Jul 04, 2014 – Carrollton, Texas
I continue to be astounded at the quantity and variety of wildlife that I discover at this park in Carrollton, Texas. Most of the wild animals living in here are accustomed to a constant and peaceful coexistence with people, and are therefore very amenable to observation. This park continues to provide wonderful opportunities to photograph wild animals at close range while they are engaged in candid behaviors. Many examples follow.
The first thing of note this week is evidence of the possible return of Beavers to Josey Ranch Lake. There is a huge Beaver lodge located in the marshy north end of the lake, but the park patrons I have spoken with have told me that it is no longer occupied. Indeed, I have seen no signs of modifications or maintenance over the time that I have been observing the lodge. From all indications there have been no Beavers at this lake since at least early spring.
The freshly cut saplings in the photograph below suggest that might have changed. These stumps and the associated wood shavings littering the ground strongly suggest Beaver activity. I will keep an eye on this development over the next several weeks to see if i can verify.
As always, there were many dragonflies buzzing around the lake and the park in general. The two powdered blue dragonflies in the picture below struck me at first as being of the same species, but under closer scrutiny it became obvious that they were not. The larger dragonfly on the left is an Eastern Pondhawk, while the one on the right is a Blue Dasher. Some closeup images of each dragonfly follows. See if you can notice the subtle differences between the two species.
Some of the park’s birds were also dressed in blue, and this jay is a prime example. Many of the park’s young birds have reached the stage in their life where they resemble adults and are able to fly, but they still take advantage of their parents’ willingness to feed them. I believe that may be what is going on in the picture below. Several other Blue Jays were moving through the brush along with this one. They hopped branch by branch, and often came in close contact with each other, but it was difficult to get a clear look at what they were doing.
Wading birds of the heron family were very busy on this warm afternoon. Below you will find images of a Great Blue Heron, a Great Egret, and a Little Blue Heron. The Little Blue Heron was engaged in a particularly interesting behavior that I have not witnessed before. I observed this small heron hovering over the water briefly before dropping down and crashing into the water. The little blue came back up with a silvery fish in his bill. A sequence of photographs illustrating this action is included below.
Near the spot where the Little Blue Heron caught his fish I found the collection of Green Sunfish nests shown in the photographs and video recording included below. Male Green Sunfish create these nest as a place for females to lay their eggs. After the eggs have been laid the males will continue to defend and maintain the nest until they hatch and the fry disperse. Here is what Wikipedia says about Green Sunfish reproduction:
Green sunfish begin spawning in the summer with the exact time varying with location and water temperature. When they do spawn, the males create nests in shallow water by clearing depressions in the bottom, often near a type of shelter such as rocks or submerged logs. The male defends his nest from other males using visual displays and physical force when necessary. On occasion, simply constructing a nest is sufficient for the male to attract a mate, but when it is not he will court a female with grunts and lead her to his nest.
They continue their courtship dance, swimming with each other around the nest until the female descend to deposit her eggs in the nest. The female will lay 2,000 to 26,000 eggs and leave them for the male to guard. He keeps watch over them until they hatch in three to five days, while protecting them and fanning them with his fins, keeping them clean and providing them with oxygenated water. When they hatch, the fry remain near the nest for a few days, then leave to feed and fend for themselves. After the eggs have hatched, the male will often seek to attract another female to lay her eggs in his nest.
Green sunfish tend to nest in areas close to other green sunfish, as well as other species of sunfish. Due to the close proximity of multiple nests, a green sunfish female may deposit some of her eggs into the nest of a male of a different species. This in turn leads to the next generation containing some amount of hybrids. These green sunfish hybrids will often look like a combination of their parents, often making it difficult to distinguish one species from another
Just around the corner from the Green Sunfish nest I discovered more dragonfly activity. The striking dragonflies in the next three photographs are known as Halloween Pennants.
Just down the hill I found a huge bush covered in small green flower buds. The flowers were attracting an incredible number of nectar collecting Honey Bees. I am not sure what kind of plant this is that the bees were finding so appealing. Perhaps one of my readers will recognize it and clue me in!
House Sparrows like this park because of all of the bread crumbs that are left behind when someone stops by to feed the ducks. Afterwards the sparrows come in and pick the ground clean of any remaining bread. The birds in the pictures below are another example of what I first noted with the Blue Jays earlier in this post. This group of sparrows included a mother bird and her brood of nearly grown fledglings.
Breeding season is coming to a close for most metroplex Mallards, but there are still a few young ducklings to be found around Josey Ranch Lake. In the photographs below you will see a mother duck and her seven offspring. One of the pictures includes a sequence showing a juvenile drinking from the lake water.
Nearby, a male Great-tailed Grackle worked to soften some kind of food item by dunking it repeatedly in the water. It is not clear what it is the grackle is trying to eat, but it appears to be something like a dog treat, or maybe a small piece of caramel candy.
In another part of the park I found this female Mud Dauber searching the low branches of a tree while she was hunting for spiders. Mud Daubers provision their nests with immobilized spiders for their young to feed on while they develop. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this behavior:
Like most other wasps, mud daubers are predators. The females not only build the nests, but also they hunt to provision them. However, pipe-organ mud dauber males have reportedly brought spiders to the nest, and they aid in nest guarding.
Black and yellow mud daubers primarily prey on relatively small, colorful spiders, such as crab spiders (and related groups), orb weavers and some jumping spiders. They usually find them in and around vegetation. Blue mud daubers are the main predator of the black and brown widow spiders.
Adults of both sexes frequently drink flower nectar, but they stock their nests with spiders, which serve as food for their offspring. Like connoisseurs, they prefer particular kinds of spiders, and particular sizes of spiders for their larders. Instead of stocking a nest cell with one or two large spiders, mud daubers cram as many as two dozen small spiders into a nest cell. They appear to know exactly what they are hunting for, and where to find it.
Pipe-organ mud daubers generally provision their nests with various kinds of orb weavers, but their diets includes other kinds of spiders, as well. Blue mud daubers prefer immature black widow spiders and their relatives. They hunt them in dry areas, such as outbuildings, rocky areas and stone piles.
To capture a spider, the wasp grabs it and stings it into submission. The venom from the sting does not kill the spider, but paralyzes and preserves it so it can be transported and stored in the nest cell until consumed by the larva. A mud dauber usually lays its egg on the prey item and then seals it into the nest cell with a mud cap. It then builds another cell or nest. Missouri’s mud daubers generally have two generations per year. The young survive the winter inside the nest.
An ever present Northern Mockingbird kept a close eye on me while I was observing the Mud Dauber.
There was quite a bit of Nutria activity at the park on this afternoon as well. I saw numerous individual animals. The Nutria population at the lake seems to have become more and more eager to partake of the bread park patron bring to feed the ducks. Many of the Nutria will swim right up to the edge off the water where you are standing in the hopes that you might have a loaf to share with them.
In another part of the park I was surprised to see a Nutria emerge form the woods in a place I wouldn’t ordinarily have expected to find one. This intrepid Nutria and I saw each other at roughly the same time. He pause momentarily to consider me, and then boldly continued about his business. He pasted just a few feet away from me as he made his way along the margins.
Some of you may remember the multiple snakes gathered around a small waterhole that I reported on a few weeks ago. The temporary pool contained a number of stranded fish, that had no way to escape. This created a buffet style smorgasbord for the snakes that had stumbled across the unique situation, and they were eagerly taking advantage of it.
Well, much can change in just one week. On my return visit I found the water gone and with it any remaining fish and snakes. See the picture below. The video that follows contains a recording of the activity observed the week before when the snakes and fish were still present.
Red-eared Slider turtles are frequently seen in the metroplex, but it is often hard to get a good look at one. They get their name from their propensity to quickly “slide” into the water whenever they feel threatened. Around here, a fleeting glimpse followed by a splash of water is often the only indication you get that a Red-eared Slider was in the vicinity. Only rarely do these turtles stay out of the water and allow themselves to be observed at close range. I got lucky on this visit, and all three of the turtles in the photographs below cooperated with my efforts quite nicely!
A Red-winged Blackbird watched me carefully as I was photographing the turtles. I always enjoy seeing these starkly black birds with their bold red and yellow shoulder patches.
Red-eared Sliders were not the only species of turtle active at the lake on this afternoon. Big female Spiny Softshell Turtles were unusually restless, and I saw many of them as I made my way around the water’s edge. Females of this species grow much larger than the males, and many of the turtles I observed had shells well over a foot in diameter. Spiny Softshell Turtles reportedly lay their eggs late in the summer, and perhaps these were getting an early start. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the Spiny Softshell Turtle:
The recognized subspecies differ in the markings on the carapace, on the sides of the head, and on the feet. However, these markings, which are distinct in hatchlings, fade as the turtles grow larger. Adult females of the various subspecies, which grow larger than males, are not easily distinguishable from one another, and sometimes can only be assigned to a particular subspecies based on geography
Spiny softshells begin mating between ages 8 and 10. A large female turtle may live up to 50 years. The turtles mate in mid-to-late spring in deep water. The male will nudge the female’s head while swimming, and if she chooses to mate, the male will swim above the female without clasping her with his claws (unlike other turtles). A few months later, the female turtle quickly lays her eggs along a sunny sandbar or gravel bank in a flask-shaped cavity she has dug close to the water. The turtle nests more than once during a single season. She can lay between 9 and 38 round, calcareous-shelled eggs. The eggs are laid around August and September, and they hatch in the spring. Unlike in other turtles, in the spiny softshell turtle, the sex of the hatchlings is not determined by temperature variations; it is determined by genetics.
Under a small pedestrian bridge I noticed the two juvenile fish in the following photograph. They are likely Spotted Bass. On the concrete bridge abutment I found a basking Texas Spiny Lizard. He was enjoying soaking up the sun, and allowed me a good long look at him.
Down by the creek I found this family of Great Crested Flycatchers. I believe the birds in the pictures are nearly grown fledglings still following their mother around. Its the same story recounted earlier with the Blue Jays and House Sparrows.
Near a drainage culvert I discovered these two Western Mosquitofish. These fish are very similar in many ways to guppies sold in pet shops. They are notable in that they bear their young live rather than by laying eggs.
Nearby a White-wing Dove was seen drinking from the water at the head of the culvert, while a Widows Skimmer dragonfly was perched on the bordering vegetation.
I will wrap up this post with some photographs that a family friend shared with me. The following Coyote pictures were taken in a nearby Carrollton neighborhood. The Coyote was moving through a residential subdivision at around 10:00 O’clock in the morning. Urban Coyotes typical prefer to do their wandering after dark, so seeing one at this time of day is a bit unusual—although not entirely unheard of.
I have discovered Coyotes in almost every established neighborhood I have surveyed in the metroplex. They make themselves at home in our subdivisions, business parks, and retail areas. The Trinity River and its many tributaries provide the greenbelts needed for Coyotes to move about the city and to colonized new areas.
Coyotes are living with us. You probably have a pack residing near your home or office. Fortunately, these canines prefer to avoid human contact and are very good at staying out of sight and out of trouble. They rarely cause problems and are generally no cause for concern. It’s really quite a privilege to get to see one!