Encountering Coachwhips

by Pamela Neeley and Phyllis Shuffield

Pamela: Remember the snake encounter I had right after the storm?

I was walking out of house to meet the mail carrier and something ran between and over my feet and ankles. When I turned to chide the cat, it was a snake.

Sue Ann says: Pamela may have forgotten the one she found in her toilet on March 19, 2020.

Watched snake long enough to see it was about 2′ long, light green/slight tan mixed in, no spots, no stripes, non-venomous head, fat middle, slim tail and fast. When it ran away from me, at the steps of the porch it turned and looked at me – and then went on into the flower bed. The light/medium green color blended into the grey of the porch – same value! perfect camouflage.

I searched all photos of non-venomous snakes I could find on internet. Thanks to Donna Lewis, I got the contact information of Dr. Crump at Texas Parks and Wildlife. I received a call back from him and he identified it – with all the disclaimers that come with an ID – as a coachwhip.

Why? Because: they vary in color from pink in the west to black in the east; they are fast; they are fat; AND they are curious. Dr. Crump described coachwhip behavior as “curious, and looking back to check is typical.” That was the final clue to the ID. So the valuable identification clue is that it paused long enough to turn itself around and look at me before continuing on.

Yea! I have a coachwhip here! Good mousers, etc. One of the good guys. I wanted to post a photo of the pink variant, but could not locate one that would copy.

Thank you, Dr. Paul Crump.

Suna says: Here’s a photo of a pink one by Jake Scott from iNaturalist. Used with permission.

Phyllis: Coach whips are really neat to watch. They will stop, raise up out of the grass as if to ask, “What are you looking at?” They will also come up from behind you and slither through you legs. And if you run, they will chase you and whip their tail at you…yep had all this happen several times.

I had some in the puppy pen area. Once they moved into Club Med for puppies and mice, I didn’t have a bad problem with the mice. However, I had help quit once because he got chased by one.

The Butterflies Are Arriving

I caught this male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectaring on a Pin-cushion plant in my garden this Thursday. Every time I see a butterfly I think that this species is my favorite one.

Of course I say that about everyone I see.  All butterflies are amazing creatures.

If you stop and think about it, how could something so colorful and delicate be a real living thing?  Nature can  produce things that we can not.

This butterfly is very large and has an interesting trait that others do not.

The males are yellow, but the females can be yellow or black!  In fact the female can be black on one side and yellow on the other.  I would like to see that..

This is called dimorphic coloration. A pretty neat trick.

Swallowtails come in many forms and names. All will have the “tail” on the bottom.

They live in every state and a few in Mexico.  The ones that are here in Texas like Coneflowers, Petunias, and Zinnias.  Very easy to grow and  good plants to have in your garden.  The Pin-cushion plant that the fellow in my garden is also a good plant to have even though it is hard for them to land on it because it is spindly.  Flowers with a wider platform like Zinnias are easier to land on to have a little sip of nectar.

So be watching in your garden. If you don’t have a garden, plant some colorful pots. Soon you’ll have flying jewels around your home.

Belly Hunting

by Carolyn Henderson

“Belly Hunting” for teeny, tiny flowers is hard on the leg muscles. On Sunday, I went to Wilson Ledbetter Park to take pictures to post to the Great Texas Wildlife Trails (GTWT) Adopt-a-Loop project in iNaturalist. It was a follow-up to pictures posted in February before the Great Freeze of 2021. I discovered that the park is covered in teeny, tiny flowers, and plenty of larger one, too. 

Field madder

If you attended the March meeting of ECRMN, you remember that Monique Reed, retired Botanist for the state, called it belly hunting because it requires getting down on their level which is really low. I opted for a lot of squatting trying to stay out of the way of the ants. 

Common stork’s bill

Some of the teeny flowers I encountered were Field Madder, Common Stork’s-bill (very pretty flower), Bird’s-eye Speedwell in abundance, Black Medick, Scarlet Pimpernel, and Carolina Crane’s-bill. It isn’t difficult to find them because they are currently abundant in Wilson Ledbetter Park. I have included pictures of these flowers.  Often, I came across patches with five or six of these in a space about the size of a square yard. I didn’t see any bees out there, which is a little worrisome, but there were several types of butterflies, flies and ants. 

Scarlet pimpernel

I also recorded the larger flowers – which don’t require frequent squatting. I challenge you to locate Grape Hyacinth, Texas Baby Blue Eyes (some of these are twice the normal size that I’ve always found), Poppy “Winecup” Mallow, Cretanweed (they have darkened lines at the edges of the petals but look similar to dandelions), two different types of Blue-eyed Grass, Fine-leaf Fournerved Daisy, Floating Primrose Willow, and Canadian Meadow Garlic. Here’s a hint: the last two are located near/in the lake/pond. Some are on the fence by the cemetery. 

Bird’s-eye speedwell

If you’re active in iNaturalist, they’re easy to get identified. If you’re not, you can sign up. It’s free. Enjoy a walk in the park surrounded by many types of flowers, birds and butterflies. I will buy lunch for the first person to find all those flowers at Wilson Ledbetter who posts the pictures in a blog here. I am not liable for any bee stings – in case they show up. 

Carolina crane’s bill

Happy belly hunting.

Black meddick, not to be confused with bur clover. But it’s easy to do so.

Donna’s Garden, Early April

by Donna Lewis

As promised, I am taking photos of my pollinator garden every month or so.

The “Uri” storm or as I called it “The Arctic Beast” pretty much took a terrible toll on the garden. I was very upset about it. I understand that nature has its own way.

Nothing could stop the verbena!

The garden, along with so many animals and plants could not stand 10 days of freezing weather.    Many were lost to it. 

I and many others put out tons of extra bird seed. I know it helped some of the birds. I tried to keep water for them also. You have to do what you can.

Plants are returning! And there’s water for the birds.

So for the last couple of weeks, I have been trimming and cutting back all the dead plants in the garden. I’m using lots of love and TLC to bring it back for all the bees, birds, and butterflies that come to it. It has been a slow process.

It’s nice to see something green again.

But the very reason we try to get people to plant native plants is that they are tough and hard to kill. I am seeing green leaves and little buds everywhere. It makes me happy to see it and know that nature is very resilient. 

Looking healthy!

The monarchs are still coming through now. I hope I will have something blooming soon for them.   As Master Naturalists, we never give up trying to save our beautiful planet filled with amazing animals and a green paradise of plants.

As my favorite saying goes…

…we were not born to do everything,  but to do something.

Bee Feeding, or Not

by Carolyn Henderson

As I had finally thawed out from the Great Freeze of 2021 on March 6, I decided to try my hand at feeding bees and butterflies. I was short of old beaten up pans as shown in a previous teaching segment here, because my children take stuff every time they move in and out. I went to Brookshire’s, where I happened upon purple and green plastic deviled egg platters. I thought maybe the colors would attract the bees and butterflies. I bought two, and I threw in a disposable aluminum pan just in case silver is what they prefer. 

Turtles basking in the sunlight at Orchard Park, Cameron.    

On March 7, I mixed sugar water at a 1 sugar to 4 water ratio. (I specify this in case it is incorrect and can be noted.) I placed rocks from my yard that I had washed into all three containers. I put cut oranges in the silver pan with rocks. I poured the sugar water over the deviled egg platters and a little in the oranges platter. I placed them at different places in my yard.

On the morning of March 8, I discovered that my sprinkler system had gone off unexpectedly. There were no bees, so I assumed the sugar water had been diluted from the sprinkler. 

On March 9, I drained the old watered down sugar water, and put in fresh sugar water. I added small sticks from my freeze- damaged trees. My cat started drinking it. I moved them so the sprinkler system could not reach them. 

On March 10 and 11, nothing happened except the cat kept tasting the sugar water.

Eureka! On March 12 at noon, I found one bee drinking from the green platter. And one cat. And some ants. On the 12th, it had been pointed out to me that things are starting to bloom and the Monarchs are moving north despite the freeze, so unsaid person was pretty sure that the bees and butterflies would survive without my sugar water. 

My one bee visitor

On March 13, there were no bees or butterflies, so I bought flowering plants at Lowes. I had already bought quite a few to plant at the Master Gardeners Sale the previous weekend. I don’t know if the bees will come, but at least everything won’t be brown in my yard. I even noticed that My large Texas Purple Sage, which looked like a goner from the freeze, was putting out new leaves while it still shed the dead ones.

Maybe bees and butterflies aren’t attracted to plastic deviled egg platters or oranges, or maybe all my neighbors had also been seeing the encouragement to feed bees and beat me to them. Maybe they found those plants that were already blooming.   

 I did look up the topic of cats drinking sugar water. It is not deemed particularly harmful to them, but, oddly, it is also noted that cats can’t taste sweet. I guess the cat just needed a drink of water.


From Suna: I did a much stronger sugar solution, 1:1, and had lots of bees. Then I read the sugar water wasn’t great for them, so who knows if I did any good or not?

Bees in very sugary water, crawling on various things Suna put in a shallow vessel.