Tag Archives: 3RF

Monarchs of 2018

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Monarch butterflies on a hackberry tree.

 

Monarch butterflies are nature’s most gentle beauties. Since 2015 I’ve biologically monitored the main 3RF campus in Foard County, Texas for all kinds of wildlife. I’ve seen monarchs pass through, but only a handful at a time.

This year was quite different. I was checking my camera traps when I came up under a hackberry tree. Immediately, I was swarmed by hundreds of monarchs. This was a first on the campus. Everywhere, I went they were all over the hackberry trees near the water, as well as the bloomed liatris (blazing star), which is a tall purple flower. There were some Queen butterflies mixed in with the monarchs as well.

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Monarchs alighting on liatris.

Hackberry trees seem to be the favorite for the monarchs and other butterflies on the campus. They never alighted on any mesquite trees and hardly on the red-berry juniper trees.

The annual migration of North America’s monarchs is a unique occurrence. They are the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration like birds do. Monarchs are having a harder time at making their yearly migration from the north to Mexico. These little beauties can travel between fifty to a hundred miles a day using air currents and thermals.

Monarch butterflies are a keystone species that once fluttered throughout the United States by the billions. They alighted from Mexico to Canada each spring on a trek that required six generations of the insect to complete. A keystone species is one which other species in an ecosystem largely depend. They maintain the structure of an ecological community and if it were removed that particular ecosystem would change drastically.

Driving this past week, I’d slow down or swerve when I could to avoid hitting the monarchs flying. I probably hurt or killed more than I would like to admit.

It is not often I love sitting in one spot on the campus because there is so much to do, see, and still explore. But I literally could’ve sat under the hackberry trees all day long watching these monarchs’ silent beauty.

To help the monarchs on their back and forth journey here are some helpful tips: always plant native milkweeds; liatris on the campus is a favorite of the monarchs and if it will survive in your climate then plant it; plant a hackberry tree or even a pecan tree; if you see monarchs flying in front of your car slow down to avoid hitting them; try to avoid using pesticides during their migration times of early spring and early fall.

Lastly, just enjoy the beauty of these magnificent butterflies.

BEAVER!

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The arrow points to the area the beaver disappeared into. 

Note: This story being shared is a tad late, but that’s what happens when life transpires.

It’s not often I have a really exciting day in the field. Especially when the day starts out frustrating. But then you later realize if it were not for those frustrations then the exciting part of your day would have never occurred.

The day started with a key not working, then progressed to having a piece of equipment connected to the Gator. Those were mere irritations, but irritations nonetheless because I’m the type of person that if I have a job to do I want to get it done.

After stocking up with water, because the day was already getting hot and humid, June and I went back to the car to get the bug spray and sunscreen. Ron was mowing the main part of the campus and it took a bit to get his attention to touch base with him.

We then took off so I could check the one camera trap I recently placed in a new section. Before checking the camera, I wanted to show June the vast expanse of Good Creek in the area where Boiling Spring is supposed to be. Along the way were two white-tailed deer and one was browsing a hackberry tree.

We arrived at the Good Creek overlook site that has about a 10-foot drop. I walked up to the edge expecting to see lots of water due to the recent 5.66 inches of rain within 24 hours a few days before.

I sighed.

To my disappointment, there was no new water standing in Good Creek. I looked over towards the south bank of the creek and movement caught my eye. I lightly tapped June’s arm and pointed in the direction of the large brown loping animal. In all honesty, I truly did not know what I was looking at. My first thought was that it was a raccoon. As soon as it turned back south between a section of juniper trees – I saw the tail!

In the span of mere seconds, I grabbed her hand and squeezed it, we turned and looked at each other and yelled, “BEAVER!” By the time we looked back towards the area where the beaver went – it quickly was disappearing among the trees. Our yell probably scared off the rest of the wildlife.

BEAVER!

The adrenaline and excitement of seeing an actual LIVE beaver totally took all everything out of me like I had just climbed a 1000-foot grade in the span of a few minutes.

Why was I so excited? Here’s some insight on such wild excitement.

I’ve studied beavers presence at Matador Wildlife Management Area in Cottle County while assisting with a baseline survey for Texas Parks and Wildlife.  The first live beaver I really saw was at Rio Moro National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico in 2016. The refuge manager with us gently said in the truck – “look a beaver.” It was his first time of seeing a beaver and I took the opportunity to capture a photo. Plus, I’ve walked across several beaver dams in Montana that were so well-built that no wood moved under my feet, making you understand quickly that beavers are truly great engineers of our natural world.

While I’ve seen beaver tracks on the main property of 3RF around the Beaver Pond since I began my research study in 2015, I’ve never captured them on my cameras nor visually seen them. There might have been one time when one was caught on one of the camera traps, but I’m still not one hundred percent sure on that ID. The historical records from Foard County say the beavers disappeared long ago but given the tracks, the main beaver lodge, a secondary smaller beaver lodge, and now this sighting – beavers are still present in the county.

This was a rather large beaver, not a baby or a juvenile. Given that beaver pairs mate for life there should be another beaver around with hopefully at least four kits being born if they have not already been born. Offspring will remain with their parents until they are around two years old.

June later brought this up – if things had not gone the way they did with the office key not working, the Gator delay, and trying to get Ron’s attention – then seeing that beaver would’ve never happened. There is truth behind her statement. I need to stop next time and realize that something spectacular may be awaiting me when it comes to frustrations in life that delay me. Because if it were not for those early frustrations in that day – then we’d never seen the beaver. I’ll count this as a blessing.

Yes – my heart rate is back to normal until next time.

Historically, beavers were nearly extinct by 1900 due to the fur trade. By 1925 they were protected by Texas laws to control their harvest. Little records exist on the number of beavers transplanted in Texas or brought in from other states, but some records do exist from 1939 to 1961 that indicate there were numerous beaver transplants.

The beavers got to Foard in a unique way and I’m trying to pin down the historical story with as much accuracy as I can, because what I was originally told may not be the entire truth. Historical stories take more research. Apparently, there is a beaver dam that I’ve not seen yet that can be walked across like the dams in Montana.

Beavers build dams that create ponds that in turn contribute to the stabilization of water tables and help reduce rapid runoff from rain. Dams also help reduce soil erosion. These ponds create a habitat beneficial to many plants and animals and contribute to a diversity of plant communities. Beaver ponds are excellent sites for observing wildlife behavior.

Stay tuned!