Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nature's Tragedies

My husband called me out of my office to check something outside. He led me out by the fig trees to a small carefully excavated hole.  "What is this?" he wanted to know.

There were white fragments. At first glance I wondered if they were crawdad pincers.


Upon closer examination they were small, brittle eggshells. Henry wanted to know what the was the story here.  We wondered if this was evidence of turtles hatching out or what. He had his phone on him so I asked him to take pictures.

I have a Facebook/blogger friend that I thought would know the answer.  Naturalist writer and artist,  Julie Zickefoose, is someone I thought would be able to read and interpret this nature story. Sure enough she wrote back that it WAS a turtle nest that had been dug out by a skunk or raccoon. Since I've seen a raccoon in the back yard recently, I'm guessing he is the culprit. An additional email confirmed that it was either a box turtle nest or a snapper turtle nest - probably the snapper turtle. When baby turtles hatch and leave the nest they only leave a very small hole - not one with piles of dirt and tailings.

Julie says that every time she sees a turtle laying eggs, she covers the nesting area with a cage to protect the turtle eggs so they can hatch. I'm not sure we've ever seen a turtle laying eggs although we see them regularly on the pond.

I suspect we will try to be more observant during turtle egg laying season in late spring and summer.  I also realized that I need to work on my turtle identification of the turtles I see in and around my pond.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Storms

As we were driving home from dinner this evening, I noticed that we had a storm cloud that might be close enough to get some lightning shots.  I was hoping to be able to capture the last of the days light on the cloud with some blue sky and still get some lightning.  As the light faded, the city lights began turning the clouds an ugly orange so we headed on home.

However, after I got near the mailbox at home, I realized that we still had some lightning photo possibilities, so I parked my car so my window was in line for the lightning and kept photographing some lovely cloud to cloud lightning.  When that calmed down, I came in to see what I had.

A little while later I realized we had some more storms building west and north of us, so I went back up to my mailbox area which is higher and has better visibility and started shooting again.  I was fortunate enough to watch the storm build up over Hutto and then I began to get the cloud to ground forked lightning that I always hope for.

I stayed up there about an hour, but began noticing the lightning was been hidden by a rain line, so I headed back to the house. As I walked along my porch the rain started, leaving me feeling I had time this just right.

Two of the lightning bolts must have hit transformers in Hutto, because right after the bolt, there was a beautiful blue glow. After one of those, it looked like Hutto lost power for just a little bit.

These are just a few of the "good ones" I got tonight.  Time well spent capturing the beauty of God's creation.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Summer Bird Chicks

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge was a wonderful place to watch nesting birds and young chicks and ducklings.

The Common Gallinule (Note that American Ornithologist Union has split the American species from the Common moorhen and renamed it the common gallinule) lives in freshwater and brackish marshes with tall vegetation.  It has long toes that make it possible to walk on soft and floating vegetation.  It is a good swimmer in spite of not having webbed feet.

The spurs on the wings of the chicks allow them to climb into the nest or to grab vegetation.

Black-necked stilts are easily seen as they wade through shallow water on their long red legs.

On one of our driving loops we saw this stilt sitting on her nest.  For some reason, I think she has a quite contented look to her.

It is amazing at how well camouflaged  the chicks are in the marsh grass.

There were several families of black-bellied whistling ducks.

The parents give a sense of contentment as the ducklings sleep.

This was an older family where the coloration on the chicks seems older and a little different.

Even though it WAS hot, it was so much fun to be out enjoying the birds at Brazoria NWR.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Alligators in Texas

The American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, was facing extinction due to hunting and loss of habitat.  Originally alligators could be found as far north as New Jersey, south along the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast and inland up the Mississippi River to the convergence with the Arkansas River and west in Texas to the 100th meridian.  (San Angelo is just west of the 100th meridian.)  Today's smaller range is east to the Carolina's, west to Texas, and north into Arkansas.  Texas provided protection for alligators beginning in 1969 and the population has recovered such that it is no longer listed as an endangered species.

The American alligator is an amazing creature - a large reptile, armored with coarse scales ranging in length from 6-14 feet.  The head is large with large visible upper teeth along the long jaw line.

The front feet have five toes and the rear feet are webbed with four toes.  Alligators are semi-aquatic choosing to live in marshy bodies of water.  While they are more often found in fresh water, they tolerate brackish water also.  They are good swimmers and often float with just their eyes and nostrils above the water. They are able to run quickly over short distances on land.  I have never been fortunate to hear an alligator, but they can be very vocal.  Young alligators bark and adults may bellow, grunt, or hiss.

Carnivorous, alligators will eat any animal it can catch. The normal diet includes small mammals, waterbirds, snakes, fish, crustaceans, lizards, turtles, and even other alligators.  When human habitation coincides with alligator areas, small pets can also be part of the diet.  Fortunately, alligators usually avoid humans, but small children can be at risk when alligators are present.

In Texas, alligators brumate from mid-October until early March.  Brumation is similar to mammal hibernation, a dormant state for cold blooded animals.  A brumating reptile is lethargic, sometimes not moving at all during the cold season.  Brumation is not the sleep of hibernation rather a less active state where the metabolism slows so they don't need to eat.

After emerging from brumation, alligators breed and nest from March 1 through May 30.  Females remain close to their home territory, but males occupy ranges up to ten square miles.  The female builds a nest from local vegetation that may be as large as six feet across and several feet tall.  She lays eggs in the center of the mound and the heat from both the decaying vegetation and sunlight incubates the eggs.  Females lay over 35 eggs, which are about three inches in length.  Incubation lasts about 2 months and the female watches and defends the nest.  The young alligators "yip" when they hatch and the female helps dig them out of the nest.  Hatchlings are about 9 inches long and stay with their protective mothers for up to two years.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy 4th of July!

The 4th of July is just not the same without fireworks - so Henry and I headed over to Lake Pflugerville.  I enjoyed trying to photograph the fireworks.

Happy 4th of July!!!!!!