Belly Hunting

by Carolyn Henderson

“Belly Hunting” for teeny, tiny flowers is hard on the leg muscles. On Sunday, I went to Wilson Ledbetter Park to take pictures to post to the Great Texas Wildlife Trails (GTWT) Adopt-a-Loop project in iNaturalist. It was a follow-up to pictures posted in February before the Great Freeze of 2021. I discovered that the park is covered in teeny, tiny flowers, and plenty of larger one, too. 

Field madder

If you attended the March meeting of ECRMN, you remember that Monique Reed, retired Botanist for the state, called it belly hunting because it requires getting down on their level which is really low. I opted for a lot of squatting trying to stay out of the way of the ants. 

Common stork’s bill

Some of the teeny flowers I encountered were Field Madder, Common Stork’s-bill (very pretty flower), Bird’s-eye Speedwell in abundance, Black Medick, Scarlet Pimpernel, and Carolina Crane’s-bill. It isn’t difficult to find them because they are currently abundant in Wilson Ledbetter Park. I have included pictures of these flowers.  Often, I came across patches with five or six of these in a space about the size of a square yard. I didn’t see any bees out there, which is a little worrisome, but there were several types of butterflies, flies and ants. 

Scarlet pimpernel

I also recorded the larger flowers – which don’t require frequent squatting. I challenge you to locate Grape Hyacinth, Texas Baby Blue Eyes (some of these are twice the normal size that I’ve always found), Poppy “Winecup” Mallow, Cretanweed (they have darkened lines at the edges of the petals but look similar to dandelions), two different types of Blue-eyed Grass, Fine-leaf Fournerved Daisy, Floating Primrose Willow, and Canadian Meadow Garlic. Here’s a hint: the last two are located near/in the lake/pond. Some are on the fence by the cemetery. 

Bird’s-eye speedwell

If you’re active in iNaturalist, they’re easy to get identified. If you’re not, you can sign up. It’s free. Enjoy a walk in the park surrounded by many types of flowers, birds and butterflies. I will buy lunch for the first person to find all those flowers at Wilson Ledbetter who posts the pictures in a blog here. I am not liable for any bee stings – in case they show up. 

Carolina crane’s bill

Happy belly hunting.

Black meddick, not to be confused with bur clover. But it’s easy to do so.

Making a Personal Impact with iNaturalist Observations

by Linda Jo Conn

Thursday, February 4, marks the day! Our El Camino Real Seasonal Winter 2021 iNaturalist BioBlitz begins at 12:00 am that morning and continues until Wednesday midnight, February 10, the following week. For some time, our chapter has not been able to gather as a group for a nature survey, so the week will be an opportunity to figuratively join forces to document the fauna and flora of the areas where we reside. Yes, this does include our personal property as well as our neighborhood and the places we go as we physically distance during the COVID restrictions.  So get that camera ready!

The BioBlitz is an iNaturalist project. See: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/ecr-seasonal-winter-bioblitz. Yes, you must be a member of iNaturalist to participate. And yes, to get volunteer hour credit for participating, you must email connlindajo@gmail.com and state that you want to join the project. OK, I can hear the groans from miles away. Must I again emphasize that iNat is a valuable tool that documents nature and is used not only by TPWD but other organizations and university researchers as well?

A prime example is the rare sighting of a live Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius) by Ann Collins on her porch in the suburbs of Milano.  It is the only Milam County observation on iNat and one of the few documented observations in Texas.  (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2710384)   Ann’s observation caused a lot of excitement and interest at TPWD.  Clint Perkins, a graduate student at Texas Tech, did field research on Ann’s private property and continues to review all mammal observations on iNaturalist.  

Eric Neubauer has the only observations of the Southwestern Dusky Grasshopper (Nebulatettix subgracilis in Milam County. (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/34920111)  Again, there are few documented sightings in Texas and those were probably not made at a state or city park.  

Countless unique observations added to iNat have been documented on personal property by a Texas Master Naturalist, but those species we may consider common or mundane also have a definite need for documentation.  I have personally noticed the apparent change in bloom times for wildflowers, the species of migrant birds I see, along with the disturbing spread of invasive species, and so I document even the ubiquitous species. Each and every legitimate observation has value.    

So what is the point of all this?  Some Texas Master Naturalists have been disgruntled by the exclusion of the time spent on iNaturalist observations on one’s private property as valid volunteer hours.  As a result, many have lost interest in using iNaturalist as a personal tool for sharing and learning about nature. 

Well, I have two points to make:

Number One:  Since approximately 95% of the land in the state of Texas is privately owned, neglecting to enter observations from our personal properties skews the data. I urge you to continue your contributions as citizen scientists by observing and documenting on iNat what you see around you every day.

Number Two:  This is an approved project where El Camino Real Master Naturalist members have an opportunity to observe at leisure on their private property and earn volunteer hours without having to travel to participate in a BioBlitz. 

So join iNaturalist and the ECR project. Take photos. Share them on iNaturalist. Report your volunteer hours.  It is that simple. 

A Random Photo

by Linda Jo Conn

Have you ever taken a random photo and later discovered that the object or moment captured in time was priceless? Perhaps it was a photo of a child with a precious smile, that perfect shot of a hummingbird in flight, or an incriminating image of a pesky raccoon.

What frequently happens to me is that when I am cropping photos for observations on iNaturalist.org, I find previously unnoticed insects, caterpillars and spiders on the petals of a flower or the stem of a plant. I call these “bonus observations”.

Then sometimes, what I thought I was photographing turns out to be a complete blunder in identification.  Such was recently the case.

Fellow El Camino Real member Scott Berger and I met for a scheduled physically-distanced nature walkabout survey at the Bridge Park in Rockdale. We inspected the iron bridge frames, the historic wood plank calaboose from Burlington, and a nearby oil well pump. We noted the usual ragweed, fall asters, grasses, spurges, and various emerging winter season plants as well as a few skittish grasshoppers, skippers and some gopher mounds. 

While strolling about the area, I noticed a bird soaring above us in the sky. Snapping a quick photo of the presumed vulture, I figured that if the photo was at all usable, I would try to identify it by the silhouette. 

At home, I cropped the blurry photo, entered it on iNat, and gave it my best shot at an ID: Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus).   An expert bird identifier soon replied.  “No, the wing span looks too long for a black vulture.” 

My blurry, cropped photo. Look at the head and tail!

Back at my computer, I cropped the photo more severely and noticed what appeared to be a white head on the bird. Could this be a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)? I entered that ID.  Soon, my supposed vulture in the sky over Rockdale was confirmed to be a bald eagle.

I am still doing a happy dance. My first sighting of an eagle outside of confinement!  

THIS Is How You Vacation

by Sue Ann Kendall

My little company held its Board retreat near Wimberley last weekend. I was pretty excited when I found out we’d been booked into a ranch with over 100 acres. I was even more excited when I arrived and realized I knew the area pretty well from having been on retreats nearby in a previous life stage. I immediately formulated a plan to get as much Master Naturalist activity in as I possibly could. That’s my idea of fun, I guess.

As soon as I put down my suitcase and got oriented by the property owner, I set off. I didn’t set off very fast, though, because I was doing a BioBlitz! My goal was to see how many different plants, insects, etc., I could identify from Friday through Sunday. The layout of the land was very helpful in this pursuit, because there were huge meadows full of prairie broomweed and friends, deep oak and cedar elm woods, a creek, hills, valleys, and lots of limestone formations. I made over 50 iNaturalist observations that afternoon.

Some of the things I saw the first day.

When I got back, we sat on the screened porch and watched hundreds of butterflies floating by. They were small, so I knew they weren’t monarchs (I did see three of them during the weekend). I looked on Facebook and saw that my Chapter member friend, Dorothy Mayer, had suggested I join the TX-Butterfly Facebook group. So, I did, thinking I’d at least learn something about SOME butterfly. Imagine my surprise when the first post I saw was describing the migration of the American Snout butterfly! There was my answer!

American snout butterfly, sitting still for once. Photo from news article linked below.

I later came across an article on it in the news, so you can read more here.

The rest of my weekend was a blast. I hiked all over the property, which used to be a ranch, then a resort, then part of it was a disc golf course, etc. There was a sunset tower to climb, hidden meeting areas, lighted paths, and really pretty cattle. Quite a place. It would be a fun Master Naturalist retreat area.

On Saturday, we avoided the incredibly crowded Wimberly Market Day (not many plants to observe there, anyway), and instead we visited the Jabob’s Well park. Jacob’s Well is the second-deepest artesial well in Texas, and it’s really beautiful. Apparently people keep drowning when they try to explore its caves, so I stayed on the shore. I was glad to be there AFTER swimming season, too.

Jacob’s Well

I met some young Park Service staff who were just keeping an eye on things, and they were fun to talk to. They told me to be sure and go find the sign saying how much work Master Naturalists had donated to the visitor center and gardens.

Way to go, Hays County TMN!

Of course, I made some more observations there, especially in the prairie restoration area. There were so many beautiful native grasses to see.

This must be last year’s grass, but it was so pretty (switchgrass).

I enjoyed finding plants that were new to me or seemed rare, as well as old friends (one dandelion, just one). What made me happy, too, was discovering that of all the iNaturalist sightings in the area, only three were by someone other than me, so I did good work documenting what I saw. Maybe it will help someone, sometime!

In the end, I added well over 100 observations to iNaturalist, saw the work of fellow Master Naturalists, met some people at a distance, avoided crowds, and had some fun. That’s a perfect vacation in these times of social distancing!

The Checkered Beetle and the Painful Plant

by Marian Buegeler and Sue Ann Kendall

This month’s iNaturalist observation of the month was this beautiful image of a checkered beetle (Trichodes bibalteatus), photographed by Marian Buegeler of our 2020 class.

Marian reports:

[It] is sitting on a vine that iNat identified as sorrelvine (Cissus trifoliata). It is a beautiful vine that grows like crazy all over the family farm. 

I have always referred to this vine as poison ivy, because anytime I come in contact with it I break out in a nasty rash that gets identified at the docs office as poison ivy/poison oak.  

The flowers.

Sue Ann adds: The iNaturalist entry says that sorrelvine is a member of the grape family, and native to the US. It’s very common in this area (Sue Ann’s family lives nearby and reports they have it on their property, too, and it causes allergic reactions as well, though maybe because it’s near actual poison ivy).

From Marian: Here are three more pictures of insects on the sorrelvine.

Another beautiful beetle on this vine.
It must be delicious.

I put these on iNat and they have been identified as Grapevine Beetle (Pelidnota punctuate), Delta Flower Scarab (Trigonopeltastes delta), and Bumelia Borer (Plinthocoelium suaveolen). Although, only the Bumelia Borer has reached research grade status.

This is definitely a scarab.

I have also seen lots of wasps and grasshoppers enjoying a meal at this vine. It certainly seems to be the place to eat! I just wish I wasn’t allergic to it.

Do any of you readers have more experience with this vine?