Habitats of the Llano Estacado
Photoessay – Tahoka Lake - July 6, 2009
Tahoka Lake is a large salina (salt lake) set deep into the Llano Estacado. The bottom of the salina is over a hundred feet below the surrounding plains. Cliffs of limestone, alkali seeps, draws with springs, sandy ridges, and freshwater pools create an amazing diversity to the location. Mrs. Clyde May, the owner of the western side of the lake is working to preserve the location as a non-profit education facility that educates folks on the history and ecology of the salinas of the Llano Estacado. Dr. Eileen Johnson, of the Lubbock Lake Landmark archaeological site, led an archaeological field school there to examine a pastores camp and stone fence, as well as to survey the site of American Indian use. Several researchers have studied the use of the salinas by shorebirds and other birds during visits to the lake.
Debi Cates and Donna Chafin were asked to photograph the site for a year by the Sibley Nature Center staff. Debi was only able to do it for a few months, but Donna continued contributing through the growing season and beyond.
The following photos were taken by Donna Chafin.
Related 2009 photoessays: Feb 7 | Feb 21 | Feb 28 | Mar 7-8 | May 1 | May 12-13 | Jun 17 | Jul 16-Aug 4
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On June 29th, heavy rains fell and filled up the headwaters of Mammoth Draw.
The rainwater covered the road into the Tahoka Lake Pasture ranch.
Swainson’s hawks nested near the road. The young one was fuzzy when first noticed.
The adult tended the nest non-stop, for its mate fed both it and the young one.
A lady bug crawled around on a lazy daisy (Xanthisma) just beginning to open.
The adult hawk was not happy with Donna’s presence.
A tiny red bug crawled on a lazy daisy that had opened.
Sunrise revealed water in the salina again, after it had become totally dry.
Sandsage indicates sandy soil, but hackberry and mesquite indicate the sand has not been active for a long time. Basketflowers grew well in the sand, too.
The ridge with the small caves is near the south end of the property.
A very tattered queen butterfly hung on a basket flower.
A painted lady found the basketflower nectar tasty, too.
Paper daisy is a common short lived perennial, and can cause some toxic effects in cattle.
A species of buckwheat is found on the gravel slopes on the ranch.
The buckwheat blooms are small and pale.
The water in the lake is probably only an inch or two deep.
The upper hills are usually “tawny” in the summer, as the pasture grass cures.
This ancient mesquite was probably present when the Comanches camped at the lake.
The basket flowers were rejuvenated by the rain.
A beetle explored a basketflower.
Donna finds an unusual perspective that reveal additional information about the basketflower.
The disc flowers of chocolate daisy have a yellow style.
Box turtles became more active with the rains.
A bee investigated another basketflower.
Something had eaten the rayflowers of an Indian blanket past its prime.
A mockingbird carried a spider back to its nest.
What is this long antennaed moth with such a striking pattern? The west Texas name for such moths is “miller” (probably because the wing scales come off like dust formed when grain is milled).
The Swainson’s hawked swooped overhead.
What is the butterfly on this trompillo, and what formed the gall on its leaf?
Several species of this genus of leaf-sucking bug can be found in the region.
Two damselflies hung out at the freshwater pond.
Horseflies emerge in July, and can be horrible pests if the wind is not blowing.
A very red species of paper wasp came to get a drink at the freshwater pond.
White loco (Sophora nuttallinus) is rhizomatous so it forms patches, but it the species is uncommon, and unnoticeable when not blooming.
A gray damselfly rested a minute.
A spiny yellow aster displayed a double disk on top of the other disk flowers, and this also revealed the pappus (the hair under each individual bloom).
Another bloom, on the same plant, had almost no disk flowers, but it appeared the pappus might have grown out of one of the ray flowers. This is natural mutation, for no herbicides are used on the ranch.
A killdeer performed its broken wing act to lean Donna away from its nest or young.
Calylophus tubicula glowed in early morning fog.
It began to rain, which made the Swainson’s hawk very unhappy.
A kingbird decided to hassle the wet hawk.
The young hawk looked a bit bedraggled in the rain.
The parent kept a careful eye on its young, sitting nearby for long periods.
Avocets fussed at a small pool formed by the roadbed.
After losing the argument, one strode away.
The hawks remained in their tree, while Donna switched her attention to the avocets.
The avocet leaned over and peered closely at the water.
Is it catching aquatic bugs?
Water drips from its bill, after it has struck at something under water.
And just what did it catch – is that a beetle, or a tadpole?
Sometimes their head up past their heads go under water.
What in the world did he catch this time?
Why do avocets need an upturned bill?
Is he feeding when he opens his mouth and drags it through the water?
Pectis blooms are only a quarter inch across.
A green bee visited a blackfoot daisy.
Tiny sand grains were caught in the hair on this vervain.
Two leafed senna has yellow blossoms that turn into pods, which split and toss their seeds.
Big pad prickly pear is rare on the ranch. What caused this hole in one of the pads?
Why did one petal of this vervain remain folded over?
A grasshopper rested on the edge of a corypantha cactus blossom, pollen rimming its mouth.
This is an old clump of corypantha – it rarely will make a mound this large.
Mesquite beans turn red in July on the ranch.
An adult and young morning dove huddled together on the cool wet morning.
Donna found a bunch of boards covered with grasshoppers, like this one with orange highlights,
And this one...a green conehead, probably a Mermiria of some species.
And then a roundheaded green grasshopper,
And a tan one,
And a brown one.
Hundreds were on the boards in the late evening sun. Why? They were all nymphs. Why was there so many species together?
Three grasshoppers vied for the top of one of the boards.
Another Mermiria had a more obvious brown stripe down its back.
It was like all of the grasshoppers were waiting for marching orders!
A redwinged blackbird lit on a cow pie in a carpet of buffalo grass showing of the male blooms.\
Tarantula males seek mates after rain, and when bothered they rear up, presenting their chelicerae (fangs) to their foe.
When Donna moved to the side, it did not turn and face her, as it was probably unaware she had moved.
A red winged blackbird flashed its epaulets as it performed a short song flight.
It also sang and showed off its epaulets while sitting on a fence post.
Only a few Torrey yucca are found on the ranch. They are a relic from the Altithermal, a 2500 year drought that began 6000 years ago.
Spectacle pod bloomed in July, instead of March and April, as it normally does, because of the summer rains.
This male tarantula had recently come out of the ground, for it still had sand on its back.
A katydid perched on a shinoak in the sandy slopes above Mammoth Draw.
Cryptantha jamesii normally blooms in April in sandy soil, but it too reacted to the rains.
The katydid chewed on the shinoak leaves, undeterred by the tannins.
A horny toad dozed on old pavement.
This is the same hackberry grove in the first photo, two weeks later, the buffalo grass lush and green.
Bees worked over a sunflower nearby.
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