After interminable rainless weeks, the freshwater ponds at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge became little more than mudholes. Maintenance took place in the form of mowing and cutting, but the always-enjoyable birds disappeared. On my last visit before Thanksgiving, I saw only two Great White Egrets and a pair of Pied-billed Grebes, and they were near the edge of a brackish canal.
After substantial holiday rains, the ponds hadn’t filled, but they became float-and-wade-worthy, and some of the usual residents had returned. I was especially pleased to catch the flight of the Roseate Spoonbill shown above. When I searched out its landing spot, I found more juvenile Spoonbills hob-nobbing with some White Ibis. It’s worth enlarging the photo to see their bright eyes.
At the edge of the Crosstrails Pond, smaller wading birds had collected to feed. I’ve tentatively identified these beauties, but any confirmation or correction is welcome. In the case of the Willet, the dramatic black-and-white wing patterns of the bird in flight seemed unmistakable.
It’s always a pleasure to see the purple and green iridescence of the White-faced Ibis. During the breeding season, this species has pinkish-red to burgundy facial skin, with a striking rim of white feathers surrounding and extending behind the eye. Outside of breeding season, it retains its red eye color and a pinkish tinge to its facial skin, as it has here.
Late in the afternoon, I found an assortment of birds feeding at a culvert; the strongly flowing water clearly contained delectable tidbits. Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Boat-tailed Grackels, Roseate Spoonbills, and White Ibis had gathered, but the stars of the show were a pair of Snowy Egrets. Egrets sometimes extend their wings over open water as they hunt, creating shade to increase visibility. Here, a pair were taking advantage of the afternoon shadows; against the darkness, the delicacy of their wind-blown aigrettes, or breeding plumes, was highlighted.
Snowy Egrets neared extinction by the early 1900s because of a brisk trade in their plumes, considered desirable additions to women’s fashions. With the prohibition of the plume trade in 1913, the Snowy Egret managed to recover its population in most regions; today, loss of habitat is the birds’ greatest threat.
Human calendars aside, the birds’ plumes serve as a reminder that courtship and nesting aren’t so very far away. While we focus on winter and its holidays, the birds are preparing for spring, and for the new families that will be created.