A dispersed flock of angels, a rare woodpecker, and a local cast of celebs from the past…

January 20, 2022
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While the title of today’s blog perhaps sounds like the introduction to a bad bar joke, these three things really do share something in common besides ambling into a bar or being on a Cessna short of a parachute. The thing they all share in common is the famous historical Glenwood Cemetery, located in the heart of the Bayou City, just west of downtown.

Some of Houston’s local celebrities were buried at Glenwood. Perhaps the most famous is the eccentric wealthy inventor Howard Hughes. He and his parents were buried in large plots on the western part of the cemetery. Local singer/songwriter Herschel Berry’s tune starts out famously with “I rolled a 7 dice – on Howard Hughes’ graaaaave”, referring to former Houston’s youth culture shooting craps on the famous celebrity’s grave site. Others include Houston’s founders, the Allen Brothers of Allen’s landing fame, along with Judge Roy Hofheinz for whom the UH sports arena, Hofheinz Pavillion, was named. Even Gene Tierney – a beautiful and famous actress from the 1940’s was buried at Glenwood, among others.

Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis)

Right before Christmas 2021 a local birder (the new cool slang for ‘birdwatcher’) found a woodpecker that’s not typically from these here parts. The Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) is typically found in western North America, very roughly between southwestern Canada and Mexico City going north to south, and the California desert and Trans-Pecos of Texas going west to east. This little dude (yes, a male) is not the first to pop up in our region in the last few years. It seems we’ve had one or two visit the Houston area for the past couple of winters.

So what is a woodpecker of the dry, open and scrubby Wild West doing here, literally less than 100 feet from our favorite bayou?  Although nobody knows for sure, the reasons are perhaps not pretty. Think of every possible contemporary environmental calamity – severe droughts, forest fires, out-of-whack temperatures, lions-and-tigers-and-bears!  You get the picture…  These poor birds’ internal clocks that have performed with precision for millennia are finally malfunctioning internally with all of the environmental turmoil surrounding its native environment. We are increasingly seeing more and more individual birds that are waaaaaay outside their typical range that are utterly confused, along with a serious overall decline of birds, as has been recently documented in the news.

Crestfallen angel as seen in Glenwood Cemetery

I failed to mention the dispersed flock of angels at Glenwood Cemetery. There are perhaps as many angels here as some of the most cherubic-laden parts of the skies. Each and every one is beautifully sculpted on the gravestones they adorn, and many are life-size (human-sized, that is). But the single most thought-provoking angel that gets me every time is the one with the very real wrinkles in its robe and the detailed contour of each feather in the wings sculpted to perfection (what pride people took in their work when sculpting these angels!). This angel’s head and face are buried in her arms, plainly expressing her grief, and probably the most raw depiction of LOSS I have ever encountered.

While an exciting visitor to the Bayou city, it’s sad indeed, the LOSS that the poor little sapsucker represents, spending its winter with us, since its biological clock is twisted and contorted with the calamity cast upon its native home out west.

See the action unfold. Red-Naped Sapsucker in Glenwood Cemetery.

Read more about HMNS Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Dan Brooks and the Houston Urban Wildlife Project.

Authored By Dan Brooks

As the HMNS Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, Dr. Dan is known as ‘the guy with the most backbone’ in the museum! He curates four permanent exhibits at the museum, where he was worked as a full-time staff member since 1999. He has described 10 new species to date, and is very active in local (hmns.org/houstonwildlife) and international (Southeast Asia and Latin America) wildlife research, especially with gamebirds. Afflicted with the inability to ‘shake the nature bug’, when he’s not at work in the museum, one of his favorite things to do is scouting and exploring the great outdoors with his family.

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