Wildflowers on the Back Roads

by Michelle Lopez

I went on a field trip to the Leach Teaching Gardens at Texas A&M and saw some burgundy bluebonnets (genetically altered). I’m not sure what to think about that, being from Austin and a UT fan…

I decided to take the back roads coming back to Cameron so I could stop along the way and take pictures of wildflowers. Several times I saw flowers, then had to find a safe place to pull over and hike back to the flowers to get pictures.

Hairyflower Spiderwort

It was worth it, I saw flowers that I’ve never seen before and huge pastures of flowers, it was so beautiful. I continue to be amazed at the beautiful things of nature that are everywhere around us.

Drummond’s Stitchwort

You really just need to take the time to stop and see the small things.

What’s Blooming (and other things) along the Highways and Byways of Milam County?

by Carolyn Henderson

Spring bloomers are out in force this week. In two quick roadside stops, I found 17 interesting bits of nature, and 14 of them were native flowers. I was headed to the ECRTMN Birds and Bees Wildscape, but got sidetracked, so I thought I would see what’s blooming instead.

Fantastic shot of this vesper sparrow!

It started near the wildscape where I photographed a Vesper Sparrow, which is more common in New Mexico and Arizona than Texas, but it’s here. And then I found a Wild Turkey running down FM 334. I got one picture of it before it jumped/flew/ran from me.

Turkey time!

Via Rockdale, I went down Spur 77 toward Cameron. There are lots of Texas Bluebonnets out and Texas Paintbrushes are starting to come up. Southern Dewberries are in profuse bloom. If there are no more freezes this spring, there should be plenty of dewberries. I also found Wood Sorrels, Sword Leaf Blue-eyed Grass, Tenpetal Anemones and Imported Red Fire Ants in very large ant hills.

Moving on to Hwy 36/190 headed east past the Y, I found Eastern Redbuds still in bloom but changing over to leaves, Texas Toadflax, Drummond’s Phlox, Slender Vetch, Narrowleaf Puccoon, Hairyfruit Chervil, Texas Prairie Parsley and Groundsels.

There is an array of colors on the highways and byways of Milam County. In another week or two I suspect wildflowers in a massive bloom (assuming no late freeze). I hope you can take a drive to enjoy it.

Posting all these on iNaturalist has given me a new quest – to figure out where they get these names! I mean “Hairyleaf Puccoon?” “Texas Toadflax?”  Almost every plant was picked up by Plants of Texas in iNat, so they are native.

Finally, love is in the air. There is a Mockingbird across the street from my office admiring and attempting to attract this other bird (him) reflected in the window. I’m amused. He’s frustrated.  

Lovelorn

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.

Signs of Spring: Northern Milam Edition

by Sue Ann Kendall

Like many of our Chapter members, I always get excited when there are indications that maybe we’ll stop getting frozen participation, then heat, then cold, and over and over. Spring flowers give me hope. In the past couple of days, both Donna Lewis and Linda Jo Conn have shared flowers from different parts of Milam County. I’d already been thinking of writing a similar post, but they got there ahead of me. Or did they? We can all get into the search for spring!

It might be interesting to see what kinds of flowers are blooming just a bit north of where they observed (near Gause, and in Cameron). Plus, I needed to get outside for my nature fix.

I’ve always found henbit deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule) pretty. Here it’s encouraging the other flowers, like the field madder, to get blooming.

I had intended to spend 20 minutes outside taking photos, but I ended up wandering around for an hour. It had been raining, so some of my specimens didn’t look too great. All the storksbills were bedraggled, the anemones were missing petals, and the crow poison had their blossoms firmly shut. So, a couple of these photos are actually from last week. But the plants ARE blooming now!

I’m fond of the showy blossoms that eventually show up each year, but my secret love are the little bitty flowers. Tiny bluets make me especially happy, and this is a great year for them out in my horse pasture.

Of course, everyone is out looking for their first bluebonnets, which are already up in Austin, from what I hear. In northern Milam County, they are usually a bit later than in many places, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a bumper crop of them! This year will be no exception. I found beautiful leaf clusters holding raindrops in their centers, a few buds, and one just starting to bloom. I predict some great smells in the upcoming weeks!

It’s fun to see how the cold weather affects the new leaves on some of the plants, like this prickly sowthistle. I didn’t get any photos of it, but the dewberries have bright red leaves right now, too. Everything will get back to normal soon.

There are also some dandelions and field madder hiding in here with the prickly sowthistle (Sonchus asper). Notice the water droplets. I just noticed on iNat that this plant is even found in Hawaii. Those seeds stick to stuff!

I’d have a photo of my native plum tree, but it was too muddy to get to the reclusive shrubby tree. Maybe next week, if it’s still in bloom. I love those harbingers of spring, too. Some of the other plants I found were also shared by Linda Jo, but I love them so much that I can’t resist sharing.

So, fellow El Camino Real Master Naturalist Chapter members, what’s growing in your part of Milam County? No doubt that answer will be changing every day for the next few weeks. The weather will get nice one of these days, I know. Mother Nature has her own time clock.