Friday, April 21, 2006

Learning From DORs

I arrived at Sabine Woods Sanctuary on HWY 87 in Sabine Pass, a well-known fallout area for migrants during spring and fall migration. Sky was clear with a nice breeze which helped keep the mosquitoes somewhat at bay. The lantana was in full bloom and its scent along with the scent of scattered patches of honeysuckle filled the morning air. Below is a list of the birds I saw and/or heard and the number of each: White-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)-8, Blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)-4, Black & White warbler (Mniotilta varia)-1 Yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)-2, Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)-2, Yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens)-1, Hooded warbler (Wilsonia citrina)-male-1, female-1, Eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)-1, White-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus)-2, Common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)-heard, Purple martin (Progne subis)-4, Chimney swift (Chaetura pelagica)-heard, Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)-2. After I finished there I took a ride down HWY 87 towards Sea Rim State Park. I love driving down this strip of road because you never know what you'll come across. There are marsh areas that contain various species of ducks and marsh birds, open grasslands where you can see large flocks of tree and barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) swirling in the air as they feed on flying insects. I saw many black woolly bear caterpillars (Isia isabella) crossing the road, which will eventually develop into the great leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia). That is all of those that survive their trek across the highway. Along this road the power lines offer themselves as perches for birds such as belted kingfishers (Ceryle alcyon), scissor-tailed flycatchers (Tyrannus forficatus), loggerhead shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus), and American kestrels (Falco sparverius). I spotted an eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) as it caught a large dragonfly on the wing. It landed on the power line and then rubbed the bug along the wire to remove its head before swallowing it whole "headless" first. I'm sure the reason behind this is so the dragonfly wouldn't bite on the way down. I also find quite a bit of road-killed animals or DORs (Dead On Road) here. I know this sounds a little disgusting, but you can learn things from the dead animals you find. DORs familiarize you as to what lives in the area and also help sharpen identification skills. When else do you get a chance to get this close to most animals? Sure there are really good field guides out there to learn from but nothing beats the real thing. Mind you I don't go digging into maggot riddled animal corpses, but I do check out wing patterns on birds, markings on snakes and turtles and most times take photos to refer back to for study.

Today I found a DOR slender glass lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus), which are many times misidentified as snakes due to the fact that they are "legless" and do resemble a snake to the untrained eye. What classifies them as lizards is they have two things that snakes do not have- eyelids and external ear openings. Sure I read this before in a book, but now I had one in front of me to actually see these traits. I've read where others will collect freshly killed birds to be used as study skins and someone I know has a friend who has used DORs for illustration work for museums and publications. DORs also shows you the impact that roadways have on the area's wildlife. I have found that a good deal of turtles, specifically the Mississippi mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum hippocrepis), are killed here as they cross. Each time I come here I find at least 4-6 of these dead. From time to time I'm fortunate to find them and other species of turtles before they become "street pizza", pick them up and move them to the side of the road. There also are many snakes (cottonmouths, water, ribbon, and garter), birds (egrets, herons, warblers, etc.) and mammals (opposum, muskrat, skunk) that I've found killed on this road. What can be done about this? On the nature blog Burning Silo there is an entry entitled "Ribbon of Death". A very good read. In it is listed things that can be done to help minimize road-killed animals. Check it out here.
It's very unfortunate that this happens, but rather than letting their deaths go to waste use it as a tool for learning. And that’s one thing I’m into. Learning as much as possible about the living things around me.

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