Saturday, November 30, 2013

The White Peacock

On this last day of November, I reflect on a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.  My family and closest friends know that some several years ago I created a new Thanksgiving tradition for myself:  come rain or shine, I spend Thanksgiving in the field, chasing birds and thanking Mother Nature. 

This year was especially wonderful as a sibling joined me. I shot some 13GBs of photos, and he, quite a few more.  But that story will develop, as I develop those photos.

Today I want to celebrate the coming of the December season by posting this photo of a White Peacock. I took this photo at the amazing National Butterfly Center in the Rio Grande Valley.  I think this image is a good representation of peacefulness.  And during a national season of busyness, a reminder to pause and chase after peacefulness can be a good thing. 

The White Peacock, at rest:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sharing the Thanksgiving Turkey

I thought I’d share “my” Thanksgiving turkey.  I shot it, with my digital camera, while camping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Dog Shelter Day & The Greyhound Question

The drizzle and wet-cold have not cleared.  The cold was forecast; the rain is staying a bit longer than expected.  But that is not unusual for the gulf coast; cold fronts tend to stall and stick around when rain is involved.  But this forty-two-degree drizzle is our January-bad-day weather, not the usual for a November week.

Ignoring the rain, I bundled up today and went out; but not in a positive direction.  After spending way too many days searching Petfinder for dog listings, I got up my courage and drove to a not-too-distant pet shelter.  It was in a small town, in an area a bit off the beaten path, at least for me. 

I parked in the small parking lot, looked and listened, and almost turned around and left.  I could hear the barking and the crying out of dogs, even with windows up and rain tapping on the glass.  I sat in my car and noted the barbed-wire prison-type fencing between the parking lot and the shelter’s small building.  The barking and fencing were enough to turn this birder into a chicken.  But I found a bit of courage, went through the chain link gate, and found the side entrance door.
I’d called ahead this morning but gotten little additional info about this particular Petfinder dog.  She was described online as a Catahoula Leopard mix and listed at fifty pounds.  I was concerned about the weight, but the personality description brought me calling.  The web description was of a gentle dog, that didn’t like the excitement of dog parks, but loved long walks, and walked well on a leash.  That sounded promising. The breed info described a sturdy dog that should easily hike with me in all types of terrains.
I won’t go into the details, but what met me inside a closed-door room was easily an eighty-pound dog that a very large man was having trouble controlling.  Per doggy research, I ignored the dog (once I knew the man had her on a strong, tight leash). 
I stood tall and confident and relaxed (I think) and slowly chatted with the man as this HUGE muscular dog kept jumping on him, chest height.  The jumps were about as playful as a boxer throwing a punch in the ring.  I stood back; the dog finally quieted. 
Per dog-rescue research, I slowly and confidently (I think) put the back of my hand out toward the dog so that she could take a smell.  She did, and for just an instant I thought, yes, this part is going OK. 
And then within another second, she leaped at me and let out a massive bark that sounded out:  Attack!  My hand jumped back to my side and the man pulled hard on the dog.  The following moment of silence, by all three of us, was more than awkward.
And then it was the man that started talking.  He wanted me to look at another dog that he said was calmer, although “a good bit heavier” than this one.  I said thanks, but no thanks, with the friendliest smile I could muster.  I exited stage right with the dog barking and pulling hard toward me.
I felt overwhelmingly sad for this dog; and overwhelmingly frustrated at what I’ll call a misleading description, by web and by phone call. I saw firsthand why this beautiful beast had been in a shelter over a year.  But I was not the one to save her.
If I owned a working ranch, with horses and a big pickup truck, and Hoss from Bonanza as my ranch manager, this dog might have made her escape.  But instead, I can only make the understatement of the year:  this dog was too much for me and they surely knew that when I described what I was looking for, by phone.
In stark contrast, three weeks ago I almost came home with a retired greyhound.  I’ve been around a few greyhounds; enough to know how much I love these gentle giants.  With serious intent this fall, I began the extended retired-greyhound adoption process. Multiple phone interviews with the adoption agency were followed by their scheduling an appointment with me for a meet-and-greet. 
With this scheduled appointment and a “cleared to take one home”, the adoption agency representative finally answered the question I’d been asking from the beginning:  Will a greyhound enjoy an hour daily walk?  Will a greyhound enjoy a five mile hike on hill country and similar trails?
The answer was not what I was expecting.  I was told that there was NO WAY a greyhound would walk for an hour, daily or otherwise.  I was told a greyhound could not hike hill-country trails that include pebbles, rocks and crushed granite texture.  I cancelled my “cleared to take one home” appointment.  I was surprised at how sad I felt, and how quickly my tears came. 
And what happened today?  I was reminded how much I love greyhounds.  After this miserable day, I’m ready to hibernate and not reflect any more on today’s experience. 


But why can’t a greyhound walk for an hour? 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Love-Bird Warmth on a Cold, Wet Day

It is still cold; it is still raining; and there is NO WAY I’m going to complain.  Although not my first choice, I AM in a stick house with a natural gas furnace and well-insulated walls.  And more importantly, I have a new-enough phrase in my life that I’m still getting used to it:  “I don’t have to get up and go to work!”  “Retirement”, on a cold, rainy, Monday morning; it IS a wonderful thing.

Funny thing though; now I think of situations in terms of adopting a dog.  Would she like the rocky, river-bed hiking trails of my beloved hill country?  Would she enjoy an hour walk when the day’s weather is lovely?  Would she love the RVing lifestyle?  And this morning, as I stayed under the covers for the warmth:  Would she be ready to do her doggy business if I take her out in the cold rain, with little walking or outdoor time?   (I like these questions a lot more than wondering if my old workplace parking lot would be flooded this morning, causing me to don rubber boots for a 7:15 a.m. arrival at my old, always-cold office.)
So from the warmth of my stick house, I’m not complaining, but I AM thinking of my RVing friends and missing the lifestyle (3 more months but who is counting?).  And on this wet, cold day I’m not going to send words that emphasize the cold, or mention that I can run a hot bath when feeling chilled-to-the bones:


Instead, I thought I’d share a couple of photos from Brazos Bend; love birds that took me by surprise.   I thought they might bring a warm smile:


As mentioned before, new world vultures tend to get a bad rap from we humans; mainly, I think, because we cast judgment and label them as scavengers, rather than honoring their important clean-up-committee work.  And, if we are honest, we’d admit to casting negative judgment against vultures due to their feathered “looks”, just as their canine cousins are mostly passed-over at adoption shelters, falling victim to what is now called “black dog syndrome”. 

But I ask you, before judging these carrion eaters too harshly, how often do we Americans catch and kill, or grow and harvest, our own food?  How frequently do we rely on our own hands to catch the fish we eat; or the chicken and red meat?  Do we grow all of our own fruits and vegetables, or do we rely on someone else to work the fields and orchards that bring produce to our tables?  Are we hawks or are we vultures?
I walked Brazos Bend last week and was caught by surprise at the serenity that I found in these two love birds, these two Black Vultures.

I could feel the warmth of their duality; their togetherness.  Whether mates or friends or relatives, these two were together, both in rest, and in watchfulness.  Is there any kind of love greater than the love of mates or friends or relatives who are there for each other, through good times and bad?  The love of two who actively watch out for each other and know how to help each other? 
I watched these two love birds as they quietly, but actively, watched out for each other’s backs.  How can we not envy their love?  Aren’t they beautiful?

Stay safe in wintry travels; stay warm in the place you land; and may all your days be birdy days.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

When Feeling Kind of Blue

Two indoor days: rain followed by cold, followed by the drizzle and wet-cold that Gulf Coasties call miserable.  I love moderate doses of this weather, but extended indoor time does not suit me well.

This third day indoors, by early afternoon, I was feeling kind of blue:  


Thankfully, my outdoor nature began nudging me:

“Gear up! Get outdoors and go for your daily outdoor walk!”

And so I got up from the sofa, donned leggings and layers; added a water-resistant wind-breaker, and topped myself with my warmest funny-looking hat. I drove to a favored greenbelt.  The weekend crowds were missing.  Too miserable to be out, they’d say. 
Today it was mostly just me and Mother Nature raining down on my funny-looking hat.  My walk stretched into an hour and a half.  I crossed path with a few dogs that were out walking their humans.  The dogs were dancing and prancing and wagging their tails at me.  Their humans looked miserably cold, one actually throwing a sound-bite toward me:  “Wish I had your hat and layers!”  My best friendly response:  “That’s a beautiful dog!”  And on I walked.

I walked and walked and the drizzle dripped from my jacket and hat.  I’m a duck, I thought, and it has “Chanced to Rain” (a favorite book).  My thoughts focused on the path before me.  I couldn’t remember why I was feeling kind of blue.
Before I knew it, I was walking with a joyful step and a tune to keep me company.  You know the one; Kmart seems to have created a new twist for it.  But that’s OK, I found myself walking and singing to celebrate Mother Nature and Her ability to chase away my blues:


“La, La, La, La, Laaaa, La, La, La, LAAAAAA!!!!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Wooded Ones Play Hide-and-Seek

I recently discovered a few theme-oriented blog sites that I especially like.  I found these sites on my information hunt regarding greyhound dogs.  My greyhound adventure is another day’s story, as that story is still in work.  But some of these blogs have become daily reads for me; simply stated, I enjoy reading them and looking at the photos of these soulful dogs. 

Some of these blogs have recurring weekly posts, titled:  Wordless Wednesday’s.  These Wednesday blog posts express their story visually, no words required.  And as you would guess, the photos usually involve greyhounds.  I look at the photos; they become my day’s smile.
These well-done blogs nudge me to contemplate “Chasing Flight” as a recurring blog post title; picture-only posts that show my continued attempt at catching the large feathered-ones in flight. These photos might make for your day’s laugh.

But to date, it is a place, rather than a theme, that you could accuse me of repeating:  my amazing backyard, better known as Brazos Bend State Park.  
I am very familiar with the trails of Brazos Bend; I need no map.  But some twenty years of regular visits and I still do not know this park.  I’m not sure a lifetime in one place could give me right to say I know any corner of Mother Nature’s queendom.  (I find it fascinating that kingdom is a word but queendom is not; come on young women of today’s world, you have work to do!  Oops, back to my story.)
The Brazos Bend oxbow habitats are where my best photos are shot; the large feathered ones mostly sit still.  But it is the woods where I love to walk; to watch; to listen. 

This photo shows the area I privately call Warbler Woods; it is my reliable spot for catching glimpses of warblers:

True to its name, I sighted and photographed a Yellow Warbler this November day.  And true to this complex wooded habitat, and the hide-and-seek skills of wood-loving warblers, all of my Yellow Warbler photos landed in the electronic trash can.

When I do catch a clear-view peek within Warbler Woods, it is usually at distance, as with this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher:

But on occasion I get lucky, and a few close-range photos come home with me.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher:


Tufted Titmouse:

Yellow-rumped Warbler:

These little ones may be mostly grey; mostly brown; and definitely not rare finds to many locales.  But watching them in their wooded habitat always makes for a special day. 
How I love this corner of Mother Nature’s queendom.  She, and they, are worth playing hide-and-seek.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gator'ly Grins

Sometimes I get so immersed in looking up, chasing after those that just won't sit still for a photo:

That I forget to look down, at those right beside me, ready to smile for the camera:


I’m guessing you can come up with a clever caption for the grinning ones…

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Perched and Ready

Yesterday was a picture perfect day at Brazos Bend State Park.  I’m not sure I sighted ten people all day.  The skies held sunshine, and just enough breeze to keep away the mosquitoes. 

I downloaded over 8GBs of photos this morning, and took a quick look at the small JPEG files that I always shoot as a “quick view” companion to each RAW image.  I’m kind of excited about some of the photos.  The small JPEGs tell me which RAW images are worthy of “darkroom” development.  I think I got a few worthy ones.

But today is all about errands.  A three day rain, starting tomorrow, is in the forecast:  rainy and warm; rainy and cool; rainy and cold (by Texas standards). I love rainy days, if I don’t have to travel in them. So today I will run errands, preparing me to enjoy three days at home, watching and listening to the rain and promised cold front.  I guess that’s why I’m a true Gulf Coastie:  give me magnificent old Live Oaks and slow rainy days.
And so before I’m out and about, I wanted to share these photos of hunter/gatherers of the sky. I caught them perched at Brazoria NWR.  Even perched, they are always on the ready.

The amazing Crested Caracara, similar to vultures, it mainly hunts for carrion:

The Red-tailed Hawk, perched but ready for flight:

The Turkey Vulture, an under-appreciated member of what I call the Cleanup Committee; if not for turkey and black vultures, our roads and fields would not be so clean:
And a White-tailed Kite, an old friend of mine that helped start my passion for birding:

I’m hoping to be perched at home the next few days, enjoying a steady rain, with photos to develop and stories to dream about.  And a cold front arriving, making way for a next day in the field.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Yellow Legs, Dancing in the Red

Yesterday I had great fun with my mountain dulcimer, accompanying a very good mandolin player.  Playing music with someone else is high on my bucket list of life enjoyments, and something I don’t get to do nearly enough. 

I’m not a very good dulcimer player; mostly because I haven’t played that long and haven’t invested in the cost of lessons or the price of practice-time.  But more advanced dulcimer players would say it is  because I focus too much on breaking apart chords, and putting them back together, in rhythm with the tune's melody.  A "chording melody" style, not focusing on each individual melody note.   
My excuse?  Quite simply because I like how it sounds; parsing chords, mixed with select melody notes, creating a complementary rhythm to the complex dancing melody of a mandolin.  It is a richness of sound that I love, especially when Irish jigs are involved!

Every time I pick up my dulcimer and play a simple folk or Irish tune, I realize that I watch too much TV in the evenings.  TV leaves me feeling empty.  Music picks me up and reminds me that life is best lived with a dance step in mind.

And so I wanted to share these photos from Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge and the dance I watched that day.  I had stopped my car, looking out onto a field of red, surprised by the burst of unknown color.  And then a glimpse of movement caught my eye.  Do you see her, in this field of red?

 I almost didn’t; and then I did.  Her bobbing dance, with legs lifted with each elegant dance step.  I stopped my car and got out as quietly as possible. 
I felt certain the above photo would be all that I got, as she kept her back turned to me, dance steps taking her away from my intrusion.  I quietly knelt down at the front of my car, camera in work regardless my precarious stance.  She rewarded me as her dance turned toward me, seemingly curious by the attentive audience.

I watched this beautiful Greater Yellowlegs perform her own unique dance through a field of Christmas-red flowers.

And then my knees gave out, and I was forced to stand.  She took this cue as Mother Nature taught her, dancing away into her world.  I thought of this Greater Yellowlegs as I played music yesterday.  Both are good memories.

P.S.  I’ve spent time on the web, attempting to find the name of the flowers, without success.  If you know, please share.  Aren’t they pretty?  And how about her yellow dance legs?  Isn't she lovely?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ms. Ruddy Makes Me Laugh

I hold dear a certain set of commonly-seen birds.  These not-so-extraordinary feathered friends have a special place in my heart; a specific memory in the field that only I know.  Sometimes my memory involves drama or insight or a thump on the head from Mother Nature.  But sometimes, the memory simply reminds me to laugh at myself. 

You will remember that I’ve mentioned the mistakes of beginning birders?  The mistakes of looking at beginners’ field guides?  Looking only at breeding plumage?  Looking only at male plumage? 
And remember my confessions of knowing such mistakes:  it is because I’ve committed them, over and over again.

Let’s just say that quite a few years ago (less than ten), I took a first drive to the Freeport area to better acquaint myself with waterfowl.  I didn’t have a camera.  I didn’t have an experienced birder by my side.  I didn’t have the field guide that I now carry.  I hadn’t learned how NOT to look at a field guide when IN the field, and how TO look at a field guide when NOT in the field. 
But that long ago day is a wonderful memory that I’ll hold dear, as long as memory allows. I’d prepared for the day by researching multiple birding spots in areas with roadside ponds. And so I mostly spent the day close to my car, pulling just off the road to walk beside these ponds.   

I’d quietly get out of the car with binoculars and daypack’s field guide, and be greeted by waterfowl turning their backsides to me and swimming away.  I needed to calm my nerves, even if I couldn’t calm theirs.  I first focused on the familiar; I sighted the herons, egrets, ibis and such from my beloved Brazos Bend.  I was doing pretty well; and so I started focusing on waterfowl.
I knew a few, but I kept seeing these ducks that I didn’t recognize from my night-time field guide studies.  Standing road-side, I’d look through my binoculars, note the obviously plain markings of these ducks, and too quickly flip through the pages of my guide.  Nothing matched.  And of course, I was ONLY looking at male breeding plumage pictures without realizing that I was ONLY looking at male breeding plumage.  I spent an entire day and never identified this particular duck.

The day ended, and I headed home, mostly thrilled with the new lifers and new experiences.  But the unknown duck bothered me.  I was seeing too many for it to be rare. 
After the cold blustery day, I was ready for a hot bath and a good bit of hot food.  Tired, clean and hungry, I reached out with the familiar movement of right hand to refrigerator door. And there it was; right before me, eye-level height. The refrigerator magnet a sibling had given me the Christmas before. 

For the last 300-plus days this small magnet showed me two mated waterfowl. One duck was the central focus of the magnet, sporting a bright burnt-red body with black crown and white face—nothing familiar to my experience.  And just beside and slightly behind it (on the magnet) appeared its mate; mostly a drab brown with a soft-white facial stripe.  Good grief!  It was the spitting image of my day’s unknown bird!  Right there, on my refrigerator, was my day’s puzzle.
I grabbed my strongest over-the-counter reading glasses and in teeny tiny print, bottom left corner of the magnet it said:  Ruddy Duck.

The next morning I went out and bought a better field guide.  I looked up Ruddy Duck, and then and there I was introduced to Ms. Ruddy Duck and her juvenile offspring.  I laughed so hard I almost cried.
With my new “Sibley Guide to Birds” a brave new world opened up to me.  I learned the importance of studying field guides with breeding, non-breeding, female and juvenile plumage (not to mention range and cross-breed and other such variations). 

And now I commonly see Ms. Ruddy in the fall and winter months.  Sometimes she is alone, but more often she has at least one sister, or gal-pal or juvenile at her side.  And occasionally I note the mister, in his non-breeding plumage that seems of no interest to her at all.   

And I always laugh to myself, and AT myself, for this memory that no one else knows.  Until now. 
And the magnet?  It is still there, eye level on my refrigerator. 

Ruddy Duck photo, from last week’s daytrip to Brazoria NWR; no adult males in sight:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Best Marsh Wren and the Dear, Dear Friend

I have a dear, dear friend driving into town today to spend the afternoon and evening with me.  I’ve been like a kid this week, so excited about today you'd think I was waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve night. 

We will have a fun gal-pal kind of day:  driving about town, maybe a bit of shopping (if I remember how and where), dinner out at my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, and some local bluegrass music to boot.

So I thought I’d post one photo today, contrasting yesterday’s best-worst photos from my Thursday daytrip to Brazoria NWR. This photo is the best of my Marsh Wren photos from that day. 
These marsh-loving feathered friends are usually terribly shy, letting me hear more than I see.  But yesterday I got to watch this pretty one come out from hiding, seeming to greet me with a “Like your hat!” 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Brazoria NWR, en plein air

I’ve spent a good bit of today sorting and deleting yesterday’s 450 photos from Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (what was I thinking!).  I’ve whittled the RAW images down to some ninety-five files; and by my standards and the limitations of a 400mm lens, some of the feathered ones are pretty good. 

I created categories for the subset of better photos:  perched; hiding; hanging-out; in-flight; and feeding.

But after a day of seeking the best, my eyes kept being drawn to the worst.  So I thought I’d share the worst-best photos, and just hope you’ll come back to look at my blog for the upcoming better of the bunch.
I’m going to call today’s post my “en plein air day” at Brazoria NWR.  That’s Texan speak for out-of-focus photos that are so bad, I kind of like them.

What better place to start than the pond areas of Brazoria NWR?  The ponds were in much better shape than a year ago.  Summer rains have not eliminated drought conditions, but improvement was celebrated by the winter and year-round residents of this pond.
True to their nature, waterfowl moved to the opposite side of the pond from said human with camera in hand, making photography a worst-best attempt.  But I enjoyed watching these Greater White-fronted geese, and did not take offense as they elegantly distanced themselves from my presence, creating a central theme for this en plein air pond view:

But the very worst of my day’s photos, and probably my favorite, is what I’ll call “Sandhill Cranes, en plein air” (in case you couldn’t tell the subject of this photo):


The sound of these cranes is what this picture is missing. This group was but a few of the hundreds (thousands, the counters would say?) of cranes that were coming and going; taking-off and floating-in for landing; legs forward with reverse thrusters firing.  These Winter-Texan beauties were calling and squawking and making vocal claim to these acres of land.
And what exploded above me, as I watched these elegant Sandhills?  It was that magically-familiar sound that causes birders and non-birders to turn their eyes upward and search the sky.  You’ve heard them; I was hearing them directly over me, no searching required. 

A huge skein of geese were flying back and forth, looking like sine and cosine waves dancing in the sun. I closed my eyes and listened to what seemed like a vocal-calling contest between cranes (in possession of acreage), and geese (in search of acreage):


And how could I post the worst-best without including one of my in-flight photographic attempts?  And thankfully this beautiful raptor is a familiar feathered friend. 
The Red-tailed Hawk at Brazoria NWR:


How do you like my so bad, they are kind of good, category?  En plein air—my newest style.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Brazoria Birding, Burger & Beer

I spent a good bit of today birding the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge.  Cool temps and sunny skies made for a picture perfect day in the field.  The day gifted me with some 11.0 GBs of photos to review, development or delete (the not so picture perfect ones).

A quick look at the small JPEGs (companions to the large RAW images I shoot) let me know that I’m going to have some fun developing these photos.  But not tonight; this gal is tired.  I’ll look forward to posting a series of photos in the coming days.  This refuge is the winter home to a diverse community of my feathered friends.  And today they were out and about.
With this quick post, I wanted to share one photo from today:  a Marsh Wren, the more introverted and reclusive cousin of the Carolina Wren.  Although not the best photo from today, I am pleased that this photo shows that I’m getting a bit better at grabbing focus within a complex setting:


Today was a really good one:  birding a lesser known wildlife refuge (and yes it does have “his and hers” flushing toilets); enjoying a Texas-sized fall day; and stopping for a favorite beer and burger on my way home. 
And if that wasn’t enough to say: Great Day!  How about this:  check out the comment I received from Jerry Liguori, author of “Hawks from Every Angle” regarding yesterday’s blog post “Smith Point Hawking”. 

And tomorrow?  More hawk photos to figure out!  (not to mention sparrows)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Smith Point Hawking

I’m having trouble writing this story because the story keeps fragmenting into different directions.  For serious birders, I am posting flight photos of a dark morph Broad-winged Hawk; a fairly good get in the birding world.  I’m also posting photos of a Swainson ’s hawk and a juvenile Broad-wing, for contrast.  These photos are only good enough for identification, which for the hawk-in-flight world, is not all that bad.

But for non-birders, these photos are just not that interesting.  400mm of glass, with a human monopod in a gusting north wind, does not give enough clarity to declare “great photo!”

But that is not why I’ve procrastinated.  That is not the storyline that is causing me to pause.  Truth be told, I did NOT enjoy this particular day in the field.  And I’m not sure how to explain without sounding like a whiner; but, here goes…

This day of looking skyward was facilitated by the sturdy 30’ wooden platform, managed by the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, in Smith Point, Texas.  Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of Smith Point; most native Texans have not.  But this tiny point of peninsula is surrounded by a lot of water, looking out onto Galveston Bay, East Bay and Trinity Bay.  Smith Point is well known to the subset of serious birders that are hawk enthusiasts; hawk counters; hawking experts.
I confess my birding enthusiasm has never driven me to Smith Point.  And if I’d depended solely on my car’s GPS, it would not have driven me there either.  Let’s just say Smith Point is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere; somewhat off the map.  Let’s also say it is well worth the visit, and I will return one upcoming September. 

September is the peak month for sighting thousands of raptors (sometimes in a single day) from Smith Point’s observation platform.  September (into mid-November) is the main time period for fall migration of raptors headed south, to central and South America for winter.

Why didn’t I enjoy this great birding day?  After all I was surrounded by a small group of very serious volunteers:  Hawk Counters participating in the yearly hawk watch sponsored by the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, the Hawk Watch International and the Texas Parks and Recreation department. 

This day and these experts could make for a positive learning experience. Several teachable moments were available; but no teachable moment was instantiated.  That is, quite selfishly, why I didn’t enjoy the day.
I have participated in multiple yearly Christmas Bird Counts, and know enough about birding etiquette, to not bother counters as they count; not interrupt as they record.  But this was a slow November count day. I introduced myself to the group as a birder with no hawk migration experience.  With good binoculars and camera in hand, I obviously came to this hawk party with serious interest. 

I mostly stayed quiet, pointing binoculars to sky.  This November day was mostly about solo raptor flyovers, nothing to challenge these skilled hawk counters, trained to count hundreds of birds at a time.  So when my binocular view told me I had no clue to hawk identification, I’d quietly vocalize to the collective counters:  “can you tell me what this is?”  And mostly I’d get an answer.  A specific one:  name identification only.
Call me spoiled but I’m used to more experienced birders sharing the WHY of their identification.  I’m used to the sharing of field experience that gives probable clues for the identification. Bentsen State Park naturalists and volunteers are especially good at this field education, for both beginning and more advanced birders.  I’ve learned a great deal from park volunteers, CBC volunteers and birding enthusiasts in most every bird locale, beginning those many years ago with Joan and Don at Pedernales Falls State Park.

But on this cold, windy, quiet hawk-watch day, several teachable moments were lost.  I was an outsider to this group of counting comrades.  I was not comfortable initiating the “why” and “how” of the identification process.  I had no feedback to my questions being welcomed.  That is OK.  But it was disappointing.
Back home, upon multi-hour review of my photos (with multiple field guides spread out around my computer), I inferred some knowledge by book and photo comparison.  (Jerry Liguori’s book “Hawks from Every Angle:  How to Identify Raptors in Flight” was most helpful.)  But after-study is not nearly as rewarding as learning in the field, with binoculars on bird. I gained no field experience this hawk-watch day.

I want to emphasize my respect for, and appreciation of, these dedicated hawk experts that volunteer their time.  It is not an easy job; and it was obvious that they enjoy their work and community of each other. 

But I’d like to suggest, with best intent, that maybe a bit more sharing of their field expertise would encourage more birders; which in turn would encourage more birding tourism; which in turn would encourage more revenue into Texas birding hot spots; which in turn might result in better infrastructure at this and other locales.

Result?  Perhaps their future bird counts at this wonderful locale might include a bathroom facility, rather than the lone porta-potty as their only three-month comfort station. 
And why did I leave after only two hours?  It was not the cold or the wind or the lack of welcoming spirit.  But this girl draws the line at porta-potties. 

 In-flight photos of the dark morph Broad-winged Hawk:


In-flight photos of the Swainson’s Hawk:

And a probable juvenile Broad-winged, convinced by Jerry Liguori’s book as to this i.d.  (But I’d surly like to discuss the subtle differences with Swainson’s and other juveniles, while watching this beauty in my binoculars):