Something New, Something Familiar

Only one bird was swimming in the ponds at Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve yesterday: a winter resident — new to me — known as the Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola). According to the Audubon website, the bird’s common name is meant as a tribute to the buffalo, whose head it somewhat resembles.

The colorful male remained almost out of camera range on the other side of the pond, but I was able to capture a bit of the beautiful iridescence in its head and neck feathers.

Meanwhile, along Settegast Road, three early spring favorites were blooming. The blue-eyed grass, a member of the iris family, surprised me, although it appeared by mid-January last year.

Like Indian paintbrush, seaside goldenrod and crow poison can be found every month of the year, even after significant cold fronts. While no bees were visible, a bevy of tiny flies hovered around the blooms in the pleasant afternoon warmth.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.)
Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) with hoverfly
Crow poison (Nothoscordum bivalve )


Comments always are welcome.

67 thoughts on “Something New, Something Familiar

  1. Nice shot of the Bufflehead, a very common bird on Lakes Ontario and Erie at this time of the year, sometimes in huge rafts with Common Goldeneyes.

    1. What a treat that must be, to see so many of them! Now that I can recognize the male, and have seen photos of the females and juveniles, I’ll look more closely. I’m sure there are more here than I’ve seen. The Common Goldeneyes apparently are here in winter, too, though I don’t remember seeing them.

    1. It was a beautiful day, that’s for sure. I was surprised at the amount of standing water; I know they had more rain on the coast than we did, but I suppose some of it was tidal, too. It was as good to be using the camera again as it was just to be out. I certainly was a little rusty after three weeks of inactivity.

  2. What a pretty bird! And he does resemble a buffalo (at least, his head does!). I like the Blue-eyed grass, too. Thanks, Linda, for finding these early bits of Spring!

    1. As so often happens in Texas, the roller-coaster effect has taken hold; there’s the possiblity of snow next weekend, as far south as Huntsville, with a 20% chance for Houston. We’ll probably not see it, but you never know. It’s happened. Between now and mid-February, these little blooms will appear, then decide that maybe it’s a tad too early, but they’re certainly fun to see when they’re around.

    1. Isn’t it gorgeous? I got down to the Island later in the day, and these already were fading a bit, but now that I know they’re popping up, I’ll see if I can find an even more vibrant one for you.

    1. Well, there is snow in the forecast for next weekend, so there’s that. Call it a yo-yo or a roller coaster, it’s just spring on the coast. Southerly winds bring warmth off the Gulf, and then northerlies blow it all away. Things won’t really stabilize until February or March, but some flowers are opportunistic, and make use of all that warmth and sunshine. It’s always fun to see them.

    1. Happy New Year to you, Ellen. Your writing certainly has been a bright spot in the past year, and I’m looking forward to seeing more (and more of Karl’s photos) in the coming year.

  3. That is a beautiful duck. Winter is so interesting with all the birds visiting. After the cold front, I had a flock of hungry Goldfinches blow in and a Hermit Thrush, which was listed as uncommon.

    1. When I was at Lafitte, there was the largest flock of robins I’ve seen in years flying around. After seeing them in Kerrville a month ago, I’m ready to believe their migration path is different this year. They were too active for me to catch a photo, but it was wonderful to listen to them as they flew among the trees and shrubs.

      I’ve never seen a Hermit Thrush. My new bird for the year is the Pine Warbler; there’s a flock of them coming to the feeders now.

      1. I was happy that I could identify the Thrush. I have several books and apps to look the up and lists from nearby parks. Pine Warblers are pretty birds and I’m sure you enjoy watching the flock.

  4. Beautiful photos, Linda. I’m surprised, though I suppose I shouldn’t be, that there are some early bloomers. That’s a nice find!

    I’ve always been fond of the name ‘bufflehead’–it just seems so silly!

    1. As amusing as ‘bufflehead’ may be, it’s still only a close second to ‘butter butt’! On the other hand, both of those characteristics — the head shape and that flash of bright yellow on the bird’s behind — certainly do help with identification. I didn’t realize until last weekend that the yellow-rumped warbler also is known as the myrtle warbler, and that certainly helped explain the numbers of them I saw at Lafitte. The place is awash in wax myrtles, and those myrtles still are filled with berries.

      If these ducks begin fussing with one another, I wonder if they call it a buffle kerfuffle?

    1. It was just good to be out again, despite a little awkwardness with the camera. Such a long hiatus certainly proves everything I’ve read about the importance of regular, if not daily, shooting. These pretty flowers (or their kin) will be shivering this weekend, though. Cold will make it to the coast, and there are mutterings about snow to the north of Houston — as close as Huntsville.

        1. Let’s see. A hundred mile trip through Houston, on freeways, to see snow? I think I’ll wait for it to come a little farther south. It won’t be this time, though. It seems as though it won’t make it past the Panhandle.

  5. This may be a good year for Buffleheads. I thought I saw one on a pond at the golf course last week and I’d never seen one there before. I had to go back home and verify that they could be here. Audubon said they were uncommon here in winter, but possible. I’ll keep an eye out on my next visit.

    1. I’ll say this: having identified a Bufflehead, I don’t think I’d mistake one in the future. They’re as distinct as any bird I’ve seen. I did have to resort to online searches and books to ID it, though. Merlin, the Cornell app, doesn’t seem to include the Bufflehead in this area. They may be uncommon here, too.

  6. My crow poison tends to grow in the same spot annually. The act never ceases to amaze me. I had no idea it’s called crow poison until now. Thanks for the knowledge.

    That’s a new-to-me hoverfly. It’s as exciting as the return of the woodpecker this afternoon. And the hawk feather I found. And the fig tree buds. I watched a bird eat crepe myrtle seeds and you’d have thought the scene was Oscar worthy. All the unexpected rewards in nature feel like a bonus this year. Thanks for upping the ante.

    1. I’m glad to read that you have birds eating your crepe myrtle seeds, too. The goldfinches love the ones around my place. I’ve always been glad that the landscapers leave the seedheads until well into spring; it’s a good food sources for some of the birds.

      Another name for crow poison is false garlic. There’s an old story that the plant does poison crows if it’s ground up with corn that they feed on, but it doesn’t seem to be sufficiently toxic to affect people. Even so, there’s plenty of advice that it shouldn’t be eaten.

    1. I ought to do a post just about the crow poison. It’s one of those plants that has an interesting history behind its name. It used to be thought (and maybe still is) that various ways of using it could deter crows. Another name is false garlic, although there’s nothing garlicky about it. Common names are tricky.

      Just so you know, there’s a mention of snow in the forecast for next weekend. We never have a straight path into spring; I’ve got photos in my file of snow on top of lantana and roses. It’s rare, but it happens.

      1. Common names are very intriguing and sometimes fun – there’s probably posts that we could all write about common names in our own areas. I hope that you get some good photo opps if it does snow!

        1. As so often happens, any chance of snow for us is gone. I looked around the state and it seems that the Panhandle towns like Amarillo might see some. Unfortunately, Amarillo’s about six hundred miles away; I’ll not be making that trip, even for snow.

  7. Gorgeous flower portraits. Love the dark backgrounds. That is one fancy duck! (This afternoon we seriously had to duck – twice – at the Island bridge across from the marina as a trio of duck were having some sort of flying race…wonder how many points they were promised if they crowned us?
    The spring weather is welcomed by many – a couple of Monarchs still lingering. Nice afternoons to enjoy that big blue sky!

    1. What was especially interesting was that all three of the flowers were in one short length of Settegast Road. There were a lot of firewheels there, too. It must be an especially protected space. I’m eager to roam a little farther and see what else I can see. I saw some butterflies, too. At this point in the year, finding the flowers is key to finding the insects; the size of their banquet table’s somewhat reduced.

  8. The photos of the flowers are exquisite with the dark background which shows them off to perfection. How wonderful to see these beauties in bloom in the winter. The little bufflehead is one of the cutest ducks. How lucky you were to get this very nice pic of the drake.

    1. I agree, about the bufflehead. It’s just plain cute. It certainly was aware of me. Every time I tried to follow its movement down the pond, it would reverse course and head away. I might have been able to get a better photo if I’d just settled down and waited, but I wanted to keep moving, myself. It had been so long since I’d been in the area, I was eager to get an overview of what was happening.

      I did see a large flock of robins, and a raccoon making its way along the pond edge. I’ve seen nutria there, but never a raccoon, so that was fun.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, Derrick. We always have a few early flowers; soon enough, it will turn colder, and we’ll have to wait for more to appear. Our weather is typically a battle between cold and warmth as we begin moving into spring, and the flowers follow along.

    1. I always get excited when I find a bird that’s more easily identifiable, although it did take me some time to pin this one down. It is beautiful. Now, I hope to find one that I can get closer to, for a sharper photo.

      We have a number of plants that are capable of dealing with colder temperatures, and all of these qualify. Like the Indian paintbrush and Gaillardia, they’re fairly easy to find in January, and by February they’re popping out everywhere. I’m already plotting some spring wildflower get-aways — but first I need to make up the time I lost at work during December.

  9. I have a clump of blue eyed grass I dug up from the side of the road that my street runs off of. it’s nice and full right now but no bloom stalks showing yet. it’s still early for that. here at least.

    1. That may be true, but I remember someone saying she’d spotted ten-petaled anemones. That’s one reason I made myself get out last Sunday. I remembered your posts from last year, and my realization that I’d missed getting out to see the first flowers. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake this year!

    1. Both transitional seasons are interesting here, Laurie, but spring is especially so. Some people call it a roller coaster, while others prefer a yo-yo analogy. First, south winds from the warm Gulf raise our temperatures; then, northers bring real cold, and we all think we’re going to die because it’s 30F.

      I always judge the severity of a winter by the number of times I have to bring in the tropical plants. Last year was a three, although we never got more than a very light freeze. The year before, I had to break ice on the bird baths, and once we had snow flurries in February. Up and down and up and down we go — and we love seeing the flowers that beat the odds as much as anyone!

  10. Buffleheads migrate through here in the fall and winter Linda, on both the coast and inland lakes. Crow poison caught my attention in terms of how it got its name. So, I looked it up. I read that a Cherokee legend says they used it to poison crows that would eat their corn. –Curt

    1. It’s great that you get to see the buffleheads. It’s interesting that they’re common in the east, too. I read that their numbers are stable or increasing, which is good. They certainly are handsome things.

      There are a few legends about crow poison. Another one I came across said that people would rub a crow poison paste on the heads of their chickens, to keep hawks or crows from making off with them. That one seems even more unlikely than crow poisoned corn, but who knows? More research is required!

      1. They are a member of the onion family, I believe, Linda. If so, they may have a strong smell that would discourage predators or mask the smell of what they were interested in eating. –Curt

        1. In fact, they don’t have any odor at all: not of garlic and not of onion. A foraging site I consult from time to time says, “Only wild onion smells like onion. If it smells like onion it is safe to eat; if it just smells like grass it’s Rain Lily or Crow’s Poison.” Now we know!

    1. Our seasons sometimes overlap significantly. I was used to more distinct seasons in the midwest, and it was a bit of an adjustment when I moved to Texas. As for the bird, I think the ones with distinct color patches always are striking. Now, I need to find a bufflehead female. I suspect she’ll not be so dramatically colored.

  11. Terrific photographs of some very beautiful flowers!

    The Bufflehead male is really handsome! Like you, we only see them in the winter and getting a photograph as superb as yours is a challenge. Very nice!

    1. Now that I know what a Bufflehead looks like, I suspect I’ll see more. That’s the way it seems to happen; it certainly does with flowers. I’ve gone for two or three years grumping because I never see this or that species of flower and then, as soon as I find one, I discover they’re everywhere.

      It tickled me that I happened across a post in another local birder’s blog. She mentioned seeing a lone Bufflehead male in the pond at Lafitte; it has to have been this same bird. I don’t know why that makes me so happy, but it does.

  12. Early Spring! We’re having a warmish winter so far but Spring is still way beyond near times. I’ve seen one Bufflehead many years ago and at a distance. Your image shows them to be very lovely. And the flowers, well they are also lovely and a welcome sight even if ours are still months away.

    1. Tomorrow and Monday, the little flowers are going to be shivering. There’s a wintery mix including snow in the Austin forecast, so Steve has a good chance of seeing it, and a hundred miles north of me they’re forecasting snow, too. We’re apparently going to stay above freezing, but cold rain and wind are going to make it feel like winter, at last.

      It took me some time to ID the Bufflehead, but I don’t think I’ll ever have trouble with the male again. Now I need to begin looking for a female. Surely one will show up to keep this handsome fellow company.

      1. Do you have iNaturalist on your phone? When I have trouble with an ID I often snap a shot off the computer screen and run it through the app…or if possible grab a shot with the phone for a quicker result.. They are not always accurate but are often enough that it is a nice tool. Especially with insects.

        I don’t know about you, but I would 100% rather have snow than cold rain…Bentley too. Of course when we get significant snow it requires clesn up but I still prefer it. Plus photographing snow is a lot more enjoyable than rain.

        1. Not only do I not have iNaturalist on my phone, I don’t have a smart phone. I’m still in the flip phone era, and use the phone solely for calls and the occasional response to a text. I can’t afford the initial cost of a smart phone, and I can’t afford the monthly cost, so I make do with what I have.

          1. It’s a free app and you can use it on your computer as well. There’s a green upload button that you can use to load one of your images and then request an ID. Free is good. :)

            1. The only iNaturalist app I found is called Seek. To install it on a PC seems to require first downloading programs that allow downloading other programs that allow… Too complicated, and I’m not comfortable downloading programs I don’t understand. I guess I’ve not moved far enough into the techie world. Even reading the discussion of the app on iNaturalist left me confused. I’ll stick with books, websites, and people for the time being.

              I’m wondering if it’s easier on a Mac.

            2. I don’t know what Seek is but here’s a link to what I use and as far as I can see you just fill out a couple of boxes and that’s it. No downloads only uploads.
              But at this point if it’s not of interest you do perfectly fine with what you have been doing and I’ll stop with the suggestion.

            3. Oh! I’ve been on iNaturalist for a couple of years. I thought you were talking about the app instead of the website. ‘Seek’ is their new app, where you can snap a photo of something and get immediate (though sometimes less accurate) identification.

          2. Oh, btw, if my employer didn’t provide me with service I am not sure I’d have a smart phone either. I did buy an iPhone but the monthly fees would be prohibitive for me also.

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