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!

 

Comments always are welcome.

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.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Those Family Ties

While the Horseshoe Lake trail looping through the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge can be rich in wildflowers, the lake itself attracts a wide variety of birds.

During my visit on March 19, I found this group of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) cruising the lake. Watching them, I began to suspect I’d come across  a mother and her grown-up ducklings enjoying the spring day. The behavior of the group of six — following their mother in a single line, or surrounding her in a group when she called — was what I would have expected from a group of fresh-from-the-egg hatchlings.

Last September, I found a Whistling Duck mother teaching her six ducklings how to navigate Horseshoe Lake. While I can’t prove that the ducks I found last weekend are the same — albeit all grown up — no one can convince me they aren’t. In any event, they certainly seemed to be enjoying one another’s company, and I enjoyed theirs.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Case of the Curious Killdeer

A delightful shorebird, the Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) ranges far beyond the shore. Common enough in open grasslands or on sandbars and mudflats, it’s as likely to show up on lawns, golf courses, or parking lots. Usually solitary or part of a mated pair, its call is clear and unmistakable: one of spring and summer’s beloved sounds.

I’d never seen a Killdeer stirring the water with its foot to bring up bits of food until I noticed one doing just that at the edge of the Brazoria Refuge’s Big Slough. Unperturbed by my presence, it stirred its way down the shoreline, occasionally casting a glance toward the sky at the sound of a passing bird.

Once reassured, it continued to stir the water, bobbing its head down from time to time to snatch a treat.

Suddenly it stopped, and turned away from the water. Climbing onto piles of dead reeds lining the shore, it began a purposeful walk toward a different section of water.

As I watched, it crept closer to the object of its curiosity: a Wilson’s Snipe perched at the edge of the reeds.

For a few minutes, nothing much happened. The Snipe sat; the Killdeer watched.

Eventually, I crept closer and the Snipe turned toward me, showing the neatly patterned feathers at the top of its head.

Then, it settled down again on its reeds, while the Killdeer, its curiosity apparently satisfied, continued its journey down the shoreline, stirring and bobbing as it went.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Caracara Afternoon

 Said to be named for the sound of their call, Crested Caracaras (Caracara plancus) are a common sight along the upper Texas coast: perching in tall, isolated trees, soaring flat-winged and low across mud flats and fields, or chasing grasshoppers on the prairie. Easily mistaken for hawks and often termed ‘Mexican Eagles’ by locals, they’re actually classified with the falcons, despite displaying some distinctly non-falcon like traits.

One of those traits is an inclination to walk as well as to fly. I often see them on refuge roads; what made this sighting unusual was the presence of a pair. I stopped some distance away, certain that moving closer would cause them to fly, but when I stepped out of the car, they didn’t move.

With nothing to lose, I began walking toward the pair. As I did, they moved closer together; the one on the right sat down and the one on the left stood up, but they didn’t fly.

Remembering the classic rule for stalking — ‘Stop often ‘n’ set frequent’ — I moved up the road toward the birds, a few steps at a time. As I did, both stood or sat a number of times, until they joined one another at the edge of the road.

Studies have confirmed the difficulty of visually identifying Caracaras as male or female. Although some slight differences in external characteristics such as larger wing length and bill depth may indicate a female, the degree of variation and overlap make reliable gender identification in the field impossible.

That said, the behavior of this pair suggested that the standing bird was the male. Caracaras are solitary birds, joining only with their mate during the breeding season, so it seemed obvious that this was a bonded pair.

When the bird I assumed to be the male drifted to the other side of the road while his mate stayed seated on the warm gravel, I continued to walk toward them, remembering a piece of advice I once read: if your lens can’t get you close enough, keep walking. Eventually, the tolerant pair allowed me to approach closely enough for some nice portraits. (Click any photo for more detail, but especially the next two.)

Their tolerance  came to an end when I returned to my car and continued my journey to the refuge exit. Willing to accept a woman on foot, they clearly saw a metal box on rubber tires as a threat, and chose to leave for a more congenial spot, where I presume they continued to enjoy the sunshine undisturbed.

 

Comments always are welcome.