Winging to Water

Roseate Spoonbill ~ Platalea ajaja

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.

Short-billed Dowitcher ~ Limnodromus griseus
Willet ~ Tringa semipalmata

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.

White-faced Ibis ~ Plegadis chihi

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.

Snowy Egret ~ Egretta thula

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.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Importance of Names ~ The Trees

 

Neither my father nor my mother knew
the names of the trees
where I was born
what is that
I asked and my
father and mother did not
hear they did not look where I pointed
surfaces of furniture held
the attention of their fingers
and across the room they could watch
walls they had forgotten
where there were no questions
no voices and no shade
Were there trees where they were children
where I had not been
I asked
were there trees in those places
where my father and my mother were born
and in that time did
my father and my mother see them
and when they said yes it meant
they did not remember
What were they I asked what were they
but both my father and my mother
said they never knew
                                      “Native Trees” ~ W.S. Merwin

Comments always are welcome.
For more information on poet W.S. Merwin, please click here.

This One’s for Florida

 

After hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Harvey did their worst, workers and supplies poured into Louisiana and Texas from Florida. Once Ian has wreaked his havoc, the favor will be returned. Utility workers and search and rescue teams already have been deployed from both states, and no doubt from others. Civic and church groups are making their plans, as are individuals.

For now, there’s little to do but shelter, wait, and hope, until the time for work has come.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Life’s Force

Recent rains, sufficient to leave roadway puddles and the occasional flowing ditch, have enouraged new plant growth everywhere. Crepe myrtles are reblooming, shrubs are leafing out as though it were April, and the voice of the lawnmower is heard in the land.

From our schoolyard lawns to the highway medians of Galveston, one of the most prolific bloomers just now is a native rain lily (Zephyranthes chlorosolen). Aptly described by an online acquaintance as “all those little white flowers that come out of nowhere right after it rains,” they might also be described as “those little white flowers that bloom anywhere they darned well please.”

This small group had pushed its way through the hard clay of a construction site in what I imagined to be a natural call-and-response. The rain called, the flowers responded, and everyone who’s noticed is exclaiming in delight at their sudden appearance.  

 

Comments always are welcome.

Swept Clean: Resilience

Waiting for Flotsam ~ Laughing Gull
[Continued from Part I]

Once the beaches had been cleared of Hurricane Laura’s detritus, little remained but broken shells, pebbles, piled-up stacks of salt cedar, and a variety of tasty treats for shorebirds patrolling the surf.

But if the sea had taken away, it was equally willing to give back. Before long, the beach was adorned with new treasures, such as this necklace-like seed draped across the sand.

Eventually, a flotilla of mysterious and just slightly amusing bits of green life arrived on the beach, carried in on the surf. As they eased open, it was easy to imagine them conversing with one another, trying to decide if this was an acceptable place to put down roots.

In time, it became obvious that the answer was “Yes.” Smooth, succulent stems began to develop, followed by waxy leaves.

The plant was an enthusiastic grower, and eager to bloom. When its pink, star-shaped flowers finally appeared, it was easy to identify Sesuvium portulacastrum: sea purslane, or shoreline purslane. Although published by Linnaeus in 1753 under the name Portulaca portulacastrum, Linnaeus himself transferred it into the genus Sesuvium six years later, and the name has been retained.

A member of the Aizoaceae, or iceplant family, sea purslane flowers have sepals rather than petals; its flowers open and close within a single day.

In Wildflowers and Other Plants of Texas Beaches and Islands, Alfred Richardson notes the plant is one of the few species that thrive on the front side of the dunes. Because of its tendency to catch and hold sand around its leaves and stems, sea purslane serves as a critical dune stabilizer.

Another plant useful for beach and shoreline stabilization is cordgrass. Along the Texas coast, one of the most common is Spartina spartinae; the species  develops large, dense clumps that allow it to catch and hold sediment and sand. Healthy stands of Gulf cordgrass also provide nesting habitat for birds and cover for other wildlife.

Caution: cordgrass at work

As months passed and the cordgrass multiplied, drifting sand collected around it, forming small dunes that soon would be populated with ever more diverse plants.

 

Nature, filling in the spaces

Yet another dune stabilizer, the beach morning glory (Ipomoea imperati) soon made its appearance. A trailing evergreen vine with pretty white flowers, it occurs naturally in coastal areas. After Laura, old vines like those shown in the lower right corner of this photo served as a starting point for new growth. 


Ipomoea imperati

In some cases, bulldozed piles of salt cedar and other woody debris were left on the beach. It’s hard to say how many creatures called the piles home, but there were more than a few crabs scuttling around in the shade of the branches. The contrast between the deadwood and the increasingly rich plant life on the dunes made for an interesting — and pleasing — contrast.

But, as this island resident might have said, the best was yet to come.

A Solitary Sandpiper watches from the boardwalk for further developments
(part two of three)

Comments always are welcome.