I Really Like to be in Southern Texas

by Dave Hanks

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

It’s pleasant in winter time, when temperatures are low.

This is the time of year when it’s best to go

To the Rio Grande Valley to enjoy the birdie show.

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

All sorts of perchers like these conditions too

Just put out some feed and they soon come into view.

They are there in abundance, and I will name a few:

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

To see Woodpeckers, Jays, Thrashers, and the Kiskadee;

Cardinals and Titmice, and an Oriole in a tree

And so many, many others, are there for you to see.

One gulf coast denizen is the Tri-Colored Heron. It is also known as the Louisiana Heron. They will be there stalking the shallows to catch and ingest almost anything that they can get down their gullet. This 26 inch tall bird inhabits the saline waters of the gulf’s marshes and mangrove swamps.

Audubon Oriole is another southern Texas joy to find, with its yellow body and black head and neck. Texas has more bird species than any other state in the union, and when we can take a trip there, it is always rewarding.

 

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The Cotton Rat: Pest or Prey

I sit all day in a bird blind, on a private ranch, in southern Texas. It is April and the neo-tropical bird migration is in full swing. It cost a tidy sum for the privilege of sitting here, and I hope to get my money’s worth. Not only birds visit the feeding area in front of me, but a few mammals. One mammal that is a frequent visitor is a Cotton Rat. I discuss the occurrence of the rats with my host, who educates me to its relationship with the area’s Bobcats.

The Cotton Rat is named for its habit of building its nests out of cotton. This can be a major problem for cotton farmers. This rodent is found in southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, southern Texas, and into Mexico. It likes tall grass areas or cultivated fields. Like most rodents, it is very prolific – having 5 litters a year of 7 to 10 young at each nesting. The young leave the nest at 2 weeks of age and start breeding at 6 weeks. Wow! What a reproductive machine!

They are omnivores: eating grass, sedges, domestic grains, insects, and eggs. This 9 to 11 inch (1/2 pound) rat can be a real concern for agriculturists. Populations erupt over several years, but then crash – disease being the major cause. Coyotes, and especially Bobcats, find them as a major food source where the rat occurs. Bobcat populations of those southern areas rise and fall in direct relation to the rat’s population cycling.

Besides serving as prey, there is another benefit derived from this very pugnacious and quarrelsome rodent. They have proven to be useful in influenza virus research.

Sigmodon fulviventer in a feasting mode

Aransas Wildlife Preserve: A National Treasure

The semi-darkness slides gently into daybreak. The day is new, fresh, and with that early morning coolness that hints of warmth latter on. My wife and I greet this sun-up with excited anticipation. Southern Texas is a long way from home, but the distance has not dissuaded us. One advantage of early rising is the glorious feeling of having the world to one’s self. This day is no different, as we are the only ones on the refuge. The gate opened early, and we were waiting to take advantage of the situation.

But now, the park is ours alone. White-Tailed Deer are everywhere. They still feel secure because the darkness has just recently lifted. They graze the meadows beside the road, and being surprised by our sudden appearance, dissolve into cover as we pass. Bird calls break the stillness and their flitting from bush to bush catches our attention. From the brush, a pair of ears sticks up. I hit the brakes. A female Peccary is foraging with her litter of babies. Unlike their mother, who is dark and solid colored, they have stripes running the length of their backs. Now that we have detected them, the pigs dash for the wooded areas. Around a bend, appears an animal whose hips undulate in a most ungraceful gait. It is a Raccoon. He sees us and takes refuge in a water pipe. The waiting game for a photo begins – but I finally get one.

The gentle meadows and woods of Aransas are bordered on the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Most species of shorebirds find a home here, especially the endangered Whooping Crane, for which the refuge was set aside. A boat trip is necessary to see them at a shorter distance. They are in groups of three.

Upon leaving the park, there is still one more major treat – ALLIGATORS. A pair has chosen this moment to come ashore to bask in the mid-day sun. What grand, primitive, animals! Their hides are heavy and dark and somehow don’t seem totally real. They have jaws that can open “a mile” to reveal formidable teeth. They are content, however, to allow me to get close-up pictures.

This day, long looked forward to, is memorable – and this place, is one of contentment and inner joy!

A White-Tailed Buck with forward sweeping antlers

A White-Tailed Buck with forward sweeping antlers