Bird on a Blade

 

Turkey Vulture ~ January 5

I rarely visit the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge without finding a bird or two perched on the old windmill that stands near the Big Slough. Turkey vultures seem fond of the spot, although black vultures and an occasional hawk will pause there as well.

On February 7, I noticed a different species had taken up residence. A Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) was using the windmill’s vane to scan for the insects, lizards, and small mammals that make up the bulk of its diet.

Shrikes are part of the songbird family, although they behave more like raptors. A sharp, falcon-like hook in their beak allows them to attack and capture prey, but they lack the talons and strong feet of hawks and owls. Unable to hold their prey while eating, as raptors do, shrikes carry their meal to a thorn bush, cactus, or barbed wire fence, where they impale it in order to dine at leisure, or store it for later consumption. 

Their propensity for impaling prey on thorns or barbed wire has earned them the name ‘butcher bird, and their ‘larders’ are sure signs of a shrike’s presence. Because they prefer open areas with short vegetation and plenty of vantage points from which to watch for prey, a windmill vane or blade suits them perfectly.

While I watched, this shrike moved from the windmill’s vane to the top of its blades, and scanned the ground below. Every minute or two, it made another dive to the ground: sometimes returning directly to the blade, and sometimes flying off into surrounding grasses before coming back to perch.

Since I never saw it eating, it may be that it was filling up its larder. Given the extraordinary cold, freezing rain, snow, and sleet that we’ll have for the next week, I hope it’s well-supplied.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Slow March of the Mushrooms

Slightly shrunken, nondescript, this tiny mushroom faded into near-obscurity above the forest floor. Still, its presence suggested others might have taken hold, and so it was. Creeping through the mixture of damp, decaying needles and leaves, my eyes caught by unexpected bursts of color, I began to grasp the truth of Sylvia Plath’s delicate poem titled “Mushrooms.”

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.
Waxcap (Hygrocybe spp.)
Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,
Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,
Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes.
Waxcap (Hygrocybe spp.)
We diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking
Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!
We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

As if to prove Plath’s point, this Skullcap Dapperling (Leucocoprinus brebissonii), had emerged next to a trail. Described by Louis-Luc Godey as Lepiota brebissonii in 1874, it was moved to Leucocoprinus by Marcel Locquin in 1943. Long considered a European species, it’s recently been identified in the Pacific Northwest, often occurring in large groups on forest litter.

Bemused by the Skullcap’s seemingly overnight appearance in second-growth forests around Puget Sound, the University of Washington’s Burke Herbarium has questioned how such an abundant species could have made the move unnoticed, or been overlooked in the past.

Whatever the answer, it’s still on the move, having reached the Sam Houston National Forest and the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve. Here in Texas, it most certainly has its foot in the door.

 

Comments always are welcome.