of course, there has to be a tie-in to electric co-ops. Who could be better than our own Linda Jo Conn! Yep, she gets quoted! We can charitably ignore the lack of capitalization when they mention Texas Master Naturalists.

So, if you get your electricity from one of the amazing Texas rural electric co-ops, don’t throw away your monthly magazine this month! If you don’t get the magazine, never fear. It’s online right here.

It makes you proud to be a citizen scientist, even though that’s not the preferred term for many people, who now say “community scientist” instead. Well, we know who we are.

Milam Wildscape New Acquisitions

by Catherine Johnson

Wholesalers are offering sales now, so new natives have been acquired for the Milam Wildscape. They include Mexican bush sage, Convent sage, Benny’s acanthus, Mexican flame vine, Dwarf Barbados cherry, and Fragrant mist flower.

Humidity is causing fungus on some plants, but most are thriving.  We will have many native plants, seeds and cuttings to give away in the fall.

Please click on any photo to see the entire image.

Weird and New Nature Observations

by Sue Ann Kendall

In the past week or so, I’ve seen some pretty darned interesting sights on my north Milam County ranch. I thought I’d share a few with you all. Plus I have a bonus observation from Pamela Neeley.

We’ve been digging a lot of holes for fence poles this week, which stirs up the insect population. A couple of days ago, we saw something wriggling on the ground, and I realized it was a spider I’d never seen before. It had beautiful pale green markings and had a very large abdomen.

I wondered what it was, and iNaturalist indicated it could be an Giant Lichen orbweaver, Araneus bicentaurius. What a beauty. We are in some of the most western areas they are found.

The day before, I has spotted a rabid wolf spider, lying motionless and with its legs all curled up. That was weird. I went to look at something else, and when I came back, I knew what had happened to it. A Rusty Spider Wasp Tachypomplilus ferrugineus had stung it, and now it was dragging it up the wall to wherever it was going to enjoy its spidery meal. It turns out those wasps, which were new to me, prefer wolf spiders as prey.

This looks yummy!

Something else that was new to me this year was my discovery of a bunch of odd-looking, deformed Mexican hat flowers  (Ratibida columnifera or upright prairie coneflower). I wrote about them in my personal blog, but have learned more since, thanks to fellow Chapter member, Linda Jo Conn. Alongside of a field that had grown oats for silage, the flowers didn’t look quite right.

Since I know that the field next to the flowers got sprayed by herbicides more than once (the representatives from our ranch coop gave permission), I wondered if that is what caused the flowers to have extra petals, extra “cones” or oddly shaped flowers. I uploaded some of the images I had to iNaturalist and waited. Sure enough, Linda Jo commented that there’s a word for abnormal growth in vascular plants: FASCIATION. Now, isn’t that cool? The Wikipedia article on fasciation says sometimes it’s caused by hormones or by viral/bacterial infections. But, among the possible causes ARE caused by chemical exposure. Another possibility is excessive cold weather. Guess what we had in February??

Other than that, I’ve been enjoying the insects of summer. Wow, there have been some interesting ones here at the Hermits’ Rest!

And finally, just for fun, I wanted to share a photo Pamela Neeley took of a young praying mantis. Look at its shadow! It’s a giraffe!