Monday, February 28, 2011

Myrtle Warbler at Clark's Oyster House

There was a Myrtle Warbler, named Chip, that spent a cold winter month in a little mulberry tree behind a building where oysters were processed in Port O'Connor, Texas.  There were big piles of oyster shells on the east side of the building but Chip like the west side where the noon and afternoon sun was warm and out of the winter winds.  Chip was not like the town Myrtles in that he never raced around chasing flies and bugs nor did he fly with the flocks there.   Chip kept his secret well and stayed with his mulberry tree.  He was much different in behavior that the other Myrtles and the longer he stayed in his little tree the wiser and wiser, fatter and fatter he became, for just on the other side of the oyster shed there were those huge piles of oyster shells that a conveyor belt brought out.  The grackle and turnstone people came to the piles to glean the scraps of meat from the shells and so did the flies.  Chip never bothered to associate with the likes of those birds but instead knew that by just sitting tight in his little mulberry the very best of the best chow would come his way.  And indeed it did, for once the flies and bees were filled with oyster nectar they flew over the building to rest out of the wind in the bur clover, sow thistle and on the sun warmed walls, sleepy and full.  As they grew drowsy in the warm sun,  in windless conditions, Chip could pluck them from the walls or the weeds as easy as picking ripe grapes off the vine as tasty snacks.  Chip then would then too feel full and sleepy and then just sit for long periods in his little mulberry tree, sometimes not moving at all.  Just soaking up the sun's warmth..  He could watch all the other birds struggle to find chow but he just stayed in his little tree and grew wiser and wiser.  The pelican and gull people came and went so did the heron, egret and shorebird folks, the grackles and blackbirds and all of the birds of winter he could see from his little mulberry tree.  He had to go no where for food, nor did he have to go scramble for food with the silly restless town Myrtles that by then had been reduced to eating Tallow seed or scrambling for midges in the budding ash.  Chip had been on the gravy train for weeks and he knew it. When the fogs of the night came, there was fresh water for him on concrete foundations of the old ice house.   I have never seen a Myrtle Warbler as smart as Chip

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Interesting Ash-throated Flycatcher Nest.

The nest shown here is reported by Lori Markoff as that of a Ash-throated Flycatcher, which was constructed in an artificial plastic Purple Martin gourd on her property ~13 miles south of Rock Springs, Edwards County, Texas in 2010.
When Lori was cleaning the gourds for the this season, 2011, she recovered the nest which she graciously sent to me for a look see and then transfer to Dr. Kieth Arnold and the Texas co-operative Wildlife collection at Texas A&M in college Station.

Though somewhat in disarray and jostled during shipment this nest still is of interest in that it is constructed entirely of hair with numerous snail shells inserted by the flycatchers...The wood chips were not brought in by the birds and can probably be picked out. The placement of  conifer (pine or fir) chips into martin housing is a very common and even encouraged practice by colony landlords in part to make the nest gourds more attractive to potential nesters and also as a substrate on the bottom for warmth for those very early early scouts during very cold weather.
I made no effort to remove them.

The animal fur is primarily that of deer, and opossum, the later likely a nearby carcass given many of the hairs are clumped with dried skin fragments attached at the base. The remainder of the identifiable hair appears to be of dog/coyote, cattle, feral hog and
perhaps rabbit and/or other unidentifiables  at least for me.

There are the various dried dropping left by perhaps pre-fledged juv.s or later roosting birds...Perhaps the nest was used as a roost cavity later in the species
. What is odd is the number of upland snail shells that were mixed into the dense hair nest structure as shown here in part.

These were obviously long emptied and bleached shells, many broken, and it is a big mystery to me as to why these shells were used unless they are somehow related to the mating/mate attraction process.

I have in the past tried to extract a complete nest thru the "nest hole" of this species with no good success. This is the first ATFL nest I have ever seen that was built entirely of animal fur (no feathers even). All previous nests contained vegetation, feathers, even portions of reptile skins, albeit with a large portion of hair as well.

I should know the snail species but can not keep those names in my memory
and do know know that it is a significant matter anyway. Thanks again to Lori for providing me/us with a very interesting insight into Ash-throated biology.
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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sawtooth Pin (Atrina serrata)

After a week of miserable winds and cold temperatures , I was finally able to enjoy a warmer and sunnier day out on the mud and sea grass flats the winter tides had left behind here in Port O'Connor.
Even as I was out on the mucky surface the tides were rushing out.

Sea life left behind was sparse but the birds were plentiful, including a Red Knot, an unlikely visitor to mudflats. As seen below the Reddish Egrets are coming into their own and were fishing the shallows for very tiny fry. Evidence of Raccoon people was everywhere as they fed on the dead fish washed ashore by the recent arctic blasts. They prefer "Speckled Trout" but I followed tracks to several hardhead catfish where the animals tended to eat only the belly and entrails.

My best find was this Sawtooth Pin (Atrina Serrata) not that they are very rare but this is perhaps the largest individual I have ever found, coming in at just shy of 10 inches. These mollusks are listed as being occasional by McAlister (1993) in the Matagorda Island area but are however washed in by the hundreds on the surf beaches when there are major storms where they are light enough to reach the upper tide perimeters.  The interior of the shells is a blaze of iridescent if the rather fragile shells are found before abrasive sands have taken their tolls.  Below that brown exterior is a rainbow of color.

What is rather strange about these and related bivalves, is that they use their adductor muscles to actually bend the shell closed whereas most bivalves use the muscles at the hinge of the shells to close up.

I have always found these animals to be very difficult to find as live specimens in the bays. For me this one is a brute. Made my day.

Here are also a couple of Reddish Egret photos.
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