One Sweet December Day

Camphor Daisy (Rayjacksonia phyllocephala)

While frost, snow, and colder temperatures make their way across Canada and into the United States, those of us who live on the Texas coast continue to enjoy our own autumn-into-winter transition.

On December 4, I spent a few hours exploring the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, where a remarkable variety of flowers continued to bloom and increasing numbers of birds were appearing. The camphor daisy shown above, though in decline, still threaded through the mud flats and ditches, and one of our tiny asters (perhaps properly identified, or perhaps not) still was being visited by butterflies and other insects.

Panicled Aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum)
Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

The lotuses are gone now, but an assortment of aquatic plants remain, including mosquito fern, duckweed, and this pretty water lettuce. Its soft, slightly fuzzy leaves suggest those of common mullein.

Away from the ponds, wading birds scattered across the sloughs and flats. I crept as close to these spoonbills as I could, shooting from behind a thick screen of reeds to keep them from taking flight. It appears this is a group of juveniles; youngsters are a paler pink than the adults, and their heads are fully feathered.

Roseate Spoonbills (Platalea ajaja)

Lavender bespeaks autumn on our coast as much as red or gold. Here, tiny flowers of Texas vervain offer the smallest butterfly in North American a sip of nectar. Given the Pygmy Blue’s preference for cruising close to the ground, I was happy enough for this upside down view.

Texas Vervain (Verbena halei) and Western Pygmy Blue  (Brephidium exile)

Meanwhile, the Carolina wolfberry displays an equally pretty lavender. In time, it produces the bright red fruits that help to feed newly-arrived whooping cranes.

Carolina Wolfberry (Lycium carolinianum)
Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis

Our version of the scarlet pimpernel generally is orange, although blue and sometimes red flowers will appear. Low-growing and only a half-inch or so across, it’s delightfully detailed for such a small flower.

I rarely see the Ailanthus webworm moth, but when I do, I think of drapery and upholstery fabrics popular in the 1940s and 1950s.

Ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea)

Past the prairie and back at the slough, I found these ibises and egrets sharing a bank that offered protection from the wind.

White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) socializing with White Egrets (Egretta thula)

They didn’t seem at all disturbed by the numerous alligators sunning themselves on the same banks.

The obligatory alligator

Bright yellow cowpeas were everywhere, bringing a bit of visual warmth to the landscape.  I’d never before noticed the resemblance of their buds to those of the bluebonnet, but this time it was impossible to miss: a reminder that both are classified within the pea family, or Fabaceae.

Hairypod cowpea (Vigna luteola)

Today, a frontal passage with colder temperatures, rain, and wind has passed through, but soon enough the winds will switch to the south, and our typical December cycle will begin again.


Comments always are welcome.


49 thoughts on “One Sweet December Day

  1. A sweet day, indeed! I liked your capture of the spoonbills. I loved seeing them in Corpus when I grew up there and later, as I visited. (Haven’t been in a while.) Your id of the little aster reminds me that I need to look up one that has planted itself between our house and my SIL’s–it’s bloomed for a couple of months now!

    That pimpernel is a stunner–I’ve never seen that before! And I guess the webworm moth could be considered retro/mid-century modern in design?

    1. I can’t believe you’ve not seen pimpernel. I love finding it in blue; it’s a deep, pure blue that puts most blue flowers to shame. It does grow very close to the ground, though, and the flowers can be well hidden among the leaves. For whatever reason, it’s prolific at the Brazoria refuge, especially along the levees. As for the aster, while I was looking around, I found lots and lots of references to ‘yard asters.’ I think those must be the ones popping up now amid lawn grasses.

      I was delighted to find the spoonbills. Sometimes they’re out on the flats where they’re easier to photograph, but it was great fun to sneak up on them and watch their interactions.

    1. Notice those nice, white gator teeth? The better to nibble you with, my dear! I really enjoy photographing the Anagallis. With such an open structure, it’s easy to show the details, and they are splendid.

    1. Aren’t they pretty? This season, we’ve been ‘in the pink’ with our pink grasses and pink birds. Until recently, I’d assumed that the depth of color in the spoonbills was related to diet, so it was fun to learn that pale pink and feathery heads are signs of juveniles.

  2. People up north have trouble believing that a non-tropical region like yours has as many wildflowers as it does in December—along with alligators.

    You got a good closeup of the Ailanthus webworm moth.

    1. And some of our flowers hardly take a breath over the winter. The pimpernel’s a good example. I still laugh when I remember this exchange with another visitor to the refuge a few years ago:

      Me: When do these flowers stop blooming?
      Her: In January, usually.
      Me: When do they start blooming again?
      Her: In January, usually.

      When something like that moth reminds me of such things as 1950s draperies, I can’t help but wonder about the similarities. I can’t think that fabric designers imitated the pattern, but who knows? The moth’s design certainly evokes memories for some of us who are ‘of a certain age.’

  3. Your moth is wearing my mother-in-law’s curtains! (She won’t mind the comment, don’t worry). Scarlet pimpernel grows all over here too, but I’ve never looked so closely at it. What a wonder!! Thanks.

    1. Isn’t it funny how a simple pattern can evoke an entire era? Fashions change, of course, but the memories obviously don’t disappear — and, in the case of your mother-in-law, the curtains still are hanging, too! As for the pimpernel, I adore it. I especially like the orange and purple combination. Every time I see it, I wish I had some piece of clothing that combined the colors so well.

  4. Sensory overload for this northeasterner as winter approaches. Still a few days away but we had a close call with snow overnight. Missed us but I bet they had some in Eliza’s neighborhood.

    I get the Ailanthus Webworm moth in the yard and was happy to see yours. My first impression of the Scarlet Pimpernel side view was an orange spiderwort with those hairy stamens.. I am impressed with your exposure of the egrets and spoonies. All those whites under control.Thanks for the reminder that somewhere flowers are blooming.

    1. I’d not thought of the pimpernel’s resemblance to spiderwort, but now I see it. With their colors, those fine hairs on both flowers are especially attractive.

      I must have taken at least a hundred photos of the spoonbills. Not only was I shooting through the grasses and reeds that shielded me from the birds’ sight, it was exceedingly windy. That meant the plants kept waving in front of the lens, like botanical photobombers. Finally, I found a solution. I took the extra shoelace I carry with me out of my camera bag and loosely tied up one bunch of grass. That gave me the room I needed, and when I was done, I just untied things. No harm, no foul!

      1. No harm indeed. I do the same. Sometimes a piece of twine…I could remove a shoelace if needed…or I look for a fallen twig or branch to hold something back temporarily. I also occasionally use a branch to splash away foam in the water if it is very offensive. Comes right back if I don’t shoot fast enough. I am smiling as I picture you tucked away in your shoelace created blind firing away at the spoonies.

        1. And they never had a clue. The complete opposite of this experience was walking up on a couple of Caracaras on the same day — on an open road. I saw them on the road, stopped the car, and got out to shoot a couple of photos before they flew. They didn’t fly. so after a dozen shots, I walked closer…and closer…and closer. I got within about 20 feet of them, and I swear if I hadn’t made the mistake of crossing the road in front of them I could have gotten even closer. It was great fun — there will be photos eventually.

          1. Oh, it is very nice when that happens. I’ve had a couple of experiences like that but mostly with cows. Well, actually mostly with rabbits in the yard. In Maine a few times with Moose. Even when Bentley is out they are quite bold and I can often get to within a few feet before they bolt. If I ever come across a Caracara I’ll let you know how that goes.

  5. We have Pannicled Asters here but not too many spoonbills and ibises last time I checked. Will you send a few our way, but tell them to bring their winter feathers!

    1. From what I’ve seen, those winter feathers would serve the birds well! I love that you have the same aster. There are so many species here; some are easily identifiable, while others are puzzlements. Getting the genus right is a good first step, of course, and whenever I’m able to say with confidence, “It’s not that!” I’m another step along the path toward being able to say, “It is that.

    1. Have you visited the spoonbill rookery at High Island? I haven’t, but it’s on my list of things to do this spring. I always forget about it until the height of the season, and then it’s so crowded with people carrying piles of camera gear and five-foot-long lenses, it feels intimidating. I’ve been told the trick is to visit during the week, and perhaps even a little early in the season. We’ll see how it goes.

  6. How lovely it is to be able to escape into your sweet day from our grey and damp one! The scarlet pimpernel is a beautiful little flower and I love all the detail you’ve captured – the tiny hairs and the way the purple blends into the orange and the white – delightful!

    1. For the time being, we’ve returned to our usual December temperatures, cloudy skies, and a cold wind. But, in a day or so, fine conditions and warmth will have returned. It’s just the way it is here; we’re the battleground for northern and southern conditions. I suspect that’s one reason plants like the pimpernel tend to thrive in every month. Even when the cold sets in, there soon enough is sufficient warmth for them to begin growing again — and of course our pansies, cyclamen, and snapdragons love the ‘coolth.’

  7. We are really blessed in the southern climes to be able to continue enjoying nature’s diversity. What a diverse offering you have provided, making our December day sweeter indeed.

    Although the Scarlet Pimpernel occurs in Florida, it took a trip to Attwater NWR a few years ago to see our first one. That subtle red and intricate detail is really something.

    Flora, fauna, a riot of color – it all adds to our holiday preparations! Thank you so much!

    1. Some people I know become irritated by our weather swings, but I love them. I suspect they’re partly responsible for the ability of plants like the pimpernel to keep blooming through the winter. The cold rolls in, the flowers fade, and then it’s warm again, encouraging blooms. They’re like Michael Corleone in The Godfather: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” — the ‘they’ being the sun and the warmth, of course.

      Funny, that you found your first Pimpernel in Attwater. I found my first smartweed (Polygonum persicaria) in Arkansas. When I got back to Texas, I discovered it nearly everywhere.

  8. It was a mite chilly up here in the flatlands yesterday as the front passed through. I did what any reasonable individual does in such situations, lay in my nice warm bed, quaffed hot tea, and read all day. It was glorious. I love how the petals of the scarlet pimpernel overlap. I can visualize them irising open from the bud. As for the drapery and upholstery fabric from the 40’s and 50’s, I have my own recollections of some instances of such fabric that did to the eye what a brass band does to the ear. (what you might call the visual version of “Stars and Stripes Forever” . . .) Right up there with the men’s ties from the period.

    1. Your front reached us at last, and I intend to dally for about one more cuppa before I head out to the docks. I loved your mention of the men’s ties. I haven’t thought of my dad’s collection for some time, but a vision of their dubious beauty rose up immediately. I vaguely remember Dad getting a tie with a pinup girl on it at an office party one year, but I never saw it around the house. The 1950s florals lingered on.

  9. What nice flowers, birds and insects on your walk! I have seen and been astonished by the webworm moth (not so keen on the handiwork, though). What I couldn’t get used to would be having to keep a lookout for the alligators. Them teeth!!! Do you have an awareness of them as predators, or is seeing one not a big deal?

    1. It was such a lovely day — much like the one you shared with us in your last post. It’s interesting that you mentioned the webworm moth’s damage. Articles I read about it suggested that while it can cause damage, it’s not as destructive as many insects. It’s appearance certainly is striking.

      Alligators are far more predictable than you’d think. It’s never wise to get between a mama and her babies, or to go in the water when they’re around, but I don’t worry about them. The signs of their presence can be easy to read. They flatten grasses at their preferred places to slide into and out of the water, and leave tracks on the mudflats. Even when you can’t see one, their grunts and bellows are unmistakable, and there are times in mating season when I’ll change direction to avoid a couple of males discussing territory.

      This time of year, with the weather cooling, they mostly lie around and sun themselves on the banks. Being cold-blooded is no fun when the temperature begins to fall.

  10. I don’t think I’ve ever seen juvenile spoonbills — these look like a cross between sheep, flamingo, and duck. And thank you for that gorgeous macro of the scarlet pimpernel.

    1. I’m sure I’ve seen them in the past, but didn’t recognize them as juveniles. Like flamingos, roseate spoonbills become more or less pink depending on the carotenids in their diet, and I suspect I assumed some birds simply weren’t getting enough brine shrimp to create deeper color. Age and diet probably are related; the young ones haven’t ingested as much of the food that creates the color.

      I laughed at your description of them as a cross that includes sheep. Those head and neck feathers do resemble the wool on Lambchop!

      The pimpernel’s one of my favorite flowers. Even though it’s so small, and so close to the ground, the bloom is open enough that it photographs well.

  11. How delightful to see shades of “spring” in the middle of Fall/Winter!! Thank you, Linda, for gathering them for us here. I love the aster (it’s my birth month flower), and that lavender thing is stunning.

    1. That lavender flower of the Wolfberry is lovely. I’m going to post a few more photos of it, along with the berries, in the next day or so. You’d have a hard time picking a favorite aster for your birthday bouquet down here. We have so many species, you’d probably do best to include some of each: pink, lavender, white, big, small. A few of them bloom very late into the winter — the butterflies and bees certainly appreciate those!

    1. Oh, dear! I missed your comment somehow. I’ll blame “Christmas mind,” and the fact that when I read what you wrote, I started thinking of snow, and wishing for it. Maybe my mind froze!

    1. That little pimpernel is the star of the show, at least photographically. Still, I thought it worth showing all the delights of that day. Even an out-of-focus ibis or spoonbill is a great sight!

  12. So many offerings in this post! My yard is already full of spring weeds from this very warm winter. Woodland violets are blooming, not profusely yet but still. And I saw some coreopsis blooming in a ditch in the neighborhood. Some my bluebonnets are small as they should be now but many more are big and getting full.

    1. Apparently winter decided to take a page from spring’s notebook, and spring out all over. I saw either coreopsis or greenthread blooming here a couple of days ago. I call this the four-change-of-clothes season. I start out bundled up a bit, by 10 am taking off jackets, by 1 have changed into capris and a tee, and then by 5 begin reversing the process. At least I haven’t had to pull out the long underwear yet.

      It’s going to be a glorious holiday weekend — I hope yours is the best ever!

  13. Looks like you had a fantastic few hours with such a wide range of sights to see. I’d love to one day see spoonbills and ibis’, though I’d likely have to travel just a bit or get lucky when one flies off course. But I think I’m most drawn to the scarlet pimpernel. Such an incredible set of colors and what a beautiful shape. I’d heard of the character but never knew it was named after a flower.

    1. The combination of purple and orange always reminds me of African or Central American clothing. I used to get colored plastic Easter eggs that held candy. They came in a variety of colors, and I loved taking them apart and combining colors: purple and orange, green and yellow, pink and orange. When both parts of the egg were the same color, they always seemed a little boring to me.

      Yesterday was another treat-filled day. I’ve not come across Canada or Snow Geese in forever, but I found a field filled with snow geese yesterday, and just down the road there were some Sandhill Cranes. I’ve been hearing them, but this was my first sighting for the year. There will be photos, although my 70-300mm lens really wasn’t up to the challenge; they were too far away.

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