Snail Trails

by Carolyn Henderson

I have attached a picture I took this morning for the ECRMN blog. It is the trail of a snail and the snail. It’s outside my office. You have to look at the picture in large format to see it. It struck me as appropriate for the times that the snail had traveled quite the distance, but only gotten about three inches from where it started. I guess the moral is, “Just keep moving.”

Travels of a snail.

PS from Suna: I happen to have taken a similar picture yesterday, of milk snail tracks on one of the columns in front of the house we are renovating on Gillis. They are busy.

More busy snails, cleaning that post!

Identification Question

by Eric Neubauer

On March 16 and 17, I walked my property and nearby roads taking photos for iNaturalist observations. My neighborhood is former blackland prairie turned into grazing land and farm fields, and it includes gravel roads, wooded patches, tree lines, and a creek. Despite years of heavy cultivation, native prairie grasses and wildflowers still pop up on their own. These managed to survive in the road margins and tree lines.

Spring is definitely here, and a lot more is going on than earlier in the year. In all, I took almost 400 photos including multiple shots which allow me to choose the best focus or angle. Over the next three days I selected photos and identified them as well as I could before uploading them to iNaturalist under the user name eaneubauer.

Gorgeous image of a gray hairstreak from Eric’s iNaturalist observations.

I often use  iNaturalist for identification. I’m not very familiar with plant species, but a search of particular plant groups in Milam County made it easy to identify most of the plants I found. The previous efforts of several ECR chapter members were largely responsible.

I never know what I will encounter. I’ve found surprises like young fishing spiders thousands of feet from any permanent surface water. For identification of animals, I usually have to include nearby counties or even the entire state because of limited Milam County animal observations. I also find other observers very helpful with identifications, especially if I can narrow my observations down to the family or genus level and the photos are good.

Silvery checkerspot observed on March 24.

Most observers have a specific interest. Butterflies have a large following. Even groups like jumping spiders have their fans. Some groups can be difficult to identify from photos. Grasshoppers come to mind. Flies are a real challenge because of their great diversity. If you see a lot of flies in one area, don’t assume they are all the same. I’ve learned that lesson, and found some oddities as a result. Right now I have a “dark frog-headed fly” which I can’t seem to find among the 802 species observed in Texas. Here is a link.

The mystery fly

Maybe someone who knows will comment on it.

Welcome Home, Boss

by Larry Kocian

Yesterday, many of us mentioned hearing and seeing hummingbirds in the tree tops, gardens, and at some feeders. Today, just after noontime, this hummingbird posed for the camera. Enjoy the short narrative as to what happened.

I looked out the window and saw a hummingbird at the feeder. I grabbed the big camera and went outside, somewhat hidden, and stayed motionless for 15 minutes or so.

Can’t tell who it is from here.

It was still raining off and on, pleasantly mild, thundering, all foliage was wet. The hummingbird sat on a tiny branch on a large Crape Myrtle tree next to the feeder. Did he see me? Most likely! So it was standoff. I stayed motionless and was not going to move, no matter what was itching or biting me. This went on for many minutes; it seemed like forever.

Big raindrops began to fall again. A couple of Carolina Wrens landed in the same tree. The hummingbird was aggravated with them and chased them off. I waited a few more minutes, raindrops more frequent. Then, the hummingbird made his move.

Yummy!

My camera clicked rapidly at the fast-moving target. I wondered, “What type of hummingbird are you, who are you?” I asked repeatedly.

Then, after feeding a couple of times at the left feeder, he came right at me to the camera. I zoomed the lens back, he positioned himself in the upright position, and revealed his identity, proclaiming, “I am back.”

The Big Reveal!

Then he went to the second feeder to feed. Welcome home, Ruby Red-throated Hummer.

Here’s a Colorful Project

by Sue Ann Kendall

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I wrote up a version of this for my personal blog, but thought I’d share it here, in case it inspired any of you to do something similar while you are sheltering in place (or any other time).

This fun project I did yesterday didn’t require any human contact nor leaving the property where our office is. I decided to see how many different yellow flowers I could find in the weed/wildflower collection known as our empty lot.

I simply ambled outside with my phone and tried to get good pictures. Yellows are difficult in bright sunlight, so it was good practice for me to try to get photos with a lot of detail and not just glare. As you can see, I managed to fill a whole screen in iNaturalist!

Most of the field actually LOOKS purple, because there is so much common storks-bill (Erodium cicutarium) growing in it, but when you look closer and closer, the yellows dominate (purple is in second place, with field madder and a little patch of grape hyacinth that must be left over from when there was a house here – I plan to replant them in the “flower bed” I’m making).

What have we got? Let’s take a look. Many of these flowers look really similar, but are different sizes or have other subtle differences. Note that I may have gotten something wrong in my identification, so if anyone corrects me on iNaturalist, I’ll correct it here, too.

Common Dandelion. Taraxacum officinale. Delicious and nutritious. Bees love them.

False Dandelion. Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus. Plus a tiny wasp and tinier beetle.

Prickly Sowthistle Sonchus asper. It’s everywhere. And very prickly. Note that there are aphids or something on it.

Smooth Cat’s Ear. Hypochaeris glabra. Looks like a teeny dandelion on a very long stem. Compare to the first dandelion and you’ll see how small it is.

Cutleaf Evening Primrose. Oenothera laciniata. Smaller than most evening primrose, but a beautiful buttery yellow.

Crete Weed. Hedypnois cretica. I thought it was a dandelion, but look at the leaf and the cool petal shape.

Woodsorrels. Genus Oxalis. I’m not sure which one it is, but it’s certainly oxalis. Sour tasty leaves!

Bur Clover. Medicago polymorpha. It’s about finished blooming and starting to make burs. Yellow is a hard color for my camera, and I couldn’t get a good shot of these.


Straggler Daisy
. Calyptocarpus vialis. Lots of leaves, tiny flowers. They are pretty up close, though.

I got a lot of bugs and other things, but I’m just going to leave this parade of yellow-ness alone, in all their glory. I’ll see what other themes I can come up with over the next few weeks as all the flowers bloom away.

Do you have any suggestions? Share with the group!

Snake in the Toilet!

I love this place! 5 stars! Photo by Pamela, through a window.

While we aren’t having meetings for a while, we are able to have our own adventures out in nature, or if we’re lucky, nature comes into our homes.

Chapter member Pamela Neeley is well known for having a home that’s welcoming to creatures of nature. People who have been to our meetings may recall that she recently had a skunk that liked to come in and check out her cat food.

It would come in through the pet door and make itself at home. It never sprayed or anything, but was quite clever.

They have the best restaurants here at Chez Pamela.

When Pamela tried to block the door, the patient skunk slowly but surely worked out how to remove the barriers, so he or she could search for snacks. Cat food is really delicious, apparently.

I guess the skunk got along well enough with Ruby the dog, though Ruby did alert Pamela to the skunk’s presence.

Skunks CAN make good pets, but that’s not something we Master Naturalists would suggest as an option. Besides, this is a wild one, and fully operational.

About that Snake

Pamela also has cats. They go in and out that same door the skunk used. Sometimes cats bring presents, as cats are known to do. Earlier in the week, the present Apollo brought was long, thin, and not dead.

The snake was first spotted heading into what Pamela calls the “scary room filled with boxes,” from where she had no chance or removing it. Since she’s so used to critters, she went about her business, until yesterday, when she noticed Apollo the cat was stalking the bathroom. Aha!

Well, hello!

The snake was taking refuge in a nice, damp place. That can scare the pee out of you!

After taking a bunch of pictures, Pamela contacted her team of friends on a group text for suggestions. And she got dressed. That’s important.

Ideas came quickly from her amazed friends. One idea was flushing, which was immediately rejected. That’s not being kind to our reptile friends!

Other ideas were use a mop, use one of those pick-up sticks that help the elderly, kitchen tongs, a net, and so forth.

Pamela chose the large towel method. She was ready to fling it into the bathtub if it got too wiggly, but it turned out the snake just curled up and she could easily get it in the towel. It was probably relieved.

Pamela took it to the woods a good ways from the house, and everyone was relieved.

What Was It?

Closer image of the scared snake.

Naturally, everyone in the Cameron ladies’ text group wanted to know what kind of snake it was, especially those of us who are Texas Master Naturalists. Pamela knew what to do, and uploaded it to iNaturalist, suggesting it might be a brown snake, judging from the markings she noted.

Soon she got feedback that the snake was a coach-whip snake. Now she’s glad it didn’t do its characteristic whipping action on her. Since the snake may have been in her house as long as a week, she also hopes it ate some scorpions or other annoying creatures while it was a guest in her home.

Share Your Stories!

Now that we are mostly sitting around looking at the nature around our homes, please share what’s going on with you! Maybe it will make up for all the meetings and classes that have been canceled. I already have one to share tomorrow, so stay tuned.