Sunday, February 7, 2016


I was cleaning out a birdbath this afternoon when all the sudden--OUCH! Something seemed to be stinging my right ring finger. I used my other hand to brush off the offender and found the pictured stinger attached to my left index finger. A bee? Naturally, I had to grab my camera and shoot some images as best I could one handed. As for my sting site, I had a small reaction but no intense swelling. My finger's just fine this evening.  

FEBRUARY 8, 2016 UPDATE I take that back! My finger is slightly red and swollen, not to mention it ITCHES! BLAH!!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Feral hogs

Did you know that (as of 2014) feral hogs have been documented in 99 percent of our 254 Texas counties? That's according to Josh Helcel, an extension associate with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Burnet.

Yesterday, he spoke on the topic to Texas Master Naturalists (including me) with the Highland Lakes chapter. In the interest of educating others, I thought I'd share some of his insights here.

First of all, NEVER go after a wounded or cornered pig or one with babies. Feral hogs can be VERY aggressive and dangerous when threatened. 

"Feral hogs are literally everywhere, somewhere to the tune of 2.6 million in Texas," said Helcel, who's known as the Pig Man and Hog Man among his colleagues. "But more recent estimates put the numbers at 3.5 million to 5 million."

"There are more feral hogs in Texas than everywhere else in the world combined," he said. "But we also have more deer feeders and supplemental feeders in Texas, too (which attract the pigs)."

Ecological and wildlife impacts
They need water because they have no sweat glands, Helcel said. Their thermo-regulation is accomplished by wallowing, which impacts water quality. In addition to potentially destroying riparian areas, feral pigs can contaminate water, increase run off and impair watersheds. 

Their wallowing and rooting can also negatively impact native species, such as live oak and hickory. The flip side: Chinese tallows and other invasives can move in. 

Feral pigs kill and eat ground-nesting birds, fawns and other wildlife. They destroy native habitat and compete with native species for resources (water, food and cover). They also carry Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. 

Highly successful animals
"Their success is due to their intelligence and adaptability," Helcel said. Behind chimps, pigs claim the second highest intelligence among mammals.

A high rate of reproduction also boosts their success. "Pigs are the most reproductive successful mammal worldwide," Helcel said. "They are sexually viable at six to 10 months of age." Their gestation period is three months, three weeks, and three days. The older a sow grows, the more litters she annually produces, too. In less than two years, 42 pigs can be traced back to one sow, Helcel said. 

"We have to remove 66 percent (of feral pigs) annually in order to maintain current populations," Helcel continued. "Currently, though, we're only removing 29 percent of the population annually. A lot needs to be done."

Control measures
Legally, control options include trapping, snaring, shooting, aerial guns and trained dogs. According to Helcel, the most effective method is to use corral traps that are large enough to capture an entire "sounder" (a sow and her babies). He recommended using 5-foot-high cattle pen panels (he showed a video that documents a pig sprinting over a 4-foot-high panel) and even using existing deer feeders within a corral trap.

"You must remove feral pigs at the sounder level it you want to impact their numbers," Helcel said. 

Read more about feral hogs at Wild Wonderings, a blog written by Josh Helcel and other Extension experts, and The Feral Hog in Texas by wildlife biologist Rick Taylor.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Please understand why

A bluebonnet seedling from November 2015. This spring, we have DOZENS of them in the Meadow!
"Hey, guys, wait a minute!"

A week or so before, I'd seen a couple of young boys on bikes wheel across the Meadow. That's not good, I thought to myself. I sure didn't want them to get in that habit. 

But I also understood completely. What normal kid can resist an open field, just waiting to be cut across for fun? Growing up, hadn't I ridden my own bike on a beat-down "race track" on a vacant lot across from my home? My friends and I spent hours there, zipping around the curves. 

"Where'd they go?" James asked, after I'd reported the incident to him. He wanted to set those boys straight right away.  
"Oh, they're long gone. Don't worry," I assured him. "I'll talk to them."

I had my chance Sunday afternoon, when I happened to be in the front yard, pulling henbit and chickweed. Two boys rode by on their bikes. I waited. Sure enough, one pulled off the street and cut across the Meadow.

"You want us to come over there?" yelled the boy, who'd stayed on the street. I knew him. He's a fourth grader who lives in our neighborhood.

"No, it's okay! I'm coming!" I hollered back as I walked toward them. Patiently, they straddled their bikes and waited for me.

"So," I began, smiling, "I just wanted to ask you not to ride across this area, and here's why." I went on explain how we're growing bluebonnets and other wildflowers on this land, that in a month or so they'll be blooming, and the Meadow will be beautiful. That other species grow there, too, like milkweeds for the monarchs. 

The boys listened.

"I'm not fussing at you," I continued. "You're doing what you're suppose to do–be a kid and have fun outside! But I just wanted to explain so you'll understand why I'm asking you not to ride across this land. And hey," I added, sticking out my hand to the older boy who'd cut across the Meadow, "I'm Sheryl. Who are you?" 

He told me his name, and we shook hands. He also apologized five or six times. What a nice young man!

"Oh, no, it's okay!" I exclaimed. "Really! You don't have to apologize. Now you know. And maybe you can explain to your friends, too?" They both nodded. 

And by the way, since he was a sixth grader, did he know Ms. Meier at the middle school? Yes, the older boy said. Well, she brings her ecology class to our yard so maybe he'd come next year if he took the class, I said. He nodded.

"I'm sorry," he said a final time.

"We're good," I said. "Don't worry! Thank y'all!" We said our good byes, and the boys took off. Everyone was smiling.

You know, I could have fussed at those boys and ordered them to never, ever again trespass on our land. But what good would that have done? That's not me anyway. Instead, I wanted to share the beauty and wonder of nature, the excitement I feel in watching life unfold and change within the confounds of a tiny city lot. That's what I wanted to accomplish by talking with them.

I hope they took a little bit of my enthusiasm with them.

Now if only I could educate our neighborhood deer. Yesterday, I counted at least three trails that crisscross the Meadow.

First robin!

James just spotted our first robin on the season on a bird bath in the back yard. I ran and saw it, too. But it left before I could grab my camera. Yay, spring!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Texas Master Gardeners...
My cover article on the Texas Master Gardener program has been published!

Monday, January 25, 2016

C''s January?

 I spotted a Gulf fritillary caterpillar yesterday on a passionflower vine! Can you believe it?
And a black-eyed Susan is blooming.