The Loggerhead Shrike and Friends

img_4618
A loggerhead shrike nest in a bur oak tree in Old Settlers Park, near baseball fields.

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.

img_4619
Bur oak acorn. Huge and tasty.

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.

img_4670
Jim Giacomo (center) and some of the other experts he brought to our field trip in Round Rock.

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.

img_4669
Tania’s Halloween costume was “nerdy birder.”

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.

Continue reading “The Loggerhead Shrike and Friends”

Experiencing the Balcones Canyonland Preserve

balcones
This lush, moist, fern-covered scene is typical in the preserve.

My next Master Naturalist conference field trip was to see the part of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve that abuts Concordia University, in the beautiful western hills of Austin. This area is full of endangered and rare plants and animals, including the beloved golden-cheeked warbler (who is not here right now). In addition, this series of preserved areas is interesting because it’s administered by multiple agencies, which is unusual. It’s also very big, as you can see from this interesting map.

So, an intrepid group of naturalists took a van over to the beautiful Concordia University campus (it’s beautiful, because they made a ton of money when they sold their very valuable but confining old location and bought this large property with plenty of room to grow).

jared
This is Jared. He learned about nature from his grandfather, who shared his Cameron property with him.

We were met by the people in charge of the piece of the preserve that we were going to tour, and some really nice student workers who all really seem to love this property and know a lot about it. One student even had roots in good old Cameron, Texas (shout out to the Davenport family). I really enjoyed talking to the young people about their observations of the area. If they keep it up, they will sure have a fun life ahead of them.

Continue reading “Experiencing the Balcones Canyonland Preserve”

Caving in the Old ‘Hood

cave1
I had always known the mysterious fenced off areas in the middle of the neighborhoods, and some of the seemingly random “parks” were really where developers were hesitant to put houses because of caves.

My bucket list is one item smaller. Ever since I saw sealed over cave openings in my old neighborhood (the Brushy Creek/Cat Hollow/Avery Ranch area in Williamson County), I wanted to see what was under the neighborhood. The area is in a limestone karst formation (quite near many limestone quarriees). After a cave collapsed pretty near my old house last year, I REALLY wanted to go in, so when I saw a session at the Texas Master Naturalist Conference on “Caving in Avery Ranch” I signed up.

cave4
The mysterious entry, and all the caving equipment. Note helmets!

We carpooled over to the Avery Ranch Cave Preserve,* which is always fun (we learn so much from each other). Sure enough, there, right across from a park and another fenced in patch of land (hmm, wonder why?) is this little preserve. In it, was a locked metal door. Mysterious!

Continue reading “Caving in the Old ‘Hood”

Get Ready for a Lot of Posts!

group
Here are twelve of our group, looking happy (many of us are hiding our wine glasses behind us, so we were happy).

While you haven’t heard from me in a while, you will now. I wasn’t posting about nature, because I was out in nature having experiences, as well as learning new things, at the Texas Master Naturalist Conference over the weekend. I haven’t had so much fun in a long time.

Before sharing all my activities, I wanted to acknowledge our group, the El Camino Real Chapter, who sent 14 or 16 (I forget) people to the conference. That is impressive for a small place like Milam County.

anniv
It’s the 20th anniversary of the whole program, so it’s impressive to see how many are that old!

Our group was acknowledged for ten years of being active. And I learned a lot about those ten years talking with people over the weekend. Sigh. All volunteer organizations have similar issues, but still manage to hang together!

Donna
Only 4 folks got this far this year. Way to go, Donna. In comparison, I have just over 100.

We were all very proud of Donna Lewis, our Vice President, who was one of only three people honored for achieving 5,000 volunteer hours. That is one active volunteer in a place with fewer options than most (we don’t have any state parks, etc., to volunteer at).

Next I’ll share some of my adventures with you. Stay tuned.

Looking Forward to a Master Naturalist Weekend

I’m all a-twitter about getting to go to my first Texas Master Naturalist conference in Georgetown this weekend. I’ll get to spend time with my friends from the El Camino Real chapter, and meet lots of new and interesting folks, I hope.

snail
Hey look, a land snail! I find them fascinating!

I made Anita laugh a lot when I got so excited about an email last night that I had to run downstairs to ACT on it. What was it? Why, it was a notice that a spot had opened up in the session on “The Land Snails of Texas.” I have NO idea why she thought my excitement was sort of hilarious. I really want to know more about those snails I see everywhere, especially on the walls of the Dutchtowne Cafe in Cameron.

Of course, snails aren’t ALL I’m looking forward to. I also get to go look at a cave in the neighborhood where I used to live, the Brushy Creek/Avery Ranch area that straddles Austin, Cedar Park, and Round Rock. We always knew there were caves in the limestone below the area, but when one collapsed recently, it became big news (the article I link to here has lots of cool pictures of the cave before it got all cemented up)! The one we are going to look at is NOT directly under any houses, and is apparently a good size. I love the karst and limestone, I guess because I lived on it for 20 years.

You readers will like that I am going to two sessions on taking better photos of plants and wildlife. I hope to learn some iPhone techniques and to take good notes on what I can do when I get my other camera going.

I’ll share more of what I learn in the coming days.

rain2
It’s dreary in north Austin today, but at least I have my reminders to breathe and exhale. And happy plants.

And as for the weather

It’s all rainy AGAIN. Austin has been under a boil order since Monday, which is a pain, but it’s not like we were hit by a tornado or hurricane or anything. The hope is that clearing will happen for the weekend and all the outdoor activities. There’s a real good chance!

At least it’s cooled off and we’ve enjoyed 50s and 60s outside for the last couple of days. That’s nice. Ahhh.

 

Ranch Management for Women, Part 2

Yesterday I told you about the classroom day of the Bennett Trust Women’s Conference, which I just discovered was called “Empowering Women — New Stewardship Traditions.” I went to this week. Now for the real fun, when we got on a bus and road out into the sunrise for hands-on fun! (I do wish I hadn’t been so sick; I slept on the bus a lot.)

archer
I did hit the target. Photo by the Other Sue Ann.

Ranch Skillz

Day 2 was called the Wine and Roses Tour, and we took a nice bus to a ranch outside of Kerrville. It has typical Hill Country terrain, and there were typical Hill Country angora goats grazing nearby (but out of the way of projectiles). We spent a very enjoyable morning rotating through introductions to ranching skills: archery, skeet shooting, animal tracking, and range grass identification. I did fine, but didn’t shoot because of my precarious shoulder situation that I’m about to start physical therapy on (thanks, Carlton the Dogman)

I got a real kick out of some of the women who were very proud that they turned out to actually be good at the archery or skeet shooting. There were a couple of experts among the attendees, too, including one woman who brought her own shotgun. She got to go for two clay birds at a time.

quail
You can see that our tracking trainer is holding her very content quail, while the tarantula is trying to escape.

The woman who showed us all the animal tracks was obviously a true lover of all living things. Not only did she bring along her pet scaled quail (oh so cute), but showed us a large, black tarantula she found on the side of the road, and one of the big ole brown lizards that live in the Hill Country. We loved her asides!

Continue reading “Ranch Management for Women, Part 2”

I Can’t Walk, but I See Birds

birds3
What we have here are three wood storks, two roseate spoonbills, and a great egret.

Well, it’s poor timing that I’m still limping around from my injured tendon and I have a long weekend! Being gimpy has not stopped me from making observations, and I had a DOOZY on Friday, and thanks to my neighbor, Ralph, had a good one yesterday, too.

I was looking out the window at the tank behind the house, like I always do, in case there’s a bird there. Yep. Lots of birds. I did a double take. That “egret” had a black head and black on its wings. Woo! The wood storks were here for their yearly visit!

I limped outside with the camera, hoping to get a close picture. I zoomed in, and got another surprise! Some of those “storks” were roseate spoonbills! Snap snap. I knew I’d have to snap fast, since the dogs had followed me out.

birds4
We’re out of here. Plus that cow is butting in on our territory.

Sure enough, the storks had enough of us interlopers and took off. That’s how I got this nice photo. I did get enough time to watch the storks going after fish like crazy. The water is so low that it’s got to be easy pickings for them.

Continue reading “I Can’t Walk, but I See Birds”