Speaking of Pollinators – Let’s Help Bees

The situation in this area with regard to the effects of the bad weather incident is pretty dire. I don’t think I realized how bad it was until I read the documentation encouraging people to participate in a project to track the state of pollinators and pollen sources here. Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, wrote:

The 11-day cold spell (10-20 February) in Texas was a disaster. Freezing temperatures covered the state and extended well into Northern Mexico. While many of the immediate effects of the freeze are clear, season long and multiple year effects may linger. The damage to the flora was extraordinary, and it is likely that nearly all above ground insects died over a wide area. Plants already in flower may have been so damaged as to not flower this year.

Nearly all above-ground insects died! Now, every time I see an insect, I’m thrilled, and must record it. Yesterday I spotted a young grasshopper and a jumping spider, and if I could have hugged them, I would have.

A few of my friends have been mentioning that the bees are everywhere right now, and they don’t have much to choose from for nectar sources. As I showed you yesterday, I mostly have henbit and dandelions for them, along with a very few white clover blossoms (I think I saw six blossoms between my house and the horses, which is a half mile in distance).

I’ve been seeing photos of home-made bee feeders, which seem to mostly be pans with some gravel in them, filled with honey water. My friend, Pamela, had a lot of success with using a cookie tray and a simple plate!

I wasn’t sure if I needed to do that, since dozens and dozens of bees have been sampling the chicken feed, which makes me worry about how much sugar must be in there!

But, I figured it couldn’t hurt. I already had a nice shallow dish over by the chickens, but I don’t have any gravel, so I found a few rocks that look like reasonable perches. I poured some honey water in there (same stuff I make for hummingbirds) and waited.

Yeah, well, we don’t like this.

I guess I haven’t waited long enough, because I have only seen a couple of bees check out the water, and there are still very many on the chicken feed. I think I’ll go out and put in some sticks and flowers and the things Pamela had. It’s an ongoing experiment.

Zero bees at water station. Many bees in and on the food.

As an aside, I have to laugh about my chicken yard. It now feeds not only chickens but many wild birds. I’m always startling doves and meadowlarks in there, plus many sparrows. That’s fine with me. They’re all my avian buddies!

I do hope all the feeding of the bees helps. We need them, the native bees and the honeybees.

Update!

When I went out to check the mail, I took a detour by the chickens to see how the bee feeder was doing. I was happy to see that they found it, and could tell I made the liquid too deep. So, I added some flowers and sticks they can hold onto. Immediately the bees started using them, and more arrived. My heart is full.

Knitting on Hold Due to Online Shopping Fail

Darn me. I thought I had ordered more yarn for the table runner I’m making for Lee, then wondered why it had not arrived. Sigh. The website I used had such a long and convoluted ordering process that I missed one last “finalize order” button on the bottom of a screen, because the text was so long that the button required scrolling to see. Let me just say, “Grr.”

It’s looking pretty, though, other than my ugly decreases (for which I blame the yarn texture, not my sterling technique.

So, I now have a 28-inch long piece of knitted fabric and no more yarn. The purchase HAS hit my credit card, so now I’ll just wait until next week for the rest to show up. The good news is that Lee wants the runner to be 50 inches, so the two more skeins I ordered should be enough, but not too much. That makes me happy!

Half of a table runner.

I made a mistake in the last light brown section, but it’s not bad enough to rip out. With all that crazy color and texture, who’s gonna look that hard at it, once it’s on the stereo cabinet? It just shows I’m human!

Once again, I am really glad to have a backup project! The blue shawl will get longer today, though I must admit categorizing all my Bioblitz photos takes away from my knitting time.

Still Blitzing

No one I know actually logs ALL the hours they spend on iNaturalist. For me, the time just melts away as I try to figure out what kind of plant or animal I’ve seen. Yesterday I even got a couple of bird photos, nasty, blurry ones, but yay! I actually love this one, which really doesn’t show the bird species, but looks artsy.

Mystery bird.

And I got these beautiful closeups of henbit, the omnipresent wildflower of February.

And here, I just had to take a photo of the entrance to the driveway that leads to the cabin and barns. It’s pretty to me.

Very Texas-y.

How’s your weekend going? I hope better than this dead hunk of fish I found. Yep, a good place to stop blogging.

I don’t think there’s enough of this to identify on iNaturalist, but the fish does have cool teeth. At the top is a fin.

Blitzed and Hit 2000!

It’s been a heck of a work week, giving me little time to think or write about. We’ve been doing real estate stuff, but I hesitate to write about that anymore. So, I’ll tell you about the highlight of my day, which has been participating in the Winter Bioblitz for our Master Naturalist chapter.

Crow poison

I made 62 observations today, which was a feat, since I only did it on breaks and at lunch. It’s also a feat, because the vast majority of the plants I can identify right now are henbit, chicory, and clover.

Look at all those observations

The highlight of my morning was reaching 2,000 iNaturalist observations. I’ve been going more slowly lately, so this meant a lot to me. I enjoy contributing!

Some really pretty dandelions

It was good I knew where a lot of things are, so I could confidently say, “This is poison ivy!”

That’s one thick ivy vine.

Other chapter members got out and took some pictures, too. Carolyn took a picture of a cat and uploaded it, which gave me a chuckle. I know lots more will join in!

Ooh, snails and mussels from Linda Jo.

Anyway, I’m enjoying my nature pause and finally able to get Master Naturalist hours for my iNaturalist work around the ranch. That makes up for whatever challenges I’m facing.

A sweet tiny field madder bouquet.

Have a happy evening. Time to knit.

Headstones and History

While I’ve written about Walker’s Creek cemetery before, I was compelled to write again, because our Master Naturalist event champion, Linda Jo, asked us to go out and observe at a Milam County cemetery this week. This place is so beautiful, I’m always happy to visit.

This is maybe a mile from the ranch.

I decided to do two things, survey what’s living and growing in the area for iNaturalist and see what I can learn about the area’s history from the tombstones. I’ll post the nature stuff on the Master Naturalist blog when it’s done.

Our area in a nutshell. I do have photos of the school, etc., somewhere on this blog.

As I looked around, I saw the graves of those founders and their descendants. The Jinks family put in new stones and is all fancy.

Very fancy, Jinks family.
Older Jinks graves. Marzillah, on the right, died in 1909 and has Heaven and other art on her stone. Her husband was a Mason. He died in 1886, making him probably one of the first ones here.

The Cages and Walkers had some cool old stones. I love how many stones throughout the cemetery have kind words on them.

Mothers often have poems.
Another beloved mother. “Rest, mother, rest in quiet sleep, While friends in sorrow over thee weep.”

Another thing I notice on the older headstones is that there are hands in them, like the one at our house, which has a hand pointing up. Here are a couple with a handshake and hands reading a book (Bible, I assume).

My favorite stone with an inscription was this much more recent one. Way to go, Sonny.

Yes. What a guy.

I do enjoy humor from the families. This is so cute cute

A cow, and a population sign. Fun Lucko family.

Lots of the gravestones looked like trees. They are Woodmen of the World stones, bought with burial insurance. When I was a kid, I thought it was an organization for guys like my grandfather, who was a woodsman (forest surveyor).

1919 grave of Luther Allen

As I looked around, I noticed a few things. One is that the people buried here aren’t German or Czech, like we see in the surrounding area. The names are mostly English, Scots, etc.

A Walker who lived a long life. Originally a Todd. There are Todds down the road.

Even the people I know who are buried here have English names. The late sheriff Green, his son, and eventually his wife, the Greenes, are here.

Newer graves lovingly cared for.

This is a great example of what I saw all over the cemetery, where people do sweet things like stack rocks or arrange rocks in patterns. I thought it was so sweet.

Notice the stacked rocks. Also, such a beautiful tree for the family to enjoy during visits.

The rocks hold up better than fake flowers, for sure. But, some of the graves are well tended. My former neighbor, Elaine, gets visited often. It helps that her son now lives across the street in her old house.

Notice the rocks, her favorite bird, and fresh flowers.

Another thing I noticed was that any tomb cover on a grave was all cracked up. I’m not surprised, seeing how much the soil moves around here. The Jinks grave above shows this. Here’s another example.

It’s all cracked.

This cemetery is in a beautiful spot, surrounded by woods and little ponds. I enjoyed my time here so much.

There were doves and cardinals around this pond.

Remember the sign at the beginning that talked about a church? Most cemeteries have a church associated with them. There’s not one here now, but there was one across the road, here.

This is where the church was.

I’d noticed the sign before, since we drive by here often.

Church site.

Only today did I see the sign, which appears to be on the old entry. Aha.

Very descriptive.

I saw so much of historical interest here, right down the street! I look forward to writing up all the plants and animals I encountered.

Fog Magic

Last night was absolutely magical, if also a bit scary for people on the roads. It’s one of those things that can’t help but inspire awe as you witness what Nature can do in the right circumstances. As a Blogmas gift to you all, I’ll showcase some photos from my Master Naturalist friends as I tell my story and share theirs, too.

This photo from Larry Kocian gives you an idea of what it looked like at my house as the foggy evening started out.

For me, the magic started when Vlassic and I were walking back from feeding the horses, right at sunset. I noticed a red stripe along the horizon, where there was a break in the rain clouds that had hung around all day (but not brought anywhere near enough rain).

Here’s the fog from in town in Cameron, from Martha.

I suddenly saw a sliver of sun peek out from under the clouds. I got a few photos of the sun as it slipped through the gap and disappeared behind the trees.

The sun right in the little gap between the clouds and the ridge.

Then I noticed the mist. I could actually see fog forming behind our house, above the pond, and across the field. I knew we were in a valley, and guessed it was probably clear on top of the hill where the cemetery is.

The clouds are getting lower, and you can see mist forming right above the ground over on the left.

Right after I went inside, Lee came back from the office and said he was scared to death driving along the creek bottom to get to our house. The fog had gotten so dense that he could not see the road. A while later, Chris came back from a trip to Rockdale with the same report. Deep, deep fog.

You can guess from this photo, looking toward our house from Pamela’s property, that it was darn foggy down at the creek.

About that time, Pamela texted me, “Are you living in a cloud?” I said I sure was, and she told me she’d sat behind her house and just watched the fog creep higher and higher from where I lived to the hill where she lived. This is what it looked like from her house as it came up.

Here comes the fog!

Here are two pictures of roughly the same view from her house, one taken on Thursday when I was there, and the other from last night, both around sunset.

After Pamela sent me her photos, I started seeing more and more of them in my Facebook feed. Cindy Travis, who lives to the southeast of us, shared these beautiful images from her ranch.

Another Master Naturalist friend, Phyllis, shared what the fog looked like from her vantage point. Another beautiful sight!

Foggy mystery, from Phyllis Shuffield.

Later on, I found some amazing images from another Master Naturalist friend, Larry Kocian.

This one, from when the fog was really deep, is spooky, but full of beauty.

He was on a bike ride through the fog right at sunset and really got some great images (he’s quite a skilled photographer). Here is how Larry described it:

…[T]his was taken at sunset on the Country Club golf course across the street from where I live. The fog started on the pond and it grew rapidly and enveloped the entire golf course, making it look like a Halloween theme setting. But then it felt like being in the clouds, experiencing absolute peace and happiness.

Me and my little girl Clarice, (in this photo), rode our bikes into this growing fog bank. It was a great nature experience, being at the right place, at the right time, under the right weather conditions.

There was 100s of birds (unknown species) all over this acreage, enjoying the fresh water from the rains earlier in the day. Also the saturated atmosphere here at the surface, the fog, was very refreshing. It was like refreshing lotion going into the skin. This fog hid everything on the acreage, except for these trees, making them look like they were floating in the clouds. And as you can see, the sidewalk the leads to the pond way down the way disappears into the clouds. We were floating in the clouds, enjoying this unique moment in Nature.

Thanks to Larry for sharing the photos and description! You almost feel like you were there, right along with him and Clarice. And here’s a special treat: he made a video of riding through the fog.

Well, if that doesn’t convince you that our planet is worth taking care of, I don’t know what will. Evenings like this are rare, but the memories will serve as a balm to our senses for a long time. No pandemic can take that away from us!

Once more, our Master Naturalist buddies made sure to preserve these memories. I’m grateful to Pamela, Phyllis, Cindy, and Larry for sharing with all of us, along with my dear friend, Martha.

What’s in Burleson County?

I wanted to know. There are very few iNaturalist sightings there that weren’t made by Eric from my Master Naturalist chapter. He, along with Alan, who lives on and runs a fish farm near Somerville, wanted to do something about that!

Near the main house

So we met up at the property today, to see what kind of fun field trip we could come up with to educate chapter members about the area, how Alan has been managing the water — fish ponds, lakes, streams, etc.

One of the ponds, with Bad Patty, the dog.

Of course I had to get a tour! Let me say that was fun! Alan is a great tour guide, and I got to see all kinds of new plants and insects. The lake is great, and there are many different micro-climates on the property.

American lotus

My favorites were plants whose seeds rattle when they dry. And all the water plants!

I enjoyed talking to my friends and learning about raising fish, grasshoppers, and so much more. I can’t wait to go back. It’s outdoors, we stayed apart, and the weather was great.

I also made this weevil friend. It crawled all over me for a long time. It’s Eudiagogus rosenschoeldi.

Remember my resolve to have more fun? I’m still working on it! And doing it! Not all serious all the time!

A lovely variegated fritillary I saw.

So, are you having any fun?

Brown Recluses, Crows, and Cochineal: Stuff I Learned about This Week

I’ve enjoyed the Texas Master Naturalist Annual Meeting, for the most part. There were a couple of dud presentations (I won’t say which ones those were), but I managed to learn a lot. I really missed interacting with others before and after sessions and being able to interact.

But I did learn a bunch. I’m really glad I went to the brown recluse spider talk, because now I know how few people get bitten and that females don’t even walk around. If you see one out, it’s a male.

Hmm

They have six eyes, paired as in the photo. Easy to tell from other spiders, though I doubt I’ll get that close.

Unrelated to these guys, I found out the baby spiders that parachute across the fields are the jumping spiders. They are my favorites. They are all so pretty and friendly. Sara and I talked to one for a while yesterday. Yes, we’re weird ranch gals.

I learned about corvids, which include ravens, crows, magpies, and jays, among others. The surprise there is how similar their brains are to ours, just more densely packed. Really amazing birds.

More on recluses. I didn’t get bird images.

Another interesting talk was on fungi, but I realized I need images in my sessions. I am not an auditory learner, I guess. The speaker had very few slides, and I got lost. Luckily, she recommended a book I’ll go buy. That makes, I think, four I must have thanks to the conference!

Finally, I got a kick out of the presentation by a very sweet and very Texan Master Naturalist on cochineal. I could tell he’d learned way more about the fashion industry than he had intended to. But it was a lot of fun sharing his amazement about the ups and downs of these tiny insects, some of which happen to be right outside my door!

I’m gonna have to smoosh some up, use lemon juice as a mordant, and dye something red! I’ll read the books and report more later.

Well, I have an adventure to go to, so that’s it for now. Have fun on your Sunday, too!

Doug Tallamy: Incredibly Inspiring

Wow. Just wow. My life is now so much better, having heard the amazing Doug Tallamy speak at the Texas Master Naturalist meeting. He’s just about as inspirational as a speaker gets, and I now have my answer when people ask what famous person I’d most like to have dinner with. I could talk to him for hours, or more likely, listen.

I recently read and reviewed his book, Nature’s Best Hope, and once again I must encourage everyone to read it. It’s one of the few books I’ve read lately that made me feel empowered to go out and actually make the world a better place, right on my own property.

Listening to him speak to us, sounding just like some nice guy you’d talk to at your meeting, but with an amazing wealthy of information, was a mind-blowing experience. And the information he shared about how he and his wife turned their property into a place that is both beautiful AND attractive for natives was nothing short of inspirational.

Tallamy reminded me WHY I don’t want all the land around the ranch scalped into a beautiful monoculture lawn and why I ask that the wildflowers be allowed to grow, bloom, and seed each spring. They support so much of the diversity of animals and insects that we are rapidly losing.

When he shared how many different moths grow on the goldenrod on his Pennsylvania property, my heart swelled, since you may recall just yesterday I wrote about how much I saw growing on goldenrod plants (and I skipped a wasp that I couldn’t get a clear photo of). I feel like at least some parts of our ranch are helping the earth heal itself, while still providing food for people. I think it’s a win-win.

He provided lots of useful links, but I was too enthralled to take many screenshots. But here’s something you might be interested in, which is the keystone species that support the most insects, birds, etc.

The Hermits’ Rest has lots of these! Just not many maples.

I’m not going to write down everything Tallamy said, but I hope you will go to his website to learn more. There’s TONS of fascinating stuff there. This one point he makes sums it up for me:

From the Bringing Nature Home website

We ARE part of nature and need to live with it, wherever we are. I’m going to hold that in my heart and work as hard as I can to help Professor Tallamy achieve his goals.

His final slide.

I encourage those of you who want a better world for the children who are around today to read his books and take action. It’s awfully easy to plant some native plants. Many of them just show up, after all (“weeds”). And as soon as you have them, insects will follow.

Even if all you have is a balcony or some space outside your office, you can make the world a better place. Now, that’s awesome.

Online Conferences: Better than Nothing

I’m off work this week, sitting at the same old desk (nice desk) but attending the Texas Master Naturalist Annual Meeting. Online. First, I must praise the conference organizers, because what a HARD thing it was to get it all set up! And they stay so cheerful. Bless those women.

My happy conference-attending seat! And this blog post getting written.

I enjoyed my sessions yesterday, and I did indeed learn some useful things, like there is an overpass in Houston that’s bigger than the city of Sienna, Italy (or some famous city). Houston is big (surprise!) – but only ONE drop-off for mail-in ballots. Digression.

I didn’t get a lot of pictures, because, well, it was online, so all I could get were screenshots of people’s presentations. And there’s the thing.

I liked this information about how nature can help with stress. Interesting stuff in that second bullet.

Yep, I did learn a lot, but I really missed interacting with people. You can only ask questions in their format by typing them in. And you can’t turn on your camera so people can see you, nor can you tell who’s attending with you. The only way I knew one of my fellow Chapter members was in a session with me was when he asked a question.

The conference Planview, where I work in Austin, did last month had more bells and whistles and more ways to communicate with others. Of course, I do believe they had a much higher budget, as well as a professional designer to make it LOOK like you were attending a conference. So, there’s more than one way to do an online conference.

This information I found handy for my colleagues at Hearts, Homes and Hands!

I’m ready for my second day, though, and am happy I figured out a way I don’t have to wear my headphones all the time (my ears get tired). I need to do a couple of work meetings, so I am very glad they are recording all the sessions, so I can come back and see what I missed.

Next year, the plan is to do both online and in-person sessions, sort of like how I hope we can do our monthly meetings. It’s GREAT for people who can’t travel or have to work during conferences, but it’s also really good to have other options. Let’s hope the pandemic is settled down by then, though the way things are going, I wonder…

Achieving Nature Goals

Okay, I have a little something to say. After all that iNaturalist work last weekend, it was this weekend where I met some goals, or desires, or whatever.

While walking around, I remembered to open up a balloon flower to find the seed. My friend Linda Jo was right! They look like little yin-yang symbols!

Balloon vine seed, and my fingerprints.

While we were walking the horses, Sara very patiently let me try to get photos of all the butterflies and moths swarming in the pasture, even when her horse stepped in fire ants.

Waiting for Suna to take pictures.

Everyone’s patience was rewarded, though. I saw a butterfly on the fence. It sat still. I got its picture! It was an American snout, the ones we saw so many of last week! Finally one stood still.

No, not a great photo, but you can see the snout!

After achieving that goal, I felt fine. Then, on my way home, one of the dragonflies I’d been seeing all summer finally stood still. I was really curious what they were called, but they are very dart-y ones.

Hello, black saddlebags!

These always look like two mating to me. I was happy to see what they actually look like. Cool insects, and another goal met.

I looked at my iNaturalist totals and was happy to see I hit 1800 observations today. I’d been disappointed not to get there last week. Luckily, there are lots of interesting things to see on the Wild Type Ranch, where we walked!

Most recent observations. Over 1800!

I think that’s good for someone who has jobs and stuff. Still, I look forward to lots more in the future. We hope to visit neighboring counties with few observations and see what’s there!

Here I am looking for bugs with my “helper.”

Glad I found my voice. Sometimes I just need to shut up. Hee hee.