The Colony Shoreline Trail in October 2012
The familiar Great Blue Heron is the largest in North America. It is a large bird, with a slate-gray body, chestnut and black accents, and very long legs and neck. In flight, it looks enormous, with a six-foot wingspan. Adults sport a shaggy ruff at the base of their necks. A black eyebrow extends back to black plumes emerging from the head. Juveniles have a dark crown with no plumes or ruff, and a mottled neck. In flight, a Great Blue Heron typically holds its head toward its body with its neck bent.
Adaptable and widespread, the Great Blue Heron is found in various habitats. When feeding, it is usually seen in slow-moving or calm salt, fresh, or brackish water. Great Blue Herons inhabit sheltered, shallow bays and inlets, sloughs, marshes, wet meadows, shores of lakes, and rivers. Nesting colonies are typically found in mature forests, on islands, or near mudflats, and do best when they are free of human disturbance and have foraging areas close by.
Great Blue Herons are often seen flying high overhead with slow wing beats. When foraging, they stand silently along riverbanks, lake shores, or wet meadows, waiting for prey to come by, which they then strike with their bills. They will also stalk prey slowly and deliberately. Although they hunt predominantly daily, they may also be active at night. They are solitary or small-group foragers, but they nest in colonies. Males typically choose shoreline areas for foraging, and females and juveniles forage in more upland areas.
The Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) is a North and South American butterfly in the family Nymphalidae with a wingspan of 31⁄8 – 33⁄8 inches (80 – 85 millimeters). It is orange or brown with black wing borders and small white forewing spots on its dorsal wing surface, and reddish ventral wing surface fairly similar to the dorsal surface. The ventral hindwings have black veins and small white spots in a black border. The male has black androconial scent patch on its dorsal hindwings. It can be found in meadows, fields, marshes, deserts, and at the edges of forests.
This species is possibly a close relative to the similarly colored soldier butterfly (or tropical queen, D. eresimus), in any case, it is not close to the plain tiger (D. chrysippus, African queen) as was long believed. There are seven subspecies.
Females lay one egg at a time on larval host plants. Larvae use these plants as a food source, whereas adult butterflies feed mainly on nectar from flowers. Unpalatability to avian predators is a feature of the butterfly; however, its level is highly variable. Unpalatability is correlated with the level of cardenolides obtained via the larval diet, but other compounds like alkaloids also play a part in promoting distastefulness.
Males patrol to search for females, who may mate up to 15 times a day. Male organs called hair-pencils play an important role in courtship, with males with lower hair-pencil counts being selected against. These hair-pencils may be involved in releasing pheromones during courtship that could attract female mates.
In 2013, one September morning I began my hike I began from the other end of The Colony Shoreline Trail. From there I could get much closer to the lake and saw a lot of wildlife along the way. In the mornings it is warm, but not hot like in the late afternoons in those Texas Summers. So, I got the chance to observe a couple of Turkey Vultures and a Great Blue Heron looking for fish in the lake. I also saw some dragonflies, skippers, little fishes, a Mourning Dove, an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, a couple of Fox Squirrels, and a Question Mark Butterfly. Yep, the Shoreline Trail was busy. It was a nice photo hike.
🌈 In Memory of Ranger, Finley, and Lexi 🌈
Several years back I told Kevin I would go to The Colony Shoreline Trail to look for some deer. Someone tipped me off about a certain area, where I would find some deer activity at sundown. On that night in mid-July, I wanted to see for myself and capture some photos. On the way out, I said: “Honey, I will hunt for deer tonight!” Kevin laughed: “Yeah, shooting with your camera?” “Yep, exactly”, I replied.
At the trail, I looked for some evidence. It didn’t take long until I found deer tracks. I hid behind a bush several feet away from the deer tracks and waited … and waited … and waited. The sun was setting, and I didn’t want to give it too much longer. It felt a little bit spooky, being out there by myself. All of a sudden, I heard something and saw a bush moving across from the creek. I tried to stay as calm as I could to keep my breath low. And then there she was: a doe was standing right in the open. Of course, the wind was blowing in her direction. It was too easy to spot me. Mrs. Doe looked at me for a little while, long enough that I could capture a few photos. And then she jumped back behind the secure bushes. That was it. But I’ve got what I wanted that night. Another night I found out why she was so hesitant. She had two fawns with her.
Arriving back at home, Kevin was resting on the couch. “Honey, I shot a deer tonight.” He looked surprised at me: “You’ve got that deer?” “Yep, I did get it,” I answered proudly. “Wow! First night out and caught it, huh?!” he said. I sat down on the couch and looked at the pictures with him.