The Grasshoppers of Bridge Park

by Eric Neubauer

I’m one of the members of our Chapter who’s visiting various city parks in Milam County on Tuesdays. Here’s what I found at Bridge Park in Rockdale, which is an area full of some of the famous bridges of Milam County. I was hoping to add to my goal of documenting all the grasshoppers in the county.

As I expected, the very first grasshopper I picked up was one I’d hoped to run across for a long time. I knew instantly what it was, but somehow expected it to be larger.

Aztec spur-throated grasshopper Aidemona azteca

Regarding the Aztec grasshopper, it was only about a ¼” long and pretty lively. I got three photos and it was gone. Looking at other images at iNat suggests it’s a tiny grasshopper and overlooked for that reason. I can’t find anything about sizes on the internet. I was looking through the fallen leaves behind the calaboose at Bridge Park.

Then there was a peculiar looking nymph I never saw before. I didn’t necessarily think it was a species I hadn’t seen. This was correct, but it was the first time I’d encountered a nymph. I think I identified it correctly.

Kiowa grasshopper Trachyrhachys kiowa

In looking at the satellite views at google maps, I realized that an abandoned railroad once ran through Sumuel Park, one of the other parks we visited. It was the one that came up though Deanville and continued on through Cameron.

This was a great visit, definitely another case of the Linda Jo’s time-to-get-off our-butts initiative. There are several sites I’ll be sure to visit again on a regular basis.

How I’m Doing on My Grasshopper Quest

I’ve seen 27 Acrididae species in Milam County. There are a total of 31 observed. Of the four I don’t have, two observations are bogus (wishful thinking applied to nymphs), one is Schistocerca lineata, which I’ve seen in Burleson County, and the other is Melanoplus punctulatus which Sue Ann has seen. Since the common name is Pine-tree Spur-throat grasshopper, I think I need to go somewhere there are pine trees.

It’s Not Just about Nature

by Linda Jo Conn

On Tuesdays for the past month, several El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist members have met to explore nature in several public locations in Milam County. The sites have ranged from a roadside historical marker to a manicured downtown lot. We’ve been careful to follow current guidelines, by wearing masks when we are closer than six feet apart, and not gathering in numbers over ten.

We have not made an earth-shaking discovery, but we have seen some interesting organisms. The past week, we observed at four Rockdale locations: Veterans’ Park, Skate Plaza, George Hill Patterson Civic Center, and the Fair Park.  

Catching an elusive insect.

On a large “spineless” cactus, we found dozens of cactus bugs (Hesperolabops gelastops). A large Chinese tallow tree had a leaf-footed bug (Leptoglossus sp.) resting on its bark. An elusive beetle had to be ferreted out from the vegetation to which it had escaped during a photo session. It turned out that Catherine Johnson is a tenacious and successful bug hunter. 

Several in the group are interested rocks and geology.  Debra Sorenson noted the iconic petrified rock and sandstone pillars at the Fair Park entrance.

Deb enjoys petrified wood used at Fair Park.

Farther into the park, I observed my first gomphrena weed (Gomphrena serrata) and Spanish gold (Grindelia ciliata) in Milam County.

However, our park investigations are not just about nature. It is not just about recording and sharing the species we see. Our gatherings during the past month have been bright spots:  Time I spent outdoors with other folks who find joy in learning and exploring new and old places.

We shared our time, thoughts, and experiences with each other. My most memorable moment of our last park survey session was not a bug or a plant, but was when we paused at the new recently dedicated granite markers installed at Veterans’ park next to the city swimming pool. 

War is hell.

 Our thoughts turned to those who had served in wars. One shared their father’s experiences during the D-day invasion. Another shared their father’s thoughts about the atomic bomb. My own father never spoke of the war. The time we spent at the site was solemn and memorable. That semi-circle of granite markers fulfilled its purpose. We had paused and honored our veterans.

So, I repeat. It is not just about nature. It is also the social (yet physically distanced) sharing of thoughts and experiences among a community of folks who appreciate the wonder and glory of our world. It is a reason I am a Texas Master Naturalist.