West Texas gathering! Horrible conditions but great company.

What a joy it is to spend time with the iNat community. I know that the data we collect and the information that we document is great and all, but I think the community is where the real power of iNaturalist comes in. And hey, it feels pretty dang cool to be with fellow nature folks. :)

Around 20 folks (@austinrkelly @jcochran706 @annikaml @connlindajo @gcwarbler @tadamcochran @mikef451 @eric_keith @knightericm @pynklynx @cmeckerman @butterflies4fun @centratex @k8thegr8 @amzapp @jwn @elizrose @bosqueaaron @lovebirder @charley) showed up for the Elephant Mountain WMA gathering (from now on, I'm going to label these as gatherings rather than bioblitzes -- I want data collection to be secondary to the actual gathering). The week leading up to the gathering, I saw the dismal weather (cold front!) and catastrophic drought map... Both were present when we showed up! Nonetheless, I think we had a good time -- at least, I sure did!

The first day we gathered for some 'mothing' at the Elephant Mountain WMA registration office. I'd say it was pretty rough mothing... Cold, windy, and oh so dry. We did still document a few nice bugs. Elizabeth and I camped the first night -- and the wind did NOT let up. It blew alllll night long, and the temps were in the 30's! We also set up a few Sherman traps (live mammal traps) and caught 4 kangaroo rats!

The next morning (Saturday), we all kinda split up to venture off at the WMA and other places. We didn't have much access to the actual mountain (big horn sheep calving season still), but lots of the 'driving tour' roads and bunkhouse area was open. Despite being massively dry (like, scary dry!), I was surprised at the amount of plants and bugs and birds we spotted. Elizabeth and I went to get a few hotdogs to cook them up for the group in the evening, and we stayed in Alpine for the night.

On Saturday night/Sunday morn, we didn't catch a single mammal! Most of Sunday, Elizabeth and I drove around -- visiting Marathon and Marfa and a few places in between. One great spot was "Post Park" south of Marathon. Chuck suggested this spot, and it was great -- water! We watched some vermillion flycatchers, scott's orioles, golden fronted woodpeckers, and even a javelina sneak out from the bushes. We stayed at the hotel in Alpine again this night.

Well, we did end up bringing some rain with us on the last day (Monday). It was just enough to get our tent and sleeping bags (which we unfortunately left at the campsite) to get all wet and muddy! We caught 5 wet kangaroo rats on that last morning. We then headed off east -- making a couple stops along the way (Big Spring State Park and a couple roadside stops).

Overall, it was a challenging gathering due to the conditions, but it was just the best time ever to spend with friends. I'm so genuinely lucky to be a part of this group! Another gathering coming up in the fall -- stay tuned for details!!! :) We're leaning towards east TX -- maybe the new Neches River WMA (as suggested by both @centratex and @cosmiccat !).

Posted by sambiology sambiology, April 24, 2021 00:36

Comments

It was an awesome gathering, despite the weather. Nice with all nature people coming together, helping each other find the best stuff. Pointing out an Elf Owl hooting by the campground, cholla stick directing us to a Banded Gecko (seemed rather dead on Sunday afternoon), catching rodents for photo shoots, advice about blooming cacti on the slopes or generally interesting parts of the WMA. Still going through pictures and shaking dust off of everything I had with me to EMWMA.

Posted by annikaml 6 months ago (Flag)

I so enjoyed seeing old iNat friends and meeting some new ones. Despite the wind, the dust, the cold, and the depressing drought, I was so glad I made the trip. So many unfamiliar plants and awesome scenery. A totally different world than my little place in Lee County. Absolutely looking forward to the next gathering, wherever and whenever it is! Hoping more folks will be able to enjoy the experience with us! Happy iNat-ing!

Posted by connlindajo 6 months ago (Flag)

I did a quick check to see how much impact we as a group had on documenting biodiversity at Elephant Mtn. WMA. Prior to April 15, 2021, a total of 952 observations had been made within a polygon that encompasses the WMA. Those documented 363 species of plants and animals, contributed by 117 observers. During the period April 15-19 (mostly 16th-19th), the 17 of us who have so far uploaded our observations have contributed an additional 1500 observations of 398 species of plants and animals. Totals on iNat for the WMA now (Friday, 4/23, 10:30 pm CDT) stand at 2451 observations of 608 spp by 134 observers. So this group effected a 67% increase in the documented diversity on the site on iNaturalist and increased total sightings by 160% over what it was prior to our invasion. Nice effort! Here is a URL with a polygon set up mainly around the WMA and the dates of the bioblitz (including 4/15 for @charley's early arrival):
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?d1=2021-04-15&d2=2021-04-19&nelat=30.09836754961053&nelng=-103.2946356583758&place_id=any&subview=map&swlat=29.934865605689897&swlng=-103.63452518474298

Posted by gcwarbler 6 months ago (Flag)

against all odds ... good job everyone

Posted by catenatus 6 months ago (Flag)

Thanks for getting us out, @sambiology! It was very freeing to really get out and explore after over a year of restricted movement. I was glad to check out Elephant Mountain WMA, which I had driven by many times, but never visited. That part of Texas is probably my favorite. It was very difficult to see the depths of the effects of the drought. Paula and I went to Fort Davis one day and it seemed that the extreme drought was especially noticeable there with nearly every tree that wasn't an evergreen being brown and there was hardly any green grass or flowers present. We also went to Big Bend and took in the beautiful sites. That's when I found out that 1,340 acres of the Chisos Mountain forest had burned a couple of weeks before. Very sad. Despite the interesting weather and drought conditions. I really enjoyed meeting in person some of my fellow iNatters, and I look forward to more gatherings!

Posted by lovebirder 6 months ago (Flag)

It was so great! I LOVE seeing what other folks saw while out there too.

In past gatherings, we've kinda gone out in groups to various areas, but in this one, most of us ventured out solo or in a small group. Normally, we all gather for some incredibly mothing/blacklighting in each evening, buuuuuut this one was a bit of a 'dry wash' in that. :)

And the numbers are increasing too -- it takes a while for all of us to edit, crop, and upload observations, so I predict that species number to jump up along with the observations. :)

Super fun! And now that we're all fully rested... City Nature Challenge this weekend!!!!! We all must prevent Houston from dominating again. ;)

Posted by sambiology 6 months ago (Flag)

I'm just now starting to upload my photos so feel free to retag me on any of your unidentified plants..

BTW... Houston dominates again!

Posted by eric_keith 4 months ago (Flag)

Hey guys, I know I talked to most of you who attended the Elephant Mountain meetup about my upcoming Foraging Texas book, but it's finally available for presale :) Official release date is 8/1/21. Spread the word!
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781493056101/Foraging-Texas-Finding-Identifying-and-Preparing-Edible-Wild-Foods-in-Texas

Posted by knightericm 3 months ago (Flag)

@sambiology Any news on that East Texas get together date and locale? I'm starting to possibly have conflicting times that I need to schedule around and my work is demanding that I schedule vacation time. Help me please!
Thanks Mike

Posted by mikef451 3 months ago (Flag)

Hey all,

I'm really shooting for October 1 - 3. Hopefully Gus Engeling WMA, Richland Creek WMA, and Neches River National Wildlife Refuge. :)

October 1 - 3!!!! Mark those calendars. :)

Posted by sambiology 3 months ago (Flag)

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