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Prairie Facts

Report on Maddin Prairie Preserve, December 9-10, 2017 by Kirsti Harms

The Winter Bird Survey December 9-10, 2017

Maddin Prairie Preserve

by Kirsti Harms

Tom Willard, Kelly Walker and I arrived the afternoon of Friday Dec. 8. Tom set up his tent at the bottom of the hill, on the actual prairie because that’s where he wanted to sleep. Kelly and he spent the next two, rather cold nights (mid 20s) tent camping, and seemed to enjoy it. I opted for the old trailer and a space heater.
Our little crew spent Saturday morning and late afternoon hiking some of the survey points on the property. Conditions were pretty good for conducting a survey: daytime temperatures were mild, sunny and NO wind. But there wasn’t a lot of bird activity. Not sure if it was because of the recent snowy weather or the lateness of winter this year.  The birds were more active in some of the warmer areas. We did see most of our usual winter residents, esp. the sparrows (good numbers of White-crowned Sparrows). We also saw lots of Meadowlarks and Sandhill cranes (flying over).

Friday night was the all-night coyote howl, and the Great Horned owls started hooting Saturday night. Ran into a few feral hogs during our survey, but Kelly and Tom managed to scoot them along. I’m a bit more intimidated by hogs. Got a really good look at a porcupine in a mesquite eating mistletoe berries—one of their favorite foods. It was entertaining to watch him scratch himself. Not sure how that works for a quilled creature…

Pat and Glenn Merkord joined the survey Saturday afternoon. They saw a flock of Rusty Blackbirds. That’s a new sighting for Maddin.

Later, Glenn tackled the riding mower problem with his usual quiet determination, and succeeded in getting it started again! I had him give me a tutorial and took notes.

Our fire pit got a lot of use as well. In addition to her other skills, Kelly is an avid fire starter. Both evenings were spent sitting around the fire—very nice, since it gets dark so early in the winter (and temperatures drop fast). The moon rise was late, so it was also a good opportunity to star gaze.

Pat and Glenn decided to sleep in the new trailer Saturday night. They can vouch for how cold it gets on a cold night… might need to look at getting the heat working. There is propane and a heater, but the ducts are damaged in spots. Pat says there is a type of propane space heater that could work as well.

The Merkords stayed on after we left. (Sleeping in the old, but warmer trailer Sunday night.) Glenn was busy mowing roads on Sunday, so next visit, the driving should be easier on the under carriages of our vehicles.

Tom and I discussed getting more people out to Maddin. He was under the impression that this is some kind of exclusive place. Not really. Well, special yes, with limited access, but not exclusive. I hope to have more time to organize events out there, and work on spreading the word. We did agree that we don’t want huge groups out there (don’t have the facilities for that) but 5-10 people for a weekend would be manageable. And more if they are only out for part of a day, like the TOS field trip. We have discussed having a bioblitz in spring, in addition to at least one winter work day and our usual breeding bird survey.



Report on Maddin Prairie Preserve, November 28, 2017 by Kirsti Harms

Here’s the report from this last weekend. Kinda long, but it was very productive!

Arrival and wasps: On the Friday after Thanksgiving, my good friends Terri Siegenthaler and David Croft drove us (and a bunch of supplies) to Maddin. We arrived on a warm sunny afternoon and found both trailers and the shed full of wasps (once again). We opened all the doors to encourage them to go elsewhere. That night, Terri and I spent about an hour extracting more from the old trailer—they were everywhere!! I got online to research how to keep them out. Don’t want to use insecticide, so the next trip will involve more weatherstripping, screens, sealant and repellents.

The water tank: To stretch our legs after the long drive on Friday, we walked to the southwest corner of the property, where the water tank had landed. Upon inspection, it appeared to be intact except for the connections. David thinks those can be repaired/replaced. So, we got it on its side and managed to roll the thing back to the wellhouse area without hitting too much brush. See images below. David, not a small man, demonstrated how a person can get on the inside (Terri and I were skeptical) to help re-attach the fittings.

The roads/tour: Friday evening, I gave my volunteers the basic drive-around tour so David, who was offering to mow our roads, could get a sense of the layout. The roads are very overgrown and now the grasses are very dry. Saw a couple of prairie dogs, but it was late in the day already. The water trough is full now too. A few signs of cattle but didn’t actually see any.

The mower: David knows his way around mowing and we were hoping to utilize this skill on Saturday. However, after spending most of the day trying to get our riding mower started, he was unable to succeed. He and Glenn suspect rats have gnawed the wiring, creating a short. I’m trying to round up a repairman. David bought pepper-based rat repellent to put under the mower from now on. Unfortunately, for our bird survey, the roads are still overgrown. But they are driveable.

Also, thanks to David, I now know how to start my own weedeater, and thanks to Terri, I now know where the manual is! Terri spent quite a bit of time cleaning and organizing the shed.

Prairie dog town maintenance. Terri walked the electric fenceline clearing brush away and checking the posts. We need to replace a few posts to keep the wires separated. I mowed catclaw and mesquite. We’ve got quite a lot coming up, probably because of the wet year. Don’t want to use herbicide around these animals. I think the charger battery is starting to lose its strength. Am shopping for a replacement.

New wildlife: while we were sitting around the fire pit, we were visited by a very small mouse. Its body was around 2” long and its tail was about the same length, it had small round ears, gray on top and light underneath. He was not very shy. Could it have been a plains pocket mouse?

The trailers: David brought his house jack. The Siegenthaler/Crofts donated part of their backyard cinderblock collection for trailer stablizing and got the new trailer leveled, the stabilizer legs lowered. David adjusted the blocks under one corner of the old trailer and the sticking door no longer sticks.

The new trailer has more room than the old one: a double bed, a bunk, dinette bed and a platform that is big enough for a cot mattress. So, we’ve got room for visitors to bunk up!! There is no power source, but Melody donated a large propane tank, that could run the refrigerator and possibly make hot water. (Another project for another day.) There is damage to the trailer at the wheel well (may have occured during transit and blow out), so there’s an opening into the trailer right now. I patched it temporarily with screen and heavy tape. I covered all openings outside with the black, Gorilla tape to keep wasps out for now. Will bring a more permanent fix on the next visit.

Board members: if you have not made it out to Maddin yet, we’ll be there Dec. 9-10 and some time in January/February. Come visit!! (Colorado City has decent hotel choices as well, if you aren’t up for bunkhouses or camping.)

Cultural artifacts: Before we left on Sunday, we walked over to the location of the old barn and cistern. David and Terri were very interested in this area and some of the metal parts scattered in the area. We thought it might be good to organize a work day (in the winter) to sort some of the interesting stuff and debris in this area.


Report on Maddin Prairie Preserve, October 1, 2017 by Kirsti Harms

I finally made it to Maddin after a 3 month lapse. I blame Harvey and the ensuing gas shortage for the lag. Things looked very good out there overall. They’ve had rain, so the roads are extremely overgrown. But the wildlife water trough has gotten very low. I was able to fill it to about a third full while I was there. Our irrigation system is functional but rather slow. A trip around the property revealed the wind damage from whatever hit us in early summer and jostled the trailer. We’ve got trees and large limbs down on the east side and in the creek. I see plenty of work day projects for this winter. Maybe a January work weekend is in order…

I also disassembled the solar-powered well and hauled it home. I channeled my inner Glenn Merkord and rolled up all the tubing, wiring and rope. I have no idea whether the well will work again, but I’m going to look into it. The prairie dogs are doing fine, but we need to do some brush clearing in the colony area. There are signs of cattle (and pigs) still. I think we need to work on that fence across the creek. It’s dry there now, so this would be a good time to do it. The creek seems to have gone down and is dry in many places again.

The weather was lovely and the fall grasses looked great. I flushed clay-colored sparrows in the fields. They are migrating through right now. There was water in the little “pond” in the seed bank area which was attracting birds, including some Nashville warblers. (I’d love to set up a bird blind there.) Saw some of our summer residents still around, esp. the scissor-tailed flycatchers. Lots and lots of gayfeather in bloom too. My iphone was dead part of the time so I didn’t get pictures of that. LOADS of grasshoppers!! I love how they like to ride on my hood and windshield. Got a good spider/web shot here too.

I regret that I don’t have more time to spend out there at this time of year. It is one of the best times to be at Maddin.

Some pictures are included here.

Prairie Grasses - Sand Bluestem in Morning Light

Prairie Spider’s web lays horizontally;                    Prairie Spider peering out at me!
so prey can just ‘walk right in’! 

Mesquite Tree succumbed to High Winds!

Water level dropped in trough -                                  Will load nonfunctioning Solar Panel
- just enough to help the birds!                                    - needs to be repaired!

Removed well pump - royal, tangled mess!                Now, this is better!

Prairie Grasses being blown by NE Texas winds!

2 extra “Passengers” clinging to my windshield! Want to catch a ride to Austin?

Report on Maddin Prairie Preserve, June 9, 10 & 18, 2017, by Kirsti Harms

Maddin Update June 9-10 and 18, 2017

Submitted by Kirsti Harms

June 9-10, 2017:
I had made plans to meet Joanne Haddock, from Citizens for Prairie Dogs, at Maddin so she could bring 10 more prairie dogs to our colony. She was unable to make it this weekend due to car trouble. She will try to come next weekend, and I plan to meet her there. But I decided to go this weekend anyway.

Another Maddin sunset. This time with almost no clouds.

Bewick’s wren nest. I think there are little ones in the shadows here.

It is now summer in West Texas.
Sundown is around 9 and the heat lingered in the mid 90s until 7 p.m. Luckily the breeze picked up around dusk. Birds are still singing and active. We’ve got a couple of Bewick’s wrens nesting in the empty meter box on the utility pole. Pat and her family crew had stopped by earlier Friday and had left notes of their observations in the journal. Sounds like they had some good wildlife sightings.

My plumbing skills at work. This continued at home when my kitchen sink drain was clogged.  But my brother’s plumbing skills helped with that.

Feeding the irrigation pipe with a hose. Mostly worked, except for some backflow.

I managed to fix the outdoor faucet, so we’ve got a water source again. Getting the water storage tank back in use will be a more complex project. I just stuck a hose in the irrigation pipe and that was good enough to refill our wildlife water troughs down the hill. It was also VERY nice to have some cold well water available for a rinse on a hot day! I’m considering bringing a portable kiddie pool out there next time… a margarita and a soak would be lovely.

Did some work at the prairie dog town.
Found a couple of burrows that looked inactive.
I put the rabbit fence between those burrows and the active areas to keep the newbies from interacting too soon with the other residents.
Also mowed down some of the catclaw and mesquite clumps that are getting tall from all the recent rain.
Need to maintain the sight line for our doggies. It’s their best defense.
I also covered a couple of the larger holes with hogwire, to keep badgers out (or bug them into moving along). I didn’t see signs of badger activity—most of the burrows look like they are occupied by prairie dogs or ground squirrels.. or burrowing owls. I flushed one owl as I visited the colony. I also saw a horned lizard along the road to the prairie dog colony.
We could use some more mowing this summer. The roads are all overgrown. Being able to see the horned lizards on the road is one good reason to keep them open!

I visited the “toad pond, (Too bad this tank doesn’t hold water. ) it had dropped down about 15 feet and was now home to mosquitoes, flies and dragonflies. No toad chorus this visit. I realized how lucky we were to witness the chorus during our last visit.

I stayed until midday Saturday when temps headed back into the mid-90s. I plan to go out next Saturday and stay through Sunday. Y’all are welcome to come out, even though the next few months are not the optimal time to visit… unless you like the heat and chasing reptiles…

June 18, 2017

I made another quick trip to Maddin this weekend. (I spent Saturday night in San Angelo since the temperatures were supposed to reach 106 degrees in Colorado City!)

I got to Maddin early Sunday morning and the wind blew briefly from the northeast bringing the 10 degree cool down…
Still very birdy. It’s been a good spring. Saw one horned lizard along the road to the prairie dog town.
Other lizards were out as well along with many insects, including butterflies, grasshoppers, wasps, moths, praying mantis, etc.

I did another inventory of available (unused) burrows and chose a different three than last week’s (those looked like someone was actually using them).

Joanne Haddock of Citizens for Prairie Dogs (Lubbock) came out around 10:45.
She had about 10 rescue, wild prairie dogs that she’d been holding for a few weeks and months.
She just pulled them out of their cages (by the tails) and deposited them in the burrows.
We decided that one prairie dog looked too old to be left, so she took him back with her. (He seemed quite content to munch carrots in his cage.)
She left a bunch of carrots around the burrows and I added some fresh grass cuttings. They don’t have far to go to get grass.
It has been such a rainy spring that our grasses are doing very well. I hope these guys make themselves at home in our colony. I did put up a stretch of rabbit fence to keep them kind of separated for a while.

Joanne is not doing prairie dog relocation anymore, it’s just too physically taxing. She says nobody in Texas is doing it right now. But she gets prairie dogs from the Lubbock wildlife center every now and then. People catch them when they are wandering. I told her we could accommodate a few now and then too. But most of our burrows are in use.

I also tinkered with the irrigation system and managed to get more water in the trough, but this is just a temporary solution till we get that water tank back in place. Since summer is in full (heat) blast, I’ll probably go out in mid-July to add more water.

Joanne’s method is to reach into the cage and grab these guys by the tail. There were a couple of scruffy-looking doggies in this bunch. I think they may have been fighting.

Two types of milkweed at the prairie dog town: antelope horns and zizotes.

One the southeastern side of the prairie dog town. I put the old cages next to the burrows to make them easier to spot. The rabbit fence will, hopefully keep them separate for a little while…
Kirsti Harms

Report on Maddin Breeding Bird Survey May 20-22, 2017 by Kirsti Harms

Submitted by Kirsti Harms

Pat Merkord and I were joined by Tom Willard (Blackland Chapter) and Kelly Walker (Houston Chapter for our annual breeding bird survey on the weekend of May 20, 2017.

The area had just received about 8 inches of rain and there was water and mud everywhere! The creek was flowing and showed signs of having been up at least 15 feet.  Because of the storm fronts and rain-cooled air, it turned out to be a much cooler weekend than I had expected.

Because of the cool temperatures, we didn’t see any horned lizards or any other lizards (photo by Pat Merkord, Maddin Prairie, 2016). 

However! the Couch’s Spadefoot toad Scaphiopus couchii (left: photo
and Great Plains Narrowmouth toads Gastrophryne olivacea (right: photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife) did put on quite a concert Friday and Saturday night in the ponds that were formed by all the rain. Amazing how fast they went into action!

This part of the state has been getting rain all spring, and it was apparent in the bird numbers.  We had our usual summer residents in good numbers as well as the not-as-usual breeding birds like Dickcissels Spiza americana
and LeConte’s Sparrows Ammodramus leconteii (photo: Cornell Labs).

Of course, Kelly was keeping track of our butterflies and other insects. 
We made a couple of trips to a blooming lotebush Ziziphus obtusifolia
that was covered in insects of all kinds.

(photo of lotebush blooms by Louis R. Nugent, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Kelly and Pat took lots of photos (to be posted soon).
Thanks to our great volunteers,
we’re getting a very nice collection.
Perhaps someday we can start a photo gallery for Maddin Prairie.

It is on my to-do list! -Kirsti Harms

Report on Maddin Prairie Preserve, December, 2016 by Kirsti Harms

Maddin Prairie Sunset

Maddin Prairie Update Winter 2015

From Kirsti Harms - NPAT President

We conducted our Maddin winter bird survey this weekend. Luckily, Chuck Sexton and Jane Tillman came out. They are working on their Mitchell County bird lists and are actually excited about this part of the state! We are lucky to have Chuck helping out—he’s one of the best birders (and naturalists) I know. And he helped with mesquite clearing on the roads!

Mesquite removal

I arrived late afternoon on Friday. It was in the mid-70s and very still. Beautiful, mild weather. I managed to see the burrowing owl that evening. The sunset was spectacular. And I fixed the irrigation pipes… again…

Prairie dusk at Maddin

Pat Merkord [NPAT Executive Director] and the winds arrived in the middle of the night. Because of the windy conditions, the birding, for the rest of the weekend was difficult. Our group headed to the creek area to get out of the wind. I suspect that this mild winter has affected the birds that migrate down. But still we managed to get a pretty interesting list. LOTS of woodpeckers! I think the drought and dead trees have been good for these birds. Also had lots of American Goldfinches and the regular White-crowned sparrows in the “weed patches.” We had a good sunflower crop this fall. Had three porcupines hanging out in trees. They don’t seem inclined to run away.

Porcupine up a tree

I was most happy to see water in the creek. We haven’t had this much since the drought of 2011. The creek rose was very high during the late October floods that stranded Pat and the area is continuing to get rain. Saturday night’s cold front had us a bit nervous in the trailer, but the high winds passed and the gentle rain for the rest of the night was very nice. Sunday morning was less windy for a few hours and then it started blowing. Part of life on the prairie, I guess.

Water in North Fork of Champion Creek

Non-native emus have taken up residence on the prairie.