Sycamore Colors, Last Light on Winter Prairie
The thermonuclear rage of Houston summer has ever so gradually started to give way to the first cool whispers of fall[i]. With the season change, many of our fall and winter[ii] species have started to arrive. As well, the muggy, sweltering atmosphere[iii] begins to cool and vibrant fall and winter sunsets dominate the skies.
Red-Winged Blackbird, Wetlands in Morning Light, Reservoir Bones, Elm Lake Sunset
Fall is our secondary bird migration season[iv] and we’ve already seen some of our favorites stop by. Broad-Winged Hawks have been spotted, and our yearly deluge of Wood Storks has come and gone. Barred Owls become more visible as the vegetation thins.
Broad-winged Hawk, Wood Storks Roosting, Barred Owl, Bottomlands Bare of Vegetation
Our over-wintering species start to arrive, slowly at first, and then in force. Eastern Phoebes, Blue-winged Teal, Coots, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Vermillion Flycatchers, Wood Ducks, and a vast pantheon of Sparrows have all made a showing down at Brazos Bend State Park. Their numbers will increase exponentially by the time of the Christmas Bird Count in December[v]. Soon the Snow Geese will arrive in incomprehensible numbers, filling the sky with mercury-shifting white clouds as flocks wheel and pivot over fallow fields in the coastal National Wildlife Refuges. Ducks and their compatriots will fill local lakes.
Coots at Sunset, Eastern Phoebe, Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher, Wood Duck (Male), Blue-winged Teal, Ducks at Sunset, Vesper Sparrow, Flock of Snow Geese
With our new arrivals comes the departure, under their own power or through the end of the life cycle, of many of our iconic summer residents. The vast empire of insects and arachnids that reign supreme over the Texas summer begin to dwindle. The summer dominance of the resplendent Golden Silk orbweavers gives way to the drabber domain of the fat, grey and brown draped orbweavers of fall nights.
Last of the Dragonflies, Golden Silk Spider, Spiny-Backed Orbweaver, Giant Lichen orbweaver
My favorite fall spectacle here[vi] is the arrival of birds to roost at sunset in places like Brazos Bend. As the sky blazes in undiminished colors through the clear air, blackbirds of all varieties flood into the vast fields and wetlands. Their numbers are so great that counting is nearly an impossibility. They stream in from all cardinal directions, in what seems an unending torrent of birds, tens to hundreds of thousands of raucous blackbirds swirl in clouds. Roost trees erupt violently into swirling black clouds with the slightest sound, as birds take off and then return. These flocks are like omens, harbingers of the colder times ahead. While the noise can be deafening at close quarters, it is the iconic sounds of fall and winter on the Gulf Coast.
[i] In other words, “weather that doesn’t make one want to consider becoming a nudist if for nothing else than the increased evaporative surface”
[ii] The two seasons being distinguished only by dates, really. Less their own character, and more really just “time of not-summer”
[iii] The degree to which the air is saturated with water is such that simply moving through it counts as disturbing a wetland, and requires a 404 permit from the ACoE.
[iv] Spring is the true spectacle for birding on the Gulf Coast, with the warblers trouncing through in breeding colors. Fall is less rejoiced among birding circles.
[v] What are great first sightings now will rapidly become boring as vast flotillas arrive. For the Christmas Bird Count, we often have one person assigned just to count Coots or blackbirds, given the sheer biomass they represent by that point.
[vi] Since we are bereft of changing leaves and other traditional harbingers of fall