The Poets’ Birds ~ The Great Prairie Podfluffer

More rare than the Phoenix but as Texan as the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Great Prairie Podfluffer appears in late summer or early fall, hidden among flocks of migrating grackles or brown-headed cowbirds. Always well camouflaged, it’s sometimes mistaken for an ordinary plant; you might notice its similarity to a dry and splitting Green Milkweed pod. Still, a closer look reveals its dark eye and sharp beak: both helpful for nabbing insects or the occasional field mouse.

Because of its rarity, Podfluffer poetry is in short supply; unlike the swallow or lark, few sing its praises. Had Emily Dickinson come across the creature, I’m sure she would have captured its spirit in her inimitable way, but only Lewis Carroll has left us a few lines to suggest he might have known the Podfluffer.  Enjoy Mr. Carroll’s “Little Birds” and judge for yourself.

Little Birds are dining
Warily and well,
Hid in mossy cell:
Hid, I say, by waiters
Gorgeous in their gaiters –
I’ve a Tale to tell.
Little Birds are feeding
Justices with jam,
Rich in frizzled ham:
Rich, I say, in oysters
Haunting shady cloisters –
That is what I am.
Little Birds are teaching
Tigresses to smile,
Innocent of guile:
Smile, I say, not smirkle –
Mouth a semicircle,
That’s the proper style!
Little Birds are sleeping
All among the pins,
Where the loser wins:
Where, I say, he sneezes
When and how he pleases –
So the Tale begins.
Little Birds are writing
Interesting books,
To be read by cooks:
Read, I say, not roasted –
Letterpress, when toasted,
Loses its good looks.
Little Birds are playing
Bagpipes on the shore,
Where the tourists snore:
“Thanks!” they cry. “‘Tis thrilling!
Take, oh take this shilling!
Let us have no more!”
Little Birds are bathing
Crocodiles in cream,
Like a happy dream:
Like, but not so lasting –
Crocodiles, when fasting,
Are not all they seem!
Little Birds are choking
Baronets with bun,
Taught to fire a gun:
Taught, I say, to splinter
Salmon in the winter –
Merely for the fun.
Little Birds are hiding
Crimes in carpet-bags,
Blessed by happy stags:
Blessed, I say, though beaten –
Since our friends are eaten
When the memory flags.
Little Birds are tasting
Gratitude and gold,
Pale with sudden cold:
Pale, I say, and wrinkled –
When the bells have tinkled,
And the Tale is told.


Comments always are welcome.

Taking Refuge in Walktober

A view of Coushatta Creek

Earlier this month, I noticed several bloggers posting about an event called ‘Walktober.’ It didn’t take long to find the common link: an invitation by Robin, of Breezes at Dawn, to walk, ride, kayak, or hike into new territory or old as a way of celebrating this season of transition.

While many participants shared images of glorious autumn color, we’re still surrounded by mostly-green foliage here in southeast Texas; color changes in our trees often don’t appear until mid-to-late November. Still, autumn flowers and grasses, ripening berries, and lingering summer blooms add both color and interest to the landscape.

At the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, seasonal variety on the prairie is complemented by the presence of a lake and riparian corridors. After visits on October 4 and 18, I became determined to allow even more time for exploring all of the Refuge’s delights.

Coushatta Creek, named for the tribe which began populating Texas’s Big Thicket in the late 1700s, rises in northeastern Colorado County, runs to the southeast, and eventually joins the San Bernard River.The lower part of the creek’s course bisects the Attwater refuge, providing a rich source of food and shelter.

Beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) are especially abundant along the creek’s edge
Drummond’s wood-sorrel (Oxalis drummondii), familiar in springtime, lingers on
A splash of yellow partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) shines against the creek waters A beetle, a spider, a thrip, and a slug share a rosy palafox bloom (Palafoxia rosea)

After crossing Coushatta creek on a small bridge, a trail leads to Horseshoe Lake. A magnet for many of the more than 150 species of birds sighted on the refuge, the lake fills with waterlilies and lotuses in season.

White American waterlily (Nymphaea odorata)

A single Maryland Meadow Beauty bloomed on a hillside below the lake. Introduced to the flower on the Nash Prairie, I’ve often found it in east Texas, as well.

Maryland meadow beauty (Rhexia mariana)

The sandy trail leading to the bird blind was filled with sun-loving plants, including the small but lovely bracted fanpetals, and another flower that’s common here both in spring and in fall: crow poison.

Bracted fanpetals (Sida ciliaris)
Crow poison (Nothoscordum bivalve)

Brandon Melton, one of the biologists on staff at the refuge, identified this camphorweed for me. Although I didn’t hike to the other side of the lake, I’m certain this plant figured prominently in the lovely yellow glow I shared in a previous post.

Camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris)

Insects were everywhere, of course. Some were familiar, but this small moth — a little worse for wear but still active — was a fine discovery. The adult reportedly flies from September to December, favoring many fall-blooming Texas species like Eupatorium spp.

White-tipped black (Melanchroia chephise)

Two common mistflowers were present on refuge land: one in a meadow near the lake, and one at the edge of woodland shade. After examining their leaves and stems, I’m more confident in my ability to identify the species in the future.

Gregg’s Mistflower (Conoclinium dissectum)
Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

Even absent the sight of an Attwater Prairie Chicken, the prairie itself is remarkably varied and beautiful.

The sight of Baccharis neglecta gracefully bending before the wind makes one of its common names, ‘false willow,’ understandable. Other names, referencing Roosevelt, the Depression, and poverty, recall attempts to recover from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl by planting Baccharis species to revegetate drought-damaged soils.

Poverty weed, or Roosevelt weed (Baccharis neglecta)

Already fading but still lovely, heartsepal buckwheat spread across the land — a new addition to my growing list of favorite white flowers.

Heartsepal buckwheat (Eriogonum multiflorum)

Here and there, the buckwheat was accompanied by a few remaining stems of Lindheimer’s beeblossom, or gaura. Gaura is derived from the Greek gauros, or ‘superb’ — a perfect descriptor for these flowers. The specific epithet honors Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer (1801-1879), Texas botanist extraordinaire.

Lindheimer’s beeblossom, or gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)

If this companion of the pretty white calf I photographed nearby was trying to hide, he needed to find something more substantial than a stand of airy bladderpod.

Bladderpod (Sesbania vesicaria)

While most of the leaves had dropped and the seedpods were drying, recent rains had encouraged new growth, including the emergence of this pretty bladderpod flower.

An emerging late bladderpod bloom

Coincidentally, I’d come across this somehow familiar plant on the west end of Galveston Island a week earlier. Finally, I found the common name: bushy goldentop. The name’s certainly appropriate, since the flowers are as golden as any goldenrod.

Bushy goldentop (Euthamia leptocephala)

Perhaps the greatest surprise on the prairie was the widespread presence of Gulf Muhly, a pretty native grass I’d seen only in landscape plantings. It complemented both the heartsepal buckwheat and a variety of yellow flowers beautifully.

Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
A closer view of the prettiest grass in the world

Of course sunflowers were everywhere. I was intrigued to find the common sunflower, Helianthus annuus, less common than swamp sunflowers or the so-called tickseed sunflower, which belongs in an entirely different genus.

Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)
Tickseed Sunflower (Bidens aristosa)

But the final amazement of the day was this single white prickly poppy. One of my favorite flowers, it had set up shop in the midst of buckwheat and bladderpod only feet from the end of the auto route. If it weren’t entirely too fanciful, I might have imagined Nature saying, “Here’s one last flower, just for you.”

White prickly poppy (Argemone albiflora)


Comments always are welcome.

On Not Being Late To The Party

Late winter wetlands

As lingering autumn wildflowers succumb to January frost; as grasses shrivel and shred; as trees offer up their branches to importunate winds from the north and are rendered bare, a certain impatience begins to stir.

Winter is winter, after all, and bland, monochromatic landscapes can oppress the spirit as surely as long months of ice and snow. When fog insists on shrouding those same landscapes and gray, glowering skies refuse to lighten, questions inevitably arise: how long will it be until we see the change we long for? How long must we wait until this gray, dismal time gives way to spring?
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A Botanist, A Politician, and a Sage

The disputed crape myrtle

As she retold the stories of a pair of charming and heart-warming turtles — Torty New Zealand’s oldest survivor of World War I, and Myrtle, a fictional but sensitive creature who is bullied because she happens to be purple — friend and fellow blogger Gallivanta provided reassuring proof that both authors and illustrators have the power to change our world for the better. Continue reading

A Rising Green

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, February 2, 2017

After weeks of fruitless horizon-scanning and radar-consulting, the roiling smoke plume rising over the southwestern horizon seemed promising. Before long, I’d found confirmation: a scheduled burn at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge was underway, and the section being burned would be accessible by road.

February 2

I’d been hoping to visit a native prairie after a prescribed burn, and my opportunity had arrived. The January 31 burn, carried out under the supervision of the Texas Mid-Coast fire crew on 515 acres of land, would be accessible via Hoskins Mound Road, my usual route to the Brazoria refuge.

When I arrived at the refuge on February 2, a portion of the world I’d known there appeared to have been obliterated.
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