Nature Trail Tour - November, 2008
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 | October, 2007 | January, 2008 | December, 2007 | March, 2008 | July, 2008 | September, 2008]
In mid-November, Master Naturalist (and private school teacher) Leslie Harman ventured out on the trail during a day she and another person kept the Sibley Nature Center building on a Saturday. Despite a frost doing some damage to the some frost-tender species (such as buffalo gourd,) many plants were still green.
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Tasajillo, when its fruit is turgid and red, is one of the first plants that catch the eye. If a person stops and looks at all of the tasajillo in view, a mockingbird or two or four will become visible, as will a pair of curved-bill thrashers. In fall, the Sibley Pasture has a high population density of the mockers, for town dwelling members of the species come to harvest the bounty.
The coyotes still visit the property of the nature center. Before the south nine holes of the Hogan Park Golf Course were built, the coyotes denned in that rarely visited and "vacant" part of the Golf Course property. Did the coyote make his deposit before or after the human walked by?
A month before, plentiful rains had fallen. As the ground completely dried, some locations with significant clay or organic content cracked apart and separated, giving considerable depth to the landscape (if you are an ant!).
Perezia, also known as desert holly, is another plant that many visitors to the Nature Center notice and are curious about. Its seedhead is a "puff" of white for a few hours (at best) before the wind carries the seeds away.
Lehmann's lovegrass (in the foreground) is an aggressive non-native plant that has changed the plant composition of many West Texas pastures. Yucca crest a small rise, and mesquites on a hillock (a vegetated sanddune) are visible in the background.
Desert willow is a common ornamental plant in town. It is native within 100 miles (to the south). Some seedlings have sprouted and grown near the Sibley Center's parking lot, but it has not spread into the pasture (and probably will not).
High in the cottonwoods at the pond, Ms. Harman spotted an orioles nest surrounded by faded cottonwood leaves. The nest is " pendulous," like a round sack with a narrow neck. Besides grass, string and easter basket "grass" is visible in the nest.
White crowned sparrows patrol the landscape in small flocks, usually numbering less than thirty. The boldest species of sparrow, they pop to the top of the mesquite as someone approaches, and if the observer is still, will come out and feed in the open just a few feet away.
Kochia is another European plant that has become a significant force in the landscape. It was brought to the United States as an ornamental for its bright colors in the fall, but its original wild form (that it reverts back to within a few generations) does not have a pleasing form. The plant is a significant allergen, as well.
Ms. Harman was quick on the draw - photographing birds in flight is difficult. These shovelers had been startled by golfers on the golf course and zoomed away from the golf course pond and over the Sibley pond.
Russian olive has become a significant pest from Fort Sumner, New Mexico all the way into Saskatchewan, Canada. As it readily attracts birds to its blooms and fruits, the species spread rapidly, helped along by the Soil Conservation Service, who sold millions of seedlings of the species for erosion control in windbreaks.
Giant sacaton is a rare plant on the Llano Estacado, but is common in some New Mexico mountain ranges in the juniper/oak (Maderan) forest of the foothills. With plentiful water it becomes a spectacular 8 foot tall (and across) mound.
Look close at the ground when you are walking. In fact, get down on hands and knees...or even on your belly, and see the world from a different perspective. A tiny huisache daisy winter rosette, covered with hairs, had sprouted next to an espantes vaqueros that never grew. A few feet away, another of the gray leafed plants was two feet tall and three feet across.
During the fall the cattails set seed. As the plants slowly turn brown with winter, the seeds keep slowly being released for weeks on end. Once every few years, however, conditions are perfect for a mass release of cattail seeds, and the seeds coat the nearby plants like snow.
Cowpen daisy grows even in most of the driest years, although it may only get six inches tall. (It can be four feet tall in a rainy year.) The seeds are flat wafers with black centers. The seeds are produced by the ray flowers (which are visible to the left.)
Details on the ground abound. The winter rosette has reddish tinges on its leaves, a mud termite tube, a hog potato leaf folded up in response to drought, and a tiny filaree rosette fill this 3 square inch view of the ground.
A bright orange lichen is common on mesquite. The Sibley Nature Center recently received a tremendous guide to lichens, and if a staff member can take a few hours to study the book, we might be able to begin to learn about the native lichens of the Llano Estacado. So far, we have not found any previous research attempting to delineate the diversity of lichens in the region.