Saturday

Texas Pollinator BioBlitz Continues

Second Week to Submit Photos of Butterflies, Bees and More



The monarch population across the Eastern United States, Canada and Mexico has declined by nearly 80 percent over the past 20 years. Besides monarchs, 30 native pollinator/flower-visiting species (bees, butterflies, and moths) are designated as Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Pollinators (butterflies, bees and moths, bats, hummingbirds, wasps, flies, and beetles) sustain native plant species, human food crop, and even crops for livestock.

Join the Texas Pollinator BioBlitz with family, friends and neighbors this week through October 20. Here’s how to participate:

  • Pollinator BioBlitz participants observe and identify pollinators.
  • All ages and abilities are encouraged to find pollinators and nectar-producing plants, take photos, and share with friends!
  • Share observations by posting a photo or video to Instagram, iNaturalist or the Facebook event pages.
  • Pollinator observation challenges and informative links will be emailed to all registered participants regularly to add to the fun.

You can help! Learn about pollinators and pollinator habitat with these resources. You can help by planting native, nectar-producing plants and pollinator gardens in communities, schools and backyards across Texas.


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Thursday

The Perfect Swarm

Looking for Love, Crickets Pile Up in Central Texas


Photo © Mary Schmidt

Folks may recoil in horror, but the swarms of crickets massing at various locations around Central Texas are not a new phenomenon but an annual occurrence.

Piled up on porches and scurrying across sidewalks, Texas field crickets (Gryllus sp.) naturally occur in the state. Their mating season gets triggered by the first cold front, and the lights of stores and homes attracts them to gather together at night to procreate.

A perfect storm of conditions — a dry spring/summer with high temperatures occurring through September followed by a rapid temperature decrease and a bit of rain — made this year’s “invasion” particularly memorable.

Social media and local news stations featured Central Texas images that captured the imagination and spread like…. well, crickets on a mission. A few San Antonio and Austin restaurants shut their doors for an afternoon to deal with the insects. Pest control companies were inundated with calls. A school in Boerne even brought in chickens to eat  their way out of the problem.

TPWD invertebrate biologist Ross Winton says there’s no need for concern about this short-lived phenomenon.

“They may get inside your house or business, but they won’t stay long,” Winton says. “The crickets don’t bite, harm crops or spread disease.”

The field cricket foray seems to be ending as quickly as it began. Winton says the females go off to lay eggs and die. A good sweeping of carcasses is recommended to stave off the smell of decomposition.

“The eggs remain dormant in the soil over winter and the juveniles will emerge in the spring to start the cycle anew,” Winton says. “It’s hard to predict if next year will be a good year for crickets, or when we might see similar numbers in the future.”

If your mind’s still not set at ease, just remember that field crickets don’t bite or sting, they just want to munch on a bit of decaying matter.

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Wednesday

Look Up Tonight!

Meteor Showers Light Up Texas’ Dark Skies



Though the moon has been bright for the past few nights, Texans will look forward to not one but two meteor showers peaking tonight and tomorrow night.

The Draconid meteor shower will be active through October 10. It can be seen best in early evening or just after sunset. It’s small, just a few streaks each hour.

The South Taurid meteor shower will be fantastic these nights as well, and last through November, with about five per hour visible. Later this month, a darker, new-moon sky may afford better viewing. 

Both meteor showers are created from comet debris.

More meteor showers – the Orionids, the Northern Taurids and the Leonids — will join in the celestial show in November. Find a Dark Sky state park for best results, or drive away from the city lights.

Use these photography tips to help capture the nighttime magic with your camera.

Teach your kids about the night sky with this special edition of Keep Texas Wild, “Star Party.”

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Tuesday

National Octopus Day

Eight Great Reasons to Love Octopuses


  
While there are octopuses in the Gulf of Mexico, they’re mostly found on Florida beaches, not on the west side. Still, we can see them in aquariums (check out the Texas State Aquarium’s “Tentacles” exhibit and their Facebook page to see a beautiful video) and learn about their amazing abilities on social media and in documentaries.

1.    They’ve got eight arms that are used for many things, but most interestingly, to taste. An octopus can sever his arm to escape; it will grow back. 
2.    They’ve got nine brains. Neurons run down their arms, giving them the ability to solve problems on their own, like opening a jar.
3.    They are super flexible and can fit through almost any opening.
4.    Though not a bird, they have beaks used to crack shellfish (that’s handy).
5.    They can produce a neurotoxin that paralyzes their prey and enzymes that break down their food.
6.    They are so well camouflaged, with the ability to change the color and pattern of their skin to match their surroundings.
7.    They’ve got ink and they know how to use it. They spray it to avoid predation.
8.    Last but not least, they are super smart: the smartest invertebrates in the world. 

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Monday

Catch the Buzz

Texas Hosts Fourth Annual Pollinator BioBlitz




For the next two weeks, Texans are invited to take part in the fourth statewide Pollinator BioBlitz. The goal of the BioBlitz, which runs from Oct. 4-20, is to raise awareness of the diversity and importance of pollinators while bringing greater attention to the critical habitat needs of monarchs and native pollinators across the state.

In support of the event, organizations and sites around the state will be hosting a variety of events to get people outdoors to observe pollinators of all types in yards, natural areas, gardens, parks and community centers. Of course, you don’t have to visit a particular site to participate; your very own yard or green space will do.

“Documented declines in insect populations, particularly pollinators, have brought to the forefront the need to better understand these species and the support they provide Texas rangelands, agriculture and native ecosystems,” says Ross Winton, invertebrate biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Texas is home to thousands of pollinator species from the iconic monarch down to the smallest solitary bee.”

Citizen scientists involved in projects like this help us gather data on Texas species and the plant communities they are connected to, Winton adds. This helps us learn not only what we have in our great state but also what we need to strive to protect.

The BioBlitz is designed to be fun for all ages, with no experience required. Participants are simply asked to look for pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and moths, as well as nectar-producing plants; photograph or take video of them; and share their discoveries online via Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag #TXPollinators. Plant and insect species may be difficult to identify, so observers are encouraged to post what they know. For example, “Striped bee on Turk’s cap in Mission, Texas” is fine.

Participants are encouraged to take it a step further and help increase the amount of data collected during the peak of fall migration by becoming a citizen scientist. Anyone can sign up and record their observations through the iNaturalist application on their phones or home computers. All pollinators and flowering plants posted between Oct. 4-20 will automatically be included in the 2019 Texas Pollinator BioBlitz Project at https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/2019-texas-pollinator-bioblitz.  There is no cost to participate and the only tools needed are a camera or smartphone and internet access.

In addition to the monarch, 30 species of pollinators have been designated as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” by TPWD. Native butterflies, bees, moths, bats, hummingbirds, wasps, flies and beetles are essential to healthy ecosystems and sustain native plant species, human food crops and crops for livestock.

To learn more about the importance of pollinators, sign up to be counted, and locate events across the state, visit the Texas Pollinator BioBlitz website at www.tpwd.texas.gov/pollinators.

Participants can also sign up for weekly email updates during the event that will add to the excitement as everyone works together to increase awareness of our pollinators and the availability of their habitat.

Join event partners TPWD, National Butterfly Center, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, National Wildlife Federation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as we celebrate the importance of pollinators.

It’s easy to get involved. Individuals and families, schools and clubs are all asked to join, observe, identify and share. At this time of year, cooler temperatures across the state also alert bees to eat as much as they can before hibernation begins, so it’s the perfect time to photograph, post and record the insects you see while enjoying the great outdoors.

To view a video news report about the Pollinator BioBlitz, visit https://youtu.be/IamRvnr7218.

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Saturday

National Do Something Nice Day

FlatsWorthy promotes boating courtesy in coastal marshes


 

While viewing the damage from 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, the founders of a conservation group called FlatsWorthy realized that habitat damage was intensified by unnatural shortcut channels carved by boats through coastal marshes. The group was inspired to move beyond its original goal of promoting boating courtesy and evolve into a more ambitious effort to prove through science that nature can best heal itself without our intrusion. “Without intrusion” doesn’t mean ignoring the problem, but rather entails changing the behavior that causes it.

“We know that some boating habits inadvertently cause damage, while other behaviors show a blatant disregard for and ignorance of the fragile habitats essential to our angling pleasure,” says Chuck Naiser, FlatsWorthy president. “These resources are easily disturbed and easily damaged. Courtesy and respect are especially important in how effectively the shallow flats can be shared. If we anglers are careful in how we access these areas and show respect for these spaces and the efforts of other users, the generations that follow us will be able to share and enjoy these special places long into the future.”

To join this coalition of guides, paddlers, airboaters, fly-fishermen, wade anglers, flats polers and concerned citizens to reverse bad manners that cause destruction of our coastal flats, head on over to flatsworthy.com.

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Friday

LARGEMOUTH BASS – LAKE NACONICHE

Fall — It's Time to Catch Some Big Bass


Big-bass haven Naconiche is a small body of water (692 acres) not far from Nacogdoches, but the lake fishes big. It’s pretty much a flooded forest. Leaving from the boat ramp, you’ll find safe navigation going toward the dam; if you venture away from the ramp, the channels become narrower, so be cautious.
Lake Naconiche for big bass
The boat ramp splits the lake. The left side (as you leave the ramp) is more open until you pass the fishing pier on the left.
Going to the right of the ramp means traveling in the midst of flooded trees for several miles. A boat lane is staked, but it’s very narrow and winds around with unexpected turns. Even in the lane, you’ll encounter obstacles, many barely below the surface. Expect to bump into stumps with your boat and motors. Many times, you’ll scrape your boat’s rubrail along a tree as you maneuver around tight cover while fishing. You might not mind, because that’s where the fish can be found.
Look for aquatic vegetation — these are productive fishing spots, too.
With so much cover, the bass could be anywhere, right? Not really. Bass are apt to move around in October — they could be shallow or deep — but you can pinpoint likely areas by observing the surroundings.
Watch the shoreline for changes in contours. A keen eye can spot areas that are more open, such as where an old road ran through the area before it became a reservoir. Another trick is to look for places where a row of trees forms a line delineating an edge (such as a channel or road). If you can find a spot where a channel and road come together, you may have found a sweet spot.
Here are some successful techniques and lures.
  • Retrieve swim baits rigged weedless.
  • Flip Texas-rigged plastic worms, creature baits or lizards.
  • Run spinner baits as tight to the tree trunks as you can.



If you spend time looking, you’ll find moderately open areas where you can test other techniques. In areas where it is feasible, a deep crankbait can be very effective. A square bill can be fished around the shallow trees.
If a cold front moves in, try jerk-baiting areas along the dam. Because the lake is small, you can fish a lot of it in a day.
If you want to learn flipping/pitching techniques, Naconiche is the lake to practice on. You can do this all day. Start with heavy line such as 20- to 25-pound fluorocarbon or monofilament or 50- to 80-pound braid. (A medium-heavy rod is on the light side of what you’ll need.) You may hook more bass on lighter line and gear, but if you try wrestling an 8-pounder out of a tree on lighter gear, she will win most of the time. 
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Wednesday

Home on the Range

Practice Makes Perfect for Shooting Enthusiasts




After you’ve purchased a rifle, bow and arrow, handgun or shotgun, it’s time to try it out. Where can you go to practice, or compete?

Whether you are looking for opportunities indoors or outdoors, in the city or out in the country, you can try your hand at all types of shooting at a shooting range. Shooting ranges offer a safe environment with range safety officers; many offer on-the-spot help and rent equipment.

One great place to find a shooting range is www.wheretoshoot.org, hosted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The website offers a dandy search filter to help you find a range based on the kind of shooting you’d like to do, describing range features, programs and even special services like lodging and campsites. You can also conduct a general Web search or call your local chamber of commerce.

Let’s take a look at just a few of the many kinds of shooting sports and ranges across Texas.

Families especially might enjoy archery and air gun ranges. Communities are adding archery as courses in their parks and recreation departments. Youth in the Texas-NASP (National Archery in the Schools) program know the safety rules for archery, so range time is great as a follow-up for the family or after-school activity. USA Archery clubs can prepare Olympic competitors. Some ranges offer 3-D targets and training for bow hunting. Air guns are an economical opportunity for marksmanship, and competitions are available from the local level up to international contests.

Handgun and rifle ranges are popular both indoors and outdoors. You’ll find fellow shooters in target practice, sighting in or trying out a new firearm. Watch some of the many excellent videos on range safety and etiquette so you’ll know what to expect and what’s expected of you at a range. Be sure to check out the Project ChildSafe video to learn how to talk to children about gun safety and discover tips on adjusting your conversation to the age of the youth.

No shooting skills journey is complete without trying moving targets. Shotgunners enjoy trap shooting, where a mechanical thrower flings a clay pigeon (a saucer-shaped disk like the one under a flowerpot) at different heights and angles. Skeet shooting ups the ante with two throwers at different heights and different shooting stations to vary the shot. Five-stand shooting and sporting clays offer courses with multiple shooting stations and throwers to provide a variety of challenges.

“Three gun” competitions — where you compete with a rifle, shotgun and pistol — are growing in popularity. Ranges offering these competitions are set up with obstacle courses and use different firearms for a high-action experience.

Enjoy living history? How about trying muzzleloaders or cowboy-action shooting? Cowboy-action shooters often sport period costumes and use firearms (or replicas) of the Old West. These friendly clubs welcome novices and new members. Competitions at the national level demand shooting and moving skill as competitors dash between shooting stations in a period setting.

With so many shooting sports choices and ranges available, you’ll have years of enjoyment and a very impressive checklist of adventure! Get inspired at www.wheretoshoot.org.

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Monday

What Are All These Green Bugs?

Texans report large numbers of beetles this year




You don't have to look long or hard to see reports on social media about masses of flying green beetles in their yards right now. No need to worry — they're harmless. The Green June Beetle (Cotinis nitida) is one of three Texas species. (C. texana Casey is a similar species that is also recorded from Texas.) They are at the peak of their late summer/fall emergence right now. They feed primarily on nectar, fruit and flowing sap and can sometimes be found in large numbers, as has happened this year. Larvae are infrequent pests in lawns and feed on roots of other plants. Luckily, there’s only one generation of Green June Beetles per year, so there won’t be a reoccurrence anytime soon for those who are a bit overwhelmed by their abundance this season.

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Sunday

World Fishing Day

Woolly Buggers and Stealth Bombers



Have you ever thought you could build a better mousetrap? Many fly fishers feel the same way. 

Rather than purchase flies, they find satisfaction from tying their own flies and catching fish with them. Aside from the pride of creating something beautiful, tying your own flies allows for small changes that can bring better results.

Tied flies are lovely to watch in action, all feathers and fluffs floating magically over the water. Their names are whimsical and amusing: Golden Comet, Woolly Bugger, Sneaky Duck, Llanolope and Goober Bug. Let’s wade into the water and learn a little more.

Fly tying takes a little practice, but it’s well worth the effort. The equipment is pretty basic. Many people use a vise to hold their flies in place, while others tie by hand, holding the hook as they wrap the materials around. To hold the thread, you’ll need a special bobbin, found in most sporting goods stores. You’ll eventually need other tools, but you can be creative. Some fly-tying friends make a few of their own tools out of popsicle sticks. 

What you are fishing for will determine the size of your hook. Each fly has a different pattern. After deciding on a design, you’ll need to purchase specific materials. Fly shops have a wide variety of tools and materials; craft stores carry many useful supplies as well. Choose from a rainbow of specialty threads or just use sewing thread. Depending on the pattern, you may need thin foam, feathers or dubbing (soft fluffy stuff that can even come off your dog or cat).

It’s not hard to find feathers on the ground, but you can’t use just any of them. It’s illegal to use a feather that doesn’t come from a game bird, pigeon, Eurasian collared-dove, starling or sparrow. Check the TPWD Outdoor Annual for information about birds that are unprotected by state or federal law. 

I learned to tie flies during a fly-fishing event. Also, fly fishing clubs and stores across the state meet regularly and are thrilled to include beginners. Some clubs and fly shops even offer classes on basic skills. Other educational tools to help you learn to tie new patterns are books, YouTube videos and even Facebook groups. 

Be sure to check out the TPWD online calendar for places and dates when people are gathering to tie flies across the state.

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