Lesser scaup

We spotted this lesser scaup, a North American diving duck, in Houston’s Hermann Park. These ducks feed by sifting mud at the bottom of the lake.

This would be a male; the female has a brownish body – quite different.

Common buckeye

This common buckeye butterfly at Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza Park in Houston was being quite coy, just revealing one of the three ‘eyes’ on its upper wing.

These are said to be common in North America. They migrate north in the spring, so we probably just caught this one (March) before that event. This really is a rather beautiful butterfly!

American bittern 2

We just saw a couple of American bitterns during our day at Brazos Bend State Park in March. We heard more, with that characteristic booming “oong, kach, oonk”, as Wikipedia says.

They just stand about in the vegetation, waiting…

The Houston area is in this bittern’s winter range; they travel north to breed in the spring. We were maybe lucky they were still there.

Roseate Spoonbill

We’ve seen roseate spoonbills before at Brazos Bend State Park, but never close enough to photograph. This year, finally, there was a group in a rookery close enough to the visitor pathway.

Of course, the unusual spoon-shaped bill provides for specialised sifting of food from the mud. Like flamigoes the pink colouring comes from their diet, so shades vary in different locations

If you really want to see some great spoonbill pics go to Ted Jennings’ site.

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbirds are pretty common in Texas, although it’s not that easy to get a good shot of the red patch on the wings. These were reasonably obliging at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas.

If you don’t see the red patch, they’re easily confused with grackles. If you look at the wikipedia entry, the females are rather different, with fairly dull marking. We saw some hiding in the trees, separate from the males.

Fishing below Barker Dam

I spend some time watching the fishers in the rush of water where the outlet from Barker Dam merges into Buffalo Bayou to continue its journey to the sea.

The Great Blue Heron just stands in the water, motionless, waiting for what seems to be a rare opportunity.

The snowy egret stands on a rock or respectfully by the bank, away from the Great Blue. The technique is the same, waiting for an opportunity with intent concentration.

Finally, the cormorant swims in the water below the rush. From time to time he dives into the turmoil, swimming toward the current, often emerging with a fish in his beak.

There’s no doubt which is the most successful technique. A throng of around 10 cormorants is harvesting most of the fish. Heron and egret get the occasional consolation.

Phaon crescent

Just catching up with photos from our March visit to Houston. This butterfly at Brazos Bend State Park took a bit of identifying. It’s similar to some European fritillaries, but this one is called a phaon crescent.

The wing patterns are quite striking. Apparently these are quite common in the Houston area and much of Texas.

At Garner State Park

We visited Garner State Park mid March. This Texas State Park lies on the Frio River, an hour or two’s drive from San Antonio. There are extensive camp grounds and many recreational opportunites afforded by the river and surrounding hills. On a very hot day we could just get a flavour of this picturesque area, see the following photos.

This impressive and popular park was built as a New Deal job creation project and is named after John Nance Garner, who served as Roosevelt’s vice-president from 1933-1941. This is a model for government action when times are hard for the people. Thousands benefit from this historic government investment every day.

The good old Texan attitude to covid-prevention is shown on the sign on the back of a camped pickup, see featured image.

Great blue and snowy

The point where the outflow from Houston’s Barker reservoir runs into Buffalo Bayou is a great for a spot of fishing. Here a great blue heron waits patiently, intent on the running water. A snowy egret waits to the side, a good distance from the prime spot.

Green darner dragonfly

UK dragonflies tend to be so active that they are difficult to photograph. But these North American green darners at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas, March 2019, were just basking on the footpath in the sun.

Green darner male

They are so-called because of the supposed resemblance to a darning needle. Any young readers will probably say ‘What the heck is that?’.

The female has a blue tail.

Just look at those amazingly transparent wings!

Beware gators!

There are usually a good number of American alligators, locally called gators, at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas. Most lie in the water, as in the featured image. A few warm up in the sun on the banks of the lakes/swamp, sometimes just feet away from the visitor path. They are pretty docile, and probably well fed, but it is well to be wary.

This proximity does give the opportunity for close-ups of those craggy reptilian bodies.

Brazos Bend State Park, 2019

I think that the open mouth was just a convenient resting position, and not the anticipation of a good snack!

These animals can grow to 4 metres long and weigh over 400 kg.

Common gallinule

We’ve been fortunate to visit Brazos Bend State Park in Texas a number of times over the years. Apart from the more exotic birds (from a European perspective) there appeared to be plenty of coots and moorhens, just as on most lakes in the UK.

However, the loquacious and overactive ‘moorhens’ did not appear to behave at all like those in UK. Yes this was usually the mating season around March, but surely these were not the same species. A web search shows that they are common gallinules, which were given a separate categorisation from moorhens only in 2011. Their mating behaviour is quite spectacular!

Brazos Bend State Park, 2019

See related posts moorhen, purple gallinule.

The Dangerous Gnat

We used to call them gnats in Lincoln. The Spanish call them mosquitoes (diminutive for mosca – fly). It was many years before I realised these are the same thing, basically, although there are different sorts.

For us they were just pesky nuisances, but this is mankind’s ‘deadliest predator’. How come? The answer: malaria. In 2018 there were 228,000,000 new cases and 400,000 died, but few in the ‘developed world’.

For millennia people got the ague, got sick and many died. It even decided major events, such as Hannibal’s failed assault on Rome, the limits of Alexander the Great’s conquering. It was thought to be bad air that caused it (mal-aria).

Eventually mankind found the cure – draining swamps and quinine, a refined variant of which, hydroxychloroquine, has been in the news recently. Of course, a lot of the world can’t afford these solutions.

This reminded me of a trip we took a few years ago to the unspoilt Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. We stopped outside the gate of the reserve to take a quick entry photo, and by the time we got back in the car I had a number of mosquito bites on my arm. Of course, the whole of this eastern part of Texas was one big swamp before white men arrived. What a lot of mosquitoes! And what a heroic effort to carve the city of Houston out of such terrain. No wonder they use a lot of pesticide.

To know history and its causes is to understand today!

Thanks to an excellent review by Steven Shapin in the recent London Review of Books, on the book The Mosquito; A Human History of our Deadliest Predator by Timothy Winegard. Sounds like a great book!

No it’s not my arm. Featured image of Tasmanian mosquito by JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons

Insects in the Houston garden

As coronavirus gradually reduced our horizons during our recent stay in Houston, it was surprising how many insects one came across in the garden. Surprising because continuous chemical warfare is waged against termites and cockroaches, which would both soon become very widespread without it.

The presence of lizards and birds, such as cardinal, mocking bird and blue jay, does suggest that there are insects around, and if you go in the summer there will be mosquitoes due to large amounts of standing water. Fortunately these were not significantly around during our recent visit. We did see odd cockroaches, the great survivors, but these are not my favourite photographic subjects.

Bees were around on emerging spring flowers, but my two best pictures were of a monarch butterfly and a colourful paper wasp(?).

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