Yesterday morning I drove out of the ‘burbs of the Upper Gulf Coast, headed for a day of birding in my beloved Brazos Bend State Park. I was excited about a solo day in the field, and hopeful for a quiet park in terms of human presence, and a lively park in terms of feathered friends.
I am comfortable expressing hope when the outcome is highly probable. And I believed that both the day’s date and the weather forecast would limit human presence. My morning drive began early Christmas Eve’s eve (as msnbc’s Morning Joe was calling it). I confess that I was listening to this highly opinionated program at 5:30 in the morning, as I quickly ate my favored breakfast of homemade cornbread, washed down with a glass of orange juice.
I find that there is nothing like an orchestrated cacophony of televised human opinions, on political subjects no less, to jar me awake and hurry me to an early outside, with the non-human members of Mother Nature’s creation promising to voice their own particular self-centered interests. And these feathered beauties voice opinions on topics we humans feverishly claim our own (and sometimes take for granted): homestead territorial rights; safety of mates and family members; warning words to intruders and unwelcome strangers; and of course, the gregarious noise of food fights, not uncommon at holiday tables.
This Christmas Eve’s eve fell on a Friday, which turns out to simply be another day of gainful employment for many. But for a good number of others it has become a day of travel; a day of shopping in overcrowded malls and grocers; a day of cooking; a day of preparations related to the familiar activities of present history’s secular emphasis on Christmas customs. No complaint on my part; my binoculars, camera, daypack and water were in the car; along with several layers of clothes. It was 46 degrees outside, with gray skies trying to hold back a winter day’s drizzle, and no sunshine promised in the forecast.
And so both the weather and this particular work day’s customs should keep most humans out of the park. And the day’s weather and the former day’s heavy rains should encourage the feathered ones to get an early start of finding their daily bread. My hopeful wishes for both quiet and liveliness were rewarded.
I tend to drive toward (and home from) birding destinations with wool socks and slip-on open-toed sandals, regardless the temperature. Boots travel in the trunk, and the boot-type to be donned depends on both the destination and trail conditions: rubber boots for marshes, beaches and puddled trails; hiking boots for dryer locales and long hikes. Switching back to open-toed sandals for the drive home, after a day in boots, just plain feels good. Not to mention it makes the rick-man happy to NOT find the driver’s floor covered in mud, sand or other such trappings.
Boots stowed in the car's trunk:
My hour drive away from the ‘burbs and onto F.M. roads brought the welcoming sight of American Kestrels, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, and Northern Shrikes; all four species are the expected power-line hunters of a Gulf Coast winter morning. Just before arriving at the park entrance, I found four Turkey Vultures perched quietly at roadside, welcoming a slow morning before beginning their daytime job in the underappreciated role of Mother Nature’s cleanup committee:
It was 48 degrees and solid gray sky when I arrived at the 40 Acre Lake parking lot. I noted only 2 other cars in the lot; a good sign. Hiking boots laced, multiple clothing layers donned, and binoculars and camera in place—I began my day’s hike. My five hours on the trail began at 48 degrees and ended at 54 degrees. The sun never broke through the solid gray sky. A bit of wind greeted the mid-day, adding to the chill. A few hours in, cold fingers became a bit clumsy with focus and shutter control. Serious photographers would frown upon the low light conditions. But for me, it was the weather I most love for a winter day of birding:
The past week’s rains brought some restoration of habitat. These two photos make for a good comparison to photos of the same park location in my August 2011 blog post. Today’s habitat included some standing water (far left in below photo), but not anything close to the nominal conditions:
Resurrection fern, throughout the park, was showing renewed life with the recent rains. This plant’s amazing lifecycle, for which it earned its symbolic name, would lead one to believe yesterday was a beautiful springtime Easter occasion, rather than the first week of winter:
I plan to post multiple blogs over the next few days, with bird-specific photos from this fabulous day, as I am pleased with close-range photographs of several species. I sighted fifty species of birds this day, during five hours of trail time. A total bird species count was not my goal for the day, as it had been awhile since I focused my attention on 400 mm lens photography. My species count was limited by slow hikes around the oxbow habitat. I did not venture the mature woodlands along the Brazos River that reward with more passerine and riparian specialties.
Birders will probably be most interested in the occurrence of two mature Bald Eagles, sighted from the observation tower as perched in a distant snag, some 100+ yards out into the marsh. And so today I will include this blurry photo, stretching the capability of my lens, but documenting these two mature eagles. The Bald Eagles’ size comparison to the two Crested Caracara’s (occupying the same snag) provides a great perspective for this American icon’s overall stature. A mature Bald Eagle has an average weight of 9.5 lbs (heavier than a gallon of milk) and a wing span of 80”. (Almost 7 feet!)
I returned to the ‘burbs late afternoon, a happy and tired birder, with over 300 photos needing digital development. What better way to complete the daytrip than a stop at my favorite non-chain Tex-Mex restaurant? My 5:30 a.m. cornbread was in need of supplementing. After devouring a basket of chips and salsa, one rita, three chicken tacos, rice and charro beans, I headed home, not remembering a single subject from Morning Joe.