Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Smart and Handsome


Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Los Fresnos, Texas March 2019

The Green Jay (Cyanocorax yncas) is a stunner! Though the common name references the overall body color of this species, the first part of its binomial translates as dark blue raven (which is the predominate feature of the members of this genus). As with others in the crow family, these birds are highly intelligent. They are known tool users, employing sticks to remove insects from tree bark.

Deceptive Beauty

Do not be fooled by the beautiful blue and pink colors of the┬áPortugese Man o’ War (Physalia physalis). Their long tentacles can deliver a venomous sting, even when beached. Contact usually results in red welts but the venom can cause breathing trouble in some people. Surprisingly, it is a favorite food of Loggerhead Sea Turtles. I encountered these down on South Padre Island, thankfully, I have yet to find any on the beaches near me.

Release Party


The awesome Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK), a subsidiary of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, recently released seven sea turtles. The animals were brought in to receive care for various injuries and were finally deemed healthy enough to return to the open water. Of the seven sea turtle species in the world, five of them can be found in the Gulf of Mexico: Loggerhead, Green, Kemp’s Ridley, Leatherback, and Hawksbill. Three species were released that morning: Loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley and Green. As you can see in the video below, they were eager to swim away.

Small Bird


If the damp chest is anything to go by I interrupted this Black-crested Titmouse’s (Baeolophus atricristatus) bath time. I believe this to be a female, based on the lighter coloration of the crest. Though long considered a subspecies of the Tufted Titmouse, DNA analysis in 2002 showed that the BCTI lineage diverged 250,000 years ago.

The name titmouse derives from Old English, tit denoting something small, while mase (which later morphed to mose and then mouse) meant bird. Truly, she could care less what I call her just as long as I moved on so she could continue bathing in private.

Defense Mechanism

While beautiful and fragile-looking, the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is not to be trifled with. This species is unique in that it has glands on its abdomen that release a noxious odor when threatened, prompting birds to move on to other, less smelly prey. While the view from above is striking, I find the silvery spots on the underside equally alluring.

Lively Gray

White-eyed Vireo

The White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus) is one aptly named bird! Compared to any of the other vireos that pale eye is incredibly distinctive. Though, to be finicky, I would call that color light gray or ash. A technicality supported by its scientific name as griseus is Latin for gray. It is a handsome little bird that I was very fortunate to get a good look at (they spend most of their time flitting busily through the shrubbery, took me fifteen minutes to even locate this one). Which is where the first part of their binomial comes into play, vireo means lively or full of vigor.