Thursday, June 30, 2011

Brazos Bend State Park 2: Creekfield Lake

I walk down to the edge of Creekfield Lake and can hardly believe what I'm seeing. Much of the lake is dry but the remaining stretch of water is crowded with dozens of large wading birds: Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Tricolored Herons, White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbills.

There are also Common Moorhens and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

Some children burst into shrieks of "Alligator! Alligator!" The animal in question is very near the shore but he's probably only 18" long.

The children don't notice a slightly older one resting in the shade of a tree right next to the path.  Like all young alligators, his body is striped.

While I'm watching the alligators, large wading birds are zooming past overhead. Several are White Ibis.

 I've never before noticed just how big their wingspan is!

As usual, though, it is the Roseate Spoonbills that steal the show.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Brazos Bend State Park

It's almost midday and very hot when we get to Brazos Bend and head for the picnic area near 40 Acre Lake. The trees look beautiful draped in Spanish moss, and several American Crows watch us while we eat.

I stroll down to the fishing jetty to look out over a lake largely covered with lily pads. The alligator that hangs out near the jetty is there again as usual.

We set out to walk clockwise round the lake and immediately come across a Purple Gallinule in the vegetation on the left of the path. 

We usually see several Gallinules on this edge of the lake in the summer but they normally disappear into the reeds as soon as they notice us. Luckily this particular bird is not at all shy. 

The wet area on the left has other birds, too. Just a few yards from the Gallinule, a White Ibis watches us as we pass by.

A Great Blue Heron with wonderfully colored shoulder patches freezes in place.

There are Common Moorhen everywhere on both sides of the path, the males' plumage looking splendid in the sunlight.


There are Moorhen chicks of all ages and sizes.

Further along we come across a couple of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and then a young White Ibis.

The trees are busy with Northern Cardinals, Red-winged Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackles while both sides of the trail have Little Blue Herons.

A young Yellow-crowned Night Heron stands motionless.

A Great Egret creeps silently and elegantly as it watches for signs of movement in the water.

A single Anhinga perching on a tree on the other side of the lake suddenly flies off and across the path ahead of us.

We watch as an alligator swims several yards completely under water in an attempt to catch a juvenile Moorhen off guard but slinks off - still under water - when a parent calls the youngster to safety. 

Another alligator is being much sneakier and is virtually invisible under the pond scum and a mud headdress.


When we reach the observation tower, we watch another Great Blue Heron fishing as we try to decide whether to continue round the lake or to retrace our footsteps. 

In the end, we decide to head back the way we came, partly because I'd like to see if there are any more Gallinules on this side of the lake.

We don't see any new Gallinules but, surprisingly, the one we saw earlier is still prowling around in exactly the same place as before. Like all members of the rail family, it has enormous feet, allowing it to move easily on muddy ground and even to walk on lily pads.

It is still sharing the area with a White Ibis.

So, as on all of our many previous trips, Brazos Bend has once again produced plenty for us to look at and watch. And the show isn't over yet because I want to take a quick look at Creekfield Lake before we head out of the park. Although Creekfield never has as much bird action as 40 Acre Lake, there is almost always something interesting happening there.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge

We haven't been back to Brazoria much since it took a devastating hit from Hurricane Ike three years ago. However, after seeing recently how well Anahuac NWR has bounced back from Ike, we thought we'd drive down to check Brazoria out on Sunday.

We were shocked by the state of the refuge. The current drought has basically dried up all the major ponds, including the one by the visitors center.

During droughts in Africa crocodiles often dig a hole in the dampest area they can find and then huddle down in the hole and wait for rain. It looks as if at least one of Brazoria's alligators is trying the same approach.

If conditions are bad for alligators, they are presumably almost as bad for the refuge's mammals. Two brown "things" on the roof of the observation deck looked suspiciously like the corpses of mammals, perhaps nutrias. I wonder if that's what they are - and how they ended up on the roof.

We started driving the auto-loop and were very depressed by what we saw. The landscape now looks more like prairie than wetlands. Large wading birds were absent, except for a Great Egret and a couple of Tricolored Herons. We didn't see a single raptor either. The most common birds were Eastern Meadowlarks and Red-winged Blackbirds.

The remaining puddles of water alongside Olney Pond had a pair of Willets, a Barn Swallow and a half-a-dozen Black-necked Stilts.


Insects were few and far between, certainly an ominous sign. This dragonfly was one of only a handful of bugs that we spotted.

Halfway around the auto-loop, we were so depressed that we left the refuge. As it was still only mid-morning, we decided to head over to Brazos Bend State Park and to have our picnic lunch there. Surely we could count on Brazos Bend to be full of life and to cheer us up! 

Brazos Bend State Park

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Heat Can Drive You Crazy

It has been the hottest June on record in southeast Texas and the heat seems to have been getting to some of the visitors in our yards.

This juvenile Northern Mockingbird was clearly feeling hot and bothered.

I assume that its feather-spreading behavior was an attempt to cool down.

A White-winged Dove adopted the same pose while perched on a fence.

Then it moved up and repeated the behavior on our shed roof, while a young House Finch looked on.

Our squirrels have been behaving oddly, too. One of then played for several minutes with a two-foot-long stick.

It repeatedly bit and kicked the stick, even managing to turn it end over end. Then it tried to carry the stick up our mulberry tree.

When this proved impossible, the squirrel abandoned the stick and pounced instead on a a ball of dead grass. It bit and kicked the grass, rolling over and over as it did so.  All I can think is that it was playing. 

Talking of squirrels, another squirrel has finally managed to find its way into our "squirrel-proof" cage feeder. I spotted it in there yesterday, looking rather like a prisoner in a jail cell.