Monday, May 30, 2011

Please Do Not Frown Upon

I know almost nothing about trees, shrubs, flowers and other plant life.  OK, I know almost nothing about botany.  This ignorance is somewhat embarrassing as I’m so passionate about birding. To be a good ornithologist, one needs to be a good botanist.  Knowing habitat is crucial to understanding the locale of any given Aves species, not to mention its nesting grounds, feeding techniques, and migration range and timing. I need to be a better botanist. 
But today, just as a non-birder might say “Look at that pretty bird,” I would say something to the effect “Isn’t that an interesting tree?”  Tsk, tsk.  But all of you gardeners and botanists of the world, please do not frown upon my ignorance—I’m beginning to show an interest in that oh so complex taxonomy of the plant world.
I would also confess to knowing some, but not nearly enough, about human relationships.  This ignorance is somewhat embarrassing as I’m so passionate about family and friends.  Understanding relationships is crucial to, well—seems I can’t think of anything NOT tied to healthy human relationships, including safety, food and shelter.  But there is nothing like feeling frowned upon to drive a person into a self-imposed sense of isolation.  I’ve watched others, and I’ve caught myself (often too late), inserting foot into mouth with casual verbal proficiency.  And yet it seems the most common angst between humans involves no words; it is the casual facial frown of one, to another.  There is nothing like being in the middle of a dialogue with a friend, family member, or co-worker, and noting the sudden placement of a frown upon their face.  I shrink like a—what are those plants called?
And then there is the interaction with one’s (or another’s) offspring.  Seems from the time they are babes with large heads and small bodies we humans are smiling at them.  The babes become children and we smile over their cute (and often wise) stories.  The children become teenagers and we suddenly have an innate response to frown at them, over just about everything.  Sometimes the frown is hiding a sense of parental fear; sometimes angst; sometimes bewilderment; and sometimes serious discontent when trying to grasp their new spoken and unspoken language (including facial expressions that involve expert eye-rolling techniques). 
Several years ago I caught myself in the habit of frowning in the direction of a then teenage offspring.  I realized my intent was loving concern; I realized the view from the offspring’s shoes was being frowned upon.  It took work on my part.
I also have a vivid memory of a family portrait attempted a few months after I survived a fairly major medical trauma, per the unfortunate schedule of a new church directory.  In the age of digital photography, the photographer took several pictures, and then showed them to us to pick our favored portrait.  Honest to goodness I looked like I was frowning in every one of them.  More pictures were taken, and more frowns.  The next scheduled family was waiting in the church hallway; I could hear the Mom challenging all to “not wrinkle” while attempting a calm wait.  The steadfast photographer kept trying to get a better portrait, sans frown.  My teenage offspring was dismayed.  All the photos looked the same:  my mouth was smiling, my eyes were frowning.  The frown was hiding pain.  Neither the photographer nor the offspring knew the root cause of the frown.  Finally, one photo, the best of the worst, made it into the church directory; and one 8”x10” copy made it into a storage box, somewhere in our home.  Frowning eyes trump smiling lips any day.
But in recent years, I’ve noted how easy it is for us healthy humans to frown upon our lives (or the lives of others), our family, and our friends.  I’m not talking about silent, purposeful concentration.  I’m talking about a non-verbal communication response to another’s words; quite often a loved one’s words. 
Recently I had opportunity to walk through the lovely gardens of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  I was amazed by the many lovely flowers, shrubs and trees, nameless to me without their neatly printed nametags, planted in the ground before them.  I came upon the below sign and it gave me pause.  I’ve about decided I need to look at this sign every day, especially when getting ready to interact with other homo sapiens.  If you can’t clearly read the words as attached to this blog, just “click on” the picture for a magnified viewing: 

It would appear that both plants and humans are harmed, when frowned upon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Black-throated Green (BTG) Warbler

One of the common traits of elementary school children and professional systems engineers is that they both tend to be chronic observers.  And both can be encouraged to express their opinions regarding their observations, especially to those that show an honest interest in their words.  Enter a classroom of 4th graders, and you will hear a free-flowing sharing of opinions as to why birds, and their offspring, repeatedly migrate over the same geographic areas (even if the 4th graders haven’t yet studied the topic).  Enter a conference room of systems engineers, and you will hear a free-flowing sharing of opinions on how best to launch a crewed aircraft (even if the engineers are not rocket scientists).
And, in my opinion, both 4th grader and system engineer are excellent at drawing subjective conclusions, given little objective evidence; and both will be honest about their conclusions being “a best guess.”  In contrast, ask a software engineer to hazard a guess about anything, and they will ask you to state the requirements for the problem.
I would love to fill a room with ten 4th graders and ten systems engineers, provide each with a drawing pad and box of crayons, and (after ensuring that none had any experience with birding or ornithological knowledge), ask each to draw a picture of a Black-throated Green Warbler.
And, my subjective conclusion, based on NO objective evidence, is that I would see 20 similar pictures, with variations due mainly to the creativity and artistic skills of the individual (and on average, the 4th graders may outperform in the artistic domain).  I can visualize 20 pictures that show varying sizes and shapes of green birds with black throats.  Some pictures may show a bird that is forest green, others lime green; some throats may be solid black, others striped horizontal or vertical, but, well, you get the picture.
And so if I post the following two pictures, the 20 will say, “You asked us to draw a green bird that is black-throated, and now you are showing us more pictures of the Golden-cheeked Warbler, and you just blogged about it!” 
 Photo 1:

Photo 2:

But look again, I would say, and follow your outstanding objective observation skills, as I repost one of the Golden-cheeked Warbler pictures for comparison.
The Golden-cheeked Warbler photo from May 20th blog:  "THE Native Texan":

The Golden-cheeked has a black eye line (with no other shadowing on its bright golden cheek); black crown, nape and mantle (back of neck and upper back); and all of these black areas appear equivalent regarding the saturation of “blackness”.  Also note that the breast, belly and vent (think underbelly behind the legs) are either black or white—with no yellow coloring.
In contrast, the birds in the first two photos have a dull “masking” on the face (eyeline and auriculars), a crown of similar dullness, and a nape and mantle area that is “greenish” yellow, similar in hue to the masking on the face.  Also note that there is a yellow wash on part of the breast, belly and vent areas.
With these and other identifying traits, the first two photos are of Black-throated Green Warblers!  The Black-throated Green is a spring and fall migrant through Texas, and frequent winter resident of the Rio Grande Valley.  BUT, you note, the first picture shows the black throat, and the second picture does not!  Thus is my interest in posting this blog. 
The first photo is a male Black-throated Green (BTG), with the clear markings, including black throat of the male.  The second photo appears to be a female BTG.  BUT, why would I find a male and female BTG in the Austin, Texas area mid-May?  My multiple website analysis confirmed that, like the Golden-cheeked Warbler, the male and female BTG Warblers migrate separately, with males arriving in the Canadian and Northeastern U.S. breeding grounds first, and females soon following.  But breeding season is categorized as April to Mid-May, and these photos were taken mid-May while hiking a section of the Balcones Preserve in Austin, Texas.
So, my subjective best guess, based on very little objective evidence other than the first two photos above and an afternoon of web “research”, leads me to believe that either: 
1) The photos are of a mature male and immature male (that does not yet have full throat coloring) BTG Warbler; and that these two are somewhat late or off-course migrants; or
2) The photos are of a male and female BTG Warbler that seem to be “breaking the rules” of migrant behavior and location.
So for those reading this blog that are not (yet) birders, you have added the ability to distinguish between THE Native Texan (the Golden-cheeked Warbler) and the Black-throated Green Warbler, a beautiful “good get” spring migrant.
And for those reading this blog that are birders, what say you--first year male or mature female?  Thoughts on migration or other suggestion? 

I’ll look forward to your comments.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Folding Does Matter

When shopping for RVs (recreational vehicles) or shopping for bicycles, two attributes are important to both:  size and comfort do matter.  Too big or too small—both are common mistakes that cause the RV to sit in a storage facility, and cause the bicycle to hang upside down in the garage.  And then there is cost—as with so many hobbies, the more you spend, the more you will love-- or hate, the purchase.
If you ask seasoned RVers about the best length of an RV rig (or number of “slides” on the rig), you’ll get a number of unique answers that closely match the number of individuals asked.  But the seasoned RVer will ask an important set of questions to the potential buyer:   Will you be camping as a family, a couple or a single sojourner? Camping on weekends, two-week trips or “full timing”? Will you visit developed campgrounds or undeveloped sites?  These answers influence the type and length you will most enjoy.
If you asked seasoned bicyclists about the best type and size of bicycle, you’ll get a number of unique answers that closely match the type of cyclist:  touring, off-road, racing, and cross-country, just to mention a few.   And you’ll be asked how much you want to spend—and it is never enough.
I do not include bicycling in my list of hobbies.  I have ridden the famous MS-150 from Houston to Austin, way back in the 1980’s, and was happy to complete it, and just as happy to not go again.  The MS-150 supports an extremely worthy cause and it is a fantastic ride for bike enthusiasts.   But my one experience carries memories of a rainy second day, in the hills between Bastrop and Austin, and watching many a racing bike and rider go down on pavement, as I slowly pedaled past on my heavy mountain bike.  

My bike was purchased for the rides that included the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, but it served me well on those wet, slick, central Texas roads.  My only vivid memory from that weekend was the night’s “sleep” on the gym floor in La Grange.  My sleeping bag was almost smack dab middle in a sea of sleeping bags that covered the wooden gym floor.  

Those of you acquainted with my large “personal space” needs can imagine my face when I returned to the gym after dinner and found my sleeping bag completely surrounded by strangers in all shapes and sizes, and their sleeping bags lined head to foot, and side to side, with mine; touching, no less.  A nameless man ended up beside me, close enough to reach out and touch, without extending my arm.  

But Nameless-man and I did not even say “hello” before “bedding down” on the wooden floor, giving each other the intent of privacy, if not the space. Sometime during the night Nameless-man began snoring, I mean really snoring. (I mention he was close enough to reach out and touch, didn’t I?)  Anyway, he began snoring like—well, you know.  I finally got up my courage, sat up on one elbow, and whispered (in close proximity to his ear) “Could you please roll over on your side?—you are snoring!”  And without a word, or opening an eye, he rolled over.  

The next morning, as the sea of sleeping bags was being rolled up by a tired but enthusiastic clan of humans in unflattering black spandex shorts, I tried to quietly and quickly get my stuff and get out of there.  But Nameless-man turned to me and with a somewhat embarrassed but sweet smile on his face said:  “Thanks for telling me to roll over—that’s exactly what my wife does.”  I couldn’t tell you what he looked like, but I remember his words and smile as if it were yesterday.
Saying I don’t ride a bike as a hobby is a fairly obvious conclusion, although it has nothing to do with Nameless or with slick roads—it is just kind of hard to be birding and biking at the same time.  But bicycles are an important traveling tool for the rick-man and me, giving us passage from point A to point B to hike and bird.  An easy example is Pedernales Falls State Park.  It is a bit of a long walk from the campground to the Falls trailhead, or to the park's wonderful bird blinds, but it is an easy bike ride to both. 
A traveling challenge became how best to transport two bicycles with the Airstream hitched to the SUV.  A bike rack cannot be mounted on the back of the Airstream (an advantage of Class A RVs, as you see bikes hanging from their rear ladders as they travel down the highway).  

A young person would put the bike rack on the roof of the SUV, and I did, back in the ‘80’s.  A roof-mount would not be the right solution at this time in my life; it hurts my back just thinking about pulling bikes down or hoisting them up.  

And so the ingenious rick-man had a hitch receiver welded to the front of the SUV, with a bike rack mounted as shown below:

This front-mount bike rack has been a wonderful solution; easy storage, easy access.  But have I mentioned that without the front bike rack our SUV and Airstream total almost 50 feet in length?  And so is 50’ long a mistake that causes our rig to sit in a storage facility?  Not at all—it still seems, after 5 years of active use, perfect for our type of “camping”—easily fitting into many state and national parks, and giving two people enough “space” to still like each other after weeks or months on the road.  

But, at 50 feet in length, I don’t just breeze into any gas station; or any grocery parking lot.  I have to think about it, and sometimes I have to skip a potential station to find a “roomier” set of pumps.  I've gotten better at sizing up gas stations, and become more knowledgeable about the Walmart hospitality to RVs, but adding 3’ of bike storage to the front of the SUV doesn’t make our supply stops any easier.
 And then there is the driving view out the front windshield with bikes before us.  Our friends that are ergonomic engineering experts would probably want to pick a bone with us.  But, I can honestly say viewing (daylight viewing) is not compromised, and it is not bad to “look past” the bikes while driving four or 5 hours.  But I’m not sure I want to “look past” two bicycles when I’m pulling 10,000 pounds of Airstream through Rocky Mountain passes.
So the ingenious rick-man found another solution.  Bicycles that fold!    Yesterday we test road them around Brazos Bend State Park.

Would I ride these bikes on a 50 or 150 mile ride?  No.  Did I find my folding bike a comfortable ride for two hours around Brazos Bend?  Yes.  Was I ready to get off the bike after two hours so that I could walk and bird the rest of the day?  Yes.  How else would I have seen that beautiful Prothonotary Warbler and Yellow-billed Cuckoo?
But I’m already convinced, folding does matter. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Golden-cheeked Warbler (The Native Texan)

My first sighting of the Golden-cheeked Warbler was at Pedernales Falls State Park, in April of 2007.  I could look at my “Life List” spreadsheet and note the details of that sighting, but I don’t need to.  It was a remarkable experience that will remain easy to call to memory, as long as memory allows.  My husband and I were hiking the Wolf Mountain trail, with binoculars and day packs, and at 4 miles into the hike I saw movement of yellow and black among the Ashe-juniper and Oak canopy.  The solitude of that weekday hike afforded us the luxury of stopping, silent and motionless, except for the classic birder’s panning and tilting motion of neck, with binoculars mounted to forehead, while feet stayed firmly frozen to the trail; we avoided the slightest noise of rock underfoot. We watched in awe of this hill country specialty, delighted on finding a small group of Golden-cheeked Warblers moving about the thickly forested area.  On occasion one beautiful male would drop down to a low limb of a large Ashe-juniper tree, giving us full viewing in the bright sunshine.  But mostly our views were snatches of body parts amidst the thick covering of Ashe-juniper and partially-leafed oak trees, well above our heads.  Our visit with these long-sought beauties lasted at least 30 minutes, and we bemoaned the fact that we had chosen to hike without hauling the camera and 400mm lens.  But I’m not sure I would have taken a photo—I was too delighted with binocular views of this beautiful Texas specialty, and uniquely Texas Native. 
Since that Wolf Mountain hike I have been delighted with multiple sightings of Golden-cheeked Warblers at Lost Maples State Natural Area and South Llano River State Park.  My best photo of the Golden-cheeked was at a water blind at South Llano, sitting one evening and “shooting”  (with my camera) the common visitors:  Sparrows, Towhees, Kinglets and Orange-crowned Warblers, all drawn to the blind area for afternoon drink and bath.  With no pomp, but lucky circumstance, a beautiful Golden-cheeked Warbler popped into my camera view, seeking the same cool drink and bath of his seasonal neighbors.  The photo below was my day’s reward:

The Texas Parks and Wildlife website provides an excellent summary of information on the Golden-cheeked Warbler, including its placement on the U.S. Endangered List as of May 4, 1990. As the website describes, “the Golden-cheeked Warblers nest only in central Texas.”  Or as Kenn Kaufman’s book, “Lives of North American Birds” states:  “This beautiful bird is a central Texas specialty, nesting nowhere else in the world.”
After wintering in the tropics, this faithful Native Texan returns each March, to the area of its birth, the unique hill country habitat of mature Juniper-Ashe and Oak woodlands.   The males and females return separately to Texas, with the males arriving first, followed a workweek later by the females.  The males court the females, bringing beautiful song atop the junipers, looking out over the arid slopes and seeking woodland shelter near ravines, canyons and streams.  Male and female are faithful to the neighborhood of their former offspring’s birth, returning to the previous year’s breeding territory.  The female chooses the nest location, and burdens full responsibility for building the compact cup-shaped nest.  The nest is ALWAYS made of Juniper-Ashe bark, stripped ONLY from mature Juniper-Ashe trees (that locals often call cedar).  These long strips of cedar bark are “glued” together with the aid of collected spider webbing, lichens, mosses, leaves and grass.  Three to four eggs are laid once per year, incubated only by the female for approximately 12 days.  The male remains loyal to family, remaining in the area for support and feeding, and both male and female parent feed the hatched nestlings.  The young leave the nest about 9 days after hatching.  According to some ornithology texts, the GCWs use an interesting technique for parenting:  the male and female split up the young, with each parent caring for part of the brood over the next several weeks.  By July or August, these U.S. citizens depart, migrating through the mountains of eastern Mexico to their yearly mainstay residence of the pine-oak forests of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.  While wintering in their version of a tropical paradise, their version of a passport would be clearly marked “U.S. Citizen and Native Texan.”
And so this past weekend, my husband and I were delighted to hike a portion of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve with my brother and sister-in-law.  As birders often do, we had spread out on our hike, each panning the area for sought after species.  I was in the lead, but had stopped to listen to the beautiful song of a Painted Bunting.  With intent listening, I finally found the source via my binoculars, a female Painted Bunting, well hidden in the mixed Juniper-Ashe and Oak woodlands of this protected preserve.  The male Painted Bunting carries the iconic imagery of Mother Nature’s most extravagant use of color, with broad-brush strokes of bright red breast, belly, vent and lower back; metallic blue head, lime-green upper back, and red eye ring.  The male is truly “painted” with extravagance.  Ah, but the female Painted Bunting can be a source of consternation for beginning birders, looking nothing like her colorful male mate—she is a uniformly drab to greenish-backed, pale-yellow bellied bird; what some would call “unremarkably uniform”.  But I was joyously watching and listening to her voice, when bam—a flash of yellow and black passed through my binocular viewing field.  And there they were, a mated pair of Golden-cheeked warblers, dancing about, collecting insects from trees not 15 yards before me. 
My brother was within a quiet call from me, and I motioned and pointed and “mouthed” “Golden-cheeked!”  And with camera in hand, he joined me in watching and “shooting” these gorgeous Texans.  To our delight, and joined by husband and sister-in-law, we had the rare opportunity to watch male and female parents move about us, seeking, gleaning and feeding insects to two very young “out of the nest” juveniles.  Much of the time the two juveniles were side-by-side on a low, bare hardwood branch, in a thickly wooded spot twenty yards in front of us.  Clear camera shots were difficult, and I was too busy basking in the joy of excellent binocular viewing and behavior observations to attempt immediate photos.  Male and female parent were foraging in the surrounding juniper trees, hopping among the branches, capturing and carrying insects in their bills.  They would then swoop down to the lower juvenile-laden branch, “bill-feed” their young, and then fly about, hunting and gathering the next insect to feed.  We had front row seats.  Was this a divided brood or only two survivors of the nest?  Was this pre-split parenting or a coordinated method for only two surviving next generation?  Not enough photos and not enough ornithology skills to know.  I am an amateur birder.
My brother’s camera was in full throttle use, tracking and shooting with a skill and speed that I do not have.   He was dealing well with kid sister’s excited whispers:  “up there; over here; in front; to the right!”  I selfishly kept binoculars on sightings, rationalizing that I was serving as his spotter, as he carried camera with no binoculars.  And supporting my quiet exclamations, his camera moved in track with my binoculars.    An occasional hiker or jogger moved past us, and the adult GCWs would push back into the woods, and juveniles would hide from our sight.  Our patience in staying put would be rewarded with parent GCW movement back toward us, and additional views of the two juveniles. At some point the juveniles separated, and my brother shot the excellent photos I posted in yesterday’s blog, “THE Native Texan.”  I’m reattaching one for this post:

My brother is credited for the best parent GCW photos of the day, and these shots, with insect in bill, are especially nice.  Note the clear black eye line, one of the distinguishing marks that separate the GCW from similar species, such as the Black-throated Green Warbler.

And for fun, I’m including photos snapped by brother and sister, of each other, enjoying a gloriously rewarding day in the field. 

So next time you bemoan the invasive, water hogging Ashe-Juniper’s of the hill country, remember that without the mature bark of these trees, the truly Native Texan--the Golden-cheeked Warbler, would in all probability, move from the Endangered Species List to the Extinct Species List. 
May all your day be birdy days!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

THE Native Texan

Today's blog is a short one--based on the simple question:  Do you know this native Texan (see photos below)?  You may say, "not so great photos"--but when you identify the species, and search the web for better photos at this young age, you may be surprised as to what you CAN'T find.

These photos are of a VERY young juvenile, just beginning to venture out of the nest, but still being "bill fed" by Mama and Papa. I saw two juveniles, staying very close together, with beautiful Mama and Papa catching insects and delivering to their young "bill to bill". 

The BIG hint:  These juvenile birds are hatched in Texas--and NO OTHER place in the world!  They are endangered due to both habitat loss and the parasitic nesting of the Brown-headed Cowbird (another day's story).

My next blog will post delightful pictures of Mama and Papa with more to the story of this amazing experience!

But do you know this very young Native Texan?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Familiar Field

It can be quite exciting to venture to new and faraway destinations.  For a birder, it means doing some pre-trip homework to become aware, if not familiar, with the probable “gets” of a new habitat.  Spending time in the field fumbling through bird books, clueless to an unfamiliar species, is NOT a good way to bird.  But even with lots of prep work, it can be an exhausting experience “learning” the new field.  Respecting an unknown hike and an unfamiliar habitat, while “chasing birds” is both invigorating—and exhausting.
And then there is the return to the familiar field.  I have friends and family that are multi-generational land owners.  They "know" their land, whether a quarter acre or 200 acres, or something in between.  They mend fences, make trails, plant gardens, create pecan orchards; they chase feral hogs and “walk their property.”  Some keep yearly bird counts of species sighted, and sometimes I get an invitation to participate, which is great fun.
At this time in my life I have no interest in private land “ownership”.  I love being a communal land “owner”.  I am partnered with the community of U.S. citizens, taxpaying one and all, in the acquisition and maintenance of national, state, county and city parks, generally described as public land.  My most beloved spots are national and state communal land sites. We call them our national and state parks, or some similar designation, including national forests, grasslands and seashores.  They are well kept secrets, mid-week, during the public school year.
Planning that next trip to some new and/or faraway destination is an important (and time consuming) part of my weekly habit.  Researching and studying probable avian “gets” is my favorite subject of study. Visits to this nation’s great state and national parks are a purposeful part of what gives my life meaning.  And yes, I keep a birding life list.  And yes, it is an adrenaline rush when I see new beauties, and add entries to my Excel spreadsheet for species, locale, date and observation notes.
But then there is the return to the familiar field.  For me, it is not a privately owned farm or ranch.  It is a day trip to Brazos Bend State Park (BBSP).  I have spent many an hour, many a day, many a season at BBSP; I know its trails better than any other site, and the locations within the park to “best get” species ranging from Anhinga to Vermillion Flycatcher.  I know winter has arrived when the park is abundant with Yellow-rumped Warblers.  I know summer is around the corner when I sight the lovely Purple Gallinules, seemingly resented by the year-round Moorhen residents.  

And yet, just as any land owner will tell you, I have not spent enough time at this place.  And I will never really know this place.  Take away the well-maintained trails, and it would be a wild, hostile habitat for anyone to traverse.  At best, land and habitat can be familiar. And so I recently returned, spending a glorious day, to bird and hike this familiar field, what many call the jewel of the Texas state park system.
I had no expectation of picking up new lifers.  This would be a day to raise binoculars in praise of the known, the familiar.  A day to celebrate spring mating and nesting; to walk “my” property in the solitude of mid-week, and bask in the dry “cool front” that was surprising Gulf Coasties with glorious weather.  But as any land “owner” will tell you, the land and the wildness we call Mother Nature, always surprises.  And so, this glorious day at BBSP was a day to sight the familiar —and a day to sight surprises: two new birding lifers and two unfamiliar species found in no avian field book.
 A mated pair of Blue-winged teals:

A Boat-tailed grackle, not to be confused with  the widespread  Great-tailed Grackles that are found in parking lots and city parks, and numerous other "human locales".  Note the non-reflective brown eye of the Boat-tailed, and note its restricted range in any birding field guide.  The Great-tails have eyes that shine and reflect light, looking almost reptilian. I love the springtime call of the Boat-tails, sounding like Mexican castanets.

The elegant posture of a Great Blue Heron:

Springtime can add the interesting challenge of identifying juveniles of famiar species.  No--not a Great Egret; no, not a Snowy Egret; this "not so great" photo is a juvenile Little Blue Heron in its white plumange:

And parent Little Blue Heron fishing in a secluded pool:

A Yellow-crowned Night Heron treats me like a hawk:  if it doesn't move, maybe I won't see it:

And two wonderful avian surprises!  The American Bittern is a somewhat regular "get" at BBSP--but today, fully out in the open, my long-awaited "get" of a new lifer:  the Least Bittern.  Photographers will say "poor photo".  Birders will say "you got full visibility of the Least!"

And while looking straight above me, attempting to photograph a beautiful Yellow Warbler, I caught another species in my binocular field of view--it also seemed to be watching the Yellow Warbler.  I captured several photos, and returning home, poured over this photo (not exciting to look at in this blog) and other similar photos from a few different angles, magnifying on my computer,and viewing pixel by pixel. With the help of multiple field guides, and web sightings posted from others, I gained  confidence in  identifying this female Bullock's Oriole.  Her yellow was brightest on sides of neck, auriculars and malar, distinguishing her from the "drab first year" female Baltimore Oriole.

Some non-avian surprises:
“The mud snake is a large non-venomous, highly-aquatic snake that is seldom seen because of its secretive habits.”

And a water moccasin, unknown species type:

BBSP is known by most tax-payers as "the alligator park".  I find it an amazing place that I can spend a few hours birding and easily sight over 50 different bird species.  But I also must remind myself to respect the best known resident.  I have come close to stepping on two, while walking and craning neck to the tree tops for warblers, vireos and such.  

On this particular day, I came upon an unfamiliar human male, stopped mid-trail by below alligator, at edge of trail.  As the other human stood, pondering the situation, I re-positioned camera and daypack, deciding to carefully (and quickly) walk past the alert alligator.  As I got ready to make my move, the unfamiliar male human called out "I think you'll be OK."  

I turned to him and gave the gentlest look that also expressed "you THINK I'll be OK?"  No words were needed.  I walked past, then decided to turn and capture this photo.  I then decided to give the unfamiliar human male a moment of grace, turning my back on his challenge and continuing down the trail--but listening carefully should there be a sudden need to...