Celebrating with Searockets

Coastal Searocket

From neighborhood bottle rockets to the dramatic skyrockets of Independence Day fireworks shows, the sound and color of American July 4th celebrations recall the “rockets’ red glare” of our national anthem.

A different rocket — the Coastal Searocket (Cakile lanceolata) — celebrates in its own way in the sandy soils of coastal Texas.  Named for rocket-shaped pods that bear two seeds, it easily could be missed because of its low growth habits and tiny flowers.

Occuring naturally in beach dunes and coastal strands, the plant tolerates salt, drought, wind, and the inundation that comes with storm surge. Well suited for dune stabilization, it attracts a variety of bees and butterflies, and is the larval host for the Great Southern White (Ascia monuste phileta).

Like other members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae or Cruciferae), the plant’s stems and leaves are edible, either raw or cooked. That said, I doubt that many holiday parties will include a bowl of searocket next to the potato salad and coleslaw. It’s reported to be tasty, but it’s hardly traditional.


Comments always are welcome.


Feather, Duckweed, and Mosquito Fern on a Brazoria pond


Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather,
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
“Today” ~ Mary Oliver


Comments always are welcome.

See You Later, Alligator!

American alligator  ~ Alligator mississippiensis

Whenever I visit the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, I always stop first at the boardwalk that bisects a large freshwater pond.  There’s always something to see — waterfowl, water-loving plants, water snakes — and of course there are alligators.

Last Sunday, I arrived just after dawn to find the larger than usual male alligator shown in the photo above lurking at the edge of the boardwalk, wearing a garland of duckweed and only occasionally opening an eye to give me an appraising glance. As I was standing above him, scanning the reeds for birds, he suddenly began to bellow. It went on for several minutes, and looked and sounded like this.

Needless to say, a bellowing alligator perhaps twelve feet away was enough to raise my adrenalin level. I backed off a bit, and then began taking photos. I often hear the creatures’ bellows during mating season, but never had seen the display; it was an opportunity not to be missed.

Turning on the bubble machine

Male alligators bellow to attract females, establish territory, and claim their place at the top of pond hierarchies. Filling themselves with air, they inflate like a balloon, lifting their bodies out of the water. Then, they raise their heads and tails, and produce that deep, low sound that vibrates the water around them.

When one male bellows, others in the area will respond, creating a curtain of sound. But in this instance there were no responses from other alligators, and I certainly wasn’t going to challenge the fellow with a bellow of my own.

Instead, remembering what I’d read about alligators’ jumping ability, I considered the creature’s large size, the relative fragility of the boardwalk fence, and moved on: content to have had the experience.

What a self-satisfied smile!


Comments always are welcome.

The Blooms from Ipomoea

While the history of the ‘British Invasion’ — the arrival of the Beatles and other British musical groups on American shores in the 1960s — is familiar enough, the British weren’t the only new arrivals.

The Brazilians — particularly João and Astrud Gilberto, Antônio Carlos Jobim, and Sergio Mendes/Brasil ’66 — introduced a music perfectly suited for summer’s easy afternoons and languid evenings. Astrud Gilberto wasn’t the girl from Ipanema, but her association with the song has endured, and the performance linked above may be her most charming. Her English lyrics are perfectly understandable, and the Portuguese has a poetic lilt discernible even for those who don’t speak the language.

Olha que coisa mais linda
Mais cheia de graça
É ela a menina que vem e que passa
Num doce balanço a caminho do mar
Moça do corpo dourado do sol de Ipanema
O seu balançado é mais que um poema
É a coisa mais linda que eu já vi passar
Ah, por que estou tão sózinho?
Ah, por que tudo é tão triste?
Ah, a beleza que existe
A beleza que não é só minha

Que também passa sozinha
Ah, se ela soubesse
Que quando ela passa
O mundo sorrindo se enche de graça

E fica mais lindo por causa do amor

“The Girl From Ipanema” has been one of my favorites since its introduction. I’ve listened to it so many times that it often rises unbidden into consciousness, and every year, when the variety of flowers in the genus Ipomoea begin blooming, it comes to mind again. Finally, it seemed as though a new version of the song was in order: one designed to celebrate the flowers. It’s easy enough to meld new lyrics with the music, and you might enjoy following along with mine.

Ipomoea imperati ~ Beach Morning Glory
Long and thin and filled with color
The vines of Ipomoea go twining,
And where they wander
The dunes they cover go, “Ah!”
Ipomoea sagittata ~ Saltmarsh Morning Glory
As they flower a light scent lingers
above the flow of wood-green waters,
And where it rises
The morning breezes go, “Ah!”
Ipomoea pandurata ~ Wild Sweet Potato
Oh, but they watch us so sadly.
How can they know that we love them?
Yes, they would give their hearts gladly,
But each day as we walk past their vines
we give them a glance, but no time.
Ipomoea cordatotriloba ~ Tie Vine
Rose and white and blue and purple
The blooms of Ipomoea unfurl
And when we’re passing they shine,
But we never see
We just cannot see
No we dare not see
We so rarely see.
Ipomoea imperati ~ Beach Morning Glory


Comments always are welcome.

Home, Sweet Nest

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

I recently had occasion to stop by a marina I rarely visit: one less than two miles from my home. Stepping out of my car, I noticed a Black-crowned Night Heron patrolling the edge of a tree-dense circle in the midst of a parking area. My camera happened to be at hand, so I took advantage of the opportunity to catch a photo of a bird I rarely see in mid-day.

As I watched, the bird pulled a fallen twig out of the grass, and I realized it was engaged in stick-gathering.

Clearly aware of my presence, it gave me an appraising look, then flew up into one of the large live oaks in the midst of the parking lot.

The bird had been at work for some time; this certainly wasn’t its first stick. I watched as it tucked the new stick into its nest,

and then hopped to a nearby branch to admire its handiwork.

At that point, the sound of birds in the treetops — and the amount of droppings on the ground — made clear the existence of a true rookery. The trees were filled with nests, the squawking of hungry youngsters, and the occasional sight of a seemingly exhausted parent.

Trying to get a glimpse of birds high in leafy live oaks isn’t easy, but I was pleased with this image of two youngsters in a different nest.

Black-crowned Night Herons will nest among other birds, and these weren’t the only residents of the live oaks. Great Egret chicks were scattered among the herons: their nests fewer, but no less noisy.

Great Egret chicks (Ardea alba)

Black-crowned Night Heron chicks leave the nest at about four weeks, and Great Egret chicks at four to six weeks. The size and behavior of these youngsters suggests they’re approaching that time; the number of birds still gathering sticks suggests there may be opportunities to see even younger birds developing in this urban rookery.

Comments always are welcome.