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Many birders travel to Texas to glimpse the black-bellied whistling duck, a year-round resident of the lower Texas Gulf Coast and other portions of the state. The whistling duck is also found in Mexico, Central and South America and occasionally in Arizona, California and Louisiana, as well.
Known for its high-pitched whistling call, the whistling duck’s long legs and neck are reminiscent of a goose. Males and females are identical in appearance, body rust-brown with a black belly and tail. The face is gray, with a white ring around the eye, and a bright red bill and legs. In flight, the bird’s white wing-patch is visible as a stripe. [Read more…]
Also known as the “prairie wolf,” the coyote is Texas’ most frequently viewed large carnivore. Characterized by a dog-like body and a long, bushy tail, the coyote weighs an average of just thirty pounds. Their thick coat is grayish in color, with reddish tinges to the legs and ears, and a lighter-colored belly and nape. Coyotes have yellow eyes which reflect as greenish-gold at night. Extremely vocal animals, the coyote’s mournful howls and yapping barks often fill the night with haunting songs.
Coyotes are extremely intelligent, curious, and adaptable creatures, inhabiting diverse habitats throughout Asia, Europe, and western North America, including Texas. In contrast to the now rare timber or gray wolf (Canis occidentalis), coyotes prefer open terrain. Classified as opportunistic carnivores, coyotes readily eat fish, rabbits, rodents, deer, and carrion, as well as birds, plants, insects, and even small domestic animals. Coyotes are extremely wary of humans, although they can become habituated to people if fed. Like the raccoon, coyotes are clever and determined scavengers; they have been known to haul full ice chests away from unsuspecting campers under the cover of darkness.
Coyote life is extremely precarious; less than one half of all juvenile coyotes live to reach adulthood. Those that do manage to survive have a life expectancy of ten to fifteen years.
One Texas location in which to view coyotes is Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi. Pay specific attention to the grassy roadsides, sand dunes, and sheltered freshwater ponds. Coyotes are most active at night and in the early morning.
Attaining a length of six to eight feet at adulthood, the American alligator is North America’s largest flesh-eating reptile. The alligator’s thick and powerful tail, used for propulsion and defense, accounts for half its body length. Similar in appearance to the endangered American crocodile, the American alligator has a stockier build and broader head and snout; unlike crocodiles, alligators’ teeth are not visible when their jaws are closed. [Read more…]
One of two crane species found in North America, the endangered whooping crane– measuring a stately four to five feet in height–is the continent’s tallest bird. Once widespread throughout North America, the whooping crane faced almost certain extinction in 1937 when the wild population consisted of just fifteen birds. Thanks to dedicated conservation efforts by Canada and the United States, the whooping crane has begun a slow but seemingly steady recovery. [Read more…]
During my training to become a Texas Master Naturalist, one of my goals was to volunteer with many organizations in different capacities to see what I most enjoyed. I spent some of my first 40 volunteer service hours toward certification doing habitat restoration and rehabilitation work to remove non-native invasive species of plants from area public lands. These activities are immensely gratifying and educational—they are one of the best ways to learn how to identify common trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plants.
Early in my training, I also discovered ample opportunities to take part in research-gathering projects. Some survey projects require more training before volunteering. One such project is the golden-cheeked warbler survey at Guadalupe River State Park in Spring Branch, Texas. The 1.5 hour training session familiarizes prospective volunteers with the history of the survey, its rules and processes, and introduces the golden-cheeked warbler via photographs and birdsong. [Read more…]