New iNaturalist Project

Yesterday I was thinking about how many observations of plants and birds and such I make around the office park where I work in Austin. I said to myself, “Suna, that would make an interesting iNaturalist collection, and then you could also see observations other people make around there.

This pecan tree was here long before the fake pond and office complex.

Since I’d just taken a nice, long walk where I took many photos of plants, trees, birds, and such, it seemed like good timing.

Of course, nothing is simple, so it took me a long time to find the hidden option for making a project a “collection” with a defined set of boundaries. The nice thing about these is that any observations you make in that area automatically get added to the project, so you don’t forget to add them. I remembered that Linda Jo Conn (the great iNaturalist guru) had showed me how to do it when I made the Hermits’ Rest collection, but I had to re-remember.

Heron on fake pond, which is surrounded by cypress trees and has lots of nice riparian plants

I’m really happy with how it turned out in the end, though, and especially pleased that three other people had made observations there in the past. So, I’m not alone. I’m just the more obsessd person with it.

Why it’s interesting

The area where our relatively new office complex is located interests me, since I’ve actually been observing it since 1997. When we were building our house in Brushy Creek, we’d drive through the complex as a shortcut between Jollyville and Round Rock. Now, of course, there are large zoomy highways to get there. Back then, there were only a few companies with
large buildings there, and we enjoyed seeing many deer in the wide expanses of grass and groupings of trees.

Now, many more buildings are present, but there are still a few relatively natural areas, along with some places that were once landscaped but gone wild. There is an interesting mix of native and introduced plants.

Native plant!

Plus, our office has the courtyard where the hawks live, and it is full of mostly native plants, just groomed to death by landscapers.

I’ve written about this site before, especially one article last June when I did another major sweep of the area. That’s when I first started on iNaturalist and was practicing my identification skills.

I hope any of you on iNaturalist will enjoy what I share there. Of course, I’ll share a lot of the photos here, too!

Yellow iris that was planted by the pond

Birding Experts on Birding

Last night I went to the El Camino Real Master Naturalist meeting, as I do most every month. I wrote up a post for their blog with lots of details about what I learned, so here I want to share my deep enjoyment from listening to women who are passionate about birds and birding as they share their passions with others.

Three women from our group spoke about how they engage in bird watching, each with a different perspective and knowledge base. I sat there like a little kid, all enthralled at the details they shared. It was thought-provoking to look at how each of them engaged in their hobby. Here’s what I saw (just using first names here).

Ann tells us you really, really need a good bird book.

Ann has been birding for many years, and she does it for the same reasons I do: basically, she likes birds a lot. Her passion and enthusiasm for identifying new and unusual birds was very obvious, but she reminded me of my methods for birding. She said if she didn’t know what a bird was from quickly observing it, she’d often just move onto the next, in contrast to her birding friend who just HAD to identify every single bird she saw, in a scientific way. Of course, Ann knows pretty much all the birds you can see around here; she just doesn’t stress over what she doesn’t know.

Joyce shares the various ways we can upload our observations to help researchers.

Joyce also loves birds, and watches them in a very accurate and detailed way. She keeps good records of her feeder, counting them carefully, and only identifying the ones that come into her feeder watch zone. There is a great deal of discipline to her approach to observing birds, which goes along with her amazing attention to detail in other parts of her life. We need birders like Joyce, too, to provide accurate data for researchers. (Of course, she’s also having fun.)


Here, Ann is listening to Cindy tell us her suet recipe. Some samples are on the table.

Then, there’s Cindy, whose approach to birding is to figure out how she can practically help the most birds. She shared with us her recipe for making lots and lots of suet for little money, so that the woodpeckers and other birds that like to feed on trees and eat more than just seed can be satisfied. She’s not there just to watch or count or record she’s there to help the birds thrive.

(All the women also carefully feed and water their birds; I was just contrasting their main styles.)

Another birder style was described by Ann, who talked about a very intense young man who asked to come to her house, because he was on a mission to get three more birds on his Milam County list of 100, and she had some of them in her yard. As soon as he saw one, he went on to look for the next. No lollygagging, watching behavior, or anything. And he didn’t stick around to chat; nope, he had to go to Bell County to work on his count there. These are the kind of birders people often gently poke fun at, but hey, they aren’t hurting anyone, are they?

Bonus sinset from the meeting yesterday.

Like any other hobby, there are many ways to enjoy birding (don’t get me started on process versus product knitters). Do you like to watch birds? Do you feel like you need to know what they are? Do you just enjoy their antics? Do you use them to tell what season it is? Share!

Now, that is a yellow flower!

By the way, I was almost late to the meeting, because I had to take this photo of beautiful evening primroses along County Road 140 across from the cemetery.

Riparian Knowledge Overload!

Here we are in Bandera looking at a slide show.

Now that I’ve slept, maybe I can share some of the depth and variety of the things I learned at the Bandera County Watersheds Riparian Training I attended on Wednesday, March 6. The event was held in Bandera (one of the most attractive small towns I ever saw and VERY consistent in its cowboy theme), and the weather improved enough that the outdoo parts were not unbearable. There were at least 30 participants, ranging from fellow Master Naturalists to water management professionals to interested landowners.

This young man was full of information. I’d love to hear him again.

Much of the day was spent indoors, however, as a team of water management experts from many different agencies shared their knowledge of managing the areas alongside rivers, creeks, and streams. These are called riparian areas, and they are a very important part of water management, but one that has been misunderstood a lot in the past.

Our scenic location.

Sadly, the beautifully manicured lawns and parkscapes we often see, where people walk up and down to admire the view, are not actually what our waterways need. The need a riparian buffer of plants that love water or theive near it and trees that are of various ages, so that when they die or fall into the water, there are future trees to replace them.

This root system washed up in the last floor. Look at the rocks embedded in there!
Continue reading “Riparian Knowledge Overload!”

Getting Ready for Earth Day

Happy Sunday! Yesterday I attended a committee meeting with our Master Naturalist group. Rather than write it up twice, I’m sharing my post on their blog.

I’d like to add that I saw a huge dead feral hog on the way in, and found some Indian paintbrush flowers on the roadside between Cameron and rural Rockdale!

Nature Along the El Camino Real

Yesterday, the Environment and Recycling Ad-hoc Committee’s Earth Day subcommittee met to continue to work out plans. I was glad I could finally attend a meeting, because it was fun to see the team at work. I was joined by Ann Collins, Linda Jo Conn, Joyce Conner, Catherine Johnson, Rosie Johnson (guest and helper), Larry Kocian, Kathy Lester, and Donna Lewis (the leader of the bunch).

Nandina and Texas mountain laurel added beauty and scent too the meetiing.

What’s going on with Earth Day?

The El Camino Real Master Naturalist Chapter’s biggest outreach project each year is to host an Earth Day event, to share ways to protect the planet with the community. This year it will be at:

Rockdale Community Center, 109 N. Main, on Saturday, April 20, 10 am – 2 pm.

We were excited to learn about all the planned activities and tables. Our team leader, Donna…

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What’s One More Blog, Right?

Because I am such a volunteering maniac, I said I would make a blog for the El Camino Real Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists. And I did it! Hooray for follow through and all that.

It just popped into my head at our last meeting that we had no way to share and archive our nature stories, reports on training, etc. It’s a lot of work to make a paper newsletter, so we haven’t had one in a while, and though we do have a Facebook page, it’s more about news, since member posts don’t show up on the main page. A blog is a great way to share.

Also, blogging is a great way to get volunteer hours. Master Naturalists like those.

How did I do it?

I always forget what goes into setting up a new WordPress blog, customizing its look and feel, and making it do what I want it to do. I like the theme I chose for this one, especially since the top menus stay at the top of the screen as you scroll down. I also think it looks pretty elegant and simple.

Here’s a blog page. It has a right column with archives, sign-up informatio,n and stats.

What I didn’t like about the theme was that there was no way to put a blog archive on the home page. The home page has no right column, and you can’t easily modify the top. I did put the archives at the bottom of the page, but, who’s going to go all the way down there?

This shows the small top menu that stays when you scroll down. Also, note that archives menu.

So, I made an archive top-level page. Problem solved, I hope.

Off we go

Feedback I got from the small group I ran it by was that it was hard to subscribe to the blog (I made sure to put both the email follow link and the WordPress follow link). And some typos got spotted, which I always appreciate.

I was happy to receive two items to post as soon as the group voted to start a blog. That way not all the articles will be by me! I plan to continue to re-blog my more naturalist-oriented posts here, but am looking forward to seeing lots more from my fellow Master Naturalists.

So, make sure YOU follow that blog, too!

Recycling. Complicated.

I’ll have a long and thoughtful post in the next few days on another topic, but until then, maybe I’ll just spew forth random comments from the past couple of days.

Maybe they aren’t really s pirals, but the symmetry attracted me.

I’ve been seeing spirals everywhere lately, even in the plants at the reception desk where I work. I wonder what all that’s about?

It’s prickly but darned pretty.

Maybe it’s just the time of year, when everything’s sprouting. I mean, wow, that is one attractive thistle.

All these lovely dandelions make me hungry for a salad or spring tonic or something.

Maybe it’s reminding me of recycling, which has as its theme image a mobius strip (which I didn’t realize until Joyce Conner mentioned it at our Master Naturalist meeting last week! Duh!).

Spealing of recycling, we recycled old t-shirts into tote bags to give out on Earth Day!

Joyce is a very thoughtful person, and she has been putting a great deal of thought into recycling, its benefits and its issues. She shared a lot of them at our meeting, which no doubt got everyone thinking about their own beliefs about recycling our waste.

I attempted to recycle myt-shirt sleeve into a visor. I think I failed.

Joyce showed us how much of the stuff we carefully recycle goes straight into landfills, because no one wants to recycle it. Apparently, we used to send a lot to China, but they don’t want it anymore.

In the end, she suggested that we concentrate on the reduce and re-use parts of the reduce, reu-use, recycle trio. That made sense to me. We try to re-use a lot of the glassware we buy things in, and I have started recycling boxes by decorating them and using them for storage, rather than buying decorative boxes.

Many of my friends re-use yarn rather than buying new, too.

What are you doing to re-use items?

I Can See for Miles

Sunday I needed to play tech support for my Master Naturalist and artist friend, Pamela. I love the detective work aspect of figuring out why a computer doesn’t work.

Greetings from the chubby dog statue.

I’m happy to report that I got her frozen computer unfrozen and set her up with WhatsApp so she can talk to her friend in India.

If you had binoculars, you could see the ranch house.

Then I got to have fun looking at her art-filled home and garden. One highlight was verifying that yes, you can see the Hermits’ Rest from her house.

You can also see the huge black scar across the land that a new pipeline is making. That thing goes through the whole area. At least land owners get compensated. As I recall, these companies make big efforts to put things back the way they were, judging from Lee’s dad’s old farm.

Happy faces on the deck.

After looking around outside I toured Pamela’s art studio and gallery, where there is much clay, tools, and a kiln where she makes beautiful pottery. Her work has both humor and grace to it. So, of course I love it and had to get some.

I got this one for me, since it reminds me of the labyrinth where Lee and I got married. It had been waiting a long time for the right person.

I’ll let you all know when her gallery re-opens! She’s renovating it now. You can find her work in the cute shop in Rosebud, too. Yes, Rosebud is a real town near Cameron. (Aside: I write much shorter sentences on my phone, so this text seems a little disjointed. I promise to use my computer for the next post.)

Fu dog, not by Pamela, says bye!

Like I was saying yesterday, it’s never dull around here! The people are both fun and fascinating. I’m so glad to be at the Hermits’ Rest.