See You Later, Alligator!

American alligator  ~ Alligator mississippiensis

Whenever I visit the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, I always stop first at the boardwalk that bisects a large freshwater pond.  There’s always something to see — waterfowl, water-loving plants, water snakes — and of course there are alligators.

Last Sunday, I arrived just after dawn to find the larger than usual male alligator shown in the photo above lurking at the edge of the boardwalk, wearing a garland of duckweed and only occasionally opening an eye to give me an appraising glance. As I was standing above him, scanning the reeds for birds, he suddenly began to bellow. It went on for several minutes, and looked and sounded like this.

Needless to say, a bellowing alligator perhaps twelve feet away was enough to raise my adrenalin level. I backed off a bit, and then began taking photos. I often hear the creatures’ bellows during mating season, but never had seen the display; it was an opportunity not to be missed.

Turning on the bubble machine

Male alligators bellow to attract females, establish territory, and claim their place at the top of pond hierarchies. Filling themselves with air, they inflate like a balloon, lifting their bodies out of the water. Then, they raise their heads and tails, and produce that deep, low sound that vibrates the water around them.

When one male bellows, others in the area will respond, creating a curtain of sound. But in this instance there were no responses from other alligators, and I certainly wasn’t going to challenge the fellow with a bellow of my own.

Instead, remembering what I’d read about alligators’ jumping ability, I considered the creature’s large size, the relative fragility of the boardwalk fence, and moved on: content to have had the experience.

What a self-satisfied smile!

 

Comments always are welcome.

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.

The Rain Lilies’ Country Cousins

On impulse, I decided to forgo a return to Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries to check on developments in the small patch of rain lilies I’d found there on April 29. Instead, I traveled to the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, where rain lilies also appear from time to time.

I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing our native rain lily species from one another, but these Brazoria blooms seemed to be the same Cooperia drummondii I’d found in Galveston. Their long floral tubes and the preference of the so-called Prairie Lily (Cooperia pedunculata) for more open spaces certainly suggests that, and the USDA map doesn’t show C. pedunculata in Brazoria County.

Regardless of the species, there was no questioning the source of the heady fragrance that hung above the flowers. In Galveston, strong winds had blown away the scent; here, a perfectly still morning allowed it to linger.

A special treat was finding this native thistle (Cirsium spp.) blooming next to the lilies. I tend to think of thistles as plants capable of thriving in dry conditions, so this one’s juxtaposition with floral evidence of rain made me smile.

Comments always are welcome.

March-ing With Emily

One of our most well-known American poets, Emily Dickinson, also dedicated herself to the extensive gardens she tended alongside her mother and sister Lavinia.

A serious student of botany, the creator of an extensive herbarium, and an enthusiastic propagator of plants, Dickinson necessarily became attuned to the weather, the changing seasons, and the innumerable pollinators that frequented her plants; observations about her roses, lilacs, peonies, daisies, foxgloves, and zinnias fill her poems.

She also lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, where winter tends to linger; her longing for the transition from snow to spring blooms sometimes is palpable. Her poetic celebration of the changes wrought by March’s arrival pairs wonderfully well with this assortment of photos from my wanderings on the weekend of March 19-20 .

DEAR March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat—
You must have walked—
How out of breath you are!
Baby Blue Eyes ~ Nemophila phacelioides
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!
Pink Evening Primrose ~ Oenothera speciosa
I got your letter, and the bird’s;
The maples never knew
That you were coming,—I declare,
How red their faces grew!
Indian Paintbrush and Butterweed ~ Castilleja indivisa, Packera glabella
But, March, forgive me—
And all those hills
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable,
You took it all with you.
Downy Phlox ~ Phlox pilosa
Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied.
Texas Dandelion ~ Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.

 

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.