Saturday, November 21, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

My bug hotel: Rest your antenna here

My bug hotel is still under construction, but guests are welcome to check in.

I was inspired by posts online about insect hotels designed to attract beneficial insects.

This insect lodge near the back fence is made of stuff that was stacked around the yard, including weather-beaten birdhouses that my dad made but were no longer sturdy enough for birds. The only thing I bought were cinder blocks to stabilize the layers.

I am still finding material to fill the spaces, but the McBerk Bug BnB is open for guests. I hope I don't have to evict any unruly ants.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

On the look out for river otters

Here is something I wrote for the Galveston Bay Area Master Naturalist newsletter.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo of a river otter.

Spotting a river otter in the wild is something special.
Mark Kramer remembers the first time he saw a river otter at Armand Bayou Nature Center.

“I began paddling the bayou in my youth in 1972, so when my first otter sighting occurred in 1995, it meant a great deal to me,” Kramer wrote in reply to GBAC-MN email questions.

“I happened to be near the water’s edge throwing a cast net when I heard a call/vocalization that I didn't recognize. I lay on my belly at the edge of the water waiting for the animals to swim past — a mother with three pups! 

“I was so moved that I wrote an article in the ABNC newsletter about it,” he said. “They are simply the most charismatic animals on the refuge.”
ABNC stewardship coordinator Kramer, who is on the water a lot, said he sees river otters eight to 10 times a year. He was paddling in his kayak for his last sighting.

Marissa Sipocz, who has been leading wetland restoration at Sheldon Lake State Park for the past 13 years, was excited to see a river otter a few months ago crossing Park Road 138. She has seen otters only two or three times previously.

“I was totally shocked when I watched him hop across the road, thinking: ‘Oh my goodness, that's an otter! How cool! So adorable!!’ "

Sipocz and Kramer believe the sightings indicate a healthy habitat with abundant food and a quiet place to relax and raise their young.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s river otter specialist agrees. Gary Calkins, district leader for Piney Woods ecological area, has been on river otter watch for 12 years and collecting sightings the past nine years for a study.

Our river otters (Lutra canadensis) are indicator species and opportunistic hunters, he said. They eat fish but especially like crawfish, frogs, tadpoles and blue crabs, which are sensitive to pollutants. They often feed at dawn or dusk.

River otters generally live in hollows near water. They can live eight to nine years in the wild. There are one to six pups in a litter.

Their slender bodies with short necks and legs covered with glossy dark brown fur help make them acrobats in the water. They can hold their breath up to eight minutes underwater. Members of the weasel family, they weigh 11 to 30 pounds.

They live in fresh water but will hunt in brackish water and along the coast. Calkins notes that sightings have been reported at the Kemah Boardwalk.

River otters make an impression when spotted because while they are secretive, they can appear playful and will interact with people up to a point, Calkins said.

The good news is that TPWD research shows the web-footed mammals have been spreading rapidly back into their historical range in Central Texas since the 1990s. The numbers had been down due to trapping and habitat loss. 

Calkins has recorded sightings in the San Antonio and Wichita Falls areas, well beyond the Eastern corner of the state where many of the state’s otters reside.

However Calkins says it is impossible to get accurate population numbers because otters are elusive. Biologists collect information from legal trappers, indicator surveys, road kill and signs of tracks and scatter.

Personally Calkins has seen only four rivers otters in the wild. His first sighting was in the Jasper area. “I was pretty jazzed,” he said.

Sharon Schmalz and staffers at the Wildlife Center ofTexas get up-close with two to five river otters every year. 

They bite, warns Schmalz, WCT executive director.

This year two young ones have arrived at WCT for rehabilitation. Each case is special, she said.

One of the river otters was found by someone who kept it for eight weeks before taking it to WCT. “At that point he was very underweight and severely malnourished and in poor condition overall. His case was a testament to why we ask people to bring animals as soon as they can for the best care possible,” Schmalz said.

The second one was found orphaned on a beach by a Good Samaritan who took it to the center..

Both animals went through WCT rehab and were transferred to a rehabilitator near Tyler who will care for them about a year before releasing them into a habitat on her property.

River otters are little contradictions, Schmalz said.

“They are very intelligent, playful, and social; all qualities humans possess. So it's natural for those of us working with them to respond to those qualities,” Schmalz said. “However otters are by no means tame.

“Mother otters discipline their young by nipping at them and siblings nip at each other when playing. So when handling them they have a real tendency to bite a lot. And they have very sharp teeth and strong jaws.

“They have these adorable faces and personalities, but their demeanor and energy level make them one of our more challenging patients. But of course, our staff and dedicated volunteers love every minute.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

3,000 prairie plants ready to be planted Saturday

If you want to get muddy, sweaty and doused with mosquito spray, join the volunteers 8:30-noon Saturday Nov. 14 for the annual Plant-a-Thon at Sheldon Lake State Park.

Plus you'll get a T-shirt.

See the flyer below for sign-up information.
Leopard frog keeps us company while we stage the plants for Saturday's planting.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Smallest butterfly of North America plays big role

Tiny Western Pygmy-Blues were the stars of Baytown Nature Center's October butterfly count.

The butterflies with a wingspan of about half an inch love the glasswort and purslane along the road near the pavilion on the hill.

During that Saturday afternoon 146 were recorded for the count.

Here's a list of the butterflies submitted to the North America Butterfly Association.
Pipevine Swallowtail 3, Giant Sw. 1, Spicebush Sw. 5, Cloudless Sulphur 2, Little Yellow 25, Dainty Su. 7, Gray Hairstreak 5, Red-banded Ha. 2, 1W. Pygmy-Blue 146, Ceraunus Bl. 1, Gulf Fritillary 25, Phaon Crescent 4, Pearl Cr. 1, Question Mark 1, Red Admiral 1, Com. Buckeye 26, Goatweed Leafwing 1, Tawny Emperor 3, Monarch 4, White-striped Longtail 3, Horace's Duskywing 1, Com. Checkered-Skipper 9, Tropical Checkered-Sk. 8, Clouded Sk. 7, S. Skipperling 7, Fiery Sk. 8, Whirlabout 1, Dun Sk. 1, Salt Marsh Sk. 1, Obscure Sk. 1. Total 30 species, 310 individuals. Immatures: Giant Sw. 1 egg on Myer Lemon Tree; Gulf Fr. 27 eggs 39 caterpillars 2 pupas on Purple Passion Vine ; Monarch 5 caterpillars on Mexican Milkweed. Field Notes: 1The numbers of Western Pygmy-Blues in the saltmarshes of the Baytown Nature Center is a sight to behold!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Frogs and snakes at the potting shed

Today's guests at the potting shed at Sheldon Lake State Park.

I took several pics of the ribbon snake with my iPhone, but wasn't able to catch a shot of his red tongue flicking.

A little bullfrog. There were lots of frogs hopping around. I guess they appreciated the rain we had gotten the day before to end three weeks of dryness.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Shore birds wading around

Walking a trail at Baytown Nature Center I noticed that the alligator was still in its pond. (see below). Not much was happening around the alligator's outpost.

However two ponds down the trail a bird party was in full swing. No gators allowed.
Great Egret leaves behind its birdbrain buddies.
Roseate Spoonbill, often called a flamingo by school kids.
A White-faced Ibis joins his White Ibis cousins for some foraging.