Wildscape WOW Factors!

by Carolyn Henderson

Abundant flowers attracting many pollinators leave one in awe at the El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist Wildscape out at the Bird and Bee Farm. I read Catherine Johnson’s blog and noticed the severely overgrown Malabar Spinach awning that is being overtaken by Cypress Vines. I went out to try to tame it.

Before

It took electric pruners to get it under control. It draped over the entrances and spread out to the picket fence and flower bed behind it. And the Cypress vine had overgrown it and was attaching itself to cannas and other bushes nearby. I have made the awning walkthrough accessible. If you want to grow either of those at your place, it’s prime time to take cuttings or pick the berries. Or take some to eat – the Malabar. I don’t know that the Cypress vine is edible by humans, but hummingbirds were sure enjoying the nectar in the flowers. 

After

It was hard to stay focused on the vines while several species of butterflies and bees were all over the wildscape. Many Gulf Fritillaries, Common Buckeyes, Grey Hairstreaks and Pipevine Swallowtails were there. The Zinnias and Turk’s Caps were the favorite food of the butterflies. Carpenter bees and honeybees were also abundant. Cindy Rek said she has seen a few Monarchs and they laid eggs which have developed into caterpillars already. She has photos to prove it. 

If you are participating in the the iNaturalist Pollinators BioBlitz beginning Oct. 7, the wildscape has plenty to photograph. If you don’t do bioblitzes, you can just sit among the many blooming flowers and all the pollinators buzzing around them. Pull a weed or two while you’re there. 

What’s a Banana Cockroach?

Story by Sue Ann Kendall, photos by Carolyn Henderson

Carolyn Henderson, our Chapter President, spotted an unusual insect in her house last week. Being a Master Naturalist, she didn’t squish it. Of course, she photographed it. Neither she nor any of her friends had ever seen one of these little green creatures before.

Not your usual cockroach.

She looked it up on iNaturalist, and even though none of us had seen one before, sure enough, it’s common around here; it just doesn’t usually visit our houses, a trait we all appreciate. Here’s what she read about the unusual green banana or Cuban cockroach (originally from Wikipedia):


Panchlora nivea, the Cuban cockroach or green banana cockroach,[2] is a small species of cockroach found in Cuba and the Caribbean, and along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas, and has been observed as far north as Summerville, South Carolina. It is found in subtropical or tropical climates.

“The females can grow up to 24 mm and the smaller males are 12 to 15 mm long. It is winged and a strong flier, pale green to yellowish green in color, with a yellow line running up the sides. The nymphs are brown or black in color and are burrowers.

“It is usually an outdoor species and is rarely found indoors, so is not considered a pest. The adults can often be found in shrubbery, trees, and plants. The young can be found under logs and other debris. It is often attracted to both indoor and outdoor lights and it is mainly a nocturnal species.

It is often a popular pet roach due to its relatively pleasant green color, and because it is not an invasive indoor species. It is also used as food for other pets. [emphasis mine]”


Cute?

That last part is interesting. I guess Carolyn had a new pet! The color is “relatively pleasant.” I think I’ll let them live outside, but it sure is interesting to know they live here! Let us know if you run across any in your nocturnal excursions.

It Pays to Look Down or: I Found a Swan Flower

By Sue Ann Kendall

You never know when you’ll make an interesting nature observation. Today I was walking in my neighbor’s field, getting ready to watch her horse do some dressage. I had noticed some day flowers and sorrel, so my head was down, checking for more flowers. The field was mowed, but not too low.

I saw something new to my eyes, so I took a closer look. It was a most unusual plant and flower, one I’d never seen before. It looked sort of like a jack-in-the-pulpit.

Hmm.

I immediately uploaded my photo to iNaturalist, though I figured it was probably some common plant I’d just missed. But, no! I’d found a swan flower, Aristolochia erecta.

This plant only grows here in Texas. Donna Lewis will be happy to know it’s important for her pipevine swallowtails. Here’s info from the Wildflower Center:

How cool!

I had no idea these guys existed, but now I know what the host for all the pipevine swallowtails I see around here must be! Here’s another cool fact about this observation—it looks like this is one of the northernmost observations of the swan flower. Wow!

That’s us, up at the top.

I’m thrilled to make this pretty plant’s acquaintance and to learn about it. I found another specimen that wasn’t in bloom, and I’ll be on the lookout for more.

Swan flower, looking for butterflies.

Signs of Spring: Herons

More and more of the native wildflowers are blooming, but the other sign of spring here in northern Milam County are birds working hard to make new birds. This morning, I looked out at the pond behind our house and saw a Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage.

Look closely

I realized he had a big stick in his mouth. He’s making a nest! I think the nest is over by the creek. I do look forward to seeing the family.

Off to the nest.

I spot lots more little flowers on my walks. I often have to memorize where I see them when I’m horseback so I can come back and get pictures. Here are some recent arrivals.

Butterflies are everywhere, too. They are enjoying the dandelion blossoms mostly. I still haven’t gotten a red admiral to sit still, but they are also here.

It’s so much fun to watch the seasons unfold. It’s also fun to listen. Cardinals are calling loudly this morning, but they have competition from a woodpecker who’s giving a concert by pecking on different parts of a tree and varying the tone of its pecks. What fun. Barn swallows are swiping and chirping.

And the heron is chiming in, along with the crows. I miss the flock of starlings that descended yesterday and really made things loud!

The source of morning concerts at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch.

But wait! Late addition! Just now I found Snappy, or more likely child of Snappy, one of our big snapping turtles. The original Snappy is much larger.

If you want Latin names for my observations or to see more, visit the Hermits’ Rest Ranch Flora and Fauna project on iNaturalist!

The Rhythms of Nature

by Sue Ann Kendall

I have a project on iNaturalist where I record the flora and fauna on the ranch where I live. I started it right after I became a Master Naturalist in 2018 and am still contributing to it. My goal is to eventually analyze the data to see if flowers or birds are appearing around the same time or if there’s difference due to weather or climate, or what.

I especially love the tiny flowers, like this birds-eye speedwell.

I accumulated a lot of Master Naturalist hours while working on this project, since I go out on almost every nice day to see what’s new on the property. But, last year the program changed its policy, and now we don’t get credit for hours spent observing nature on our own property. I can see not wanting observations of the same twenty plants in a suburban yard, but we have 500 acres. I stopped for a while, but then I realized the project is still important to me, so I am still taking pictures and uploading, especially in the spring.

Last week I shared some of the earlier flowers in our fields and woods. This week some new ones have showed up, which always thrills me. I’ll share some photos of the new arrivals below.

We are also losing some birds and gaining others. The hawks are still here, red-tails and red-shouldered, along with the tiny merlins and peregrin falcons. And our resident harrier keeps hovering over the fields, hopefully eating a LOT of mice.

The amazing pair of great blue herons seems busy bonding, and the belted kingfisher who showed up over the winter is still flying around and making its unmistakable chirps. In addition to the crows and starlings, we have some visiting blackbirds that make a beautiful sound. I’m not sure what type they are but enjoy listening to them. And cardinals. Wow, do we have a LOT of cardinals, too. I never knew they flocked until I moved here.

Just one male cardinal
Action shot showing the beautiful tail of this barn swallow.

Yesterday, I looked into a willow tree behind my house with my binoculars and saw a loggerhead shrike, a dove, English sparrows, a pair of cardinals, and a festive group of tiny chickadees bopping around. That’s my kind of decorated tree. Oh, and some red-eared slider turtles were holding down the trunks (this was in a tank).

I was happy to see barn swallows already in their nests just a couple of days after they arrived. The tiny insects are here, so they are looking pretty happy.

Speaking of tiny insects, I am always seeing tiny flies and bees on the flowers. They are pretty hard to identify. For example, the fly or bee in this picture is much smaller than you’d think. That is a dwarf dandelion it’s on, not a regular one.

So, yes, it’s a fun time over where I live, and I’m glad I’m able to document the variety of life here in the northern part of Milam County. I look forward to seeing what others are observing. I’ve noticed lots of plum and redbud trees elsewhere, but I just have the buds on cedar elms and coral berry.

Besides all this, I’ve seen a lot of butterflies, such as sulphurs and red admirals, but no one will hold still for me. I even saw something big and black from a long way off. I look forward to more!

Thanks for visiting my part of the world. No matter what, the rhythms of nature keep on going, and that’s a comfort.