The Spring sun wearily pushes through low cloud cover draped across the short-grass prairie of the Northern Llano Estacado. Overnight temperatures remain on the cool side. Rain is a distant memory.
The seven-tone song medleys of Western Meadowlarks greet Cooper and me as we reach our prairie trail head. We meander while I persist in endeavors to locate and photograph a lark nest in the prairie vegetation, but the prized image continues to elude digital immortality. A Western Meadowlark’s camouflage and deception techniques easily rival and exceed any human military concealment strategies.
As we ease down a less-travelled trail, I become aware of a Northern Harrier repeatedly turning into the lively westerly winds. The raptor briefly hovers, then streaks towards ground level. Its target is prairie dog town--its mission, breakfast.
Over the last several days I repeatedly delight in a summertime phenomenon--the rattling flight and color splashes of Red-winged Grasshoppers. They are mostly mature adults, but a number youngsters test their flight prowess as well. Adults do survive even subzero winter weather. These prairie marauders are strong fliers but little is known about their migratory habits. They may be itinerants from the southern reaches of the Llano. These grasshoppers have a wide range, which reaches from Mexico towards the Great Lakes, into Southern Canada and across the Rockies to the Cascades and south to the Sierras. In our area they normally don't hatch until June, although partial development can happen in the previous late summer or autumn months. I surmise they are winter survivors.
On a pleasant side note to our trail adventures, Cooper and I run into his Alaskan Malamute pals and their human sidekicks. A fun visit and additional time on the trails follow.
On the way home I ponder the fate of the Llano flora and fauna. Every living thing seems to have placed life on pause. The prairie waits for life-giving rains. The state of the prairie ecosystem portends survival of the fittest. Despite the bleak outlook for colorful images, I manage to locate several Purple Locoweed and diminutive patches of Red Stem Filaree. Emerald green cupolas of Broom Snakeweed dot the red earth in a prairie dog township. Caliche Globemallows continue to unfurl their warm greetings in an otherwise weatherbeaten panorama. Hope springs eternal.
© Ilija Lukić 2012