Nature Trail Tour - August, 2006
After the August rains...
Honor the rain! Take the time to walk and see how it transforms the landscape. Rain is the ultimate blessing for an arid land. Rain creates growth - just look around you! Plants have bright new leaves, and a flush of blossoms quickly follow. In the years with late summer rains the Llano Estacado has a second spring. Oh, yes, take a walk and witness the rebirth of the landscape - it is an enriching spiritual experience. You, too, will feel rejuvenated! We all know the feeling of gratification of thirst, but rain brings a thirst-gratification to our souls!
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The morning after a night-time thunderstorm pulls a naturalist outside - What has happened? Will there be pools of water? Will anything be in the pools of water? How long will they last? Beyond this pool in the southern part of the playa basin at the Sibley Nature Center, an observer can see the intense new green growth.
Even a pile of dirt dumped by a dumptruck tells a story and raises a question. At the base of the hill the soil is much darker, for it is still saturated with water. The side of the hill is smoothed and compact - instead of loose sandpile, the hill is now "glued together" by moisture. What is the white line at the base of the hill - is it fine silt deposited at the edge of the rainwater pool?
The morning after a rain the ground turns green. What had been hard black crusts on the bare dirt become green - several species of algae, liverworts, and other primitive plants interact with the nitrogen in the rain. Bluegreen algae process the nitrogen into the soil. If it was not for the "cryptogamic" crusts, there would be almost no fertility in arid soils. If the crusts are trampled by hundreds of feet or wheels, it does not recover for years - which is why a person in a plane can see where wagons in 1875 crossed Midland County just west of Midland. (photo by Rebecca Arenivas)
Rain also brings decay. The microbes of decay need moisture. Rebecca found this long-dead jackrabbit (which had been just bones and dried up hide) but after the rain the tissues were soft, and an odor of decay had returned.
Rain also brings mushrooms - the "flowering" stage of fungi. Mushrooms emerge from the soil to full size within 24 hours, and within another 24 hours release their spores. This mushroom has already released its spores. Its spores are almost microscopic and are transported by wind.
This is an edible mushroom. When the picture was first on the website, Sibley staff thought it might be a poisonous variety, but a mushroom expert surfing the net contacted us and told us it was of the genus Coprinus and was edible. People should not pick mushrooms for eating unless guided by an expert, however.
One of the most bizarre fungi in West Texas is the "bird-poop fungus." This species does not release spores that drift in the air - instead, the spores are within the gelatinous mass at the top of the white crust of the fungus. Flies and other insects land on the goo, and the spores are carried elsewhere on the feet of the insects.
The cottonwoods at the pond show signs of the coming fall season. This leaf had fallen after it slightly yellowed - the wind and rain may have knocked it off of the tree. The holes of the "shot hole miner," the larvae of a small fly speckle the leaf. The tip of the leaf appears to have suffered minor drought damage, too. (photo by Rebecca Arenivas)
After a rain, insects swarm to mate. And when that happens, birds feast. As the photographer walked the trails, dozens of swallows were flying low over the mesquite. Two finally briefly stopped on a telephone line.
Within a week of the rain, the leaves of the perennial wildflower devil's bouquet have grown quickly. In another two weeks, clusters of beautiful red flowers will be present. (photo by Rebecca Arenivas)
Cowpen daisy is pretty, but the leaves are stinky. Some west Texas folks of hispanic descent hang dead cowpen daisies from the eaves of their roofs so lightning will not hit the house - an interesting story of cultural transference, for the belief originated with Navaho Indians who live 400+ miles from the Llano Estacado. (photo by Rebecca Arenivas)
Finally just one spider ant was able to carry the rain bug and it carried the rainbug a few feet and then dropped it. The riinbug then ambled away, none the worse for being carried. Check out these links (Rainbug photoessay | Rainbug essay) to learn more about the rainbugs.