Nature Trail Tour - October, 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 | May, 2007 | June, 2007 | July, 2007 | August, 2007 | September, 2007]
After 20 inches of rain during the year, during late September and early October of 2007 no rain fell. October is a month that sees plant growth slowing and the evidence of the rigors of the growing year becoming evident with tattered and eaten leaves. October can be colorful, however, with fall vegetation bringing unique color combinations.
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One of the ant species enjoying the gift of the yucca seeds were a species of red harvester ants - slender bodied ants that often carry their abdomen arched into the air. Their nests are often shaped like lopsided volcanic cones. This species is unusual in the mesquite brushland habitat in Midland County and the colonies never seem to last long. The harvester ants with chunkier bodies seem to outcompete this more slender and delicate species.
An old road through the pasture has lots of open ground. In places the wind has swept the hardpan soil clean of loose sand, and in other places, the sand collects and allows an observer to study the tracks of the animals that live at the Sibley Nature Center.
On the hardpan soil, it appears that a quail was able to leave a track - did he leave it as he began to fly? What would have caused such force to be exerted by the quail to be able to leave a track in the hard soil?
On the left is another lizard track, but the squiggly line is the center might be a small snake's track, but why does it just appear for a short distance. Did the quail come after the snake and obscure the snake's track?
A small (less than a foot) long nose snake was brought to Sibley later that morning. It is an unusual color form, without much of the red coloring that often makes the snake appear to be similar to coral snake.
Desert holly usually grows under mesquite. This one, out in the open, revealed the green leaves of this year's growth, the orange leaves of last year's growth, and the white leaf of growth from two years before. The plant bloomed later that day, as evidenced by the bud. It is always a surprise to find the species in bloom - and the bloom only lasts a few hours before turning into a puffball of white seeds.
The gray espantes vaqueros or ghost cowboys is annual that often covers open ground. When it is in bloom, it is one of the sweetest smells of the Llano Estacado. The yellow blooms of broomweed and the red berries of tasajillo round out a beautiful fall color combination that is unique to the region.
In the foreground is Kochia americana, a nondescript perennial "weed" that proliferated in West Texas in 2007. This young plant was the first that had appeared along the trails at Sibley in over 10 years. It was over 200 yards from where it had grown in past years.
The trails at Sibley have numbered stations. At the Lote station #15, many pits were present - but they were not antlion pits. It could have been the work of mice digging up some sort of seed or bulb, or it possibly could have been "bird dustbaths" but the pits seemed too small and steep sided to be the dustbaths.
On the east end of the pond a nice patch of sand dropseed lines the trail. A giant cottonwood grows beyond a small patch of mesquite. Beyond the trail are young Siberian elms that germinated from seeds blown from the other end of the pond, and on the right side of the trail is a hackberry planted by birds years ago.
The trail on the dam has juniper planted along the fence on the north side, but the south side of the dam has kochia, tumbleweed, blue panic grass and other taller vegetation. A cottonwood at the edge of the pond had already lost many of its leaves, and the remaining leaves were brownish. Why had it begun the changes of fall, while the other cottonwood at the east end had not? Siberian elms remained green.
Beyond the 7 foot tall giant sacaton grass, the float dock can be seen in the water, and beyond the cattails the photographer's blind is partially visible. The grove of Siberian Elms and Burr Oak beyond are still green.
In the kochia and tumbleweed one duckweed plant grew. In playas with constantly changing levels of water, duckweed can be plentiful (and even survive in standing water). Its name indicates its supreme value as waterfowl food.
Upon closer observation, a person can see that the leaves of the duckweed have small circles cut out - the work of leafcutter bees that use the discs of plant material to separate their eggs and pollen in their solitary underground nest holes.
The seeds of the cattails begin loosening in late September and for the next month continually release the seeds into the wind. Sometimes the surrounding vegetation will be covered with the seed hairs, but sometimes the seeds fly for many miles.
Windmill grass is an easily recognized grass. This shortlived perennial is often found where the ground has been disturbed within the last year, so it is a "first stage succession" plant that will cover the ground with a little bit of rain.
Under many mesquites bristlegrass can be found. It is a favorite of wintering sparrows, and on this morning's walk, the photographer found over 30 white-crowned sparrows - but the sparrows were very wary and did not allow their photogaph to be taken.