The Golden Crescent of South Texas, a fifteen-county region along and inland from the middle Gulf Coast, is often called "the Crossroads" because of its natural diversity. Located in the heart of the Gulf Coast Prairie and Marshes, the area also encompasses the trailing edges of the South Texas Plains, Post Oak Savannah, and Blackland Prairie. This confluence of ecological zones makes it a wonderful place for birding and for observing the changing face of nature, especially during seasonal transitions.
In this book, Ro Wauer describes a typical year in the natural life of South Texas. Using selected entries from his weekly column in the Victoria Advocate newspaper, he discusses numerous topics for each month, from the first appearance of butterflies in January, to alligators making a comeback in July, to the Christmas bird count in December. His observations are filled with intriguing natural history lore, from what sounds mockingbirds will imitate (almost any noise in their neighborhood) to how armadillos swim (by inflating themselves to increase their buoyancy).
Natural History Calendar
It seems to me that I have been writing nature notes for as long as I can remember. Even before high school I wrote short observations about tropical fish that I raised, various birds, snakes, and lizards that I found in a nearby field, an injured American Kestrel that I nursed back to health, and almost anything else that caught my attention. All of those notes have been lost along the way.
Later, when my "fork in the road" led me into the National Park Service, where I worked for thirty-two years before retiring in 1989, I found myself writing nature notes on the various parks in which I worked: Crater Lake, Oregon Caves, Death Valley, Pinnacles, Yosemite, Zion, Big Bend, Bandelier, Great Smoky Mountains, and Virgin Islands.
When the Park Service began to emphasize interpretive outreach, I also began writing nature notes—maybe they should have been called environmental theses—for several local newspapers. It was a good way to inform readers about our parks and environmental concerns, to help people better understand the natural world that we all must depend upon for our longterm subsistence. I felt it was a significant contribution. Perhaps African conservationist Baba Dioum expressed that reasoning 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."
After I retired from the National Park Service, Betty and I moved to Victoria, primarily so that she could be closer to her four sons and their families. South Texas also fit well with my agenda of enjoying the outdoors in what undoubtedly is the best birding area anywhere in the United States. However, it was almost immediately apparent to me that the local newspaper, the Victoria Advocate, did not give adequate attention to the natural world around us. Although news of dramatic natural events was well covered, day-to-day happenings in nature, those things that I happened to be most interested in, were often ignored.
It was almost a year later when visiting with Bill Farnsworth, president of the Golden Crescent Nature Club at the time, about my concern that he suggested that we talkwith Victoria Advocote publisher John Roberts about a weekly nature column. John was immediately interested, and my first note—"Neotropical Migrants Take Wing over Golden Crescent"—appeared on Sunday, April 24, 1994. Although only a handful of notes were written during that first summer due to my extensive travel schedule, my column has appeared every Sunday since then. A few of the early notes were written by other club members, namely Ken Bruns, Joe Crisp, Mark Elwonger, Bill and Judie Farnsworth, Elaine Giessel, and Linda Valdez. I thank them one and all! I also want to thank Sara Hendricks, Liz Dechert, and Chari Prenzler, of the "Life Style" section of the Victoria Advocate, for their editorial assistance.
The Golden Crescent region of South Texas, the principal area covered by the Advocate, includes fifteen counties that extend along the central Gulf Coast from Matagorda County south through Aransas County and west through Karnes, Gonzales, and Fayette Counties. Readership is estimated at 40,000. This region of Texas is often called the "Crossroads" for numerous reasons. Biologically it encompasses four rather distinct ecosystems, all within a mile circle of Victoria: the northeastern edge of the South Texas Plains, the southern edges of the Post Oak Savannah and Blackland Prairie, and the heart of the Gulf Prairie and Marshes.
A closer look at the four zones further explains why the Crossroads contains such an environmental diversity. Considering the bird life only, the nesting ranges of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, American Crow, Blue Jay, and Carolina Chickadee, all common nesting birds in the East, extend only to the southern edge of the Post Oak Savannah and Blackland Prairie. Those edges are generally marked by the San Antonio River.
On the other hand, several South Texas Plains breeding birds are limited by the forested elements of Victoria and northern Calhoun Counties: Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Long-billed Thrasher, and Olive Sparrow. All of these birds are common in South Texas and northeastern Mexico.
Western species that reach our region include the Harris's Hawk, Ladderbacked Woodpecker, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Pyrrhuloxia, and Lesser Goldfinch. And the Gulf Prairie and Marshes zone has only one nesting land bird that is unique, the White-tailed Hawk. It is common throughout the South Texas Plains. Similar things could also be said about all the other animals as well as numerous plant species. The Golden Crescent of South Texas represents a true crossroads of biological affinities.
The idea of incorporating a series of my nature notes into a book is based upon a similar book by Henry Wolf, Jr., another Advocate columnist who has written "Henry's Journals" five days a week since 1979. When I approached Shannon Davies, former acquisition editor at the University of Texas Press, about the idea, she was immediately interested and initiated a written agreement soon afterward.
The next step was to select a series of my nature notes from those already published in the Victoria Advocate. My intention was to provide sufficient topics to cover a full year, chronologically, so that anyone interested in any one month or period of time could learn about what happens in the Golden Crescent region of South Texas during that time frame. Nature notes like these also provide a record of the changes that occur in our region over time.
I hope that the material that follows helps you to better understand and therefore appreciate and help protect our fragile natural world. And finally, a quote from John Harsen Rhoades:
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!
By Roland H. Wauer
Roland H. Wauer, of Victoria, Texas, enjoyed a 32-year career as a National Park Service interpreter, biologist, and Chief of Resource Management. He writes numerous books and newspaper columns on nature.
"I believe this book will be read and enjoyed even by those who have ventured no further afield than a chigger bite as a casualty of a backyard barbecue."
—David H. Riskind, Director, Natural Resources Program, Texas Parks and Wildlife
Scholarly/Technical Book Award, Publisher's Association of the West Book Show