Dwarf Blue-eyed Grass
Even though the blooms of our most recognizable irises faded long ago, some diminuitive members of the Iris family still can be found. Dwarf Blue-eyed-grass (Sisyrinchium minus), a common flower of Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries, still pops up on the west end of the island, in places like the Artist Boat Coastal Preserve and Lafitte’s Cove, where protective shade exists.
Other names for the flower, including Pink-eyed Grass and Pink Blue-eyed Grass, suggest the difficulties of naming a plant solely by the color of its blooms. In fact, when I came across this single pink flower at the Artist Boat, I thought it must have been a variant of Blue-eyed Grass. In fact, it’s another Sisyrinchuim species: Annual Blue-eyed Grass, or Sisyrinchium rosulatum.
Just to add to the color confusion, Annual Blue-eyed Grass is generally described as being pink, white, or violet, but it also can be found in yellow.
In any event, the pink and yellow combination in this tiny, half-inch wide flower is delightful: a reminder of a season that seems to have ended entirely too soon.
Annual Blue-eyed Grass
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Only one bird was swimming in the ponds at Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve yesterday: a winter resident — new to me — known as the Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola). According to the Audubon website, the bird’s common name is meant as a tribute to the buffalo, whose head it somewhat resembles.
The colorful male remained almost out of camera range on the other side of the pond, but I was able to capture a bit of the beautiful iridescence in its head and neck feathers.
Meanwhile, along Settegast Road, three early spring favorites were blooming. The blue-eyed grass, a member of the iris family, surprised me, although it appeared by mid-January last year.
Like Indian paintbrush, seaside goldenrod and crow poison can be found every month of the year, even after significant cold fronts. While no bees were visible, a bevy of tiny flies hovered around the blooms in the pleasant afternoon warmth.
Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.)
Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) with hoverfly
Crow poison (Nothoscordum bivalve )
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At Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve on Galveston Island’s west end, I found this Snowy Egret huddled against yesterday’s wind on the far side of the pond. Nearer at hand, still-vibrant Gaillardia pulchella continued to bloom, providing a bit of autumn color as well as a pleasant framing for the bird.
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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.
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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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