Springtime in the Swamps

Hey there! Time to freshen up the blog with a bit of a new look. Be sure to check out the Galleries link above and let me know what you think. Commenting should be more streamlined and efficient, plus you can Share with a number of social medias - all at the end of this adventure.

Brazos Bend State Park is so familiar it feels like my back yard. Now that I have more free time and don't have to go to an office each day, I find myself there at least once a week, if not more. And it is busting out with Spring goodness. Wildflowers, berries, bugs and birds. I love it.

Wild yellow flowers as far as the eye can see. Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/640sec. f/9.0 ISO 1000

Wild yellow flowers as far as the eye can see.

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/640sec. f/9.0 ISO 1000

The trail from the Observation Tower at 40-acre Lake to Elm Lake is only 0.6 miles long, but it has become one of my favorite spots. The trail is actually on a levee with water on each side. The Park can control the amount of water in the two lakes via some valves and locks so the amount of water varies during the seasons. At the moment, we have had rain and there is plenty of water. Great birding on each side of the trail and last week I spotted a nesting Yellow-crowned Heron. It is in a willow tree out over the water; I sure hope the little fledglings-to-be have great coordination and early flight skills or they will end up as an alligator's lunch. Will check on it later and let you know.

Anhinga (male) in full breeding plumage Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/2500sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Anhinga (male) in full breeding plumage

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/2500sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

This male Anhinga would not get any closer, or spread his wings but often you take what you can get. Look carefully and you can see his bright blue eye ring and the light colored feathers in his crest. A most handsome bird. They are territorial during mating so perhaps I will see him and the female nesting along this trail. I like the jungle light on this one, but those leaves look suspiciously like the dreaded Chinese Tallow tree; a most invasive species and threat to our native flora. Ha! talk about unintended consequences. From the above linked article:

History: Chinese tallowtree is native to China and Japan. It was introduced into the United States in the 1700?s in South Carolina. It was distributed in the Gulf Coast in the 1900?s by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in an attempt to establish a soap making industry.

Mating damselflies Panasonic Lumix FZ200 automagic settings - 1/400sec. f/4.0 ISO 100

Mating damselflies

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 automagic settings - 1/400sec. f/4.0 ISO 100

There is an open meadow next to Elm Lake that will have sunflowers this summer. At the moment it has been mowed and you can get close to the water's edge. I actually saw a Nutria in the reeds there last week, but the photos were not blog-worthy. There are dragonflies buzzing around, and lots of damselflies mating. The male is the one at the top, and he is holding her head while she flexes her abdomen up to mate with him. And they stay like this for a long time. These flew off, returned and were quiet cooperative for photographers. In this shot, he is holding on to a branch and her little legs are in mid-air. Nature is so surprising.

Look at me! Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/2000sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Look at me!

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/2000sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

And this is a Pied-billed Grebe showing off for you! My Instagram buddies are always remarking how hard it is to capture a grebe, but I haven't found them to be secretive at all. They dive deep for fish and crustaceans and pop up far from the spot where you saw them disappear. Occasionally, they will rise up out of the water and vigorously flap their little wings. Maybe to fling off the water, or maybe just because it feels good. They always look like such happy birds! And they seem to be curious. I have seen them swim fairly close and turn to look at me, then turn to look from the other eye.

Surely I told you this before about their feet? They do not have webbed feet like ducks, but lobed feet more like Coots. Their feet are set far back on the body which allows for powerful diving and swimming - but not adapted at all for land. Their center of gravity is so far forward, they will tip over and are basically helpless on land. Grebes even build nests on the water (they are kin to Loons) and the babies ride around on the female's back until they can swim. I would love to see that!

Tri-colored Heron and his tiny lunch Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Tri-colored Heron and his tiny lunch

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Our Tri-colored Herons are getting breeding colors, too. See how blue his bill is around the eyes? And his legs are almost maroon. All the birds are getting dressed up for Spring. The above photo was taken on a really cloudy and overcast day. In fact, it was the Monday the front came in and it rained hard not an hour later. The Tri-colored Herons are numerous at the moment and this one came close to the pier where I was standing. 

A 6-foot alligator came close to the pier as well.  I saw him out in Creekfield Lake and wondered if he was the one I have seen rise up out of the water and bellow.... twice I have seen that happen and I was too far away for a good photo to share with you. So when he started gliding purposefully straight for me I was ready for a cool shot. You know, gaping mouth and all that National Geographic stuff. The closer he got, the more anxious I became. Now, the pier has 4 sets of railings and is perfectly safe, but still. Turned out to be a smaller one, no drama, but creepy just the same.

How about you? Are you glad to shed the Winter blues? Are you planting flowers in your yard? What are you going to do in this brief respite before .... Summer descends on us with all its heat and humidity?

Let me know in the comments. And there is a Share drop-down if you want to do that. I even have a Twitter account now @gustaviatex.