Tag Archives: Big Bluestem

Spring to Summer in central Texas

Mustang grape vines on southern fence of Pecan Tree Pasture (May 2011).

Emergent flora signifies the arrival and maturation of Spring into Summer in central Texas.  Mustang grape vines climb trees and follow fence lines without fail.  I collect buckets of ripened grapes in late June or early July.  Daily observations of ripening grapes must take place or birds pluck the deep ruby-red berries and in over-consuming they fly dizzily, drunkenly away, first to the harvest, leaving my mouth and bucket empty.

Mesquite and mustang grapevines often intertwine and when harvesting, the mesquite thorns force the cost of harvesting painfully upward.

Mustang grapes with mesquite (June 2011).

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Two stands of Big Bluestem grass (May 2011)

When rain falls, grass flourishes.  The top of the stems reach six-feet or more high.  Big.  Native.  Bluestem.

* * *

The final exhibit of Spring in this post is prickly-pear cactus with its brilliant yellow cactus flower.  I note that many varieties of insects clamor and dive into the flower, bees especially.  Cactus is destroyed as nuisance flora as a regular chore on small ranches and farms.  Yet, its fruit is edible, the flower yields pollen for honey and in drought, propane torches burn thorns and cattle consume the paddles.  The roar of burning pear signals drought upon the land.

* * *

For the moment, propane torches rest against barn walls.  Yesterday, west of my ranchito about a hundred miles, and northwest of Abilene, Erin Rea reports prairie fires near her farm.  The drought has descended brutally on her area and in a line stretching to the southeastern corner of Colorado,  the land reminds old-timers of the dust bowl days.  @Tuckertown tweets, “Wildfire in Southern Colorado fouls the air along Colorado’s Front Range. Very tender dry in the SE corner of Colorado. Very bad.”

The Spring to Summer in central and west Texas is endurable as we live with the land whether mustang grapes emerge or prairie fires burn.

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Quail and deer lease my field

Deer skull with prairie grass (2011).

Temperatures reached 102 degrees yesterday.  Work slows or stops at 11:00 a.m.  Winds blew fierce, reaching 40 m.p.h. in gusts.  Yet, the pastures are green, the grass not browning for the moment.

* * *

Two days ago I shredded several narrow paths about the pastures.  I do not shred fields or pastures.  As I shredded a narrow path around the edges of Pecan Tree Pasture, I flushed a bobwhite quail.  Just one quail, but it is significant for quail habitually cluster in coveys.  Quail have disappeared in large portions of the area from hunting, shredding pastures, cropping and the spread of fire ants that kill young chicks.  I have reseeded the Pecan Tree Pasture with native grass and allowed the field to remain fallow for several years.  If I see more quail — the late sighting proving to not be an isolated occurrence — I will conclude I have done well in partial restoration of a native habitat.

* * *

Yesterday I sighted three mature deer and a fawn between the grove and the stock pond.  It is odd that their color is so pale brown, almost yellow, against the greenery of Spring.  Deer return, quail flush.  The fawn pranced.

* * *

As I sat on the back porch yesterday afternoon, a cattleman from Gordon knocked on the door.  He wanted to lease the pasture that I had flushed the quail and seen the deer — a monthly lease depending upon the number of cattle he would place.  I refused.  I told him that I would probably run a few head myself.  He stated that he had seen no cattle on the pasture and that’s why he had inquired.  I took his card and he said he was looking for pasture within ten miles of Gordon, so that if I heard of any land available for rent, please let him know.  I politely said I would.

Other inquires will follow this Spring.  They always do from cattlemen or harvesters of grass.  And, I always refuse and politely explain that I have the pasture for horses or a few head of cattle.  I have not run any cattle for four years.  I may put a few on the land this Spring, but not many and they will not disturb either deer or quail.  In the field, the Big Bluestem grass will be higher than the withers of horse and rump of cattle.

* * *

I had to kill a copperhead in the barn two days ago.  I knelt down to air up a tire and moved a salt block receptacle to position myself and a copperhead lay under the receptacle.  I will be cleaning out the barn early next week.  I had planned to do so — in fact I had moved six boxes of books to my office in Abilene a week ago –, but the danger of snake bite spurs me sooner to glean the barn.  My air conditioner repairman and contractor lost part of a finger last year from a copperhead bite.  For some reason, we have more copperheads in this portion of north Erath County, Texas, than most areas.

* * *

The photograph at the beginning of the post was taken over at Pecan Tree Pasture about where the solitary bobwhite was sighted.  I was observing the growth of native grasses a month ago and happened across the deer skull with horns.  I consider myself keenly observant of objects in my field of sight, but the grass has grown so high, secrets are undisclosed unless one tramps the land.  The skull remains in situ.  I like the simplicity, the complexity intertwined: deer, native grasses, treeline.

The field wholly remains in situ, lightly touched, deeply felt.

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Filed under Birds, Deer, Field Log, Life in Balance

Dickcissel on Bluestem for Mother’s Day

Dickcissel (Spiza americana), the bird perching on the stems, Flying Hat Ranch, north Erath County, Texas, May 8, 2011 (see photograph below for closeup).

Closeup of Dickcissel on Big Bluestem, Flying Hat Ranch, May 8, 2011.

This morning I drove over to the Pecan Tree Pasture to check on the spring growth of grasses.

The Big Bluestem erupts into the old clumps of Bluestem from last season.  I heard a bird, a familiar call, that I vowed I would photograph and identify.  I walked fifty yards into the field and looked in the direction of the call.  I saw nothing.  Looking at several Bluestem clumps, I finally spied the bird and fixed it with the sound.  (If I had had my wits about me, I would have recorded the sound.)  The sound was a rendition of its name (I found out later), dick-ciss-ciss-ciss.

I focused the camera on the bird and it looked like a meadow lark, but smaller, yet yellow.  I took several shots and walked closer each time.  A sudden movement way across the pasture near the Hall’s place caught my attention.  A deer bounded through the high grass, gracefully jumped the fence and disappeared into the Grove.  I was pleased and I’m sure the deer was also that grass and trees provided foliage and food.  That was the first deer I’ve seen on the property in months.

Returning to the ranch house, I got down the Peterson and Audubon field guides to identify the bird I saw.

It is a Dickcissel (Spiza americana) male.  The species was on the 2005 Audubon Watchlist, but it has since been taken off.  The Dickcissel used to inhabit the eastern coastal states, but it now resides in the Midwest this time of year.  It had been placed on the Watchlist because in Venezuela its feeding habits damaged crops.

The major threat to Dickcissel comes from its wintering grounds in Venezuela. Because of the species’ propensity for gathering in enormous flocks and feeding on cultivated plants such as rice and sorghum, it can be a serious agricultural pest for Venezuelan farmers, who have sometimes taken to trying to poison flocks. Dickcissel flocks in Venezuela can number over a million birds, meaning that the wintering population can become highly concentrated at certain favored roosting sites. A single “successful” poisoning event of a large flock of roosting birds could significantly reduce the world population of Dickcissel.

On its North American breeding grounds, Dickcissel faces several additional threats: cowbird parasitism, the destruction of nests and nestlings by mowing machines, and loss of habitat due to changing agricultural practices and succession [1].

I have neither mowed nor shredded the field for six years.  In 2007, I ran twenty-seven Angus stocker calves in the field, but did not let them overgraze the pasture.   Other than Hija, Star, Lilly and Fanny, no livestock have been placed in the field since 2007.  In 2004 and 2010, I reseeded the field in native grasses.

I did not make a count of how many Dickcissels I saw or heard.  A very rough estimate is about 10-12 within the western half of the 35 acre field.

Of the Dickcissels nesting habits, the female lays 4 or 5 pale blue eggs in a cup of stems and grass set on or near the ground, often in alfalfa and clover fields [2].

Happy Mother’s Day, Ms. Dickcissel!  My field is your home — our world together.

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Notes:

1.  http://audubon2.org/watchlist/viewSpecies.jsp?id=72

2.  The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds Eastern Region.  Also references to Peterson’s field guide.

The ecology of the Dickcissel as stated in the Audubon Watchlist link above is as follows (for Wild Bill and others):

Dickcissel nests in grasslands, meadows, savanna, and hay fields. Its nest is a bulky, loose cup of woven grass and leaves, usually placed in a grassy field. Males arrive at breeding territories about a week before females, and may have more than one mate. Females are responsible for nest building and incubation, usually of a clutch of four eggs. Young birds fledge a week to ten days after hatching, but are not capable of flight until a few days after leaving the nest. The diet of breeding adults is 70% insects and 30% seeds, while for young birds, it is the reverse: 70% seeds and 30% insects. Outside of the breeding season, Dickcissels feed mostly on seeds, including weed seeds and cultivated grains. Dickcissels migrate in flocks, sometimes gathering into groups of several hundred birds, and on their wintering grounds in the llanos of Venezuela, they are extremely gregarious, forming flocks that can number over one million birds.

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