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!

An Ice Storm!

Sue Ann Kendall and Carolyn Henderson

The weather keeps giving us more and more to observe and learn from! We had a pretty significant ice storm, especially in the northern parts of Milam County on Thursday of this week. We’ve all marveled at the beauty of plants encased in ice, while also worrying about our trees, livestock, and furry friends out in nature.

Shepherds purse

The birds seem to be doing just fine, judging from how many Sue Ann has been seeing chasing each other around and somehow finding things to eat (bluebird and mockingbird battles have been fun, plus our loggerhead shrikes and phoebes are competing for bugs, like a daytime drama!). Egrets and herons are also finding some cold food in the ponds.

Mockingbird chasing bluebird

We’re sharing some of the photos we took, so we’ll have a record of our observations. Next up? More snow and colder temperatures than most of us can remember are coming in the next few days.

Thick ice!

Here are Carolyn’s photos, including her CoCoRAHs precipitation gauge taken on February 12 at approximately 5:40 a.m.She left it sitting in the kitchen waiting for the ice inside to melt, so she could take a reading. Over two hours later, when she left for work, it had not completely melted.

And here are a few of Sue Ann’s photos. You can see more on her blogs from Thursday and Friday.

Fog Magic

Some of our members took wonderful photos of the fog around Cameron last night. I hope you enjoy it! –Sue Ann

The Hermits' Rest

Last night was absolutely magical, if also a bit scary for people on the roads. It’s one of those things that can’t help but inspire awe as you witness what Nature can do in the right circumstances. As a Blogmas gift to you all, I’ll showcase some photos from my Master Naturalist friends as I tell my story and share theirs, too.

This photo from Larry Kocian gives you an idea of what it looked like at my house as the foggy evening started out.

For me, the magic started when Vlassic and I were walking back from feeding the horses, right at sunset. I noticed a red stripe along the horizon, where there was a break in the rain clouds that had hung around all day (but not brought anywhere near enough rain).

Here’s the fog from in town in Cameron, from Martha.

I suddenly saw a sliver of…

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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.