Big Thicket revisited
DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — Brian, in town for a few weeks before returning to England, wanted to see North American pitcher plants. “Aha!” I thought. “The Big Thicket.” So we went this weekend. I knew the pitcher plants would be easy to find, but I was hoping for some birds for myself: Swainson’s Warblers, Swallow-tailed Kites, and maybe even a Bachman’s Sparrow.
Friday morning, we started early at Birdwatcher’s Trail in the Menard Creek Unit of Big Thicket National Preserve. We had barely opened the car doors before the mosquitoes descended, sending us scrambling for repellent. I quickly decided the trail might be more accurately named “Birdlistener’s Trail.” I heard Summer Tanagers, Acadian Flycatchers, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated vireos, and cardinals, but I saw only the huge spiders who’d spun their webs across the trail. Despite my best efforts to appreciate them, they evoke involuntary revulsion that I can feel in my stomach.
The trail finally descended into water, which isn’t supposed to happen, but everything is at flood stage right now. We turned back, and Brian spotted a young alligator in Menard Creek. I also saw one Prothonotary Warbler.
We continued to Sundew Trail, where we had to wait for morning rains to lighten up. The trail produced few birds, but I did see some rather tatty Pine Warblers and hear a Brown-headed Nuthatch. Brian, however, fared much better with his plants.
We found pitcher plants! The species that grows in Texas is Sarracenia alata (sweet pitcher plant, pale pitcherplant, yellow trumpet, etc.). The “pitchers” are the plant’s leaves, highly modified to trap and digest insects to supplement the plant’s diet in nutrient-poor wet savannas.
My favorite plant of the day may have been the pine woods lily (Alophia drummondii), also known as the propeller flower or purple pleat-leaf. The flowers are spectacular but quite weak-stemmed and thus difficult to photograph.
…and with the striking, minimalist yellow-eyed grass (Xyris sp.), part of a small family of monocotyledons.
Can anyone identify this butterfly? Update: Thanks to Patrick for IDing this butterfly as a checkered-skipper (Pyrgus sp.).
Don’t miss the full gallery of Friday’s Big Thicket pictures.
I hadn’t visited Big Thicket National Preserve since April 2004. This weekend’s trip brought back many memories of that wonderful first trip, when I saw carnivorous plants for the first time, and when I waited by the Sabine River, scanning vultures and Broad-winged Hawks, until one, two, three Swallow-tailed Kites materialized in the sky over Louisiana.
On that trip, I heard Hooded Warblers singing nearly everywhere I went, and I even got to see several of them, as I recall. I missed Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow, but I did finally get those species later in the same season with Jason and Lynn.
Here is a touched-up excerpt from my notes of three years ago:
The small birds — their songs, their battles, and their love-making — they bring a smile to the forest each spring. But the distant, haunted voice of the Barred Owl echoes a story that not even the elf-kissed Wood Thrush could tell. The cowled mystic spoke of things so ancient, so beautiful, that the forest wanted to weep. None remember these things now save the jewelwings, who will flit by the streams and sloughs till the world is unmade.
I made a gallery with more photos from the 2004 Big Thicket trip.