Rails, gators, and deer flies
DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — I think I heard a Black Rail. It was early Saturday morning at Anahuac NWR. Fjord had spotted a Rallus rail by the roadside, and we’d stopped to scope it. Seaside Sparrows were abundant and active in the grasses, even perching on the fences in a classic wide-legged stance.
And that’s when I became aware of a call emanating from somewhere out in the marsh. It was faint but distinctive. I think it was a Black Rail. The species has attained such a high level of mystique in my mind that I struggled to believe what I was hearing, thinking there might be some other explanation. Well, is there?
As for the Rallus rail, which stood in the grasses and never moved, we finally decided it was probably a Clapper. It was very pale-breasted, and its bill was not strongly colored. Also, I interpreted the presence of the aforementioned Seaside Sparrows to mean that we were still in salty habitat.
I was disappointed to (again) miss King Rails in the freshwater marshes. We also missed Soras today, but we did see two other members of the rail family.
Purple Gallinules (Porphyrio martinicus) were bold and abundant on Saturday. We saw numerous spectacular adults, a few drab juveniles, and two tiny black chicks. The juveniles are generally warm brown, but a green cast is visible on their wings in good light, and traces of the adult bill colors and forehead shield can also be detected. They look much more rail-like than the adults do.
Juvenile Common Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) also fed in the roadside vegetation. Their pale gray plumage makes them easy to distinguish from young Purple Gallinules — their colors are much frostier than the honey-like tones of the gallinules. Note, though, that the young moorhens do show brown tones on their uppersides. We also saw one family of very young chicks (still in the black fluffball stage) feeding with a parent.
Did you know that cormorants can wrap their webbed feet around powerlines? These are Neotropic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus).
We came across this Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) soaking up the morning sunshine. The air was so humid that my camera lens fogged up every time I stuck it out the car window. I had to pop it out and snap fast before the image got cloudy.
Countless Marsh Wrens sang from the reeds. A few popped up long enough to offer us glimpses. Rain blew in but did not last long.
Wildlife of all sorts was active in the refuge. Here’s a sampling of our non-bird observations:
Never in all my life had I seen so many deer flies! They swarmed us. Literally. It was enough to make us a little insane.
We ended up with dozens of deer flies inside the car. Check out a larger size of this image to see the strange, colorful patterns on the insect’s eye. Also, see the long, tough mouthparts. The insect would like nothing more than to plunge those horrible instruments into your flesh.
Lovely white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) were in full bloom, their pure white flowers seeming to hover over mucky swamp water.
We were surprised to encounter this family of raccoons (Procyon lotor). The three kits stayed close to their mother, who kept attempting to lead them past us on the boardwalk. We thought they were going to walk right past us, but apparently the mother decided this would be too risky. They moved with a peculiar ambling gate and made soft grunting noises. I’d never had such a close encounter with wild raccoons in daylight.
We saw dragonflies of every color and description. I don’t have any reference materials pertaining to dragonflies and don’t know where to begin on identifying them. But this red specimen was quite striking and didn’t mind posing for a photo.
We watched this blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) feeding in the shallow water. Scuttling sideways, it appeared to be stuffing plant matter toward its mouth with its claws.
It just wouldn’t be a visit to the coast without an alligator or two! This young American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is still quite small.