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Photos in the May 2015 issue
This Month's Features
There are plenty of lovely avian contenders for the list.
By Cliff Shackelford
Whoever came up with the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” was quite a diplomat, but I had to throw diplomacy out the window when selecting our state’s 12 most beautiful birds. Just think, Texas has nearly 640 species, and only 12 of them, or less than 2 percent, could make the cut!
Some readers will wonder why I omitted some extra-popular beauties like the cedar waxwing, wood duck, blue jay, northern cardinal and painted bunting. Sorry, but sometimes a bunch of bling — I’m looking at you, Mr. Painted Bunting — is just too much. About a century and a half ago, John James Audubon declared that the painted bunting was spectacularly colored but simply too gaudy. Who am I to disagree with one of our country’s all-time masters of bird art?
As an ornithologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, I love all birds. If diplomacy was my only consideration, I’d give the honor to all Texas birds and call it a 639-way tie.
Of course, there are lots of lovely avian contenders for the most beautiful list. The “beauty” of it is that every time I go afield, I see things differently and have new favorites. After all, Mother Nature has provided us with many stunning treats just waiting to be observed and enjoyed.
With no more apologies, here — in my opinion — are the 12 most beautiful birds in Texas.
Snakes can be frightening, but only a handful are dangerous in Texas.
By Michael Smith
Somewhere in the woods, a small coil of reddish-tan scales shifts, snuggling up closer to a fallen oak branch that stretches through the leaf litter. A pale red tongue flicks out, testing the air. The copperhead waits patiently for a mouse or a frog to wander close enough to become its next meal. Completely silent and able to remain essentially motionless, the little reptile blends perfectly into the mosaic of leaves on the woodland floor.
Nearby, another copperhead hides under a tarp in a pile of junk. This little snake might have overwintered there, in the lee of a shed, or perhaps it had recently wandered in to eat a mouse. In any case, this particular copperhead is about to change Johnny Kratky’s life. It is Kratky’s tarp, and today is the day he has decided to clear out the junk. After pulling the tarp off, he reaches down for the first piece of debris and his finger is hit with a sting “like a red wasp.” Kratky sees the copperhead, and his wife drives him to the hospital, 45 minutes away in Fort Worth.
This state program unleashes the artist in all of us.
By Chris Holmes
There is an artist in everyone, Daddy,” my 8-year-old son Charlie informs me one day as I struggle to comprehend how he could produce such a masterpiece in his art class.
“Art is everywhere, but it’s best in nature,” he explains patiently and profoundly. “That’s why I love going to the parks.”
I take a long, hard look at this 4-foot-tall, previously unwise, smelly (but cute) animal. And, not for the first time, the innocent perceptions of the young spawn a wonderful notion. As director for interpretation, education and outreach for Texas state parks, what do I know about art? Unfazed, I decide at that moment to start an “art in the parks” initiative for Texas.