Texas Flycatchers: A New Collection

Least Flycatcher at Lafitte's Cove during spring migration 2013
Least Flycatcher at Lafitte’s Cove, Galveston Island, Texas during spring migration 2013. Canon EOS 7D/600 f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). High-speed synchronized fill-flash.

Surely flycatchers must be counted among the most interesting birds to watch as they “hawk” insects from mid-air above land or water, or swoop down to the grass to snatch prey and then return to their perches to consume it. In this new collection, we include images primarily from the Texas Gulf Coast and Rio Grande Valley. Enjoy!

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.–E. O. Wilson

©2013 Christopher R. Cunningham and Elisa D. Lewis. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.

Waders Will Continue to Surprise the Attentive Birder with Diverse Hunting and Fishing Strategies

Crouching Green Heron at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Green Heron Crouching Low on American Lotus Leaf. Perhaps to remain invisible to fish swimming near the surface, this Green Heron rested on its toes and feet close to water level. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Elm Lake, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas, natural light.

Even after several years of frequent wader-watching at Brazos Bend, these birds continue to reveal new tricks in their extensive repertoire of hunting strategies. Recently I observed a Green Heron resting on an American Lotus leaf. Green Herons are common at Brazos Bend, and they can often be seen hunting and fishing from aquatic vegetation and partly submerged logs. Birds usually stand on their toes. What was interesting in this case was that the bird was crouching low, resting on its toes and feet (digits and tarsometatarsi, respectively) near the edge of the plant. The bird peeked over the edge of the leaf, studied the surface of the water, and every so often shot out its long neck and snatched a small fish from near the surface of the water. Was the bird hiding from the fish below or studying the fish-produced ripples on the surface of the water, or both? In any case, it was fun to watch.

Nitpicking Green Heron at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Nitpicking Green Heron at Elm Lake, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC).

Waders are great preeners, constantly cleaning and fussing with their feathers. Usually preening means that the action is over for a while–so the photographer interested in capturing hunting and fishing scenes may just as well move on to another bird. However, this summer I caught a Green Heron using the brilliant sunlight to find snacks on its wings. The bird, shown above, held its wings up to the sun. The light streaming through the feathers presumably allowed the bird to spot parasites, pick them off, and eat them. Pretty neat: dining at home!

Snowy Egret bubbling and crouching at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Snowy Egret Bubbling and Crouching at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. This bird is blowing bubbles and making ripples that seem to attract prey, including fish. In this case, the egret is crouching with one foot on a submerged log, the other on the bottom. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). High-speed synchronized fill-flash.

This summer at least one Snowy Egret spent a lot of time blowing bubbles (and making ripples). This bubbling clearly activity attracted a variety of prey, mostly small fish, that were quickly snapped up. Once, the bubbling attracted something that was too big to handle. I saw a disturbance in the water, and the bird ran away squawking–perhaps a big gar or bowfin came slithering up? I also caught a bubbling Snowy Egret resting on its toes and feet on a log (shown below).

A Snowy Egret rests on its tarsometatarsi to hunt at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Crouching Snowy Egret. This Snowy Egret rests on its feet and toes to hunt via bubble-blowing at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. A few bubbles can still be seen on the surface of the water. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC).

Although wary and uncooperative photographic subjects, Cattle Egrets are common in the grassy areas–and occasionally at the waters’ edge–at Brazos Bend. One day I saw a group of half a dozen Cattle Egrets stalking through the brush like a gang of young toughs grabbing dragonflies and spiders and whatever else moved. They strolled along together, a few feet apart, though the understory vegetation. If one bird flushed or disturbed a prey item an adjacent bird got a crack at it. Grasshoppers, spiders, dragonflies, maybe the occasional frog–down the hatch! Co-operation: it works!

Cattle Egret at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Cattle Egret Hunting Dragonflies and Spiders at Brazos Bend State Park. Photo taken at Pilant Slough. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). High-speed synchronized fill-flash.

There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing  on the shore like an idiot.—Steven Wright

©2013 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.

Additions to Collections: Stalking the Hunters and Avian Portraits

Over the the past few weeks I have been quietly slipping new images into the Avian Portraits and Stalking the Hunters: Additional Images Collections. Please take a look!

Male Purple Gallinule Portrait, near Pilant Lake, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas.
Portrait: Purple Gallinule near Pilant Lake, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. One of the most spectacular birds in North America, the Purple Gallinule takes an active role in parenting and engages in raucous fights during the spring. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). High-speed synchronized fill-flash.

“To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.”― Ansel Adams

©2013 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.

A Diversity of Menu Items for Waders at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Green Heron with Fishing Spider at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas.
Green Heron with Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) at Brazos Bend State Park. Photo taken near Pilant Slough. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). High-speed synchronized flash.

There has been a bumper crop of fishing spiders this year at Brazos Bend State Park, and I have seen Little Blue Herons and Green Herons eat them, sometimes one spider right after another. Some years it seems as though wader diets consist of a fairly uniform mix of aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates, especially crawfish. This year, rather than crawfish, waders seem to be relying more heavily on smaller invertebrate prey items than in recent years. Lots of aquatic insect larvae, dragonflies, adult aquatic bugs and beetles, and spiders are being consumed along with the occasional small fish, frog, or tadpole.

Little Blue Heron with Dragonfly
Juvenile Little Blue Heron with Swift Long-winged Skimmer Dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) at 40-Acre Lake, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. Juvenile Little Blue Herons are fun to stalk: they are prolific hunters but, being young, they still have a level of naiveté toward humans allowing a close approach. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS. High-speed synchronized fill-flash.

Invertebrates are highly sensitive to environmental conditions of temperature, humidity, and rainfall. This year’s unusually cool, dry spring may have led to a different mix of potential prey for waders. The Upper Texas Gulf Coast is already behind in rainfall for the summer and water levels already appear low, perhaps impacting aquatic vertebrate numbers as well.

Many of the invertebrates (spiders especially) I see waders take are living among the Water Hyacinth that is growing profusely in some areas of the park. Water Hyacinth is native to the Amazon Basin, but has been imported to many areas of the world where it has become a major nuisance by crowding out and shading native plants and choking waterways.

Water Hyacinth at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Beautiful Invasive: Common Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) at Brazos Bend State Park. Water Hyacinth is costly and troublesome for land managers. Mechanical, chemical, and biological mechanisms for its control have been devised and employed worldwide.

Besides keeping an eye (and a lens) out for interesting wader predator-prey relationships, I am always on the look-out for hunting techniques. For example, Snowy Egrets are known for shuffling their bright yellow feet in the shallows to flush out prey. Several times over the past weeks I have seen a Snowy Egret (I think it was the same bird) employing a bubble-blowing technique on Elm Lake. This bird was (presumably) blowing bubbles to attract prey. Perhaps the bubbling simulates a small struggling animal, attractive to fish and other aquatic predators. Between bouts of bubbling, this bird also opened and closed its beak, a fishing technique I have seen employed by Black-crowned Night-Herons and Great Egrets, and one that also sends ripples out into the water. One time during this process this Snowy Egret grabbed a small aquatic invertebrate–it was down the hatch too fast to tell for sure what it was, although it was about the right size and shape for a water tiger (larval predaceous diving beetle). On another occasion, the egret was clearly catching small fish with this technique. Time will tell if anything bigger can be attracted by blowing bubbles!

Snowy Egret blowing bubbles at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Snowy Egret Blowing Bubbles at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. Photo taken at Elm Lake. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS. High-speed synchronized flash.

©2013 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.

Settling for Reptiles and Flowers (For Now)

Given the fantastic spring we had last year, I had very high songbird hopes for this spring. Many I have spoken to in the field, however, have had, like me, a disappointing spring thus far. Some serious birders I have spoken to have described this spring as “strange” or  “weird” and attempted to spin personal theories about wind and weather misdirecting birds away from their normal trajectories. There were times last year at this time when Edith L. Moore, for example, was hopping with warblers. Of course, most of the spring still remains, and hope springs eternal.

This past weekend we visited Pelican Island, the Corps Woods, and Edith L. Moore. I saw a Blue-headed Vireo at the latter, and that was about it, other than extremely common Gulf Coast resident birds. Botanically, Pelican Island was the Garden of Eden, and I did enjoy some floral macrophotography. We have apparently had a bumper crop of herps this year, however. Lizards and other reptiles are common sights and sounds as they rummage around in the leaf litter. Now as fond as I am of herps (having spent most of my childhood stalking them through swamps and forests and having taken several herpetology courses in college and graduate school), let’s face it: they are no substitute for birds. At this point, the only herp I would be excited to see would be the one thrashing around in the beak of a wader, shrike, or raptor!

Great Egret with juvenile five-lined skink at Lafitte's Cove, Galveston Island, Texas.
Great Egret with Juvenile Five-lined Skink at Lafitte’s Cove, Galveston Island, Texas. This bird was hunting lizards in a dry, fully terrestrial, grassy area–not the water’s edge, where one typically sees waders taking prey.

As I write this the weather forecast looks fantastic for the weekend. A massive cold front has just pushed all the dreary, humid slop out to sea, leaving behind blazing cobalt skies–perfect for illuminating the glowing hues of warblers, vireos, and orioles among the flowers. But not herps. Hear me Fates . . . please not herps!

Acacia constricta at Pelican Island, Texas
Acacia constricta (whitethorn) at Pelican Island, Texas. Pelican Island was dotted with flowering honeysuckle, evening primrose, and mulberry trees in fruit last weekend. Birds were in short supply, however. Hand-held with 100mm f/2.8L IS macro/high-speed synchronized ring flash.

© 2013 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.


Vermilion Flycatchers are some of our most anticipated fall visitors along the Texas Gulf Coast. Visiting populations migrate east, not south, for the winter bringing the colors of the West with them (their U.S. breeding range includes CA, NV, AZ, NM, and western and central TX). This flycatcher’s scientific name says it all – Pyrocephalus rubinus (a reference to the spectacular coloration of the male). As if the generic name, Pyrocephalus, or “fire head,” wasn’t enough, the specific name, rubinus, emphasizes the redness of the bird.  One of a few types of so-called “firebirds,” the Vermilion Flycatcher is not only eye-catching, but is energetic and exciting to watch, just like other flycatcher species. Three vermilions – a male, female, and juvenile male –  thoroughly captivated us last weekend at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) headquarters.

This view of the male highlights why this bird is nicknamed “firebird.” Notice the subtle orange-red color variation and the crown feathers–like licking flames. I did not alter the image other than cropping.

The female provided the best viewing opportunity as she perched within 12-15 feet of me. I had the luxury of settling in and studying her behavior for almost an hour. Between bouts of preening, she tracked insects as they flew by – sometimes it appeared as if she were watching a tennis match. Why wasn’t she going after them? Then, all of a sudden, she took off and grabbed one out of the air. What was it about that last fly by? Was it the insects’ speed, trajectory, size, or proximity  that finally made the difference? Or some combination? And then again: track, track, track, go!  It reminded me of playing duck, duck, goose as a child. As I went around the circle, patting the heads of my classmates, I was calculating . . . who could I outrun?

Was the flycatcher calculating? The literature seems to suggest that the Vermilion Flycatcher always gets his/her prey. If the initial attack is unsuccessful, the prey “may be pursued in an erratic acrobatic chase until capture” (Wolf and Jones 2000, 5). Though the research sample is small, it does makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Individuals most efficient (or dogged if necessary) at capturing prey (we could call it flight/eye coordination), will most likely live the longest and leave the greatest numbers of offspring edging the overall average toward a more and more efficiently predatory population.

When watching flycatchers, one can be excused for anthropomorphizing. They often cock their heads with apparent curiosity, and just about ooze charm. Flycatchers seem to delight in taking a particularly big or juicy bug–male Vermilion Flycatchers have been seen presenting potential mates with large, showy gifts–like butterflies. That would be an awesome image indeed — the handoff of a nuptial gift of an insect gem from a male Vermilion Flycatcher to his lady. Stay tuned! I will be watching for it next season in their breeding territory.

Female Vermillion Flycatcher at Anahuac NWR, Texas
This female Vermilion Flycatcher was hunting in open grassy areas on the edge of a dense thicket at Anahuac NWR. Notice the faint wash of red on her crown–not all female Vermilion Flycatchers show this extra blush of color.


Wolf, B.O., and S.L. Jones. 2000. Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus). In The Birds of North America, No. 484 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, P.A.


© 2012 Elisa D. Lewis. All rights reserved.
No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.


Birding the Spectacular Thickets of the Texas Gulf Coast in Fall

Thicket at Anahuac NWR
A thicket at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Texas Gulf Coast. This densely vegetated area was hopping with Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Phoebes, and Swamp Sparrows.

Fall is an incredible time to bird the Texas Gulf Coast: migrants are returning or passing through, the plants are changing colors, mornings are cool, and the bugs are on the way out–but not all the way out, lest our beloved insect-eaters keep moving! Some of the most exciting environments to bird at this time of year are the densely-tangled thickets near the numerous waterways of the region. We especially love to bird Brazos Bend State Park, Sabine Woods, and Anahuac NWR (both the Skillern and Main tracts) at this time of year. Thickets in these areas are challenging for photography most of the year, but in fall are literally hopping in places with insectivorous birds.

Fall shedding of leaves leads to an opening up of possibilities for photography: the dense (often frustrating) greenery of summer, sometimes making it impossible to photograph shy, secretive thicket species is slowly breaking up. Splashes of color now punctuate images, and the amber and reddish glow of autumnal mornings and evenings tint backgrounds.

Common Yellowthroat at Pilant Lake, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Young Common Yellowthroat in Fall Morning Light. Photo taken at Pilant Lake, Brazos Bend State Park.

The explosion of insect-eaters during the fall migration is a reminder that the mass migrations of birds are all about the flow of solar energy. As the supply of warm-weather prey dwindles in the northern latitudes the bug-eaters must move south in search of their (mostly) ectothermic prey. The Texas Gulf Coast stays warm enough throughout the winter to keep a supply of insects large enough to support a large population of flycatchers, especially Eastern Phoebes, that can be seen perched on branches over water or open grassy areas. They flit down, grab an insect and then return to their perch to dine. A spectacular sight  to behold is a Phoebe grabbing a butterfly on the wing. Surprisingly, they ingest the whole insect, wings and all. One wonders how much nutritional value a butterfly wing has, though. Vermilion Flycatchers exhibit similar behavior in these thicket environments, but a discussion of these beautiful little birds must await Elisa’s next post!

Myrtle Warbler at Anahuac NWR, Texas
 Audubon’s Warbler Against Fall Colors at Anahuac NWR.  This locality is in East Texas, a place where one doesn’t normally see Audubon’s Warblers. Perhaps this bird is a Myrtle-Audubon’s hybrid? Shot hand-held Canon 7D EOS with 300mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC).

© 2012 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.

Why Birders Should Care About the Global Amphibian Crisis

Little Blue Heron with tadpole at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Little Blue Heron with Tadpole at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas Gulf Coast.

Over the past several decades the diversity and abundance of Amphibia have declined precipitously: estimates for the amphibian extinction rate range from tens to tens of thousands of times the typical background rate of species loss. Despite conservation efforts (Amphibian Ark) and some publicity, most people I speak to are completely unaware of this catastrophic decline. Over the past decade or so, it has become clear that there are several major causes. The most important appears to be habitat loss. As freshwater swamps and marshes are drained to build the endless suburban sprawl of tract housing, and forests are bulldozed into the chippers, amphibian habitats are dwindling. Acidification of lakes and ponds, other forms of pollution, and an infectious fungal disease (chytridiomycosis), are also implicated.

American Bullfrog at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
American Bullfrog (Rana catesbiana) at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. American Bullfrogs are an abundant food source for waders along the Texas Gulf Coast. Luckily, bullfrogs appear to have resistance to chytridiomycosis.

Many think that the reason amphibians have been among the hardest hit groups in the current anthropogenic mass extinction event (the Holocene mass extinction) is because these animals have aquatic larval stages and a terrestrial or amphibious adult stage, and can be negatively impacted by changes in both the aquatic and terrestrial environments. The process of metamorphosis, which typically occurs in an aquatic environment (or at least an aqueous one–think about the bromeliad treefrog!), is biochemically sensitive. For these reasons, some refer to amphibians as the “canaries in the coal mine” of ecosystems.

Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Northern Red-legged Frog (Rana aurora) at Olympic National Park, Washington. In some places, the ground-cover vegetation of the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest is alive with amphibians.

As a photographer, one of my favorite subjects is hunting waders: please see Stalking the Hunters. Along with fish, crawfish, and aquatic insects, amphibians (primarily frogs and tadpoles, and to a lesser extent salamanders) form a staple of the wader diet. Other predatory birds, Loggerhead Shrikes, for example, also eat amphibians. Shrikes are fascinating birds known to kill their prey by impaling it on sharp objects, usually thorns. On one, and only one, occasion we heard what we thought was a frog call coming from above. We looked up to notice a Loggerhead Shrike on wire over a frog-filled bayou. Was this a simple case of mimicry? Or deception—trying to get a frog to divulge its location? Research turned up no mention of Loggerheads making frog calls. Shrikes are known to deceive each other away from kills with frightening false alarm calls–so they’re not above trickery. The Asian Rufous-backed Shrike is an accomplished mimic, and, of course, the Northern Mockingbird is known to mimic frog calls, but a Loggerhead Shrike? We will continue to keep our eyes and ears peeled for this phenomenon.  If we heard what what we think we heard, we hope the time a Shike’s frog-call goes unanswered never comes.

Shrike-impaled Green Tree Frog on rose thorn, Sabine Woods, Texas
Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea) on Rose Thorn. Elisa captured this macabre image of a Loggerhead Shrike-impaled tree frog at Sabine Woods, Texas Gulf Coast. The shrike had just killed this frog and a mouse, whose decapitated body was impaled on some more rose thorns and whose head was impaled on some nearby barbed wire. As soon as Elisa finished the shoot and walked away, the shrike returned and reclaimed the mouse’s head.

 © 2012 Christopher R. Cunningham and Elisa D. Lewis. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.

Insect Oasis

Portrait of a Hermit Thrush on the beach at Galveston, Texas
This Hermit Thrush emerged from a patch of cane along the eastern tip of Galveston Island.

I was a bit surprised to see this Hermit Thrush hop out of the cane patch I was hiding in last weekend on the east end of Galveston Island. I’ve only seen Hermit Thrushes in their typical habitat—the understory of coniferous or deciduous forests. Instead of rummaging through moist leaf litter, this little one hunted a sea of sand punctuated by 12-foot-tall bamboo stalks. Was it lost?  I don’t think so. . . . It was keeping good company. In the course of less than an hour, I observed an Eastern Phoebe and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet find a variety of tasty insects and spiders. Also, just the week before, I spotted a Swamp Sparrow and a female Indigo Bunting and Redstart in the same small patch. Hmmmmmm.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet hunting at Galveston Island, Texas
I observed this Ruby-crowned Kinglet fishing spiders out of nooks and crannies.
Eastern Phoebe perched on giant river cane on Galveston Island, Texas
I spotted this Eastern Phoebe using cane as a hunting perch.













Questioning how this cane patch could be an insect-rich oasis for migrating and wintering birds led to a little research project (as do many of our outings). I had always assumed these patches of cane scattered on the beach and coastal waterways were foreign and invasive. Since non-natives don’t typically support complex ecosystems, I initially turned my nose up at them. (Invasive plant species often provide cover and water but do not support a wide diversity of prey species required for a complex food web.) As it turns out, Arundinaria, our only native bamboo, is endemic to the eastern half of the US.

With newfound respect, I look forward to a much more enlightened investigation of these remnant coastal bamboo “forests.” If you decide to venture into the cane, don’t forget your snake boots!

© 2012 Elisa D. Lewis. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.

Conspicuous Consumption?

Black and yellow garden spider with grasshopper
This female Argiope aurantia (aka, the black and yellow garden spider or writing spider) easily subdues a grasshopper that launched itself into her web after an unlucky jump.

While most visitors to Brazos Bend State Park keep an eye trained on the water for alligators, I seek the park’s lesser championed predators suspended in plain sight along swampy summer paths. But it wasn’t until I spotted this Argiope tending to her prey late last month that I realized we had missed the usual spider-o-rama fest that normally occurs late each summer and early fall – or did it miss us? A conversation with one of the park’s excellent naturalists confirmed that this has been a bad year for the conspicuous black and yellow spiders that typically drape the pathways with their giant webs. Two species’ females with this general description are readily observed–Argiope aurantia pictured above, and Nephila clavipes the golden silk orb weaver or banana spider, shown below.

The golden silk spider is known for its gold-colored silk that the female spins into webs reaching up to 3 feet in diameter. Visitors to Brazos Bend State Park can typically see large concentrations of these spiders along paths bordering swamps from late summer to early fall.

Why would spider populations plummet in one year’s time?

Could it be that last year’s drought put these spiders (most likely prey of last resort given their warning coloration and the danger of entanglement) in the precarious position of being the most conspicuous food source around for hungry, desperate birds? Perhaps the effect was compounded by a collapse of the arthropod food web?

In any case, we’ll be watching spider populations next season.

New Additions to Collections

Although being in the field regularly is always preferable, bad weather and the threat of bad weather have kept me indoors of late. Birding time has been transformed into computer time: additional images have been added to the Stalking the Hunters: Additional ImagesTexas Ducks, and Galveston Island Birds collections. Expect more in the near future.

Loggerhead Shrike with snake at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas.
This Loggerhead Shrike has just seized a snake. Shrike numbers increase significantly during the cooler months at Brazos Bend State Park. Shrikes, like other birds with black masks are challenging to photograph: the light has to be just right to capture a catchlight and a well-defined eyeball. Photo taken near water’s edge, Pilant lake.
Thermoregulating Great Blue Heron at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Thermoregulating Great Blue Heron? at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. Herons and egrets can be seen occasionally in this sort of pose on hot, sunny days. It has been speculated that this is related to thermoregulation, but to my knowledge the details remain obscure. On the sweltering days when I see this sort of behavior, it would seem that warming up in the sun would be the last thing a bird would want to do–unless they are sterilizing parasites or pathogens thermally while employing gular fluttering or “panting” to keep their brains from frying. Photo taken at Pilant Lake.

 © 2012 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.

Fly vs. Fly

When the sun is high in the sky and the light isn’t conducive for bird photography, I like to bust out the macro lens and look for smaller wonders. I found this robber fly taking a break among the scrubby beach vegetation while its neurotoxic, proteolytic saliva paralyzes and chemically digests the insides of its current victim. Charming. It’s a good thing (for us) that these flying assassins exclusively prey upon arthropods – mostly other insects at that.

Robber fly predator with fly prey
Robber flies frequently make meals of other flies. Galveston Island (East End), Big Reef Nature Park, Texas