Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sabine Pass Trip

This past Monday (October 25) I decided to head over to Sabine Woods (formerly known as Grim’s Woods and owned by the Texas Ornithological Society), one of my favorite haunts, hoping to catch some of the last remnants of fall migration. As I approach the city limits of Sabine Pass I still catch glimpses of the carnage left by hurricane Ike. It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since it collided with our shores. When I arrive, I'm greeted by a stiff southerly breeze hurtling in off of the gulf, which I’m thankful for since it helps keep the hungry mosquitoes at bay, and allows my concentration to stay focused on the other wildlife.

I checked the website (on my Android) of a local meteorological station maintained by the National Data Buoy Center and it shows the wind direction coming in from the SSW at 16 knots, with gusts of 21 knots.

I check the log located under the covered area near the entrance to see what birdlife has been seen and find 14 species of warbler listed along with many other birds.

The main trail had at one time consisted of a wooden boardwalk, but hurricane Ike did away with that. Thanks to local volunteers whom have maintained the trails, birders still have a way to get around. I decide to head over to a particular area where a water drip is located.

I sit on the bench and watch as a number of warblers- Nashville, black-throated green, common yellowthroat, yellow-breasted chat bathe and drink from the ground bath that lies under the copper drip tube. Other birds such as a red-eyed vireo, blue jay, catbird, and a blue-gray gnatcatcher also visit. I also watched as a female ruby-throated hummingbird flew up to the tip of the tubing to get a drink on the wing. After about 45 minutes I decided to do a little exploring along the various trails that traverse these woods. Gulf fritillary, monarch, and sulfur butterfly species were present.

I came upon the bird box that I had written about back in March 2008 that had been consumed by honey bees. It had fallen from the tree it was mounted on and now lay on the ground. One of its walls had come off revealing the inside of the box that once housed a massive hive. A nearby hackberry tree was covered with old sap wells left behind by yellow-bellied sapsuckers that are winter residents here. Some of the wells had sap oozing from them which is also an attractant to butterflies and other insects as well as hummingbirds.

I came across a pair of lifeless, tattered monarch wings lying on the ground near the base of the hackberry tree. Most of the thorax and abdomen were gone leaving only enough tissue to bind the wings. Monarchs are in the middle of their migration towards Mexico as I write this, and the SSW wind I spoke of earlier is not conducive to their journey, but a cool front will be coming through from the north by the end of the week, which should help send them, along with the migrating birds, on their way. I look closely at the wings and notice that they belonged to a male, due to the presence of a distinct spot, known as the andoconium, found on each of the hind wings, which are responsible for emitting pheromones.

There’s a particular area of oaks in these woods that has a thick upper story known to be a good area for roosting owls. I’ve accidently spooked a few barn owls in the past from their daytime roost. On the ground lots of whitewash can be seen denoting an area where one had roosted, and after a few minutes of searching I came across an owl pellet lying in the ground litter. Note the portion of skull with tooth protruding on the left side.

Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus), aka- Drummond Wax-mallow, Texas Mallow, Mexican Apple, Red Mallow, May Apple, Wild Turk’s Cap, Bleeding Heart, is a native perennial shrub of Texas and is a favorite of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees for the nectar it provides. Birds and other fruit-eating animals feed on the small red marble-shaped fruit that are mealy and have an apple-like taste to them. Livestock occasionally browses its leaves. The flower petals and fruit, I’ve read, also make a good tea.

A bobcat had left its presence in the sandy trail. I spotted one back in 2005 here that was strectched out on the walkway near the entrance.

I was able to get a nice photo as seen below, before it slowly rose from the ground and trotted off into the dense cover.

Not far from this track on the edge of the trail I find sign of another mammal that walks these grounds. At the base of a young pecan tree on one side is a swipe of dried mud. This rub was left by a feral hog right after it wallowed in the mud.

These swine pests are not native to this country and it is believed were introduced here way back in the late 1600's by Spanish explorers as domesticated livestock. They eventually became free-ranging and feral which led to their eventual control over Texas lands. Hogs rub to remove excess mud or just to scratch an itch caused by parasites such as fleas and ticks. They'll rub on whatever's available- trees, fence posts, utility poles, and rocks. Looking down at my feet I find the sign of yet another mammal.........a golfer ;-)

My journey home is finished of nicely by the sighting of a total of 14 scissor-tailed flycathers, doing what they do best- flycatching from power lines.

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