Tree Girdling and Photographing

by Carolyn Henderson

Last Saturday morning was a busy one for a small group of El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalists. The intrepid seven started out attending some previously girdled trees and finished by photographing everything they could find for the “Hotter than Hell BioBlitz” at Wilson-Ledbetter Park in Cameron.

Liz Lewis inspects girdled Privet.

Original girdlers of the invasive Glossy Privet Liz Lewis, Marian Buegeler, and I did some follow-up work on the trees we originally performed girdling on back in March. Marian was armed with a hatchet and I had a tree trimmer device to remove any new growth below the girdles. Liz directed.

Marian Buegeler prepares to take hatchet to Privet.

I was surprised to find the trees dying because an inspection a month ago didn’t really show any significant dying off. They are showing plentiful evidence of their demise now. In case you’re new to this subject, tree girdling is a method to kill trees without herbicides or chain saws. You can find directions on how to do it from the March blog if interested. 

Privet dying

The drought and excessive heat may be hastening the death, but it’s all occurring above the girdle line, so the process works. We are now a little excited to see where they stand in late fall. 

The only green grass was close to the water.

We then proceeded to photograph what was still alive in the drought/heat wave at Wilson-Ledbetter. We managed to get 208 photos of nature surviving the weather. “Birdladymilam” Ann Collins posted the most photos on the project page on iNaturalist. Eric Neubuer found the most of one species (Wolf spiders in case you weren’t sure). Organizer Linda Jo Conn, Marian, Victoria St John, Liz and I also contributed. Blooming flowers were sparse, but there were a lot of trees, vines and grasses along with spiders, and birds. 

Pipevine Swallowtail looks for blooms in some very dry grass.

And it wasn’t hot that early in the morning. 

Silver leaf nightshade was one of two blooms I found there.

Mike McCormick Explains Purple Martins

by Carolyn Henderson

Mike McCormick, considered the largest houser of Purple Martins in the area, shared his wealth of knowledge with the El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist on Saturday, June 18. McCormick lives south of Buckholts in Milam County with thousands of Purple Martins and a few family members. He has been housing the birds for more than 40 years and has grown the number of seasonal residents steadily every year.

Purple martin house with adults waiting for fledglings to fly

There are approximately 65 Purple Martin houses at his place – all made by him. He’s also helped many others get started with some extra houses. 

Up close of the three fledglings that haven’t decided to fly, yet.

ECRTMN visited at the optimum time. All the babies are starting to fledge. Members learned how to house them and keep them coming back. McCormick also clarified some untrue facts about the migrating birds. For example, a 6-foot-tall martin house works as well as a 12-foot-tall house.

Martins in flight

Thanks also go to Donna Lewis, organizer of the event, and Ms. McCormick, sister to Mike, who fed us and kept the cattle herded.

What’s Blooming at the Wildscape? Everything!

by Carolyn Henderson

The El Camino Real Chapter Wildscape at the Bird and Bee Farm is awash in blooming plants. I went to water early Saturday morning and was quite surprised by the incredible growth since the last time I was there to prep for the award Gene and Cindy Rek received from the Texas Environmental Quality Commission. 

Happy verbena

It looks like everything has recovered from the freezes this year and last. Come and see for yourself and water some plants or pull a weed while you’re there.

El Camino Real Chapter Tree Girdling Saga Continues…

by Carolyn Henderson

Three months ago, nine members of our TMN chapter met Cliff Tyllick at Wilson Ledbetter Park to learn how to girdle an invasive species of tree. The Glossy Privet was introduced to Texas landscapers from China. It is evergreen, produces flowers liked by pollinators and grows prolifically, and it’s an invasive species.

Tree #1

It’s invasive because it knocks out native trees because of its rapid growth, and it “steals” pollinators from native Texas wildflowers. Pollinators find the big tree’s flowers easy to access. It often takes a little more work to find the native Texas flowers. Without pollinators, the natives die out.

Tree #2

Tree girdling is a method of killing trees without herbicides or the noise of chainsaws. It is used a lot in the nature preserves in the Austin area. Since there are quite a few Glossy Privets in Wilson-Ledbetter, we brave nine thought we’d give it a go. In summation – it’s difficult to girdle a tree. It’s not overly complicated. It requires a lot of physical action.  

Tree #3

Sunday, I went to the park to check on the progress of our girdling. I am unsure whether it’s succeeding or not. We worked on three clusters of trees in three groups. Two of them had 3 or 4 “trunks” and were completed. The third group had eight or nine trunks, and a few of those were left untouched.

Dead branches

The uncompleted one has dead branches at the top of the trees, but I’m not sure if that’s from girdling or leftover damage from the freeze of 2021. The other two have a couple of dead branches, but new “trunks” are growing up from the ground. There are a few growing below the girdling area, but I don’t see any new growth above the girdling.

Tree finding a way around girdling

Cliff said it would probably take a year to completely knock them out. To hasten it along, they need a little work which isn’t uncommon, I’m told. For those who want to give our project a little care, I’m going to schedule another morning to get together and help them along.

Trying hard to live

Ultimately, we’ll get them down one way or another. Then we plan to plant Eastern Redbuds to replace them.

More dead branches

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.)