My time with the Master Naturalists ended on a high note with a post-conference outing to Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. The idea was to observe how a declining species, the loggerhead shrike, has adapted to using the park as a habitat, and is thriving.
Before the outing, I’d attended a session led by Jim Giocomo on “The Geography of Grassland Birds: How International Bird Conservation Efforts are Linked.” He talked about how agencies and Master Naturalists can help provide these birds with more appropriate habitat, track their locations, etc.
In that talk, he mentioned his own work with the loggerhead shrikes (the only songbird that is a predator), which conveniently nest right near his house and showed us some great footage of baby shrikes. In one film, the parent birds keep trying to stuff a dragonfly in the mouths of the babies, but it keeps getting stuck. It was hilarious.
Jim’s luck in finding birds to observe over entire breeding seasons has given him lots of insights, so it was really fun to go with him and fellow biologist Tania Homayoun out in the field to see what he sees.
Armed with Tania’s large amount of viewing equipment, and a couple of additional skilled birders, we Master Naturalists learned a LOT. We even got to see a genuine loggerhead shrike that moved around as we stalked it.
Jim showed us multiple trees with shrike nests in them, which he believes are nests made sequentially by the same pair of birds. The nests are interesting, since they have all sorts of materials in them.
Out in the Field, Literally
We wandered out into a field adjacent to the park, because one of the birders had spotted an owl there earlier. Many of us got rather distracted by the beautiful Maximilian sunflowers (covered in butterflies) and some HUGE puffball mushrooms. I’d never seen them in person, so now I get what everyone’s talking about. They sure are big!
I came home with some unpleasant chigger bites above my sock line, but it was worth it.
After we thoroughly investigated the shrike habitat, we wandered over to the main lake in the park (where I remember taking kids fishing with our old friend Jim Ford from church). A frenzy of bird IDs ensued, with the highlight being a little egret, the name of which escapes me and I can’t find it on eBird. It was a lovely and graceful bird, though.
There were many ducks and a pair of Egyptian geese, which are not at all native, but sure are colorful. It was a lot of fun to do the IDs with all the others around me and to look through Tania’s spotting scope. We even appreciated the beauty of the grackles, who were looking especially shiny in the afternoon light.
I went home happy and filled with an appreciation of all the professional and amateur scientists I’d met over the weekend. I learned so much from them all. I also gained SO MUCH respect for the people Texas Parks and Wildlife hires. They are so enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and generous with their time.
I sure was happy to be able to identify that our resident loggerhead shrikes had been hard at work on the Hermts’ Rest ranch! There is a whole line of dead insects impaled on the barbed wire fencing behind our house. Dinner time for the birds!