Outreach, research, and getting reacquainted (and Quiz answers)

Well, participation was down on the quiz but respondents were on the mark.  The eye was a Couch’s spadefoot and the sound is that of a very large bull bison as he patrolled around a group of cows, calves, and other males.   The bison at Caprock Canyon State Park are getting restless as the breeding season approaches. 

caprock canyons

caprock canyons 2

We made our way down to Caprock Canyon Friday afternoon and ran into Cassie Cox, a former summer research student of mine who now works for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as an outdoor education specialist in their Texas Outdoor Family Program.  Basically, Cassie and her 2 colleagues host families at different state parks across Texas and provide all the essentials for camping and even support fishing, kayaking, Dutch oven cooking and of course, lots of great outdoor education. 

After visiting with Cassie for a bit we joined Donald Beard and his family and friends at Clarity Tunnel.  It was nice to meet the others and talk with Donald about our research at the bat colony.  On our way back to the park from the Tunnel we picked up a beautiful Kansas glossy snake.  We held on to the docile critter so the families could get a close look at a good snake to handle.  Later that night we found a common kingsnake and picked it up too.  Unfortunately, we also found a harmless Great Plains rat snake smashed, with its head cut off in the park.  I hope the tough guy that smashed the harmless thing then cut its head off feels tougher for his efforts.  He probably displays proudly the slayed serpent’s head in a Mason jar of alcohol. 

The kingsnake and the glossy snake were big hits at the Saturday morning meeting of Texas Outdoor Family with many people, both old and young, holding snakes for the first time.  We later photographed and released these snakes where we caught them.  Saturday night we met the families and their rangers at Clarity Tunnel to observe the emergence.  Le’Anne, the Park naturalist gave a great introduction to the natural history of Brazilian free-tailed bats and the participants enjoyed looking through our thermal camera and observing the bat my grad student Kyle captured for them.

common kingsnake

Kansas glossy snake

Saturday night we road-cruised (checked roads) for snakes but only captured a checkered garter snake.  We made it back to the tunnel around 1 to start our research on the speed of bats exiting and entering the cave.  Kyle, Andrew and I figured out how to align the paired thermal cameras, then synchronized the start of the cameras.  I was up until about 3:45 when Kyle and Andrew graciously offered to take over camera duty and I slept until about 6.  Once I woke, I put up my cot and sleeping bag (night 11 under the stars – still behind) and got ready to leave.   Melissa pointed behind me when I was getting something out of the cab and much to my surprise, there was a mule deer buck, his antlers in velvet, about 15 feet behind me, cresting the slope of the railroad right-of way.  This caught me totally off guard, deer aren’t feed here, and they are hunted.  But I have seen strange behavior out of bucks in velvet before.  He slowly grazed his way down the tracks in no sort of rush.  I grabbed my camera and walked down the far side of the trail (old rail road track bed) and started to photograph the buck.  He looked up from his grazing on the slope, and walked straight towards me, stopping with his wet nose about 1 foot from my camera lens.  This series of pictures tells the story.   I had a little problem with camera shake as it was still early. 

Another wildlife moment for me!  A great weekend overall of building relationships, outreach, research,  catching up, and learning about a valuable program, Texas Outdoor Family.

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