Friday, August 22, 2008

Thank God it's Friday

We had one of those little low pressure systems pass through the area the first of the week. The good news is it moved out the high pressure ridge that was pinning our daytime high temperatures in the low triple digits and brought a spell of sorely-needed rain. Right at eight inches of rain, give or take a tenth, at the nature center in the bend of the Big Wichita River.

Our trees down in the bottom land were mighty glad for the drink, but the rising river did leave a mess the entire quarter-mile length of the main trail. When the river crested sometime late Tuesday afternoon, I'd say our woodland was standing up to four feet deep in flood waters carrying red clay that gives the Red River its name.

Could have been worse. In the spring of 2007 a so-called 100-year flood left nearly 18 feet of clay-choked river water inundating our 13 acres of bottom land. The waters took nearly a full week to recede to a point where we could make it all the way down to the north end of the trail. About an eighth of an inch of treacherously slippery clay mud completely covered the concrete walkway, and we all but lost two outbuildings.

A pair of Mississippi Kites set up housekeeping in our woods this spring. I counted as many as four young ones at various times perched in the tallest snags. Just before the rains moved in on Monday I noticed six kites resting in the snag. Tuesday, after the deluge, I did not see a single kite. Wednesday and Thursday as I hosed mud from the trail the kites were conspicuously absent still. I began to wonder if that low pressure system had nudged the birds into starting their move south. Then today I heard that familiar raptorish scree overhead, as if the bird was saying, "I'm back!" It was an adult, male I believe, although my bird identification skills fall far short of my colleague Penny Miller's. I checked the tall snag that towers thinly above the canopy of soapberry, pecan and red cedar, and sure enough there were two juveniles waiting for breakfast.

The water did not rise high enough to reach the fox's den, and Wednesday morning revealed sign that the raccoons, opossums and armadillos had been out and about, benefiting from the washed in buffet while it lasted. The red-shouldered bugs were again going after the remains of the last soapberry crop, and the pill bugs were just skittering around, distressed by the saturated earth and doing whatever pill bugs do when they're temporarily forced from their homes.

In short, the little low pressure system brought about a day's worth of drama to the nature center. Then it was wash away the mud and back to business as usual for all concerned. After all, it's a riparian wetland. Its continued existence as a unique ecosystem on the Rolling Plains depends on periodic flood events.
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