Beauty, Times Two

 

Week after week, I watched this pair of yellowlegs as they foraged back and forth across a shallow, grassy mudflat that developed after weeks of unusually heavy rains. I never saw them fly, and I never heard them call; they were too busy plucking indeterminate creatures from the sandy mud.

While they fed, I amused myself by trying to decide if they were greater yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) or lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes). There are ways for an experienced birder to distinguish between them — body size, the length of the bill, the nature of their call — but I never was certain which species I was seeing until the day something startled them. Calling to one another, they flew up and away from their buffet table.  A later comparison of yellowlegs calls convinced me they were Lesser, not Greater — but no matter which species, I found them a great delight.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Winter Blues ~ and a Bit of Orange

Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)  

It would seem that a flower known as the scarlet pimpernel should be red, but this pretty little introduced flower that can bloom throughout the year has an interesting secret. Sometimes, it’s blue.

The phenomenon known as color polymorphism isn’t uncommon, but it usually involves blue, purple, or red-flowered plants that become white because of their inability to produce anthocyanins: the pigments that give those flowers their rich coloring.

Both scarlet pimpernel morphs — the red/orange and the blue — contain anthocyanins, but they differ among the plants. What determines which color will appear is somewhat mysterious. There are suggestions that climate is involved, since the best predictor of flower color seems to be hours of sunshine. In England, red pimpernels predominate; in sunnier Spain, blue is more common.

The red version, of course, is indelibly linked to one of the more well-known novels in English literature, The Scarlet Pimpernel. Its hero, Sir Percy Blakeney, disguises himself as a hapless playboy, while also devoting himself to rescuing aristocrats from the French revolutionary guillotine.

Given to leaving a card with an image of the red flower at the scene of his rescues, he becomes known as the Scarlet Pimpernel. Given the pimpernel’s ability to change its own appearance, a card showing both blue and red flowers might have been equally appropriate.

 

Comments always are welcome.
Photos of both red and blue pimpernels were taken at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge on January 27.

 

 

Sparkle and Shine

 

No snowflakes drift through our skies, and we’re generally denied the sharp glitter of sunlight on ice during our winter season. Still, the delicate, snowflake-like blooms of perennial saltmarsh aster (Symphyotrichum tenuifolium) linger late into the year, decorating the edges of ponds and sloughs.

Not a choosy plant, they’ll grow wherever water collects. Here, reflections from a water-filled ditch along a Brazoria County road add elegance to a favorite winter flower.

 

Comments always are welcome.