Four friends who support the Friends of the High Plains Refuge Complex met at the Buffalo Lake Refuge south of Umbarger, Texas on the first day of July this year. Thankfully, it was not overbearingly hot as some recent days in this region where temperatures have topped over 100+.
Willa and Daria had never seen this refuge before. They immediately fell head over heels in love with it. I’ve been to it a few times and we were meeting Bernice who used to go here when it was a recreational lake before becoming a refuge. The Buffalo Lake Refuge was established in 1959 encompassing 7,667 acres. It has short grass prairie, riparian, marsh, and woodland habitats. The refuge is a jewel of the High Plains Refuge Complex due to its unique beauty among the flatlands of the Llano Estacado.
Let me take you along on our day at the refuge.
As soon as we turned off the main road to enter the refuge we called out for Willa to slam on the brakes. Our first wildlife encounter was an ornate box turtle sitting in the road. After photos were taken of him I transported him safely across the road. According to Bernice, she’d already saved one when she arrived earlier that morning. This refuge has unique signs posted that say “Don’t Tread on Me. I’m protected too” with graphics of either turtles, snakes, and tarantulas.
Driving along slowly we were plant spotting and calling out names of plants. Then I saw my most favorite plant, Echinacea or Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). The first time I saw this plant was on the LIT Ranch north of Vega. It’s unique in its beauty of pinkish lavender ray petals and its large domed spiky centers.
Then our sights were turned to other wildflowers along the driving path from bush morning glory to other native plants growing this time of year.
We finally caught up to Bernice who was waiting for us at the refuge campground area. She offered to drive us to see the rest of the refuge. We first landed at the Environmental Pavilion where we talked about holding a seed collecting workshop this coming September. We saw two bullsnake sheds, a lone deer, along with a variety of wildflowers from Engelmann daisy to cota. Here we gathered some seeds for the forthcoming workshop.
Taking off for the driving loop we stopped at a yucca that was covered in snails. It was a first for all of us seeing these snails attached to this lone yucca. They were not moving, just holding on with all their might to the yucca blades. The snails were later identified as Whitewashed rabdotus.
Then the treasure trove appeared down the road. Willa spotted a large patch of yellow flowers that turned out to be Dwarf dalea. Then we’re treated to seeing mating praying mantises and tarantula wasp, along with a variety of butterflies. Daria spotted a new species of milkweed to me, Engelmann’s milkweed (Asclepias engelmanniana). It’s so elegant in its beauty with slender leaves.
As we continued driving down through the refuge Bernice spotted a mule deer doe resting under a tree near the road. When I saw the deer I first noticed how big its ears were. You don’t realize how enormous their ears are until you get a good perspective on them up against leaves and branches.
We stopped at the far overlook at a pond at the end of the driving tour, where unfortunately it was bone dry. Among the cottonwood trees, Western kingbirds greeted us with their sharp kips and we spotted a lone Bullock’s oriole. Off in the distance were two white-tailed deer. The cottonwoods reverberated their song through their leaves with the passing breeze as we talked, observed nature and took photographs.
We bid farewell to Bernice as she headed out. Daria and I sat under an elm tree for lunch because the concrete picnic tables were way too hot to sit at. It was a peaceful interlude with the continued winds.
Upon leaving the refuge we all agreed that we must come back soon!
On our way home, we noticed the lone white horse we’d seen going into Nazareth, Texas. It had appeared to have not moved since we passed him that morning. It was still standing the same corner of the property’s western gate by the road. Of course, we stopped to photograph dodder and sand lilies south of Springlake, Texas.
As Daria said, “People just don’t know what they’re missing.” I totally agree 100 percent with her, because I’ve said it myself many times. You don’t know what you’re missing by not being out in nature. I will admit I haven’t been out in nature enough this year and that is gradually being rectified. There is a silent comrade being out with like-minded wildlife nerds exploring and witnessing nature. Beauty is all around you in the outdoors – you just have to pay attention with your eyes and ears.
In parting – Daria’s advice and mine: Get out and explore nature. Ignore the possibility of the fear of running into snakes, by always watch where you step. Respect all forms of wildlife from the insects, to the flowers, to the mammals, to the birds, to the reptiles so other visitors can enjoy them. Most importantly just enjoy being outside. It’s a gift.