Wildlife at Hermann Park

Wildlife at Hermann Park

Hermann Park is our centrally located big city park.  Most of us locals remember going when we were children to feed the ducks or we have memories of riding the little train around under the pine trees. It is all still there and can be a photographic treat. There are plenty of people to watch if you are into street photography and it can be a good place to practice your bird-in-flight skills.  

I was going to show you a Google map to get oriented, but it must have been taken in the dead of winter and looks awful. Suffice to say it is just south of downtown between Rice University and our famous Medical Center. This is where you find the Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Museum of Natural Science, Japanese Garden and a golf course. 

And a lot of birds. And a lot of people if you go on the weekend.

The trees are leafing out now and days are hitting 80 F (27 C) already. Spring here on the Texas Gulf Coast is often really short; just a prelude to our steamy hot summer. But for right now, it is about perfect. So, my fave photographer Bill Maroldo and I took off for the park. We usually go out of town, and with all the traffic it takes about the same time and effort to get to Hermann Park. 

But, it is a nice change and you can get close to the wildlife. 

Male Ring-necked Duck must have an invisible ring... Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3 1/1000 sec ISO 1000

Male Ring-necked Duck must have an invisible ring...

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3 1/1000 sec ISO 1000

This Ring-necked Duck is a winter visitor to the Texas Gulf Coast and was swimming happily around the lakes in mid-March. By the end of the month, they were long-gone. I know, because we made two trips.

Double-crested Cormorant beginning his take off.. Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1000 sec ISO 400

Double-crested Cormorant beginning his take off..

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1000 sec ISO 400

Another winter visitor is the Double-crested Cormorant. Our Neotropical Cormorant is here year-round and even nests at High Island, but this species will move north and build nests along the coast and inland lakes. They look very much alike; the "double crest" refers to some white tufts the male grows for breeding plumage and the Neotropical is more brown than black. Another difference is the ...

Double-crested Cormorant showing off his blue mouth Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3  1/1000 sec ISO 1250

Double-crested Cormorant showing off his blue mouth

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3  1/1000 sec ISO 1250

... famous indigo blue mouth. Only the breeding males have this during season; the younger non-breeding males do not. Makes it quite easy for the females to know who is ready and who not to waste time on. 

Juvenile Great Blue Heron missing his prey Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3 1/1600 sec ISO 1000

Juvenile Great Blue Heron missing his prey

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3 1/1600 sec ISO 1000

We saw a young Great Blue Heron trying his skills at fishing. There are fish in the lakes at the park; in fact you can fish there if you are under 12 or over 65. I know that is the rule as I saw the signs. The Great Blue Herons don't nest anywhere close to the park as far as I know, but this juvenile found his way here.

Hopefully, he will improve.

Pugilistic Grackles Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1600 sec ISO 1250

Pugilistic Grackles

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1600 sec ISO 1250

Since it is Spring, all the birds are ... hormonally charged. These two Grackles got into a squabble right in front of me. Right now they are strutting around with their bills stuck straight up trying to attract females. Just watch those in the Wal-Mart parking lot next time you go shopping. 

I was sitting on a park bench marveling at how many different colors of Rock Doves AKA pigeons exist.  I took way to many photos of them strutting around but now they all look mundane and not worth sharing. They might look better if I had gotten down at bird level, but I am not doing that just for a pigeon.

Altogether now.... awwwww Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1000

Altogether now.... awwwww

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1000

Some of the ducks have already been busy this season. This is one of about two dozen baby Muscovy Ducks we saw swimming around. I draw the line at photographing the adults; I can't find anything attractive or interesting about them.

But, the babies are certainly cute. Shame they will grow up to be so ugly.

Now, this next photo and facts may be upsetting to you. But the ways of nature are different from ours.

Female Mallard Duck and her suitors Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3 1/640 sec ISO 1600

Female Mallard Duck and her suitors

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3 1/640 sec ISO 1600

Mallard ducks are generally monogamous but bachelor males and even paired males will force themselves on any female, willing or not. Most ducks are like this. Why? Well, boys and girls, nature is full of surprises. Almost all birds copulate by just touching their sex organs (cloacas)  together briefly; often the males stick around after the eggs are laid and help with the incubation and even with feeding the young. This is what we are used to; the cute little nest and gaping baby birds begging to be fed.

Ducks and geese aren't like that.  The males have a penis; one theory is as aquatic birds it is necessary to implant the sperm so it doesn't wash away. And, she is the one that sits on the eggs and watches over the offspring.  Since the male has limited involvement with the results, he is driven to have sex with as many females as possible. From the evolutionary view point, he is maximizing his contribution to the gene pool. But, the female has her own strategy. Her vagina has pockets and elaborate channels that thwart the fertilization by unwanted males. She still has control over who she chooses to sire her offspring.

References: Duck MatingFemale ducks fight back against 'raping' males

So, I had to get up and quietly explain to a man why this group of ducks were "beating up" on another and persuade him to stop trying to rescue the poor duck and....

Creature from the lagoon... Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/2000 sec ISO 1000

Creature from the lagoon...

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/2000 sec ISO 1000

... out of the corner of my eye.... eewwwk. This is a Nutria that crawled out of the pond and scared us all half to death. I mean, this part of the lake has concrete edges! 

These furry aquatic rats were introduced in Louisiana  back in the 1930s for the fur trade. Another case of good intentions gone awry as they have become such pests they now have a state-wide program to pay bounties on dead ones. 

City Squirrel Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/400 sec ISO 1600

City Squirrel

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/400 sec ISO 1600

You might classify this one as a pest as well, but he has a better reputation than the Nutria. He posed for me on the way to the car. Hermann Park is only about 15 miles from my house, but I never see these Fox Squirrels around my house. The habitat is about the same; I have plenty of oak trees in my neighborhood. I love his rusty coloring; my Eastern Gray Squirrels have white underbellies. 

Have you been Hermann Park lately? Do you have a big city park in your hometown? Did you think the duck ...ah... activities were too unsettling? And what did you think about the nutria? Let me know in the comments.

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