Cameron May Day Picnic

by Pamela Neeley

The El Camino Real Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists showed up in force ready to share our experiences at the Cameron May Day picnic on April 30. The set-up was in the shade of giant, ancient trees on the Courthouse Square, and most of the day was mild. 

Beautiful shade tree kept our area cool.

There were worm growing demos, live spiders and grasshoppers, turtle discussions – with live turtles – pollinator discussions, and many questions answered. 

Look at all those volunteers!

There was a pleasant flow of parents with children and many of our visitors were friends. 

Lots of kids were there.

We had a retired member re-join, and while walking around to visit the other vendors, Carolyn Henderson, our President, had four people inquire about how to join!  I hope they come to our monthly meetings, too. 

The STARS of the day were these Milam County turtles.  They were on the road when Alan was driving over from Deanville. He went to Anderle’s Lumber and bought them each a nice tub.  The red slider was gorgeous, with a yellow and green shell. He was the larger of the two and had water in his tub to keep him comfortable and safe. 

The brown box turtle is terrestrial and had rocks in his tub.  They were both returned to their habitat locations on Alan’s trip home. 

Here we are doing what Master Naturalists do best, talking about anything and everything. 

Booth staff

There was a lot of literature given out, stories shared, and new contacts made in the community.

Chapter members enjoying themselves

The kids, of all ages, really enjoyed seeing our display of turtles, bones, fossils, grasses, worms, and pollinators. 

A very nice day to share the nature of Milam County. 

Congratulations to the Graduates!

by Sue Ann Kendall, chapter secretary

May 28 was a fun day for the El Camino Real chapter! We welcomed the new graduates from our ten-week training class that went on all spring. There was a LOT of hard work involved by the organizers, the support team from our chapter, the presenters at the classes, and of course, the students. We had a wonderful evening at Julio’s Restaurant in Rockdale to celebrate and have some fun.

group photo
Our new members and the team who supported them on their journey.

First, I want to share the thanks that all us members extend to Kathy Lester, who organized the class, planned field trips, arranged for speakers, got shirts for the new members, and so much more. What would we do without her perseverance and hard work?

Kathy did such a great job! Here she’s getting ready to thank Don.

We also want to thank Don Travis, who came to all the meetings to provide media support. That is not an easy task, but he handled all the challenges with aplomb. He deserves so much credit for adding to the success of the class.

Well deserved, Don! Chapter President Carolyn Henderson agrees.

Another volunteer we want to thank is Lisa Milewski, who helped the students track their hours so they’d get credit where credit was due. What a happy accomplishment it is that all the students made it through the entire course!

So happy for Lisa’s help

The party part of the event was a welcome relief after so many years of not being able to just hang out with each other and become better acquainted. Many thanks to Liz Lewis, Pamela Neeley, and Catherine Johnson for their hard work planning it. Everyone at my table remarked about how nice it was to learn more about each other (when we weren’t laughing and laughing at the great stories some of the long-time residents told us newer folks.

But the best part was seeing the smiles on the faces of the new Master Naturalists as they got their certificates. Each of them made new friends and learned a lot, as Linda Burgess pointed out. I agree with her that it’s a great way to meet folks in the community, since it worked out that way for me, too!

I enjoyed meeting spouses and children of our members, as well. I’d heard so much about Michelle Lopez’s husband that I felt like he was already an old friend. And it’s so cool that one of our members, Victoria Everitt, is related to another member by marriage.

Two of the students also achieved their initial certification as well. Gene and Cindy Rek did so much work at the wildscape getting ready for that video filming that they got in all their volunteer hours!

One student was unable to make the party, but he’ll get his certificate soon. We are so proud of all our new members. I can’t wait to see their contributions and blog posts in the future!

Bird and Bee Wildscape Is in Bloom

by Carolyn Henderson

The El Camino Real Chapter wildscape at the Bird and Bee Farm is in bloom and looking particularly well-groomed this week.

Owners of the Bird and Bee Farm, Gene and Cindy Rek, who also happen to be official Texas Master Naturalists now, have received special recognition for their agricultural practices from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The TCEQ came out last Tuesday to film a video and interview the Reks about their operations, and the Wildscape got a little recognition, too.

Tim Siegmund, TPWD biologist and our friend, helped the Reks convert their pastures to native grasses.

The Reks, Catherine Johnson and family, and several members of our chapter worked hard to make the place presentable for the filming. Luckily, several of the native plants in the wildscape also decided to bloom in time for the filming.

The Reks will receive their award in May at a TCEQ banquet, where the short video will be shown. The video will then be viewable to the public via the TCEQ website and You Tube. We will post it here when it’s available.

In the meantime, look at what’s blooming at the wildscape! (Sorry the blogmaster can’t remember the names of all the flowers – she’s old.)

A Visiting Snapper

 by Sue Ann Kendall

I went out Friday morning to see if I could get a photo of the feral cat that’s showed up at our ranch (brave thing, considering our predator density). Thus, I had my camera out and ready when I detected movement over by my tack room. It wasn’t a cat, though. At first, I thought it might be an armadillo, but as I got closer, I recognized a common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) was lumbering along across the property, heading from one body of water to another.

snapping turtle
I’m busy. Leave me alone.

We’ve always had snapping turtles at our ranch. For a long time there was one much bigger than this (those tend to be males), with a head as big as a pro football player’s fist. We’d usually run across it in April or May, heading somewhere across a pasture. The dogs bark at them, but horses don’t seem to mind them. I’ve never seen one snap, though my mother used to tell a story of how she narrowly avoided losing a finger once.

snapping turtle
Obviously, it came out of a body of water next to the blooming black willow trees.

These turtles tend to live in shallow water, especially streams and creeks. That’s where at least one of the snapping turtles on our property was for much of this spring. I don’t know if it’s the same one. This one looks less ancient somehow.

This is in the creek in front of our house and is smaller than the other one. Notice the hole in its shell. I wonder if someone tried to eat it or shot it.

These turtles are really cool, and I’m glad they are still around. They seem like relics of a long-ago age, to me. Here’s a fact I found that you might like:

In shallow waters, common snapping turtles may lie beneath a muddy bottom with only their heads exposed, stretching their long necks to the surface for an occasional breath. Their nostrils are positioned on the very tip of the snout, effectively functioning as snorkels.

iNaturalist

I’ve seen them doing just that in Austin in the limestone creeks, which was fun. Whenever I saw people and their dogs frolicking along Barton Creek, I remembered how many snapping turtles I had seen there, in Lake Creek, and in Brushy Creek. They are quite common, as their name hints. Still, it’s always fun to see them out of the water, since they spend most of their time submerged and snorkeling along with those handy nostrils out, unless there’s a mating mission or something.

The tail looks pretty scary, too!

What Else Is New?

I’m always on the lookout for new flowers and such, and sure enough, every day seems to bring something fun and/or pretty. Who needs all those bluebonnets and paintbrushes when the other guys are just getting started? My Engelmann daisies are taking over, as usual, but I’ve been seeing some other favorites popping up, as well. Take a look!

I’ve tried my luck at posting sound files on iNaturalist, too. So far, I have a confirmed (and VERY loud) Chuck-will’s widow and dickcissels. You’d think I could get a red-winged blackbird, but there are always bunches of other birds around when they are calling. I could get other birds, but I don’t know what a lot of them are, and there’s no help identifying the sounds if you can’t see the bird.