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.

Shades of Purple

by Carolyn Henderson

Colorful blooms are bursting out all over at the Bird and Bee Farm Wildscape. Whatever your favorite color might be, it’s in there. 

Passionflower

Shades of purple are particularly abundant. They range from the bright Mock Vervain purple to the pale bluish-lavender of  Palmleaf Mists. There is a specimen of just about everything in between. I’ve included seven different flowers that are classified as “purple”. And all of them are native to Texas. They can grow in sand and blackland and most of them don’t need much rain. 

Garden cosmos

If purple is not your shade, reds, oranges, yellows, and whites are also broadly represented.  I encourage you to come and see all the colors. There are plenty of butterflies and bees to watch, too. They are particularly fond of most of these flowers. 

You can plot next year’s garden from here. And often times there are free samples to take home. Our chapter will be hosting Girl Scouts on July 17 in the morning, at the Wildscape. It’s a good time to go check out the place for yourself. 

Things I Never Saw Before

By Sue Ann Kendall

One of the things I like about being a Master Naturalist is that I have learned to be a more careful observer, wherever I go. I’m happiest that I’ve been entering what I see on our ranch into iNaturalist, because I can see when flowers bloom or go to seed every year, when butterflies arrive, etc. Today’s butterflies included these:

Even though our observations on our own property no longer are approved by the state office, I still observe for my own study and analysis. I have a project where all observations here are stored.

But the public right of way counts!

This year’s been pretty interesting, which shouldn’t be surprising after the weird weather. I’ve been quite surprised to see common plants, like Indian paintbrush, not as prominent, with some new plants popping up.

What’s this white stuff?

One plant we have in super abundance is this annual trampweed (Facelis retusa). It’s really pretty in early spring. Then, when it blossoms, you don’t really see the flowers, just white buds, followed by exuberant star-shaped seed heads.

The little seed fluff sticks out and looks like a flower bud.
Here’s what the plant looks like, with leaves circling up a stem.

I’d never noticed this plant before, and it’s everywhere this year. Now it’s one of my favorites.

They look so cheerful!

Another plant I’d never noticed around here is small-flowered catchfly (Silene gallica). It’s another one of those tiny flowers from up high. At first I thought it was that chickweed or something.

Small-flowered catchfly.

Once you touch it, though, you know it’s different. You also know how it got its name. It’s sticky! It could certainly catch a fly. You can see all the hairs in the photos.

Here it is growing with some Carolina bristle marrow, trampweed

The little flowers range from pink to white. I had honestly never seen it before. Did I not notice it or did it come in with floods? Is it something that grows better after a hard freeze or two? I’m sure I just didn’t notice it, even though I’ve been trying so hard to identify everything here!

The third “new” plant I wasn’t even sure of its ID. None of the things that are suggested on iNaturalist really match the way it looks, but since I know plants can differ in color from place to place, labeled it dwarf blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium minus), and hooray, I was right! Linda Jo identified it for me. It’s another tiny little fellow, but it’s really pretty.

Another “new” plant really isn’t new. It’s a pink evening primrose. But I never saw one so white. I thought it was a petunia from a distance.

That’s quite a contrast to the usual ones, though they do come in many shades of pink.

One of the really pink ones. I know we’ve seen them a lot, but still, they’re gorgeous.
Look at all the bugs on this Black-eyed Susans!

There, I hope you’ve enjoyed a small selection of the fun discoveries I make right on the Hermits’ Rest Ranch. I’m so glad I’ve learned so much about nature in this one special place, thanks to joining the Texas Master Naturalist program.

Please join me, Donna, Pamela, Carolyn, and the others who have shared the nature where they live! Send me your pictures and some words, and let’s share the beauty in our part of the state.

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.

Cedar Park in Milam County

by Linda Jo Conn

Driving past the roadside park on Hwy 79 between Milano and Gause on my way to Sugarloaf Mountain Bridge, I told myself that one of these days I was going to stop and investigate the place. So, on the way home, I stopped and looked around. 

It is a typical roadside park. Surrounded on three sides by a chain link fence supporting several species of vines, it has a circular drive, the usual brick and cement tables and benches, and some large cedar trees.

Later, when using Google Maps to enter the GPS location for my observations into the iNaturalist.org website, I discovered that this small roadside park actually has a name:  Cedar Park. Not surprising. Cedar trees are the dominant trees.

Bird’s-eye speedwell.

Although the area is closely mown, there were a few flowers to observe. I saw my first Bird’s-eye Speedwell (Veronica persica) and Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis) blossoms of the season. There were the usual roadside park plants of Straggler Daisies (Calyptocarpus vialis), Crow Poison (Nothoscordum bivalve) and Green Poinsettia (Euphorbia dentata).  

Climbing the chain link fence were common vining plants:  Mustang Grapes (Vitis mustangensis), Carolina Snailseed (Cocculus carolinus), and Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). 

The most memorable plant of the visit stayed with me a while. The park must have been covered with grass burrs (Cenchrus sp.).  You may call them sandburs or stickers. Not noticeable in the short vegetation while I was walking about, they showed up as I was about to get into my truck. There must have been hundreds of them stuck to my jeans and to the tops and soles of my tennis shoes! It took a while to remove them.

Grass burs. Not fun.

Cedar Park is a shady, convenient place to stop on the highway and was visited by several travelers while I was there. Fortunately none had children or pets wanting to romp on the grounds. That would have been a memorable stop for them also. Ouch!