When the World Goes to the Birds

Lafitte’s Cove ~ Galveston Island

With tourists being encouraged to leave the Island, weekenders staying in town, and full-time residents of Galveston’s west end more-or-less sequestered in their homes, much of the Island’s bird population continues to wander at will. 

Here, a pair of white ibis (Eudocimus albus) forage in a traffic median at the entrance to the Lafitte’s Cove subdivision. My hunch is that the new mulch around the plantings is filled with good things to eat, and this pair decided to visit the buffet. Notice that while the bird on the left is wide-eyed, the one on the right has closed it’s ‘third eyelid,’ a nictitating membrane (from Latin nictare, to blink), that helps to protect the eyes of birds, as well as various reptiles, mammals, and fishes. Wise bird, with all those thorns around.

 

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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.

Neither a Toad, Nor Flax

Texas toadflax  ~  Nuttallanthus texanus

I first met Texas toadflax on March 23 of last year, while photographing spring wildflowers in a New Berlin, Texas cemetery.

When I discovered a group of the flowers beginning to bloom on Galveston Island’s west end a few days ago, on February 9, I thought our mild winter might have encouraged an early bloom. In fact, various sources indicate they’re right on schedule; in our area, their flowering begins in February and continues through May. Texas toadflax is one of three species of native North American toadflax; the bloom times of N. canadensis and N. floridanus vary somewhat.

The plant’s flowers, ranging from light lavender to light blue, are accompanied by a slender, downward-curved spur approximately 5-10 mm in length: longer than the flower’s  calyx. The nectar-filled spur attracts bees, flies, butterflies, and moths; the caterpillar of the common buckeye butterfly feeds on the leaves.

Toadflax, of course, is an odd and interesting name. In her book Nature’s Garden, published in 1900, Neltje Blanchan explains it this way while writing about Linaria canadensis, or blue toadflax, known today as Nuttallanthus canadensis:

Wolf, rat, mouse, sow, cow, cat, snake, dragon, dog, toad are among the many animal prefixes to the names of flowers that the English country people have given for various and often most interesting reasons.
Just as dog, used as a prefix, expresses an idea of worthlessness to them, so toad suggests a spurious plant; the toadflax being made to bear what is meant to be an odious name because, before flowering, it resembles the true flax, linum, from which the generic title is derived. 

Given the changes in customs and classifications over the years, Blanchan’s explanations can seem quaint or puzzling. What seems certain is that toads don’t lounge beneath the plant, and it never has provided fiber. It just blooms, reminding us that spring’s not as far away as we’ve imagined.

 

Comments always are welcome.