Dry conditions have meant fewer birds in spots that I normally visit, but last Sunday there was activity at the San Bernard refuge. A small flotilla of what appeared to be Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors) was accompanied by a pair of American Coots (Fulica americana) and — to my amazement — a single Scaup: the bird with the solid brown head on the right.
The Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) and Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) are easily confused. One field mark is the shape of the head; after much pondering, I decided this one’s head is more round than peakèd, indicating a Greater Scaup. Clicking to enlarge the photo will provide a closer view of these beautiful birds.
The Coots, easily recognizable by their black bodies and white bills, are a common winter bird that sometimes appear at the refuges in great numbers. With a strong front predicted for this coming weekend, I expect to see many more. Other species — Gadwall, Bufflehead, and Pintail — are arriving now, and the unmistakable sound of Sandhill Cranes filled the air as I watched these ducks. The season is turning, indeed.
Comments always are welcome.
Climbing Hempvine ~ Mikania scandens
It’s not a river that runs through the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge, but Cocklebur Slough. In drought or in flood, it’s an interesting place: a sweet tangle of growth buzzing with the sounds of insects and tiny tree frogs as well as the calling of well-hidden birds.
On September 26, the heart-shaped leaves and pretty white flowers of climbing hempvine were flourishing: even taking advantage of supple tree limbs to arc out over the water. Despite being a member of the Asteraceae, the family of sunflowers and daisies, this flower lacks the ray flowers commonly called petals; its disk flowers resemble those of plants like shrubby boneset (Ageratina havanensis).
At the water’s edge, I found my first cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis). I was surprised to find the plant in standing water, but that was due only to my own ignorance; I’ve since learned that its preferred habitat includes ditches, woodland edges, stream banks, swamps, and areas near lakes or ponds.
Cardinal flower ~ Lobelia cardinalis
Another surprise was this pair of pretty white fungi. Having associated mushrooms with rotting wood and wet lawns for most of my life, I wondered: had these grown up around the tree before it fell into the water, or had the rising waters of the slough surrounded them?
Eventually, I learned that different marine habitats also support fungal communities. Fungi can be found in ocean depths and coastal waters as well as in mangrove swamps and estuaries with low salinity levels, like Cocklebur Slough. Whether this species prefers a watery environment I can’t say, but even without certain identification, it’s possible to enjoy their unexpected presence.
Comments always are welcome.