Earth Day at the Wildscape

by Carolyn Henderson

[Better late than never, we’re catching up with contributions!]

Earth Day at the Birds and Bees Wildscape proved to be a banner attendance day for both members and visitors. There were 15 members of the El Camino Real Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist present to visit with the 80+ visitors that came to the site Saturday, April 24. 

Some of our group! Catherine Johnson, Donna Lewis, Donna Dworaczyk, Joyce Connor, Kim Summers, Carolyn Henderson, Scott Berger, Alan Rudd

Members visited with visitors and handed out bags full of goodies. There were pamphlets, booklets, posters, wildflower seeds, vegetable seeds, bird feeders, painted rocks, and snacks to be had. They also got to stroll through the wildscape and the bird farm.

Catherine Johnson, event organizer, shares educational material and seeds with a visitor. 

The wildscape has quite a few blooming plants. I found Zizotes Milkweed and Butterfly Milkweed that are just starting to bud out. Verbena and Blue Sage were big draws for butterflies and bumblebees. The rose bush was in bloom, and the Malabar Spinach is making a strong comeback.

American Lady on verbena.

Alan Rudd and Scott Berger hung Mason Bee nests, and Alan gave several to members. He’s tracking where the most of them get nested in the area to decide the best places to put them. Alan, I, and a cute little blonde-headed girl also discovered a stinging plant hanging out around the flowers. It really stings (see our recent stinging nettle post!). Ask the little blond-headed girl. Painted rocks and chocolate chip cookies couldn’t even stop her fussing. 

Alan Rudd and Scott Berger hand Mason bee nests.

Members got Guinea eggs that had been laid in the wildscape under a plant, and some new native flowers to plant at home. Alan Rudd took many of the eggs to hatch. I hope we’ll get to see pictures here. 

Darlene Rynolds, Donna Lewis, Jackie Thornton, Chapter President Sue Ann Kendall

And a word of caution, wear gloves when cleaning out around the flowers, and don’t leave your phone in your back pocket when you go to the outhouse (that happens to be plumbed). 

Scott Berger, Liz Lewis, Eric Neubauer, Pamela Neeley 
Kim and Donna giving the resident donkey some love.

Bee Feeding, or Not

by Carolyn Henderson

As I had finally thawed out from the Great Freeze of 2021 on March 6, I decided to try my hand at feeding bees and butterflies. I was short of old beaten up pans as shown in a previous teaching segment here, because my children take stuff every time they move in and out. I went to Brookshire’s, where I happened upon purple and green plastic deviled egg platters. I thought maybe the colors would attract the bees and butterflies. I bought two, and I threw in a disposable aluminum pan just in case silver is what they prefer. 

Turtles basking in the sunlight at Orchard Park, Cameron.    

On March 7, I mixed sugar water at a 1 sugar to 4 water ratio. (I specify this in case it is incorrect and can be noted.) I placed rocks from my yard that I had washed into all three containers. I put cut oranges in the silver pan with rocks. I poured the sugar water over the deviled egg platters and a little in the oranges platter. I placed them at different places in my yard.

On the morning of March 8, I discovered that my sprinkler system had gone off unexpectedly. There were no bees, so I assumed the sugar water had been diluted from the sprinkler. 

On March 9, I drained the old watered down sugar water, and put in fresh sugar water. I added small sticks from my freeze- damaged trees. My cat started drinking it. I moved them so the sprinkler system could not reach them. 

On March 10 and 11, nothing happened except the cat kept tasting the sugar water.

Eureka! On March 12 at noon, I found one bee drinking from the green platter. And one cat. And some ants. On the 12th, it had been pointed out to me that things are starting to bloom and the Monarchs are moving north despite the freeze, so unsaid person was pretty sure that the bees and butterflies would survive without my sugar water. 

My one bee visitor

On March 13, there were no bees or butterflies, so I bought flowering plants at Lowes. I had already bought quite a few to plant at the Master Gardeners Sale the previous weekend. I don’t know if the bees will come, but at least everything won’t be brown in my yard. I even noticed that My large Texas Purple Sage, which looked like a goner from the freeze, was putting out new leaves while it still shed the dead ones.

Maybe bees and butterflies aren’t attracted to plastic deviled egg platters or oranges, or maybe all my neighbors had also been seeing the encouragement to feed bees and beat me to them. Maybe they found those plants that were already blooming.   

 I did look up the topic of cats drinking sugar water. It is not deemed particularly harmful to them, but, oddly, it is also noted that cats can’t taste sweet. I guess the cat just needed a drink of water.


From Suna: I did a much stronger sugar solution, 1:1, and had lots of bees. Then I read the sugar water wasn’t great for them, so who knows if I did any good or not?

Bees in very sugary water, crawling on various things Suna put in a shallow vessel.

What Can Survive Unscathed 200+ Hours of Freezing Temps in Texas?

by Carolyn Henderson

As I perused the damage to my live oaks, palm tree, shrubs, flowers, etc., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, I noticed that plenty of things were green and perky and flowering in some cases. This was less than two full days after the record breaking Great Freeze of 2021. I began documenting what wasn’t damaged by the horrible weather.

I documented Henbit Deadnettle (love to know where that name originated) in bloom and profuse. I found Annual Grass-Meadow, Common Chickweed in bloom, Red-seeded Dandelion in bloom, Common Cat’s Ear, and Asiatic Jasmine (which has now proven to be resistant to any type of attempt to remove it). There were others. What is amazing is that they suffered no damage in the snow/ice/freeze. They immediately perked right back up. Everything was not so lucky.

What is looking particularly harmed that surprises me is Texas Purple Sage and Prickly Pear Cactus. The leaves are shedding in mass off my Texas Sage – a favorite of butterflies and bees, and I found cactus that looks melted. The Texas Ag Extension Service advises to leave them all alone, don’t even prune, because it is believed many will come back given time and patience. 

Sad prickly pears

I’m going to go out and sing to my Texas Sage every day to encourage it’s return. Let’s hope it has a tin ear. 

P.S. In an aside, there is a picture of three Cedar Waxwings with their faces pointed toward the sun on Saturday. They seemed to be just taking it in. The chain saw cutting broken branches right below them, did not bother them. 

The happy cedar waxwings
Such beautiful birds!

Help Carolyn ID Her Tracks

by Carolyn Henderson

I went out at 7 a.m. to measure the snow fall for CoCoRAHs. I saw some tracks over my driveway, down my patio and across my back yard. I have attached pictures to see if anyone can identify the critter to whom they belong.

Please let me know, so I can accurately post them on iNaturalist. I’m guessing a raccoon or skunk. They seem too large for a squirrel or cat, and to distinct for an armadillo.

An Ice Storm!

Sue Ann Kendall and Carolyn Henderson

The weather keeps giving us more and more to observe and learn from! We had a pretty significant ice storm, especially in the northern parts of Milam County on Thursday of this week. We’ve all marveled at the beauty of plants encased in ice, while also worrying about our trees, livestock, and furry friends out in nature.

Shepherds purse

The birds seem to be doing just fine, judging from how many Sue Ann has been seeing chasing each other around and somehow finding things to eat (bluebird and mockingbird battles have been fun, plus our loggerhead shrikes and phoebes are competing for bugs, like a daytime drama!). Egrets and herons are also finding some cold food in the ponds.

Mockingbird chasing bluebird

We’re sharing some of the photos we took, so we’ll have a record of our observations. Next up? More snow and colder temperatures than most of us can remember are coming in the next few days.

Thick ice!

Here are Carolyn’s photos, including her CoCoRAHs precipitation gauge taken on February 12 at approximately 5:40 a.m.She left it sitting in the kitchen waiting for the ice inside to melt, so she could take a reading. Over two hours later, when she left for work, it had not completely melted.

And here are a few of Sue Ann’s photos. You can see more on her blogs from Thursday and Friday.