Master Naturalists

Jessica Dieter, left, and Jenna Chappell check out a rat snake during the herpetology class at a recent Central Texas Master Naturalists education session.

The Central Texas Master Naturalists added some new members to its roster with the Class of 2019 completing its requirements during the 10th anniversary of the local naturalists organization.

John Atkins, president of the Central Texas Master Naturalists, said this class was great in that they were quick to get involved in projects, which varied from taking part in a butterfly count to cleaning out invasive plants from around the trails at Miller Spring Nature Center, 1473 FM 2271 in Temple.

Members of the 2019 class are: Edgar Bounds, Liz Bounds, Andrea Bowsher, Sven Bowsher, Jenna Chappell, Jessica Dieter, Paula Finley, Elizabeth Moses, Bert Peeples, Jean Solana, Dick Starks, Gail Wilson and John Ziegeler.

The Central Texas Master Naturalists work with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help maintain some of its parks at Lake Belton and Stillhouse Hollow Lake. The group also has a relationship with Mother Neff Park, participating in cleanups and holding activities at the state park.

“Their staff will put out bait for days ahead of the Moth Night,” said Zoe Rascoe, a Central Texas Master Naturalist. “They work with us so we have a much better experience. It’s been a great partnership.”

This year, Moth Night will be 8-10 p.m. July 27 at Mother Neff Park, 1680 State Highway 236, Moody. There will be no park entrance fee that evening and parking will be free. The gates will open at 7:45 p.m.

There will be blacklight stations set up to attract moths. Participants are asked to bring flashlights and bug spray.

It takes some commitment to get through the Master Naturalists training, which entails classroom time and 40 hours of volunteering, Atkins said. “Once you get past the training, it’s easy to get the 40 hours a year of volunteer work.”

Group projects

This class selected building blue bird boxes for Miller Spring Nature Center as its class project. They also had two benches put on the trail.

Ziegeler said he got involved in the Master Naturalists because he needed motivation to get outside. He said he knew that the parks and nature areas were in need of maintenance and he had the time.

“There was a lot more training than I had anticipated, we learned a lot,” he said.

Building the bird houses and placing them at Miller Springs was Ziegler’s favorite activity.

He put some of the leftover bird houses at his home.

“They actually have birds in them,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler discovered from the classes the weed he had been trying to kill in his field, were milkweeds, which attract Monarch butterflies.

“It’s been fun and interesting,” he said. “I learned things I never would have known about if not for the class.”

Wildlife biologist

Gil Eckrich was the guest speaker at the meeting. Eckrich was the wildlife biologist on Fort Hood for a number of years.

Eckrich discussed the number of birds, bugs, mammals, reptiles and plants found in Texas.

Though some of the critters might be considered creepy, each has a role in its native environment.

There are predator birds, such as blue jays, that will take over another bird’s nest and, if squirrels are in the area, they’ll eat the bird’s eggs.

Eckrich had a photo from his backyard that showed a hummingbird caught up in a spider’s web.

“What do you do if you’re a naturalist?” he asked. “What happens if your granddaughters are visiting?”

Eckrich freed the bird and let one of the girls release it.

“They still talk about it,” he said.

Eckrich said he was willing to supplement nature when needed. He has a concrete pond that provides water to his backyard visitors when everything else has dried up.

He has bird feeders and hummingbird feeders, with sugar syrup but no red dye.

Texas has native fire ants that aren’t a problem because it has a natural predator, he said. There is no natural predator for the imported fire ant.

The population of quail in Texas and Kansas has dropped by 70 percent because the bunch grasses that the birds nest in have been removed.

Eckrich said his wife wanted the nettles removed from their yard, until he showed her a photo of bird taking parts of the fluffy flower to use in building a nest.

“It’s only natural,” he said.