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…

Killing Two Birds with One Stone: learning for all my jobs

I’m still at the annual Master Naturalist conference, and enjoyed getting recognized for achieving 250 volunteer hours so far. That does pale in comparison to the dude who achieved 10,000 hours. But I’m proud I got so much done in just two years.

I did this. So did a lot of other people!

I’m also proud of myself for signing up for a few of the more administrative sessions today. I did one on doing social media for your group and another on leading effective meetings. The networking in both was great, and much of what I learned will help with my other jobs, since they also involve social media and leading meetings.

This book was my door prize. It’s much smaller than it appears to be. There is loads of info in it, though.

The tidbits on dealing with folks who disrupt meetings and in how to actually get things done in meetings were invaluable.

Naturally I got books. I’m me. One is on things that are invading Texas and the other is on things that are in danger of disappearing.

But wait, there’s more

Continue reading “Killing Two Birds with One Stone: learning for all my jobs”

From Exploring the Woods to Peering into a Microscope

Happy day. I am enjoying my second Texas Master Naturalist conference very much. It’s so nice to just enjoy learning with no pressure at all.

The prairie area

This morning I went on a field trip to the Spring Creek Forest Preserve. Wow, the people presenting me so much about the area. My head is full of little tidbits about prairies, forests, and riparian areas.

I also saw so many beautiful seed pods and fall plants. Lots of photos were taken by everyone.

Dew and webs.
iNaturalist says this is liatris.
Continue reading “From Exploring the Woods to Peering into a Microscope”

Lesson Learned: Registering for the Texas Master Naturalist Conference

I’m happy to announce that my wallet is smaller, but I have successfully registered for the 2019 Texas Master Naturalist Conference! It’s in mid-October in Rockwall, Texas. I hear it’s a nice setting away from Big City stuff. Or it’s in a resort area. We’ll see.

Why do I say I learned a lesson? Well, last year, when I was a newby at the Master Naturalist conference game, I waited a few days after registration opened to go fill out my forms. I quickly learned that most of the sessions I was excited about attending were full already. I wasn’t about to make that mistake again, so at 10 am on the day registration opened (today) I was in there filling out screen after screen of information just so I could get to the session choices.

Here’s our group from last year.

As an aside, I am extra glad my job isn’t Conference Registration Form Maker. The small amount of experience I’ve had with the Cvent software when my team at work uses it makes me gasp. And a conference as complex as one of these is mind boggling. It has pre-sessions and post-sessions. And during the conference, you can take half day, all day, two-hour, or one-hour sessions, but once you register for a half-day session, you don’t want to pay any attention to the others in that time frame or you registration will be coughed back out for you to figure out the problem. I am sure it is quite a programming effort to set all this up.

And then there are the session descriptions! Kudos to the whole team that worked on that. Whew!

Continue reading “Lesson Learned: Registering for the Texas Master Naturalist Conference”

The Loggerhead Shrike and Friends

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A loggerhead shrike nest in a bur oak tree in Old Settlers Park, near baseball fields.

My time with the Master Naturalists ended on a high note with a post-conference outing to Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. The idea was to observe how a declining species, the loggerhead shrike, has adapted to using the park as a habitat, and is thriving.

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Bur oak acorn. Huge and tasty.

Before the outing, I’d attended a session led by Jim Giocomo on “The Geography of Grassland Birds: How International Bird Conservation Efforts are Linked.” He talked about how agencies and Master Naturalists can help provide these birds with more appropriate habitat, track their locations, etc.

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Jim Giacomo (center) and some of the other experts he brought to our field trip in Round Rock.

In that talk, he mentioned his own work with the loggerhead shrikes (the only songbird that is a predator), which conveniently nest right near his house and showed us some great footage of baby shrikes. In one film, the parent birds keep trying to stuff a dragonfly in the mouths of the babies, but it keeps getting stuck. It was hilarious.

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Tania’s Halloween costume was “nerdy birder.”

Jim’s luck in finding birds to observe over entire breeding seasons has given him lots of insights, so it was really fun to go with him and fellow biologist Tania Homayoun out in the field to see what he sees.

Continue reading “The Loggerhead Shrike and Friends”

Experiencing the Balcones Canyonland Preserve

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This lush, moist, fern-covered scene is typical in the preserve.

My next Master Naturalist conference field trip was to see the part of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve that abuts Concordia University, in the beautiful western hills of Austin. This area is full of endangered and rare plants and animals, including the beloved golden-cheeked warbler (who is not here right now). In addition, this series of preserved areas is interesting because it’s administered by multiple agencies, which is unusual. It’s also very big, as you can see from this interesting map.

So, an intrepid group of naturalists took a van over to the beautiful Concordia University campus (it’s beautiful, because they made a ton of money when they sold their very valuable but confining old location and bought this large property with plenty of room to grow).

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This is Jared. He learned about nature from his grandfather, who shared his Cameron property with him.

We were met by the people in charge of the piece of the preserve that we were going to tour, and some really nice student workers who all really seem to love this property and know a lot about it. One student even had roots in good old Cameron, Texas (shout out to the Davenport family). I really enjoyed talking to the young people about their observations of the area. If they keep it up, they will sure have a fun life ahead of them.

Continue reading “Experiencing the Balcones Canyonland Preserve”

Karst Preserve Bonus Field Trip

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My exploring companions!

While we were exploring the Avery Ranch cave, I remembered where I’d seen other caves in the neighborhood over from the one we were in, Oak Brook. I suggested that, if anyone wanted to go look at other local caves, I’d take them there. Unfortunately, my memory issues made giving directions stink, and since I didn’t remember the name of the place we could not look it up. So, only one carload made it.

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Typical karst pools that form in wet periods. I need to go back in spring to figure out what kind of little plants bloom here. They have yellow flowers and may be lichen.

However, we had a great time at the Oak Brook Karst Preserve once we found it. I have some bittersweet memories of this spot, because I used to go over there long ago, when I was sad about marital issues, to be sad where my kids couldn’t see me. I gave my troubles to Mother Earth, I guess. On a happier note, my traveling companions liked it for more Master Naturalist reasons—flora and fauna!

Continue reading “Karst Preserve Bonus Field Trip”

Caving in the Old ‘Hood

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I had always known the mysterious fenced off areas in the middle of the neighborhoods, and some of the seemingly random “parks” were really where developers were hesitant to put houses because of caves.

My bucket list is one item smaller. Ever since I saw sealed over cave openings in my old neighborhood (the Brushy Creek/Cat Hollow/Avery Ranch area in Williamson County), I wanted to see what was under the neighborhood. The area is in a limestone karst formation (quite near many limestone quarriees). After a cave collapsed pretty near my old house last year, I REALLY wanted to go in, so when I saw a session at the Texas Master Naturalist Conference on “Caving in Avery Ranch” I signed up.

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The mysterious entry, and all the caving equipment. Note helmets!

We carpooled over to the Avery Ranch Cave Preserve,* which is always fun (we learn so much from each other). Sure enough, there, right across from a park and another fenced in patch of land (hmm, wonder why?) is this little preserve. In it, was a locked metal door. Mysterious!

Continue reading “Caving in the Old ‘Hood”

Looking Forward to a Master Naturalist Weekend

I’m all a-twitter about getting to go to my first Texas Master Naturalist conference in Georgetown this weekend. I’ll get to spend time with my friends from the El Camino Real chapter, and meet lots of new and interesting folks, I hope.

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Hey look, a land snail! I find them fascinating!

I made Anita laugh a lot when I got so excited about an email last night that I had to run downstairs to ACT on it. What was it? Why, it was a notice that a spot had opened up in the session on “The Land Snails of Texas.” I have NO idea why she thought my excitement was sort of hilarious. I really want to know more about those snails I see everywhere, especially on the walls of the Dutchtowne Cafe in Cameron.

Of course, snails aren’t ALL I’m looking forward to. I also get to go look at a cave in the neighborhood where I used to live, the Brushy Creek/Avery Ranch area that straddles Austin, Cedar Park, and Round Rock. We always knew there were caves in the limestone below the area, but when one collapsed recently, it became big news (the article I link to here has lots of cool pictures of the cave before it got all cemented up)! The one we are going to look at is NOT directly under any houses, and is apparently a good size. I love the karst and limestone, I guess because I lived on it for 20 years.

You readers will like that I am going to two sessions on taking better photos of plants and wildlife. I hope to learn some iPhone techniques and to take good notes on what I can do when I get my other camera going.

I’ll share more of what I learn in the coming days.

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It’s dreary in north Austin today, but at least I have my reminders to breathe and exhale. And happy plants.

And as for the weather

It’s all rainy AGAIN. Austin has been under a boil order since Monday, which is a pain, but it’s not like we were hit by a tornado or hurricane or anything. The hope is that clearing will happen for the weekend and all the outdoor activities. There’s a real good chance!

At least it’s cooled off and we’ve enjoyed 50s and 60s outside for the last couple of days. That’s nice. Ahhh.