their rapid wake
ripples in the reeds
a lone egret
There’s a swagger in the way the cattle egret walks across the fields of this fenced frontier, wingtips looped into his belt buckle. He won’t talk much at first, but if you get him going he’ll spin stories like country songs—beer drinkin’, cloaca kickin’ and trains beyond the horizon. He’ll tell of blue northers ripping down the plains and the time he lit a fire under a mule that hadn’t moved in two days. He waits while you imagine what a burning mule would smell like and then tells how the mule just moved over a couple feet from the fire and stayed put another two days before movin’ on. Usually, though, he just stares out past the longhorns, dreaming lonely dreams from another time. Maybe he even writes a song or two about the rough and tumble old birds of the past. In the evening, after a long day picking bugs off the backs of settled cows, he sends demos to Nashville and Austin hoping he’ll make it big someday.
the cattle egrets fly off
into the sunset
I ask the egret what makes him great. He smiles his bird smile and tells me of forbidden passion and how he loved and lost a snowy egret once. Held great roosts on the other side of the pond, invited all the shorebirds, hoping—just hoping—she’d maybe wade up his shore. At night he stood one-legged in a tree, ignoring the herons all around, while he studied the faint light reflected in the rippling water across the pond—I stop him there, tell him it sounds like he’s cribbing this story from Fitzgerald. Yes, he says, returning to the present, it’s true, it’s true, but there is no copyright for the heart, and besides… she was so beautiful and it was spring and the stars were bright and we were fledglings in the days of love.
ripple the still pond
They said it would snow today. The blizzard of aught-nine was on its way. There were some flurries around lunchtime, enough to enjoy the feeling of being snowed upon, but soon the temperature dropped and the sun came out to create the kind of brilliant and crisp day we so rarely see here. A great day for hiking while wearing a coat, another novelty of sorts.
I followed the north-running stream through the neighborhood greenbelt, stopping on the little footbridge to try to ID a bird call I wasn’t familiar with. Soon, I saw the bird, which turned out to be a Belted Kingfisher. It’s only the second time I’ve seen one and the first time on this little stretch of trail.
I stood on the bridge, kind of losing track of time and letting it flow along with the water below me, content to be outside and cold and remembering those fierce days we had last summer on which cold and water seemed such impossibilies.
After coming back to reality, I took a few pictures of the play of colors on the water and tried to figure out where that kingfisher had got to. I knew which tree he was in, but from where I stood, he was too well hidden, but I was treated to the surprise of a Great Egret hanging out in a nearby tree. These guys are pretty common around here, but they’re usually a little farther downstream at the pond rather than around the bridge.
I spent a little more time looking around for the kingfisher since they’re relatively new birds for me and I’ve never gotten a picture of one, but it was not to be. I continued along the trail to the pond where I counted 51 Gadwalls dabbling and quacking around in circles. I’m sure there were more as I could see the silhouettes of a number of ducks in the glare on the pond, but I couldn’t tell what they were. Among the Gadwalls, I saw three American Wigeons. It’s nice to see the ducks are filtering back for the winter.
Speaking of coming back for the winter, the other day I saw an accipiter (most likely a Sharp-shinned Hawk) like the one that lurked around my yard last winter make a pass over the bird feeder. I wonder if it’s the same one.
In addition to the ducks, I saw Yellow-rumped Warblers and, I think, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but he flew off before I could be sure.
It wasn’t long before the cold seeped through my coat and my hat and heading home seemed like a good idea, though I wanted to stick around and look for that Red-shouldered Hawk who’s been refusing to let me get a good picture of him all year. Maybe next time.
Last week we went down to Orange to visit R’s parents. While there we visited the heronry at Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, which recently reopened after recovering from Hurricane Ike. It was ridiculously hot so we didn’t spend much time at the gardens. Instead, we headed for the heronry which has a beautiful bird blind built over the water right in the middle of the trees, which are full of nests.
We didn’t actually see any herons, but there were hundreds of Great Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants, Cattle Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills, many of which were tending nests with juveniles in varying stages of development. We also saw Fish Crows, Northern Mockingbirds, and an American Robin.
According to Shangri La’s website, “Since the publication of the book Lost Horizon in 1933, the term ‘Shangri La’ has represented a place of beauty, peace and enlightenment.”
The modern Shangri La in Orange has managed to live up to the name despite having to rebuild in the wake of two hurricanes. But, rebuild they did, even using wood from trees felled by Ike. Perhaps that’s part of how it became the 1st project in Texas and only 50th in the world to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s Platinum certification.
I got a huge kick out of watching the nests. The nestlings in the spoonbill nest had hatched about a month earlier so I assume they’ll be leaving the nest soon considering how crowded it was getting in there.
Roseate Spoonbill was a life bird for me, which is a bit ironic since the first time I ever saw a picture of one was in a funeral home. I’ve been to that funeral home down in Orange too many times and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the painting of the Roseate Spoonbill.
It was good to see them so thoroughly in life.
I could have spent hours there had it not been well over 100 degrees out. I look forward to returning when it’s a bit cooler. Perhaps we’ll take one of the boat rides into the bayou and see some alligators.
But, not turkeys for which, I’m certain, these birds at least are thankful.
Yesterday, I walked down to the little pond at the end of our street to check out the ducks.
A Great Egret was hunting along the far shore and I saw at least 15 Gadwalls. You can see one in the above picture above the word ‘great’ in the caption.
I also saw one Ring-necked Duck. Lesser Scaup. I only ever saw one last winter so I wonder if it’s the same one.
A Great Blue Heron flew overhead out of the reeds behind me and I saw a few vultures, but that was it.
Update: Ted pointed out that the Ring-necked Duck had been mis-ID’d as a Lesser Scaup. I have corrected the post accordingly.
The little pond down the street is a great place for finding birds like this Great Egret.
As big as these guys are (4′ foot wingspan) they can be easy to miss sitting as they do stone still in the tops of trees.
Remembering to look where you think you’ve already looked can be the difference between looking and seeing.
Another excursion to the pond.
Great egret flies low across the water.
Reeds and wind.
It happens everyday.