Wildlife observation is excellent training in analytical thinking. To puzzle out why an animal does something can be an engrossing project. Part of the process is researching what is published in popular and academic publications about the behavior of an animal, and then taking that knowledge and applying it to what is observed.
Peregrine Falcons migrate through Midland in the fall. Sometimes one will spend a few weeks hunting doves and pigeons. Peregrine Falcons were near extinction 40 years ago, but the Peregrine Fund's mighty efforts turned the decline around. The Llano Estacado has two ties to the recovery of the Peregrine Falcon. In the early 1960s the Peregrine Fund visited with the Midland Naturalists who facilitated the capture of Harris's Hawks to learn the process of raising raptors in captivity. Nowadays Jim Weaver, one of the co-founders of the Peregrine Fund, ranches on the Llano Estacado northeast of Milnesand, New Mexico. There, a ten year study of the shinoak sanddune habitat is in its final year, with special attention paid to the Lesser Prairie Chicken, another avian species in decline. [Video provided by Kevin Schanzmeyer, October, 2009]
Sibley volunteer Zach Reynolds discovered an unknown gelatinous goo on cryptogams that attracts insects. His discovery is also apparently unrecorded in the scientific literature. Learn more via this photo essay.
The following video shows the protective behaviors of a female killdeer around her chicks. [Video taken April, 2008 in the neighborhood just west of Midland Country Club]
Birds are easy to watch. They are everywhere, even on high-rise downtown buildings. Even the most common birds exhibit fascinating behavior. You can see many of these behaviors via this photo essay.
Tadpoles and Toads in the sanddunes
Thanks to the plentiful rains during August, 2007, the sanddunes near Monahans are exploding with tadpoles and toads! Learn more via this photo essay.
Scurry County Wildlife - Photography by Joe Carter
Joe Carter taught biology courses at Western Texas College for 30+ years. He often gave programs to civic groups, as well, illustrating his shows with his own photographs. Mr. Carter is a superb observer - he notices quirks of behavior, subtleties of detail, and delves into the intricacies of the landscape.
This photo essay is comprised of photographs taken by Joe in Scurry County, Texas.
The first week of 2007 brought daily rain showers. One midnight thunderstorm dumped over 4 inches of rain. Rain creates a temporary ecosystem that has much more intense activity than at other times. Sibley staff took a walk within minutes of an inch and a half rainstorm, when puddles still stood in the trail.
Learn more via this photo essay.
Research in Midland County seeks to find out if mourning doves are declining
Philip Dickerson is a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist who is participating in a state-wide research banding project on doves. Dove hunting is big business in Texas. "We hope to learn several things we gain some insight regarding local dove reproduction, how long the birds might live, local hunter harvest levels, and migration patterns."
Insects of the Lotebush
Lotebush is a common shrub species found mixed in with mesquite bushes and tasajillo (christmas cholla cactus). When it blooms in May and June many species of insects come to nectar on the sticky waxy flowers (which are half the size of an adult human's pinkie fingernail.)
Learn more via this photo essay.
Playa lakes, such as Consavvy Lake in Midland County, often remain dry for decades. Consavvy Lake had last filled in the 1987 but the rainy spring of 2007 filled it up again. Wildlife found the new lake almost immediately. Toads emerged from the ground within two weeks baby toadlets were hopping by the hundreds of thousands away from the lake. Coots, killdeer, and blacknecked stilts also found the lake, as did great-tailed grackles and red-winged blackbirds. The first three mentioned above soon began nesting at the playa.
This photo essay captures some of the unique behaviors of the birds.
For many people all snakes are scary. The heart races, the mind becomes frantic, and an atavistic response is stimulated they beat the snake flat with whatever is handy. Most snakes are harmless and all perform an honorable duty as they feed. They are predators the larger species specialize in mice and rats. Some eat bird eggs, nestling birds, while others specialize in lizards or toads. The smaller ones eat invertebrates.
This photo essay illustrates the behaviors of different species of snakes in our region.
Lesser Prairie Chicken
Hundreds of thousands of prairie chickens once lived on the Llano Estacado. Now only an estimated 5000 remain in Texas. Market hunting in the droughty 1890s initially decimated the population. Year-around stocking of pastures prevented the growth of good cover and the available food supply. Land clearing for farms reduced the available habitat for the surviving birds.
In April each year, prairie chickens "lek," gathering together in groups from 10 to 100. The males dance, jump, and "boom" to attract their mates at a lek. They arrive before sunrise and the party lasts until 10 a.m.
Visit this photo essay for pictures and narrative of this activity.
Rainbugs live in 6-12 inch nonbranching tunnels in the soil that go straight down. Except during their emergence, the tunnels are closed except during succeeding rains, when the rainbugs remain at the burrow entrance. Keeping the burrows closed helps the rainbugs from drying out. They do not return to the burrow they left, but dig a new one. The little arachnids move up and down in the burrow according to the seasons the deepest during the summer, near the surface in the winter, and halfway down during spring and fall.
Fox taking it easy in north Midland
Gray foxes are the only canid in the world that can climb using its claws. Gray foxes have been sighted on top of telephone poles, houses, and in trees. Gray foxes are common in town, where they find an ample supply of food pet food left outside, open dumpsters with leftover human food, windfall fruit from fruit trees in yards, a high density of mice living in the forgotten corners of alleyways and backyards, and a generous supply of beetles, cicadas and other large insects.
Gray foxes are nocturnal, and often sleep far above the ground during the day. In pasture land, coyotes are a constant threat, and a mountain lion would probably make short work on a fox. This backyard probably does not have a resident dog, and the homeowners are probably often gone from the house during the day, and so the slide is probably often used for a daytime hangout by the fox.
Gray foxes in town probably have small hunting ranges less than a square mile. In the pastures, it is larger, because of less food available. Except during the denning season when females raise young, gray foxes utilize many places in their territory for sleeping, hunting, and resting. They have an incredibly detailed mental map of their territory, knowing when each location is most likely to be undisturbed by people or animals.
A homeowner can walk about in the neighborhood and look for scat posts. Often a fox will deposit a dropping on a slightly elevated location a rock used in the home landscape, or along a path where the local cats and dogs and other foxes may travel. Scat posts are message centers each animal that comes along will gauge how old the dropping is, what the fox has been eating, and in the case of another fox, whether a female is in heat, or if it is a related fox. Scat posts are fairly short-lived being used for a week or two. Then the fox moves its operations to another part of its range.