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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The Fine For Picking Up Feathers is Anything But Lightweight

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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

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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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"Bird of Prey" - the Osprey!

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Almost every time we are out on Lake O' the Pines, we will see at least one Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), and until this past year I couldn't tell you much about them.  They are truly beautiful raptors in a distinct kind of way;  I love to see them hovering over the water with head down, wings beating fiercely, hunting for that next meal.  Others must realize their  important place in our ecosystem, because the Corps of Engineers has sponsored a project to erect several platforms at different areas of the lake, in hopes that they will be used by Ospreys to nest on.  

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Jill Wright
I can't believe I missed commenting on your osprey blog, Kristi! Wonderful information about this bird of prey!! They might be s... Read More
Sunday, 31 January 2016 20:26
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Bald Eagle Population Seems to Soar at Lake O' the Pines

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I'm going to qualify the statement that titles this entry by saying that I've not yet had an opportunity to participate in an eagle count at Lake O' the Pines, although I've watched them here for several years.  I always have an eye peeled and my camera ready when we go on the lake, and while there are so many interesting life forms to see, there is no doubt that the bald eagle is one of the most impressive.  I believe our fascination may be two-pronged; not only is the eagle our national emblem, but this bird has only been off the endangered species list since 2007!

We've seen an abundance of young birds this year; they are more difficult to identify because they do not sport the white (bald) head, but their brown feathers are marbled with white.  At a closer look, though, there is no mistaking the distinctive hooked beak, large head, and a way of soaring with broad wings out flat just like a board!  We've watched them enough to notice a playful and energetic quality among the younger birds, and it is fascinating to see!

I've taken so many photos this year that I felt it necessary to do some research.  According to eBird, the terms "juvenile" and "immature" are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference.  A juvenile is a very young bird that is still wearing the set of feathers it fledged with.  As soon as it goes through its first molt, it's considered an immature until it reaches breeding maturity, which is at about four to five years of age.  

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Michael
I am so glad you have joined us here. I look forward to more articles and, of course, your beautiful photographs.
Monday, 02 November 2015 19:11
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