Archive for ‘Fauna’

January 11, 2014

Stories in the Snow

Animals venturing out in the snow leave a story behind. These stories, often otherwise invisible, shed light on animal behavior and provide visual clues into how critters make use of their habitat.

Snow Tracks

Snow Tracks 06The photo above, taken Tuesday, shows the imprint made by the feet and the tail feathers of a crow during landing. The crow walked up to a tree, turned left to walk down some steps, and then took flight again.

In the photo at left, we see a mouse hopped out a short distance from the rock and then returned to protective cover. At some point, a cross-country venture started here, too. But although this mouse only made one trip in this direction, a wider view shows a well-established “runway” between the rock and the tall grass in the other direction.

Both of these events are commonplace in the park, but the snow “captured” these two stories in a way that revealed something more than I could see with my eyes alone. In the first case, because I wasn’t there to witness the event, the crow’s landing and short stroll would have escaped my notice had it not been frozen in the snow until I happened along. And in the second case, even had I observed a mouse near the rock on several occasions, I probably wouldn’t have realized that a single runway existed between it and the grass had the snow not shown the cumulative track lines.

Next time snow carpets the ground, why not head outside and see what stories you can find “printed” in the snow?

May 28, 2013

This Legless Lizard Is No Amputee

Western Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus)

Recently, a park visitor ran over what they probably thought was a ferocious viper.  Unfortunately, what they smooshed was a unique — and harmless — legless lizard called a Western Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus).

Glass lizards don’t have legs, so they move like a snake…  But if you look closer, you’ll see small ear openings and eyelids.  Snakes lack both of these features.  Glass lizards also have a groove running along both sides of their body that expands and contracts as they breathe.

If you are aggressive in capturing a glass lizard, it will ‘lose,’ or autotomize, it’s tail like a skink.  (Glass lizards look like skinks, but they’re in a different family.)  Most of a glass lizard’s total length is tail, and it can autotomize anywhere along that length. After the tail section falls off, it continues to wiggle and break, hopefully attracting a predator’s attention long enough for the lizard to escape.  Glass lizard tails often break into several pieces, like glass, hence their name.  A new tail will grow back over time, but it doesn’t look much like the original.  (There is a short section of new tail on the lizard in the photo above.  The original tail would have been striped all the way to a long-tapered end.)

Glass lizards are common throughout most of Oklahoma, but they rarely leave their burrows and are therefore seldom seen.  The best time to find them above ground is after a rainy period.  Roadways have proven the most common place for me to find glass lizards.  Of the three I have seen in the park this Spring, two have been found dead on the road.

As you drive around the park, take a peek at snake-like roadkill and see if you can find Oklahoma’s legless lizard.

Western Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus)

Osage Hills State Park is a wildlife refuge.  All wildlife, including snakes

and lizards, are protected here. Please don’t run them over!

April 30, 2011

Get Ready for The Birds: May is almost here!


May is just around the corner, so if you’ve been neglecting your bird feeders, it’s time to get them refilled and back into action! A juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has found the suet feeder in the backyard and has been making daily visits for the last week. The Indigo and Painted Buntings have just discovered the buffet line. Spring brings in a welcome change of brightly colored avian replacements to supplant the migrants and augment the species that wintered here.

Some of these springtime birds are special guests that won’t stay long at the feeders. My favorites are the Prothonotary Warblers, which will dine at my feeders for less than a week during the month of May. (The guidebooks can’t replicate the stunning yellow of those little guys!) Orioles stick around a little longer. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks also make a short run at the sunflower seed extravaganza before taking to the woods. Catching a transient at the feeder is a great way to brighten a day.

Birds take their heaviest toll on my feeders during the month of May. I welcome all of these colorful critters, but at 25 pounds of birdseed a week, and what feels like an equivalent amount of sugar for the hummingbirds, they empty my wallet as fast as they empty the feeders!

PS: The hummingbirds are already here, so unless you want them to give you the evil eye, it’s time to hang out the sugar solution!

April 26, 2011

A Visit to Oklahoma City’s Martin Park Nature Center


On April 21, I visited the Martin Park Nature Center, a perennial favorite for school children and families throughout the OKC metro area. The park is located at 5000 W. Memorial Road, just west of Mercy Hospital. Martin Park is operated by the Oklahoma City Parks & Recreation Department.

Martin Park protects 140 acres of woodland and prairie from the surrounding urban sprawl. Even during my visit, earth moving equipment droned and clanged from the southwest corner as yet another edge of the park becomes demarcated by tract housing. Ever since 1962, when the land was acquired by Oklahoma City, quite the opposite has been happening inside the park.

Over one-hundred years ago this land was used as farmland. (The farmhouse, built in 1895, used to stand near Memorial Road until it was torn down about ten years ago.) Later, the Bluff Creek Dairy operated here. Just before acquisition by Oklahoma City, the property was used to raise beef cattle. Each of these industries had their own profound effects on the flora and fauna of the park.

Looking back through several years of aerial images, you can see vestiges of fence lines and pasture edges slowly disappearing as staff and volunteers rehabilitate the landscape, restore native plants, and eliminate introduced species. Even as habitat is being lost immediately outside the park, recovery is still being done within.

The Martin Park Nature Center provides hiking trails (no bikes or pets allowed), wildlife viewing stations, a tree house/tower, a small gazebo, an exceptionally large iron and wood bridge, and a picnic area with a pavilion and amphitheater. The park has three creeks and a pond (swimming and fishing is prohibited). The nature center museum and education center has exhibits relating to local plants and animals as well as general ecology topics.

The park’s three main loop trails take the visitor through a variety of habitats, but primarily wind beneath large oak trees in the riparian zone adjacent to the creeks. My eye didn’t catch too many wildflowers. Either they aren’t out yet, or I overlooked them. I did find Ground Plum, Japanese Honeysuckle, Showy Evening Primrose, and a Wild Rose in bloom. The inconspicuous flowers of the Roughleaf Dogwood and Greenbrier were almost ready. The fruits of the early-flowering Chickasaw Plum (Sand Plum) and Eastern Redbud were ripening on the trees.

The weather was perfect for a day at the park.  In fact, I spent so much time on the trail that the museum was already closed before I made it back.  If you are in or near Oklahoma City, I would encourage you to make a trip to this wonderful nature preserve even if you only have an hour or two of free.  I think you’ll find it time well spent.

The park is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission is free.  Visit the Martin Park Nature Center’s official website by clicking this link.

March 3, 2011

Beaver Seen in Bobcat Hollow

This beaver lives in a burrow in the stream bank under a sycamore tree.  The entrance is underwater and therefore invisible at a passing glance.  Most beavers in Osage Hills State Park make similar hard-to-find homes, and only occasionally build a dam or a rounded stick lodge.  Even with a hidden entrance, footprints and gnawed vegetation let you know that a beaver, Oklahoma’s largest rodent, must surely live nearby.