I May Never Sleep Again

I was telling Lee how glad I was that all the Master Naturalist stuff has helped me be less squeamish about bugs. I’d just seen a dead bug on the floor and stopped to pick it up and take a picture.

Cool stripes! Cool head!

We went outside (even though it was 99 F today), I checked my rocking chair for black widows, and I proceeded to look the insect up in iNaturalist. Oh, look, that one was easy! Let’s read all about it.

It’s a WHAT? It bites WHERE? It does THAT to people? It was in my HOUSE?

Nature, I love you. But I’d sure rather keep my distance from some of your creations, even if I’m a Naturalist.

If you see the eastern blood-sucking conenose, remove it from your home.

Its name is nowhere near as funny as yesterday’s grasshoppers. Texas. Everything not only bites or stings, but some of it sucks. On the other hand, I have a new thing to tell jerks: “Don’t be a bloodsucking conenose!”

I put it on my altar to represent darkness. Next to snake stuff.

Ick. So, what’s the most disgusting thing at YOUR house?

Grasshopper Names Are Majestic

Not much is going on this weekend. I had two good rides on Apache, and Sara helped me figure out the last thing I needed to keep progress going, which was shorter reins.

Showy grasshopper

Other than that, I’ve been watching summer insects. I’m still trying to get better photos. Perhaps I should try the real camera again.

Differential grasshopper

I did get some reasonable photos today, when looking at a friend’s garden.

Maybe a ponderous spur-throat

As I uploaded them to iNaturalist, I was thoroughly entertained by the common names of the grasshoppers. They are so creative and grand. Here are some names:

Admirable grasshopper

Ponderous Spur-throatedgrasshopper

Differential grasshopper

Devastating grasshopper

Barbarian grasshopper

Wrinkled grasshopper

Boopedon (my favorite)

Prairie boopie

Plains lubber grasshopper

Grizzly Spur-throat grasshopper

Two-striped slant-faced grasshopper

Obscure grasshopper

What cool names, huh? Maybe I’ll find some of these. And maybe someone will help me ID them.

Differential or devastating?

Texas, Where Almost Everything Bites

Today I have a hodgepodge of stuff to share, but first I want to talk about what’s lurking around the ranch these days. That would be things that bite, and things that jump. Yesterday, I went to sit down on one of the front-porch rocking chairs, when I saw something on the seat.

A member of the widow spider family.

I am very glad she was pre-dead, and that I saw her before I sat. Certainly it confirms my habit of checking for creatures before plopping down anywhere around the Hermits’ Rest! I’m not sure what kind of widow spider she was, but I don’t want any of them biting me. These are the main reason I continue to support having pest control come around the house.

The second reason is scorpions, which I haven’t seen any of, but Lee and Kathleen have killed a few. I love them out in the woods, but not in the house. And I love the spiders, but not ones that could really mess with my health.

I’ve apparently become allergic to mosquito bites, and they make huge welts, so I could do without those right now, too. And biting flies! Argh. There are black flies around here, and horse flies (thankfully not around ME), and deer flies. Whatever. One of them bit me on my FACE this morning. That could have to do with how much poop we have at the ranch

Nonetheless, I am heartily enjoying discussing different kinds of flies and grasshoppers and stuff with Eric in our Master Naturalist class. He not only has good eye for finding them, but he has a good camera, and the patience to work hard to identify them.

Eric wrote me an email today about the coolest thing he saw (a “mystical experience,” in his words), which was he was trying to photograph a large grasshopper:

It jumped off the path into the high grass and when it landed it appeared to turn into at least a dozen tiny projectiles which flew off in all directions like a firework. A closer look uncovered a great concentration of grasshopper nymphs in the area.

Eric N., email 6/6/2020

Of course, he didn’t get a picture, but WOW, what an image!

My grasshopper experience this morning was also something you couldn’t photograph. I was walking back from horse riding (it went well), noticing that it’s definitely grasshopper season. Then I noticed the sound. As I walked, I was disturbing dozens and dozens of them (small ones, since they aren’t adult yet), and my walk seemed to have a rhythm section accompanying it. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap-tap-tap.

I k now a lot of people don’t like grasshoppers (like my sister), and I admit they are annoying in the summers when there are hundreds pelting me as I drive the utility vehicle. At least they don’t bite often or hard. But they are so varied and interesting. I have an AWFUL time photographing them, so I think I’m going to get a good butterfly net soon, so I can get some to hold still.

What Doesn’t Bite?

Roaches. Secretly, I have never been fond of roaches, due to childhood trauma, but I am doing better since I started doing iNaturalist. I recently even found one I thought was interesting to look at. It also lived outdoors, where it should.

Fairly attractive pale-bordered field cockroach

And non-venomous snakes don’t bite humans, often anyway. So, I was sad to see this one in the road this morning. Rat snakes are my buddies as long as they aren’t eating my hens’ eggs.

Poor snakey got hit by a car.

Okay, time to go see what’s outside that will hurt in some other way…

How Many Invasive Species Did I Find?

Last week I had a lot of Master Naturalist fun participating in the Texas Invasive Species BioBlitz 2020 that got set up by Texas Nature Trackers. You may remember I talked about it a bit last week. The idea was to see how many observations you could get from a list of invasive species found throughout the state. I knew I had easy access to a few, so I figured I’d try.

Here’s the main page for the event.

I got a good number of invasives pretty quickly, since I knew right where there was some Arundo donax (river cane), Johnson grass, and a lot of nandina on my own properties. I must have spent 3 hours the first weekend looking for invasives (and observing lots of other things, too).

By the time I went to Austin on Tuesday, I was doing okay on the leaderboard. Just a few walks around the neighborhood of Bobcat Run produced more “goodies” like Japanese honeysuckle and privets.

My final list of plants.

By the time the week was over, I was proud to be in the top twenty of number of species observed, and doing okay with number of observations as well.

Here I am, number 17, and Linda Jo number 2 (I couldn’t fit number 1 on the screen, darn it.)

Of course, my fellow Chapter member Linda Jo Conn was in second place in number of observations and first place for species. Some other guy had way more observations, because he had multiple photos of some of the species. I did a few, like things I saw both in Austin and Cameron, or ones in distinct locations. However, I could have ROCKED the numbers by just walking across the lawn and taking pictures of Bermuda grass (I would NOT do such a thing, of course).

Regrets

Darn the luck! The day after the bioblitz was over, I drove down a street I don’t usually go by, and there were a whole bunch of mimosa trees taunting me with their fluffy pinkness. Argh!

Beautiful invasive mimosa tree, just one block off of where I usually drive every day.

Then, yesterday I walked to the horse barn (I’d been driving our utility vehicle because I have a sore tendon), and right on the side of the driveway was a cheerful annual bastard cabbage/ wild mustard plant. I’d been looking and looking for one, because I knew they were there! So, that’s two more I could have found if I’d been a bit more diligent.

What Did I Learn?

I think the project did what it was intended to do: it got me much more aware of invasive species wherever I saw them, and because I kept talking about it to friends and family, I raised awareness as well. That’s exactly the kind of thing I want to be doing as a Master Naturalist.

Oh, and also, I had fun. What have been your fun projects while we’ve been not gathering in large groups and such?

Serpentine Visitor

I miss all the good stuff. Last night at the ranch, while Vlassic and I were safely snoozing in our Austin bed, the ranch dogs started barking like crazy and would not stop. Lee got up and looked out the front door but couldn’t see anything.

They continued to bark, and apparently the whole family yelled at them a lot.

Then, as Lee and Chris were going to bed, they found out what all the ruckus was about: a three-foot plain-bellied water snake. According to eye witnesses, all the dogs were hiding around the corner, in order of size, with Alfred peeking his head out, barking and ducking back behind a wall. The rest were his backups.

Head of snake. Chris graciously fished it out of the dumpster for me.

Chris got the snake out with a broom, then it chased him, then he took his machete (I do not know where that came from unless it was MY machete that I won in some raffle once) and made the snake dead. Boo hoo. I was not there to convince them the snake wasn’t venomous.

Body of snake

The family believed it was a water moccasin, due to its head, which is all mushed up at this point, so the pit viperness is obscured. It does look a little triangular to me, too. I’m glad my iNaturalist friend aguilita identified it for me quickly as a regular ole water snake. In any case, it doesn’t belong indoors.

Bottom of snake

They think it must have come in when the wind blew the back door open. We are all glad the dogs didn’t go sniff it, since there are a lot of dogs getting bitten these days (Cathy J of Master Naturalists reported one rattlesnake bite and one copperhead bite just last week). Ah, rural Texas.

Vlassic, mighty disappointed that all he got out of this incident was a bit of dead snake smell.

I’m so glad to be back in Cameron. I’m also very glad to have naturalists who will help with identifying wildlife!

The Little Garden That Could

It’s been so much fun checking out what’s growing in my tiny garden outside my office. Every day, there’s a little bit more to see in and around it. This little space supports so much life!

This morning, I found the Inca doves poking around in the area where there’s dirt. I wondered where they were living, and then they were kind enough to show me! They have a nest right above our carport light! I love these birds, because they are calm, busy, and beautiful when they fly. The underside of their wings is a russet red, which makes them easy to identify, and looks beautiful.

Hello from the Casa de Inca

I looked a little closer before I went into the office, and saw even more life, on a tiny scale. I saw something yellow on the milkweed plant and was all excited that it might be monarch eggs or something, but when I got closer, the yellow dots moved. They are very bright aphids with little black legs. Turns out they are oleander aphids, which are also, conveniently enough, known as milkweed aphids. Well, the plants are supporting their tiny life, so I let them keep sucking away.

MMMMMilkweed! (I don’t know what the black aphids are)

Over to the left, something moved on a common lantana flower (which Linda Jo, my iNaturalist identifier, called “not one of the good ones”). There was a tiny, tiny fly. It has stripes that make it look like a bee or wasp, but it’s one of the little flies that lives on nectar from flowers, a calligrapher fly. I guess it does look like it has writing on it!

I can’t write calligraphy, but I am pretty.

And finally, when I stood up, I saw one little dayflower that did not look like all its beautiful blue friends. It’s a white sport! I love it when I find the oddballs of nature smiling up at me.

I’m a standout

What a great way to start one’s day, just noticing the bounty of life around me. This really is a little garden that could…be full of life!

What about me? I’m living in the little garden, too!

One More

I have to share, because it’s so pretty, this black swallowtail caterpillar on my bronze fennel plant at the ranch (one of two herbs that didn’t die in my planter). I’m so happy to support future beautiful butterflies!

I’m pretty even before metamorphosis! And this fennel is delish!

What Passes for Excitement

Today I went somewhere! I saw people! I did a good deed. And I stayed safe, especially considering the true dearth of infected people in this county.

Last week, a woman contacted me about a lot of things that one of the founders of our Master Naturalist chapter had been storing when she died. This woman, KB, as I’ll call her, was one of those people who are the backbone of an organization.

These folks have beautiful roses.

KB kept all the materials at her house, planned numerous events, workshops, and activities for the group, and apparently was a ton of fun, to top it all off. She was a prolific writer and note-taker, plus took lots of pictures. She had an entire room full of materials. After she passed away, the chapter wasn’t able to get the majority of her things, and I heard many expressions of regret.

Native trees.

Obviously, we were all excited when the woman who’s with KB’s husband gave us some of her old shirts. Then she wanted to let us look through more stuff that they’d made easier to go through. I didn’t feel qualified to do this, since I showed up in the sad, post-KB year.

They called this green roses.

I gave her a couple of names, and she got in touch with Phyllis, our previous chapter president. Our board agreed we should go over, and I offered to go along, since there was supposedly lots of stuff.

Catalpa blossoms

Neither Phyllis nor I had gone anywhere other than to get food since March, so we both really enjoyed the drive over to the property. It was full of native trees and plants, and Phyllis said she was glad they’d mowed. It may have been too natural for most people during KB’s time.

Posters, signs, etc.

I know it was hard on Phyllis to go through all the many notebooks, notes, and other materials. I found the easy things like posters and signs, and was thrilled that the legendary mussel collection was intact. We did keep some collections and drawings to show our newer members. They were meticulous and awesome. This woman was a true citizen scientist.

Flower/plant presses

It turned out that KB’s former husband and his current partner were very gracious hosts, so we got to tour their gardens and workshops. I was in awe. Nothing was fancy, but it was so interesting! Both of them are really creative. I even loved the chicken coop.

Squash, potatoes and onions.

Then we toured the house, made much less fun by wearing masks. You know, you read about “farmhouse chic” a lot. Well, this is an actual chic farmhouse. Everywhere I turned there was an idea I wanted to try. Each room was more charming than the previous one. It was a comfortable home just full of old things being used as they always had, along with creatively repurposed stuff.

This is cool. I want one.

That was fun. I really enjoyed meeting new people and chatting. I probably won’t do it again for a while, but that was nice.

This is made from the light part of an old fan.

What stuff have you been doing that’s more fun than it should be? Have you taken a drive?

Earth Day at 50

As a certified Master Naturalist, I am obliged to acknowledge that today’s the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. As a human being, I relish the opportunity to dwell on my concerns about the planet we all share and to remind myself to keep doing the things I do to help our green and blue mother stay a welcoming home for us all.

Thanks, Earth, for bringing us sights like this. Photo by @simogarb via Twenty20.

It’s hard to think about the Big Picture when so much little stuff is on our minds. But, it can do us a lot of good, too. We get presents from the Earth every day. Surely we can give back some, too!

This is little quaking grass. It’s seed-heads look like rattlesnake tails, or tiny Christmas trees to me. Behind it is our doggy swimming hole, which is FULL of tadpoles right now. Thanks, Earth!

What Can You Do?

Sure, we’re all avoiding big gatherings, so our Master Naturalist chapter isn’t doing an event like we usually do (actually, we’d canceled anyway). But the internet is just full of ideas. Here are some things I’ve read as well as my own suggestions:

  • Do some of these great ideas from the Kresge Foundation. They include live virtual events, social media ideas, and even a musical playlist.
  • Read a book! Head on over to my Book Reports Page and find one of the many nature books I’ve recommended over the past two years, or go ahead and get Nature’s Best Hope. We all need that inspiration sometimes, and reading takes our minds off “stuff.”
  • Go outside! Take a walk with your eyes, your ears, and your mind open to what the Earth has to share with you. Do you hear birds, squirrels, dogs, or coyotes? Do you see butterflies and moths? Are there plants growing in all sorts of places you don’t normally see? Make a list; you might be surprised at what the Earth has for you, no matter where you are.
  • Share with others. Remind people you know that it’s Earth Day and that they can do something to help. Use Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, email, your Zoom meetings…whatever! Word of mouth is always the best way to encourage new learning.
  • Start a new tradition. My friend Donna just told me that she has planted a tree every single Earth Day for the past 50 years. Hers is already in the ground. You can start your own Earth Day practice now!
  • Recycle something. Even better, re-use something you already have. I’ve made chicken feed scoops from plastic containers that have lasted months and months. I’m saving wine bottles and corks for projects (can’t wait for all my shiny bottle trees to start sprouting!). Let us know what YOU do!
Venus’ looking glass was my gift from the Earth yesterday.

I hope that’s given you some ways to celebrate Earth Day from the comfort of your property. The Earth is our home, and it never hearts to tidy her up, make her beautiful, and keep her safe.

Happy Earth Day #50!

Book Report: Nature’s Best Hope

Do you care about our planet and the life it supports? Then, stop reading this blog post and go order this book: Nature at Its Best: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard, by Douglas W. Tallamy. Consider it an early Earth Day present to yourself and the Earth. Get ready for some gushing now.

Why encourage caterpillars? Birds need them to make more birds!

Wow, this is a great book, which you might guess, given that I devoured it in a weekend. It’s got proper footnotes and references and such, but is written more for a lay audience than Behave! was. (Since I really don’t want to take pictures of the pictures in the book, I’ll share my own happy nature pictures from the weekend to encourage readers to make environments where they can see these for themselves, like the book describes!)

This is the book you want to give people who are not naturalists or environmental activists to explain to them that a) all those horrid weeds and bugs are what’s keeping the world alive and b) you can make a beautiful planting area on your property that encourages birds and other wildlife without going to a lot of trouble and effort.

While not part of creating a landscape of natives, donkeys and horses have a place, at least in my heart. (Spice and Fiona)

Tallamy makes so much sense in this book! Wow! He calls using native plants in naturalistic, yet attractive, settings creating Homegrown National Park. The main point of the book is that if people did this instead of planting endless swaths of turfgrass and non-native plants, we would be well on our way to saving the beauty all around us, benefiting us (we get to watch birds, butterflies, and animals) and the planet (diversity will be maintained, etc.). And Tallamy points out that turfgrass does have its place, for making nice paths.

Urban wildlife! Duck party at the Pope Residence.

I especially enjoyed all the beautiful photos he includes in Nature at Its Best, to show the kinds of sights you can see if you just make an appropriate setting. And that’s important, because exposing kids (and adults) to the natural world right where they live will make such a huge impact (as opposed to visiting nature in very carefully structured short trips). I say yes to all this, as do my fellow Master Naturalists.

You just can’t help but get all fired up and ready to drag in some native trees and shrubs and stick a rotting log or two around the place for moths to pupate in. And, conveniently, Tallamy provides links to two excellent websites to help you select what you should plant where YOU live:

  • Native Plant Finder: uses your postal code to help you find trees and herbaceous plants for hosting caterpillars. This is EXTREMELY cool.
  • Plants for Birds: same deal, but for hosting birds. I’ve already looked up both my houses.
Don’t worry, we are just using up the last of the red hummingbird food. We’ll make more of the correct kind!

I’m impressed that the work of one person, Kimberly Shropshire, created the original database for these, working with Tallamy. She must be an amazing person!

Honest, this book encourages citizen science at its BEST. I’d really like to spread the word about this resource. If you know people who enjoy nature and gardening, please share this post or the name of the book. And order it, even if just for the pretty pictures!

Those of you who prefer novels to nonfiction, rest easy. My next book is a fun historical novel.

Mellow Yellow Overload

Now, for something completely different. I did a fun (to me) project yesterday that didn’t require any human contact nor leaving the property where our office is. I decided to see how many different yellow flowers I could find in the weed/wildflower collection known as our empty lot. As you can see, I managed to fill a whole screen in iNaturalist!

Most of the field LOOKS purple, because there is so much storks-bill growing in it, but when you look closer and closer, the yellows dominate (purple is in second place, with field madder and a little patch of grape hyacinth that must be left over from when there was a house here – I plan to replant them in the “flower bed” I’m making).

What have we got? Let’s take a look. Many of these flowers look really similar, but are different sizes or have other subtle differences.

Common Dandelion. Taraxacum officinale. Delicious and nutritious. Bees love them.

False Dandelion.
Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus. Plus a tiny wasp and tinier beetle.

Prickly Sowthistle Sonchus asper. It’s everywhere. And very prickly. Note that there are aphids or something on it.

Smooth Cat’s Ear. Hypochaeris glabra. Looks like a teeny dandelion on a very long stem. Compare to the first dandelion and you’ll see how small it is.

Cutleaf Evening Primrose. Oenothera laciniata. Smaller than most evening primrose, but a beautiful buttery yellow.

Crete Weed. Hedypnois cretica. I thought it was a dandelion, but look at the leaf and the cool petal shape.

Woodsorrels. Genus Oxalis. I’m not sure which one it is, but it’s certainly oxalis. Sour tasty leaves!

Bur Clover. Medicago polymorpha. It’s about finished blooming and starting to make burs. Yellow is a hard color for my camera, and I couldn’t get a good shot of these.


Straggler Daisy
. Calyptocarpus vialis. Lots of leaves, tiny flowers. They are pretty up close, though.

I got a lot of bugs and other things, but I’m just going to leave this parade of yellow-ness alone, in all their glory. I’ll see what other themes I can come up with over the next few weeks as all the flowers bloom away.