Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Painted Bunting: Aggression

Wing Quiver of Passerina ciris
The male Painted Bunting is known for its extremely aggressive nature, especially during summer breeding when territoriality is in place. Unlike the other 90% of bird species, the Painted Bunting is considered a polygamous bird. As in other polygamous species, the healthiest male with the best territory for raising young has the highest chance of mating. As such, the male Painted Bunting defends its territory with high aggression, spending most the day singing vigorously at exposed, strategic perches. If the aggression escalates beyond song, there are other non-vocal displays to further discourage any intruding male. These two combined factors usually can prevent physical fighting, but not always.

There is a sense of site fidelity among these birds. Often, if singing is heard within trees or removed from a meadow, it is a sub-adult Painted Bunting, not yet able to best more experienced males; however, this does not mean all males will return to the same territory they held the year before.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Painted Bunting: Basics

Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris
I've dedicated this week to the beautiful Painted Bunting, a bird I've helped with research on for close to a year. While I certainly cannot guarantee great photography, I can guarantee a wealth of information. I will be keeping to schedule on this blog, posting three times a week, but if you find you want to learn more than I post here, I will be adding Google+ posts with more background information. There I can use (with proper credit) images that are not my own for the purposes of further educating.

The Painted Bunting is a small, sparrow-sized bird that prefers the meadows and shrubbery that is offered in the lower Great Plains. This summer migrant has the heaviest concentration right in North Texas, near the Red River and Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. There is also a small, separate population located in the Carolinas. They often arrive in North Texas during the beginnings of May, and leave by mid-August. Due to their specific habitat preference, the Painted Bunting has not adjusted well to urbanization resulting the status of Near Threatened. This status is also partially due to trapping during wintering in Central America.

Often described as the most beautiful bird in North America, the male Painted Bunting is easily distinguished with his blue head, red underside and circled eye, green wings, and yellow back. Following the pattern of sexual selection, the females are a drab green also containing the eye circling but in lighter green. They forage on the ground, looking for insects during the summer, and seeds during the winter.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Rio Preto Falls

Rio Preto Falls, Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros
The Rio Preto Falls of Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros stands at 120 meters tall, but is just one of many waterfalls found within the park. The Rio Preto is a tributary of the Tocantins River, which though it is popularly regarded as a tributary of the Amazon River, is technically a separate system. The Tocantins River is not considered navigational due to the various rapids, waterfalls, and the Tucuruí Dam some 1500 kilometers north of the Rio Preto Falls.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Noisy Pitta

Noisy Pitta, Pitta versicolor
Found foraging for worms, berries, and snails among the leaf litter of tropical and subtropical rainforest, the Noisy Pitta has a classic rainforest call. The loud sound is one of the main sounds heard within the forests leading to the common name of noisy. These birds do not walk, but hop on the ground often accompanying the movement with a bob of the head or flick of the tail. Much like the North American Vireonidae family, these birds are much more often heard than seen.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Striped Bark Scorpion

Striped Bark Scorpion, Centruroides vittatus
The most common species in Texas, it is uncommon, but not unheard of, to find one of these types of nocturnal scorpions out in daylight. Usually, as with the case of this fellow, it is in the shadowed corners within a building. Waxy cuticle helps prevent water loss as does their nocturnal behavior.  While they can live up to 25 years, they often only survive up to 8 years in the wild, if that. They do have an amazing ability to lower their metabolic rate to significantly low numbers. Scorpions are not limited to desert habitats, but also live in pine and deciduous forests, mesic mountains, and grasslands. This particular species produces only a mild venom. It is not so much size that indicates how venomous a species is (smaller quoted as being more so), but rather the size of the pincers compared to the tail: larger pincers means focus on power over venom, whereas smaller pincers relies on more potent venom.

This guy was found inside, right at the door (covered in lint) where one of the patrons would easily have squished him. We tried to kindly get the scorpion onto the cutting board to move him outside to a safer place, but he had a preference for hanging on rather than getting on.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Pansy, Violax wittrockiana
A flower that is quite common to find in gardens, and becoming more popular in the realm of edible flowers, the hardy biennial grows fast but must be replaced once the flowers begin to fade.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix
The very well-known, and misunderstood Copperhead is a common venomous snake found in most Central and Eastern states. In North Texas at the least, if there is a story of a venom-filled snake bite, this is the likely culprit. The reason has nothing to do with temperament, but rather environment. The Cottonmouth, also known as the Water Moccasin, is a semi-aquatic snake and therefore is found near streams or ponds. Rattlesnakes can survive a variety of habitats as a subfamily, but individual species often have strict specifications. The Copperhead is the most versatile of the three front-fanged venomous snakes in the area. Their beautiful leafy pattern and brown coloration provides excellent cover when slithering among the leaves, whether at a nature preserve or a simple backyard; however, of the three snakes they are one of the most laid back. As with any animal, snake or not, any provoking will result in retaliation, even a simple gesture of grabbing a rake next to the near-invisible snake.

The issue lies in the commonality of this snake in urban areas, and the lack of education on common snake safety. Snakes will follow the mice which will follow the human, which means you may easily find a Copperhead hanging out near the garden hose. With the warm winter the majority of the United States has experienced this past year, mice populations have exploded beyond normal which also means more frequent snake sightings. The phrase "look before you leap" applies to snakes in that you should always look before you step over a log, grab your gardening tools, or even kick aside a branch. Always remember, you can never selectively kill one species, and they have an important job in nature, one that is critical this year especially if you want to avoid Lyme disease.

The lack of respect snakes get, especially if venomous, has always been a sore issue with me. More often than not, someone will either kill it or suggest killing it. Any encounter the public has with a venomous snake is exaggerated, with talks of how the snake would easily have attacked or how the snake actually chased them. Discounting the fact that a small snake chasing a grown man triple his size is ridiculous, the most important myth is the assumption that if it is a venomous snake, then it obviously is aggressive. I can tell you from personal experience with Copperheads that I truly mean it when I say they are generally pretty mellow. After literally almost stepping on a relatively large one (he moved to avoid it which is how I noticed, still I was in striking distance) and not even getting a threatening pose, I stand by that. The one in the photo and a different one earlier this week were smaller, and didn't particular care to be moved off the trail, but also did not coil for strike either. This was done, of course, with previous training on how to handle hot snakes.

As you can likely tell, this simple picture from my phone, from the second Copperhead I've seen in less than a week (quite common in my line of work) was just what I was waiting for. I was so excited by this as I actually had a phone and no concerned patron with me so whipping out my camera was acceptable. I couldn't wait to finally have a chance to clear up the misconceptions of these snakes! I really hope I did.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Texas Brown Tarantula

Texas Brown Tarantula, Aphonopelma sp.
The tarantula is easily recognized due to the large size as it is the heaviest spider by weight. The size alone often pegs them as dangerous, but no direct fatality has been recorded from the bee sting-like bite. Their true threat is the more likely attack of irritating urticating hairs which can be dislodge at the attacker. Truly quite docile, there are many tarantula species kept as pets. In Texas, and likely other places as well, spring brings migration as males wander to find females for mating. The main predator of the tarantula is the Tarantula Hawk, which immobilizes her prey, and lays her eggs inside for the larvae to eat their way out of the still living spider a few days later. The tarantula hawk is on record for having the greatest instantaneous pain in humans though the toxicity itself is low.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Perigree Moon

Perigree Moon of May 2012
Referred to by the media as "Supermoon", the event of a week ago presented a full moon coinciding with a close approach presenting a brighter and larger view. The moon follows an elliptical, or Kepler, orbit around the earth, with the closer focal point deemed the perigree, the opposed deemed apogee. What made this apparently news worth was that, as it was during a full moon, the event was easily observable; however, the distance the moon presented is not uncommon. For example, June of next year will present a full moon only 36 km further than of this month and yet August of the year after will present a full moon 57 km closer.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wine Cup

Wine Cup, Callirhoe involucrata
A native wildflower to Texas and other parts of the Great Plains, the drought tolerant perennial Wine Cup spreads over the ground in a vine-like fashion. While they close in the evenings, they are unique in that they will close permanently after pollination. A signal of pollination status is not uncommon among angiosperms. The flowers of lungwort, for example, have color variation indicating age and therefore nectar and pollen status as younger flowers tend to have more of both.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rio Grande Chirping Frog

Rio Grande Chirping Frog, Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides
With a size no larger than 2.5cm, the Rio Grande Chirping Frog has quite a loud call that is often mistaken for crickets or some nocturnal bird. The Spotted, Cliff, and Rio Grande Chirping Frogs are all quite unique in that they do not need water to develop into a full adult. They instead lay their eggs in moist soil, and undergo metamorphism while in the egg hatching in adult form. As such, soil found in potted plants soon to be shipped across the state are not an usual place to lay eggs. These various species, specifically the Rio Grande Chirping Frog, have been found far from their native range of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, from San Antonio, to Houston, to Dallas. This is likely the case for the expanding range of the Cliff Chirping Frog as well. As a relatively new arrival, it is unclear the impact this frog may have, but unlike many other animals has adapted well to urbanization.

This is the second year we've heard them in the neighborhood, and they are definitely gaining a solid foothold. Their adaptability to urbanization likely contributed to their survival and thriving population even in one of the worst droughts we've had in history. While water was restricted, regulations were lenient on having an irrigation hose to help maintain house foundation. It is of no surprise that ones I've heard have been close to the walls, which also provide wonderful cracks, shrubs, and foliage to hide in. I've only seen one once, which is this photo, taken with my phone, trying to determine which chirping frog it was. He was a devil to find.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bush Stone-curlew

Bush Stone-curlew, Burhinus grallarius
The Bush Stone-curlew, sometimes called the Bush Thick-knee, is certainly one of the oddest and most unique birds of Australia. They can stand up to 60cm tall on gangly legs and knobbly knees, with large yellow eyes and facial feathering that seems to give them a permanent look of sadness. With a nocturnal call comparable to a screaming baby or women, it is understandable why the Australian Aboriginal cultures weave many stories around these birds, and often associate it with death. Foraging occurs during the evening and night time hours, feeding on a host of motley items from insects to seeds, molluscs to small animals. The range extends throughout most of Australia, but the conservation status varies from vulnerable to endangered. Some states have conservation efforts currently active before the population declines more, encouraging landholders to control predators better specifically feral cats and foxes. When threatened or disturbed, the bush stone-curlew will either freeze, crouch down, or both.

The campus had plenty of these around, and unlike many places they were not hard to observe during the day. The call certainly takes awhile to get use to, and caused me to wake up multiple times. I even watch one walk right up and under the balcony, call for a minute, then walk off hunting for food as if nothing happened. Definitely one of my favorite birds even if it was a love-hate relationship.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Green Anole

Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis
The green anole is often referred to as the American Chameleon, despite being unrelated, due to its comparatively simplistic color changing abilities. From bright green to shades of brown and all between, the anole will readily change colors based on a number of factors. The temperature, humidity, health, and mood all play a role in appearance. These lizard are common throughout the southeastern United States with preferences for moist, green, partially shaded environments. An insectivore that can live up to seven years in captivity, the main threat to this species is domesticated cats.