Something New, Something Familiar

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 )

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Guardian of the Gaillardia

 

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.

 

Comments always are welcome. Click on the image for greater size and detail.

Boon Companions

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.

Comments always are welcome.
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