December 11, 2019

Grassy Banks Campground, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Presidio County, TX (Nov. 26 - 27, 2019)

We came here after our two nights at Chinati Hot Springs, and we only stayed here one night, but it was a nice night. We found out after we got back to Austin that my friend and colleague John Williamson and his wife Rachel Thompson also camped there that night, but we didn't see them there that night.

At sunset we headed west on SH 170 to the Big Hill to try to get a good view of the sunset. This was the "high point" of the trip, because it was the tallest hill we went up and it was here that we met a new friend, Praveen Gunaseelan. Lucia tells the story here:

Engelmann's prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) on the Big Hill.

Posted on December 11, 2019 04:48 by cliftonladd cliftonladd | 8 observations | 4 comments | Leave a comment

December 10, 2019

Ruidosa Hot Springs (dba "Chinati Hot Springs"), Presidio County, TX (November 24 - 26, 2019)

In November 2002, Brenda and I went with some friends to Chinati Hot Springs (the name of the business operating at what is officially known as Ruidosa Hot Springs). On that trip, our friend Bill Corrigan proposed to Lucia Athens, and she said yes. So this November 2019 trip was kind of a return to the source. The source of the hot spring water and the source of Bill & Lucia's now 15-year marriage. May they have many more years!

To make the trip even more enjoyable, we ran into Myron Hess & Gail Rothe, who coincidentally arrived just after us on Sunday the 24th. Then by chance Janine Bergin & Bill Breaux came in on the next day with four of their friends, all from Austin. So we had a big gathering of Austin folks and a good time sharing the communal kitchen, hot springs, and campfire.

View of the Chinati Hot Springs oasis from the hill above.

We only put down a few birds, because we were doing lots of other things besides birding. The few that we saw on the trip and approximate numbers. (Posted on eBird at
White-winged dove - 10
Killdeer - 2 in Hot Springs Creek
Ladder-backed woodpecker - 2
Ruby-crowned kinglet - 2
Canyon wren - 1
Northern mockingbird - 2
Lesser goldfinch - 25
Northern cardinal - 2
Pyrrhuloxia - 1

From here, Bill & Lucia and Brenda & I headed over to Big Bend Ranch State Park and camped in the Grassy Banks campground.

Three favorites: sunburst diving beetle (Thermonectus marmoratus), a short-wing katydid (Dichopetala sp.), and a potter wasp (Eumenes bollii).

(Notes 146: 14-21)

Posted on December 10, 2019 05:29 by cliftonladd cliftonladd | 34 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 28, 2019

Cuatro Ciénegas, Coahuila, México (October 2018)

In October 2018, I made a five-day trip to Cuatro Ciénegas, Coahuila with a big group of biologists, geologists, and archeologists from Austin. Peter Sprouse was the main organizer, and others on the trip were Andy and Leah Gluesenkamp (and their cool kids Jackson and Ruby), Jessica Gordon, Aimee Beveridge, Gabi Casares (friend and co-worker), Sarah Howard, Amy Grossman, and Crystal Datri. I rode down with Terry Sayther and Deborah Stuart, who are expert anthropologists (and the best BMW mechanics in Austin) and their friend Cathy Winfrey. Everything about this trip was enjoyable, including the people who went, the people we met in Cuatro Ciénegas, and everything we saw along the way.

Cuatro Ciénegas is one of the 121 Pueblos Mágicos of México, designated by the government for their cultural and natural charm and beauty. Everybody we met in Cuatro Ciénegas was very friendly and welcoming.

We saw thousands and thousands of butterflies: sulphurs, queens, monarchs, swallowtails, and others. And lots of other insects. Everything was green and lush. They must have had a lot of rain there in the months before we got there. And it rained pretty hard on the Saturday we were there.

The people there were more than friendly. They were also appreciative and protective of the natural beauty of the region. Conservation education was prominent, with signs for everything from a simple "don't throw trash" to big signs across the highway alerting travelers to the butterfly migration in the area.

Swimming with Minckley's cichlids (Herichthys minckleyi) and spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) in Rio Mezquites.

(Notes 143: 32-39)

Posted on August 28, 2019 05:07 by cliftonladd cliftonladd | 59 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 17, 2019

Roaring Springs, Real County, Texas (August 9 - 11, 2019)

Brenda and I had a fantastic time at Roaring Springs the weekend of August 9 - 11, 2019, with our friends Michael Crockett, Luz Stella Loza, Luke Browning, and Arlette Vila. The impetus for the trip was wanting to watch the Perseid meteor shower in a place with dark skies. Roaring Springs definitely has dark skies, but we also had a waxing gibbous moon (about 80% full). We saw a few meteors, and the nights were perfect for sitting out in lawn chairs and just enjoying the night and each other's company. It was a sweet weekend.

Roaring Springs Ranch has a high diversity of tree species, including papershell pinyon (Pinus remota), bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum), Arizona black walnut (Juglans major), pecan (Carya illinoinensis), and several species of oaks.

I searched the spring run of the Premier Spring of Roaring Springs for Valdina Farms salamander (Eurycea troglodytes), but didn't not find them. I'll check again the next time I have a chance.

Brenda enjoying the cool waters of Camp Wood Creek.

(Notes 146: 12-13)

Posted on August 17, 2019 21:31 by cliftonladd cliftonladd | 33 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 16, 2019

SnakeDays 2019 (August 1 - 4, 2019)

I got to drive out to Alpine for SnakeDays this year. Arrived in Marathon late Thursday night, August 1, and stayed with my friends James Evans and Marci Roberts. James and I cruised the road together Friday night and Saturday night and found eight species of snakes.

About halfway down the Black Gap road (FM 2627) on Friday night, we pulled over for a rattlesnake on the road and ended up staring at the sky for about half an hour. These was no moon, and the Milky Way was spectacular!

I was glad to have the time with James, "The Photographer West of the Pecos". How many other photographers travel with a battery-powered softbox light?

My herp list for the weekend:
Texas toad (Anaxyrus speciosus) on US-385 a few miles north of Marathon
Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) at Tom & Susan Curry's in Alpine
Glossy snake (Arizona elegans) on US-90 a few miles east of Marathon
Trans-Pecos ratsnake (Bogertophis subocularis)
Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)
Mohave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)
Prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
Great Plains ratsnake (Pantherophis emoryi)
Sonoran gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer affinis)
Long-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)

Unfortunately, there were lots of road-killed animals (snakes and mammals) down every highway. Also, a utility company was installing a power line between Marathon and Alpine along US Hwy 90. They had dug about 50 holes that were about 6 feet deep for the poles, and left them open, some evidently for days. They were fenced with an orange mesh construction fence, but that's only good enough to maybe keep clumsy people from falling in. I decided to check a few and see if there were any trapped animals. In 10 holes, I found two live southern plains woodrats (Neotoma micropus) and one dead, dried-out kangaroo rat that looked like it had been at the bottom of the hole for several days. I was too late to help the k-rat, but I duct-taped my snake tongs to another stick, and was able to pull out the woodrats. They didn't like being squeezed in the thorax with the tongs, but they looked really happy as they high-tailed it back into the brush!

(Notes 146: 8-11)

Posted on August 16, 2019 23:44 by cliftonladd cliftonladd | 44 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 27, 2019

Houston toad protection after the Bastrop County Complex Fire (February 1, 2012 - June 30, 2012)

The worst wildfire in Texas history started on September 4, 2011, northeast of Bastrop. The fire burned more 34,000 acres and nearly 1,700 homes. Four people died because of the fire. This was the Bastrop County Complex Fire (BCCF). It wasn't controlled until October 10, and was not finally declared extinguished until October 29, 2011.

The BCCF burned through the heart of the Lost Pines of Bastrop County, a relict forest of loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), disjunct from the loblolly pines of the East Texas Pineywoods. The Lost Pines area was also known to be the best remaining habitat and the largest population of the federally-listed endangered Houston toad (Anaxyrus houstonensis). The fire burned through the core of this area, that had been designated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1978 as Critical Habitat.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contracted with several biologists to help implement their disaster response and Houston toad conservation efforts. Because I'm permitted by the USFWS to work with Houston toads, FEMA enlisted me to help from February 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012. My records from this period are from February 2, 2012 through June 30, 2012, with one record from July 27, 2012.

I have never seen so much ash in one place, and I hope I never see it again.

(Notebooks 111-119)

Posted on May 27, 2019 17:57 by cliftonladd cliftonladd | 72 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 25, 2019

Annandale Ranch, May 21 - 23, 2019

Annandale Ranch trip, Uvalde County, Texas, 5/21/19 15:00 to 5/23/19 12:00, with Jo Wilson, Carol Bennett, Liz Wilson Marince, Valarie Bristol, Debbie Volker, Doris Coward, Ann Bishop, Penny Potter, Lee Decker, George Cofer, Bill Cofer, Brenda Ladd, and Clifton Ladd. Areas visited included the main ranch house, Frio River near the main house, Frio Bat Cave, Katherine's yard, walk to airstrip pasture, The Big Woods, and various points between. Estimated distance by car and on foot about 10 miles. See eBird checklist

We went to the Frio Bat Cave at about 7:05 p.m. on 5/21/19, and cave swallows were flying around the cave with about 50 or so in the sky at any given time, but flying in and out of the cave, making it impossible to count the total number of swallows with any accuracy. We think they were all cave swallows. This went on until about 8:40, when all the swallows went in the cave and there was not one flying around. About 3 minutes later, at about 8:43 pm CDT (about an hour or more later than usual) was when we saw the first Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) fly out of the cave. Less than a minute later we had a small stream of bats flying out, then within seconds a big column of bats flying out to the east. We saw one zone-tailed hawk trying to get a bat.

The Frio River was flowing nicely for this time of year. The gage USGS 08195000 Frio Rv at Concan, TX was at about 1200 to 1150 cfs during this time.

On Wednesday night, 5/22/19, about 9:30 pm, Liz and I went to the wetland area at 29.47486, -99.68901 to listen for frogs. We heard cricket frogs (Acris blanchardi), Cope's gray treefrogs (Hyla chrysoscelis) (call was faster, shorter, and higher than H. versicolor), green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea), and Rio Grande leopard frogs (Lithobates berlandieri).

Thank you to George and Bill Cofer!

(Notes 146: 6-7)

Posted on May 25, 2019 21:47 by cliftonladd cliftonladd | 31 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment