A Nature Note Farewell
by Ro Wauer
For all my life I have been writing about nature. As a very young boy I wrote about my surroundings: tropical fish, grasshoppers, lizards, robins, the changing leaves. I continued writing essays about the natural world throughout my college years. And during my 32-year career with the National Park Service, nature guides and articles were a significant part of my work. Then with retirement in 1989, and moving to Victoria, I began a series of weekly Nature Notes in the Advocate. My belief had long been to “Do more than exist – live; Do more than touch – feel; Do more than look – observe; Do more than listen – understand; Do more than talk – say something!” (John Harsen Rhoades)
And so my Nature Notes included every imaginable topic within my understanding, with the help of my very complete nature library. During those twenty-plus years our Mission Oaks yard provided the principal source of topics. I began by introducing plants to attract hummingbirds; I had been an avid birder for almost half a century. But I soon discovered that the flowering plants were attracting more butterflies than birds. Although I already knew all the birds, my new joy was learning butterflies. And like all field naturalists, I kept records of all the species seen in my yard. Since my first yard bird – a cardinal in June 1989 – to the present (Nov. 2009) I recorded a grand total of 182 species. My butterfly list includes 130 species. Also, my yard herp (reptiles and amphibians) list includes 33 species, and my mammal list a paltry nine species.
In reviewing the birds, butterflies, herps, and mammals that I so enjoyed, they include a number of specialties. Most memorable birds included a number of colorful warblers –blackpoll, Blackburnian, prairie and cerulean – buff-bellied hummingbirds became a full-time resident, an eastern screech-owl raised a family, green jays were sporadic visitors, and a visiting zone-tailed hawk, swallow-tailed kite, pileolated woodpecker, and clay-colored robin were also memorable. Bathing red-shouldered hawks and barred owls were also special.
A few of the most memorable butterflies included yellow and white angled-sulphurs, white-M and striped hairstreaks, red-bordered metalmark, an amazing number of julias, an out of range gray cracker that came to sip on homemade brew, zilpa and brown longtails, Erickson’s white-skipper, and hammock’s skipper. Other invertebrates of note included a variety of dragonflies and damselflies, praying mantises, doodlebugs, leafcutter ants, and garden spiders that weaved amazing webs.
Of the few mammals found in our yard, most memorable were the lone ringtail and the white-tailed deer mother and fawn. We believe that the fawn was actually born in our yard; it was too weak to stand when we first discovered it. But it was soon able to walk away, only to lie down again soon afterwards. Betty and I were able to photograph the newly born fawn and the doe several times when they visited our yard, including the last time when the fawn had lost almost all its spots and had developed tiny knobs where its antlers would soon grow. Our very own Bambi!
Over the years we have received calls from numerous readers to ask about or to inform us about various birds and butterflies seen in their yard. The calls have added immeasurably to the fun of writing Nature Notes on our South Texas wildlife. Purple martins, cardinals, woodcocks, caracaras, green jays, painted buntings, Eurasian collared-doves, and trumpeter swans were some of the subjects of those calls. Butterfly calls of special interest included zebras, a banded orange heliconian, white peacocks, and tawny emperors.
Betty, my wife who has shared our yard and answered so many of your calls, joins me in wishing you all a fond farewell! We are leaving Victoria to move to Bryan. We will be closer to our kids and will be down-sizing from a large house and very large yard. We do plan to install a butterfly garden by spring, and we look forward to exploring new country and finding lesser known places for birds and butterflies.