Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bamberger Camp, A Nature Adventure


The following is from Mary Kay Sexton, fifth grade science teacher at St. Andrews School, on the information sheet about the camp, "Bamberger Camp is designed for those children who have an affinity for the natural world. Our hope is to open their eyes further to the amazing world in which we live, start them on the path to a lifetime of nature adventures and help them become good stewards of the earth.

"Bamberger Camp is a five-day, four-night intensive nature adventure held on the Bamberger Ranch Preserve near Johnson City. We will explore the ranch while acquiring knowledge and experiences in many areas."

This group picture of our campers was taken at Madrone Lake after a swim.

Mary Kay Sexton, and I started the camp in June of 2004. This was our fifth session.

David Matthews teaches at Small Middle School, and has been teaching here at our camp for 4 summers now.

Campers have a swim test in the morning of our first day. It is important to know that everyone has some swimming skills.

There were a large number of young Red-striped Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis proximus rubrilineatus) around Madrone Lake. The kids caught 14 of them, kept them for the afternoon, fed them small fish and tadpoles, and let them go later that day.

One of the campers saw this Blotched Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) eat a frog. I didn't get there in time to see the meal being consumed but you can see that the snake is looking a bit full around the middle. It was in the water below the bridge.

Cole found this little turtle swimming in the lake. It has no spots on its plastron (bottom shell), and we think it is a Texas River Cooter (Pseudemys texana). It was released back into Madrone Lake.

Rico came to share his expertise about insects with the campers.

Rico is an entomologist (expert on insects) and answered all of their questions for an hour. He also knows a lot about spiders and scorpions, and about the ecology of terrestrial arthropods (animals with skeletons on the outside of their bodies, which includes insects, spiders and scorpions).

This kind of ant is called an Acrobat Ant because it raises it black abdomen when disturbed. We accidentally destroyed their nest when we took out a canoe. They built it in the front of the canoe. You can see the ants in this photograph tending to a pupa.

This African species of roaches are huge, I think almost 3 inches long. If I remember correctly they are outdoor critters.

One of the campers found this female Scorpion with her back covered with babies.

This Funnel Spider rushed out when we accidentally disturbed her web.

Justin demonstrated the water situation here using the "rain machine" or Rainfall Simulator. It shows the difference between land covered with cedar, and land covered with grasses. Cedar cover land after a 1 inch rainfall event produces dirt filled runoff and little or no groundwater. Grass covered land after a 1 inch rainfall produces clear runoff and lots of clear groundwater. The large stone on his shoulder is Edward's Limestone and is the rock that forms the top 100+ feet of the hills here, and has lots of holes which can store water, which makes it a good aquifer.

The next morning was a field trip to the Blanco River to the west of town, where on the limestone bed of the river, there are tracks of Sauropods, long neck dinosaurs, most probably a Pleurocoelus. Each rear footprint is approximately a meter in diameter.

After seeing the trackways, the group looked for interesting critters, including aquatic insect larvae.

Several boys look for snakes along the edge of the river.

Frankie, the young man with dark hair is holding a water-snake that they found. Sam, on his left holds a "snake stick". Frankie and Sam are both experienced at identifying, catching and holding snakes. Ian and Nick enjoyed learning from them.

The snake, a Diamondback Water Snake (Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer) is happy to be back in the water when the boys release it. If you go to the website link you will see the difference between the Diamondback WATER snake and the Diamondback Rattlesnake.

Sallie brought some of her unreleaseable birds that she uses for education. This Screech Owl is full grown and is the red variety that lives in the piney woods of East Texas.

Ed Sones is holding a Mississippi Kite. They catch and eat their prey mainly on the wing. They live to the east of the Edward's plateau in far east Texas and across the southern states, and in the panhandle of Texas. I believe this kite was imprinted on humans and couldn't be released for that reason.

Bill Oliver who writes and sings songs about the environment, visited the ranch on Monday evening, which was enjoyed by both the campers and the adults. (Photo taken in June 2007)

The ranch tour included the Sauropod tracks that are here at Selah. Theropod dinosaurs are meat eaters that walked on their hind legs and had feet with 3 toes and long claws. It was probably an Acrocanthosarus, whose skeletons have been found in north-central Texas, from around the same time in the Cretaceous Period that our footprints were made.

Jared Holmes, a graduate of Texas A&M University studied Herpetology, which is the study of reptiles and amphibians. He has been a snake specialist since he was a little boy, because his dad Jeff Holmes has hunted and collected snakes too. He showed a power-point on reptiles and then showed some live specimens he brought to share with them.

This beautiful black and red snake is a Texas Longnose snake (Rhinochelus lecontei tessatus). It looks a bit like the Coral Snake but is not poisonous.

This handsome Great Plains Rat Snake (Elaphe emoryi emoryi) was given to the ranch by Jared to be an education snake. We like to have an easy to handle snake that students can touch (but only if they want to).

A friend of one of our campers was in a tragic accident in May, and because she had been a special friend, Lillian wanted to plant a tree as a memorial to her. Madeline Anderson was an outstanding person and her death a blow to those who knew and loved her.

Lillian holds a Texas Snowbell plant which she and J. David will plant as a memorial to her friend Madeline. Lillian tells us how hard it is to lose a friend, and how much she will miss her.

I have left out lots of interesting activities that were part of the 5 day camp. I hope that what I have included gives you at least a glimmer of how special the Bamberger Nature Camp is. It is one of my favorite times of each year. I have heard the same from both teachers, Mary Kay and David.

I will publish a separate post with quotes from the thank you letters the campers sent to us.

Hope for rain, and enjoy the outdoors!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Butterflies of Selah in spring (A. Fulton)

Butterflies of Selah by Amanda Fulton, Blanco High School Biology Teacher, (photographs and text)
The past couple of weeks here at Selah most of the butterflies have been out of sight. The 10-45 mph winds seem to have reduced their amount of activity. Most of the photographs that you will see below are from prior weeks. In my eyes butterflies are very elegant and effortless in flight. I enjoy taking pictures of butterflies, though it is sometimes very difficult to catch them still.

Giant Swallowtail (Heraclides cresphontes)
I have only seen the Giant Swallowtail a few times. When they perched on the nectar plants their wings continued to be active, making it difficult to get a perfect open winged shot. Their underside is a very pale yellow with blue patches.
Eggs: orange and are laid on top of leaves
Caterpillar: brown or olive and looks like bird droppings
Chrysalis: various shades of brown, looks similar to lichen

Giant Swallowtail - ventral (underside) view

Giant Swallowtail - dorsal view

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Pterourus glaucus)
In the spring when Death Camas (Zigadenus nuttallii) was in bloom, I observed many Tiger Swallowtails visiting these flowers. After studying a photograph of one particular female I discovered that the female of this species may exhibit dimorphic coloration. The dark female is the rare morph seen more commonly in Georgia and Florida.
Eggs: round, green and are laid on top of leaves blending into the foliage
Caterpillar: brown and white, looks like bird droppings
Chrysalis: green or shades of brown, looks similar to a twig branch

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - dorsal view

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, black female - dorsal view (note orange spot on hind wings)

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)
The photo of the Pipevine Swallowtail is the only one I have seen on the ranch. It did not perch long and as soon as I approached it flew away very quickly. This well documented, secretive behavior makes it difficult to photograph this beautiful butterfly.
Eggs: rust colored and clustered around stems and leaves
Caterpillar: change from orange to black with orange spikes
Chrysalis: greenish yellow or tan

Pipevine Swallowtail, ventral view

Pipevine Swallowtail, dorsal view (blue on hind wings not showing)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
The caterpillar of the monarch absorbs toxins from the milkweed plants that they feed on. The toxins cause any organisms that feed on the butterflies to become sick. I observed only a few monarchs during the spring migration period; I hope to get the opportunity to photograph more during the fall migration.
Eggs: pale green, ribbed and shaped like a lemon
Caterpillar: white with black and yellow stripes
Chrysalis: pale green in color with golden dots

Monarch caterpillar on the leaf of a milkweed, the Antelope Horns (Asclepias asperula)

Monarch Chrysalis, note the black and white of the head and thorax are showing through, which indicates that the time for its emergence from its case is soon.

An adult Monarch butterfly drinks nectar from a thistle plant.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
The Gulf Fritillary is not a true Fritillary it is grouped as a longwing. True fritillaries caterpillars feed on violets only. The Gulf Fritillary caterpillar feeds only on the passion vine. On my passion vines in the yard, when the eggs hatch there are many little orange and black caterpillars. They make their chrysalis on the rock ledge around the house.
Eggs: yellow, ribbed and laid on passion vines
Caterpillar: dark orange with black spikes
Chrysalis: dark brown and resembles a dried up leaf

Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are orange with black spikes. They eat the leaves of Passion Vines.

When ready to become a Chrysalis they attach to the stone wall by the house and form a "J".

This Gulf Frittilary is holding onto its chrysalis as it pumps up its wings in preparation to fly. It has a beautiful pattern on the ventral side of its wings.

The dorsal side of their wings are a striking orange with a brown pattern with a few white dots.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta Claudia)

The Variegated Fritillary caterpillar can feed on violet and passion vine. Most Fritillary caterpillars only feed on violets. With wings closed the Variegated Fritillary looks like a dried leaf. This photograph was taken on the Aldo Leopold Trail of the Bamberger Ranch.
Eggs: cream colored and ribbed
Caterpillar: white with red bands, black spikes and a red head
Chrysalis: pale shiny blue-green with black, yellow, and orange marks and gold bumps

Variegated Fritilaries are orange-brown on their dorsal wings with pinkish tan when freshly out of their chrysalis.

California Sister (Adelpha bredowii)

The California Sister is grouped with the Admirals. The common name was given due to the coloration on the wings which resembles a nun’s habit. The majority of the time I have seen them flitting from tree top to tree top. The pictures of the California Sister were taken on the Bromfield Trail by Hes’s Country Store; where the Sister finally came down for a sip.
Eggs: spherical in shape
Caterpillar: dark green with 6 brushy tubercles
Chrysalis: light brown, with 2 head horns and metallic marks

The dorsal wings of the California Sister which reminded poeple of a nun's habit.

The California Sister has lilac on the ventral side of its wings.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
The Red Admiral prefers to sip rotting fruit juice and sap from trees. If the juice from the fruit is fermented the butterfly can become drunk. Due to the lack of rainfall at the Bamberger Ranch this year I have seen few in my garden this spring. The Red Admiral will frequently land on people in their gardens in search of salt.
Eggs: green, barrel shaped
Caterpillar: black covered with spines and orange spots
Chrysalis: brown or gray with metallic gold spots

The Red Admiral, both dorsal and ventral wings.

Red-spotted Purple (Basilarchia astyanax)
The Red-spotted Purple mimics the Pipevine Swallowtail with similar color patterns. They like to feed on the sap from rotting fruit, from carrion and from animal droppings. I photographed this butterfly by Madrone Lake were it perched long enough for me to take a few pictures.
Eggs: laid on tips of leaves and look similar to a golf ball
Caterpillar: dark-saddled and mottled, similar to bird droppings
Chrysalis: similar to the caterpillar blending in with the stems and branches

Ventral wings of the Red-spotted Purple

Dorsal wings of Red-spotted Purple.

Red Satyr (Megisto rubricate)

Little is know about the early stages of the life cycle of this butterfly. The photograph of this adult was taken on the Arboretum Trail at Madrone Lake.

Dorsal wings of Red Satyr.

Ventral wings of Red Satyr.
Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

The Hairstreaks are very small butterflies. When the Gray Hairstreak has its wings closed they have an eyespots and tail that make the tail end of the butterfly look like the head. This adaptation helps them to escape from predators.
Eggs: pale green
Caterpillar: green with white diagonal side stripes
Chrysalis: brown with black mottling

Grey Hairstreak, dorsal view.

Many thanks to Amanda for her photographs and information about the various butterflies. All of the photographs were taken by Amanda except the dorsal view of the Gulf Fritillary and the Pipevine Swallowtail, which were taken by Margaret Bamberger. Amanda lives here on the ranch with her son Aiden (2 years old), and her husband Steven, ranch biologist and teacher on the BRP Education Staff.

1. The Life Cycles of Butterflies by Judy Burris & Wayne Richards
2. Stokes Butterfly Book The complete guide to butterfly gardening, identification, and behavior by Donald and Lillian Stokes and Ernest Williams
3. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies
4. Butterflies through Binoculars, the West by Jeffrey Glassberg
5. Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas by John & Gloria Tveten

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Moon cycles

Our moon is beautiful as it cycles through its changes from new moon hanging close to the western horizon, not really visible until it is a thin sliver the next night, waxing to half moon on day 7, and on to full moon on day 14, which rises in the east as the sun sets in the west, and then waning backwards through half moon to new moon again in another 14 days. Each 28 days it happens all over again. What a wonder!

This photo was taken on June 14 when the moon was 3 days past the half moon, and you can see bats emerging from the Chiroptorium.

Wednesday, June 18 will be our full moon for this 28 day cycle. It is Tuesday tonight, and an almost full moon lights the Hill Country around us here at the Selah ranch-house. Because we don't have development around us or any bright lights, it illuminates the land and hills around us.

My friend Kathy Wilson, who you might recognize as the artist Kathleen Marie who did the pyrographic artwork of five different birds on the blog post from Monday May 19th with the title "Birding Workshop held May 17 and 18" sent me a wonderful piece of artwork. She also sent a short story about her walk in the light of a full moon. It was the Vernal Equinox, which is the time that day and night that are the same length (March 20).

Luna Blanca

Vernal Equinox (March 20, 2008) by Kathy Marie Wilson

It is so incredibly beautiful tonight, peaceful and luminous. I awake and think it is morning so I get up and find it is 3:00 am. The moon is so bright – it bathes everything in light that looks somehow like soft mist. I walk outside and think what a perfect night it would be to ride horses, a moonlight ride. I decide to take a walk. There is no need for a flashlight and that makes me feel giddy, like I’m getting away with something or holding onto a secret that no one else knows.

Last night before I went to bed I looked up at the sky and saw the brightest shooting star I have ever seen. It seemed like an explosion, undiminished as it disappeared. The sky is full of gifts tonight.

The dogs are asleep but Athena comes with me. I hear a frog sing in the pond, coyotes howl to the north then all is still. I’m struck by how full stillness can be and feel the prescience of silence.

The limestone boulders in Redbud Canyon are shining, reflective as mirrors. I walk back to Hope Spring and my shadow falls behind me. I realize I am following the moon and it leads directly to the spring where I want to go. The night is so quiet I can hear the cats’ footsteps as she follows me. That seems so impossible that it makes me smile. I stand by the spring and in the silence I can feel the rhythm of the night, like the vibration of molecules. In the stillness I sense motion, the energy of life, invisible, tangible, peaceful chaos: the riot of quiet.

Nothing stirs but Athena and me. The air is cool, delicious. Suddenly, far off, a cricket sings a few bars and I hear a deer snort down by the creek. Underneath it all is a constant, silent melody so soft that I can hear a leaf fall. I feel it. In silence I am part of the song. I take off my robe and bathe in the moonlight, turn a full circle and breathe a prayer of gratitude. KMW

A wonderful way to understand the moon cycle is to watch for the sliver of new moon, and each day go out when it first gets dark and notice where the moon is in the sky. Keep a record of it until it is full.

Summer nights are really nice, and the moon is a nice companion. As a child I wondered if the moon was really walking with me, which it appeared to be. I was disapointed when I found out that it really wasn't. I guess that was around the same time I found out about Santa Claus.

I hope you have a dark place around your house or a nearby park where you can go outside and see the night sky.