An Especially Black-Eyed Susan

As summer deepens, many plants are completing their life cycles; this Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) on the Brazos Bend State Park prairie was well along in the process when I found it on the morning of July 11.

Despite being surrounded by still-blooming companions, it not only had dried and formed seeds, it also was providing support for a tendril from an unidentified plant. The combination of brown, red, and black, as well as the intricacy of the tendril’s growth, pleased me as much as the bright yellow flowers surrounding it.

 

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It’s the Early Bird, With Its Catch

This Great Egret (Ardea alba) probably wouldn’t have rejected the proverbial early bird’s worm as a snack, but it was morning at Brazos Bend, and time to search for something a little more substantial.

After scanning the skies for several minutes, the egret began scrutinizing the surrounding water with that wonderful intensity common to wading birds.

Predictably, its strike was fast and unpredictable: so much so that I nearly missed it.  Egrets prefer fish, but within the thick foliage a frog, snake, crawfish, or shrimp might have been its target.

Given the strength of its bill and the speed of its attack, the bird’s success was understandable, although the prey it pulled from the water wasn’t easy to identify.

No matter. The bird seemed pleased with its catch, and I was more than pleased to have caught its image in the early morning light.

 

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Hidden Mirrors

Venus’s Looking Glass ~ Triodanis perfoliata

This small member of the bellflower family probably received its common name because its seeds resemble the shiny, round seeds of a related European bellflower species. The seeds of this ‘looking glass’ are lens-shaped as well, but too small to appear reflective without magnification.

After reading that the plant flourishes best in gravelly or sandy soil, it made sense that I’d found it along the prairie trail at Brazos Bend State Park. About eight inches tall, its flowers were only a half-inch across; they appear sequentially, with only one blooming at the same time.

Its lovely purple petals are complemented by its white throat and prominent white pistil and stamens. Gazing into its center, I saw only summer loveliness: a fair reward for rising summer heat and mosquitoes.

 

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Life Among the Lotuses

A familiar sight at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, the Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata) is popularly known as the Moorhen. Thanks to its red bill and shield, it’s an easy bird to spot, and it clearly finds the lotuses at Brazos Bend State Park as congenial as the reed-covered banks of Brazoria ponds.

Wading in lotus-leaf ponds seems equally appealing to Purple Gallinules (Porphyrio martinica). The chicks can walk quite soon after hatching, but depend on their parents for food during the first few weeks of life.

While they aren’t as colorful as adult Purple Gallinules, hints of the color-to-come are obvious, and their seemingly oversized feet allow them to range easily and quickly through the vegetation.

Adult Purple Gallinules have quite a limited range in the United States, but their vibrant colors make them welcome residents wherever they appear.

Gallinules aren’t the only species that appreciate the advantages of a nice lotus pad. Green herons (Butorides virescens), one of our smallest herons, will secret themselves among the leaves while fishing. Stealth isn’t their only weapon, however. The Cornell birding site notes that:

The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It often creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.

Perhaps because of its tool-using abilities, it’s equally willing to wait in the open for its next meal. Green herons are quite common even in our marinas, where they perch and wait just above the water on dock lines.

While the thick covering of duckweed might seem to be an obstacle to waterbirds in search of a meal, this Great Egret (Ardea alba) plucked two  fish from the water while I watched. In addition to fish, they’ll willingly consume frogs, snakes, birds, small mammals, and invertebrates such as crawfish.

This Yellow-crowned Night Heron was especially well-hidden at the edge of Elm Lake: the yellow feathers atop its head an almost perfect match for the flowers of the rattlebush (Sesbania drummondii).

Like the Green Heron, the Yellow-crowned is accepting of human company; I often see them fishing in the median of South Shore Boulevard, one of the most heavily traveled thoroughfares in my neighborhood.

Soon enough, the lotuses will decline and winter birds will join these year-round residents. It’s another reason to welcome the turning of the seasons, and a reason to return to Brazos Bend.

Comments always are welcome.