Friday, October 19, 2012

Life on the Playa

 I wasn't feeling the energy for my weekly Black Rock run while Desert Girl was in preschool. So instead I decided to do a little exploring. Since I had playas on my mind (see this earlier post if you haven't already), I went to a nearby playa.

 As I approached, I spooked some of the wildlife. Several pronghorn took off, as well as horned larks, a raptor, and probably more. I parked on the edge of the playa and got out to start walking around.

 A lone pronghorn, probably hoping I would just go away, bounded past. Fortunately I had my camera ready.

 I've never been able to see how a pronghorn runs, so I was fascinated with the photo results. Pronghorn are the fastest land animals in the Western Hemisphere, with speeds exceeding 40 mph. Worldwide they are second only to cheetahs. Pronghorn have 13 distinct gaits. I have to say I don't know what this one is.
 One of the cool things about pronghorn (cool enough to make me put it as my Favicon (the little icon that shows up next to the name of my blog) is that they are endemic to western and central North America. They have been around much longer than deer or elk, and they have evolved with the ubiquitous sagebrush and are able to use it much more efficiently than other ungulates. There used to be 12 species of pronghorn (Antilocaprids) here in the Pleistocene, but today only one still exists, Antilocapra americana.
Although pronghorn can run fast, they can't jump well. Instead of jumping over fences, they usually crawl underneath them. It looks as awkward as it sounds. Someday I might get lucky and get a photo.

I could see the pronghorn off a ways in the desert, watching the playa. I wouldn't have seen them, though, if I didn't know to look for them, as they blend in really well.

 The bone on the playa showed that not all animals are able to escape their predators.

 I found these nice pronghorn tracks.

 The tracks were near this puddle. Flocks of horned larks kept flying around. I'm sure this water is a major attractor. Playas are often dry, but when they have water, they are a hotspot of diversity.

 One of the things that attracts me most about playas is all the patterns that can be found on them. Near the edges I found small black gravel on the playa. It had filled in many of the mud cracks, accenting the dessicated pattern.

 The tree-like drainage pattern caught my eye. Even on a small scale, the patterns are fantastic.

 When you get out to the middle of the playa, it's hard to imagine what could possibly live on it. It seems so desolate and forlorn, so hard to make a living.

 The playa attracted some short-termers for a party.

 An elevation change of a few millimeters permitted a bush to grow out on the playa.

 And then I found this beetle out near the middle. What are you doing out here, little beetle?
 The beetle is in the lower middle of the photo--look for its shadow. It's really far from anything!

 It was moving quickly, perhaps realizing that it was more-than-a-little exposed to birds and other predators.

 These tracks that start and stop abruptly made me think of alien life. Perhaps that's due to so many alien movies being filmed out in the desert!

I was surprised by all the life I saw out on the playa. There was sign of lots more--plenty of scat from pronghorn and wild horses, burrows, bird scat, and more. At first it might appear as such a bleak place, but once you look a little closer, you can see that the playa is an important place for many animals.

Now I'm ready to go explore a few more playas!

1 comment:

jhami said...

Cool photos! Especially the pronghorn. I just finished up a pronghorn post of my own. lol We are channelling each other. Haha Great photos!

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