Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Pine Warbler at Edinburg Wetlands

Today was a picture perfect January day in the RGV:  sunny, low humidity and a high temperature close to 70 degrees.  The rick-man and I, along with our good friend Dennis, drove to the Edinburg Wetlands of the World Birding Center network of sites. 

It was a great day of birding and photography.  I found it lovely to sit outside in the garden area and watch a Rufous Hummingbird aggressively move about.  The gardens are well maintained, and served today as an active playground for several valley specialties such as this Long-billed Thrasher:

But today’s surprise was sighting a Pine Warbler, a commonly sighted warbler of the Piney Woods of East Texas and the Upper Texas Gulf Coast.  But I did not expect to see a Pine Warbler this valley day.
It was nice to watch this Pine Warbler move about the wooded area of the gardens.  It seemed I was watching a good neighbor from back home that has also discovered this magical most southern tip of Texas:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Orange-crowned Warbler Photo

Call me boring but the Orange-crowned Warbler may be my favorite bird.  OK, OK, OK it is hard not to vote for the Carolina Chickadee or the Cedar Waxwing as a commonly found favorite since, simply stated, these two species typify a seemingly happy, party bird.  Both the Chickadee and the Waxwing are mostly sighted in gregarious, celebratory groups. They typify the fond expression “the more, the merrier”.  The Waxwing even dons a black party-mask.  I don’t relate to them at all.

But the Chickadee and the Waxwing make me smile when I come upon their party behavior, quietly watching their enthusiastic chatter and group dynamics.  In solitude I watch their group chatter and their epicurean appetite that seems to scream spring-break behavior.  Perhaps Ben Franklin would have related.
If humans are most at ease with those other humans that are familiar, with those that are similar, or with those that are easily understood--then you can learn much about me by knowing that it is the Orange-crowned Warbler that I most admire.  I relate to the Orange-crowned Warbler as if it were the longed-for sister of my mostly-solitary life.
Field guides and birding web sites describe the Orange-crowned as distinguished by “lacking in” markings; by solitary behavior; by being a “monogamous, solitary nester”.  Go figure.  I more than understand; I relate.

The common presence of the Orange-crowned Warbler means that it is wintertime on the Texas Gulf Coast.  Beginning birders can find this bird difficult to identify due to its lack of markings.  But once you WATCH this bird, it is easily identified by its MOVEMENT and BEHAVIOR.  But watching this wood warbler means quick binocular movement in thickets and heavy underbrush.  This species does not sit still.
The Orange-crowned Warbler is easily described by its solitary, Puritan-like busyness that would make even John Adams approve.  As with other warblers, sitting still is not a part of its DNA.  And so even though I’ve enjoyed the solitary company of this beloved species for many years, a good photo has eluded me.  Until this week, that is.  And so this blog post is to share this first photo—after years of attempts that resulted in empty frames of branches  or out-of-focus shots of mostly movement.

My “this week’s” Orange-crowned Warbler photo at Estero Llano Grande State Park:

 And if you saying “show me the orange crown”, then bird with me during a good rainstorm and we may just be blessed with a royal revelation.  When soaking wet, they occasionally reveal their beautiful orange crown.  Personally I like their quiet personality that doesn’t so easily reveal the family jewels.  But if you are willing to make the effort, and if you are willing to brave the elements of Mother Nature, then they may intimately share their colorful side.
The Orange-crowned Warbler may be a “drab”, quiet, solitary bird that is mostly focused on the work at hand.  But still, they have a rainy-day ‘tude that I admire, and understand.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Walking Bentsen: The Ebony Bean Pods

I spent a good part of today outside: a long bike ride, followed by a leisurely walk, followed by just sitting out on the front patio, quietly watching the day turn to dusk.  This evening I feel the kind of tired that comes after a day outside. 

And when not outside, I managed to cook a pot of beans and rice, complete two loads of laundry, and then lose all my chips in a first hand of poker (with my full-house Jack-high gracefully bowing to another’s full-house Ace-high). So be it.  It was the outside time that gave this day meaning.

I’m finding it difficult to post a blog story on the same day that I experience the story.  I spend too much time “developing” the raw images from my DSLR Canon 7D, where “developing” mostly involves reviewing and deleting a great number of photos.  And so part of today was spent “developing” my photos from yesterday’s walk around Bentsen State Park.
Yesterday’s walk reminded how much I enjoy spending winters in the RGV.  In particular, walking this wonderful hike and bike trail that connects our RV neighborhood to Bentsen State Park:

Stopping at the Bentsen headquarters building and gardens to get my day pass:

Walking past this canal before entering the park:

Each walk around Bentsen makes the new become more of the familiar; makes the park seem more and more like my very own back yard.  And one of my favorite backyard trees of this park is the Texas Ebony.  In fact, it was the protection of Ebony trees that influenced the Bentsen family (think Lloyd Bentsen) to donate this land to become a state park.  I especially love the Ebony bean pods and yesterday I stood, studied and admired this particular tree’s bounty of beans:

It was a good walk; a quiet walk.  It was much better than anyone’s three Aces and a pair to boot.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hunting This Day

In my alone time, I am not very good at living in the present.  Too frequently my thoughts turn to past days; mostly toward losses of family and the sweetness of memories they provided.  And sometimes my thoughts turn to friends and loves of days long ago. I wonder the fullness of their lives that I did not share.  And on occasion I allow myself to contemplate my possible future days. I’m not very good at seeing the vibrancy of future tense, unless I’m planning a next voyage for the condo-on-wheels.

But if I focus this first writing of 2013 on today, I best frame it as a wonderfully rainy RGV day, following a cold, rainy night.  A past day and night of slow consistent rain brought welcome relief to this parched, drought-stricken habitat that uniquely defines the southernmost tip of Texas. 
By this day’s afternoon the rain slowed to a mere threat.  I welcomed opportunity to step outside the Airstream, layering into my warmest valley clothes (that would do little good in most U.S. winter locales). I walked my binoculars into Bentsen State Park for an afternoon of birding. The local residents seemed pleased with the rain-drenched feeding ground: Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Orange-crowned Warblers, Green Jays and Altamira Orioles were bold and abundant.  And although I delighted in watching their chase for berries and insects, nothing better defines the sense of living in the present than watching the Avian Hunter seek out its day’s daily bread. 

I was frozen in the present tense as I watched a mature Cooper’s Hawk (and a juvenile!) explode upon a group of anything but “plain” Chachalacas.  The verbal outcry of a Chachalaca group is anything but subtle. They are loud and they scream fear and alarm in a way that is heard throughout the neighborhood.  Their mothers taught them well.
But the cacophony of sounds from the fearful group was punctuated by the screams of the hawk’s chosen prey.  I froze in the present as a turkey-sized Chachalaca screamed and “ran” for cover in the thickest of bare branches of the wooded habitat.  The agile hunter, the beautiful Cooper’s was less than five yards behind, matching the Chachalaca’s scream with the piercing cry of a hawk in pursuit of its prey.  I watched within 30 yards of the chase. 

The story of the hunt needs no ending.  I quietly watched with a belly that was full from the convenience of grocery products and microwave cooking.  But my glimpse into this day’s avian hunt for daily bread reminded me of my own wastefulness with the present of each day, most especially each time I give chase to the past or to the future.

Methinks I am more akin to a Willet than a Cooper’s Hawk.  But watching the beauty of this day’s two Cooper’s reminded me of my recent photo of a Willet, taken just last month while birding at Galveston Island State Park.
This GISP Willet flew away as I quietly approached:

Like this Willet, I have a tendency to fly away.  I’m really good at flying away.  This year, I want to work on flying toward--with nothing more (or less) to fly toward-- than the present day.