Nature Trail Tour - May, 2007
Take a virtual tour of the Sibley Nature Tour!
[Additional Tours: February, 2006 | April, 2006 | May, 2006 | July, 2006 | August, 2006 | October, 2006 | January, 2007 | February, 2007 | April, 2007]
The first ten days of May of 2007 brought 5-8 inches of rain to most of the southern Llano Estacado. May is often the rainiest month of the year (averaging around 2 inches).
With a cool and wet spring, bird migration was delayed a week or two. With the April snowstorm, the mesquite had frozen back, so the blooming of the mesquite was also delayed, which also was a factor in slowing bird migration.
The rains lengthened the normal spring wildflower bloom, which often begins to fade after the first week of May as temperatures rise. A number of wildflower species only grow during the wettest of years and were noted elsewhere in the region. On any given day a person could find over 100 species of wildflowers in bloom within 10 miles of Midland.
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For the past two years a roadrunner pair has built a nest in the landscaping around the Sibley building. As a result, the birds are seen daily, and have become "friends" of the staff. When spotted, the birds often have prey in their mouth as they head back to the nest. This one is carrying a large whiptail lizard.
At the Junior Master Gardener compound's garden pool, a late White Crowned Sparrow was taking a last bath before heading north to the Rocky Mountains where it will nest.
Dr. Paul Mangum of Midland College is another "critter of the trail," as he brings biology students to conduct field investigations. One of his projects concerns the relationship between mesquite and desert holly.
A close-up of the Desert Holly plant. It is a daisy, a member of the Composite family, and in the photograph a "seed puff" can be seen. The plant easily reproduces by rhizomes, so Dr. Mangum is also conducting germination tests on the seeds to determine their viability.
On a rainy morning Richard Galle spotted a jackrabbit. Despite it facing away, it spotted Richard
The jackrabbit sprinted away, but stopped to watch what Richard did next.
After each rain, the velvet mites emerged. See a photoessay in the website's "animal behavior" section that is devoted to them.
Richard was able to photograph a silkline with spermatophore droplets.
The Sibley Nature Center encourages everyone with a digital camera to follow and photograph our native creatures in the hopes that we can develop many more "animal behavior" photoessays for our website. To record the activities of our native fauna will possibly lead to many new discoveries about the behavior of our "neighbors" (like the silkline of the rainbugs) that are unrecorded in the scientific literature (to our knowledge.)
While Dr. Mangum and students were investigating desert holly, Burr Williams briefly followed a whiptail lizard. Why did this lizard stick its mouth into the spent huisache daisy flower head?
When the whiptail lizard became aware of Williams, it began to move away, choosing a path that lead behind a yucca.
The lizard then went into a Huisache Daisy clump and became motionless, hoping it was hid from the view of Williams.
In the dead Siberian Elm, a Great-tailed Grackle screeched at the photographer, irate at being flushed from its foraging in the vegetation near the Sibley Pond.
Each spring Yellow Headed Blackbirds migrate through the Llano Estacado, heading north to prairie playas and mountain ponds to nest.
American Coots nest in the Sibley Pond. Their nests are always well hidden. Galle was impressed with their green legs.
The coot took a drink of the water - notice the circles of ripples that began when droplets cascaded from its mouth.
Mallards are also nesting in the pond this year, and 5 ducklings succeeded in hatching. But where was Momma?
Momma was not far away!
Western Kingbirds arrived in April and began setting up their nesting territories. They perch at the top of trees and chase every hawk and raven that passes. Their raucous hollering is almost always present near the pond.
The wildlife recorded above are not always seen, but during the first part of May, an observer could always spot the following vegetation.
Chocolate Daisy's ray flowers curl up after noon, but in the warm mornings, their rich scent makes a trail walker want to eat a chocolate bar!
Sleepy daisy keeps its ray flowers closed until 10 a.m. on sunny days. Before the flowers bloom, the buds "hang their heads."
Each sleepy daisy plant is 6-10 inches across and up to a foot tall.
Delphinium (also known as larkspur) seems to grow in clumps. American Indians knew of its potent medical power.
It is always worth taking a closer look at a wildflower - notice the hairy upper part of the flower's mouth.
When examined even closer, an observer can notice the individual stamens of each flower. Why is one of the stamens tipped in white, unlike all the rest? Is it the only one that still has pollen? Or is it the very top of the style?
This wildflower, known as Rabbit Tobacco, is actually a daisy without ray flowers. Local Hispanic visitors to the nature center have told the staff that as kids the flower heads were chewed like chewing gum.
Blue Curls prefers disturbed soil - always germinating on the barest ground. Maybe some day a jewelry maker can somehow duplicate their delicate beauty!
A showy plant such as this Indian Blanket, (or Firewheel or Gaillardia) will often have many common names, and will sometimes even have a folk tale associated with it.
Perennial yellow spiny aster is prolific throughout the southern Llano Estacado, and will bloom every time it receives a rain. It will grow in almost every habitat of the region
Two species of Paper Daisy grow in the region. The ray flowers of this daisy turn white and remain on the flower head, which gives it the common name.
Paper daisy can be 18 inches tall and 12 inches across in the rainiest of years.
Thelesperma (Golden Wave) will often carpet a field in May. Golden fields in March are bladderpod, and in April there are golden fields of Huisache Daisy. In wet years the pastures of West Texas are golden for three months!
Tansy aster usually grows singly, but once in a while a swathe of a pasture will be lavender with their blossoms.
Groundsel is poisonous to cows, but is a showy perennial flower.
Groundsel will often be 24-30 inches tall and over two feet across a backdrop of last year's golden grass stems.
In a slight depression some Huisache Daisy remained in bloom. The pink and white blossoms of Kisses (Gaura) delicately dance in the morning breezes before they fold up in the heat of the day.
In the same depression not far away, wild onion and some late blooming filaree reminded a passerby of April's show. Both species normally are gone by May.
Old Plainsman grows 2-3 feet tall. It is another daisy without ray flowers.
Perennial Copper Mallow begins to bloom in April. Its brillant blossoms are eye-catching when they are completely open and the plant is in full bloom. In May, it has fewer blooms as it sets seed. This photograph was taken at sundown, after the blossom had closed up.
Copper Mallow is rhizomatous and will often form patches several feet across. It is easily transplanted in March if a person can recognized its gray-green and deeply incised leaves.
Fendler's Penstemon begins to bloom in mid-April and will continue into mid-May. Note the ground squirrel hole behind the blossom.
Yucca begins to send up its bloom stalks in mid-May. They are edible, tasting like broccoli. Livestock and deer love to eat them, too.
Lotebush fruit begins to swell in late April. After the birds eat the berries, the shrub will bloom in May, but their fruit will not set for 11 months, until the next spring.
When mesquite has leafed out, its chartreuse color is delightful. As the summer heat begins to blast, the leaves will fade to a blue-green.
A number of grasses will begin to bloom in late April and May. Windmill grass likes disturbed soils.
Rescue grass is not native, but was planted in the region for winter grazing for livestock. It has made itself at home and in wetter springs can be very common. The shape of its seeds influences people to call it rye grass, but it is not.
Burro grass is uncommon at Sibley. Its long awns (the hairs of the seeds) are first pinkish, and then turns white. It is much more common in shallow gravelly soils.
3-awn grass, also known as spear grass for its habit of sticking into socks, is another species of grass that the awns will begin pink and fade to white. Huisache daisy and gaillardia are also seen.
A big patch of sleepy daisy is set among last year's sand dropseed seed stalks, along with penstemon, huisache daisy, and this year's windmill grass.
The tiny spikes on the upper right of this picture is plantain, also known as tallow weed. Ranchers love the plant, for it does make cattle fat. Unfortunately, plantain is wind pollinated, making it one of the few species of wildflowers that actually cause hay fever. Gaillardia and huisache daisy are much more obvious. Wildflowers that are pollinated by insects do not cause hay fever, but are blamed for it by folks.
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