Bobcats in Oakridge

Bobcat walking to water; Photo Courtesy of D.Burrows, February 2013.
Bobcat walking to water; Photo Courtesy of D.Burrows, February 2013.

Bobcats, Lynx rufus are normally elusive and nocturnal, but our game cameras are picking up more instances of their presence here.  Even in the day time.  This beautiful cat was walking toward a 40 gallon water tank we have in “the back 40”, where we have a turkey feeder near-by.  There is a water barrel continuously supplying water; therefore, it has become a regular to this spot.  We are glad to be in the  cat’s territory, representing a healthy, balanced environment; they are a vital part of our ecology.

Bobcats primarily eat rabbits, woodrats, mice, squirrels, voles, gophers, birds and reptiles.   Occasionally, they will take young deer, although most likely they take advantage of carrion.   Like most cats, they hunt by stealth and are not capable of extended chases.  Their leaping pounce from cover can be up to 10 feet.

Bobcats are territorial, with the female having a home base, excluding other females.  The male’s territorial range may include the ranges of several females.   In Texas, studies indicate some 48 cats per 62 miles.  There is a “carry capacity”, of a particular area usually determined by food and water availability.  And since kittens can sometimes be killed by adult males, a natural balance can be achieved.  The bobcats also will/can adjust their home ranges to compensate for varying factors.  Like coyotes, they are consummate adapters and survivors.

Bobcat at Deer Feeder off Trails End; Photographer Unknown, 11-07-2013.
Bobcat at Deer Feeder off Trails End; Photographer Unknown, 11-07-2013.

Did you know:  running at full speed, bobcats can have a bobbing motion similar to a rabbit; they can live up to 13 years;  their natural mortality fluctuates with the seasons;  kittens purr when pleased and play like your normal house cat; typical litters are 2-4 kittens; kitten dispersal can be from 9 months to 2 years, depending on how skilled at hunting they are; they can not expect to eat well, or mate until territory established; over time, they are loyal to their established territory, marked by scat and scrapes; they spend most of their lives alone; their natural predators are humans, domestic dogs, coyotes, foxes, owls, eagles, hawks.

There is so much more to know and appreciate about this remarkable predator.

A Favorite Forage for Whitetails & Birds

American Beautyberry; Photo by B.LaVergne, Sept 2013.
American Beautyberry; Photo by B.LaVergne, Sept 2013.

A member of the Verbena family, American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), also called “French Mulberry” by some, is a deciduous, perennial native shrub growing up to 6 feet wide and almost as tall.   One of the most eye-catching plants at this time of year, it’s the purple berries that draw people’s attention rather than the palest of pink flowers in spring & early summer.   The flowers are approximately ¼ inch wide, and the berries are not much bigger than that when formed in late summer.   The berries hold their bright color for many weeks, even after the leaves are gone, usually until a good frost has occurred. 

American Beautyberry is one of the favorite forage plants for whitetail deer in the Oak Prairie Region of Texas.   Check out the link on the ORWMA “Groups” tab above, and click on Deer, then “Links for Managing Whitetails”, click on “Favorite Forage Plants of Whitetail Deer” to learn about other favorite plants for deer in this area.   While the deer enjoy the leaves, several species of birds enjoy the berries in the fall & winter, such as Bobwhite Quail, Robins and even domestic chickens. 

What beauty is added to our landscapes when most others have stopped blooming in late summer and fall while adding to beneficial food sources for both deer and birds!   The berries on their long stems also make beautiful dried fall decorations in our homes (but please take care to keep them away from children).   Click on the following link to find out more on this wonderful plant: http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=CAAM2.

Enjoy this beautiful season!  Live life outdoors!

Farkleberry/Sparkleberry – North America’s Largest Blueberry

Farkleberry Tree, Photo by D.Burrows, June 2013
Farkleberry Tree, Photo by D.Burrows, June 2013

We have this beautiful old Farkleberry tree which is about 15′ tall, that as drought tolerant as they are reported to be, I think has finally succumbed to our prolonged dry conditions.  The picture here is during “better times”.   I sincerely hope it recovers.

The native Farkleberry, Sparkleberry Vaccinium arboretum, is another really great addition to our environment.  It offers something neat for every season.  An understory, deciduous plant,  this perennial is mostly found as a large shrub, but as you can see, under the right conditions can grow upwards to 25′ with a spread to match.

In the spring it has white flowers that resemble little bells, that ripen to dark blue berries in the fall, along with beautiful red fall foliage.  In the winter, the twisted exfoliating bark is striking colors of red and gray.

It attracts pollinators, Bobwhite Quail, American Robins and small mammals.

Foliage of the Farkleberry Tree, Photo by D.Burrows, June 2013
Foliage of the Farkleberry Tree, Photo by D.Burrows, June 2013
Bark & Trunk of the Farkleberry Tree, Photo by D.Burrows, August 2013.
Bark & Trunk of the Farkleberry Tree, Photo by D.Burrows, August 2013.

Got Arachnophobia?

Black & Yellow Argiope; Photo by Nolan Hall, 08-15-2013.
Black & Yellow Argiope; Photo by Nolan Hall, 08-15-2013.

The following link contains excellent information on the Black & Yellow Argiope spider (Argiope aurantia), one of the largest spiders in our area of Texas.   These spiders can easily be found here in the wooded areas of Oakridge Ranch, especially in our gardens where the spiders can find plenty of food prey.  The Black & Yellow Argiope is a beneficial spider that preys on mosquitoes, moths & other flying insects, especially the mud dauber & other wasps.  

Do be careful with these spiders as these can sting.   Their sting is like that of a bee to most people, but may be worse for those with bee sting allergies or to the very young or older individuals.

Without the presence of these beneficial insects, we would be overrun with insects we really don’t want to have around.   We hope you click on the link below to learn more about this interesting and “beautiful” arachnoid.  

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/beneficials/beneficial-24_spider_blackandyellow_argiope.htm

Dung Beetles in Oakridge Ranch

I encourage you to move quickly past the ewwww factor, to consider the beneficial Dung beetle, aka scarab beetle or tumblebug.  You will find two species here.  The dark colored beetle you’ll see is Onthophagus gazelle, introduced to Texas in the 1970s  and now well established.  The metallic one, “Rainbow scarab” is Phanaeus vindex and is related to the scarabs of ancient Egypt.  They measure some 1/2″ to 1″ in length.

These guys are kind of fun to watch, as they work their magic on dog droppings, cattle – whatever.

Quoting a foremost Texas expert, ecologist Dr. Pat Richardson:  “They slurp it, haul it, roll it, fight about it, and bury it…They don’t bite or spit or sting. They simple live, eat, sleep and dream dung.”   However, there is a good deal to learn about the importance of dung beetles.  Researchers have discovered that dung beetles “will bury a ton of wet manure per acre per day and remove 90 percent of the surface material… A horse pad can disappear underground in 24 hours, leaving only a soft fluffy layer of undigested plant material.”   She always speaks with enthusiasm about the dung beetle.

I do not know how the drought is affecting them, but I do know, they are another reason to totally avoid insecticides, to let natural biodiversity handle the job.  The healthier the soil is, the better.

Dung beetle; Photo by D.Burrows, August 2013
Dung beetle; Photo by D.Burrows, August 2013
Dung Beetle; Photo by D.Burrows, August 2013
Dung Beetle; Photo by D.Burrows, August 2013

 

Native Plant to Look for on Oakridge Road

Pussyfoot, Dalea obovata; Photo by Gl.Lambert, June 2013
Pussyfoot, Dalea obovata; Photo by Gl.Lambert, June 2013

Pussyfoot, Stinking Prairie-clover Dalea obovata can be found in the Lambert’s front acreage, and around, along Oakridge Road.  And probably elsewhere because this plant is endemic to Texas and particularly loves the sandy soil and scattered oaks of the ranch.  This perennial herb is a member of the pea family.  At the ranch it typically flowers in the spring with whitish flowers, going to seed in late summer.   Elsewhere, flowering has been recorded from April until October.  Plants can reach 1′ to 2′ tall.   They are particularly beneficial to bees.

Thank you Glenda for the great picture.

I found an additional picture that allows permission to post, of a larger plant,  just for comparison of size:

Pussyfoot, Goliad, Tx, Bill Carr_2007
Pussyfoot, Goliad, Tx, Bill Carr_2007

Now regardless of time of year, you will perhaps be able to see its potential and recognize it a little easier.

 

The Importance of Bats

For a very long time, I have been totally fascinated with bats.  We have had some great experiences with bat watching; even gone into an undeveloped Texas cave for guano and stayed to experience the emergence with no one around, standing there, waving our hands above our heads as they flew toward us, missing us every time.  It is awe inspiring.

Our experiences have been with Mexican Free-tailed bats Tadarida brasiliensis, the most common Texas bat.  Probably the species you watch from your porch on summer evenings.  They are here from about February and most begin to leave for Mexico now, in August.

The 20 million or so Mexican Free-tailed bats of Bracken Cave, the world’s largest known colony, eats a quarter of a million pounds or more of insects nightly, covering thousands of square miles.  These amazing creatures emerge each evening, climbing to more than 10,000 feet, and can catch tail winds that can drive them to speeds of over 60 miles per hour to distant feeding grounds.   It almost can’t be stated enough how bats are by far the most important controllers of night flying insects, even mosquitos.

To my surprise, I have learned that joining the Mexican Free-tailed bat in our skies are 8 additional species:  Big Brown bat Eptesicus fuscus, Silver-haired bat Lasionycteris noctivagans, Eastern Red bat Lasiurus borealis, Hoary bat Lasiurus cinereus, Northern yellow bat  Lasiurus intermedius, Seminole bat Lasiurus seminolus, Evening bat Nycticeius humeralis  and Tri-colored bat  Perimyotis subflavus.

Did you know:  Bats are highly intelligent and even trainable?  World-wide, there are over 1000 extremely diverse species?  Millions of bats are dying from White-nose Syndrome?  Some species hibernate rather than migrate?  Some species are vital pollinators?  Some feed on fruit or nectar?   Not all species roost in caves?  There are no blind bats?  They do not become entangled in people’s hair?  They pose less of a threat to human health than do household pets?

Bat Conservation International was founded in Austin in 1982 by Dr. Merlin Tuttle.   Do check out this excellent site for all things related to bats   http://batcon.org/

Ever Wonder……..What’s the Purpose of Mud Daubers?

Mud Dauber Nest,  Photo by B.LaVergne, July 2013
Mud Dauber Nest, Photo by B.LaVergne, July 2013
Black Widow Spider on Leaves, Photo by D.Konarik, July 2013
Black Widow Spider on Leaves, Photo by D.Konarik, July 2013

Common Name: Mud daubers
Scientific Name:  Chalybion, Sceliphron and other genera
Order:  Hymenoptera: Sphecidae

Mud daubers (or “dirt daubers”) can really make a mess of your porches, using the red clay mud from area ponds & creek beds for their nests.   Dauber nests are made of mud into cylindrical shaped cells.   These cells are filled with various types of prey, largely consisting of spiders; and in our area, the daubers like black & brown widow spiders.   David Konarik has provided us a couple of pictures of the dangerous Black Widow Spider.   The spider is caught & injected with venom from the wasp paralyzing it, yet not killing the spider.   After being paralyzed, the wasp or dauber deposits the spider(s) into a cell of its nest along with at least one egg.   The dauber will close the cell never to return to that particular cell.   As the new wasp larva develops, it feeds on the paralyzed spider(s).   So next time you are pestered by the mud daubers, remember they actually do provide a beneficial service in keeping down the numbers of spiders in our area of Texas.   See if you can catch a Mud Dauber in the act of seizing its prey & paralyzing it!   And if you do, please send us the picture to share here on ORWMA’s website.   We’ve also included a link to some additional information from Texas A&M University Department of Entomology for your reading pleasure.   https://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide/cimg334.html

 

Black Widow Spider, Photo by D.Konarik, July 2013
Black Widow Spider, Photo by D.Konarik, July 2013

 

Bee Fly

This cute little honeybee sized guy is among the many species of Robber Flies, but this Bee Fly  Diptera: Bombyliidae is another family of flies.  When he is not on cameras, he can be found checking out the pollen of the flowers, and on the ground.  This species lays its eggs in soil and takes a year to complete the life cycle.  The larvae are parasitic on immature stages of other insects and therefore is considered beneficial.

Bee Fly visiting Oakridge; Photo by Donna Burrows, May 2013
Bee Fly visiting Oakridge; Photo by Donna Burrows, May 2013

Reviewing pictures we have taken, I found a shot of the bee fly building his burrow in the ground.   I did not realize until recently, what the identity of the insect was.

Found the bee fly burrow, May 2012
Found the bee fly burrow, May 2012