Boon Companions

Black-bellied whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) ~ Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve

According to various dictionaries, both the word ‘boon’ and the phrase ‘boon companion’ are tending toward obsolescence.  Nevertheless, ‘boon companion’ is exactly the phrase that came to mind when I encountered this assortment of avian pairs on Sunday afernoon. They certainly seemed to fit the definition of ‘boon companion’ from the 1560s:  “a convivial friend or close intimate, someone with whom one enjoys spending time or sharing activities.”

Foraging white-faced ibis (Plegadis chihi) & snowy egret (Egretta thula) ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

While it makes sense that members of the same species would enjoy hanging out together, cross-species companionship isn’t unknown. Many waterbirds engage in what’s known as commensal feeding, practices that benefit both members of the pair:

In commensal associations, members of one species assist the foraging of another, but incur no significant costs and receive no benefits. One of the more common commensal associations involves “beaters,” which stir up prey, and “attendants,” which simply follow in their footsteps taking whatever comes their way.
Many waterbirds, marsh birds, and shorebirds attend particular beater species. Great and Snowy Egrets attend cormorants; Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, and Great Egrets attend mergansers. Some attendants will follow more than one beater species. Enterprising American Coots attend Canvasbacks, Tundra Swans, Mallards, pintails, and Redheads. In water of swimming depth, Wilson’s Phalaropes will follow Northern Shovelers; where they can wade, they will often forage behind American Avocets.

Simple proximity doesn’t always guarantee that a pair of birds are feeding commensally, but after watching this ibis and egret for a half-hour, I became certain they were sharing a meal.

Napping double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus)
On the other hand, most of the cormorants seemed ready for after-dinner naps. When I stopped to admire this pair, they deigned to look at me once before re-tucking their heads into their feathery pillows: perhaps to dream of fish in the afternoon warmth.

Comments always are welcome.
Click to enlarge any image for greater detail.

 

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.