It feels weird to do normal fun stuff like go to a Christmas party (that’s what they call them here, since it’s pretty mono-cultural).
I’m tired, though. I now have energy again, so I want do DO things, but I still don’t have stamina. Just running Drew through a couple of practice obstacles and setting up the trailer for a horse show tomorrow had my heart pounding. Oops.
I may have to walk all my events tomorrow. But I’ll give it a try. I’ll think positive.
Today was crazy at work because so many people asked me questions. They keep finding me on the intranet and contacting me. I even answered a question from a woman on another part of Dell on software I had never seen. Dang I’m a good trainer!
The evening was nice, and it featured our Master Naturalist party, as mentioned above. It warmed my heart to see two women I admire get volunteer hour achievement awards, and some other hard-working volunteers receive recognition from the group. Our chapter president has had some great ideas, including these recognitions.
I’m a bit of an outsider, but that did not stop me from enjoying the warm community of these nature lovers. Watching them interact was so much fun. I’m glad I have this connection to my rural county and that I’ve made kind friends there. Here are many of them making gestures.
And yeah. I enjoyed wearing clothing that wasn’t horse stuff. I’ll put those on tomorrow!
Louise, who lives up north, wanted to know more about all these butterflies we see in the autumn here in the southern part of the US. So, I went and looked up whether the butterflies we see here migrate or stay here, and what times of year they are seen most. I got all this off Wikipedia. And I went on and on. I guess I better also put this in the Master Naturalist blog!
Dione vanilla have been seen to migrate twice a year (in Florida). But they only go from south Florida to north Florida. Here is the chart of their distribution here in Texas (from iNaturalist). You can see they are here year-round but peak around the beginning of autumn, when all those yellow flowers are out.
There have been lots of observations around where I live, so they are pretty common, but beautiful.
This one, Junonia coenia, I see a lot but only at some times of the year. It’s also seen year round here but has a spring peak as well as a fall peak. I’m getting the idea that autumn is a big butterfly time here!
These do migrate, but seem to be here all year, because it isn’t too cold, I guess. Here’s what research says:
Common buckeyes move to the south along with tailwinds directed to the north or northwest after the cold fronts from September or October. They are sensitive to the cold and cannot spend the winter in northern regions that will experience extreme cold temperatures. However, they will migrate back from the south during the spring. It was spotted in California in late summer, early fall of 2022.
Battus philenor is not as common this time of year. It’s also more of a forest butterfly than a prairie one, which explains why I saw it at Tarrin’s – lots of wooded areas near her ranch. This one is also more of a warm-season butterfly. I probably saw one of the last adults for this year. I see lots of observations of caterpillars right now on iNaturalist.
They must not migrate, since I didn’t find any information on that. I do want to note that they need the pipevine plant to lay eggs on, and I found a member of that family at my neighbor Sara’s place earlier in the year. Yay!
Danaus gilippus is most definitely a fall flyer. It’s only found in the southern US and is more common in South America. This one, like the monarch, uses milkweed plants as its host. It sure is pretty.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is another one with two peaks. One thing I’m noticing, though, is that even the ones with a spring peak have a larger one in the autumn. So, that explains something that Louise was asking about: many butterflies seem to be autumnal!
Painted ladies are the most widespread of all butterflies and are found worldwide. I hadn’t known that! They are resident in places like where I live, but also migrate to northern areas in the summer.
Common Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis) is one I can’t get verified, but the ones I see sure look like the ones in the picture. It doesn’t seem to have been studied as much as many of the others, though it’s really pretty with its blue body and lacy pattern on the wings. And yep, it’s another one that is seen mostly in the autumn.
Euptoieta Claudia is common in this area. They seem to be prevalent all year except in the dead of winter. I think they’re pretty, too.
They use passion vines as their host, which may explain why we see so many here. I have LOTS of passion vines! They also like disturbed areas and open fields, which we have plenty of around here. They produce multiple broods per year, which may explain the prevalence during all the warm months.
Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole) is a tiny yellow butterfly, the smallest of the bunch, it turns out. We have lots of sulphurs around here, and they are very busy little fellows, so it’s hard to get photos. This one seems to go away in the hotter months. I do recall seeing them all winter, since we always have something blooming, like chickweed, which is one of its favorites.
This one is also white and other colors, so now I know that all those teeny ones I see are the same butterfly. I learned something!
Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) is another small one. They are incredibly numerous around here and are very busy little things. I enjoy watching them skipping around. Well, when I read the article on them, it became clear why I see so many! They love Bermuda grass. Guess what all the pastures around here were planted in? Bermuda grass. The beloved coastal Bermuda has pretty much made life difficult for the native grasses around here, but I guess that makes the fiery skippers happy. It makes them a pest in Hawaii, though. I say, eat away, skippers!
I also learned why the butterflies I see that are identified as fiery skippers look so different. They are sexually dimorphic, with the males much brighter than the females. I’m suddenly becoming a butterfly expert as I write this.
I am trying to figure out what butterflies I see earlier in the year. Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) is one I know I see in spring. Even this one peaks in the fall, though. It’s tiny, but holds still enough that I can get photos. Thanks!
These guys, American Snout (Libytheana carinenta), just migrated through here, so I know they are migratory. But they are most often seen in autumn, like all the others so far. Migrations happen after droughts that are followed by heavy rains, which explains the one last week. The Wikipedia article says sometimes there are so many that they darken the sky. Wow. Funny looking, too.
Another beauty, Phyciodes tharos is more of a spring and summer butterfly that’s found all over North America. It’s very common in this area.
Asterocampa celtis is one of the summer butterflies around here, probably because of its ties to the hackberry tree (which we have plenty of). I guess it shows up when the trees start blooming.
This is a weird butterfly. It’s rarely seen visiting flowers (I see it on trees, duh). And it doesn’t pollinate the trees:
Species in the genus Asterocampa are regarded as being “cheater” organisms, since these butterflies do not pollinate flowers when they feed from them. This species can more accurately be described as parasitizing their hosts and plant food sources since they extract nutrients without providing any benefits to the host.
I’ll stop with Papilio cresphontes, since I finally found one that isn’t most common in the autumn. This one is more of a summer butterfly. It’s always great to see one of these gracefully flitting around.
This is the largest butterfly in North America, so I’ve shared with you both the largest and the smallest today! The caterpillars are pests to citrus growers, but they are just beautiful sights as far as I’m concerned.
Such a long day! I’ll just share some observations I made today and talk about other stuff tomorrow.
I decided to see how many butterflies and bees I could see today between the two stops I made. One was Nature Days that our Master Naturalist group is doing every Saturday this month, while the other was a visit to my lonely horse, Drew, who’s been living the spa life while Tarrin’s on vacation. More on that later.
I really saw some beauties today. The most common one was the Common Buckeye.
The fall butterflies make me so happy. The buckeyes, Junonia coenia, prefer yellow flowers that no other butterflies have visited. They eat plants as caterpillars that make them taste bad, too, like monarchs do.
The most beautiful sight for sure was the pipevine swallowtail, which is the top photo. We get lots of these near here but not too many at our ranch. They are not shy, so you can often get good photos. I also saw these in both places I visited.
I saw both the Gulf fritillary and the variegated fritillary (who I confuse with a couple others). These are around for many months here. The Gulf ones are the brightest orange! Oops. I got confused and put the painted lady in here. See?
Let’s see, what else was there? Painted ladies, queens. dainty sulphurs (tiny yellow ones!), fiery skippers, and the checkered skipper. Also there’s one that is some moth.
So, what about bees? I saw three kinds. First, here’s the carpenter bee.
Then we had the beautiful bumblebee! They are such fun to watch. Honestly. These two confuse me, too.
I know what a honey bee looks like! I got some fun shots of them flying, too.
One more moth! These appear to be salt marsh moths, and they were in both places I observed today.
Although I’m quite excited about migrating snout butterflies (hundreds) and sandhill cranes (dozens), I’ll share more that I learned last Saturday for now.
Insect Photography, by Mary Ann Melton
Insects are what I take photos of most, after plants. I enjoyed getting ideas from Mary Ann, who happened to be the speaker at our last Chapter Meeting. I was very happy that she gave tips for phone photos as well as camera ones.
I took photos of some of the ideas she shared, especially for digital cameras, in case I can ever get one. There was also a cool attachment that lets you take better close ups on the phone. Attaching that to the 3x camera on my phone should be fun to try.
I also just enjoyed her beautiful photos with nice blurry backgrounds so the subjects look better. This was fun.
Here Be Dragons! Odonata 101, by Brent Franklin
This was probably Brent’s first presentation, since he apologized a lot for its length and content. But it was just fine, and I learned a lot about dragonflies and damselflies, even though I thought I knew a lot. This guy has really seen a LOT of the Texas Odonata and has lots of insights on finding them and observing them.
He had some fantastic photos of various dragonflies, too. I learned more about their mating behavior (the male clamps on to the female behind her head and flies her around until they find a good egg-laying place) and life when young. I don’t think I’d realized how long they can live in the water before emerging into the air. It can be years!
There’s just so much going on with these guys. Did you know dragonfly eyes take up almost their whole head, while damselfly eyes are on stalks on the sides of their heads? Yep.
iNaturalist 301: Advanced Applications and Exploring Data in iNaturalist, by Tania Homayoun
I always feel like it’s not a good conference if I don’t go to a session by Tania. I think I’ve gone on a field trip with her or heard her speak at every conference I attended. I’m such a rogue iNat user that I don’t think she’s too impressed by me, but I’m impressed by her! This session didn’t disappoint, as I learned some new features in iNaturalist and that some features have gone away. I’m glad I was able to draw an area for our ranch before that was removed as an option because people were misusing it or something.
Since I’d spent all week uploading things for that Pollinator BioBlitz, it was good to just talk about it and to learn more about the computer application, which really lets you do useful things. I plan to download my ranch observation data soon and do some analysis in Excel.
I was sad to find out that Tania is leaving her position with Texas Nature Trackers, but very happy to discover it’s because she is going to be the State Ornithologist! WOW!
Wrens: Little Birds with Lots of Energy, by Scott Kiester
It turns out that the speaker for this session, the last one I attended, is the guy who drove us to the field trip on Thursday. He had lots and lots and lots of information on wrens, including fun recordings of the songs and “scolding calls” of each type.
Wren fact that blew my mind: there is only ONE kind of wren in the Old World, and they are pretty sure it crossed the Bering Strait and populated that part of the world from North America. There are many kinds of wrens here, though. We went through most of them in two hours, it seemed.
I have a much better clue about wren identification now, and can easily tell you which one is a Bewick’s. By the way, their numbers are diminishing as some other wren takes over, and it’s pronounced like the Buick car. Huh.
The rest of the sessions on Saturday were about who won awards and honoring people with lots of volunteer hours. I sure wish Donna Lewis had been able to come so she could have received her 10,000 hour pin. That is a huge milestone. To compare, I have about 800 hours.
I’m sticking my crane photos and video from yesterday in here, in case you’re interested. Seeing them flying over is always a highlight of the autumn for me. I love the sounds they make.
I promised to write up notes from the sessions I took at the 2022 Annual Meeting of Texas Master Naturalist, but there was a lot of stuff going on the last couple of days. Now I have a moment! First, I will say that this was the best conference I attended so far in terms of the quality of the sessions I attended. They were chock-full of interesting tidbits. It also helped that the Omni Houston has comfortable chairs. I wasn’t squirming the whole time, except in the one session where I had to sit on the floor. Anyway, here are some notes!
Becoming a Land Doctor: Evaluating Land Health, by Megan Clayton
The speaker here had also spoken at the Bennett Trust conference, so it was good to hear her information again. She talked about how to tell if your land was over-grazed, whether it had lost its topsoil, etc. It takes thousands of years to rebuild topsoil if it’s removed.
Grass is your friend if you want healthy land! But you need to let it grow back before grazing again. The ideal would be to imitate bison, who showed up, ate, pooped, and trampled once a year, then moved on.
Fire and Goats: Vegetation Management Using Traditional Techniques in a Novel Setting, by Stephen Benigno
This one was a lot of fun. The speaker is from the Houston Arboretum, and he shared how they used a flock of goats from “Rent a Ruminant” — what a great name. The goats really took care of the underbrush. They just took a week and we’re great at gnawing down dewberries.
This gave me many ideas, so I had questions about fencing and such. Having just a few goats and rotating them sounds good!
He also talked about doing a controlled burn at the arboretum. That required lots of permission and publicity to keep people calm about the smoke. It worked out well but didn’t quite burn as much of the meadow as they wanted. All learning experiences in an urban woods and prairie!
Birding with Today’s Technology: Utilizing eBird, Merlin, and Other Online Resources, by Kelsey Biles
I took this one to learn more about eBird. It was worth it just to learn about how you can ID birds just by sound using it. So, if you don’t know, this is software that lets you identify birds and save your sightings online, all going to science. You don’t need photos, and it’s easier for folks who aren’t great with online image stuff. Many people I know contribute to it daily by just watching their feeders.
There was a lot to learn, though, so I was glad to be there. Plus the speaker had a very cute bird skirt on.
Conservation of the Night, by Cindy Luongo-Cassidy of the Dark Sky Network
This was the lunch speaker. She got us all fired up about eliminating light pollution and keeping the dark sky available for people, animals, and plant life. We all need it. I learned how to modify light fixtures to direct light downward rather than outward from simple things you might have on your property.
I feel pretty good about our place. We have a couple of rogue lights, but most of them stay off unless needed, which is a good practice. I don’t want to confuse moths and migrating birds, after all!
Feral Hog Biology and Impacts: What We Know and What We Hope to Learn, by Mikayla Killam
This one was pretty depressing to me. It sure is hard to get rid of feral hogs. I did learn a few trapping techniques that aim to get as many hogs as possible into traps, like using funnel feeders and trip wires at the furthest end of the traps.
Of course, hogs are very smart and figure many kinds of traps out, as we know. The speaker recommended that the best way to remove the greatest numbers of these invasive animals all at once is to hire professionals in helicopters to get as many as possible, and to go in with as many neighbors as possible, since hogs don’t know land boundaries. Once that is all done, you can then more easily pick off individuals by trapping or shooting.
I learned that if you just get some of them, they go into piglet-making overdrive to get their numbers up. There’s a scientific word for it that I forgot.
Living in Harmony with America’s Song Dog, by Karin and Roberto Saucedo
My last educational session for the day was very popular. The presenters are a couple who really love coyotes and have studied them extensively in urban environments. I had to sit on the floor for this one, but it was kinda fun.
We learned how the coyotes interact with human habitation, which is often caused by houses being built around their traditional territories. We saw how they helped some of the coyotes get over mange by putting out medication for them. They knew not to get too friendly with them and showed a sad video they made about a coyote that people kept feeding even when asked not to (and even when they knew game cams were set up that would catch them). Sure enough, being tame was its downfall.
A lot of the coyote stories were sad. But an interesting thing I was reminded of in this talk was that in parts of Texas there is a lot of red wolf blood in them, which makes them a bit larger. I think that is true here, as ours are often quite large and healthy (I don’t see ones with mange out here, but they also are wilder and avoid people and our dogs).
Keynote: Kjell Lindgren, Astronaut
The last talk of the day was the dinner speaker. It started out with some Texas Parks and Wildlife or AgriLife official talking about how cool it was that a Master Naturalist spent time on the space station recently. They showed some photos and a nice message he’d recorded for us about how being a Master Naturalist had helped him in his work. We were all happy with that, but then they surprised us with Kjell, the astronaut, coming onstage and talking to us in person.
This is one impressive fellow with an MD, a PhD, and a degree from the Air Force Institute or whatever that is in Colorado Springs. And of course, he’s a Boy Scout leader and such. He seems genuinely nice, kind, and humble, too. My favorite part of his talk was all the photos he shared of the earth as seen from the space station. The auroras, the volcanoes, the rivers, etc., were fascinating to look at.
I have to say, though, that Friday’s sessions were a LOT of learning all in one day. I’m glad we got to go relax afterward in the lovely bar. The hotel had great restaurants and bars. No complaints about that!
I didn’t get a chance to blog yesterday and I’m pretty wiped out tonight. It’s been a great Master Naturalist conference and I’ve also enjoyed hanging out with friends.
I plan to share some of my learning later. Tonight I’ll hit the highlights. Like yesterday, during dinner, when they surprised us with a great talk from the first Master Naturalist in space, Kjell Lindgren. Wow, he’s a real renaissance man and nice, too!
The food has been great, too. And conversation with nine fellow Milam County folks and new friends has been so great. I even got a COVID test, and it was negative! Fun times.
We got goofy a lot, which kept me laughing and nicely broke up intense learning about feral hogs, coyotes, wrens, dragonflies, insect photography and much more.
I get renewed by taking a break like this, even when I get worn out. I’m inspired to do more at the ranch and more outreach as well. I learned so many ways to help the planet.
But mostly. I’ve had fun. And I’m proud of our little chapter.
Yep, we had fun. I’ve missed fun with the Master Naturalist folks.
I’m too tired to do much writing, but my first day of the 2022 Texas Master Naturalist conference in Houston was really fun. What a pleasant and educational day.
The day started out with a trip to Sheldon Lake State Park. If you are ever wherever it is, go visit! It’s even free and very easy for people with mobility challenges to enjoy.
This whole park has been reclaimed to have native plants through hard work of volunteers. So much digging and planting! We learned a lot from the park ranger and two really cool volunteers. They showed us what they did, how they propagate plants, and the history of the place.
I spent a lot of time taking pictures of plants and pollinators for the BioBlitz. I even got to see a new butterfly! I sure love learning new plants and insects.
After we got back (I was able to carpool with two nice folks) I ran into friends from home. We decided to go check out Buffalo bayou next to the Omni Hotel we’re staying at. I have to tell you, wandering the weedy area on the other side of the fancy office buildings was as fun as any organized field trip.
Ann and Jackie are always lots of fun, and Ann is so good with plants! We saw many native trees and so many vines. And though not much was blooming, some daisy-like plants attracted entire hives’ worth of bees and wasps. We had a blast!
Once we were done I came up and rested, then met up with folks from our chapter for dinner and drinks. This hotel has great food. And we went to the “whiskey bar” later. We had great conversations in such a warm and elegant atmosphere. A good day!
At this time of year, I dislike the most annoying giant cockleburs that grow here. There are fewer now than there was at one time, thanks to diligent mowing but the horses will find them, since we can’t quite get to all the spots where they like to grow.
Poor Fiona had them all over her legs and hips today. They must be so annoying. And Mabel hid some in her mane, too!
They hurt like the dickens to pull out. I remember one year Sara just cut off Pardner’s forelock (he was our ancient buddy who lived to be at least 30).
They are very sturdy plants when mature. The chickens roosted on one last fall. And they have nice leaves and actually quite beautiful, pink flowers. But no, I don’t like them.
They are Xanthium strumarium. They are a North American plant but have taken over other places, as burs do. We call them buffalo burs, but maybe that’s another plant.
I just don’t like them.
PS: my friend Mary W sent along a scientific article about the uses of these burs in traditional Chinese medicine to treat headaches and sinus issues. It’s apparently also been used in Pakistan as a biodiesel fuel. Aha! We can burn them in our vehicles! Kidding. Here’s the link. They may be a pain to the horses and Fiona and Pickle too; but the plant has a long use as a traditional herbal medicine.
Whew, I was tired by the time I got home from Fredericksburg. I went home a new way, though, so I got to see some different scenery and avoid Austin traffic. To keep myself awake I tromped around the ranch on my breaks, taking pictures for the pollinator BioBlitz.
I just wandered and wandered, bearing in mind what I learned at the conference this week. I noted there were more fish where there was no cow poop, but there were fish even in what’s left of the creek, where I found one of the old mama cows having a quiet bath.
As I checked out the riparian areas, I also looked at the pastures. Yeah, they are rather over-grazed. The only plants left are what cattle don’t eat: broomweed, milkweed, and silverleaf nightshade. This made finding things to add to the BioBlitz a challenge.
I did find lots of insects and documented every tree variety, so I feel good. My goal is to ID 100 species as my contribution, and I think if I get some at Tarrin’s, where there are different plants, I’ll pass that goal. I did hit another goal today, and that’s 600 different species here on the ranch. Hard to believe!
Even if all I see is cedar elms and greenbrier, I can’t complain. Being able to get outside is such a privilege. The variety of life that’s still thriving in this drought gives me hope for us tenacious humans, too.
I didn’t see many birds other than this coy mockingbird and a cardinal that hid completely. I did hear hawks and crows a lot.
I’m hoping the weather will turn. It actually rained a few tiny drops when I fed the horses, and there was lightning in clouds at sunset. More hope!
More photos, mainly because Barbara looks at them all.
I’m so glad the Bennett Trust conference for ranch women is back at last. The conference started at 7 am and the wine hour was still going on when I left to watch football, along with my new friend, Mim, who’s originally from Rockdale. We bonded.
Not only did the legacy of the Bennetts (very nice people who left a trust to pay for these events) pay for excellent food, but there were really interesting speakers on various aspects of taking care of your land. the keynote was on women and land stewardship, and April Sansom was inspiring to all of us who want to leave the land better than we found it.
She’s helped women use small agricultural projects to better their lives all over the world thank you the Peace Corps, and now educates people at the Selah Bamberger Ranch preserve (including Master Naturalists!). Her love of the planet shown through every word.
I heard a lot about how cost effective goats are to raise and sell. The speaker, David Anderson, even explained what all the types of livestock sales mean. Now I’ll understand the livestock report on KMIL better.
One fun segment was by a ranch land lawyer. She answered so many questions about fencing, trespassing, and the usefulness of forming LLCs.
Then, I learned more than I ever thought I would about wells and well water. Luckily, since I can’t remember it all, Joel Pigg gave us lots of excellent printed material that I can’t wait to read and share. Major learning: wells should be uphill from septic systems.
Probably my favorite speaker was Morgan Treadwell, whose husband is from the family that owns a historic Texas ranch. She knows her brush removal and how to use fire. What I learned, though, was how to get rid of brush cost effectively.
Morgan really had a lot of information that was new to me. For example, weaken mesquite with a controlled burn, then bring in goats to eat new growth. Huh. Goats again. Also fire won’t kill them when over 3 years old, so do small maintenance often rather than a huge effort every decade or so.
The final talk was by a woman named Megan Clayton. She talked about how newer land owners may want to do different things with their land, and that women play a huge role in new things like agri-tourism and farm-to-table operations.
Clayton shared a lot of fun websites with us, including a cow poop analyzer, which I must try out at home. She then paired people with mentors and mentees. I ended up being a mentor because no one wanted to admit they knew anything.
Anyhow, this was a lot, but I learned so much. And the food was so good! I enjoyed meeting a lot of interesting women and was pleased to see the diversity of attendees. I’m looking forward to a day of ranch tours tomorrow!