Early Nectar for the Pollinators

by Donna Lewis

Here are a few bushes and trees that bloom early.  The bees and butterflies love them.

A Yellow Tiger Swallowtail on Henbit, Mexican Cherry Tree, Coral Honeysuckle vine, wild native Plum Trees, and a Peach tree.

There are many more that bloom early.  Fruit trees are always good for pollinators and then for us with fruit, nuts, or berries.

Put some of these in your yard and the wildlife will be happy.

Remember… who are you gardening for?

El Camino Real Chapter Members Attack! (More on Tree Girdling)

by Linda Jo Conn

While I and a couple of others watched, a group of hard-working El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist members and trainees girdled three of the large specimens of invasive Glossy Privets (Ligustrum lucidum) on the grounds of the Wilson-Ledbetter Park in Cameron.  The weather cooperated. It was pleasant with a hint of a chill in the breeze. 

Cliff Tyllick, known to iNaturalists as “baldeagle”, is a self-appointed eradicator of invasive species.  He regularly leads volunteer groups in Austin at the Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park to remove invasive plants.  Read Cliff’s profile at https://www.inaturalist.org/people/baldeagle

First, Cliff demonstrated the technique to the group and showed the proper use of each of the tools in his girdling kit. Several members came equipped with their own tools, some newly purchased, along with an eagerness to learn.  

Carolyn Henderson, ECR Chapter President and coordinator of the volunteer project, showed the determination that is necessary for the job. 

Cliff was always ready and eager to share his knowledge about tree growth and structure with the folks.  He explains the basics of a technique to trainee Linda Burgess.

Mike Conner, a well-seasoned warrior against invasive and aggressive species on his own property, attacked and conquered several large and difficult trunks of privet.

Mariann Buegler showed her grit and fortitude and is now at the final stages of the process using a spray bottle of 70% alcohol and a scrub pad.  

Catherine Johnson and Carolyn inspect the progress on a girdle. 

Debbie Sorenson and Liz Lewis are rightfully proud of their finished girdling job. Great work! 

For an instructional guide on girdling of invasive species, watch “Girdling Invasive Trees with Cliff Tyllick” below (this is the same one that our other tree girdling post featured): 

Not only did we learn about the technique of girdling to eliminate invasive species without the use of herbicides from Cliff, we also learned about the detrimental effects of invasive species in the natural ecology.  

Linda and Cliff

To view one of the Glossy Privets attacked by the group, see my iNat observation at: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/108564382.  The privet will be revisited several times in the future to document its demise and the success of the workday by a remarkable group of ECR volunteers. 

The tree I am tracking.

Helping Our Bird Friends in Winter

by Donna Lewis

Don’t be fooled by our nice weather…  just around the corner could be lurking a cold winter blast.  Hopefully not a blast from the past (I am talking about the 10 days of freezing temperatures we had. So, there are some pretty simple things you can do to help our feathered friends right now.  Better to do these things while it’s nice for us to go outside.

We built and installed a platform under our front porch for the Phoebe’s to build their Spring nest on.  This is to hopefully keep them from putting 10,000 pounds of mud everywhere on our porch trying to build their own platform for their nest.  Boy is that messy. I have never done this before, so we will see if they use it.

Many species of birds like open platforms. Here are a few: Chickadees, Wrens, Phoebes, and Nuthatches. Ducks and other large raptors also use large platforms that are higher up.

Also new is a Bluebird feeder. This is an attempt to keep the dried mealworms from blowing off the platform dishes onto the ground and getting them wet and icky in winter weather. It’s hard for any insect-eating bird to find food in the winter.  

I have also stuffed the Bluebird nest boxes with dry pine needles for extra protection from the weather. I have shown here the area behind my house where I feed the Bluebirds and put out eggshells for the Purple Martins. The cow panels make perfect perches for the birds. Perches are very important if you want to draw any birds to you.

Bluebird house

I have placed these feeders away from the regular feeders so we don’t have conflict between the birds, and I can see it easily from inside the house.

These are my regular feeders. The open hopper is a favorite of most all my regulars, Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmice, and just about every bird.

So, you can do a few things that will assist our wild friends. Do what you can.

Here Come the Martins

by Donna Lewis

Believe it or not, the first Purple Martins have already landed in Florida as of December 27, 12021! Wow, that’s pretty early. Whether that is good or bad, I couldn’t tell you.

Ready for cleaning

But, if you are a Martin landlord you need to get your housing in shape and ready. Here are my guidelines:

  • Do not open any apartments or gourds yet.  Block them off or other bird species will go in, and the Martins will be left out in the cold.
  • The housing should be clean, with extra pine needles in them (if you do that).
  • Be ready to raise the housing up as soon as you hear a Martin or February 1, just to be safe.
  • You never open all the entrances at once, just a few at a time.

The Martins here in Milam County have historically arrived around Valentine’s Day. Last year I did not have any till March, however. So, as the earth’s weather changes, wildlife changes also.

I opened my apartment house today to see if it was still clean like I had left it last summer when I closed it for the year. I had taped over the entrance holes for the first time to see if it would keep out the spiders, lady-bugs and wasps. 

It worked pretty good, but there were still lots of spiders near all the corners. The spider webs are difficult to remove. Here’s a tip that I use to get them out easy and fast:

Spider web

Get a stick and twirl the web around it. They come out fast. Then, pitch the stick.

Stick magic

Secondly, I use a wet/dry vac to get anything else out that might be in there. I wipe out anything nasty with a damp paper towel or sponge and let everything dry for a day or so.  You need the apartments to be dry. I will do that later and take photos of it. For now it is so much easier to prep your houses while it’s not cold outside. Much better on your hands.

Time to vacuum!

Our friends are coming!

A Prairie Project Report

by Eric Neubauer

In 2018, wheat was planted here at my property, where there was once blackland prairie. Since then, nature has taken over. A mix of native and non-native grasses and forbs quickly came up by themselves. Each year the mix changed, but by 2021 it was obvious Johnson Grass was a huge threat and would eventually outcompete and overwhelm everything else. I was reluctant to use herbicides, because they might affect the plants and animals that I wanted to keep. For example, it’s unlikely anyone tested the effect on wolf spiders. So, I was left with only mechanical means of control.

I decided to focus only on the Johnson Grass to keep it simple. I came up with several plans depending on how thick the Johnson Grass was and whether an area would be mowed. One image shows an area where I pulled the Johnson Grass and ragweed starting early in the year. It looks pretty nice now and only a few unwanted seedlings have come up since. I’ll mow this area in early spring before the bluestem comes up and after it goes to seed. You can see some Johnson Grass I haven’t gotten to lurking in the background on the right.

The other image shows where the mowed area meets the unmown area. Johnson Grass doesn’t like regular mowing. There are numerous small plants in the foreground, but these have limited root systems and will die or are easy to pull. King Ranch Bluestem tolerates regular mowing. I mowed around the plant in the foreground and now it’s going to seed. I mowed around other plants, primarily legumes, and hand pulled any Johnson Grass that didn’t get cut. In the background is a mass of Johnson Grass. I’m hand pulling this. You can see little of anything is left except leaf litter where I have pulled it to the right. Some will  regrows, and I’ll have pull it again, but subsequent pulling goes much quicker than the first. In the meantime, other plants, such as asters, now have enough light to spout and grow. By the way, if you hand pull Johnson Grass, wear good gloves. Otherwise it can give you a nasty cut if your hand slips.

Other areas I’ve promoted with selective weeding are stands of goldenrod and a large patch of frogfruit where water collects sometimes.

It’s possible another threat will rise out of the several species of non-native grasses present, but for now I have a plan.