Master Naturalist Meeting: A Prairie and Wetland PLUS

I’m too tired to do much writing, but my first day of the 2022 Texas Master Naturalist conference in Houston was really fun. What a pleasant and educational day.

See how happy I was?

The day started out with a trip to Sheldon Lake State Park. If you are ever wherever it is, go visit! It’s even free and very easy for people with mobility challenges to enjoy.

Prairie area

This whole park has been reclaimed to have native plants through hard work of volunteers. So much digging and planting! We learned a lot from the park ranger and two really cool volunteers. They showed us what they did, how they propagate plants, and the history of the place.

I spent a lot of time taking pictures of plants and pollinators for the BioBlitz. I even got to see a new butterfly! I sure love learning new plants and insects.

After we got back (I was able to carpool with two nice folks) I ran into friends from home. We decided to go check out Buffalo bayou next to the Omni Hotel we’re staying at. I have to tell you, wandering the weedy area on the other side of the fancy office buildings was as fun as any organized field trip.

So many fun plants and insects! I swear the monarchs posed.

Ann and Jackie are always lots of fun, and Ann is so good with plants! We saw many native trees and so many vines. And though not much was blooming, some daisy-like plants attracted entire hives’ worth of bees and wasps. We had a blast!

Once we were done I came up and rested, then met up with folks from our chapter for dinner and drinks. This hotel has great food. And we went to the “whiskey bar” later. We had great conversations in such a warm and elegant atmosphere. A good day!

Amazing Adventures Near Junction, Texas

I think my idea of Junction, Texas was that it was some kind of wasteland with some gas stations in it. I was wrong, and I’ll always be grateful for this year’s Bennett Trust Women’s Conference: “Building A Legacy of Environmental Stewardship”, which concluded today with the field trips. We went to three very different places in the Junction area. I learned a ton, PLUS I got to add a bunch of observations to the 2022 Texas Pollinator Bioblitz over on iNaturalist!

Look at all the moths!

Native American Seed

Our first stop was a visit to a place I’d never dreamed I’d actually get to visit: the farms for Native American Seed, one of my favorite catalogs. Not only that, we got greeted by Bill Neimann, co-founder of the company. He comes very close to being one of the coolest humans I’ve ever met. He lives his life principles every single day, and spreads a great message across the world.

Listening to Bill Neimann orient us to the business

The farm is located in a beautiful spot on the Llano River, and they have places where people can stay and have programs, etc., too. Plus a friendly guardian dog. Was I in heaven? Yes.

Hi, Alfred!

The view from the main house was spectacular, as it overlooked an area planted with native plants that spread out to acres and acres of native grasses under cultivation. Mind-blowingly beautiful.

While we were there, we had three presentations, one on bird-watching that resulted in one loggerhead shrike and a loud but hidden chickadee. That’s OK. There were so many great plants that I was fine. There were many I’d never seen before, so I was in Suna Happy Place.

The second presentation was on doing ecotourism, and I learned some good tidbits about making money from people who want to look at birds on your property. I wish I could bring the storks in on cue!

Our speaker on bird tourism doesn’t actually like birds.

The third presentation involved going into the growing fields. We were short on time for this, which was too bad, but I was in awe of the people who work there and have figured out ways to grow these now-rare plants for seed to distribute all over the place. Plus, I got to watch harvester ants, you know, harvesting.

Silver Farms

Next, we went to lunch, but it was much, much more than just lunch. It was a farm-to-table lunch with all the aspects of it prepared by women. The farm raises show goats and sheep, as well as some meat lambs. We had the best roast lamb I ever ate for our main course. For the salad, a company that consists of two homeschooled teens prepared it. That was one of the best salads ever, too, and I’m not making that up. There was goat cheese in it, home-grown greens, local pecans, etc., in it. I had two helpings and was not alone in this. There were also cheesy potatoes, homemade herb breads, and a chocolate dessert.

Getting ready for lunch. No lunch photos because we were eating!

Oh, and there was wine from friends of the owners, and it was all delicious as well. When we finished eating, all the people who brought the meal together spoke to us about how they came to do what they do. It was really encouraging to see all these new businesses cropping up in rural Kimble County.

Once that was over, we got to go look at the sheep and goats! You know that was a highlight for me! They were Hampshire sheep, which are nice and big. There was one pen full of ewes getting worked on by one lucky ram. You can tell which ram got to a ewe, because they put paint on his chest and it rubs off on the lucky gals. The ram in the pen had red paint, but a blue one had been there earlier.

There was another area where the show animals were. They all wear little outfits to protect their coats. I was not aware of this practice. They were a hoot to watch, though, but we had to leave.

Texas Tech, in Junction

Back on the buses we went, to find the Texas Tech campus in Junction, which looks mostly like a summer camp. That was fine with me, because we got to go look at the river. Hooray, I love the river. The presentation here was by folks from Texas Parks and Wildlife and AgriLife. It covered managing riparian areas and dealing with axis deer.

It was shocking to see how badly the deer had grazed the area down, compared with an area they had fenced to keep wildlife out, which had lovely long grass and a variety of kinds.

I learned a lot about how to tell if your land is holding a good amount of deer or is being over-grazed, depending on what plants they have eaten. I am happy to report we have plenty of the stuff deer like to eat, and also that there aren’t any axis deer on this side of I-35 yet. Whew.

We’re pretty but not welcome in Texas. You can shoot us any time of year, if you pay someone enough money. Sniff.

What are axis deer? Imported animals native to northern India and the area around there, who have escaped and gone crazy breeding in Texas.

Anyway, it was all extra interesting, and I had a grand time, all the while taking more and more pictures of wildlife. I got into the top 50 of the BioBlitz just by taking all these pictures. There really were lots of butterflies and moths. There was one plant I saw four or five types of moths on at once!

Enjoy just a FEW of the photos I took, including some of the new things I saw.

The only negative thing is I have to get up early and drive home in the morning. But, that’s not the end of the world!

For Me, All Is Well

I can’t speak for the rest of my family, but today’s been good. I got to do grocery shopping for sickly children and had fun with that. I got them a Mexican saint candle to protect sick people. I need to get one for Kathleen, too, to ward off future surprises.

Come set a spell. We’re open!

I guess I’ll just share my tack room improvements, which make me happy even if they are small. My favorite things are my Mexican pottery from my beloved old office. I really like the foal with a disapproving look on her face.

Vacuum more!

I also brought the burro planter that I’ll put something in one of these days. I hope spider plants.

My kids got me the wall hanging one year when they still did gifts.

One of the baskets my friend Gina sent me recently makes my ugly tissue box fit in well. It has a weird liner, but that’s fine. And people who are allergic to scents can take care of the problems the adjacent diffuser causes. How efficient! The diffuser makes it smell less like garlic and coconut in here (from feed).

And I grabbed a bird hanging thing to charm anyone who goes to the tack area to view Drew’s ribbons. I predict this area will be more colorful next year. There will be competition!

I was so busy writing about the vacation rental we’re working on that I didn’t share the pretty things I found on a walk through the lower pasture yesterday. I checked to see if there was still any water in the creek and yes, there is a trickle.

Cow says why don’t you have cubes for me?

Mostly I enjoyed early autumn seeds and flowers. And more mama cows. That never hurts!

An Early September Walk

I had this idea in my head that since the highs are no longer over 100° I could start taking longer walks. I set out to follow the ranch paths for a while. I was wrong. The humidity more than made up for the lower temperatures. But I enjoyed looking around.

Hermits’ Rest compound from my son’s cabin residence.

I enjoyed looking at our place from the back, which doesn’t happen often, since I’m usually wrangling a horse these days. You can see how tall the ridge past the creek is. The pool house will fit in better when it gets re-painted. It’s still moving along.

I stopped by Sara’s barn to enjoy the little twin calves before heading back. Calves are always cute. I also enjoyed watching the other cattle and bull getting their morning cud chewing in.

Other than that I had fun looking at insects and flowers. I have been seeing these tiny bee-like insects hovering and farting around the flowers, especially the tiny purple vervain flowers. I got what I though was a better picture, but I’m not sure iNaturalist knows what they are. It says bee flies, which I’ll go along with. See if you can find them in the more distant photos!

As usual these days I kept looking at mushrooms. There were some big ones in the pasture. And some smaller ones that made me pretty sure mushrooms inspired the invention of the umbrella.

In addition to bee flies there were other things buzzing around. What I thought were more beelzebub bee killers turned out to be these green June bugs, common green June beetles or Cotinis nitida. I thought they were something else, but they got IDed as such. Hmmm. They are scarab beetles. I got this cool photo of one flying.

It tried to fly out of my view.

Many flowers are coming back after the rain, but the snow on the prairie usually blooms in late summer. It’s a weed, but so pretty.

The other flowers are probably blooming because there aren’t so many grasshoppers now. Now I can enjoy the different colors of the females when they fly. They can be red, orange, or yellow. No photos; it’s too fast!

I hardly talk about trees, but today I enjoyed two. The hackberry by Sara’s barn has always been a welcome source of shade for us. It was full of bees yesterday.

It’s pretty to look at and is often full of birds

And this old cedar elm has been hollow ever since I’ve known it. I wonder how much longer it will shelter random creatures? I’ve seen many bird nests in it, too.

Just a shell of a tree.

I’m glad I was able to spend some time poolside this afternoon. It had gotten all messed up when the pool builder replaced equipment they’d burned out. The dude had set the chlorine to 0. Yay for our pool guy Kathleen found. It’s fixed, and Lee and I took good advantage of it.

Rain is coming again. The white egrets sure look pretty against the dark sky.

Hey, It Rained

And it might even rain again! The bottom of my screen says, “rain coming,” and it’s raining at my coworker in Cedar Park’s house. We are so excited about the mere idea of rain that he sent an IM that he heard thunder.

So says my laptop

It actually rained .37″ last night, complete with much thunder and lightning that the dogs didn’t like. It was music to MY ears, however!

I’m amazed at the signs of life I keep seeing this summer. Lee says this is probably going to be the driest year since we started measuring (we were not here every day during 2011, so we don’t have daily records for then). Trees are turning brown, which is scary, but some things are doing well.

Ruellia is especially happy this year, according to my Master Naturalist friend. It’s more of a desert plant, which makes sense. Some hardy non-natives are hanging around. Yesterday, I got some photos of crepe myrtles, spider lilies and one very confused rain lily at a house we’re working on.

And today I saw some zyzotes milkweed looking strong and happy, along with broomweed, velvet weed, and frog fruit.

Plus, something smelled very, very good over by the dry ole creek, and I realized it was thousands of tiny balloon weed flowers in the creek bed. White flowers do tend to smell good, I’ve found. I guess I’d never been around so many of them before, so I never noticed the lovely aroma. These vines don’t usually catch your attention until autumn when the fascinating seed pods appear.

Enjoy the photos and hope the promised additional rain comes here. We need it so badly.

What’s Good with You?

I hope you’re finding good things in your life. They’re in there somewhere! Today I enjoyed a sunrise. Ok. The sunrise. There was just one.

Southern sunrise

It was pretty in every direction.

Northern sunrise

I was surrounded by color!

This is the western sunrise! Huh!
The east. With the actual sun.

That was my idea of goodness. No day that starts this pretty could be all bad. Even when you realize your pond has gone dry.

Ooh a barrel. Maybe Drew can pull it out!

There’s stuff blooming, though. And I found a passion fruit.

I even have a new friend, the garden spider who guards the henhouse. She decided to build her nest right across the door. I walked through it. Yuck. And she’d started rebuilding by the time I finished feeding the chickens. She’s good, though. I got to watch her deal with a grasshopper that got in her web. In mere seconds, it was all wrapped up and probably wondering what the heck just happened.

One more bit of goodness was that I saw an unfamiliar bird land on the back pond, the one with water. Then another. It was big, but not as big as a vulture or heron. But it looked like a heron…something was different about its head. Sure enough, it IDed as a tricolored heron! Yay! Now I’ve seen five: great blue, great egret, green heron, cattle egret, and the tricolor.

That’s plenty of good. Plus I got out of the house to go look at houses this afternoon AND ate dinner out with Kathleen. So glad she’s recovering! To celebrate, enjoy dog photos!

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!

The Wild among the Fancy

Here where I’m mostly walking and meditating, there is a theme park next door. That means many exotic plants that, of course, thrive in the Southern California coastal climate.

These agapanthus are everywhere.

I took a long walk yesterday and managed to find some native flora and fauna. Perhaps the radish and fennel escaped from nearby farms.

I had to photograph some of the exotics. Not shown are eucalyptus, melaleuca, palms, pines, and other trees. Lots and lots of the cultivated plants here are from Australia. There are of course pines native to here. Maybe I’ll see some. Today I hope to drag myself out to see some nature.

Hope to feel better soon!

You can see the ocean from our room, sorta. Barren earth is either a retention pond project or future view-eliminating new construction.

Destination Accomplished

Yay. We made it to the condominium in Myrtle Beach. We are way up high in a small unit. If we have guests we will get another room. We will see if anyone comes. This weekend it’s just me and Lee.

Today’s drive wasn’t too fancy. But I did get to see Charleston, SC for the first time. Somehow I’d always missed going there when I had a chance.

I do want to come back and actually stay there. It’s beautiful.

Big trees

All my photos of plants from today came from the ditch at the South Carolina welcome center. There were some good ones, but mostly rushes and water plants.

Just before we got to Myrtle Beach, we stopped in Georgetown, our favorite nearby town. We got some ice cream and saw a gator and it’s turtle friends.

Finally we’re at the Ocean Enclave, in our room in the sky. I was happy to see my favorite bartender is still here! We all got caught up. She did teach kindergarten this year and has survived. Good for her.

Lights and sea.

I’ll be more chatty tomorrow. Things are happening back home! Right now I just want to snooze. Not feeling too good, but I like where I am. It’s actually quiet.

I can see for miles.

Let’s Wander through the Deep South

Today, Lee and I took the road less traveled through the great forests of Mississippi and Alabama. I managed all my meetings so far and have been able to get work done, even with occasional sketchy internet.

A wild scabious plant.

I started out taking pictures of flowers near our hotel. I found an empty lot with excellent weeds. This hotel didn’t have roses, but there were a couple of cute cultivated flowers.

I have to say, though, that it was just so darned fun to drive on a practically empty road through state forests bordered by riotous wildflower displays. Lee was nice enough to stop a few times so I could get photos of plants I’d been interested in from looking out the car window.

From a distance this gorgeous cogon grass was very stinking. And it’s striking up close.
This very bright verbena covered the roadside with splashes of fun.

Those two were the ones I was most curious about. But the coreopsis and others below made the DeSoto National Forest and surrounding area fascinating and a balm for my soul. Enjoy some samples.

Lee took a more distant view at our longer stop. I look like I was having fun!

I saw lots of trees and other plants but they made rather snooze-worthy images. Now Lee wants photos of small towns. I’ll see if I can look up.

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