Shawnee News-Star Weekender Sept 29 2018 Becky Emerson Carlberg The weekend that was: September 21st-23rd.    The Oklahoma Wildlife Expo at the Lazy E Ranch outside Guthrie began on a damp Friday that progressed to a constant downpour throughout the day.   Some outdoor tents experienced partial collapses and many people became rather soaked throughout the day, […]

Shawnee News-Star Weekender Sept 29 2018

The Rain Garden

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The weekend that was: September 21st-23rd.    The Oklahoma Wildlife Expo at the Lazy E Ranch outside Guthrie began on a damp Friday that progressed to a constant downpour throughout the day.   Some outdoor tents experienced partial collapses and many people became rather soaked throughout the day, but that did not deter the 73 bus loads of school kids that arrived.   The fried catfish bites and hot steamy bison chili served in the Welcome tent rescued many a cold volunteer and staff member.

Saturday was dry with partly cloudy conditions, but on Sunday a faint mist could be felt in the air and the clouds held fast.   Actually, the conditions were great for the outdoor activities and also encouraged more people to go into the gigantic arena to check out the multitude of booths arranged in rows and around the perimeter.

Inside the Lazy E Arena

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) Wildlife Expo has been held 13 years.   Admission is free with over 120 hands-on activities; for example, archery, fishing, shooting, rock climbing, ATVs, mountain bikes, bow-fishing and bird watching.   Anything to do with the outdoors and nature.   This is Oklahoma's largest outdoor recreation event.   The ODWC staff wore bright orange t-shirts and volunteers were in brown.

It is a big deal.   ODWC employs 350 people responsible for taking care of the habitats and natural resources for the entire state of Oklahoma.   They do not get any general state tax money but are supported by hunting and fishing license sales, and Federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs.   The busy Lazy E Arena is a world premiere western entertainment facility that hosts over 40 events a year.   This weekend (September 27-30) is the Western Dressage World Championship Show.

No evidence of the Wildlife Expo will be present.   The state wildlife staff has mastered setting up and tearing down exhibits in record time.   Except for the four Selfie panels set up throughout the area.   The one by the Butterfly tent suddenly fell backwards and hit the ground with a thud.   'Is everyone okay?' Yes.   Work continued.

Booth seminars and events took place every day.   In the 'Make-n-Take' department, you could build a birdhouse, paint fishing lures, weave a basket or make your own wildlife bling.   Dutch oven cooking was quite a bit quieter than the shotgun shooting that constantly echoed across the rolling hills and pond.

The Watchable Wildlife area where I volunteered had displays set up by the Rogers County Conservation District, pictures and info of endangered wildlife in Oklahoma courtesy of the Wildlife Department, the Oklahoma Master Naturalists, the Butterfly tent, binocular trees, rain garden with native plants and caged wildlife, and native plant and bird watch stations.

Binoculars in Use

The educator from Rogers County hosted an amazing set up of tables with wild flora and fauna.   One table had flat plastic squares with shallow relief sculptures of images of nature.   The kids placed white paper over squares and colored the surface with thick round crayons.   They were delighted to see a flower, leaf, animal or bug appear almost like magic.

The teacher had carefully set up the rain garden on a slope as a demo to show how to deal with rainwater runoff from gutters, yards or low soggy areas.   A cutaway section with plexiglass sides illustrated the filtering layers of fine rock, sand, potting soil and mulch used to create a simple rain garden. Interspersed throughout the garden were potted native plants and shiny new cedar stands supporting:   one aquarium with two brilliant green garter snakes; a wire cage containing an orb weaver spider on her intricate zig-zag web; a cage full of passion flower vines nourishing Gulf Fritillary butterflies, caterpillars and pupas; one aquarium with logs partially embedded in water that provided shelter for five small tree frogs.   The frogs were the same color as the wood and it was challenging to locate all five frogs.   The large spider elicited several comments.   Most called the black and yellow porch spider a zipper, corn or banana spider and left it alone wherever it was.   One family named their orb weaver Sandy.   Years ago my spider was Charlotte.

Trimmed cedar trees surrounded by hay bales held lightweight binoculars easily used by kids and adults.   They could zoom in on the artificial owl in the tree, the pond or birds. The butterfly tent was a netted gazebo lined by hay bales with slices of watermelon, rotten fruits, flowering plants, shallow water dishes and several butterflies either perched on a nectar source or parked on the sides or ceiling. Between the rains on Friday and cool weather the following two days, most activity had ceased by Sunday.   It was a good decision to have the horned lizards from Tinker AFB put into the huge indoor arena.   They usually were in the wildlife area, but weather was too unpredictable so they stayed high and dry inside.   The butterflies probably wished they had been faster, cleverer, or inside the arena to keep the horny toads company.

The Oklahoma Master Naturalists were represented by Plaster of Paris animal footprints, skulls, snake and bobcat skins, petrified wood, rose rocks and gypsum stones, insect capture and observation jars, milkweed seeds, and pictures showing Monarch life stages as well as spring and fall migratory paths in North America.

The Oklahoma master Naturalist Display

Monarchs aren't the only ones that migrate.   The smaller Painted Ladies, most widely distributed butterfly across the world, are on their way south to the deserts of northern Mexico and southwestern US.   These butterflies spend their spring and summer across the US and Canada.   Monarchs search for milkweed to lay their eggs.   Painted Ladies locate members of the aster family, especially thistles.   The butterflies feed on iron weed, joe-pie weed, milkweed and asters.   Similar to Monarchs, it takes generations of Ladies to make epic journeys.   Monarchs travel 3,000 miles but Painted Ladies may fly 6,000. They can travel over 100 miles each day, 3,000 feet high and have been clocked at 30 mph, all checked by radar.   This little butterfly weighs less than a paper clip.

We are aware about Monarch migration, but did you know over 70 different species of insects migrate, including the large milkweed bug.   These guys follow the same path as their fellow Monarchs.   Even some large wildlife, such as elk, deer, pronghorn sheep, whales, bats, salmon and elephants, move from their summer cabins to their winter digs.

This year's Wildlife Expo offered so many ways for people to acquaint themselves with the great outdoors.   Go outside and experience the energy and diversity of nature.   There is nothing better!