Reddish Egret

Reddish egret (Egretta rufescens), Bolivar Flats, Galveston County, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks
Reddish egret (Egretta rufescens), white morph, Bolivar Flats, Galveston County, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks

Few birds hug the coast closer than the reddish egret. This is a salt bird, one never far away from the Gulf of Mexico. A few young birds wander inland in the late summer, but they are the outliers (in truth, they are lost).

The reddish egret almost disappeared from our coasts. Plume hunters in the late 1800s slaughtered heron and egrets by the thousands so that women of fashion could have feathers to festoon their heads. This egret did disappear from Florida until 1937, and even today the population is estimated to be only 10% of what existed before the blood bath.

Every Picture Is A Story Waiting To Be Told

Snowy egret, High Island, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks
Snowy egret, High Island, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks

A snowy egret isn’t a rare bird. Nowhere along the Texas coast is this bird difficult to see. Snowy egrets are background birds.

Photographs of snowy egrets aren’t rare, either. Egrets are large, gregarious, and easy to see and photograph. New bird photographers, once they have disposed of the birds in the yard, often move on to heron, egrets, and other long-legged waders.

Mexican hats, Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks

The Decline of America’s Pollinators

Bee on flower, Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks
Bee on flower, Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks

Bees are in trouble. According to the USDA, “total losses of managed honey bee colonies nationwide were 31.1 percent from all causes for the 2012/2013 winter, according to the annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).”

The Rains of Change

Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR, by Ted Lee Eubanks
Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks

The recent rains have rejuvenated the prairie. We have been without significant rain for over five years. In drought you forget how green this world can be. You only know dry, parched, dusty, and decolored landscapes.

The coastal prairie is particularly wet. Water moves across this flat land as sheet flow. Houston is 50 miles from Galveston; Houston altitude is 49 feet above sea level. In other words, the land rises about 1 foot per mile moving inland from the Gulf of Mexico. This is a perfect landscape for wet prairie.

My Little Plastic Tent

Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas, 7 Dec 2013, by Ted Lee Eubanks
Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas, 7 Dec 2013, by Ted Lee Eubanks

A blue norther swept through town last night, plunging temperatures 50 degrees F and sending me and my neighbors into a full-bore, pipe-wrapping panic. We don’t do cold in Austin. We can suffer weeks of 105°F (40°C) in summer without a gripe, but when the temperature drops below 70°F (21°C) there is no end to our bitching. At the first mention of ice (ICE!) any pretense of control is tossed. We are winter wimps.

The Winner

Attwater Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge by Ted Lee Eubanks
Attwater Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge by Ted Lee Eubanks

Sparrows are an acquired taste (to watch, not to consume). Most birders prefer the pimped out warblers, tanagers, orioles, and their kind. Warblers are gaudy; sparrows are dreary.

Dull sparrows live in dull habitats. They are dull for a reason. A grassland sparrow such as the savannah dresses like grass. Brown, beige, tan, and ocher are a sparrow’s palette. Forget the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges of a warbler for a grassland bird. Bright in a forest gets you a mate and a territory; bright in a grassland gets you eaten.

A Skeptic’s Guide to Thanksgiving

All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.
Marshall McLuhan

President Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln

We, the citizens of the United States of America, officially give thanks for our blessings each year on the fourth Thursday in November. We give thanks for loving families, congenial friends, a world at peace, and for happiness (as in Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness”). We gather to celebrate a bountiful harvest and a promising future.

Cat Got Your Tongue?

A recent discussion about a new shorebird conservation strategy for the Caribbean, and the debate about the respective roles of the natural and social sciences in such a “business” strategy, is apropos beyond this argument of the moment. The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has contributed its portion of a draconian budget that will be used in negotiations with the Obama administration. The Republican-led committee has made no effort to hide the most significant assaults on conservation and environmental protection programs in the past four decades. Here are a few of the cuts that are being proposed.

Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) Lifetime Achievement Award

SCSCB's Howard Nelson, Holly Robertson, and Lisa Sorenson with Ted Eubanks' Lifetime Achievement Award
SCSCB’s Howard Nelson, Holly Robertson, and Lisa Sorenson with Ted Eubanks’ Lifetime Achievement Award

There are few regular meetings that I am not willing to miss. The biannual SCSCB conference is one that I try to make come hell or high water. Conservationists and educators from around the Caribbean meet every two years to discuss Caribbean birds and what needs to be done to ensure their futures.

Comments from Ted Eubanks on the USFWS Conserving the Future Draft Plans

According to Public Law 105-57, approved October 9, 1997, (111 Stat. 1253),

The Act gives guidance to the Secretary of the Interior for the overall management of the Refuge System. The Act’s main components include: a strong and singular wildlife conservation mission for the Refuge System; a requirement that the Secretary of the Interior maintain the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the Refuge System; a new process for determining compatible uses of refuges; a recognition that wildlife-dependent recreational uses involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation, when determined to be compatible, are legitimate and appropriate public uses of the Refuge System; that these compatible wildlife-dependent recreational uses are the priority general public uses of the Refuge System; and a requirement for preparing comprehensive conservation plans.