Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge

The still nearly full Harvest Moon was high in the western sky on Friday morning when I hauled myself out of my comfy bed and began to make preparations for a day of birding. We were going to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge on a day trip and we wanted to get there while the birds were still active in the morning before they settled down for their mid-day siesta. Since the refuge is some two hours away from our home, it required an early start.

When we arrived at the refuge two hours later, the moon was still a pale presence above the western horizon, but the sun was up and would soon extinguish its light.

Among the first things that I noticed at the refuge were the wildflowers. They were everywhere, producing riotous points of color among the browns and greens of the wetland grasses.


Purple seemed to be the predominant color.


But there was a lot of yellow among the purple, including these tiny flowers that look like some kind of coreopsis.

This was obviously a legume of some kind.


Wild sunflowers were plentiful. The birds will devour the dried seeds.


This pretty gray-foliaged plant was plentiful, also.


As were these daisy-like flowers.


I quite liked the look of the wild grasses, especially the ones that grew in the boggy areas.

But, of course, we were there for the birds, and there were plenty of those.


This mixed flock, like many of the birds we saw this day, were too far removed from us to get a really good picture. But here we have Great and Snowy Egrets, White Ibises, Northern Shoveler Ducks, Black-necked Stilts, Boat-tailed Grackles, Willets, and probably others that I can't identify.


The most numerous of the birds that we saw this day were the Black-necked Stilts. This is a small portion of a large flock of a hundred or more birds and there were several flocks like this.

Five Black-necked Stilts in flight.


We found this one stilt along the road all by itself. It was lame. I think you can see that the leg that it is holding up is swollen.


Forsters' Terns were much in evidence as well. This was one of a flock of about ten that were diving on a small pond.


My most exciting bird of the day was this nondescript little creature that we flushed from the side of the road. I wish I had been able to get a better picture of it, but it is very cryptically colored and blends in too well with its surroundings. It is a Clapper Rail, and it was a life bird for me.


Notice its long legs, long, thin bill, and short stubby tail, all characteristics of the rail.


As it turned its back on us, we got a better look at that stubby tail.


Another exciting bird was this beautiful, but uncooperative White-tailed Kite. It was far away and, of course, just as I snapped the picture it turned its head. As I think you can tell even from this poor photo, the bird has a white chest and abdomen and black shoulders on its gray wings. When the bird is in flight the tips of its wings show black and the tail is white, thus the name. It makes a striking sight in flight, which it was about one second after I snapped its picture.


We saw a lot of White Ibises and this is one of them although it doesn't look very white yet. It is a juvenile. In a few months, it will have the pure white feathers of an adult.


There were also lots of these beautiful Tricolored Herons about.


We didn't see too many songbirds around but this is one that we did see, the Loggerhead Shrike. It was sitting atop this old windmill which was the tallest perch in the area. From there, he could easily spy on insects on the ground.


I had just seen four Eastern Kingbirds perched in a nearby tree and when I saw this bird from a distance, I got excited thinking that it might be a Western Kingbird.


But as I got closer, I could see that there was no yellowish wash on the belly. In fact, it had a bit of salmon on the sides and so I recognized it for what it was.


Then the bird flew and removed all doubt. It was a juvenile Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. It didn't have the long flowing tail of the adult yet. Instead of scissors, its tail was more like pruning shears, but give him time and he will grow that long tail that is the pride of his species. There were two of these juveniles present, but I didn't see any adults. They were probably around somewhere though, because the birds usually migrate in family groups.

As I was leaving the entry to the refuge, I found two more songbirds - a Tufted Titmouse and, oddly enough, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Staff had planted lots of red salvia around the Information Center and I'm sure that's what caught the eye of the hummer.

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge is one of the many natural treasures that exist in our area. If you haven't discovered it yet, now would be a good time to do that. The large numbers of ducks and geese that will be there in winter haven't arrived yet, but there is plenty to see, both animal and plant. And, yes, we even saw one alligator, about a six-footer, I would guess. After that, my day was complete.

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