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

Fall Fun

I’m saving conference memories until I can concentrate. I made it home to find that we had visitors and more coming. That’s fun!

Autumn at Hermits’ Rest

Luckily I had a few minutes free to finish out the Pollinator BioBlitz. I hadn’t figured I’d see anything new, but I was happy to be surprised! I saw a new dragonfly, for one. It’s all black.

Swift setwing

Plus I saw way more butterflies than I expected, including one I never got to hold still. I’m not sure which of the ones that look purple when they fly it is, it someone will correct it.

Plus, I saw a snout butterfly holding still, finally, and dozens of fiery skippers. And one more fritillary.

I was even more satisfied to finally get a clear photo of the bee fly who is always around the asters. Woo!

Bee fly!

Well visitors are here. More later!

What’s Bugging Me

No, not people and what they do. It’s bugs. And they are bugging me in a good way, because at least they give me something to look at. There isn’t much else out here. People keep commenting about how quiet it s at night. Drought is no fun.

Thank you, Mr Widow Skimmer, for entertaining me today.

I’m so glad for the willow trees by our driveway, because they give me a shady place to enjoy insects when I go check the mail. Today there were many dragonflies, though I only got photos of three species.

Eastern pond hawk, female (green)

I also saw a damselfly and a Halloween pennant, but they were too busy to stop. This one was very pretty, though it didn’t photograph well.

Blurry skimmer, roseate or neon.

The widow skimmers were posing, though. I got enough closeups that you can see good details on both the males and females. the top four are the females.

I also see lots of wasps ever day. Usually it’s mud daubers, yellow jackets, and such, but I also see very pretty orangey-red wasps, and today one I don’t see much, black with a red abdomen.

There are still birds around, but not in the usual numbers. There’s the woodpecker I always hear, a few remaining barn swallows, cardinals, mockingbirds and lots of thirsty starlings. The egrets and herons (blue and green) are still here because one pond in pretty full. Today’s exciting birds were this tiny orchard oriole (they are here this time of year) and a beautiful red-shouldered hawk I saw from the car. I love summer hawk sightings.

Or a warbler.

There are a very few flowers blooming, but I found a couple. There are lots of passion vines, but the flowers look funny. I guess the herbicide got to them. And there was one sad Mexican hat flower. Of course buffalo bur is blooming and one or two others that nothing can stop. Ooh and in the best plant news: I found milkweed seeds blowing around! More for the butterflies.

I figured I should do a nature post since I had my Master Naturalist meeting tonight. It was on turkeys! The speaker had a beautiful turkey shirt on, too.

I learned so much about Rio Grande turkeys!

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.

It Rained! And Other Signs of Life!

It being July in Texas, we are always prepared for a scarcity of rain and a lot of hot days. All we can hope for is to get some remnants or edges of a hurricane. Well, that seems to be happening right now, and since last night three bands of rain have come through our little ranch. The total rainfall so far is an exciting .15″ – not much, but it is better than nothing. We usually get about an inch per month, so we’re hoping that the big rain to the south of us sends us a bit more later tonight or tomorrow.

The third wave of rain as it approached. I could hear the thunder when I took the picture. The plant in the foreground is Lindheimer’s doveweed (Croton lindheimeri).
Root growth on the avocado “tree.”

The rain lowered the temperature, so I was able to get out and look around some today. Get prepared for a lot of pictures of things that are damp!

I’m always happy when there is new life. And even before I left the house, I realized that our avocado seed is getting pretty robust in the root department. Now we just need a stem!

Speaking of trees, we now have one in the back yard. I didn’t mention it earlier, because I was sad about it. You see, we bought a Shumard oak back when Kathleen and I bought those plants for our office. The guys had set it next to the RV, and I guess forgot about it. I watered it every few days, not realizing I’d needed to water it EVERY day, so by the time we went to plant it, it was mostly dead leaves.

It’s a tree. Not much of a tree, but a tree nonetheless.

But, Chris said its stem was still alive, so he planted it in the back corner (if I could use the backhoe thing, I’d have planted it). He then proceeded to set up a fine watering system that piggybacks on the chicken system and has been able to water it every other day or so.

Yep, those are new, non-dead leaves.
New leaves, and the life-giving water hose.

When I went out to say hi to the chickens to day, I looked over at the sad tree, and lo and behold, there are lots and lots of little new leaves appearing. It’s coming back! I’m so glad the rain is here to help out. It may even someday provide shade to the chickens and to the cattle behind us. That may be a while.

I found some other encouraging things as I was walking around today. I saw a young snake next to the tiny pond, and managed to get a picture of it before it dove underwater. As I patiently waited for it to come back up (with no success), I did notice a freshly shed snake skin near my feet. I bet I know who that belonged to!

I enjoyed looking at dragonflies, turtles, and bullfrogs in the rapidly shrinking pond. The rain will at least give it a bit of fresh water. I’m hoping that the tropical rain tomorrow or the next day will refill it and the other ponds.

This guy kept dipping into the water then zipping off. It was not easy to get a picture. Note dead boopie grasshoppers on the shore. It could explain why the bullfrogs don’t appear very hungry.

Maybe the grass will turn green again, too. The chickens will like that. By the way, they’ve all settled down now that Clarence is the guard rooster. He has figured out how to get to the food inside the chicken run, so all I have to do is make sure he has water every day (though Lee thinks he’s found the pond behind the house).

I got to watch this great egret snatch a fish out of the pond behind the house. This is where Clarence could be going if he runs out of my nice water in the dish.

New life always signifies hope for me. That little stick of an oak tree is my symbol of hope after adversity for now!

Invasives and Dragonflies

Happy National Invasive Species Week everybody! Whee! I don’t know if we are supposed to celebrate them or deplore them this week, but I’m celebrating along with naturalists in the US, I guess. What I’m doing is participating in the Texas Invasive Species Bioblitz 2020 on iNaturalist. The project’s goal is to identify the locations of as many invasive plants, animals, etc., as possible in one week.

Here are the things I’ve found. No, these are not my photos.

While I’ve made over a hundred observations in the last few days in my quest to find invasives, I’ve only found seven on the list of official targets for the week. At least I’m contributing! It’s fun to see how some people are going all out finding things.

The floating plants are floating primrose-willow and will have beautiful yellow flowers soon. Logs are for the turtles, who are hiding.

I need to drive around more, because those are all I have on the ranch. I was disappointed that my potential chinaberry tree was a benign native soapberry. Then I said, wait, that’s a GOOD thing.

Dragonflies

Skimmer, skimming.

While I was off looking for some hedge parsley or bastard cabbage (where did it GO?) I wandered around our back pond and had fun observing turtles, water plants, and minnows. There were also quite a few dragonflies flitting around, and I did my best to get some photos.

I did not do a good job at all, as my blurry photos below attest, but I did enjoy myself very much. The skimmers were especially pretty, all bronze and dazzling, but they all were good to see. We have fewer these days than we used to.

I observed a damselfly or two, but they were really far away. Certainly looking at these insects while watching the dogs splash around in the pond is a great way to relax. And no dogs were stuck in cars yesterday!

The ranch house from the back. Looks majestic.
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