Shifting Seasons

It may not feel like it, but the seasons are changing in South Texas. With temperatures still hovering around the century mark, it might be a little hard to believe fall is just around the corner, but subtle signs hint of shifting seasons.

Ruby- throated hummingbirds are among the first to divulge that fall is in the air. They are among the earliest to migrate southward, and their vanguard is already slipping thru the chaparral. Pausing briefly to refuel on blooming plants and backyard feeders, they next launch themselves across the Gulf of Mexico, flying nonstop for some 500 miles before making landfall in wintering grounds of southern Mexico.

White-tailed deer also proclaim the change. They are nearing peak antler development, and their light summer coats are beginning to fill out and become darker. In a few short weeks they will begin shedding their velvet, and by the end of September most will be sporting newly hardened antlers.

Timely and abundant rainfall has triggered excellent growing conditions for native habitat, and South Texas wildlife is thriving. It has been a very good year for fawn production, and the newborns of early July are starting to shed their spotted coats for thicker solid brown pelts.

It is an exciting time of year in the South Texas outdoors, whitetail deer are maturing, whitewing season is only a week away, and surf fishing is at its best. Every year about this time, hunters and fishermen feel themselves being pulled in different directions as both the brush and bay beckon. Shotguns are being oiled and surf rods are being dusted off in anticipation of thrilling outdoor activities.

The surf zone, that vibrant swath between the beach and third sand bar, reaches its zenith of activity in the fall. The annual spawning aggregation of mature redfish coincides with the southward migration of schools of tarpon and it is an exhilarating mix for coastal anglers.

Large concentrations of rain minnows darken the water, and they swirl down the shoreline providing a moveable feast for terns, gulls and myriad species of fish. When pursued, they often scatter and shower the surf with bursts of frenzied flight that resemble thousands of tiny rain drops pattering the surface.

At other times their defense mechanism is to school, and the tiny silver minnows cluster tightly into a huge ball the size of a car to protect themselves from Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and other predators. The terrified minnows become so compressed the mass turns black and takes on a life of its own, rolling from side to side as its flanks are torn asunder. As the mackerel and jacks aggressively crash the packed school, the frenzied thrashing sometimes attracts even larger predators, the sharks, and they begin slashing into the melee.

It is an exhilarating time of year to toss a lure into the surf at South Padre or Boca Chica beach, as you never know what you may hook. Not only does autumn offer some of the best fishing, but it is also one of the least crowded seasons. The bustle of summer has faded; the kids are back in school and our friendly winter Texans have yet to arrive in appreciable numbers.

If you are fortunate to travel the beach on a weekday, you might not even see another vehicle for miles. The only surf fisherman you are likely to encounter at your favorite spot may be a great blue heron, regally poised to spear a piscine morsel.

An early fall trip to the beach has an added bonus as the annual migration of peregrine falcons will be underway. The striking raptors can often be spotted sitting atop a high sand dune in early morning as they survey the flats for prey. If you are lucky, you might even see a falcon hunting. Peregrines are the fastest creatures on the planet, and they have been clocked in excess of 240 miles per hour when they go into their hunting dive or stoop.

The lure of the chaparral is compelling during this season flux as well. When the sun breaks the horizon, the coyote chorus greets the dawn as if on cue. The howling has caught the attention of a handsome buck as he emerges from the woods, and he pauses for a moment with ears cocked. His velvet clad antlers seem to almost glow as they are backlit in the first rays of light.

The swollen racks of whitetail deer look particularly impressive this time of year. Their developing antlers are covered by a specialized skin called velvet both for its appearance and soft texture. The velvet is rich in blood vessels, and the antlers are actually warm to the touch.

To help prevent damage to their antlers, the hairs on the blood engorged velvet stands straight out, and this makes the antlers appear larger than they actually are. These hairs act as an early warning system, much like a cat's whiskers, and they help warn the buck if he is too close to a fence or other deer.

With falls approach, decreasing daylight triggers hormonal changes which restricts blood flow to the growing antlers. The antlers then begin to harden, and the bucks will start to shed their velvet.

The haunting calls of wild geese will soon fill the South Texas sky as another fall ritual unfolds. The telltale ragged V- shaped formations will appear in late September or early October, and who can resist scanning the sky when the call of the wild is heard.

Geese have been migrating to Texas for thousands of years, and they have undoubtedly been both admired and hunted for nearly as long. The indigenous people surely gazed skyward relishing the annual arrival of a fresh food source, and the challenge of harvesting geese with bow, spear or trap would have been a challenging task.

Since the dawn of man, hunters have been captivated by migrating waterfowl and antlered animals. Prehistoric paintings depict deer and winged creatures, often with hunters in pursuit.

Perhaps it is these powerful primal urges that command our attention to antlered creatures and winged migration at this pivotal time of seasonal change. After all, we are all descendants from successful hunters.

Whether you are a hunter, fisherman or just enjoy exploring the outdoors, South Texas has plenty to offer as the seasons shift. And don't forget to keep your backyard hummingbird feeder full for those harbingers of fall.

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Copyright 2007 Richard Moore