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.

So Many Moths, So Little Time

by Linda Jo Conn

Last week I turned on my porch light every night at “dark thirty” to attract moths I could photograph and submit to the National Moth Week 2021 project on iNaturalist.org.  This year was a bit cooler and more moist than most of the past years, and also a bit brighter because of the full moon.  Although I thought I did pretty well with my very basic mothing equipment and a “point-shoot-and-hope” camera, I was amazed by the quality and quantity of observations my Texas Master Naturalist / iNaturalist friends across the state of Texas submitted.  

Anacampsis fullonella, a Twirler Moth

You can visit my moth week observations at https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&project_id=103786&user_id=26296&verifiable=any.

Snowy Urola Moth, Urola nivalis

If you are inclined to add an identification, comment, or correction, please feel free to do so.  

Ragweed Borer Moth, Epiblema strnuana

One thing I have learned… There are so many, many moths and I will never have enough time to master the ID of even a small fraction. 

Detracted Owlet, Lesmone detrahens

Sightings at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch

by Sue Ann Kendall

Becoming a Master Naturalist has truly changed my life for the better. One thing that’s enriched my life is using iNaturalist. I’ve learned so much about the world around me, in particular right where I live. Our property is north of Cameron and has woods, pastures, a creek, springs, and an arroyo. That means there’s lots to see! I thought I’d share some of the summer life from this year.

First off, I’ve learned to look down and look for anything on a leaf that doesn’t look like a leaf. However, this beetle wasn’t hard to spot. It’s teeny tiny, but was so shiny it caught my eye. I think I now have a favorite beetle, and have plenty here for it to eat!

A beautiful jewel

The Mottled Tortoise Beetle is a member of the Leaf Beetle family. It is found on morning glory flowers, leaves, and vines as well as milkweed plants. Their spiny, flat larvae look more like little dark centipedes and they eat these plants while they grow and develop into rounder, shiny adults. Though they may punch holes into the leaves of the plants, they rarely cause enough harm to damage or kill the plant unless it is young or a seedling. They are not considered an agricultural pest or threat.

https://www.insectidentification.org/insect-description.php?identification=Mottled-Tortoise-Beetle

This week, I’m supposed to have been looking for moths, for this year’s National Moth Week collection. However, I’ve only located two. One is bright and cheery, plus it was on my car, which made it easy to see, while the other is one of those common brown ones that will soon be legion if the chickens don’t eat more of the armyworm moth caterpillars. I spotted it, because it was something that didn’t look like a leaf, but was on one of our tomatoes (which got damaged thanks to herbicide drift from the cotton across the road, grr.)

I’m always on the lookout for things that are blooming, because one of my goals when I retire is to compare when I have uploaded flowers over different years to see if they change. That’s why I keep recording observations on the ranch, even though it doesn’t count for Master Naturalist hours unless it’s part of an approved project (so, the beetle doesn’t count, but the moths do). I’m just curious about my local ecosystem and don’t need awards to motivate me at this point!

Most of the flowers I’ve been finding are in the pink to purple family, except those snake apples. I just learned they can also be called globeberries. Huh.

Of course, there are lots and lots of insects, particularly the differential grasshoppers who are dominating every moment of my outdoor life. Chickens like them a lot, though. The spiders have been interesting this year, though, and I’ve seen some new ones. I’ll also share the deep black beetle and one of the snakes that has been eating the eggs my hens produce. They seem to have gotten smarter and stopped hanging around in the hen house, which makes them easier to find and dispose of.

So, what’s thriving over where you live? Have you seen any of these species? We love it when you share your experiences on our blog! Contact me at ecrmnpresident at gmail.