May 31, 2019

Field work: tornadoes, blackland prairies, and bird fall out Denton, TX.

I spent this week doing field botanical work in Denton county, Texas. I got the full spectrum of field work woes this week - beautiful rare birds, amazing native prairies, blue skies....and tornadoes and traffic and rain and truck field repairs. Fair warning: I do not post my field data to iNaturalist; I only post notable plants (new IDs, wanting to keep the location data, or wanting to make a note of the plant for whatever reference).

I am so lucky to have seen the sites I have been able to see this week. I've surveyed about 150 sites, and the vast majority have been wonderful prairies (blackland prairie, edwards plateau limestone savannas, cross timber savannas...). Watching the ecological changes throughout the landscape happen before my eyes has been a true honor. Because of some severe storms this week, there was sadly a lot of erosion along the creek beds and field edges. But, that gave me the opportunity to visually see how deep and dark and black the blackland prairie soil truly is! Comparing that to the shallow organic matter soil horizons I have seen elsewhere, it is no wonder why the blackland prairies are so productive and diverse.

Thrice this week I had to stop suddenly because something in a passing field caught my eye and I stumbled upon perfect, beautiful, diverse prairie: be it gamagrass, larkspurs, prairie indian plantains, a weird juncus... After 3 years of botanical field work in Texas, I have finally seen Eastern Gamagrass in the wild! How crazy is it that I have yet to catalog it officially? Additionally, there were some amazing blackland prairie sites with larkspurs, endless rolling red fields of blanket flowers.

Less beautiful, but still as exhilarating, I had a run in with a tornado. May I just say, THANK YOU NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE! I got a safety notification on my phone akin to "Tornado confirmed in your area. Find shelter now! Danger: extreme." I was in Pilot Point, TX at 1:50. If you've ever been to Pilot Point, you will know that there aren't too many places to go. So I stayed in my truck and was reading tornado updates, which lead me to find out that the tornado wasn't just spotted nearby - it was 20 miles away, and heading my direction fast! The more I read the more scared I got "....and will be at Pilot Point, TX by 2:10" HOLY SHIT! (This was my first run in with a tornado, FYI). So I booked it and high tailed it as far and fast (legally and safely) as I could with my boyfriend on speaker phone while he had a live map of the tornado asking him: "AT THIS INTERSECTION SHOULD I TAKE A LEFT OR A RIGHT TO AVOID THE TORNADO". When I arrived 25 miles south, safe from the Pilot Point tornado, I got another notification - ANOTHER TORNADO WAS SPOTTED 20 MILES SOUTH OF ME.

It was an emotional day.

I was totally safe, and over reacted, and I even went back to the exact path the tornado took the next day to see the evidence and damage. NOTHING. It was just a big scary cloud that gave me a heart attack.

The sudden tornadoes yesterday created, evidently, a bird fallout! While I am an enthusiastic birder, that sadly wasn't what I was here to do, so all my bird sightings were incidentals, and I do not have a nice enough camera to capture a picture. But I heard a grassland sparrow - a first in Texas for me!! I used to see them all the time when I did field work in Minnesota and Iowa. I also saw many beautiful painted buntings, which is my mom and my favorite bird. Additionally, oddly, I saw a nightjar casually sitting on a fence post. There were many meadowlarks and dickcissels and vultures abound.

Overall, I give 6.7/10 for this field work. It got docked points because of, ya know, tornado danger. But this area of Texas is a wonderful zone where you can see a variety of prairie types, diverse plant communities, and truly see horizon to horizon.

Posted on May 31, 2019 02:05 AM by wendelia wendelia | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment