Conditions: Drought conditions continue with the last moisture recorded from snow (.01") yesterday. Normal Winter temperatures have returned with lows in the teens and 20's and highs in the mid 40's. Personal water supply is recommended for visits exceeding 1 hour.
Observations: Reptiles - No sightings reported. Birds - sightings include House Finch, Bobwhite Quail, Eurasian Collard-Dove and Western Meadowlark at the feeders with Sea Gulls, Kestrel Falcons and Canada Geese overhead. Mammals - Desert Mule Deer still visit daily, fresh Raccoon scat seen near the windmill. Plants - some woody plants appear to be forming leaf buds. Insects - a cluster of 7 black blister beetles (possibly Meloidae) were spotted on the Upper Bluff Trail.
A rare first sighting of the season were two Sea Gulls flying overhead. Gulls are uncommon in the Texas Panhandle but can be found most of the year as close as the Salt Plains Lake just north of Jet, OK or northwest of Enid. Kestrel Falcons have been reported not only at Wildcat Bluff but sitting on power lines along Plains Blvd, in Amarillo thanks to Cyn Kerbs. (Your sighting reports are welcomed too!)
Two more exciting findings were a set of Desert Mule Deer antlers which were bleached from the sun. The bucks which visit near headquarters each day have not lost their antlers yet but I anticipate that to happen sometime within the next few weeks. It is interesting to note that the antlers on one side have only three points. One of the visiting bucks also has three points on the one side and four on the other.
A cluster of seven black beetles was spotted along the Upper Bluff Trail. John Karges, who is one of our contacts on our Wildcat Bluff Facebook account, has tentatively identified these arthropods as a type of ground dwelling blister beetle in the Meloidae family. The closest species match I found was the Black Meloe - Meloe niger or it may even be the Oil Beetle - Meloe impressus. I have since made a note to myself to be better prepared to gather sample specimens on these observation outings and take greater care to photograph them for our new species identification pages on this site.
Lichens are easy to find on rocky outcroppings but not quite as easy to identify. Care to try your hand at it?
Another thing you can easily spot along the Bluff Trail are lichens which grow right on the soil. I suspect the dark crust to the right may be colonies of microbes such as those found at the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. These dark crusty patches are common on the Upper Bluff and you should stay on the trail in that area in order to not disturb them. Please share any info you have about these organisms.
The latest addition to my collection of Praying Mantis ootheca or egg cases. This one on the underside of a rocky ledge shows small holes such as the ones in my last observation report. These cases hatched out during the third week of March last year on a warm day. I will continue to keep an aye on them. You may have some located on the south side of you homes or fences. Keep an eye on them and let us know when the young ones emerge!
We will have some observation report forms printed up soon and I will be sure to create a PDF file on this site so you can print up your own forms you can submit to us. We would like to gather as much observation data as we can throughout the year not only at Wildcat Bluff but throughout our region as well in both rural and urban locations.
We also plan to participate in national efforts to collect data such as the Snake Count 2012 organized by The Center for Snake Conservation which begins May 12. If you know of any other national, regional or local efforts to collect observation data please let me know and I will pass the word along!