Dawn in the Texas Hill Country

DSC02490The last morning at Double Helix Ranch Writer’s Retreat, I arose before the first bird called, around 4 AM. The Big Dipper had rotated over the house, still pointing to the North Star. It was clear, though by first light the clouds had seeped in. I heard the black-chinned hummingbirds buzz the feeders. The bob white called its two note call. I surprised female and pursuing male at the pond the day before, causing them to scuttle off, half flying, half running through the underbrush. I also scared two ducks that I might have said were black-bellied whistling ducks for their dark bellies, but they were silent, not a strong characteristic of the breed, and they were gone before I could be sure. Just as it is important to relinquish an unsupported hypothesis, it is important to leave some birds forever unidentified.

I walked down towards the pasture and watched a mockingbird sing from the top of a dead post oak. He sang and sang, trying ever new notes. Every 20 or so seconds, he flew up into the air, then pounced back down. Were those flights interruptions in the song? I’ll have to listen to the short video I took to tell.

Here in St. Louis, I also awoke to sound. It was the soft sound of tires on wet pavement. I also heard robins and white-throated sparrows. I heard a cowbird. I did not hear the Carolina wrens, so I suppose they have babies, though not in the homes I provided. To my bird list on the walk in I added starlings and a downy woodpecker only.

My morning walk at Double Helix Ranch I saw and heard rufous-crowned, black-chinned, white-crowned, and chipping sparrows, missing only the lark sparrow. I found again the nest of the blue-gray gnat-catcher. Black vultures soared as did a red-tailed hawk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My walk home from Washington University added chimney swifts, pipping high above, first time this year. I also heard a night hawk uncommonly early. But the houses seem so close. There is no view, no perspective. When will I get out of town, here or in Texas?


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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