By Their Ripples Ye Shall Know Them

Spreading, circular ripples on still water may seem mysterious, but they often signal the presence of one of our area’s smaller but especially attractive birds: the Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps).

Shy, with a preference for bank edges and small vegetation-covered islands that offer protective cover, the bird rarely is seen in flight. Instead, it dives: often at the slightest hint of a human presence. Its genus name, Podilymbus, is rooted in the Latin word for “feet at the buttocks.” Like many diving birds, its feet are located near its rear end: a feature which helps the bird propel itself through the water.

Despite their tendency to disappear in a flash, they sometimes will pause for a portrait despite their awareness of a human observer: cautious as ever, but undeniably cute.


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The Dawn Patrol

Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) ~ Galveston Island

On the Gulf-facing beaches of Galveston Island, dedicated surfers known as the Dawn Patrol arrive at first light. Disciplined and motivated, they add their own experience-based knowledge to the apps that help them gauge wind and waves before paddling out into the surf: hoping for a good ride.

The beauty of the sunrise, the uncrowded waves, and a certain edginess associated with still-roaming noctural predators all combine to make membership in the Dawn Patrol irresistable for some. Even in Galveston, where waves hardly rival those in other parts of the country, there are pleasures to be had.

Meanwhile, on the bay side of the island, a different sort of dawn patrol comes to life in the rising light. Herons, egrets, ducks, and ibis stir among the reeds and rise up from the water, ready to begin another day. Arrive early enough, and you may find one basking in the open, touched by that first, golden light.


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Home, Sweet Nest

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

I recently had occasion to stop by a marina I rarely visit: one less than two miles from my home. Stepping out of my car, I noticed a Black-crowned Night Heron patrolling the edge of a tree-dense circle in the midst of a parking area. My camera happened to be at hand, so I took advantage of the opportunity to catch a photo of a bird I rarely see in mid-day.

As I watched, the bird pulled a fallen twig out of the grass, and I realized it was engaged in stick-gathering.

Clearly aware of my presence, it gave me an appraising look, then flew up into one of the large live oaks in the midst of the parking lot.

The bird had been at work for some time; this certainly wasn’t its first stick. I watched as it tucked the new stick into its nest,

and then hopped to a nearby branch to admire its handiwork.

At that point, the sound of birds in the treetops — and the amount of droppings on the ground — made clear the existence of a true rookery. The trees were filled with nests, the squawking of hungry youngsters, and the occasional sight of a seemingly exhausted parent.

Trying to get a glimpse of birds high in leafy live oaks isn’t easy, but I was pleased with this image of two youngsters in a different nest.

Black-crowned Night Herons will nest among other birds, and these weren’t the only residents of the live oaks. Great Egret chicks were scattered among the herons: their nests fewer, but no less noisy.

Great Egret chicks (Ardea alba)

Black-crowned Night Heron chicks leave the nest at about four weeks, and Great Egret chicks at four to six weeks. The size and behavior of these youngsters suggests they’re approaching that time; the number of birds still gathering sticks suggests there may be opportunities to see even younger birds developing in this urban rookery.

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Trouble in Paradise?

While I’ve been focused in recent weeks on our sudden profusion of spring wildflowers, that doesn’t mean the birds — interesting, funny, inscrutable — haven’t been providing their own sorts of pleasure. 

When I found these birds standing atop a small mud island in a Brazoria Wildlife Refuge pond, my first thought was that a double-date might have gone wrong. Perhaps the male Northern Shovelers on the left had decided to seek out more congenial companions, while the birds on the right — which might be young Northern Shovelers, or some other species entirely — were left to ponder their options.

In any event, the amusing scene is worth enlarging for the sake of a closer look at the birds’ expressions. Sometimes, it’s impossible to avoid anthropomorphizing; feel free to write your own story!


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Pink Floyd ~ Still Flying After All These Years


Pink Floyd in 2018 (photo credit: Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

Vagrants — birds that wander beyond what we think of as their natural range — can turn up almost anywhere. Some are blown off course by severe weather during migration; others veer the wrong way or overshoot their target due to navigation-impeding genetic mutations.

But Flamingo No. 492, popularly known as Pink Floyd and presently living la dolce vita on the Texas coast, isn’t exactly a vagrant. ‘Escapee’ would be a more suitable word.

The striking bird  came to live at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas in 2005, part of a group of thirty-nine flamingos shipped to the zoo from Africa. On June 27 of that year, two flamingos were spotted outside their enclosure near a lake on zoo property, but attempts to capture the birds failed. The pair flew out of the zoo, spent a week in a nearby canal, then left Kansas for good,

Word of the birds’ escape caught the public’s attention when Pink Floyd was spotted on Lavaca Bay here in Texas on May 23, 2018. It was the first time the bird had been spotted without the Caribbean flamingo that had been its traveling companion through Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Texas.

Pink Floyd in 2019  (Photo credit: John Humbert)

On May 20, 2019, a team from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Coastal Fisheries Division spotted Pink Floyd again while helping the Texas Colonial Waterbird Society conduct a survey of birds in the Corpus Christi area. Julie Hagen, a member of the Coastal Fisheries Division, said Intern Myles Cooley spotted the bird. According to Hagen, “Last year, they were like, ‘Wait. There’s a flamingo. So this year we’re just like, ‘Oh what’s up, it’s back — or maybe it never left.’ We don’t know where it goes.”

Video still from March 10, 2022 sighting (Video credit: Dave Foreman)

Most recently, the bird made news after being spotted on March 10 at Rhodes Point in Cox Bay near Port Lavaca. The Coastal Fisheries division confirmed its identity as No. 492 after making out the bird’s still-attached leg band on the video.

Despite the sightings, there aren’t any plans to attempt a capture. Officials say there’s no easy way  to do so without disturbing other wildlife, and the bird obviously is in no distress. I don’t keep Pink Floyd on my play list, but when I make it to the mid-coast again, you can be sure a big, pink bird will be on my watch list.


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