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.

I Avoided Falling into Jacob’s Well

We were planning to explore Wimberley this afternoon, but we quickly realized it was Market Day. It looked really fun, with hundreds of vendors. However, there were also many hundreds of attendees. As wild as we were being by going out of town, we were NOT going to hang out with huge crowds!

So we kept going and instead had a nice drive, punctuated by a stop at Buc-Ees.

I didn’t touch that dirty beaver.

After that we drove around the Canyon Lake area, where I’d never been. We ate at a nice Italian restaurant, then drive around a while more. It was so relaxing looking at all the scenery.

When we got back to where we are staying we decided to go visit a rum distillery. It would have been more fun if they were allowed to serve drinks, but I did get a bottle of craft rum.

The distillery was right near Jacob’s Well, which is a 140-foot deep artesian well on a river.

Jacob’s Well.

These are fairly common around here, with all the limestone aquifers. Of course, there are caves down there. Lots of people get lost in there. Thankfully, swimming season ended October 1. While it was slippery getting down to the well, I managed not to fall in.

Looking down the river.

There were beautiful gardens nearby and a nice playground.

Visitor center (closed)

I was happy to see a sign thanking Master Naturalists for their help. I also enjoy talking to a couple of young park volunteers. So fun.

Nice sign!

I amused the family by taking even more photos of plants. But they said it was nice to see me so happy.

Visiting a natural wonder was just what I wanted. It brought much more joy than buying a bunch of stuff would.

Looking the other way down the river.

We had a nice day!

I Discovered Something!

It’s been a great day, for many reasons, and a great weekend. We took Apache out again today, and he was his old self again! He and Spice were very brave when they came upon some people building a new gate between our two pastures.

This is as close as the horses would get.

But they had fun. Fiona kept plopping down and rolling whenever she found dirt.

The flies are bothering me.

I also had fun seeing things this weekend. One is that I see signs that I wasn’t mistaken, we DO have a loggerhead shrike this year. I didn’t see one last year, and I was bummed. Today I saw lots and lots of insects impaled on our fence, though!

Plus! I’m very happy to share that another chicken started laying. Her first egg is pinkish and has little blue spots! On the other hand, Hedley, the one that lays white eggs, has started spending a LOT of time in the nest box. She did lay today, but if she’s gone broody I’m just giving her three eggs and letting her go for it.

The new one is on the bottom. Cute!

I also found two new and interesting insects. First is the extremely cool Beelzebub Bee Killer Mallophora leschenaulti, which is a type of robber fly. This things is huge, loud, and intimidating. I saw two yesterday and two today.

The other new insect is what I’m excited about. It turns out that my entry of the Long-jawed Longhorn Beetle Dendrobias mandibularis is the first one Milam county and the farthest north it’s been seen.

I’m the first!

Also, this is one of the most beautiful insects I’ve ever seen. So colorful!

Look at those antennae! And it’s so shiny!

I’ve been waiting to finally see something new and different to share on iNaturalist and I finally did! I feel so scientific.

The Hermit Haus Hosts the Master Naturalists Again

Finally, we are daring to have a meeting at the Hermit Haus again. Our Master Naturalist class wanted to finish its sessions, so we figured out a way. Only the students who have Zoom trouble and 3 staff are in the building. Each audience member is at a separate table.

People wear masks unless eating.

The rest of the class, as well as anyone else who wanted to attend dialed into the Zoom meeting.

That took a lot of planning and figuring out our needs. I am proud of our Master Naturalist board members for hashing it all out.

Our tech guy, Don, spent a lot of time getting us a good setup for the mix of online and in person attendees. He got us some nice speakers and microphones so people can ask questions. We tested it all earlier today and it worked great.

Now I know.

There was a weird glitch with our speaker being unable to join the meeting, but I got it working by signing him into our organization account. Yes!

And the talk is going great! Sound is good. Speaker is Hilary in a Dad joke kinda way. Whew. I’m so pleased to be able to give to our community by hosting events again, while still being careful.

Loamy sand and sandy loam.

And I now know a LOT about soil. And saw some of my friends. Everyone seemed so pleased. And I got to wear my cool new mask.

Look! It has a raven and a feather.

Thanks to Robyn at Coffee and Cotton for the high quality products

Arts and Crafts Update

Quick update. My friend Pamela dropped off my finished soap dishes yesterday. I was happy to see how shiny they were, but not overly thrilled with my glaze, as usual. Still, Pamela’s designs are pretty, and they will liven up my bathrooms.

The gold one

The gold one is very bright. The dark parts are what I wanted, but the second gold color looks weird.

Here it is with soap, doing its job.

I’d put my lemon soap in there, but I like the lavender.

I also got a surprise! Pamela makes these little dishes as gifts to our Master Naturalist speakers. I’m glad to have one for all the talking I do at meetings.

I love the swirls on this one.

This one came out more pink than red, because the red was pinkish. Again, I don’t like my accent color. It’s a bit purply. But, I think it will look great in my work bathroom. Too bad I left the dish at home. I remembered the soap, sigh.

And this stuff smells GOOD.

More craft excitement is coming up. I’m gonna do something fun with these three bottles.

Maybe I’ll just clutter up my office more.

In Search of Ant Lions

A set of fortuitous circumstances have led me to have something more in the naturalist vein to write about. I’ve been missing those things! It all started when I was in the horse pen, and noticed all these cool paths in the dirt.

In addition to the trails, there are a couple of donkey hoof prints, to liven things up.

I couldn’t remember what made those trails, though I was sure I used to know, so I posted about it on Facebook. I got some cute and silly guesses, then, as I’d hoped, someone from around Cameron reminded me of the answer. Burton, who’d been in my Master Naturalist class, identified them as ant lion, or doodlebug, trails. These Myrmeleontidae (it means ant lion!) are commonly called “doodlebugs,” because their trails make them look like they’re doodling around.

I knew THESE were ant ions!

The reason I should have known that the trails are from ant lions, is that I knew perfectly well that the conical holes all over that part of the ranch are ant lion traps. They call them ant lions, because it’s often ants that fall into their traps, and they are fierce little lion-like dudes in their larval phase. I don’t have any pictures of one running around the ranch, but here’s the general idea of what they look like:

Those are some scary mandibles! Photo by @LASPhotography via Twenty20.

From what I’ve read, these insects stay in their larval stage up to a few years, so this will be how they live their lives, hiding in their holes or doodling around thinking about making another hole.

I love the perfection in the dirt they throw up in little perfectly circular volcanoes. Finding them under the horse shelter is no surprise, as I discovered in an article on how beneficial they are:

Pits are oftentimes constructed under the shelter of farm buildings, under houses that are on piers, etc.

Beneficials in the Garden: Ant Lion, by Donya Camp

The adults are pretty spectacular, and I had never seen one, that I know of, until this morning, when I went to enter the Pope Residence and saw a beautiful, large winged insect. I grabbed that camera and took this picture, which told me I’d found the adult ant lion, in all its glory.

Look at how the sun hits the bristles on its legs. Looks like little bottle brushes. If you’ve never seen a bottle brush, that’s what they look like.

The antennae are what give it away for certain as an ant lion, since the club shape is pretty distinctive. I feel lucky that I found this one in its resting spot, since their active period is at night. By the way, the iNaturalist identifier says this Vella fallax,

I’d always figured ant lions were friends, not foes, just because they ate ants, but I was happy to learn that they even eat fire ants. That puts them well into the beneficial insect category!

Let me know if you see any evidence of ant lions where you live. Sandy soil is what they prefer, so if you have sand, check around for the mounds, and welcome our fierce little buddies into your ecosystem!