Monday, May 21, 2007

White-rumped Sandpiper Bonanza, Gator Encounter, Snake Orgy, and a Wreck

My mother-in-law (Nicki) is staying with us for a few days. On Saturday we took her to Tyrrell Park in Beaumont. It's like a swampy southern version of New York's Central Park, except that it's not central. More like out in the boondocks. Closer to the municipal landfill than downtown. But it's a big park with botanical gardens, golf course, stables, picnic grounds, and a wetalnd area (Cattail Marsh).

We took Nicki to the arboretum. The botanical gardens are purty, but my favorite place is the muddy slough at the back. It's the best local spot I know of to see watersnakes. Lots of turtles, too. Sure enough we saw snakes. Also a Prothonotary Warbler that was singing from trees along the water's edge.

On Sunday I went back to Tyrrell Park alone to try and get some snake photos. Of course this time there was nary a snake to be seen. No Prothonotary Warbler either.Green Heron at Tyrrell Park.

A Painted Bunting was singing along the edge of the golf course behind the slough. Took a while to find the bird, and when I did it wasn't what I expected. Instead of a male in red, blue, and green plumage it had a yellowish belly and the rest was greenish. Looked like a female - but it was singing. When I got home I did a little research, and sure enough young male Painted Buntings continue to look like females into their first breeding season. So I learned something new. Later I saw a male Painted Bunting in proper attire singing from high in a pine at Cattail Marsh.Here's a view of Cattail Marsh, in all it's wet mucky glory.

At Cattail Marsh I had a flock of about 15 Black Terns flying over the big pond near the entry point. The drying ponds to the north were good for waders and shorebirds. In one of the northernmost ponds I had a big flock of Calidris sandpipers, mostly White-rumped and Semipalmated. An accurate count wasn't possible, because they kept moving around, but there were at least 200-300 White-rumped Sandpipers, probably the most I've ever seen at any one time. Also had 1-2 Baird's Sandpipers with them. The white rump can actually be seen on the bird that's preening.

While creeping up on a flock of peeps to get some photos I disturbed a medium-sized alligator that had been resting unnoticed on the shore. He took to the water but stayed close, watching me with his cat eyes. This is the first time I've seen an alligator in the marsh. Pretty cool - a city park with cottonmouths and alligators!On my way out of the park I stopped to check the slough at the back of the botanical gardens, again hoping to photograph some snakes. This time I found four Diamond-backed Watersnakes engaged in some bizarre group mating ritual. Snake orgy!Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are common in the park. You can often see them in the middle of the day along roadside ditches, like this one at the entrance to the botanical gardens.Afterward I went to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Around Shoveler Pond there were plenty of Purple Gallinules (see photo at top). On the way back I came upon this wreck, which hadn't been there when I drove by less than an hour before. I got out and carefully checked the accident scene, but didn't see any people. Didn't pass anyone on foot either. On my way out I found a refuge employee and let him know about it. Hope all the passengers were all right!


At 10:14 AM, Blogger Stormy said...

Hi John,

Hadn't visited your site (or many others) in a long time. You've got some great pictures here! We went to Rockport/Port A. last weekend (ahead of the crowds) and saw a lot of sandpipers -- they all seem to look a lot alike! I'm sure we saw white-rumps, though (saw them flying!). A lot of the smaller ones blended in with the mud, and I couldn't get good pictures for identification. I was still able to add several to the life-list though and that was cool.

Good luck to you and Michelle on the little ones when they arrive.


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