Community Holiday Joy

Maybe residents of our small town are sick of hearing about it, but I’m gonna say it again: Cameron is like a new town this season. I’m so grateful to all the folks who have worked so hard to turn the town around over the past year, especially everyone on the Chamber of Commerce Board. Just wow.

Honest, the square is gorgeous when not captured through car windows

There are lights everywhere this year, unlike before, when it was a few sparse displays on some of the more chipper businesses. This year, wow!

Even this building looks good!

And check out tonight’s fun event at the new Venue, the Sip and Shop.

Look at this beautiful building and the beautiful vendors!

I had so much fun hanging out here with my friends and seeing what the vendors (some of whom also are friends) had to offer.

Beautiful decorations and snacks

I got some wonderful things, you know, to support local artists and bakers. Or for fun. My favorite thing is my hat. It has a bird on it. Pamela had a hat, too.

It was just a beautiful night, and the Venue looks so beautiful! I’m so proud of the work everyone has done on this project. I admit one team member is my kid. The new staircase is awesome and the new bathroom wallpaper made me so happy. What a great project the team has completed!

Sometimes I feel alone and like an actual hermit. But events like this, where everyone is so kind and welcoming, make me feel a part of something. We even tried to recruit our jeweler friend, Mary, to be a Master Naturalist. Community peer pressure! That’s holiday magic, right there.

I got this gorgeous piece of labradorite made into a pendant by Mary. The copper backing is stamped with an “om” stamp. It’s very special.

When we get down on our fellow humans, we need to remember how communities can come together and support each other. I saw so much networking, generosity, and fellowship tonight that I couldn’t stop smiling.

So much smiling! And sweets!

That, too, was a holiday miracle. Now enjoy some friends and vendors who made Cameron, Texas magical tonight.

All Dressed Up

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).

It appears I remember fun

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.

Or I could just crawl into my hole and rest, like Goldie.

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!

But it makes me want to hide, like Carlton.

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.

My friends Don, Lisa, Donna, and Linda Jo. Super volunteers.

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!

Phyllis and I put on headgear to complement our ensembles

Off into the Wildlife Preserve

Today I got up early. I’m getting good at early weekend mornings. I met some of the Master Naturalist chapter in downtown Cameron and we carpooled off to a genuine field trip, like in the old days! We went to the Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife refuge. It’s a place I’ve driven by many times but never stopped at before. So glad we went there!

It’s there to protect the endangered golden cheeked warbler (who is out of town right now). It’s huge, which is good because suburbs are creeping toward it rapidly. There’s not gonna be much nature within a big radius of Austin soon.

Nature

We had lots of fun on a good walk with Chris Harper, an old friend of our chapter, who now works at the refuge. We learned lots about the flora and fauna of the area, which is like where I used to live in Brushy Creek.

Our intrepid group

I enjoyed finding new plants, even though most were past their prime. Still, there’s much beauty in a Hill Country autumn. Here is just a sampling of what we saw. It’s such a beautiful place, with a creek, meadows, and limestone hills.

I also took a lot of pictures of plants of course. I just love the unusual plants that grow in this area. The karst and limestone make for interesting flowers, not just Ashe juniper that you usually see.

It’s what the golden cheeked warbler nests in. It’s not totally bad! They make nests from the “cedar” bark.

Anyway, it was fun guessing what the dried up flowers were when in full bloom. The liatris, a vivid purple in bloom, is now pale and whiteish. It’s still pretty.

You don’t need to reading me analyzing each plant. But here are some.

See. I didn’t even label them all! But I enjoyed it. If you want to know you can always go to iNaturalist and search for sunasak.

To be honest, I’m in pain. From somehow wrenching my diaphragm muscle yesterday slipping on horse poop while running after the doofuses yesterday. So. Time to rest.

Master Naturalist Meeting Notes 2: Saturday, October 22

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.

Handy hints

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.

Sticking their back ends straight up is called obelisking. That’s a new word for me.

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.

My latest iNat entry taken in glary sunlight. I think it’s a camelback cricket.

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.

This was all news to me. Cool.

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.

We also learned folk tales. The wren won kingship by hitchhiking on an eagle and jumping off it to become the highest flyer. Tricky bird.

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.

Sandhill cranes on the move

Master Naturalist Meeting Notes: Friday, October 21

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!

The main meeting room with interesting centerpieces made out of books

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.

I found out the speaker does these fun webinars that I will try to attend

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!

No photos from this session, so here’s a beautiful Polyphemous moth that was on a window at the hotel.

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.

One of the resources I learned about

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!

Speaking of the dark, we sure enjoyed the darkness of the whiskey bar at the hotel later in the evening.

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 discovered this lovely nest for the hotel’s black swan pair. Cygnet making is preferable to piglet making.

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.

Kjell Lindgren

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.

Rivers and farms

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!

Learning Overload

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.

Also the Omni Houston is an extra nice hotel. Best hotel bathrooms ever, plus views from meeting rooms (shown).

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!

He also shared amazing images from space.

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.

Meal time!

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.

There, now you learned something.
And we settled down long enough to take a picture.

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.

I learned ranch stuff, too.

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.

Master Naturalist Meeting: A Prairie and Wetland PLUS

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.

See how happy I was?

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.

Prairie area

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.

So many fun plants and insects! I swear the monarchs posed.

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!

Amazing Adventures Near Junction, Texas

I think my idea of Junction, Texas was that it was some kind of wasteland with some gas stations in it. I was wrong, and I’ll always be grateful for this year’s Bennett Trust Women’s Conference: “Building A Legacy of Environmental Stewardship”, which concluded today with the field trips. We went to three very different places in the Junction area. I learned a ton, PLUS I got to add a bunch of observations to the 2022 Texas Pollinator Bioblitz over on iNaturalist!

Look at all the moths!

Native American Seed

Our first stop was a visit to a place I’d never dreamed I’d actually get to visit: the farms for Native American Seed, one of my favorite catalogs. Not only that, we got greeted by Bill Neimann, co-founder of the company. He comes very close to being one of the coolest humans I’ve ever met. He lives his life principles every single day, and spreads a great message across the world.

Listening to Bill Neimann orient us to the business

The farm is located in a beautiful spot on the Llano River, and they have places where people can stay and have programs, etc., too. Plus a friendly guardian dog. Was I in heaven? Yes.

Hi, Alfred!

The view from the main house was spectacular, as it overlooked an area planted with native plants that spread out to acres and acres of native grasses under cultivation. Mind-blowingly beautiful.

While we were there, we had three presentations, one on bird-watching that resulted in one loggerhead shrike and a loud but hidden chickadee. That’s OK. There were so many great plants that I was fine. There were many I’d never seen before, so I was in Suna Happy Place.

The second presentation was on doing ecotourism, and I learned some good tidbits about making money from people who want to look at birds on your property. I wish I could bring the storks in on cue!

Our speaker on bird tourism doesn’t actually like birds.

The third presentation involved going into the growing fields. We were short on time for this, which was too bad, but I was in awe of the people who work there and have figured out ways to grow these now-rare plants for seed to distribute all over the place. Plus, I got to watch harvester ants, you know, harvesting.

Silver Farms

Next, we went to lunch, but it was much, much more than just lunch. It was a farm-to-table lunch with all the aspects of it prepared by women. The farm raises show goats and sheep, as well as some meat lambs. We had the best roast lamb I ever ate for our main course. For the salad, a company that consists of two homeschooled teens prepared it. That was one of the best salads ever, too, and I’m not making that up. There was goat cheese in it, home-grown greens, local pecans, etc., in it. I had two helpings and was not alone in this. There were also cheesy potatoes, homemade herb breads, and a chocolate dessert.

Getting ready for lunch. No lunch photos because we were eating!

Oh, and there was wine from friends of the owners, and it was all delicious as well. When we finished eating, all the people who brought the meal together spoke to us about how they came to do what they do. It was really encouraging to see all these new businesses cropping up in rural Kimble County.

Once that was over, we got to go look at the sheep and goats! You know that was a highlight for me! They were Hampshire sheep, which are nice and big. There was one pen full of ewes getting worked on by one lucky ram. You can tell which ram got to a ewe, because they put paint on his chest and it rubs off on the lucky gals. The ram in the pen had red paint, but a blue one had been there earlier.

There was another area where the show animals were. They all wear little outfits to protect their coats. I was not aware of this practice. They were a hoot to watch, though, but we had to leave.

Texas Tech, in Junction

Back on the buses we went, to find the Texas Tech campus in Junction, which looks mostly like a summer camp. That was fine with me, because we got to go look at the river. Hooray, I love the river. The presentation here was by folks from Texas Parks and Wildlife and AgriLife. It covered managing riparian areas and dealing with axis deer.

It was shocking to see how badly the deer had grazed the area down, compared with an area they had fenced to keep wildlife out, which had lovely long grass and a variety of kinds.

I learned a lot about how to tell if your land is holding a good amount of deer or is being over-grazed, depending on what plants they have eaten. I am happy to report we have plenty of the stuff deer like to eat, and also that there aren’t any axis deer on this side of I-35 yet. Whew.

We’re pretty but not welcome in Texas. You can shoot us any time of year, if you pay someone enough money. Sniff.

What are axis deer? Imported animals native to northern India and the area around there, who have escaped and gone crazy breeding in Texas.

Anyway, it was all extra interesting, and I had a grand time, all the while taking more and more pictures of wildlife. I got into the top 50 of the BioBlitz just by taking all these pictures. There really were lots of butterflies and moths. There was one plant I saw four or five types of moths on at once!

Enjoy just a FEW of the photos I took, including some of the new things I saw.

The only negative thing is I have to get up early and drive home in the morning. But, that’s not the end of the world!

I Never Get Tired Of…

Sunsets. Tonight’s even featured some rain in the distance. And a cute dog.

I got to enjoy this sunset because I had a nice dinner with my friends Mike and Martha. I got so used to not doing things with friends that it’s been hard to get back in the habit. The last two weeks have helped!

Fancy girl

The other thing I’ve done for the last couple of days is look at horse hooves. Nope, I’m not tired of that, either. I’m learning a lot by watching Sara learn farrier skills for her own horses. As the above picture hints, I found Soltara and all her mane a bit distracting.

It’s a good thing I didn’t have rubber bands!

Yesterday I learned a lot about Apache’s foot journey, and I’m glad it’s good now! Lots more some got scraped off even though he’d just been trimmed a couple of weeks ago! Interesting.

Happy foot.

And wow, Aragorn’s therapeutic shoes are complex. I’m in awe of both Tarrin and Sara for knowing how to do this work. Still, glad I can pay Trixie for my farrier work when possible! Who knew I’d learn so much about this stuff!

Work in progress.

I’m pretty good with bugs, though. I never get tired of taking pictures of them. Too bad disaster has befallen my naturalist friends. The iNaturalist site went down! Oh no. Thus. Here are two red and black insects.

I’ll be back tomorrow. Maybe I’ll be more interesting.

So Many Dead Things

I’ll write more in the Master Naturalist blog about this (update, I forgot to do so), but I did enjoy a visit to the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections this morning. My friend Pamela and I drove over and met up with another Master Naturalist and her granddaughter, who’s high school age, and enjoyed it as much as we did, I think. We were sad that more of our group couldn’t join us.

Art is from 3D images of animals.

Our guides were curators Heather Prestridge, an ichthyologist, and Gary Voelker, an ornithologist. They were informal with our small group, informative, and entertaining as well. I had a blast learning about how many specimens they have, how long the collection has been growing (since the 1930s), and how they preserve the animals for research.

Specimen jars. Stop here if you don’t want to see preserved animals and such.

The collections of herps (snakes, lizards, frogs, etc.) are immense. It’s cool to see where they all come from. There is much from Texas but also around the world. They are preserved in formaldehyde.

The fish were fascinating as well. My favorite was the box fish. There were just so many to categorize. Wow. There’s a lot of work for their grad students and volunteers! The other thing they do with the specimens is take tissue samples and freeze them (really cold) for future research on DNA and the like. What a resource this is!

Of course the birds fascinated me. I was probably really annoying with all my questions but wow, there were things here I’d never seen before, like the Hoatzin. What the heck. This bird’s young have claws on their wings!! It’s also called a stink bird, because it digests food in its crop, which is smelly. It’s a really different bird!

Pamela is amazed at the hoatzin bird

Dr. Voelker was great at sharing information about the birds. We saw the largest and smallest owls and an awesome variety of kingfishers, some that were an indescribable blue. Africa has some darn colorful birds.

Look at these roseate spoonbills. They are so many shades of pink. and I was fascinated to see the bill up close. Such specialization!

There was a lovely domed collection of hummingbirds that had been donated to Heather. Someone had it in their family for years!

That’s something else!

I’ll spare you the details but we learned about 3D imaging and printing of specimens. They find what’s in the animals’ stomachs and can ID them. Huh.

And look! A giraffe skull! Look at the horns!

They didn’t talk much about boring old mammals but I checked them out.

Believe it or not, I managed to get hungry after all those dead things. Good thing we’d arranged to meet our friend, Lynn at a restaurant at the old airport terminal. Ah. A nice restaurant. And airplanes! What a good time.

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