Brazos Bend State Park – birding on a rainy day

If anywhere could keep me in Houston it would be Brazos Bend State Park. I started studying wasps here in 1982, two years before the park opened, when the old ranch manager, Frank Hoot, still lived not far from what is now park headquarters. In those days prisoners from nearby Darrington or Ramsey units built the park. Sometimes we were interrupted in our nighttime wasp nest censuses and told to leave immediately. But more of that in another posting some other time.

We’ve done a lot of work on social wasps in the park. Check out this video of the red wasp. Or this one of Polistes bellicosus. Actually, we have a lot of wasp videos on You Tube and more on our website: Social Behavior of Polistine Wasps.

Today, the park was overrun with boy scouts earning their tracking badge. The 12 of us were following Cin-Ty Lee (blog), finding the often dull, always skittish, wintering birds. They are found in patches – suddenly a tree shimmers with flitting birds. We reacquainted ourselves with orange-crowned warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, a golden-crowned kinglet in among blue-gray gnat catchers, and tufted titmice. If you watch them long enough, you can tell what is what almost from how they move around. The long tails and rapid changes of direction at the very ends of branches characterize the blue-gray gnatcatcher. But I’m not going to list all the birds we saw, or even all the birds I saw, though this blog will end with some bird color.

It was raining and a lot colder than in Houston, only 45 miles north of us. We guessed it was as low as 55 degrees, and wished we had vests and gloves. Forty acre lake was a bit low. The marsh past it was nearly entirely grown in. Driving to the park the sun came out from an otherwise dark sky, giving a glowing, red light. Pecans, hackberry, and yaupon characterize the forests. Grape vines and poison ivy climb the trees. Spanish moss hangs extravagantly everywhere. We expect to see alligators, armadillos, possums. We avoid stepping on fire ant mounds.

On the northern side of elm lake we found color: a brilliant male vermillion flycatcher darting from one perch to another swooping up insects. Once they were remarkable, and all the birders around knew when one was wintering at Brazos Bend. Now it is more common, and we saw two different ones, this male and an earlier female on the other side of the lake. We also saw bluebirds, higher up, in deeper branches, perched or flying from one thick tree to another. We also found lunch, goat cheese sandwiches, potato chips, and salami. By the time we drove home it was fully sunny.


We were dressed appropriately.


Yaupon berries. Can you tell I got a new camera, a little Canon S95?


Gild the lily pad with water droplets.


These are the guys you want to go birding with!


Who says Houston doesn’t get fall color?


Black-bellied whistling ducks.


I’m still in Texas!


Jeremy Caves came with us, back for a visit from Tucson.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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One Response to Brazos Bend State Park – birding on a rainy day

  1. Scott Solomon says:

    Great pictures!

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