Snipe, Hunting

As early as the 1840s, unsuspecting children and newcomers to country life were being duped into trying to catch a nonexistent animal called a snipe. Even today, ‘snipe hunts’ continue, as new innocents are tricked into seeking an imaginary creature whose description varies according to the imagination of the perpetrators.

During my first year at summer camp, after being challenged to find one of the elusive creatures and trap it with a pillowcase, my hunt came to an early end when the older girls watching me fumble about in the dark couldn’t contain their giggles.

That experience led me to believe for decades that all snipe were imaginary, and that being ‘sent on a snipe hunt’ was nothing more than a poetic description for an impossible mission.

Then, I met this creature probing the mud along an isolated refuge road.

Wilson’s Snipe at the Brazoria refuge

While searching among images of sandpipers and dowitchers in an attempt to identify the bird, I emailed Texas Master Naturalist Shannon Westveer, who came to my rescue. Without hunting at all, I’d captured my first Snipe — or at least its image. Only weeks later, I found my second in a pond at the Brazoria refuge.

Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) breed in our northern states and Canada, then migrate to spend the winter in southern states, as well as in Mexico and Central America. In Texas, the majority are found along the coast and in the blackland prairie region between Waco and the Red River.

The birds prefer the soft soils of moist or wet places, and often are found in harvested rice fields, rain-soaked prairies, or low-lying areas along bayous, creeks, and ponds. Long legs allow them to navigate shallow water, while  long bills allow them to probe for worms, insect larvae, and other invertebrate prey. Their bill’s tip is flexible; because it can open to grasp food while the base remains closed, they can ingest small prey from the mud without having to remove their bill from the soil.

Wilson’s Snipe foraging in a shallow freshwater pond

During courtship, males ‘dancing’ in the sky create a distinctive, winnowing sound as air passes over specially modified outer tail feathers. When flushed, the bird’s call  is equally remarkable. Now that I’ve heard the sounds on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, I know that I’ve heard them in the field. The next time I hear such a call, I’ll look around for a snipe, hunting.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Hill Country Rivers ~ The Sabinal

Sabinal ~ River and rock

Many decades ago, I associated only two rivers with Texas: the Red, which marks a portion of the border between Oklahoma and Texas, and the Rio Grande, our border to the south.

Over time, I discovered how river-rich the state actually is, and how striking differences among our rivers can be. My favorite hill country rivers  — the Frio, Sabinal, Guadalupe, and Medina — are nothing like the broad, muddy Brazos and San Bernard flowing through my southeast Texas neighborhood.

The Sabinal, a favorite feature of Lost Maples State Natural Area, rises from springs percolating through the limestone rock common there. After flowing through steep canyons, the river eventually joins the Rio Frio; in turn, the Frio flows into the Nueces, which ends at Corpus Christi Bay.

The Sabinal, flowing

Fed by a variety of creeks, the river traverses flat to rolling terrain; the surrounding sandy and clay loams support a variety of hardwoods and grasses. Once paralleled by a well-known Indian trail designated ‘Comanche Trail’ on early Spanish maps, the river originally was known as Arroyo de la Soledad, or ‘Stream of Solitude.’ Solitude still can be found there, as well as a wealth of natural beauty.

Solitary Sabinal seeds

 

Comments always are welcome.

Lost Maples’ Sycamores

American Sycamore on the grounds of the Lost Maples Winery

In spring, people flocking to the Texas hill country in search of bluebonnets sometimes arrive too early or too late to see the bloom at its height. In certain years, the flowers are sparse at best, and the sense of human disappointment becomes palpable.

The same is true at Lost Maples State Natural Area, where the autumn color of Bigtooth maples draws visitors from across Texas. The New England-like foliage can be spectacular, but timing is everything. The need to reserve a date for a visit because of crowds — as many as 80,000 visitors in a six-week period — complicates things, since even the most glorious display of color can be swept away by overnight winds.

Still, if the maples have lost their color, other delights remain. During my recent visit, I especially enjoyed the American sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis). A tall tree, capable of attaining heights up to a hundred feet, the sycamore often is found along creek and river banks, as well as in floodplains. The most striking feature of the tree is its bark: white in younger trees, aging into a darker gray-brown, patchy, and peeling bark that resembles camouflage in the older.

Leaves of the sycamore and Bigtooth maple are similar in shape; size is often the quickest way to distinguish them. Here, a hollow log serves to display a collection of smaller maple leaves and an especially nice example from a sycamore.

Even the smallest sycamore sapling can produces glorious leaves, as this example from the Sabinal riverbank proves.

In Can Creek, dozens of sycamore leaves bobbed and floated; in the shallow waters, a few were caught and held by the creekbed’s pebbles and rocks, and glimmered in the late afternoon light.

 

Comments always are welcome.