It’s the Early Bird, With Its Catch

This Great Egret (Ardea alba) probably wouldn’t have rejected the proverbial early bird’s worm as a snack, but it was morning at Brazos Bend, and time to search for something a little more substantial.

After scanning the skies for several minutes, the egret began scrutinizing the surrounding water with that wonderful intensity common to wading birds.

Predictably, its strike was fast and unpredictable: so much so that I nearly missed it.  Egrets prefer fish, but within the thick foliage a frog, snake, crawfish, or shrimp might have been its target.

Given the strength of its bill and the speed of its attack, the bird’s success was understandable, although the prey it pulled from the water wasn’t easy to identify.

No matter. The bird seemed pleased with its catch, and I was more than pleased to have caught its image in the early morning light.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Sign of the Butcher Bird

In early February, I happened upon a bird known as the Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) sitting atop a windmill at the Brazoria Wildflife Refuge, scanning the land below for a tasty snack.

It intrigued me to learn that, although part of songbird family, shrikes behave more like raptors. Certain of their habits have earned them the nickname ‘Butcher Bird,’ and I included this brief description of their odd but effective practice in my post:

A sharp, falcon-like hook in their beak allows Shrikes to attack and capture prey, but they lack the talons and strong feet of hawks and owls. Unable to hold their prey while eating, as raptors do, Shrikes carry their meal to a thorn bush, cactus, or barbed wire fence, where they impale it in order to dine at leisure, or store it for later consumption. 

Had I found this beetle impaled on a barbed wire fence in late January, I never would have imagined it had been left there by a ‘butcher bird.’ Now, it seems reasonable to think that a Shrike had experienced a successful hunt and, true to its nature, had stored its prize on the fence surrounding a field of bluebonnets.

I passed by the same fence two days later, and the beetle was gone. I hope it wasn’t stolen from the bird who left it there.

 

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Gathering and Going

So far off the road I never would have seen them, a group of twenty Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) caught the eye of the friend who’d accompanied me to the Brazoria Refuge last Sunday. “Cranes!” she exclaimed. “Turn around!” And so I did.

Too distant for clear images, and made somewhat dull by dim, foggy light, two of the birds’ primary field marks — their red crowns and the funny, feather-duster-like tail feathers called bustles — still were visible. If you enlarge the image, even their colorful eyes can be detected.

The cranes are winter visitors to Texas, arriving in October or November and generally departing by February or early March. Gregarious by nature, they can be found feeding in fields, pastures, and coastal marshes. Flock size varies from place to place; this group of twenty is typical of what I’ve seen in our area.

I didn’t expect to see cranes in flight, and wasn’t prepared for the suddenness of their departure. Still, one primary difference between Sandhill Cranes and Great Blue Herons became obvious as they rose above the trees: cranes fly with outstretched necks and legs, while the Great Blue Heron curls its head back and rests it on its body while in flight. As the group gathered more tightly in the sky, I was able to include all twenty birds in a photo.


Another difference helps to distinguish airborne herons and cranes. The Great Blue Heron’s wing beats are slow, and the bird rarely brings its wings above parallel. Sandhill Cranes, on the other hand, are given to sharp, snappy wing movements, and often raise their wings above their bodies.

I hear Sandhill Cranes far more often than I see them. Their calls in flight are  instantly recognizable, and unforgettable. I was lucky on this day not only to see the birds but to hear them as well, as they prepared to join others of their kind in their great migration.


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