What’s Blooming (and other things) along the Highways and Byways of Milam County?

by Carolyn Henderson

Spring bloomers are out in force this week. In two quick roadside stops, I found 17 interesting bits of nature, and 14 of them were native flowers. I was headed to the ECRTMN Birds and Bees Wildscape, but got sidetracked, so I thought I would see what’s blooming instead.

Fantastic shot of this vesper sparrow!

It started near the wildscape where I photographed a Vesper Sparrow, which is more common in New Mexico and Arizona than Texas, but it’s here. And then I found a Wild Turkey running down FM 334. I got one picture of it before it jumped/flew/ran from me.

Turkey time!

Via Rockdale, I went down Spur 77 toward Cameron. There are lots of Texas Bluebonnets out and Texas Paintbrushes are starting to come up. Southern Dewberries are in profuse bloom. If there are no more freezes this spring, there should be plenty of dewberries. I also found Wood Sorrels, Sword Leaf Blue-eyed Grass, Tenpetal Anemones and Imported Red Fire Ants in very large ant hills.

Moving on to Hwy 36/190 headed east past the Y, I found Eastern Redbuds still in bloom but changing over to leaves, Texas Toadflax, Drummond’s Phlox, Slender Vetch, Narrowleaf Puccoon, Hairyfruit Chervil, Texas Prairie Parsley and Groundsels.

There is an array of colors on the highways and byways of Milam County. In another week or two I suspect wildflowers in a massive bloom (assuming no late freeze). I hope you can take a drive to enjoy it.

Posting all these on iNaturalist has given me a new quest – to figure out where they get these names! I mean “Hairyleaf Puccoon?” “Texas Toadflax?”  Almost every plant was picked up by Plants of Texas in iNat, so they are native.

Finally, love is in the air. There is a Mockingbird across the street from my office admiring and attempting to attract this other bird (him) reflected in the window. I’m amused. He’s frustrated.  

Lovelorn

Tree Girdling at Wilson Ledbetter Park

by Carolyn Henderson

Ten troopers from the El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist met up Saturday, March 12, to attempt to rid Wilson Ledbetter Park, in Cameron, Texas, of an invasive species. With the very experienced guidance of Cliff Tyllick, we managed to wear ourselves out after three hours of Glossy Privet girdling. I’m not so sure about the trees. 

Cliff Tyllick explains tree girdling

Tyllick has years of experience girdling trees in the Austin area. Much of his work is done through grants and conservation organizations in an attempt to hold back Glossy Privets and some other invasive species. He also has done a program on girdling for Texas Master Naturalist at the annual meeting in 2019. 

Tyllick draws lines on bark to be removed
Bark is removed between the lines

Is it more difficult than cutting down the tree and poisoning it? Yes! So why do it this way? Girdling doesn’t require the use of poisons that could contaminate nearby plants, animals, or water, and it eliminates noisy large equipment (as well as the need to carry it down long trails). It eliminates spreading of the trees by seed while killing it slowly. If it’s in a wooded area, you can let the tree decompose to fertilize the ground.

 All pulp material is removed to prevent regrowth

And why would there be a need to remove the invasive Glossy Privet that produces flowers and shade? They hinder the growth of native trees and flowers in the area. They outgrow native trees in height, which hinders the growth of native Texas species growing below them. Bees and butterflies do like the flowers, but that stops them from pollinating native Texas flowers.

Members walk toward the ill-fated Privets.

There is a specific format to do the girdling in so that it will take out the plant in one effort. The outer bark must be removed for about the length of a hand. Then the pulpy matter left must be removed by using tools to scrape it away. Once it’s removed, it is washed with soap and water then cleaned with an alcohol and water mixture. This combination keeps it from regenerating what was removed. If you’d like to see it in action, check out this video:

It was hard work, and most of us were worn out, but learning a new process was interesting, and we got to enjoy the company of our chapter members. As an aside, Tyllick’s wife, Karen is an archeologist by training and a PhD. She found some relics in the park. Thanks to her for our group picture. We were all smiling because we said “Girdling” instead of “cheese”. It was really funny at the time, which was at the end of the day.

ECR chapter members smile big after all the girdling.

More Signs of Spring

by Carolyn Henderson

Flowers are not the only signals that spring is here. Today (March 12) a very cold front is moving in, but yesterday, Thursday, March 11, was sunny and warm, and that brought out some frolicking squirrels and some sun-bathing Red-eared Sliders. These two were observed at lunch time at Orchard Park in Cameron. There were ten or so squirrels playing chase all over the park while the turtles lifted their heads toward the sun. 

I also found an Eastern Redbud in full bloom in my neighbor’s yard. I also have Henbit Deadnettle growing in large blooming clumps in my yard, but so does everyone else, it seems. 

I hope spring is here to stay after this cold front.

More Field Trip Memories

by Carolyn Henderson and Catherine Johnson

The El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist took their first field trip of the year to the farm of Master Naturalist Alan Rudd. About twenty members, including new trainees, toured the place learning about natural methods of fish farming and how the stock ponds were created. Rudd also gave a history of all the new species drawn to the area by the abundant water and food sources.

After the hike around parts of the place, members cooked hot dogs and pie iron goodies over the fire. Many thanks go to Rudd and his family for hosting the chapter.

Native Rangeland and Cattle Grazing are Compatible

by Carolyn Henderson

New trainees for the El Camino Real chapter Texas Master Naturalist learned about extensive programs being implemented by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with area ranchers to restore grazed land to its native state while still grazing cattle on it. A project in a neighboring county is being implemented by Tim Siegmund, the Private Lands Program Leader for TPWD-WL Division, with Jay Whiteside, TPWD Technical Guidance biologist District 5. They are several years into the 7-year plan, and the results are very positive in proving that native growth on rangeland and grazing cattle on it can be compatible and profitable. Below is a synopsis by Siegmund about the project. 

The use of fire to concentrate cattle grazing has led to a recovery of the areas being rested from burning within the pastures.  The cattle preferentially graze the freshly burned areas, and lightly or don’t graze at all the areas burned in previous years.  This allows the plants to recover, make seed, and persist over the long term in a constant burn, graze, rest cycle.  This can lead to better carbon and nitrogen cycling as a result of thatch incorporation into the soil and concentration of animal waste, increased water infiltration as healthy roots grow and rot in place creating pathways for water infiltration, and increased plant and animal diversity as there are a host of niches being created by short and tall vegetation as well as annual, biennial, and perennial plant species.  Patch burn grazing can be a great tool to promote livestock production, plant diversity, and wildlife diversity. —- Tim Siegmund

Photo 1 shows the short, grazed grass and the diverse wildflower community not being grazed by the cattle, average grass height was less than 2 inches.

Photo 2 is a picture of a yard stick showing the amount of ground cover now blanketing the ground after 2 full years post burn.

Photo 3 is a picture with Siegmund and assistants in it conducting the vegetation sampling monitoring the changes over time.

Photo 4 shows the year of burn and the annual plant community dominated area as the fire and subsequent regrowth of grass has concentrated the cattle in this area.

Photo 5 is a picture of Jay Whiteside and an intern showing what 2 years of rest looks like by burning other portions of the pasture to focus grazing pressure elsewhere. In 2019, grass height is approximately 20 inches.

By the way, a recording of this session can be found on our website.