August ’17 Playa Report

I was away in June, and July was a “wee bit” busy writing. Plus the construction season is upon us, making getting to the playa of record a little bit of a pain. However, the road is more open, and the playa has gotten over two inches of rain in the last four days.

For those readers new to the blog since the last playa report, I’ve been informally chronicling a rainwater lake, or playa, for a year or so now. Playa lakes are a vital feature of the Llano Estacado and High Plains. No one knows how they formed, and some are tiny, while others cover almost a square mile. Many are “dry” and only get water from rain and snow, while a few have springs in them, or had them before the water table dropped. They are refuges for wildlife, migratory birds, and native plants, and are considered an endangered land form of the Great Plains. Developers think they are a pain in the patoot, home owners who discover that the developer put their houses in the bottom of a playa think they are [censored, censored censored], ranchers like then, and farmers tried to level them out, or converted them into tail water pits for irrigation.

This playa is on private land. I have permission to go as far as a fence and take pictures, but not wade through the sedges and goosefoot and other plants to get into the central basin. This time, I didn’t even get that far because it was so muddy and I had not brought muck boots.

So. Playa photos, early August, 2017.

Shooting across the basin.

The darker green, tall stuff is the second ring of the playa. The different zones of plants form a rough bull’s-eye around the inner basin, especially in playas that get very wet, then shrink over time but keep water in their centers. You see native bunch-grasses, mostly gramas and spartinas, in the foreground, and sedges, sunflowers, and goosefoot and arrowhead farther in.

Panning to the right.

See the thin brown area in the distance at the foot of the slope? That’s open water.

And then, less than 24 hours later, an additional inch of rain fell on the playa, and that was enough to top up the central basin and create open water for the first time in over a year. The reeds and sedges hide how far it extends towards where I was standing.

Panning left.

“Since the rain, oh things look so much better, Baby. Since the rain, Darlin’ you should see it now.” (Ian Tyson, “Since the Rain”)

The native grasses in late June.

Back in June I was in the area and caught a quick photo of the grass. You can see clumps of grass, some bare dirt, and a lot of dead growth from last year. The darker greens are introduced, cool-season grasses and weeds. The native  grasses were doing OK. After almost four inches of rain in three weeks…

Lush.

Happy, healthy grass.

You don’t see as much of the clumping nature of bunch grasses because they have filled in. There’s a lot of new growth, and I could walk almost to the fence without getting mud on my boots because of the thick grass. It is choking out the weeds (yeah!) and cactus. The side-oats grama is looking good, with a nice seed crop, as are the other plants.

I heard lots of birds. We should have waterfowl soon, now that there’s open water as well as reeds and sedges. On the cloudy day, a large hawk or young golden eagle swept over me as I was shooting. No raptors on the next day, but they may have been cruising elsewhere.

The water from the playa will slowly evaporate. It also percolates down through the clay bottom of the playa and the lighter soils around the central pan, recharging the aquifer in the area.

In case you have not guessed, yes, I am rather fond of the playa. I enjoy watching it over the year, seeing what changes and what remains the same. I’m a little sorry the land owner won’t let me get closer than the fence, but I’m glad I can go that far.

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