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.

 

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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.

The Peter Pan of the Pond

One out-of-focus but very special pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

Nothing brings a smile like the sight of pied-billed grebes bobbing and diving their way through our ponds and wetlands. Small, skittish and shy,  they seem to be everywhere and nowhere at once: floating on the water, bobbing for vegetation, and fleeing at the first sign of human presence. They’re divers and swimmers, not flyers; not once in all my years of watching them had I seen one take flight.

When I noticed this one in middle of a Brazoria Refuge pond,  it seemed typically grebe-like in its behavior, until something strange began to happen. As I watched, it appeared to grow smaller, drawing into itself until only half its original size. Its feathers, no longer smooth, began to ruffle, and its wings seemed to flutter above its back.

Before I could readjust my camera’s settings for a clearer photo, the grebe suddenly raised itself, stretched out, and began running along the suface of the water like a coot attempting to gain altitude. In fact, that’s precisely what the grebe was doing: gaining altitude, and beginning to fly.

I’d always known grebes could fly, but I’d never seen it happen. Neither had Mia McPherson, until she witnessed flying grebes at her local Utah pond in February, 2017, and posted photos on her blog. As she described it in On the Wing Photography :

Pied-billed Grebes only migrate during the night, which is why until yesterday I have never photographed them in flight. I’ve even written a post here on On The Wing Photography bemoaning the fact that I would never photograph them in flight. I was wrong, delightfully wrong.
Yesterday afternoon I was at my local pond where I photographed not one but two Pied-billed Grebes in flight. This is rarely seen and rarely photographed. I might never get the chance again. 

After admiring Mia’s photos and envying her experience, I left a brief comment, wondering as I did if I ever would have the same opportunity. I didn’t think so, until January 5 of this year when, like an ecstatic Peter Pan, this grebe took flight.

Like Mia, I might never be granted such a sight again, but I’ll be watching our grebes much more closely in the future. They’re not as predictable as I thought.

I can fly!

 

Comments always are welcome.