Friday, May 13, 2011

Oklahoma part 3 - Wichita Mountains

On Monday, the final full day of my visit, my sister and I drove to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge about 1.5 hours southwest of Norman.  This area boasts free-roaming herds of bison (maintained at ~650 head), Texas longhorn cattle (300), elk (700), and deer, as well as a large prairie dog "town" and other wildlife.  On this particular day, we saw several longhorns scattered throughout the refuge, a few scattered bison and one large herd that included small calves, one deer, lots of prairie dogs and their pups (about 2 months old from what I can tell with internet research), three snakes, two collared lizards, and several butterflies.
Our first stop was a drive to the top of Mt. Scott, where in spite of the haze we had an amazing view of the surrounding landscape.
In the parking lot on top of Mt. Scott, I spotted a sachem skipper take a brief rest from the windy conditions...
Sachem skipper (Atalopedes campestris)
I also photographed some wildflowers, and set up my camera on a rock and used my remote control to snap a few pics of my sister and me. It was very windy up there!
While driving through the first part of the refuge, we saw a longhorn cow grazing near the road, and a herd of bison and their calves up the hill on the opposite side of the road.  Later in the afternoon, we saw three more bison near the interpretive center.
Free-roaming "wild" longhorn cow
Herd of bison, the small lumps are the calves
More bison near the refuge interpretive center
During a quick stop at Quanah Parker Lake, I noticed an odd shape in the water below the dock we were standing on, and then a snake head slowly rose out of the water! It was quite freaky (which became our word of the day after seeing two more snakes and not being sure if they were poisonous or not).  This snake turned out to be another diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer), at least three feet long.  We watched it swim for a while, and would sometimes lose track of it, only to spot it again when it lifted its head out of the water to breath about once every minute or two.
Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)
When we left the lake, I saw the first butterfly of the day, a cloudywing (not sure yet if it was northern or southern) on green milkweed.
Northern? cloudywing on green milkweed near Quanah Parker Lake
Our next stop was Lost Lake, were we went for a hike around the lake and lost the trail several times.  The heat and humidity didn't help the situation much, and neither did seeing a large snake on the trail and another snake in the water.  This water snake was much smaller than the two diamondbacks, but I didn't take a picture because it was too close for comfort and we extricated ourselves from that situation in a hurry!  Despite all the unpleasant occurances, we did enjoy the hike and saw a large number of variegated fritillaries (Euptoieta claudia) and dainty sulphurs (Nathalis iole), a possible goatweed leafwing butterfly (Anaea andria), two collared lizards (Crotaphytus collaris, state reptile of Oklahoma!), prickly pear and barrel cacti in flower, and a northern waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis).
Lost Lake, Wichita Mountains NWR (facing northeast)
Landscape south of Lost Lake
Jumping spider (Phidippus audax) feeding on some kind of stinkbug
Prickly pear cactus with hoverfly
Dainty sulphur (Nathalis iole)
Northern waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis)
Western coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum), one of our 'freaky' snakes of the day!
Collared lizard, aka "mountain boomer", Oklahoma's state reptile
Collared lizard (male)
Finally, at our last stop, we saw lots of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus), including several young pups probably around two months old (they are usually born in early March).
Prairie dogs and two pups (one is next to adult on left)
Altogether I had a great time and saw many new animal species to add to my list (including butterflies!).  As my sister is moving soon for a new job, I don't know when the next time will be when I can visit Oklahoma again, but this was a nice send-off for both of us!

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