East Texas Naturalist Blog

Information and photographs mainly about nature in east Texas. Our authors have widely diverse backgrounds and write on a variety of topics.

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Paradise Lost?? The Perils of Living on the Edge...

January is a busy backyard bird-feeding month here in east Texas.  It's wintery enough for birds to receive handouts from us bird lovers in the form of black oil sunflower seeds.  For the lucky birds in our backyard, we are spoiling them with a fine mixture of a songbird seed mix including safflower. They do love it - we have a large flock of goldfinches that have taken up residence here at the edge of the woods, and they play very nicely with our year-round population of cardinals, blue jays, house finches and Carolina wrens. The Carolina chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches also welcome their similarly sized new feeder mates with hospitality. The red bellied woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers generously share birdfeeder space with them as well, and our new visiting brown thrasher pecks and claws the ground in and around the azalea bushes and mulched areas along with the goldfinches, white throated sparrows and black-eyed juncos.  It has seemed like a birds' paradise - everyone getting along nicely, no bullies upsetting the peaceful coexistence of so many species sharing the space together.  Even the squirrels seem to have tapered their frenzied eating - helped in part by the baffles we've installed on a couple of the feeder poles.  

Ah, yes...all is well with the world, until reality bears its brutal head in the form of a hawk with sharp talons, an appetite for birds, and an opportunistic mind.  At least one Accipiter has brought this peaceful paradise back to the reality of this world - birds are prey to birds of prey, in the form of Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks, and they have found their opportunity at our backyard birdfeeder paradise.  

These two species of hawks, as I have learned, are somewhat difficult to differentiate in the field.  Both inhabit east Texas, both juveniles are similar in appearance, and both have a craving for their own kind, even if smaller than themselves.  I have wondered if I should post a sign for my seed eating friends near the feeding poles reading, "Eat at your own risk - cannibalism is sometimes practiced here".  Our little birds have learned the drill - when the unwelcome bird-eating guest swoops out of nowhere, they immediately hide in the bushes, or stand dead still within the camouflage of leaf mulch and vegetation.  Now it is a battle of wills and patience.  Who will move first?  Who will give up first?

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Recent Comments
Michael Mathews
I enjoyed your blog and the observations were interesting. I have one in the pipes about my feeders too, but it will pale in comp... Read More
Friday, 29 January 2016 14:15
Kristi Mears Thomas
Jill, I whole-heartedly agree with Michael...such a lovely job! I enjoy reading about your backyard guests, both welcome and unwe... Read More
Sunday, 31 January 2016 08:53
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Water, Water, Everywhere . . . 2016 will be a Great Year!


   As we look around us now, it's hard to imagine that not very long ago we were commiserating about the lack of rain and considering hosting community rain dances!  Our area lakes have seen some low levels, but Mother Nature more than made up for the long-withheld wet stuff in December.  Over a course of just one weekend, we saw that deluge of water hyacinth, many of the parks and launch ramps closed, and pelicans roosting on the last bit of tin on the tops of day use picnic tables!

   While it's been beautiful to see the area resoirvers filled to the brim, this double-edged sword is not without consequence....yes, the birds and other wildlife seem to love it, but if you were one of the fortunate folks who live lakeside and had to watch a few weeks back with bated breath as Lake O' the Pines jumped by leaps and bounds, it wasn't such a thrill. Friends and family in the surrounding areas had this predicament, and this tradeoff is not so nice if it's in YOUR back yard, lapping at YOUR door, or mangling YOUR dock! I'd actually taken some photos on Lake O' the Pines that I wanted to post, but did not because it felt wrong.  I know too many people that were either trying to procure sandbags or having to travel alternate routes to get to and from their homes to feel good about doing so.

   From data on the Corps of Engineers website, Lake O' the Pines was a high of nearly 242 feet, and is dropping now and at under 240.  Current release rate is 3,000 CFS, the maximum, so the Big Cypress Bayou is looking good, too.  This is 12 feet above normal winter pool.  Lake Wright Patman saw record levels of almost 255 feet, and was a whopping 33 feet above normal!

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Jill Wright
Beautiful photos and great information about the rains and their affect on Lake O the Pines, Krisiti!! Let's hope we have an amaz... Read More
Friday, 29 January 2016 12:24
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The Fine For Picking Up Feathers is Anything But Lightweight

FWS logo2005

There is no telling how many feathers I collected a kid.  I did that without ever killing a single bird for in the woods, I found feathers everywhere.  I had feathers from blue jays, crows, cardinals, doves, sparrows, mockingbirds, ducks, owls, hawks and dozens of other types of birds.  I had a very nice collection that I took to school and showed everyone.  Back then, no one thought anything about it.  Now, possession of those feathers would be a major problem.  Fines in the thousands would be coming and maybe jail time.  Today, it is a big deal.

Most birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) which makes possession of feathers or other parts of the bird to be illegal.  The idea of this is to protect wild birds from being killed for their feathers and in some cases, their claws or beaks.  There has always been a market for these items by collectors and for commercial trade.  It does not matter how the feathers were obtained.  You can't pick them up off the ground, pluck them from a dead bird on the road or get them from a dead bird your cat left on your step.  This is absolute.

For more information about the MBTA included a list of which species are included (almost all birds) visit the FWS website at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/regulationspolicies/mbta/mbtintro.html.  

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Alligators in East Texas - Things You Should Know


The recent high water has gotten the wildlife moving.  Alligators may have been on the move.  A combination of high water and the breeding season has alligators crossing the roads and moving into ponds they have not been in before.  This is likely just a temporary result of the flood waters.

Alligators are a very mobile species.  In north east Texas, they can show up in some of the most unlikely places.  While it is important to remember that these are wild animals and all wild animals are inherently dangerous, generally alligators seek to avoid human contact as best they can. 

American alligator was listed as anendangered speciesby theEndangered Species Act of 1973. Subsequent conservation efforts have allowed their numbers to increase and the species was removed from the list in 1987. Alligators are now harvested for their skins and meat. The American alligator is a listed game species in Texas. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Outdoor Annual 2014-2015 dedicates an entire page, (page 66 in the 2014-2015 publication), to alligator hunting regulations. It is essential that the Alligator Hunting Regulation pages of the current Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual be studied and referenced before attempting to take alligators.

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Living on the Edge...Wild Times Abound in Autumn!

Living on the edge of the woods here in east Texas, I have a hard time deciding which season of the year is my favorite.  We do experience four seasons, although winter is mild and fairly brief.  Much has transpired in our backyard these past couple months, partly because of the onset of autumn, but also due to a severe drought in September and October.  We keep birdbaths of several different sizes filled and cleaned daily, and have marvelled at the vast array of wildlife that frequent our backyard watering holes.  Thankfully, the rains returned in late October, burn bans have been lifted, and still the glorious rains come!

The does and fawn have visited daily for months.  We have watched the fawn grow, lose her spots, and gain independence.  Almost on cue, by October 30, the deer disappeared, hiding out and moving cautiously beyond the woods edge.  We are in the thick of deer hunting season, and don't they know it!  I do see them sometimes now in early morning.  They enjoy the apples and carrots that we leave for them on the ground a short distance into the woods, where they are still visible to the naked eye.  Sadly, we are not invited to their night time feeding parties here on our property.  Several mornings, I have observed their party leftovers, though - a gorging of potato vine near our mailbox, with just a few severely pruned vine branches left, and rose bush branches nibbled half way to the stem.  I can almost hear them chuckling and snickering as they gallop triumphantly back into their hiding places as dawn approaches.  We chuckle to ourselves upon the discovery and admit that survivorship should have its rewards.

So, the sun continues its southerly course in the autumn sky, and our shorter days and chillier mornings and evenings change the behaviors of our backyard visitors.  Easiest to observe, are the habit changes of the many birds.  The juveniles are grown now.  We said goodbye to our hummingbird population in October, as they headed south for their winter vacation in the more tropical latitudes.  We saw a nice sized number of cardinal and mockingbird fledglings this past summer, and they continue to thrive.  Thanks to their numbers, and their seeming satisfaction with our backyard habitat, we have seen some remarkable behaviors.  The ever-blooming red azalea bushes just outside our kitchen windows are ablaze in scarlet color ever since the life giving rains began in October.  What I originally thought was preening and bathing going on within the azalea leaves, turned out to be something I was not prepared to observe.  The cardinals, both male and female, were eating the red azalea blooms.  At first, I thought maybe they were just drinking from the flower centers, or perhaps enjoying the nectar, but as I watched from the window, I saw them eating entire blossoms - every last bit!

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Kristi Mears Thomas
Love this, Jill! So interesting about birds eating blooms...have never heard of this! Thank you!
Wednesday, 25 November 2015 06:08
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