Nature Notes from West Texas Public Radio

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Nature Notes explores the natural world of the Llano Estacado and the Chihuahuan Desert. We look at the plants, animals, and ecology of this unique region, as well as places to experience it and people working to conserve it. This free 4 1/2-minute weekly environmental feature is produced by West Texas Public Radio in conjunction with the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, Texas. Through interviews with scientists and field recordings, Nature Notes reveals the secrets of desert life. The program airs Tuesday and Thursday on West Texas Public Radio at 91.3 FM in the Permian Basin.

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Nature Notes explores the natural world of the Llano Estacado and the Chihuahuan Desert. We look at the plants, animals, and ecology of this unique region, as well as places to experience it and people working to conserve it. This free 4 1/2-minute weekly environmental feature is produced by West Texas Public Radio in conjunction with the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, Texas. Through interviews with scientists and field recordings, Nature Notes reveals the secrets of desert life. The program airs Tuesday and Thursday on West Texas Public Radio at 91.3 FM in the Permian Basin.
🇬🇧 English
last modified
2018-11-16 05:52
last episode published
2018-11-15 00:00
publication frequency
13.08 days
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Science & Medicine Natural Sciences



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In “Bedrock Features,” West Texas Prehistory Is Etched in Stone

Often overlooked, they're among the most abundant signs of our region's ancient human past. To encounter one in a remote corner of West Texas – the caprock canyons, the Devils River, the Big Bend desert – is to be reminded how thoroughly this land has ...

West Texas “Water Shrine”: Encountering An Ancient Desert Civilization at Hueco Tanks State Park

What's now West Texas was home to nomadic societies for more than 10,000 years. But, about 1,500 years ago, some Chihuahuan Desert peoples began to adopt a different way of life. They embraced agriculture – farming corn, beans and squash using rainfall...

Where the West Winds Blow: What Causes the West Texas Windy Season?

For this episode, Nature Notes is teaming up with “West Texas Wonders” – a new reporting series, where listeners ask questions and Marfa Public Radio finds answers. Adele Powers lives in Marfa. “Windy season is the bane of my existence,” Powers said, ...

The Story of Mesquite in West Texas

For this episode, Nature Notes is teaming up with “West Texas Wonders” – a new reporting series, where listeners ask questions and Marfa Public Radio finds answers. Alan Cox is a Big Spring native. “One of the deals that I've always been curious about...

Tracing a History of Change, Innovation Among Texas’ Ancient Nomadic Peoples

From the Ice Age to the late 19th century, Native Americans had pursued nomadic ways of life in what's now Texas for more than 12,000 years. It's possible for a contemporary outsider to imagine those ways of life were timeless, unchanging. In fact, ind...

Rio Grande Joint Venture Fights to Save the Chihuahuan Desert’s Grassland Birds

They're prairie seas, framed by desert-mountains – from the Marathon Basin to northern Mexico, the Chihuahuan Desert contains stretches of stunning grasslands. The grasslands support ranching, and iconic wildlife – from soaring raptors to sprinting pro...

Walter Prescott Webb’s Great Plains

He was an unlikely candidate to become one of Texas' most famous intellectuals. Reared on an East Texas farm, Walter Prescott Webb was, at 40, unemployed, having failed out of a University of Chicago doctoral program. Then, in 1931, he published “The ...

Cabeza de Vaca’s “Chronicle”: A Singular Glimpse of the Native American Past

“I wandered through many very strange lands, lost and naked. This is the only thing that a man who left there naked could bring back.” In 1527, with hundreds of his countrymen, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca sailed for the Gulf of Mexico. Their aim was “...

“Lost Crops Rediscovered”: Uncovering an Ancient History of Agave Farming

For Native Americans in the Southwest, agave was the staff of life. Slow-roasted, agave hearts were converted into sweet food, and nomadic peoples cached dried agave for lean winter months. Agave fiber was used in baskets and mats. The plant is famous ...

Complex Forces Shape West Texas’ Summer Monsoon

Temperatures linger well above 100 – the outback bustles with scorpions, rattlesnakes and tarantula hawk wasps. Summer in West Texas is fierce. But, in this arid land, it also means the happiest of prospects: rain. Between May and September, the North...

Tequila Interchange Project Says Future of Agave Spirits Must Be “Bat-Friendly”

It's been a staple for as long as people have lived within its range. From Texas to the Mexican interior, agave has been food, fiber and drink, and its distilled spirits – tequila, mezcal – have been called “the spirit of Mexico.” Demand for those spi...

At Agave Fest, Archeologist Will Discuss Bi-National Research into the Region’s Past

Bison-hunting on the plains, agave-roasting in the desert – throughout its epic sweep, Native American life in our region was most often nomadic. One place stands apart. La Junta – the confluence of the Rio Grande and Rio Conchos – was long the site of...

Encountering an Epic Story, at Big Bend’s Fossil Discovery Exhibit

Shining peaks and blood-red desert wastes. Canyons that overwhelm the human scale. Big Bend National Park is an international destination, and a West Texas wonder. Its landscapes have the power to awe and humble. But scientists have found that these l...

In a New Guide, Alpine Botanist Captures the Glories of Texas Wildflowers

Bluebonnets along a roadway, Indian blankets in the chaparral – wildflower viewing is a rite of spring in the Lone Star State. And the opportunities here are almost inexhaustible. A Texan can see a quarter of all the wildflowers in the U.S. without lea...

Could the Mexican Gray Wolf – Source of Fascination and Hostility – Return to the West Texas Wilds?

Lobo – the wolf. From Monahans to El Paso, the words are inscribed into West Texas – in place names, in team mascots. But the reality they evoke is almost unimaginable – that lobos, gray wolves, once roamed this land. The last wolves in West Texas wer...

The Texas Hornshell Mussel: An Endangered “Engineer” of an Endangered River System

It's a member of one of the most endangered groups of animals in the United States, and its home is one of the most imperiled river systems in the world. The Texas hornshell mussel is native to the Rio Grande and its tributaries. But like that river s...

El Paso Zoo Connects Urban West Texans to the Desert Ecosystem

Paul Simon put it together in 1967: “Something tells me it's all happening at the zoo.” The El Paso Zoo is one of the most popular attractions in Texas' desert-mountain city. More than 300,000 people visit each year. They see African lions, meerkats,...

The Gray-Banded Kingsnake: Alpine’s Dennie Miller Wrote the “Bible” of a Secretive West Texas Native

Say “snake” and “West Texas” – and the mind buzzes with the image of a certain venomous character. But rattlers are hardly the full picture. Our region's truly distinctive snakes are less fearsome, but more striking. The gray-banded kingsnake is one o...

Pulse of the Desert Plains: Tracking Grassland Birds on the Marfa Plateau

It's dawn in late January, near Marfa, and the grasslands on Mimms Ranch are radiant, swaying like a thick, golden mane in the sporadic breeze. Across the plateau treks a 20-person team – scientists, birders, volunteers. A pair holding radio antennas...

At Borderlands Research Institute, Seeking New Insight On Secretive Montezuma Quail

Nineteenth and early 20th century naturalists found them “fantastic,” “curious,” “bizarre.” The male's face is marked by swirls of black and white – and with their wild patterning, they were called “harlequin quail,” “fool quail,” “crazy quail.” They w...

Painter Mary Baxter Captures Far West Texas’ Haunting, Elusive Essence

Daunting in its vistas, its haggard peaks, Far West Texas strikes some as barren, unwelcoming – certainly no place to linger. Others, however, are entranced by that very starkness. But even for those seized by the beauty of the Trans-Pecos, explaining ...

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge: A Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Spectacle

They sail in on wingspans of 7 feet, arriving in groups of three and four. The massive birds stake out their roosts for the night, and they jostle, cry and call. As the sun sets, the assembly swells into the thousands. The birds' wild, rolling cries f...

The Frontera Land Alliance: Preserving Open Spaces in Texas’ Mountain City

“Oh, how I wish I had the power to describe the wonderful country as I saw it then!” So wrote Texas Ranger James Gillett. He kept the peace in 1880s El Paso, ranched near Alpine. “For one who loved nature and God's own creation,” he wrote, “all of wes...

For Birds of Prey, Winter is the Time in West Texas

The rains have ended. The weather is bracing. On prairies and grasslands, green gives way to gold. Winter is coming to West Texas, and nature herself seems to quiet and still. But even as arid months begin, a wave of commanding predators arrives in ou...

Blackwater Draw: A Journey into the Paleolithic Plains

A century ago, archeologists believed human beings had occupied the Americas for just 3,000 years. Then, a series of discoveries on the plains of West Texas and eastern New Mexico transformed that view. In 1932, archeologists excavated the remains of ...

Keeping an Eye on the Winter Hummingbirds of the Trans-Pecos

West Texas boasts among the greatest diversity of hummingbirds of any region in the country. Each year in late summer, birders convene in Fort Davis for the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Celebration, as thousands of hummingbirds pass through on great mig...

Conserving a “Keystone Species”: Lynda Watson is “the Prairie Dog Lady” of West Texas

They form a sophisticated society, with intricate communication. Prairie dogs are remarkable for their intelligence and sociability. And they're a “keystone species” – a foundation of biodiversity – on the West Texas plains. They nearly disappeared. O...

Understanding the Risks and Realities of Africanized Bees

It sounds like science fiction. Africanized honeybees were bred in a lab. These hybrids were superior honey producers – but also proved ferocious toward perceived threats. They escaped quarantine in Brazil in 1957. By the 80s, they'd reached the United...

Caprock Canyons State Park: The West Texas Plains as They Were

The drive to Caprock Canyons State Park is a quintessential West Texas experience. Traveling northeast from Lubbock, one is swiftly submerged in an immensity unique to the Great Plains. Rural isolation increases, and you surrender to the scale of the g...

At the Museum of Texas Tech, Exploring the Deep History of Life in West Texas

Mountain lions and mule deer, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs and falcons – West Texas has a rich assortment of wildlife. But rich as it is, it's only the present chapter in the history of life. And that history contains volumes. Across ages, complex commu...

For Endangered Long-Nosed Bat, An Intimate Link to Agave Is Threatened

Agave is one of the great resources of arid North America. It was a staple food for Native Americans. It's notable for its beauty – its luminous floret and towering stalk. Agave spirits – tequila, mezcal – are prized exports. But as close as the relat...

Lubbock Lake Landmark: A One-of-a-Kind “Archive” of Life on the Llano Estacado

It was WPA site 17 dash 1. In 1936, federal works crews were using heavy equipment – the likes of which had never been seen in West Texas – to try to rejuvenate springs in Yellow House Draw, at the north end of Lubbock. The spectacle drew onlookers, in...

Operation Ponderosa: Working to Save the Big Trees of the Davis Mountains, Amidst a Changing Climate

To walk in a forest in West Texas feels like a form of grace. The Davis Mountains are the state's largest “sky island” – a place of green pastures, a wooded country above a sea of desert. Oak and juniper, aspen and madrone. And on high slopes and cany...

The Squash Bee: A West Texas Native with an Outsized Impact

The hum of a hive, the burning pain of a sting – honeybees are hard to ignore. But don't let the buzz of these European imports drown out the broader bee story. The native bees of the Americas are solitary, ground-nesting. And West Texas is the “Amazo...

On the Pecos River, an Archeologist Cracks the Code of an Ancient Mural

The confluence of the Pecos and the Rio Grande is the Chihuahuan Desert's lowest, hottest point. The landscape bears the evidence. Across sun-blasted limestone, stunted plants seem to writhe and twist, waiting out the harsh sentence of soil and sky. F...

Mountain Slopes and Microscopes: Calibrating Geologic Time in the Guadalupes

In the 1830s, a group of Scottish and English naturalists were pursuing a new and unpopular idea: that the Earth's features could be explained by natural processes, acting over vast stretches of time. Studying the rocks of the British Isles, their atte...

Beyond Beautiful: Wildflower Guides Highlight Native American Traditions of Wild Plant Use

Our arid region trains us to accept austerity, starkness. But it also prepares us to greet with special wonder any exception to the desert rule: a spring-fed pool, a soaking rain, a wildflower in bloom. Easterners can take wildflowers for granted. Here...

Agave Festival Marfa: A Bond Between Plant and People Inspires a Cultural Celebration

Agaves are signature plants of the Southwest and Mexico. Today, a taste for distilled agave spirits – tequila, mezcal – is global. But that's a recent footnote to the profound human bond with agave. For 10,000 years, from present-day Mexico to West Te...

Ancient Primates of the Big Bend

Naturalists know that the Big Bend's harsh conditions mask a tremendous diversity of living things. The Chihuahuan Desert is home to plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. But did you know it was once home to an assortment of distinctive, end...

Strange and Wondrous: The Triassic Creatures of West Texas

The Triassic redbeds are one of the scenic highlights of West Texas. They dazzle in the red cliffs of Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyons state parks. These colorful rocks are found all along the margin of the Llano Estacado, and where rivers like th...

Beware the Buzzworm: Rattlesnakes in West Texas

At the buzz of a rattlesnake, the heart races, and the adrenalin flows. Our response is primal, physical. But rattlesnakes also exert a power over the imagination. For many, the fear of rattlesnakes is mixed with fascination. Rattlesnakes are impress...

In the Arid Lands of West Texas, An “Amazon of Bees”

“Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.” Lyricist Cole Porter may have rendered it with a characteristic wit and concision. But it wasn't a new idea. Poets have long seen in the bee's regard for the flower an image of attraction, of the e...

In the West Texas Canyonlands, Shumla Center Works to Preserve An Ancient Painted “Library”

For Native peoples, the arrival of Europeans in the Americas brought destruction on a staggering scale. Along with the catastrophic human toll, there was cultural shock – the violent disruption of ancient traditions and histories. But even where peopl...

For Earth Day, A Native Plant Sale in Alpine Saturday, April 22

As every school child learns from Johnny Appleseed, bringing plants to the people is good work. Since 2002, the Big Bend chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas has been spreading the news about native plants. And on Saturday, April 22, the nonpr...

Blood, Sweat, and Archeological Discovery in Eagle Cave

Near Langtry, Texas, in January 2017, the Texas Archeological Society hosted the Lower Pecos Canyonlands Academy. It was an immersion in new research into Texas prehistory. One focus of that research is Eagle Cave. The cave, deep in a canyon near the ...

“At Home on the Llano”: Celebrating a Rich Heritage at the Sibley Nature Festival, April 7-8

“It was illimitable expanse of desert prairie... a region almost as trackless as the ocean,” wrote General Randolph Marcy in 1852, in one of the first English-language accounts of the Llano Estacado. The vast plateau, he said, was a place of “uninhabi...

The “Gypsophilic” Plants of West Texas: Botanical Wonders in the Desert’s Most Austere Landscapes

They're uniquely austere landscapes, in a famously austere region. Across the Chihuahuan Desert, exposures of gypsum create white dune fields, badlands, bleached hills, ridges and flats. But that austerity conceals a surprise. A half-century ago, bot...

Handbooks to Adventure: Louis Aulbach’s West Texas River Guides

The Rio Grande, the Devils River, the Lower Pecos. The rivers of West Texas are exceptions to the desert rule. In this harsh land, they're a life-giving resource. And they're irresistible to backcountry adventurers. There are challenging rapids, and s...

Bonfire Shelter: A Window into the Daring Hunts of Texas Prehistory

The canyonlands surrounding the confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande are the boundary of West Texas – and they're famed in Texas archeology. Natural shelters here preserve stunning rock art, and one of the best records of North American hun...

In the Lower Pecos, New Research on a 13,000-Year Record of Texas Prehistory

Nineteenth century Americans knew the Pecos River as the boundary of the West. And the westering traveler today can feel that transition. In the canyonlands at the confluence of the Pecos and the Rio Grande, the Hill Country gives way to the Chihuahuan...