Bull Buffalo Calling with tongue out © Lang Elliott American Bison (bull in rut), growling as he follows a female. 10am, 3 August 2016. Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma. © Lang Elliott.

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After recording in Missouri’s tallgrass prairie, I drove south and west to spend an afternoon and evening in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma, followed by an overnight at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in the Hill Country of Texas. Work was tough at both locations. Temperatures soared to around 103F during the day (miserably hot, according to my standards) and a fairly stiff breeze made it difficult to get clean recordings. Nonetheless, I managed to snag a few really useful soundscapes.

Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (southwestern Oklahoma)

Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge - habitat © Lang Elliott

The high point of my Wichita Mountains adventure was coming across a herd of American Bison (buffalo) walking alongside the main road through the refuge (see photograph and featured recording at top of post). I could hear the males growling as they followed females, so I drove further up the road, quickly set up my soundscape microphone, started my recorder, and then retreated back into my car. The result was quite amazing. It was the beginning of the rutting season and the males were clearly enthused. What surprised me is that the males stick out their tongues when they vocalize (pictured in the photo).

I got a little over a minute of high-quality growling, and then a noisy car full of noisy people suddenly showed up. They stopped right in front of my microphone and then yelled out at me: “What is that weird-looking thing next to the road?”. I felt like saying “It’s a microphone, you morons; would you please shut up and go away!”. But I just smiled, calmly told them what it was, and then watched in dismay as the bison trotted over the top of a hill and disappeared from view.

Not far from where I encountered the bison, I visited a colony of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs and got several nice recordings of individuals nervously barking and squealing at me from next to their dens:

Prairie Dogs at entrance to burrow, by Lang ElliottTwo recordings of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs barking and squealing from the entrance to their burrows. 11am, 3 August 2016. Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge © Lang Elliott.

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I spent most of the afternoon resting in the shade next to a lake and was grateful when darkness (and coolness) finally arrived. Before long a raucous chorus of Common True Katydids, Pterophylla camellifolia, erupted from an oak forest next to the lake:

Lake at Dusk - Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge © Lang ElliottCommon True Katydids calling from oak forest near a lake. 10:30pm, 3 August 2016. Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma. © Lang Elliott.

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I heard a screech owl trilling way off in the distance, but I had no luck getting close enough for a recording. So I drove the roads for awhile, listening for something new. Luck was with me. At the south entrance to the refuge, I came across an entirely new insect sound … loud rattles from Truncated True Katydids, Paracyrtophyllus robustus, coming from small oaks and junipers on a dry, rocky hillside. This katydid looks almost identical to the Common True, and exists in both green and yellow-brown forms:

truncated true katydid by Ron Billings, Texas Forest ServiceThe rattling calls of Truncated True Katydids. 11pm, 3 August 2016. Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma. © Lang Elliott.

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This was an exciting discovery. Checking the species profile for Truncated True Katydid on Tom Walker’s Singing Insect Website, I found that the range is thought to be restricted to central Texas. But now I know that they also occur in southwestern Oklahoma, about a hundred miles further north. The result of climate change? Or were the more northern populations simply overlooked?

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (Texas Hill Country)

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

I left Oklahoma the afternoon of August 4, arriving that evening at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. I quickly set up camp and awaited the coming of darkness. The breeze soon died down but the insect chorus was rather boring. I was tired, so I decided to call it a night, hoping there would be some action in the morning. And action there was … I awakened at first light to a wonderful chorus of White-winged Doves. They were all about the campground and cooed like crazy for nearly an hour, to my considerable delight! In the following recording of the doves, listen too for the gentle chirps of crickets, the sharp check! calls of a Northern Mockingbird, and other bird and insect sounds:

White-winged Dove © Brian SmallWhite-winged Doves cooing at dawn. 7:00am, 4 August 2016. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in the Hill Country north of Fredericksburg, Texas. © Lang Elliott.

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I hope you have enjoyed these highlights from the Oklahoma and Texas portion of my trip. If it weren’t so miserably hot, I might have spent more time in both areas, and even driven down to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Oh well, maybe next year. Now it’s time to head home, but not without visiting some interesting natural areas along the way, including the marshlands of coastal Louisiana, the swamplands of southern Arkansas, and the forested hills of western Kentucky. So please stay tuned for trip highlights from those areas, coming real soon (as long as nothing else gets in the way).

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