When a playa fills, wildlife magically appears
Playa lakes, such as Consavvy Lake in Midland County, often remain dry for decades. Consavvy Lake had last filled in the 1987 but the rainy spring of 2007 filled it up again. Wildlife found the new lake almost immediately. Toads emerged from the ground within two weeks baby toadlets were hopping by the hundreds of thousands away from the lake. Coots, killdeer, and blacknecked stilts also found the lake, as did great-tailed grackles and red-winged blackbirds. The first three mentioned above soon began nesting at the playa.
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When Consavvy Lake filled in the 1980s the county had to build up the road so people could travel down it. In 2007, the lake filled up even higher than before, and blocked the road. Blue-winged teal investigated the lake while the water was still over the road. (It took almost a month for the water to recede enough to reveal the road again.)
The barditch along the road filled with filamentous green algae, but beyond the fence line, open water beckoned. The salt cedar survived the inundation, but the seepwillow baccharis did not (the brown-red bushes.) This photograph was taken two weeks after inundation, and the dried green algae (now turned white) shows that it grew into the pasture at first. It hangs from dead weed stalks in the pasture.
A coot floated in the channels between the salt cedar. The salt cedar first appeared in Consavvy Lake after the floods of the 1980s. Before then, the playa was filled with alkali sacaton, a grass that can grow in alkali soils. Where ever water collects in West Texas (and then evaporates) the soil will become more and more salty (alkali.)
It soon sat down. Killdeer scrape a small depression in gravel for a nest. The photographer elected to not investigate, but to continue watching the birds to see how they behaved. Baby killdeer can run within minutes of being born - so she had to be sitting on eggs.
The other killdeer ran across the road and came near the photographer's vehicle. When animals are disturbed they often perform "displacement" behavior - "pretending" to be doing something while they are actually watching the new perceived threat intently. This killdeer pecked at the ground, as if catching a tiger beetle or some other tender morsel of food.
It abruptly began flicking its wings. A number of birds will quickly flick their wings to chase smaller animals and other birds away - but to flick its wings at a vehicle parked on a road seemed a little ineffectual.
It crouched down, spreading its wings, and then pressing its wings to the ground. This might have been a "hurt wing" display, which many birds do to draw a predator away from a nest. The predator comes close, believing it will have an easy meal, but then the bird flies away.
After the arched wing display, the stilt suddenly stood and flew away about 50 feet, where it lit in the water and began "foraging" again. The photographer decided that the birds had been disturbed for long enough, and drove away. The location of the stilt's nest was not determined, despite over 20 minutes of observation.
Whitefaced Ibis reappeared in Midland County in the rainy 2007 season. They are wading birds that feed on aquatic invertebrates and some plant material. When the photographer first spotted them, they spotted the photographer and watched to see if they should fly.
Far upstream on Monahans Draw, the Odessa sewage facility runs water a little ways down the draw. Ranchers along the draw have stocked black bullhead catfish for family fishing, but when the rains came, the "fry" were washed along the draw all the way to Consavvy Lake. These fish will die within a week, for they were left gasping for air as the water began to dry up in a backwater of the draw.