Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

May your Christmas Wreaths be full of eyelash vipers! Darlene and I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and the best for the coming New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2007

If You Feed Them, They Will Come!

In my previous post, I mentioned how living on a resaca afforded us the opportunity to see many forms of wildlife while living in the city. In an even earlier post, I told of my fondness for opossums. It's plagued me since childhood so I doubt I'll ever get over it. So, it should come as no surprise that when I recently saw one walk by the patio door, I decided to try and get a closer look by offering it food.

I began leaving red grapes, bananas and even sliced oranges as an offering only to find the plate empty the next morning with no sighting of an opossum. That all changed last week when suddenly, there was the opossum eating it's nightly offering of fruit right in front of the sliding glass door. It was a nearly all black specimen and, I feel quite sure, the sibling of the one I rescued in the pool earlier this year.

The nightly ritual continued as the opossum began to show up on the patio just after sunset. Although still shy, it seemed comfortable watching us watching it eat. Saturday evening, I went through the routine of preparing a meal for the opossum, including some cat food now for protein. It showed up right on time. About a half hour later, another opossum suddenly appeared, much the same size but obviously lighter in color. For the first encounter, it seemed totally at ease watching us and it even looked up at the television a time or two! I feel sure, too, that this is another sibling because of the size similarity.

If you're at all interested in learning more about these fascinating animals, check out the National Opossum Society. I totally agree with their philosophy, "it's nice to watch an occasional opossum waddle by". It's even nicer when they spend time with you in the evening.

The opossum that showed up this past Saturday evening. Since then, it has been a nightly visitor but always AFTER the black opossum.

The nearly all black opossum that began visiting last week. He/she shows up minutes after sunset.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Right in Our Own Backyard!

Living on one of Brownsville's beautiful resacas allows us to view many forms of wildlife, literally in our own backyard. Numerous species of insects, birds, mammals and even reptiles have taken time to visit us as they move along the natural corridors the resacas provide through the city. Our latest visitors are a large flock of Black-bellied whistling ducks.

The Black-bellied whistling duck is native to tropical Central and South America and has steadily moved northward in it's range to deep south Texas. Sightings seasonally in the desert southwest and in southeast Louisiana are a welcome sign that their range and numbers continue to expand.

This particular flock arrived on our resaca last week, just prior to our last cold front. What convenient timing considering I had just begun putting food in the bird feeders for our winter friends from the north. Now, without fail, they wait for me to put out food each morning. First comes the unmistakable noisy whistling that echos along the entire resaca. Then they congregate just outside the fence that separates the yard from the water (put up to keep BIG DOGS from tumbling into the resaca). They then take turns on the fence, almost jockeying for position. Finally, the procession begins into the yard, one after the other, until the entire flock is inside the fence.

Now it really gets interesting. How do they get the food from a small feeder you ask? They actually take turns flying up to the feeder to tip it, spilling seed onto the ground. And several times, including today, I've found the bottom of the feeder on the ground. How they've mastered this technique is beyond me but with one lucky hit, the bottom drops out and the entire contents of the feeder is on the ground for the morning feast.

I don't know how long this flock will stick around our yard but I hope they stay awhile. They're becoming braver day by day and have even come all the way around the pool to just outside the back patio where they watch me watch them. It's almost as if they're asking, "Can't you give us just a little more food?" Now that I think about it, it's a good thing Darlene works all day. She would probably already have them eating INSIDE the house, next to By-Tor!

Early morning light casts a perfect silhouette of Black-bellied whistling ducks waiting for their daily feeding.

Hey! I was here first!

The flock converges on the pool. Note the two on the bird bath and the one on top of the chair! The unmistakable yellow breast and black mask of a Greater Kiskadee can be seen on the fence in the left of the photo.

After emptying the feeder, part of the flock moves closer to the house, patiently waiting for a re-fill.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Those Mysterious Birthday Babies

As I mentioned in a previous post, November 16th was Darlene's birthday. After supper with Angela, her friend Michael and the grandkids at The Lonestar in Harlingen, I attended to my typical late night ritual of checking e-mail after we got home. As I walked into the snake room to access my computer, an unusual shape in one of the African bush viper cages caught my eye. There, to my surprise, was not one but two babies sitting on the branch next to mom (I found a third the next morning). I was excited about the uncommon babies but I was more excited because it was Darlene's birthday.

This is not the first time babies have been born on a family member's birthday. For several years, eyelash vipers were born on Darlene's dad's birthday, October 8th (it's also the birthday of a close friend and co-worker). That became my time-line in telling potential customers when they could expect eyelash babies. Then, in 2005, a litter of African bush vipers was born on my sister's birthday, August 7th. One baby in that litter happened to be the rarest color morph of that particular species, solid black.

Some will call me silly but I view these births as something mysterious, if not spiritual. Can it be just a coincidence that these births happen on family member's birthdays with no manipulation of the breeding dates on my part? In my Native American culture, snakes are regarded as "supernaturals" with special powers of intercession. And they are widely regarded as brothers.

So, is it just a coincidence that 11 more African bush vipers were born last night, on my BROTHER'S BIRTHDAY?

Red phase African bush viper (Atheris squamigera) born on Darlene's birthday

Multi-colored green African bush viper born on Darlene's birthday

Gold phase born on Darlene's birthday

Black phase male born on my sister's birthday

Several of the 11 African bush vipers born last night on my brother's birthday

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Darlene and I send our heartfelt wishes for a day of happiness, peace and ...


Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Woman on Her Birthday With Her Big SPOILED Lizard!

Yesterday was Darlene's birthday. One of the things she wanted was her picture taken with By-Tor, her pet Argentine black and white tegu. Believe me when I tell you, a lizard has never had it this good. Like in the above photo, he's cuddled like a child. He's fed chicken from a fork. His bananas are peeled and properly sliced. He drinks water from a glass. He sleeps on the futon. He literally has the run of her office. He is puppy tame and he loves her attention. Just this morning, while waiting to go to work, I heard a slight "honey" coming from the computer room. When I walked in, there was By-Tor, stretched across Darlene's shoulders, looking like the king he's become. In all of my reptile years, I've never seen a lizard seek human attention the way By-Tor does. It's not so much me. Oh, he'll come running across the room to me when he thinks he's about to receive a mouse for lunch. And, he's always the perfect gentleman tegu when I transfer him to the patio for his afternoon sunshine. But, he actively seeks Darlene's attention, even climbing into her lap where he sleeps peacefully while she goes about her business at her laptop. Oh, did I happen to mention that he's SPOILED?!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Do I Really Look That Tired?

The question is the same every day I work the early shift. "Are you gonna go home and take a nap?" It started as a simple question from one of my co-workers who, by the way, HAS to take a nap after this particular shift. Wimp!! Now, it's spread like a bad rash through most of the office. My response is always the same, "NO, I'm not gonna go home and take a NAP!" You'd have to hear my voice to fully understand but my pitch is probably somewhere between Olive Oyl and Lois (The Family Guy). Now I'll admit, since the time change, getting up at 3:15 AM makes a nap appealing. I even found out yesterday that if I sit down for just a minute, I quickly fall asleep. I nearly missed my afternoon cry with Oprah! But with 79 newborn eyelash vipers and all the other snakes to feed, I just can't rationalize taking the time to take a nap.

So now I have to wonder, do I really look that tired? Why, suddenly, am I being asked this question by most of the staff? If I didn't already have enough complexes about the way I look! Should I contemplate cosmetic surgery? Do my eyelids need work? Maybe a forehead lift? How about a complete facelift? The infamous nap question was even manipulated into a complex question this morning regarding the newspaper (another story in itself!). "Are you gonna pick up the paper after you take a nap?"

With the crew that's working tomorrow, I know I'll be asked "the question" again. Maybe I'll stop at HEB after work and pick up some Oil of Olay Eye Contour.

"Real Men Don't Take Naps!"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Majestic Monarchs

My mother's words still haunt me. "Why would you do that to those poor butterflies?" Back then, like today, I sat out old fruit to attract them to the yard. Back then the outcome was much worse since I fed them to my Jackson's chameleons. I was remembering that exact conversation (or should I call it scolding) while traveling west to Roma and San Ygnacio this past Friday. Countless butterflies, many of them monarchs, were trying to navigate over Highway 83 on their way south into Mexico. I found myself routing for them, thinking if they could only make it past this last obstacle, they would surely make it to their overwintering sites.

The fall migration of the monarch butterfly begins in the northernmost parts of the United States and even Canada in late August. Monarchs east of the Rockies fly south and those that reach the Gulf of Mexico follow the Coastal Flyway along and just inland from the coast. Their eventual destination is the Oyamel Forest in the Transvolcanic Plateau in Central Mexico. So when Scarlet e-mailed me Sunday morning about their mass arrival on South Padre Island, we made our plans for the day.

Countless monarchs cluster on the outermost leaves of the Tepeguaje trees at the Nature Center. Many are battered, nearly all exhausted, after traveling up to 50 miles a day during the fall migration.

As I approach for a closer shot, orange clouds take flight only to land in the exact spot seconds later.

The majority of monarchs that make the fall migration are in reproductive dormancy. Here, an unusual mating takes place during the migration.

Just before sunset, a small cluster prepares to roost for the night.

The last rays of the evening light up the wings of already sleeping, weary travelers.

"No other animal is more typical of a healthy environment, nor more susceptible to change, than a butterfly" (John Feltwell - The Encyclopedia of Butterflies). As I think about the past, I realize my attitude towards butterflies has changed as I've learned more about them. Living in deep south Texas and watching the array of colors during migration each year has only heightened my awareness. Butterflies have no control over their environment. They can only respond to changes that we humans bestow on them. That usually means surviving or dying. My fruit offerings are no longer meant to bring instant death. I can only hope my mom is watching!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

An Afternoon in Paradise - Conclusion

After completing our tour of the Sealife Center, we walked around Lighthouse Square and enjoyed the late afternoon breeze off the Laguna Madre. A few more photos were in order about town before heading home to Brownsville.

The Port Isabel Lighthouse sits on the now state owned Historical Site situated on just under an acre on the north side of Highway 100 just before crossing the Queen Isabella Causeway to South Padre Island.

The State Historical Marker.

Out on the square, I was lucky enough to get this shot of a Brown Pelican as it soared overhead.

On the drive home, we stopped at the City Docks and found this fisherman cleaning his catch of the day.

Another angle as he begins filleting his catch.

An almost too bright reflection as the sun sets behind a thick cirrus shield. It was my last shot of a most unforgettable afternoon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An Afternoon in Paradise - Part II

As mentioned in "An Afternoon in Paradise", Darlene and I were invited to be Scarlet's guest at the Dolphin Research and Sealife Center in Port Isabel. They had recently relocated from South Padre Island to Lighthouse Square, which was right off the Causeway on our way home. Even though it was late afternoon, Scarlet assured us her sister-in-law would be working late and would be happy to accommodate us. It would be a challenge to photograph "Denizens of the Deep" behind glass but we were up to the challenge and eager to see more wildlife.

Front entrance at 110 North Garcia Street between the historic Lighthouse and Pirate's Landing Restaurant.

This mermaid greets visitors coming off the Causeway from South Padre Island.

This Banded starfish was in one of the touch tanks that allows children (and adults!) to have a "hands-on" experience with local marine life.

A Lined starfish in one of the touch tanks.

A Shrimp eel poses perfectly!

One tank was dedicated to nothing but Sea anemones.

A very personable Gulf toadfish.

This Spotted scorpionfish was in the same tank.

A very odd Mantis shrimp. Their punch is powerful enough to break glass.

This Guitarfish was ALWAYS on the move.

A heated turtle pond housed several species of local brackish
and fresh water turtles. This is a female Red-bellied slider.

Our host took this large Florida horse conch out for a close-up.

I was intrigued by this mossy looking fellow, a Portly spider crab.

A juvenile Portly spider crab.

These were just a fraction of the species there. Many of my photos turned out fuzzy so check out Darlene's Blog to see more creatures. I'm still wondering how she persuaded the Moray eel to sit still for her! Next time you're passing through Port Isabel, be sure to make time to visit the nice folks at the Sealife Center. It's only $3 per person and your money goes to a very worthy cause.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Finally, a FROPA!

FROPA is an acronym used by the National Weather Service to denote a "Frontal Passage". We finally had our first significant cold frontal passage of the fall season in Brownsville this morning. For the past week, this cold front had been perfectly forecast. Even the timing of the front was almost perfectly predicted. So when it blew past our office at exactly 1057 am this morning, the 3 of us on shift were all outside waiting, eagerly anticipating the first blast of cool air felt here since last winter. What a blast it was! Low clouds rolled in, accompanied by northwest winds of 49 mph. The temperature dropped from 89 degrees to 62 degrees in less than an hour. What a difference a day makes. Yesterday, we tied the daily maximum high temperature of 92 degrees! Hopefully, we won't see another 90 degree day until next year. Unfortunately for us, that could be as early as January!

Low clouds on the horizon around 10 am depicting the location of the front. The building on the left is our inflation building where we inflate weather balloons.

On our doorstep!


Sunday, October 21, 2007

An Afternoon in Paradise

Friday was the start of my 3-day weekend and earlier in the week I suggested to Darlene that she take the day so we could do some photography. As the week wore on, it looked like Friday would turn into another work day for her and another snake work day for me. So it was a pleasant surprise when she called shortly after 1 pm and said she had finished for the day and was heading home. The weather was perfect so after she got home and changed, we grabbed our cameras and headed out, not really knowing where we might land. After a quick discussion about lunch, we decided to head for the island.

Thirty minutes to our east lies South Padre Island, a beautiful 4-mile stretch of world class beaches, hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants. It's also the home of the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, a spectacular 50 acre sanctuary for our native species as well as birds and butterflies on their seasonal migration. We had been there many times over the years and it seemed the logical place to take photos. After a late lunch at "Daddy's", we drove over to the sanctuary.

As I had hoped, the butterfly garden was alive with butterflies. Gulf Fritillary's were everywhere as were several species of Skippers. One or two Monarchs were about which signaled the beginning of the fall migration. As I rounded the bend of the garden, I heard a familiar voice, that of Scarlet Colley. I've ran into Scarlet many times over the years, doing everything from post storm surveys to career days. She's always outgoing and friendly. She and her husband, George, own Colley's Fin to Feathers Photo Safaris on the island. We struck up a conversation about the butterflies and wildlife in general. She then asked if we had ever seen the alligator.

Now, I've heard a lot of people talk about the alligator that lives there in the salt marsh but I had never seen it. It even seemed a little far-fetched to me that an alligator would live in salt water. So when she offered to show us the alligator, we jumped at the chance. Out on the boardwalks we went and all the while Scarlet called "Aloishea!". I stopped to take a photo of a juvenile Great Blue Heron while Darlene and Scarlet proceeded on to the blind at the end of the southern-most boardwalk. To my amazement, through the cattails, I saw the familiar shape of an alligator's head that was slowly moving towards the sound of Scarlet's voice. Scarlet said she had known her 12 years and named her Aloishea from a children's book she remembered from her childhood. What an incredible bond between these two. You can read a tribute to these two special ladies on Darlene's Blog.

The afternoon could not have gotten much better in my opinion but Scarlet insisted we be her guests at the Sealife Center in Port Isabel on our way home. Details and photos of the creatures we met there will be forth coming in another blog. Photos of our "Afternoon in Paradise" are below. Enjoy!

Visitors are greeted to South Padre Island by this "photo-worthy" pull off, coming off the Causeway from Port Isabel.

"Daddy's" is owned by the nice folks who own "Dirty Al's".
The menu there includes Cajun Cuisine.

The South Padre Island Convention Center sits next to the Sanctuary.
You are greeted by an incredible Killer Whale mural painted by the acclaimed environmental artist "Wyland".

The World Birding Center's Visitor's Center is already being designed.

A view of the Laguna Madre from the Convention Center.
A viewing area at the end of one of the Sanctuary's boardwalks is visible in the salt marsh.

The Sanctuary's Butteryfly Garden attracts many species of butterflies.
Here, 2 Gulf Fritillary's take nectar from the same clump of Blue Mist.

Close-up of a Gulf Fritillary Butterfly.

Another visitor, a Painted Lady.

The Monarch migration has recently begun.

A juvenile Great Blue Heron tries to become invisible in the cattails.

A close-up before flight.

A common moorhen posed under the bird blind until...

"Aloishea" comes to greet us.

Detail of Aloishea's head. Her right eye is partially covered by a cataract.

Darlene takes a photo of Scarlet for her blog.