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Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More Signs of Spring

Curve-billed Thrashers were the busiest of the nest-builders in our yard today.  This one looked at me warily as I raised my camera to capture him and his building material, dried vines that I had been clearing out of the butterfly garden.  In this photo he's perched on a light post at the end of the neighbor's driveway,  getting ready to hop into the yucca where the nest is located.  Both male and female are participating in nest building. I've stayed far away from the site so as not to disturb them, but they see me anyway.

I haven't seen the actual nest yet, just two very busy thrashers going in and out of the Spanish Daggers.

Cattle Egrets were lined up all along the rails of the deck above the boat lift this morning, on all four sides of the square.  At different times today I saw Cattle Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Great Egrets along the river.  A group of seven Reddish Egrets flew by this evening, six white ones and one dark.  (This is one of those interesting species with two color morphs, one pure white and one dark gray with reddish-gray  necks and heads. )

Hundreds, maybe thousands (I need to look that up) of Reddish Egrets nest in a rookery on Green Island  which is just north of the mouth of the Arroyo Colorado, about ten miles downriver from us.  Green Island, one of the few natural islands in the Laguna Madre (most of the islands are really spoil banks made from the dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway)  is covered with very thick thorny brush, good protection for what is supposed to be the largest nesting colony of Reddish Egrets in the world.  Protected by the Audubon Society, the rookery is home primarily to Reddish Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills with other herons and egrets nesting there as well.  We fish near there sometimes but not too near so that we don't disturb the nesting birds.  Huge signs warn fishermen away,  and I've never seen anyone get too close.  I love to sit in the boat and watch the egrets, spoonbills, and herons fly overheadon their way to and from the rookery.  Roseate Spoonbills are especially beautiful when caught in the early morning sunlight. 

A short news clip  here  shows some of the Island's feathered inhabitants as videoed by outdoor writer Richard Moore for a local television station.  It's a wonderful video.  Click on it to see our local breeding birds.   

The rookery on Green Island has been very important in increasing the numbers of Reddish Egrets since the early 1900's when they were almost hunted out of existence for their beautiful plumes that decorated ladies' hats.

Another sign of spring in our yard is the increased activity of Green Anoles.  This one is not green, but he is certainly showing off his dewlap.  I took this photo of him two days ago while sitting on the front deck.  If brown coloring shows that he is unhappy or stressed, then this guy is not feeling great.  He's still a handsome lizard, but I like them most when they are green.

When we visited my sister in Florida last summer we saw the brown anoles  (Cuban Anoles) that live there.  They are not native to the United States as the Green Anole is, and their appearance in Florida has overtaken most of the Green Anole population there.

This guy is definitely happier than the one pictured above (if, that is, happiness in these lizards is measured by their color, which changes from green to brown).  Until I photographed several anoles in the last few days, I had not noticed the beautiful blue coloring around their eyes.  Click to enlarge for a good look.  (Click also on the brown one above.)

If you look at the third anole photo, you'll see why the second anole looks so fresh and spring-y.  He has just molted!  I took the molting picture about an hour before the other one.  This lizard was the same size and in the same place as the brown guy I had seen  the day before.  Since I know anoles are territorial, I think this is probably the same one.  Maybe he was so brown because his skin felt old and uncomfortable!  (I know I'm anthropomorphizing here.  I'm abandoning all pretense of being scientific.) 

Today I started down the back stairs and saw two anoles locked in combat.  (Maybe one of them was the one I had photographed  on the back deck who had ventured to the wrong side of the house.) One of the two had the other one's head grasped in his mouth.  I ran back inside to grab the camera but was too late.  They had separated, but it was still a standoff.  I took a picture just as my cat, who had slipped out the door with me, scared them--and the picture shows one very green anole and one leg of another anole as it scurried out of my photo!  At least its leg was still attached to its body--if the cat and I hadn't scared them away, I'm not sure how the battle would have turned out. 

When I was a kid they sold Green Anoles at the circus with little strings around their necks and pins on the strings so you could wear them.  They called them "chameleons."  I shudder to think about those wonderful lizards that could change colors and catch bugs and puff up bright pink dewlaps, being "worn" by less-than-careful little kids.  Of course our mom would not let us have one.  She was a teacher, interested in and respectful of all living things.  In one of my favorite photos of her, taken by my dad just a week or two after they had met, she is holding a lizard up to his camera and smiling.  I hope I have passed on to my children and grandchildren the same love and respect for nature that my parents gave to me.

Yard list note:  One yard bird has made its first appearance of 2010 and I'm sad to see it back, even though it is a very interesting bird:  the Bronzed Cowbirds are back ready to parasitize the nests of the Hooded Orioles.  I'll tell more about these unwelcome birds when I get a picture of them.  Meanwhile, I'll add them and the Nashville Warbler that I saw a few days ago to the year list in the sidebar.


KaHolly said...

Great post today. I esp. liked the photo of the cattle egrets lined up on the railing! They look like purposely placed statues! Too funny. You are certainly in a happening place. I had a thrill the other morning as the sky filled with blue herons making their final approach to the little island in front of my house where they call home during the summer. They had been battling a North wind and you could see their exhaustion in every wingbeat. They circled my meadow a few times, as if they were getting their bearings, then headed over the house and across the small harbor. They weren't even 50 feet above my head. I stood and watched until every last one of them was out of site. I was so humbled by this experience. I can't imagine what it must be like to observe hundreds upon thousands of migrating birds arrive. It would probably be too much for my old ticker!! ~karen

Kay said...

The sight of the Great Blue Herons arriving in their summer home sounds lovely. It must be wonderful to sense spring finally arriving to a cold northern clime. Our first year here, 20 years ago, had an eerie feel to it as we experienced the absence of four distinct seasons. That may be why I'm obsessing so much with every little sign of spring and why I like so much to read your descriptions of the seasons.

Joy K. said...

We've got cowbirds starting to hang around, also. Their song, which is really liquidy and sweet, only sounds ominous to me.

Cheryl said...

Furstly, thank you so much for the comment you left on my blog.

Secondly, gosh you are surrounded by much beauty.....absolutely stunning....I would never get any work done.

and finally the photographs are amazing, showing me so many creatures that I would never see in SE UK.

IndianWildlifeClub said...

Nice to read your blog. Will be following your posts regularly.

Kay said...

Thank you for the comments!
Joy, I know just what you mean about the cowbird song. It is very pleasant--liquidy is a good way to describe it.

Cheryl,your UK birds seem like birds of my childhood since so many of the books I had as a child were English and the illustrations had such lovely birds.

IndianWildlifeClub, thanks for following. I look forward to more of your posts.
Thanks to you all for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your blog. I will definitely keep this in mind & follow it often.
If your interested, check out my nature-watching blog @ http://songofthewolf.wordpress.com.
- Song of the wolf

Kay said...

I checked out your blog and find it very interesting! Thanks for following.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Kay: Neat photo of the Thrasher, we have cowbirds in Ohio also.