Last night, right after sunset, my housemate Anita was gazing out the windows of our Austin house. She turned to me and said, “Hey, I see swallows coming out of our chimney.”
“It’s not swallow time,” I replied. “It’s BAT time.” I then briskly went out to see what was going on at the ole chimney.
Sure enough, two sturdy-looking bats emerged from the flashing around the chimney…right where we’d been noticing “mouse turds” for a couple of weeks. I immediately googled “bat guano–images.” Yep, that’s it, all right.
Anita then mentioned that the next-door folks had just erected some kind of wire barrier all around their chimney. Hmm. Maybe the bats just moved one house down.
When I was in one of those women’s groups that were popular when my kids were little, we often chanted. This one kept going through my mind yesterday:
The earth is our mother
We must take care of her
The earth is our mother
We must take care
Chants don’t tend to go too deep into details. But that one got me thinking about how much my own care for the planet has changed and expanded since we bought our rural property.
The opportunity to observe the changing of the seasons as more than just flowers blooming and leaves changing color has meant a lot. I know what birds show up, and when. I know when it’s going to rain and when it’s likely to be dry. I know that in different years, different insects are more prevalent than in others. Just sitting on the porch is like watching a nature documentary!
Celebrating Earth Day
Unlike many other years, I did more than just pick some flowers or plant something on Earth Day this year. The El Camino Master Naturalists had worked very hard to create an extensive exhibit on a variety of relevant topics, so I joined them to take photos and work on a newspaper article to document the event.
Those of you who don’t know me in any other context may not realize that I spend half my time in Austin, where I work as a Senior Instructional Experience Strategist (what??) at a software company. I like where I work, because there’s a lovely xeriscaped courtyard full of mostly native plants, nice areas to walk around, and big windows to look out of.
Recently, my boss and I noticed that a hawk, probably a Cooper’s hawk, kept flying around, swooping past the windows on the other side of the building, and disappearing. Now, we often see hawks around here (sometimes in the winter, it seems like every tall lightpost along the big highway has a hawk on it), so seeing it wasn’t a surprise. The repeated flight path was.
Yesterday around 3 pm, a coworker and I decided to walk around the buildings to bring us some energy for a project we were working on. We stepped out of the building, and I said, “Look, Kate, there’s that hawk again.” Then I said, “LOOK, Kate!”
There, in the building next to ours, on top of some railings that look cool to an architect, was a big nest. That’s where the hawk was going! We quickly realized that the reason we saw a hawk so often was that there were two, AND babies.
April 14 2018 was an exciting day at the Hermits’ Rest. It was chilly most of the day and incredibly windy ALL day, but that didn’t stop an intrepid band of El Camino Real Chapter Master Naturalists, along with genuine botanist Monique Reed from Texas A&M, to scour the ranch for plants.
Why did we do that?
It turns out that not all that many plants of Milam County have been documented in the SM Tracy Herbarium, and as citizen scientists, we want to help. Our band was led by Nancy Webber, who has done an amazing job documenting what plants are documented, as well as what is still needed. She and another couple of the Master Naturalists who came along have a great working knowledge of the local flora.
However, Monique Reed has an entire Latin dictionary’s worth of plant names in her head. It was amazing to watch her work. There was only one plant that she didn’t at least get a clue about (the “mysterious carrot-like plant”). She looked high and low, from the largest osage orange tree (Maclura pomifera) to the teeniest, and I mean teeniest, little flowers imaginable. She spent quite some time kneeling in the dirt seeing “what’s down there.”
I have a lot to write about from yesterday, but I’ll quickly share this morning’s nature sighting. Alfred the Giant Dog started his alarm barking (different from his “I’m on patrol” barking). The Spousal Unit looked out the window and saw two of what appeared to be wolves checking out the tank/pond behind the house.
We hear them often, but have been seeing them more and more lately, usually at night. This was in bright sunlight, which gave us ample opportunity to get an idea of their size.
The coyotes I see in Austin are usually smaller than our cattle dog, Brody, and look hungry. These were much larger, and very healthy looking. They weren’t as big as Alfred (an Anatolian Shepherd), but not much smaller. They looked over at the house, then just walked into the woods.
As soon as Alfred got out of the fenced-in area behind our house, he did a big patrol of the area. A few deep barks, and there have been more signs of our coyote friends. I hope they are eating lots and lots of mice.
It’s Friday the 13th, but I’m not worried! The first thing I saw when I stepped out of my house this morning was a pair of bluebirds, which did indeed bring happiness. Way to go, nature!
I got to our business office in Cameron to receive another surprise, the amaryllis bulbs Mrs. Trubee had planted were all blooming. The big ole wind that’s been blowing since last night had broken one, so it’s sitting on my desk as I type.
But, what about foraging?
Last night was the April Master Naturalist chapter meeting, and the speaker was a really interesting young man named Sean Wall, who has self-published a book on foraging for food in Texas. He’d already sold all the books he’d brought by the time I talked to him, but I’ll be picking up a copy on April 21 at the Rockdale Earth Day event.*
I was a member of the 2018 class for the El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalists. One of the most amazing things about the Texas Master Naturalist curriculum is the breadth of topics covered in a short three months.
Class members all gained a wide breadth of knowledge on all components that make up the state’s ecosystem, ranging from plants and animals to weather and waterways. We now have a working knowledge of the variety of climates and habitats in this huge area, and how that affects the life forms found there.
Sometimes the depth of information got overwhelming. Of course, we didn’t learn all details about all birds, butterflies, or snakes in Texas, or even in Milam County. But we did learn how to find out more and who to contact if we had questions. Thank goodness for Texas Parks and Wildlife and the AgriLife Extension folks! They are all so generous with their time and expertise.
But, where do I go now?
Now that the big knowledge dump is over and it’s time to go out and volunteer and learn more, my job is to figure out where my personal naturalist passion lies. I can’t do work on everything, even if I’d like to.