Big Bend 2007

Big Bend 2007

Friday, June 29
 I left home at 7 A.M. sharp.  It was 58 degrees, strangely cold. 

It rained most of the way across Missouri.  I stopped at Missouri

Wildflower Nursery south of Jefferson City.  This is the Mecca of prairie

plant lovers, but a frustrating experience because I couldn’t buy

anything.  I got the catalog.  I was supposed to meet Chuck at the first

rest stop west of Springfield at noon.  He got there five minutes before I

did, so we were fairly synchronous.  We motored out on the interstate

until the signs indicated there was a crash and lane reduction ahead, so

we took a detour through the southwest corner until we ran into Oklahoma. 

We made a similar detour around Oklahoma City, otherwise we would have hit

it at rush hour.  The scenery was really nice, even in the rain.  After we

got down into Texas we got back on the interstate again.  It was raining

hard and dark—very difficult driving conditions.  We could see the leading

edge of the storm north of Dallas.  It looked rather menacing.  We got to

our campground at Mineral Wells Lake State Park, west of Fort Worth just

after 10.  To get into the campground via the main entrance, you have to

cross the spillway of the dam.  It was running about an inch of water,

which was interesting, to say the least.  Chuck was hooking up the water

to the trailer when he tried beating a small oak tree with his head. 

People say that oak tree is washed up, but I think it’s got a few good

years left in it.  He got a good scrape on the forehead.  I slept well,

perhaps owing to road weariness, even though it stormed on and off all


Big gopher snake.

Mating walking sticks.

Large neuropteran, maybe an antlion adult.

June 30
The next morning one of our neighboring campers was manipulating something

in the road with a big spatula.  By the time I identified it as a snake,

he flung it into a tree, clearly already dead.  I was irked that the guy

probably killed it, and I didn’t get to see it, much less photograph it. 

The exit across the spillway was closed because the water was too high. 

We went out an alternate route.  It rained on and off that morning, but

the desert was in bloom.  There were fields of flowers.  Just amazing,

compared to the previous years of hot, dry weather and brown landscapes. 

As we traveled west, the clouds thinned and the air warmed.  We stopped at

Monahan Sand Dunes State park in the afternoon.  By then it was hot and

cloudless.  We walked around on the dunes observing and taking pics of

wildlife.  A gopher snake was the first exciting thing.  Many cool insects

followed.  There were lots of flowers in bloom, which was fueling the

insect abundance.  We went from there south to Balmorhea.  The state park

campground was closed, so we stayed at a private campground a short

distance away.  It was only a couple of years old.  It had not many mature

trees yet, but a nice nature trail, where we found lots of tarantula hawks

feeding on a stand of flowers on a ditch bank.  They occupied much of our

evening.  For once, we were not in a park, so we collected some insects. 

We bought beer at the gas station and drank it back at the trailer, where

I write this paragraph now. 

Pepsis, the tarantula hawk.

Wasp-mimicking fly.

Polistes, a paper wasp.

Western kingbird.

July 1
I had a research idea so we took advantage and caught a big mess of

tarantula hawks.  We motored down to Balmorhea State Park and swam in the

huge spring.  There are many small fish and a few catfish in it.  The

water is crystal clear, cool, but unchlorinated.  There was a scuba class

there.  We left after the boy scout troop showed up.  It was probably all

in my mind, but I felt 10 years younger…for awhile.  We motored down to

Alpine and stopped to buy groceries and eat our last prepared meal for

awhile.  It was a gorgeous drive through the Davis mountains.  There were

lots of wildflowers, and the agave and sotol were in bloom.  We got into

the Rio Grande Village campground at 5.  The river was so high they were

flooding some of the areas to irrigate them.  The ditches have always been

dry before.  Jon Hastings showed up after dinner. We took a little walk,

while Jon took his daily run.  We saw dozens of cicadas, and a few

javelina.  We all had a beer afterward.

Blue dragonfly

Pronghorn doe.

Dolomedes, giant water spider.

Tiger beetle

Unidentified flower–a token plant.

July 2, 2007

We started out at the old burn area here near our campground, but there

were no cicada killers there.  We went out to Boquillas canyon, and saw

none there either.  Next was Hot Springs.  Finally, we saw some cicada

killers, the eastern and western species.  Chuck collected several of the

western, which Jon wanted for their DNA.  Everywhere we went were lots of

cicadas.  Sometimes they were loud enough to rival choruses of periodical

cicadas.  Some are infected with a fungus.  We think it affects their

behavior, so we’re doing a study on it.  There were only a few of the

little Bembix wasps, which had been so abundant in previous years.  I had

some ideas to do with them, but they’re not happening.  I wanted to

actually bathe in the hot springs this year, but there was a large family

occupying it by the time I got down there.  Oh, well…


Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus

Dueling butterflies.  Round metalmark and a sulfur.

The Wheel Formation.

Pipevine Swallowtail.

Dasymutilla magnifica, a velvet ant.

Dasymutilla gloriosa, another velvet ant.

July 3
I hiked the nature trail near the campground in the morning.  I was looking

hard for cicada killers and their burrows, but saw none.  I did see a lot

of neat wildlife, though.  We went up to the Chisos Mountains in the

afternoon.  It was cooler, and the lodge had wi-fi.  We all checked our

email.  Jon did a literature search on cicadas and the fungus.  We did

more observations on the cicadas later.

The Bordered Patch.

Big, green buprestid beetle.

Desert snail.  Really.

Colorado checkered whiptail, Cnemidophorus

Summer tanager.

Cute little basket-shaped nest.  Two different eggs.  Cuckoos in the area.  Draw your own conclusion.

Big Polistes nest.  Don’t mess with us!

Two cicadas.  Note pink butt on fungus-infected one on the right.

Vermilion flycatcher, finally.

July 4, 2007

We were trying to boost our sample size for the cicada study, but things

were really slow early on.  I did a load of laundry because I knew we were

leaving later.  The rangers stopped and checked our permit.  They thought

we looked a little too conspicuous walking around with our insect nets. 

But there was almost nobody else there.  They ran wants and warrants, of

course.  None of us was wanted, but my car was not in the system as a

registered vehicle (though I do have current stickers and registration

sheet).  Thanks, Missouri!  In the later morning the cicada activity

really heated up, and we got what I hope were enough observations for a

solid study.  I watched a cicada fly up to a calling male and land nearby.

 As it walked toward the caller, the end of its abdomen fell off,

revealing the pink butt characteristic of the fungal infection.  Weird. 

Then another infected cicada approached the caller, which flew away.  The

two infected ones got together and, uh, attempted something neither was

capable of, their relative parts having been lost.  Their party broke up

fairly quickly. 

We left about 1:30 and headed west through Big Bend Ranch State Park.  It

was a windy, mountainous road along the Rio Grand, but the scenery was

spectacular.  The desert was extremely green and the scattered clouds made

for great landscapes.  We headed northwest through some fairly unpopulated

areas, but again with great scenery.  We ended up staying in Van Horn,

Texas, at the KOA.  It had wi-fi, from which I send this.

  Big Bend Ranch State Park, view occluded by strange primate.

View of Rio Grande.  Mexico on the left, USA on the right.

Floating radar unit.  Big.

Black-necked stilt: we got legs.

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