The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, January 08, 2006

2006, A New Year and a Look Ahead
by Ro Wauer

What can be expected in the New Year? Although it is impossible to know for sure what we will experience in our human relations and how our politics and world events will shape up in 2006, Mother Nature is far more predictable. It is the one facet of our lives, at least for those of us who spend time outdoors enjoying nature, that we can depend upon. It is that solid anchor so many of us need for balance and harmony. It is something that many folks, especially those that live only to "keep up with the Joneses," never understand and are poorer for it.

In my book, "Naturally South Texas" (Univ. Texas, 2001), a series of Nature Notes from the Coastal Bend that were published in the Advocate during the 1990s, I included a natural history calendar. That calendar, in an attempt to guide us through the year, includes the following: JANUARY is our coldest month, cardinals begin to sing, bald eagles nest, wintering butterflies appear at early flowering shrubs, and live oak caterpillars appear in the oaks. In FEBRUARY, spring is in the air, first purple martins return, redbud trees flower, first neotropical migrants appear, Spanish daggers bloom, crane flies appear, and huisache trees flower in mass.

MARCH days usually are warm and sunny, ruby-throated hummingbirds appear, cliff swallows return to nest sites, scissor-tailed flycatchers return, spring solstice, robin and waxwing flocks pass through, striped skunks start hunting mates, neotropical migrants increase, bald eagles head north, and watch out for chiggers. In APRIL, wildflowers peak, whooping cranes leave Aransas, neotropical migrants continue to increase, chimney swifts return to our neighborhoods, first fireflies are active during evening hours, and mesquite leaves green up. In MAY, northbound migrants peak the first few days, retamas produce bright yellow flowers, barred owl youngsters are out and about, yellow-billed cuckoo calls are commonplace, and camel crickets can be abundant.

In JUNE, copperheads are again out and about, bald cypress trees are in full summer dress, painted buntings are commonplace, crested caracara young are in training, longest day of the year, and wood storks appear in our wetlands. JULY thunderstorms can be expected, July 4th butterfly counts, early southbound shorebirds appear, wild grapes ripen and are eaten by wildlife and humans, and daddy longlegs come out of hiding. AUGUST is our hottest month, garden spiders become numerous, praying mantises increase, Mississippi kites appear over our towns, fairy rings arise after each storm, southbound migrants increase, and tropical storms are possible.

SEPTEMBER is the wettest month, field crickets can be abundant, southbound ruby-throated hummingbird are everywhere, bald eagles return to their nesting grounds, last of the ruby-throated hummingbirds move south, eastern phoebes return for the winter months, and a significant hawk migration gets underway. In OCTOBER, peregrine falcons return, leafcutter ants are especially active, monarch butterflies are migrating south en masse, sandhill cranes begin to arrive, flocks of white pelicans appear in the skies, and red admiral butterflies appear.

In NOVEMBER, cooling trends are noticeable, numbers of snow and white-fronted geese appear, early whooping cranes arrive at Aransas, "butter-butts" return for the winter, fall color appears on a few oaks and other broadleaf trees, and red berries appear on several shrubs. In DECEMBER, the holiday spirit prevails, winter solstice, and Christmas bird counts dominate the last days of the month.

The outdoors is a fragile environment. We cannot continue to destroy the natural resources that have so far ensured our prosperity. We need to protect our resources, to understand their values. African conservationist Baba Dioum expressed that logic best: "For in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."

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