Our chapter was in charge of the First Friday Coffee at the Lucy Hill Patterson Library in Rockdale for January. This event is held the first Friday of the month and gives people in and around the Rockdale area the chance to learn about businesses and groups available to them. Chapter member Victoria St. John was the coordinator of this event.
This was a first-time event for our chapter. We had twelve members, two spouses, and one friend of the chapter soon to be a member attend. There was a total of forty visitors who came to the library to talk to us, which was a great turnout. In fact, the library staff said it was the best turnout they have had.
So, it looks like there are people in our county who are interested in nature. Several attendees expressed an interest in joining our group.
The library staff were helpful to us during the time we were there.
The El Camino Real de los Tejas Trail Association was also there with information for the public. Joyce and Mike Conner worked at that table as well as talking about our chapter events.
Chapter members who attended were:
John Pruett, Joyce and Mike Conner, Ann Collins, Sandra Dworaczyk, Jackie Thornton, Scott Berger, Linda Burgess, Linda Jo Conn, and Donna Lewis.
Visitors were interested in the El Camino Real Trail, butterflies, purple martins, pollinator plants and many other subjects. We had members to answer all their questions.
This would be a good event to do once a year going forward.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, several ECR members visited three of the city parks in Rockdale.
The first was Wolf Park, which is located on Main Street in town where the former American Legion Hall once stood. When we arrived, a crew was at work erecting the framework for a Christmas tree near the pavilion in the center of the lot.
The closely trimmed city block has a border hedge of holly festooned with Carolina snailseed (Cocculus carolinus ). The lawn contains the usual scattering of straggler daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis), turkey tangle frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), and yard asters (Symphyotrichum divaricatum). A couple of large lilac chaste trees (Vitex agnus-castus) and a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) are the landscape trees.
Leaving the busy scene at Wolf Park, we drove across the railroad tracks to visit Sumuel Park which was funded in part by a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant. It has a splash pad water feature (unused this summer due to COVID), a playscape, picnic area, walking trail, basketball half court, restrooms, and free WiFi.
There was a bit more nature to observe at this park, including upright prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera) and buttonweed (Diodia virginiana) in bloom. A black vulture (Coragyps atratus) watched our activity from a nearby tree.
While Eric Neubauer captured another image of a grasshopper, Donna Lewis tried out the swing set.
I suppose the high point of the visit to this park was our discovery of an enormous cottonweed tree. ECR nature explorers Debbi Sorenson, Donna, Scott Berger, and Eric physically distanced themselves around the tree for a photo to show its size. It turned out that this tree had already been noticed by our ECR chapter. You can read more about this towering cottonwood on our ECR website: https://txmn.org/elcamino/chapter-projects/special-projects/big-trees-of-milam-county/ .
We traveled on to Moultry Park, located behind the former Aycock School on Baxter Street. The park was being enjoyed by a mother with her young children when we arrived. A spacious area, it contains a basketball court, baseball field, and restrooms.
This park visit was a sobering and disturbing personal experience for me. The adjacent brick building, used by various community organizations until a 1993 fire, remains in ruins. I could literally hear the echoes of children chattering in the hallways, chalk screeching on the blackboards, and bouncing balls in the gymnasium.
We did observe some interesting species in and around Moultry park: an appropriately named three-ribbed darkling beetle (Eleodes tricostata), a flighty orange sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme) visiting a camphorweed flower (Heterotheca subaxillaris) and several mounds of harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex sp.).
The area is a perfect habitat for horned lizards.
Eric stalked what he has identified as a common thread-waisted wasp (Ammophila procera) until we were both able to take photos of the large wasp.
He also graciously pointed out a couple of grasshoppers (Melanoplus sp).
After some unexpected and serendipitous happenings at the park we headed to our homes for the day. A good time was had by all. I think. You will have to ask Donna about that.