Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Prickly, Bristly

I’m pretty sure these are Bull Thistles (Cirsium horridulum) but I did not take all the photos necessary for proper identification (sorry, Julie, I know you trained me better). I was too infatuated with the showy blossoms to worry about the rest of the plants. Horridulum, appropriately, is Latin for prickly or bristly. Bees and small flies seemed to share my enthusiasm for these pretty poofs. Besides, I like saying Bull Thistle (it might just be my new swear, in my long-overdue attempt to clean up my flowery language).

Commensalism

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Cattle Egret and Cow, Lamar, Texas April 2019

For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get a decent photo of a flock of Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) that frequent a nearby cow pasture. Luck was with me the other day, when this sweet mama grazed close to the fence bringing her companion with her. Appropriately, bubulcus is Latin for herdsman. As both names imply, Cattle Egrets follow herds of grazing animals.

In a mutually beneficial arrangement, the birds snap up delicious insects that the ungulates attract (and that their large hooves flush). As you can see from the rufous highlights, it is breeding season (otherwise, it would sport only white feathers).

Primping

 

I watched this Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) pair take turns bathing. One stayed on alert while the other splashed and then they switched roles. Reassuring to know that your lifelong partner has your back. Plus, you want to be sure to look your best for your close-up.

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And yes, they do whistle, primarily while flying (though personally, I think they sound more like a dog’s squeaky toy).

Birds Do It…

The Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata), as the name implies is a common, though often secretive, bird in the rail family. A couple weeks ago, I was privileged to watch the entire mating ritual. After a bath, the male approached the female. She must’ve found him agreeable as she presented her backside to him. Foreplay consisted of a couple gentle strokes with his toes (possibly to help expose her cloaca). Then he mounted her, holding her neck firmly before dismounting less than 30 seconds later. Mission accomplished, she swam away while he started feeding.

Mermaid’s Purse

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While waiting for the sun to rise on South Padre Island I discovered this skate egg case (aka mermaid’s purse) in the wrack line. Often mistaken for seaweed, the small pouch made of collagen protects the skate embryo as it develops.

While skates are related to both sharks and rays, they most closely resemble rays. There are roughly a dozen skate species found in the Gulf of Mexico and sadly, I was not able to pinpoint the exact species this egg case belongs to. Still fun to find, though.

Whose Scat Is That?

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I admit to being stymied by the scat I found near Port Isabel, Texas. The large size and quantity reminded me of elk but they aren’t commonly found in that part of the state. My poop mystery was cleared up by an interpretive sign at the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park that discussed invasive species.

Nilgai, large Asian antelope, were imported to south Texas for game hunting by the King Ranch in the 1930s. Of course, as so often happens with introduced species, without natural predators, the nilgai reproduced rapidly and have expanded beyond the ranch. There are now an estimated 15,000 of them wandering south Texas.

Not Randy

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I met this Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) while touring Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park. There are 14 species of horned lizards in North America. Growing up in the Sonoran Desert I was fascinated by our local horned lizards. I would sit in the dirt and watch them patiently waiting near an anthill. They were so still that ants would walk right over their backs. Life ended in a flash of tongue for any ant foolish enough to walk in front, though.

We used to call them horny toads (because of the protuberances, not because they were randy) which is a reflection of the first part of their binomial which translates as toad-bodied.