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.

1965 Moscow

The final stop of our 1965 chess tour of Czechoslovakia and Russia was Moscow, then capital of world chess. Of course, we lost the matches, as we were each playing against significantly stronger players. But what stays in memory is the impressions of the then-capital of a mighty empire – the USSR.

1965 GUM

The people seemed drab and depressed, compared to Western Europe, and compared to Ukraine (see previous posts 1965 Kiev and 1965 Odessa). The GUM department store had queues and empty shelves; the system did not appear to be working well for people here at the centre.

This suggested to me that the USSR was not a great success for its own peoples. It had clearly not recovered from WW2 as well as the West, and the people had not correspondingly benefited. Why would Russians wish to go back to those supposedly glorious days through the current ventures in Ukraine and other parts of the Russian border?

Paradoxically, there was also evidence of good organisation, modern technology and buildings suggesting a glorious history.

Worker and collective farmer

All this intermingled with drab buildings and worthy statues to the glory of the working man, rather strange to Western eyes. This was, after all, supposedly a communist state.

So I have very mixed impressions of Moscow at that time, a period when nuclear war between USA and USSR was only narrowly averted – times of peril that the Putin regime seems determined to go back to.

Tsar bell

My only other photograph from that visit was this one of the huge Tsar Bell, considered to be the largest bell in the world. The bell was cast in the 1700s but never struck for real, because a fire caused a bit to split off before it could be hoisted into position to ring. That somehow seems to sum up Russia.

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.

Politics as my Footnote

In this reblogged post, Matt Tevebaugh expresses clearly something many of us have thought. The values of what I would call the ‘celebrity culture’ are what led to the election of a president like Donald Trump, the ultimate empty ‘celebrity’.
The politicians we elect reflect our values. What does this say about the Western world, and particularly US and UK? Too many have lost or ignored their depth of soul and meaning, and settled for the surface attraction of the celebrity culture and the sports star. When we regain some depth, we will elect politicians of genuine depth and substance.
Great post by Matt:

Matt's Notes

We are in the middle of a contentious election. And that is perhaps an understatement. There’s lots of opinions flying around, and even some violent displays of opinions. So this is a serious conversation. I don’t want to come off like I am taking the reality lightly. But I am doing my best to treat politics as a footnote for myself and other people.

I realize that statement can come across as a lot of things. Blind. Ignorant. Perhaps demeaning and even racist. It’s perhaps easy to say I am going to reducing a system that is oppressing people to a footnote because I am not part of the group being oppressed. But let me explain a little further.

My hope for the future does not rest in politics. Whether he actually said it or not, Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying some version of the phrase “We can’t…

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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

America’s issue with socialism, so that’s what it’s all about

Jane Fritz puts her finger on why the US really is different, and why a lot of their citizens just cannot abide the idea of socialism or social democracy or free healthcare. Of course, it’s not all Americans – this is the ‘base’ that Donald Trump is always speaking to. And this shows us why we in the UK our unwise to follow the right of our Conservative Party that would like to make us more like the US.

Robby Robin's Journey

I can’t have been alone in wondering over many, many years why so many Americans have such an aversion to ‘socialism’ even in its mildest forms, like universal healthcare.   Every other ‘developed’ country embraced what’s commonly called social democracy decades ago, in the aftermath of WWII, as have other countries. But not the U.S. As far as they’re concerned, it’s socialism.

I used to think that I understood the reason and that surely it would pass. My theory was that it was tied to the Cold War fear of communism and the thought that socialism would lead to communism. I reckoned that once enough time had passed they’d realize that wasn’t the case. However, I have now learned that this aversion to social rights has been at the core of American principles since at least the mid-1700s. That’s what individualism is all about. It explains a lot of things.

Full…

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Bottle brush

It’s difficult to believe that we would only just be home from Houston according to our original travel plans. We’re just left with family Zoom time and memories, including this pretty bottle brush tree, one of my more successful ventures into gardening in Houston. This one flowers well, early in March. It’s easy to see why it has the name.

bottle brush
flower

bottle brush buds
buds

These plants originate from Australia. They appear to be happy with the Houston climate.

 

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(?).

Click twice to see full screen.