Christmas Bird Count Opportunity: December – January

by Linda Jo Conn and Sue Ann Kendall

Every year, the Audubon Society sponsors the Christmas Bird Count. This year counts will be held from December 14, 2019-January 5, 2020. It’s very important for keeping up with rising and falling bird populations in the US. You can participate in many ways.

One nearby project came to us via Kyle Watter, a park ranger with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Proctor Lake in Comanche, Texas. He wrote:

January 4th, we are hosting our second annual Christmas Bird Count. Last year, we recorded 99 species at our lake. The count incorporates six driving routes, each of which includes a portion of federal property. Some of the properties are off-limits to the general  public or are quite remote.

email, November 25, 2019

If you’d like to head to Proctor Lake, contact Kyle at or call the lake office at 254-879-2424.

While we may not live very close to Proctor Lake, we do have other opportunities to participate. The Bird Count project requires registration with a coordinator within one of the specified circles in this map.  The circles are 15 mile radius.  If one lives within one of the circles, they can register and sit in a lawn chair in their yard to count birds on the specified days. That is not our luck here in Milam County. 

Here are the observation locations nearest to Cameron.

As you can see from the close-up above, there are several circles in easier driving distance for us, such as Granger Lake WMA, Buescher/Bastrop State Park in Bastrop County, and McKinney Roughs Nature Park in Bastrop County aren’t too bad. Linda Jo points out that she knows that in the past, ECR members have traveled to all these locations for training or volunteer events.  

Linda Jo would like to especially recommend the McKinney Roughs location, because it is being led by Nicolaus Cowey, a very knowledgeable bird person. The count led by Sheila Hargis of the Lost Pines TMN chapter at Buescher/Bastrop would also be a worthwhile experience. Sue Ann really likes Granger Lake for its variety of shore birds.

Here is contact information on each of these locations. Contact the compiler to register and get more information:

Date: Saturday, December 29
Compiler: Byron Stone
Granger Lake, in Williamson County, is 35 miles northwest of Austin. The area is significant due to its reputation for harboring threatened prairie species like MOUNTAIN PLOVER and SHORT-EARED OWL. Other specialties and expected species include a variety of duck and geese, BURROWING OWL, HORNED LARK, SPRAGUE’S PIPIT, LAPLAND LONGSPUR, MCCOWN’S LONGSPUR, and as many as 18 sparrow species, including HARRIS’S and LECONTE’S SPARROW. The area offers diverse habitat, and participants will have the opportunity to count open farmland, fresh water, riparian woodland, and Blackland Prairie habitat.

Lost Pines/McKinney Roughs
Date: Friday, December 28
Compiler: Nicholas Cowey
This CBC is located in Bastrop County between the Bastrop CBC and Austin CBC circles and just a bit to the north. This count is a community collaboration between the Lower Colorado River Authority, Bastrop Audubon Society and the Lost Pines Master Naturalists. This year the count will take place Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018 and will include the properties of McKinney Roughs, Hyatt Lost Pines, Webberville, Utley, numerous rural areas around Elgin, many area county roads and neighborhoods including Crystal Lake, Bluebonnet Acres, Wilbarger Bend, Union Chapel and Young’s Prairie Road. The count also encompasses miles of the lower Colorado River. Count starts on Saturday, Dec. 30 at 6 am at McKinney Roughs Visitor Center. Plan to arrive by 5:30 am to meet up with your count group. Countdown will take place at 6:00 pm at the McKinney Roughs Visitors Center. Register online at

Buescher – Bastrop State Parks
Date: To Be Announced
Compiler: Shelia Hargis
We need many birders to adequately survey the birds in the circle area to find all of the expected species and the rare species visiting the area. We would especially like to have some feeder watchers, so if you live within the circle and have bird feeders including hummingbird feeders, please consider participating in that way. All groups will begin their day from a location of their choosing. We will meet at the end of the day for the countdown. Email to register or visit our website at for more information as well as maps of the areas to be covered.

Perhaps there is a date and location you will be able to participate.  This is a great opportunity to earn some end of the year volunteer hours. Please let Linda Jo know if you plan to participate, in case we want to coordinate rides.

Report hours as Cit. Sci. – Cornell / Audubon TMN Field Research Hours.

Black Friday Opt Out-Side Challenge: November 29, 2019

by Linda Jo Conn

Are you eagerly plotting out your itinerary for a day of frenzied shopping on Black Friday?  Looking forward to the crowded aisles and long lines at the checkout stations?  Can’t wait to join thousands of others bargain hunting for Christmas season deals and gifts that the ads and commercials have been urging us to buy because they are deemed necessary for happiness and fulfillment on Christmas Day? 

Photo by Ann Collins.

Just thinking about all that hassle makes me want to pull back into my shell, just like this three-toed box turtle shown on the left.  Fellow ECR member Ann Collins observed this Terrapene carolina ssp. triunguis, a species of concern, in the suburbs of Milano in 2018.

I certainly will not be charging out of my front door before dawn on Friday to spend my money and rub elbows with other frenzied shoppers.   

What I am doing is challenging all fellow El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist Chapter members and friends to an alternate activity for the day: The Black Friday Opt Out-Side Challenge. 

Continue reading “Black Friday Opt Out-Side Challenge: November 29, 2019”

Let the Tours Begin

By Lisa Milewski

On Saturday, October 12, 2019 the Rancheria Grande Chapter of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association conducted a tour of several significant, certified sites along the El Camino Real in Milam County.
Local history buffs John Pruett and Geri Burnett discussed county and trail history along the route. 

The tour started in Cameron at 9:00am and ended back in Cameron at the Milam County Museum at 5pm.   

Dr. Alston Thoms, Professor of Anthropology at A&M, and Dave Cunningham provided rich and insightful commentary about Sugarloaf Mountain and the surrounding area.

Dave Cunningham

The Tour began with an introduction by Dave Cunningham on the Sugarloaf Bridge as well as a brief history of the area.  Sugarloaf Mountain is privately owned and permission is needed for tours/hikes. 

Sugarloaf Mountain
Continue reading “Let the Tours Begin”

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”

Observations of the Bird Station During a Summer Visit

from the notebook of Ann Collins

August, 2019

Our chapter mascot shows up on my property.

The Bird Station is an important component for my wildlife exemption. Plus its just a great place to enjoy the woods and the wildlife.

Since there are lots of ferns, I feel I must water often. It gets a couple of hours of water about every four days. It’s very hot and there’s no rain at all!

When the August temperature gets to 100 degrees, plants simply cook; they just about curl up and die or go dormant.

Every year I plant more and more ferns. This year I want to plant some flowering trees, red bud, camellias, and maybe a few azaleas. I can’t help myself!

Continue reading “Observations of the Bird Station During a Summer Visit”