Monday, May 4, 2015

Butterflies along Big Bend's Lost Mine Trail

The trail is listed as "intermediate" and should be a three-hour roundtrip. It took us 4.5 hours.
Going up the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend in the crisp morning air in April, we didn't see many butterflies.

But coming down around lunchtime, they were active. A big orange butterfly buzzed us a couple of times, but I wasn't able to identify it.

Common Streaky-Skipper or Scarce Streaky-Skipper? Only a specialist can be sure.
Dainty sulphur
Reakirt's Blue is on the West Texas butterfly checklist. Could this be one?
Something took a bite out of the back of this Gray Hairstreak.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Beautiful butterfly atop Enchanted Rock

I had doubts about making it to the top of Enchanted Rock. But once I mastered the zigzag ascent, it got easier.

It's only about 425 feet up.

At the top are small vernal pools, soil islands that are endangered. See the black butterfly just in front of the vegetation?

It was a black swallowtail, recently deceased. So perfect, yet so dead.
At the bottom of the trail, a snake watched us cross the walkway back to the parking lot. It was very much alive.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Earless lizards patrol Big Bend trails

Compared to the anoles we see around Slap Out Gully, these Greater Earless lizards of Big Bend look fat and fancy.

Walking along the trail to Closed Canyon, the lizards would tease us by catching our attention then running about 25 feet away to see if we would follow.

It is breeding season for the Greater Earless Lizards. The females bury eggs March though August, and then leave the eggs. When the babies hatch, they are on their own.

The lizards, which are around 7 inches long, have a lifespan of about two years if they are lucky.

To regulate their body temperature, the lizards burrow under the sand. But sand can't clog their ears because they don't have external openings. Good planning, evolution.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sunrise at Terlingua ghost town cemetery

The Terlingua Cemetery was established in 1902 in what is now called Terlingua Ghost Town, located between Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park.

Federico Villalba, a pioneer who settled in the area, is buried here.

Many of the falling crosses and piles of rocks are the graves of miners who were working the cinnabar/mercury mines 1890-1930. A flu epidemic in 1918 also helped fill the small cemetery.
A marker for Kathleen Grace Barnett, March 3, 1993-Feb. 16, 1997
Some of the rusty nails spelling out the name and words are missing.
The site is still used by local residents for burials. And in November there is Day of the Dead ceremony. During the same week the famous annual chili cook-off is held.
A neighborhood dog trots through the cemetery to check out visitors.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Monahans Sandhills: A good place to disappear

Footprints lead from the parking lot over the dune.

On this April Friday it seemed like  Monahans Sandhills State Park was deserted.

There were a few cars in the parking lot and tracks in the sand, but where were the people?

They were in the hills where there was plenty of room to spread out. 

The temperature was in the upper 70s. However with no shade in the bright sand, it can feel a lot hotter. Take water.

The two girls atop the hill in the background were sliding down the dunes. Guests can rent disks for sand surfing.

At the visitor center there are plants and a water feature that attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Endangered Attwater's prairie chickens' crazy mating dances


Attwater's Prairie Chickens are in breeding mode at the NASA facility maintained by the Houston Zoo to save the coastal bird.

We were on a tour to see the endangered birds, and they didn't disappoint.

The males are booming and showing off for the females. When anyone approaches a pen, the males come to the front to protect their females.

Booming is the sound the birds make when they inflate their yellow air sacs.

The zookeeper said the males' eye hoods get brighter during mating season.

A single-minded Attwater's prairie chicken performs its mating dance.
I didn't get a good pic of the shy females. They like to stay at the back of the pens when strangers are around.

With the loss of coastal prairie, the population of Attwater's Prairie Chickens dropped. Approximately 100 are now in the wild.

At one time about a million of the birds were spread across 6 million acres along the coastal bend, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

The zoo's breeding program raises Attwater's Prairie Chickens to join the wild populations. 

Progress has been slow. Re-population efforts have had to deal with with hurricanes, drought and fire ants, which can wipe out the birds' food sources.
This bird shaking its tail feathers is part of the grouse family.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Watchful killdeer works to protect its nest

The Killdeer trick of pretending to be injured to lead predators away from a nest almost worked.

Then I looked around for a nest.

The broken-wing distraction.
Four small eggs that look very vulnerable.
When I sat on a bench, the killdeer returned to settle on the eggs.
When I got up to leave, the bird watched to make sure I walked the opposite direction.