27 de junio de 2021

San Luis Pass, Galveston County, TX - Masked Booby and Walkingsticks (6/26/2021)

My 6 year old kid had the idea today of heading to the coast to look for shells and other coastal life. We had in mind to go to Bolivar Flats Audubon Sanctuary so we drove down I-45 from Houston. About half way down, my kid yelled, "Stop the car!". He spotted a beetle crawling on the passenger seat while I was barrelling down the freeway at 70 mph. I could not see the beetle as it was behind me, but he knew that we hadn't seen this beetle before. We pulled over at the Buc-ees to find that we had some type of tree borer on our hands (Chrysobotheris sp.). How it got into my car was a bit mysterious, but discoveries of new insects in my car happen relatively frequently. Sometimes, we set up UV lights to observe insects, and a few insects stowaway when I throw my equipment back in the car. But this is not how this borer hitched a ride. I had been surveying birds the other day in an area where the grass is very high and I was driving with my windows down, only to find a whole zoo of midges, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, Tetragnatha spiders, and many more in my car. I had thought I got rid of all the insects, but somehow missed this borer. My kid decided to hang on to the borer to release back in Houston, where it originally came from.

And then we continued down to the coast, only to find that the wait to cross the Bolivar Ferry was more than 1 hour long (check the Galveston Ferry Twitter Feed for updates). There was just no way I could stomach that, so I decided we should try San Luis Pass, which is on the west end of Galveston Island. I was thinking there would be less people there. Of course, when we arrived, we found the beach was covered with thousands of beach-goers and their heavy duty trucks. The first thing we did was drive on the bay side of the barrier island. One navigates through a maze of dirt tracks made by beach-goers and fishermen. These tracks go through what was once undisturbed spartina grass. Because of recent rains, many parts of the tracks were flooded. We stopped by one to look at all the fiddler crabs. Meadowlarks were singing while beach-goers were blaring their music. We walked along the edge of these puddles and found numerous tiger beetles racing (and flying) across the edge of the water. My kid had a net and sweeped the puddle. We were quite surprised to find an abundance of boatmen (Tribe Corixini). I did not realize boatmen could do so well in brackish water, living side-by-side with the fiddler crabs.

After puddling, we turned our attention to the spartina grass. Mixed in the grass were a few Baccharis bushes. We could hear katydids calling, but we were not able to find one. Then I spot a large wooden pallet resting in the grass, and I suggested that we lift it carefully to see if there might be a snake beneath. I told my kid to step back while I carefully lifted the pallet. As it went up, my kid screamed in elation, and I looked underneath. There were four bizarre looking insects. Large brown insects that blended in with the wooden pallet. Making sure there were no snakes, we got our net to catch this bizarre creature for closer inspection. Immediately, my kid started screaming "Tree Lobster". I didn't know what a tree lobster was, but the insect looked like a walking stick, although not one I had ever seen in Texas. Turns out, my kid had been watching Wild Krats, an educational cartoon show about nature. They had done a segment on the Lord Howe Tree Lobster, a large walking stick from an island in the south Pacific. Indeed, this bug looked like slightly smaller version of the Lord Howe Tree Lobster. As I pulled out the walkingstick, my kid noted that we should be careful because it can squirt a milky toxic substance as a defensive mechanism. Sure enough, he noticed some whitish substance oozing out from just behind the back of the head.

We took a few pictures and put the walkingstick back into the vegetation and watched it walk around for a while. Our walkingstick had another walkingstick hanging on to its posterior. I initially thought it was a baby because it was substantially smaller. It turns out that the female is gigantic and the male is tiny, and they were mating. They stuck together the entire time. When we looked back underneath the pallet, we found several more walkingsticks, all paired up. Looks like a group of them congregated there to mate.

After our exciting find, we headed to the seashore side of the barrier island. If you're looking for nature, it really isn't the place to go in the summer. Thousands of beach-goers, lots of noise, and one must be careful not to get hit by some drunk guy on an ATV. But my kid wanted to play on the beach, so we drove down looking for an opening, and preferably an opening where I didn't think I would get nasty stares or threatened. No chance in finding someone that looks like me, so you just try to avoid the parties with some of those unwelcoming flags. As we were driving down, we saw a bird sitting on the beach next to a group with a "F--k Biden" flag. There hadn't been a single bird on the beach because almost every inch was taken by beach-goers, so this lone bird seemed quite out of place. I was amazed it hadn't been run over yet. As we drove closer, it became apparent it was a Masked Booby, an immature one. We jumped out of the car and immediately started taking pictures. This bird is regular in the Gulf of Mexico, but it is a pelagic bird, preferring the open ocean, beyond the shelf. So to get one along the coast is very unusual. Chances are that this bird was a bit sick. We approached to see how sick it might be, but as we did, it flew down the beach, right in front of some beach-goers and then landed in the water, floating alongside a man doing the same. I think they even looked at each other briefly.

At this point, I realized it was probably time to leave as people were staring at us. Maybe they just thought we were odd - birders often get odd stares. I'm sure everyone out there is a nice person, but I didn't want to take a chance with my kid. Two Asian-looking guys, one with a long telephoto lens... well, best to get out that area.

San Luis Pass is really a great place to look for birds and other wildlife, but best to come early in the morning or on a weekday as the summer crowds drive just about all the birds away.

Word of caution: Lots of loose sand, so drive carefully in the area, or make sure you have 4WD just in case.

Publicado el 27 de junio de 2021 a las 04:15 PM por cintylee cintylee | 7 observaciones | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario