Boon Companions

Black-bellied whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) ~ Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve

According to various dictionaries, both the word ‘boon’ and the phrase ‘boon companion’ are tending toward obsolescence.  Nevertheless, ‘boon companion’ is exactly the phrase that came to mind when I encountered this assortment of avian pairs on Sunday afernoon. They certainly seemed to fit the definition of ‘boon companion’ from the 1560s:  “a convivial friend or close intimate, someone with whom one enjoys spending time or sharing activities.”

Foraging white-faced ibis (Plegadis chihi) & snowy egret (Egretta thula) ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

While it makes sense that members of the same species would enjoy hanging out together, cross-species companionship isn’t unknown. Many waterbirds engage in what’s known as commensal feeding, practices that benefit both members of the pair:

In commensal associations, members of one species assist the foraging of another, but incur no significant costs and receive no benefits. One of the more common commensal associations involves “beaters,” which stir up prey, and “attendants,” which simply follow in their footsteps taking whatever comes their way.
Many waterbirds, marsh birds, and shorebirds attend particular beater species. Great and Snowy Egrets attend cormorants; Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, and Great Egrets attend mergansers. Some attendants will follow more than one beater species. Enterprising American Coots attend Canvasbacks, Tundra Swans, Mallards, pintails, and Redheads. In water of swimming depth, Wilson’s Phalaropes will follow Northern Shovelers; where they can wade, they will often forage behind American Avocets.

Simple proximity doesn’t always guarantee that a pair of birds are feeding commensally, but after watching this ibis and egret for a half-hour, I became certain they were sharing a meal.

Napping double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus)
On the other hand, most of the cormorants seemed ready for after-dinner naps. When I stopped to admire this pair, they deigned to look at me once before re-tucking their heads into their feathery pillows: perhaps to dream of fish in the afternoon warmth.

Comments always are welcome.
Click to enlarge any image for greater detail.

 

When the World Goes to the Birds

Lafitte’s Cove ~ Galveston Island

With tourists being encouraged to leave the Island, weekenders staying in town, and full-time residents of Galveston’s west end more-or-less sequestered in their homes, much of the Island’s bird population continues to wander at will. 

Here, a pair of white ibis (Eudocimus albus) forage in a traffic median at the entrance to the Lafitte’s Cove subdivision. My hunch is that the new mulch around the plantings is filled with good things to eat, and this pair decided to visit the buffet. Notice that while the bird on the left is wide-eyed, the one on the right has closed it’s ‘third eyelid,’ a nictitating membrane (from Latin nictare, to blink), that helps to protect the eyes of birds, as well as various reptiles, mammals, and fishes. Wise bird, with all those thorns around.

 

Comments always are welcome..

A Wish Granted

 

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.  The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.”
 from the chapter “Marshland Elegy” in A Sand County Almanac ~ Aldo Leopold

 

For several years, I’ve experienced sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) only at a distance: as shadowy forms feeding in far fields or as harsh, mysterious calls echoing across the landscape. At each encounter, I’d say — to myself, if to no one else — “I wish I could get a good look at some.”

When I sighted a small group of cranes on the west end of Galveston Island last Sunday, they weren’t precisely close, but they were close enough for a few photographs. I was surprised by the brightness of their red crown and the varied colors in their feathers; their willingness to parade back and forth across the prairie while I admired them was both unexpected and delightful.

 

Comments always are welcome.
Photos can be enlarged by clicking on the image.