A Valentine to Our Chapter

by Jackie Thornton

We will be celebrating Valentine’s Day soon and at my age that doesn’t mean a dozen roses or a box of candy from a six-foot good-looking guy!  It is a time that gives me pause to think about the appreciation I feel for a group of people.

Here’s a Valentine from Sue Ann, saw greenbrier hearts in my woods.

I appreciate the value system of our Master Naturalist group. There has been due diligence in protecting us and still providing opportunities. On the state level, the Virtual Volunteer Fair was awesome, but the event impacting me the most is joining the Winter BioBlitz. Linda Jo has been such a supporter for all of us in participating in iNaturalist, but I always found an excuse. 

Excuses including: I need a new iPhone, more books, more expertise…

First time out I came back with my photographs and spent hours pouring over plant identification references. I don’t regret the time spent, but it was overkill when you have Linda Jo checking your work!  I ended up with three research-quality entries (my yaupon holly is shown below), and you would have thought I had just gotten a gold star on my research paper. ( Please do not ask me about lichens or mosses though.)  I encourage anyone hesitating to take the big step, take it!

So, to all of you that have worked so hard to keep us active, safe and appreciated, thank you and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Making a Personal Impact with iNaturalist Observations

by Linda Jo Conn

Thursday, February 4, marks the day! Our El Camino Real Seasonal Winter 2021 iNaturalist BioBlitz begins at 12:00 am that morning and continues until Wednesday midnight, February 10, the following week. For some time, our chapter has not been able to gather as a group for a nature survey, so the week will be an opportunity to figuratively join forces to document the fauna and flora of the areas where we reside. Yes, this does include our personal property as well as our neighborhood and the places we go as we physically distance during the COVID restrictions.  So get that camera ready!

The BioBlitz is an iNaturalist project. See: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/ecr-seasonal-winter-bioblitz. Yes, you must be a member of iNaturalist to participate. And yes, to get volunteer hour credit for participating, you must email connlindajo@gmail.com and state that you want to join the project. OK, I can hear the groans from miles away. Must I again emphasize that iNat is a valuable tool that documents nature and is used not only by TPWD but other organizations and university researchers as well?

A prime example is the rare sighting of a live Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius) by Ann Collins on her porch in the suburbs of Milano.  It is the only Milam County observation on iNat and one of the few documented observations in Texas.  (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2710384)   Ann’s observation caused a lot of excitement and interest at TPWD.  Clint Perkins, a graduate student at Texas Tech, did field research on Ann’s private property and continues to review all mammal observations on iNaturalist.  

Eric Neubauer has the only observations of the Southwestern Dusky Grasshopper (Nebulatettix subgracilis in Milam County. (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/34920111)  Again, there are few documented sightings in Texas and those were probably not made at a state or city park.  

Countless unique observations added to iNat have been documented on personal property by a Texas Master Naturalist, but those species we may consider common or mundane also have a definite need for documentation.  I have personally noticed the apparent change in bloom times for wildflowers, the species of migrant birds I see, along with the disturbing spread of invasive species, and so I document even the ubiquitous species. Each and every legitimate observation has value.    

So what is the point of all this?  Some Texas Master Naturalists have been disgruntled by the exclusion of the time spent on iNaturalist observations on one’s private property as valid volunteer hours.  As a result, many have lost interest in using iNaturalist as a personal tool for sharing and learning about nature. 

Well, I have two points to make:

Number One:  Since approximately 95% of the land in the state of Texas is privately owned, neglecting to enter observations from our personal properties skews the data. I urge you to continue your contributions as citizen scientists by observing and documenting on iNat what you see around you every day.

Number Two:  This is an approved project where El Camino Real Master Naturalist members have an opportunity to observe at leisure on their private property and earn volunteer hours without having to travel to participate in a BioBlitz. 

So join iNaturalist and the ECR project. Take photos. Share them on iNaturalist. Report your volunteer hours.  It is that simple. 

Nature Will Find a Way

by Catherine Johnson

While others are away in the cool mountains,* a group of us decided to check on the condition of the El Camino Real Master Naturalist Butterfly Garden in Milano, which we started a number of years ago. 

The Butterfly Garden

It is  in complete disarray but still with butterflies and other insects trying to hold on to smothered natives.  A memorial on the site is also in complete disarray. We are considering possible solutions to make the area respectful.

Sulphur butterfly.

Eric Neubauer and Linda Jo Conn did some BioBlitzing, and Eric was later given a tour of  the Milam Wildscape, which he hadn’t visited before.

iNaturalist volunteers at work.

Unexpected Adventure

As we worked on the Butterfly Garden, I gained Master Naturalist volunteer hours for Nature Improvement in Public Areas, learned what false garlic and Carolina Snail vine look like, learned what a pipevine swallowtail butterfly looks like, and got to know new member Eric.

Carolina snail vine (the seeds look just like a snail!)

While in Milano I also got to hear lots of trains and watch the lowering of the flag at the post office. It was a balmy day balmy day and a good one for exercise! 

Oh, and we found odd gourds near the train tracks. That was unexpected.


*She is referring to the Chapter President, Suna, who has escaped to Utah. She will post!