Diario del proyecto Where the Wilds Things are at GRCP

04 de mayo de 2024

Godwin Ranch abuzz with visitors and newcomers this spring.

On fours legs: Nature Trackers' cameras spotted a nursing coyote whose pups we hope are growing up on the preserve. A very round fox makes us hope there is also a group of blue-eyed kits sniffing about the tract, but it may have just been a well-fed individual.
No doubt the preserve's resident ringtails, possums, striped skunks, cottontails, deer and other raccoons are also having broods of their own.

On two legs: A resplendent roadrunner graced the cameras with a strut so galant it must have known it was being recorded.
Migrant birds are more camera shy but have also made a home on the preserve. Every week we see and hear dozens of bird: Tennessee Warblers, Blue and Red-breasted Grosbeaks, Summer Tanagers, Bell's Vireos, Easter Wood-Peewees, Yellow-breasted Chats, Lesser Goldfinches, Painted Buntings, Indigo Buntings...
On Wednesday we may even have heard a Lazuli Bunting, a bit off course, possibly pushed East by the string of storms we've been having in Texas. We will know more in the next few days as data from an acoustic bird monitoring device comes back.
Speaking of acoustic monitoring and two-legged winged creatures, Wednesday marked the installation of a bat detection tower as part of a collaborative project with Parks and Wildlife who are loaning the device to Nature Trackers.

On no legs: We have increased our herp habitat thanks to donations of unused metal sheets and wood boards from the Underground Texas Grotto. Time will tell if these prove satisfactory homes for our elusive reptile population.

As always we are very thankful to the Goodwater Master Naturalists, led in this effort by Mike Farley, without whom we would not know as much about the preserve users as we do today.

Publicado el mayo 4, 2024 10:02 TARDE por eleonorelc eleonorelc | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

09 de abril de 2024

Mothing night at Godwin Ranch

There is so much to do at the preserve while mild temperatures last that we are overdue for some updates.

On March 23rd, Godwin Ranch hosted a mothing night with the precious help of Goodwater Master Naturalists Jack Cochran and Mike Farley. Jack set up three rigs along the main road before sunset, complete with elaborate wide-spectrum lights to attract more species of moth. Mike placed his medusa station in a tree a bit more out of the way.
We had a timid yet frantic showing around the twilight hours, and the least patient of us (mostly me) worried that the moths would never settle down to get their picture taken. This was an unfounded concern as they obliged after a few minutes of flapping about the sheets. Things picked up quickly and peak observation hours ranged from 8 to 10pm, with more than 100 species of insect lured to the lights. Among them were roughly 70 moths. Highlights included a Schinia bina, a couple of Whip-marked snout moths, a Southern Purple Mint, and several Ethmia moths.
Pseudoscorpions hitching a ride on the legs of Crane flies also created some fracas. This dispersal behavior called phoresy has been reported in our caves, but seldom observed, let alone documented. It is quite remarkable that such a diminutive animal would display such sophisticated behavior (deciding it's time to move farther afield, waiting for an appropriate conveyance, clamping onto it with their pincers, deciding when the conditions are favorable to disembark).
Attending moth enthusiasts kept Mike and Jack busy with their own questions regarding identifications and behavior (Why all the flapping? Do they interact between species? Is it mating season? Will the parasitic wasps attack adults?). We'll be sure to organize another one in the fall, once temperatures cool down again.

Publicado el abril 9, 2024 06:19 TARDE por eleonorelc eleonorelc | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario

29 de febrero de 2024

Grassland restoration begins at Godwin Ranch

February 25th, 2024 was one of the hottest February days on record in Central Texas, with a high of 86 degrees, but it did not discourage the sixteen volunteers from the Underground Texas Grotto who joined our first workday of the year. Four teams tackled different projects meant to restore the tract to its pre-ranching days. One group planted a native garden of forbes, grasses, and trees, another removed fill from one of the caves, a third team picked up trash along the fence line while a fourth group cleared up a long-dead tree whose limbs had fanned over the entrance of our main cave: Temples of Thor. The brush management effort at Temples of Thor is meant to facilitate the removal of the old gate and overzealous concrete shoring to restore the aperture to its natural dimensions. A bat-friendly cupola gate will take the place of the old gate and should improve the intake of organic debris a cave naturally receives.

The last week of February also marks one month of wildlife camera trapping by Wilco's Nature Trackers on the property.
Thanks to Mike Farley and Chrystle Nations, we have hundreds of photos and videos to help better shape our understanding of GR's animal users. No swamp rabbits or Eastern spotted skunks yet, but a lot of encouraging mammal activity nonetheless: ringtails, gray foxes, coyotes, raccoons, striped skunks, eastern cottontails, deer, a potential bobcat, and surprisingly enough, no hog sightings yet.
As for underground fauna, on top of the usual cave and karst invertebrates, we are happy to welcome a new resident to one of our caves in the person of a Great Plains ratsnake.

We're hoping to spot much more insect and bird activity thanks to the new native garden and see that increase in biodiversity benefit our underground communities in turn.

Publicado el febrero 29, 2024 02:29 MAÑANA por eleonorelc eleonorelc | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

24 de diciembre de 2023

Nature Trackers at Godwin Ranch

Yesterday, Godwin Ranch hosted Mike Farley, a Master Naturalist from the Goodwater chapter and the head of the Nature Trackers program for the area.
Nature Tracker is a wildlife camera loan program started in partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife to locate and count the state's mammals, with a particular emphasis on species of concern. For us in Williamson County this means the spotted skunk and the swamp rabbit.
If we are lucky, we might detect one individual or two, and see some rarely seen species like ringtails, shrews and bobcats.
Nature Trackers will move their camera every few weeks for six months to cover several different types of habitat or attractive areas. For example, did you know that downed tree limbs are often used as latrines by raccoons, foxes, coyotes and other mammals? I didn't ! But sure enough, the first one Mike noticed was covered in two types of excrement.
In any case, 2024 promises to be a stimulating year as it opens more windows into the lives of the furry creatures who use the tract.

Publicado el diciembre 24, 2023 03:47 MAÑANA por eleonorelc eleonorelc | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario

07 de octubre de 2023

October herping recon

UT students Ashwin N., Jyotishko R. and Maia R. visited the preserve this early October on a couple of herping trips. Unfortunately they did not find much on the tail-end of the summer drought since there is no standing or running water on the property.
They made some suggestions to improve habitat and hiding places for snakes in particular and we are hoping to see them again in the spring for a full survey of the tract.

Let's hope this marks the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with UT students interested in all kinds of fauna and flora surveys and perhaps even more ambitious ecological studies.

Publicado el octubre 7, 2023 11:39 TARDE por eleonorelc eleonorelc | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

23 de septiembre de 2023

Good Water Master Naturalists visit

After a sweltering June workday, Godwin Ranch took a visitation summer break.

September 23rd:
It was with great trepidation that Godwin Ranch got ready to welcome a group of Good Water Master Naturalists. And indeed, within minutes their keen eyes had spotted a hummingbird nest, a clump of lace cactus and a ringtail skull, all things that had evaded detection prior to their coming.

Even though the grounds are on the crispy side these days, like the rest of Central Texas, the group found beauty and joy in this natural space that has been mostly preserved from the onslaught of invasives like nandina, China berry, ligustrum, etc.

We are hoping to host them again in the spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom and the animals aren't stupefied by the heat.

Publicado el septiembre 23, 2023 08:57 TARDE por eleonorelc eleonorelc | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Hot hot heat and Summer Solstice Cricket Count

Belated spring report
May 6 workday:
A small but dedicated group of volunteers extracted many buckets of fill from Twisted Root Cave in order to increase its water recharge. It is no small task, but the lovely breeze coming from a crack in the floor helped keep everybody in good spirits. That's caves for you, cool in the spring/summer and warm in the winter.

June 17 workday:
Good progress was made on the cave restoration taking place at Twisted Root Cave, and our combination workday+ Summer Solstice Cricket Count was a big hit.
We had a total of 18 individual participants, with some taking part in both activities which had them spend 12 hours onsite.

Around sunset, teams of 2 to 3 volunteers equipped with red lights made their way to each of the 5 cave entrances the property now boasts. We were wondering if the crickets would be affected by all the hustle and bustle of the workday in Twisted Root, but they came out early and in droves! That cave alone had 600+ crickets of all ages - nymphs, subadults, adults- exit to forage on the surface before heading back into the depth where they bring much needed energy to our cave obligates in the form of frass (poop), eggs and other organic debris kicked in the cave during their daily migration.

Temple of Thor, Red Crevice and Nergal's Altar had decent cricket counts as well, which is encouraging. Field mice and cliff chirping frogs living in those caves joined the fray and some were seen hunting crickets. The luckiest group of volunteers even saw a cricket pounce on a struggling assassin bug and drag it into the cave for what I hope was a gory meal. Cave justice in action!

Unsurprisingly, Lakeline Mall Cave was pretty much a biological desert with only three roaches counted. Even the angry raccoon was a no-show this year.

All in all, the 2023 edition of the longest cave bio-monitoring effort in the US was a fine one. Despite the 106 degree temperature our volunteers had to endure in June, cricket numbers seem to indicate that our underground communities are in good health.

Publicado el septiembre 23, 2023 08:21 TARDE por eleonorelc eleonorelc | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

19 de abril de 2023

And so it begins...

Ten beautiful volunteers assembled on April 8 to work on the preserve. Our focus that day was establishing a preliminary bird survey, and working on opening some new karst features found in the vicinity of Nergal Cave, who received its name that day.
Nergal was (is?) the Mesopotamian god of the Underworld, a fearsome warrior and notable bringer of pestilence, no doubt aided in this task by legions of assassin bugs, some of which are seen fervently patrolling the grounds of this particular cave.
One of the new features appears to bell out and the limestone there is clearly more rotten and porous, two indications that it might reveal its secrets soon.
Although we did not break into anything that day, we increased the recharge of an area that most likely drains directly into Nergal.
As always, the hope is to restore pathways for rainwater to seep into the ground and ultimately collect into the aquifer, where it can serve both below and above ground communities.

Publicado el abril 19, 2023 07:55 TARDE por eleonorelc eleonorelc | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

06 de abril de 2023

A brief history of GRCP

GRCP is a 105 acre vegetation island in an increasingly dense urban area. Although the preserve is a mitigation property donated to the TCMA in 1992 as part of the Lakeline Mall Habitat Conservation Plan (LLMHCP), there is still much we don't know about the land.
An initial karst assessment was performed by cave specialists (biologists and geologists) in the 1990s, and two major apertures were excavated. An in-cave biosurvey found endangered Texas karst invertebrates, including the Coffin Cave Mold beetle (Batrisodes texanus) and Bone Cave harvestman (Texella reysei).

Professional biomonitoring (species count) is performed in those caves every spring and fall, and a volunteer-driven cricket exit count takes place on the summer solstice every year as well. This event is often celebrated as the longest running cave biomonotoring effort in the US.

However, as development and climate change pressures intensify, conducting a full survey of all our natural resources (trees, plants, birds, reptiles, mammals) will allow us to manage the preserve more wholistically and not just for its caves. It is not so much a change in focus as a broadening of our attention since improving habitat for native surface species can only benefit our cave species.

As new technology becomes available, implementing such a survey is far less daunting.

So let's grab our phones and start observing.

Publicado el abril 6, 2023 07:33 TARDE por eleonorelc eleonorelc | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario