Monday, August 02, 2021

Cool Dragonflies


Normally dragonflies perch with their tails lying perpendicular to the ground as seen on the left.  The dragonfly on the right has its tail pointing straight up.  Why?  This is one of the ways that dragonflies stay cool, especially during our hot Southeast Texas summers.  With its tail pointing upward it reduces the amount of surface area exposed to the sun thereby reducing body temperature.

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Sunday, March 28, 2021

Dragonfly Down


While the wife and I were relaxing outside on the patio, this male green darner came crashing to the ground in front of us.  The first thing that was obvious about it was its missing tail or what is really known as the abdomen.  (Note that a portion of the abdomen left behind is violet in color- this indicates a juvenile male.)  I'm pretty sure I know what happened.  As I have stated before I have a purple martin colony and these birds love dragonflies (as do many other birds) and there was a few martins flying above us.   I'm thinking that possibly one of my martins had this dragonfly in its beak and it wriggled trying to free itself, which then severed its abdomen and sent it to the ground.

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Blood Rain?


Back in September of 2020 I set up a Stratus Precision Rain Gauge (built to U.S Weather Bureau Standards) to begin recording daily precipitation data to be contributed to the grassroot volunteer network CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network).  Each day at 7 a.m., I record the amount of precipitation, or lack thereof, into the organization’s app on my phone, which is then used by a variety of organizations and individuals including the National Weather Service.  Anyway, I went out this morning to check my gauge and found something unusual- the 0.02” of rain that the gauge collected overnight had a reddish tint to it.   I thought at first that maybe something had fallen into the tube tainting the collected rain, but what?  There was nothing other than water in the tube.  Then I remembered reading something not long ago about “blood rain”.  Once believed to be a “bad omen” (especially in the Middle Ages and earlier times), there is now a scientific consensus that it is a phenomenon sometimes caused by aerial spores of the green microalgae Trentepohlia annulate or Haematococcus pluvialis that gets into clouds and in turn the rain giving it a red appearance.  Also, it is believed to occur when dusts, especially following dust storms, that contain iron oxides gets in the mix.  Even sunspots and aurorae have been to blame. 
This phenomenon is rare, but it does occur occasionally.

Chances are my collected rain is not actually “blood rain” and may have some other underlying cause for its coloration……but it is nice to think it might be.  

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Saturday, November 28, 2020


Known around these parts of Southeast Texas as an “asp”, the caterpillar of the Southern flannel moth (Megalopyge opercularis) hides poisonous spines within the pelt of hairs that cover it.  Labeled as the most venomous caterpillar in the US, this harmless looking caterpillar has a sting from that packs a wallop, which I have experienced personally. If I were to try and describe its severity- it's akin to placing the business end of a lit cigarette against your skin.  I’ve read that a good way to ease the pain is to remove any spines that were left behind in your skin with a piece of cellophane tape.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The hidden beauty of pollination | Louie Schwartzberg

Here is a cool TED Talk on pollination and pollinators. Enjoy...

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Monday, May 06, 2019



My wife, grand-daughter and I were sitting on the front porch when we began to hear a large group of great-tailed grackles mobbing something.  Out of nowhere a copper's hawk dropped out of the sky and landed in the center of the road.  It laid there in what appeared to me a submissive posture as the grackles paced around it squawking loudly. 
Why was it being submissive?  This hawk could’ve tore through these “weaponless” tormentors if it wanted to, but decided instead to lie there motionless.  Seconds later it took off with the grackles close behind.


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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

For those of you interested in putting up a nesting box for owls or kestrels, check out this really nice pulley system for it.  I came across these plans on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website.  Check them out here:

Pulley System to Raise and Lower Large Nest Boxes

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Monday, August 21, 2017

2017 Solar Eclipse

Today my granddaughter and I spent the afternoon witnessing the solar eclipse of 2017 here in Southeast Texas.  Unfortunately, we were not in any of the areas of totality, but being able to see even a 70% eclipse of the sun was awesome especially for my granddaughter, since this was her very first one to observe.  After we returned home I had a feeling of euphoria from such a wonderful event with her, but what was really bummed me out was the fact that we did not experience the ultimate- a solar eclipse in the path of totality- when the day darkens like night.  I hear it is a humbling experience.  But then I came across something that excited me beyond belief.  I came across an article that stated that the next solar eclipse to cross the U.S. would be on April 8, 2024.  Just seven years away!  What's even more exciting to me is where the path of totality would be- right across the state of Texas!  The closest to us would be Dallas which is only 300 miles away!  I’m already in the planning stages seven years in advance to make sure we are able to experience this wonderful event.

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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Bat Watching Sites in Texas

Here is an interesting link to various bat watching sites in Texas.  The site provides some good information including bat-watching etiquette, information on White-nose Syndrome (a disease affecting bats), a list of bat species found in Texas and a downloadable guide.  Check it out:

Bat-Watching Sites of Texas

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Sunday, February 05, 2017

Owl Pellet

I've come across many owl pellets in my travels around southeast Texas, but I've never found one in my own yard.  There are owls that hang around this area, mostly of the screech variety, but there are also great-horned owls that  haunt the trees of our neighborhood.  As a matter of fact I heard two of them talking to one another a few nights ago.
I was out repairing a rotted arm on my purple martin gourd rack when I discovered this pellet, which was on a picnic table that resides right under the branches of a water oak in our yard.  I was pleasantly surprised and collected it into a Ziploc bag to save it for my grand-daughter.  We plan on dissecting the bones out of the fur to see the complete skeleton.  By the size I'm guessing it was a mouse.

Owl related posts:

1) Screech Owl
2) Barn Owl Search
3) Owl Pellets
4) Gambusia Trail
5) Road-killed Barred Owl
6) Sabine Pass Trip
7) Gambusia Trail II
8) Boneyard

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Before the Flood

Watch Before the Flood, an urgent call to arms about climate change

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Six-lined Racerunner

I've written about these lizards before and they are always popping up when I visit our paradise in the woods.  It seems that each time they show up.....they taunt me.  Yes that's right....they taunt me.  I'll be sitting there minding my own business when one will literally run out from under the porch right in front of me.  It will then gaze at me, come a little closer, and the act as if it is daring me to try and catch it.  From experience I know that these particular lizards are as fast as hell and almost impossible to catch by hand, so I just sit and watch it, not taking its dare.  One day though I'll catch one and when I do I'll laugh in its face.

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Friday, August 05, 2016

Leftover Fruit

I had some apples and watermelon so I placed it outside and had a variety of visitors that found this leftover fruit appetizing.  So don't throw that old fruit away- share it!
Gray Squirrel
European Starling
Blue Jays
Red-bellied Woodpecker

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Finding Baby Birds- What To Do

If you've ever wondered what to do if you come across a nestling on the ground, check out this website that has good information:


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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Mantis Nymph

Yesterday while my grand-daughter and I were exploring in the yard,  she came across this praying mantis nymph that had just molted on a blade of grass.  I placed it on a mum to photograph it.  Check out this video on the life cycle of the praying mantis:

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

2016 Purple Martin Season 3

I no more than open my mouth and the feuding has begun.  Upon hearing a ruckus in the area of my gourd racks I found two SY males and one SY female battling it out over a particular gourd.
It got pretty nasty at one point when both males went after the female.  This is only one of the many fights that are more than likely to occur. 
My main concern though is whether or not the SY males are going to do any harm to the now present eggs of the adults or to the future nestlings.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

2016 Purple Martin Season 2

Performed a nest check today and found the first eggs of the season.  Eight in total from three different nests.  There are seven other nests that were empty and about four partial nests.  Looks like the season is getting off to a good start.  I'm also seeing a total of three SY (second year) or "subadult" males hanging around.  This is unusual since in the past I might see one maybe two at my colony, but not this many right at the beginning of the season.  They usually show up later.

In the past I've had lone SY bachelor males actually build a nest along with the adults in the colony.  Naturally there were no eggs since it had no mate.  This can be harmless and it can also be a problem.  At times SY males will go into the nests of adult martins and destroy eggs and kill nestlings.  It's all about competition.

As I've written before- Infanticide by definition is basically the killing of young by adults. This behavior occurs in other bird species as well such as House Wrens, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, English Sparrows and European Starlings. It is believed that unmated SY male martins perform this act because of limited nesting sites, mates, and food, which then is intensified by the urge to mate. By removing and/or killing the young or destroying eggs it causes the mated pair to “divorce” so to speak due to reproductive failure. This gives the SY male the chance to take advantage of the situation and possibly mate with the now “free” female.  During the time that this has happened before there was only one subbie present.  Now I'm seeing three so this could make for an interesting season.  Stay tuned.

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Kinsey's Wasps

Check this new episode of Shelf Life from the American Museum of Natural History on Alfred Kinsey's gall wasp collection.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

2016 Purple Martin Season 1

The 2016 martin season has begun!  On April 6 I dropped the gourds and unfortunately found two dead martins in two separate gourds.  Each bird sustained an injury to the back of the head.  Both deaths could have very possibly been due to territorial disputes since it occurred at the beginning of the season.  Either one could have also been the result of a dispute with a European starling.  I did see a few landing on the racks not long after I put them in the air.  What ever the reason it is always sad to find this.
On a happier note,  I began performing nest checks today and have found several full and partial nests (9 full and 3 partial).  I took a photo of one of the gourds where you can see mud splattered all around the entrance.  This is from the carrying of mud to the nest for building the mud dam.

I'm planning on rebuilding my gourd rack arms for the 2017 season.  The racks I have up have been in use since 1998 and are beginning to show their age.  I will get started on them this summer/early fall.

See these prior posts:  (1)   (2)   (3)

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

Jaguar in Arizona

What wonderful news to find out that a jaguar was caught on a game camera in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson, Arizona. If I remember correctly, the last time they were seen in the Arizona area was back in 1996 when two jaguars were chased and cornered by cougar hunters and their hounds in two southern Arizona mountain ranges. According to the Defenders of Wildlife website there is “a small population of 80-120 cats in the remote mountains of Sonora, Mexico bordering Arizona. Defenders played a key role in helping establish the Northern Jaguar Reserve in Sonora, Mexico, to protect the northernmost remaining jaguar population. The properties are owned by Naturalia, one of Mexico’s leading conservation organizations, and managed in cooperation with Northern Jaguar Project with technical and financial support from Defenders of Wildlife.”

“Jaguars are being killed because of perceived conflicts with livestock, and overhunted for their fur and for trophies. Habitat loss is also a big problem for the northern population and the U.S.-Mexico border wall threatens to block jaguar migration routes. The Northern Jaguar Reserve, now at over 55,000 acres, is the result of major binational cooperation to help save jaguars in their northern range. Initiated in 2003, the growing reserve protects key habitat for the last breeding population of northern jaguars—offering hope for their recovery in the United States. Groundbreaking research being conducted on the reserve today will also help us better understand jaguar behavior and habitat requirements—information that’s helping experts pull together a stronger recovery plan.”

Hopefully these protections and other efforts will lead to an active population in the U.S. once again.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Beached Whale in Galveston, TX

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Searching For Nature Treasures

"Most children have a bug period, and I never outgrew mine.  Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist.  Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail.  Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming."       E.O. Wilson

"The most effective way to connect our children with nature is to connect ourselves with nature.  If mothers, fathers, grandparents, or guardians already spend time outdoors, they can spend more; they can become birders, anglers, hikers, or gardeners.  If children sense genuine adult enthusiasm, they'll want to emulate that interest..."      Richard Louv

The circular area around the base of the large oak in our vacant lot is covered in desiccated leaves- the same leaves that were created by this very tree.   This detritus is also a mish mash of small branches, acorns, bark, and the gnawed upon shells of peanuts from a nearby squirrel feeder.   This spot has gotten the undivided attention of my 7-year old grand-daughter.  She is on her hands and knees looking for something that most people would either not notice or would wonder why she is looking for them in the first place.  “Here’s another one paw paw!” she cries excitedly- an excitement that only a child or a nature-obsessed old man can savor. I take the crinkly remains from her and add it to the rising pile inside a large plastic peanut butter jar. “That’s number 25”, I reply, as if we’re trying to break some sort of record.
Cicadas (in this case the annual or "dog day" cicada) emerge from their chambers in the ground as nymphs, latching themselves to a tree or any other nearby object.  They then, over a course of several hours, emerge from their nymph exoskeleton, dry their wings out and then fly away to find a cicada of the opposite sex to mate with.  This exoskeleton is what she is looking for.   Just another treasure to add to her nature collection.
Seeing them amongst the leaf litter isn’t easy, especially for my old eyes.  It’s greatly due to their color which allows them to blend in quite nicely with the leafy surroundings.  For some odd reason their color and consistency remind me of fried pork skins.  yum..........


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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ruellia tweediana

Nature drops surprises on you when you least expect it- as with what happened to me the other day while working in our flower gardens.  While watering I began to hear a faint "popping" sound coming from the garden area, almost sounding like an electrical arc.  Puzzled I shut off the water to try and figure out what it was that I was hearing.  After a minute or so of silence, I began watering again.  Seconds later the popping noise returned.  What helped me discover what was happening, was when I felt something lightly strike the front of my shirt.  I looked down to discover several small, flat seeds affixed to my chest.  The popping noise I heard was coming from the seed pods of the Ruellia (aka Mexican petunia, wild petunia, Mexican bluebell) that has taken over one area of our yard.  These pods, when wetted were popping open, sending the seeds within flying in all directions.
This plant uses "explosive dispersal" as a method of spreading its seed, allowing each seed to be separated from all of the others giving it the room it needs in order to mature.  Many other plants distribute their seeds through this means of dispersal such as wisteria, witch hazel, jewelweed, okra.  My son was able to capture a nice video of this:
What is it about the contact with water that causes the pods to burst open?  I'm assuming that as the seed pods dry, tension is built up within the pod.  Then when they come in contact with water by way of rain or garden hose, this somehow releases that tension allowing for the rapid explosive dispersal of the seeds.  Note how the walls of the spent pod are turned outward, where they were once straight before release.
Once I figured out what was happening I couldn't wait to show this to my granddaughter.  I removed one of the pods and placed it in her hand.  I then wetted it and told her to cup her hands together.  Seconds later we heard a light popping sound and then a wide grin spread across her face.  Opening her hands she found the seeds that had been released.


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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Mason Wasp

 Granddaughter told me of a mud wasp nest her Dad had found that was attached to their bbq pit.  We harvested it and began opening the cells to see what type of prey the adult had gathered and stored for its prodigy.  When we opened the first cell a fully developed mason wasp (Euodynerus apopkensis) began to crawl out.  It flew a short distance and landed nearby, and began twitching its thin, cellophane-like wings to and fro as if to stretch them following its long nap inside the lump of dirt, before flying away.
In another cell though we found another wasp that was not quite developed.  Its white form almost appeared ghost-like. 
We both felt a sense of guilt for disturbing it, so we decided to placed it back into its cell and then we collected some dirt, which we wetted and sealed the hole enclosing the pupa inside.  We then took the nest and placed it in one of her bug boxes. We’re hoping that it will continue to develop and then dig its way out, then we’ll release it.
I’ve seen this particular wasp in other areas, once in our firewood pile.  We had been rummaging around in the wood for geckos when we spotted one halfway into what appeared to be the exit hole of a wood-boring beetle. 
Not sure what it was looking for.  I later found out that these wasps will utilize or “repurpose” paper wasp nests.  Maybe it was repurposing the exit hole/tunnel of the beetle. 

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nest Checking With Grand-daughter

Today I performed my third nest check of the 2015 season and had a little helper recording what I saw- my 7-year old granddaughter.  As I checked each of my 32 gourds I would call out what I was seeing and she would write it down.  We found a total of 31 eggs between the two gourd racks.
This is the first time she actually participated instead of just watching.  I was so proud! 
She was hoping that I would find some nestlings, but it's still too early.  She still remembers the time I allowed her to hold her first purple martin.  She was so excited to hold a tiny, living bird in her hand- and so was I.  She was very excited to participate and can't wait to do it again.  I hope my enthusiasm for the this bird encourages her in the future to have her own purple martin colony and use what I've taught her to maintain it and help this wonderful bird continue to exist.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

First Death of the 2015 PUMA Season

The season has barely begun and I already have a casualty.  I had lowered the gourds a couple weeks ago to pull plugs from the crescent/porch gourds when I noticed a foul odor.  Inside one of the gourds I found a dead ASY purple martin which had what appeared to be an injury on the one side of its head.
It is not uncommon for this to happen at the beginning of the season when males are involved in territorial battles for nesting sites and is definitely not the first time this has happened at my colony.  This fighting also occurs between females (see this post "Intraspecific Fighting" and "A Death in the Colony").  Then again a European starling could be the culprit.  It's really a shame that this bird survived its long arduous journey across the Gulf of Mexico to get back here, only to die in this fashion.  I checked for bands, but none were found.

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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Hawk vs. Mockingbird

You can always tell when the Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks that hang around our neighborhood are in the area.  Obviously one way of knowing is when you hear their calls or spot them gliding effortlessly overhead, but the fun way of knowing is by observing the behaviors of our yard birds- jays, white-winged doves, mockingbirds, sparrows, cardinals, starlings, grackles.  During the fall and winter large flocks of grackles, doves, red-winged blackbirds and starlings will congregate in the upper story of trees providing easy pickings for a hawk to tear through.  When a hawk is cruising by they burst from their perch all at once creating a sight that will definitely get your attention.  Another way of knowing, especially if one is perched nearby, is the mobbing calls most times by blue jays alerting you that something is amiss.

 There’s a willow tree in my son’s backyard that is part of a thick mass of shrubbery and cane that creates a nice niche for birds to hide, roost, and forage in peace.  But today that peace wouldn’t last for long.  There was a mish mash of birds- grackles, blue jays, starlings, white-winged doves all in this brushy area chattering up a storm when all of a sudden I began hearing a bird screeching as if in distress.  A cry so gruesome that I knew the bird had been snatched by a predator of some sort.  Seconds later every other bird burst like shot from the tree scattering in all directions.  The only sound left behind were the mobbing calls of a single blue jay and the blood-curdling screeches of the captured prey in its final death throes, and then…….an eerie encompassing silence. I walked over and looked up into the willow to see about midways up on a thick willow branch, an adult female sharp-shinned hawk with a lifeless feathered form in her talons. 
Feathers began drifting in the breeze as the hawk began meticulously plucking its prey.  Every now and then she would pause from her plucking to glance back at me as I tried to position myself for a good photograph.  She didn’t seem at all concerned about my presence as she returned to satiating her obvious hunger. 
After getting a few photos of her I crawled through the thick underbrush that skirted the base of the tree and was able to position myself below the branch the hawk was perched. This permitted me the opportunity for photos of the underside of the tail feathers of the prey bird, which I knew would help with its identity.  It was a surreal sight- the tail bobbing up and down with each tug of the hawk’s hooked beak.  At that moment I felt sympathy for the bird it had captured, but at the same time I was amazed at the power and grace of the accipiter as it fed.
I lay there quietly beneath the raptor as feathers continued to rain down around me.  I collecting several of them that I knew would also aid with identification. 
I eventually left the hawk to its feeding and returned about two hours later to find it was still perched it the same spot with what remained of its prey in its talons.  It sat quietly looking directly at me, still without a care that I was so close.
I went to a website I came across awhile back produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called “The Feather Atlas” and laid out all of the feathers I collected and began searching the image database.  It wasn’t long before I came across the answer I was looking for.  What I had collected was several tail feathers and a couple primary wing feathers of a Northern MockingbirdThe next day I returned to the kill site in hopes of finding more remains, such as the wings or a head, but found nothing.  More than likely she may have taken what was left of the mocker’s carcass to another area to finish.

Other hawk blog posts:  (1)   (2)   (3)

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Shelf Life Series From AMNH

This new series put out by the American Museum of Natural History talks about the history and importance of scientific collections.  Check it out and subscribe to be notified when future episodes premiere: 

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Friday, January 09, 2015

Black and Yellow Mud Dauber Nest

I found this mud dauber nest underneath an awning that’s attached to my house and as you can see from the holes the wasps that had developed there ate their way out once they became adults.
I opened up the globbed mass and found the remnants of cocoons in the empty cells that had contained developing wasps.  This particular solitary wasp is a black and yellow mud-dauber which gets its name from its black and yellow coloration.  It, like most mud-daubers, hunts, paralyzes and stores spiders in the cells of their mud nests where upon an egg is laid and then the cell sealed.  Once the egg hatches the resulting larvae feeds on the spiders and eventually develops into an adult wasp.
Inside I also found two fully developed individuals who apparently were unable to free themselves and ultimately died where they were born.

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