16 de septiembre de 2019

Hershey Ranch - Our First Rattlesnakes at the Ranch!

First, let me just say, Erin and I both wish we saw more snakes out at the Ranch. In the three or so years that we've worked here, we've only found a couple of species including:

  • Checkered Garter Snake
  • Plain-bellied Water Snake
  • Diamondback Water Snake
  • Texas Patch-nosed Snake
  • Western Ribbon Snake

As we prepared for another work weekend out at the ranch, we began to think about some snakes that we should have seen. Our list included Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Western Coachwhip, and Western Groundsnake. So, we were thrilled when we came across not one but two juvenile diamondbacks! I think Andy and Nona were a little less excited but shared our enthusiasm for documenting and enjoying more of the biodiversity of Hershey Ranch.

We later found a young Western Coachwhip but, unfortunately, it had been hit by a car on the ranch road. Maybe even by me earlier while Erin and I were finishing setting up feeders on the ranch.

Around the lake, we continued to see Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Great Egrets, and a Green Heron. I was also able to snap a photo of a Mourning Dove, a young Northern Cardinal, and a Black Vulture.

Erin and I could hear an Armadillo rustling around the outside as we were winding down for the night.

The next morning, we took a ride around on the ranch and I spent a bit of time at one of the quiet tanks on the southern end of the ranch. I noted the Button Bush growing moderately dense along the dam and a single sprig of Switchgrass along the inlet tributary. Adding to the weekend herp list, I added Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, Rio Grande Leopard Frog, and Red-eared Slider. We later saw one of the abundant fawns standing tranquilly at the edge of another tank.

There were dozens of each species of frog. Likely due to the drying conditions throughout the region and these ponds representing the limited amount of surface water available for moisture sensitive frogs and an attractant for their prey insect prey.

The turtles were fun to watch. They seemed to graze slowly within the algae-filled shallows, carapaces breached like lumbering manatees grazing on sea grass.

We spent the remainder of the day checking on feeders and catching up on reading/writing before taking one last tour around the lake to look for dragonflies. I added four new species to my personal list (recall that I’m just starting out) before calling it a day and heading home : Common Green Darner, Black Saddlebags, Red Saddlebags, and Eastern Pondhawk.

Ingresado el 16 de septiembre de 2019 por romeyswanson romeyswanson | 23 observaciones | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

03 de septiembre de 2019

Hershey Ranch - Labor Day 2019

Erin and I spent part of the Labor Day Weekend working out at the ranch to wrap up deer surveys, advance some reading and writing projects, and to just plain relax. While out there, I decided it was long past due to create a dedicated Hershey Ranch location on iNaturalist and to also do a better job of documenting the plant and wildlife that occur there. I was happy to see that the location shape for the ranch automatically grabbed some of my previous observations and synced them to the Hershey Ranch list. With only a dozen or so observations, there is a lot of room for improvement.

My inspiration to take a stab at this comes from my friend @mikaelb who has done some great stuff using this platform as a means of modern day naturalist journaling.

My first observation over the weekend came from a Nutria seen hanging out on the side of one of the ponds. Even at 200 plus yards, it didn't like me spying on it and reluctantly entered the water. These exotic invasive aquatic rodents are seen regularly on the ranch, primarily in the large soil conservation lake. Our management paradigm is remove as many exotic species and promote natives as best as possible. However, we haven't paid much attention to the nutria since our management objectives largely emphasize range restoration and health - combined with extremely limited capacity. Until we get an indication that there presence is interfering with a ranch management objective - either ours or a neighbors - they'll likely remain.

Erin and I took a quick cruise around the ranch before dark. Not much was moving but we did see this hatchling Texas Spiny Lizard.

My friend and deer survey member Lee joined us at dark. As we caught up outside the Little House we were serenaded by a pair of Eastern Screech-owls - possibly the first I've observed at the ranch (I'll need to check on that). I'm not sure if it was aggression or coincidence but one of the owls dove out of the canopy and within a foot or so of my head on its way to a tree just behind me. It was a cool experience and I was happy it didn't take off with my hat! Before we left, we documented two additional critters: Coast Toad and Blackberry Looper Moth

The deer survey was consistent with the previous iterations from August. We counted nearly 90 deer along our 6+ mile spotlight route. These results are encouraging and, coupled with the previous surveys, suggest an improving trend in buck to doe ratios and increasing fawn production/survivability at Hershey Ranch.

During the survey we saw a number of non-target wildlife including Armadillos, Grey Fox, Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Raccoons, bats, a roosting Red-tailed Hawk, and two Great Horned Owls.

Late the next morning Erin and I took another tour around the ranch and added a few bird observations.

We also noted a wonderful stand of Big Bluestem growing along a stretch of gentle ravine. This is the first I have observed at Hershey Ranch during 5 plus years. My gut tells me that it is likely in response to a combination of a recent prescribed burn, complete rest from grazing, and a wet spring. I hope to see more of this grass in the future.

During our tour, Erin and stopped at another gentle ravine that was wet and abuzz with flying insects. I've recently taken to studying dragonflies - I'm a complete noob at this point - so with zoom camera in tow, I got to work documenting all I saw at this point. I'm seriously enjoying the color and diversity of these creatures! Each of these is technically a lifer - yes, that's how noob I am. I was especially excited about the Roseate Skimmer since seeing a photo in my dragonfly ID book. The Twelve-spotted Skimmer was what originally caught my eye with its impressive pattern and large size.

Overall - a wonderful weekend and great way to re-charge the batteries while getting little work and play done.

Ingresado el 03 de septiembre de 2019 por romeyswanson romeyswanson | 13 observaciones | 3 comentarios | Deja un comentario

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