Sunday, November 22, 2009

Texan Wildlife

When I was growing up there was a TV commercial for Dime Bars. A Dime Bar some kind of crunchy almond toffee covered in milk chocolate. Thus, it was smooth on the outside, and crunchy on the inside. "Arrrrmadillooooo!" Harry Enfield would cry in the advert. "Smooth on the inside, crunchy on the outside!" In comparison to the armadillo, the Dime Bar therefore makes a better snack.

We didn't see a single armadillo in Texas. Indeed my sister has been on the lookout for the entire time of her residence there and is yet to spy one of the crunchy creatures. We even went to the Zoo, which even had an entire section dedicated to native Texan wildlife. No Armadillo. Still, I hope you'll agree that what we did see comes close to making up for the local absences of tanks on legs.

Our encounters with the indigenous fauna begin at the Fort Worth Nature Refuge. Located North of the city on the shores of Lake Worth it is home to some remarkable refugees. We were practically tripping over cool wildlife. I can imagine the place is infested with Mosquitoes in the summer months, but we had short-sleeves weather and no bugs. The main attraction of the refuge is the buffalo. I mean bison. Well, I don't really know what I mean. Everyone in the car agreed that Bison was the proper name for them (Martha even offered that their Scientific name is Bison bison). Despite this, it appeared that everyone called them buffalo, and none of us knew why science had gone out on it's own with a name nobody uses. After entering the park the road takes you through sparsely wooded prairie, with large metal fences on either side. As Graham drove (slowly for once!) we all tried to peer through the trees hoping to spot Buffal-ison but were disappointed. We parked up and set out on foot, almost immediately coming across mammals at the other end of the size spectrum. A little way along the footpath through an opening in the hedgerow we were greeted with a panoramic view of a prairie dog metropolis. A prairie dog is basically a squirrel with social skills, and sans the bushy tail. Their behavior verges on exhibitionism, as they run from mound to mound kissing and hugging one another. We spent a good amount of time watching them go about their business. Then just as we began to move on a large, dark shape caught my eye in the far distance. At that range it was impossible to tell if it was massive boulder or a huge pile of straw, but through a pair of binoculars it was clearly a buffalo. It really was staggeringly enormous. I was convinced that such a large silhouette must comprise more that one animal, but it was just one very big bull sitting there. As we returned to the car later, we saw presumably the same animal, but standing up and slightly closer. Needless to say, he didn't look any smaller!

Having ticked off two major attractions we thought we might also be lucky enough to spot an alligator, so we chose some of the trails that follow the bank of a river. While we saw no gators, we did still spy several deer, a kingfisher and the snake pictured above. We had stopped to consult map and were all standing in a loose huddle when Graham happened to look down and see this snake curled up in the grass at our feet. After posing for a few photographs it slithered off into the water and swan away. Later at the visitor center we saw a poster that identified the snake as a cottonmouth, a venomous species with a potentially fatal bite. However after consulting more literature and closely examining the picture we took I think it was a mostly harmless water snake. Still, they camouflage so well it would have been easy to step on it.

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