Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Best Reflections to Greet 2014


My favorite reflections from 2013:





 

May good health and safe passage be your 2014 traveling companion:

 

And may the bright light of loved ones be with you, to guide your way:

 
Happy New Year!  (click on photos to enlarge)

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Duck Out of Water


Sometimes I feel a bit constrained and out of sorts with my surroundings. 
This feeling hits me especially hard when I find myself in social gatherings of kind folk I hardly know. Social graces expect little more than polite small talk.  Seems I’ve never mastered that critical skill. 
I’ll try to find a quiet corner, not conspicuously alone.  But most large gatherings of folk, especially inside stick houses, will leave me feeling a bit claustrophobic.   Claustrophobic and looking like a duck out of water:


But then I’ll sneak away to my beloved Brazos Bend:



I’ll walk the park and look outward.  I stumble upon a quiet gathering of Mother Nature’s creation, where communal silence seems to replace small talk.


Would I fit in I wonder?  Or do even these quiet societies have those that need a quiet away, to look beyond their own one life?  And without realizing it, do we quiet ones seek solitude in places that remind us of our own kind?


And then Mother Nature tells me that it’s not about the group gatherings or the one alone. It’s about looking out and beyond my own one life. 
It’s about finding that place, and that way of living, that is so much more than I am, alone. 
 
 
 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fruitful Comments


Believe it or not, when I’m out in the field, I don’t just look at birds.  I’m just incredibly ignorant about most biology; almost all botany; and definitely all geology. 
But my ignorance doesn’t mean that I don’t stop, look and wonder.  And sometimes I’ll even snap a photo or two. But researching these complex sciences seems to fall off this girl’s to-do list.  It’s so much easier spending my evenings looking at birding field guides!

While birding in field and wood these last few months, I’ve found myself drawn to a number of beautiful native fruits.  As a local Gulf Coastie, I should be able to tell you all about them, but I can’t.  I just think they are lovely.




I decided to share a few fruit-filled photos as my way of saying thank you to those folks that don’t even know me, and yet leave wonderfully encouraging and funny comments to my blog posts.

I confess that I’ve had more than a few days where I’ve almost convinced myself to stop blogging, as I’m not sure anyone is reading. And then boom!  I’ll get the best of encouragement:  a thoughtful or funny comment.
 
I’ve long thought that the expression bearing fruit is one that is overused; or polarizing; or presumptive about a capability of some one person.  But this lovely expression can also mean gifting another to be successful.  The gift is not about the one.  It is about the giving and lifting up of another.
 
 
And so I want to thank each one of you for your insightful, funny, and encouraging comments to my blog.  Your comments bear fruit for me, nudging me to keep at it. 
 
I’ll claim you are gifting me with the tenacity to continue my work on photography and writing; continuing to post my own little stories and photos; and continuing to look forward to sharing my next day in the field.
Special thanks to Patty (Two Greyhound Town), Judy (Travels with Emma) and Hazel (Class A Greyhounds). Your comments to my blog, and your own great blog stories and photos, bring a great deal of joy and laughter to my life.  Not to mention a good bit of wonder over some of your adventures!
May all your days be birdy days!
 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hanging On for Dear Life


A wonderful day of woodland birding doesn’t always promise great photographs.  The wooded ones rarely sit still for the camera.  Photographing these beauties is kind of like photographing a toddler that’s just started crawling, and at Superman-fast speed.  There’s just no stopping them!
But photos or not, a wooded walk is just about perfect when the leaves are mostly down, and the Gulf-Coast mosquitoes are chased away by the December cold.

Yesterday’s three hour walk made for a relaxing afternoon.  The recent dry conditions created a thick carpet of leaves that were unusually dry, crunching loudly underneath each booted step.  This loud crunch delighted the kid in me.  But the birder in me was finding it just about impossible to sneak up on the shyest of the feathered ones:

 

I photographed vireos and warblers; sapsuckers and woodpeckers.  I listened to Carolina and House Wrens fuss at me, sticking out their heads from cover and scolding my leaf crunching (as if I were eating cereal with my mouth partly open).  Large groups of Robins moved about me, staggering about as if my crunching awakened them from an afternoon nap.  The wooded walk was delightful; the photographs, not so much.
But every birder loves to catch a photo of a Brown Creeper, good quality picture or not.  This perfectly named bird can be hard to spot; and harder to photograph. They are expert tree-huggers, silently creeping up and around mature tree trunks. Their wood-bark camouflaged feathering makes them difficult to spot.  Their non-stop upward motion makes them more difficult to photograph. 
I love to watch Brown Creepers because their tree-hugging movement reminds me of watching my grandmother’s knitting:  upward stitch, upward stitch, upward stitch, and on up the tree they go; and then a quick flight down to the base of a nearby tree (as quickly as an expert knitter will pick up the next row of stitches); and upward stitch, upward stitch, upward stitch, and on up this tree they go. 
A side-view of the Brown Creeper, exposing her bright-white belly as contrasted to her tree-bark backside:

 

And another:


And then my camera caught this pose that made me burst out laughing; a creeper appearing to hang on for dear life:


 
I wasn’t the only one watching this quietly busy tree-hugger.  I turned toward the hoarse barking sound of a Red-bellied Woodpecker. I think these loud ones sound just like a dog that has barked so long that their bark has gone hoarse. 
This Red-bellied seemed to want to give the creeper a few tips for elegant tree walking:

 

 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Mocker's Hard Knock Life


The last few days I’ll call quiet and slow.  I don’t voice complaint; just the circumstances of my lifestyle that would bore if I shared.  But Mother Nature is readily sharing the best that December’s weather can offer on the Upper Gulf Coast of Texas. 
And where would you find me on these lovely days?  Outdoors, exploring, hiking and birding?  Mostly not; my birding and blogging have taken second fiddle to multiple days of working on my dulcimer. 
I’m not very good on my sweet mountain dulcimer.  I come to it readily equipped with almost zero musical talent.  But days of practice have created an upward step-function toward cross-picking melody notes, mandolin style; but much, much slower than any mandolin you'll ever hear.  I like to believe that the ladies of the 1800s, in their long dresses and ill-fitting shoes, would welcome a dance to my slow Irish jigs.  At least that is what I tell myself.  Regardless, I have fun with my dulcimer.  And that’s all that really matters.
But today, I finally pushed myself outdoors and drove to a local nature preserve with binoculars and camera in hand.  Mother Nature provided another stellar day for Gulf Coasties; and even with my slow start, a wonderfully birdy afternoon brought me joy. 
I watched warblers and vireos. I photographed a Brown Creeper and multiple woodpeckers.  A few good photos, for tomorrow’s post, but nothing I would claim as amazing.
But it was while I was in the field that I framed what I thought would be today’s blog post, with a title:  “When a Mocker Poses.”  For in fact, the only bird that flew in close, and stayed, was a Mocking Bird. 
Few birders photograph mockers.  But this Mocker’s proximity, and frozen posture, begged the camera to give it attention.  And so I did.  In the field, this Mocker looked normal and lovely.  I was confident I’d simply post a story about a quiet day of birding and a Mocker that posed for the camera.
But when I got home, and downloaded and reviewed today’s images, I realized this was no normal Mocker.  This lovely specimen revealed the broken bill and abnormal toes of a hard knock life.
I don’t know how long this mocker will fly this world.  The broken bill will make gleaning its daily bread more challenging, if not soon impossible.  Only this Mocker knows if the broken bill is from a warring battle, or a bad choice of food, or unforeseen circumstance, or brittle genetics.  Only this Mocker knows the pain of her hard knock life.
And when I developed the photo, I almost missed the abnormal growth on her toe.  Would an ornithologist recognize a cancerous growth or other genetic dysfunction, possibly linked to a brittle bill?  I do not know.  But I do know that her toe is significantly off-nominal.
And so my light-hearted post of “When a Mocker Poses” turned into a “Hard Knock Life” photograph with unknown story.  And why do I share it?
Because this beautiful mocker is like so many humans; scarred from war; damaged from accident; victim of circumstance; or challenged by the worst throw of the dice that genetics can offer.  And we should never look away.
But mostly, this photo captures a friendly Mocker.  A Mocker that is both beautiful and alive, on this lovely day.
 
 
 
 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Christ-like Gift of the Orange-crowned Warbler


I recently met a friend of a friend who owns a greyhound dog, and not her first.  I met Pam for lunch and listened to the joy that flowed from her stories about her beloved canine family member.  “Jesus eyes” was one of the physical traits that she loved. 
Now I must confess that I’ve only stood in the close-by presence of five different greyhounds.  Only five greyhounds have stared back at me as I knelt closely, staring quietly into their eyes.  And I have to tell you, I think that Pam may be right.  Compassion, love and forgiveness stare back at me each time I make close-encounter eye contact with a well-cared-for greyhound.

In contrast to greyhounds, I’ve stood quietly in the presence of hundreds if not thousands of Orange-crowned (OC) Warblers, mostly one at a time.  My first identification of an OC Warbler was at Pedernales Falls State Park.  It was a cold and rainy winter day.  I was huddled in one of the bird blinds with Joan and Don, two experienced birders that volunteered for many years at this beautiful park.  “Look” Joan quietly called out, “because of the rain, this OC Warbler is dripping wet and showing its orange crown!” 

Joan and Don went on to explain that I might never again see this warbler's orange crown because under nominal conditions, their orange-crown patch is rarely seen. They were mostly correct.  One other more recent sighting, when quietly walking and birding in the rain at Brazos Bend, I again spotted the orange crown of this beautiful little warbler, again when it was dripping wet. 
This rarely sighted orange-crown is not why this little bird is my favorite.  It has more to do with the character of Christ.  The OC Warbler does not have Jesus eyes.  But it does seem to model the best of Christ-like behavior.  Or maybe the behavior of my grandmothers; sometimes I get the two confused.

Birding field guides frequently refer to the OC Warbler as drab; as plain; as unremarkable in its plumage.  I don’t think these published birders know what they are talking about.
OC Warblers are quietly active in their day’s work.  They don’t seek high up places; they don’t chatter; they don’t get into squabbles when surrounded by other Aves that appear and act quite differently.  They seem at peace with solitude.  And they quietly mind their own business when in an Aves crowd. 

This Christmas season the only gift I offer, and the only gift I wish to receive, is to stand silently in the presence of an OC Warbler.  This beautifully plain bird needs no ornate plumage.  It will never call out “Look at me!  Look at me!”  And when not mating, this little warbler works quietly and alone, gleaning a day’s harvest that appears to be more about needs than wants.
The OC Warbler's gift is its reminder of what life can look like when modeled on the behavior and character of Jesus; not modeled on the rule books that can be derived from cherry-picking quotes from religious texts.

I frequently hear people bemoan that the story of Christ’s birth seems lost in the commercial business of Christmas. I don’t so often hear good folks bemoan this loss of focus due to the current traditions that focus on the giving and receiving of man-made stuff. 
But the Christ-like character story is not really lost; it’s just mostly hidden.  And it seems we humans mostly seek out this Christ-like character when our life is undergoing off-nominal conditions; kind of like sighting the orange-crown on a rainy day.

But it is on the nominal day, during an ordinary day-in-the-life, that the Christ-like character of the OC Warbler is modeled.   And there is nothing plain about it.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.”  Matthew 11:29











Thursday, December 19, 2013

When a Hawk Looks You in the Eye


Not too long ago I watched a first year Cooper’s Hawk take down a squirrel.  The hunt was purposeful; a needed meal.  I stood very still, some forty-five minutes, before I turned away.
The hawk’s process of living, and the squirrel’s process of dying, came more slowly than my inexperienced judgment would have guessed.  My watch was a meaningful learning experience.  I won’t pretend that my watch was easy; but it became a critical memory that changed my understanding of life and death.  This watch began my understanding that few of Mother Nature’s creation ever die quickly.

Whether this young Cooper’s Hawk relied solely on innate skills or came equipped from parental guidance, she was a skilled hunter:

 
Much of the time she kept her wings flared, hiding her prey from other predator’s view.  On occasion her focus included a quieting of her wings:

 


I was caught by surprise by her constant backward and upward looks.  This skilled hunter understood that she was most vulnerable to other predators while focused on her meal:

 
I choose not to detail what I watched; what I learned; what were the sounds of life and death.  I am not an ornithologist.  I cannot tell you the percentage of instinct; the percentage of training that brought her to this day.
But I can tell you that when this hawk stopped, and looked me in the eye, I saw the intelligence of a wild thing.  The intelligence of Mother Nature’s creation that surpasses human understanding:





Monday, December 16, 2013

The Greytest Greyt Day!


This past summer I got serious about adding a dog to my family.  I love the RVing lifestyle.  I love dogs.  And when I’m traveling, I meet so many other RVers with dogs—so why wasn’t I one of them?
Well, my favorite dog may surprise you; it is the Greyhound.  I fell in love with greyhounds when I was thirteen.  But that story isn’t important.  What is important is what happened this past summer.  I turned to Google to learn more about greyhounds.  Specifically, I Googled:  “RVing with Greyhounds”

And guess what popped up?  The most amazing website titled “Two Greyhound Town”—a blog not just about RVing with greyhounds—but a blog written by a greyhound, Joey, as he travels around the U.S. (with his greyhound sister and human Mama and Dad, in their RV).
I started reading; and reading. I laughed until I cried.  I became an avid follower of Mr. Joey’s (the greyhound) stories (and pictures!) that detail his RVing adventures with his sister, Miss Scout (the greyhound) and human Mama and Dad.
And you really won’t believe what happened today.  I got to go visit Joey and his family! They’ve traveled to Texas as part of the Winter Texan migration that occurs each year (when RVers from the great north head south, to escape the harsh northern winters).
Joey is a really handsome “all boy” greyhound.  He is full of curious energy and loves adventure.  Joey is incredibly well mannered and was a perfect gentleman today when I got to walk with him and hold his leash.  And even better, he was especially happy that I walked him beside his mama—it’s not everyone that so easily shows their love for their mama.  He is his mama's boy in the best kind of way.  I think that makes Joey pretty special. 
And speaking of pretty—that would be Scout!  She is a big beautiful “all girl” greyhound.  She is a lovely lady with the most gentile of manners.  She gave me a warm, friendly greeting on arrival.  She walked beside me and would occasionally stop and look at me as if to say “I’m glad to meet you.”  And Scout shows her contentment when receiving a good back massage—what discerning lady doesn’t?
But my manners would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mrs. Patty, their mama.  Mrs. Patty has that rare gift, not seen so often these days:  the gift for hospitality.  Look it up; it is one of the “greatest gifts” and she has it.
I could write and write about today’s wonderful visit—but I won’t because pictures are worth a thousand words.  And did I take any pictures?  No, because I was too busy visiting.  But Joey’s mama took some great photos and posted them today on Joey’s blog page.  You must take a look!  I’m attaching the link to Joey’s post for today, so that no matter when you read this story, you’ll go to that post:

But make sure you also look at Joey’s newest (and older) posts—he is a greyt storyteller!  Link to Joey's newest blog post: 
Today was the greytest of greyt days.  I met greyt knew friends.  I learned a lot about RVing with greyhounds.  And I’ve already looked at today’s photos that Mrs. Patty posted.
Joey, keep writing!  I’ll keep reading!  You make me laugh just when I think nothing will.

THANK YOU Mrs. Patty for a GREYT day!  This birder will reflect on today for a long, long time.  See you here or on the road!
 

 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

On a Lark


These last few days have found me visiting people rather than birds; a special category of people:  old friends.  The first visit was planned.  The second visit was on a lark.
One friend I’ve known since the age of thirteen.  The other friend I’ve known some fifteen years.  Both visits were slow and relaxed and filled with laughter and tears and the type of conversations that sisters hold special.

We each three women are in the traveling phases of our lives; two of us by RV; one by plane.  Our paths do not cross often enough, but when they do, good conversation never fails to join us.
When a good friend shares their life with me, I no longer feel alone and covered in the muck of life’s harder days:



When a good friend shares their life with me, I no longer feel lost in the crowd:


And when a good friend shares their life with me, my life is made special.  I better understand what it means to be a Lark Sparrow.  A Lark Sparrow is described by ornithologists with this one phrase: a sparrow like no other sparrow.

 
A day with a close friend is like no other day.
 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Yellow-Rumped Day

If I’m not careful, I can get a wee bit down during the “holiday” season.  Yes, I love the Gulf Coast winters; and yes I especially love winter birding. But December pre-holiday weeks can cause me to feel a bit misplaced.
 
I’m especially vulnerable if I’m staying in my stick house rather than in my RV. It’s far too easy to look out a stick-house window, see a sunless drab-gray sky (with 50 degree damp temperatures) and stay indoors.  And staying indoors never chases away my blues. 

And so today, late morning, I pushed myself outdoors (with 3 of my 5 layers) and drove to a wooded nature center.  I realized I was in need of a binocular-only birding day, leaving the camera at home. 

The result? A wonderfully birdy day, and a reminder that looking outward toward Mother Nature, instead of inward on my one life, is a reliable method for brushing off my blues.

The gloomy indoor day turned into a glorious outdoor day in the field. Overcast skies are perfect for wooded walks and binocular birding.  The bird of the day?  One of my favorite Winter Texans:  the Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Since I was sans camera today, I wanted to share some YR Warbler photos that I shot last February (from Brazos Bend), and never posted.  These photos are a bit special to me; I hope they will bring a little warmth and joy to you.  I easily saw 500 of these beautiful warblers today:




The Yellow-rumps were everywhere.  They flocked in large trees, moving in-and-about as if they were Goldfinch. They congregated on the ground, feeding in groups like Pipits. They moved in and around brush piles, pretending to be wrens. They even perched on barb-wire fencing, daring me to mistake them for sparrows. 

And when these lovely warblers paused and filled my binocular view with their artful expressions, they brought me tidings of comfort and joy:





Today’s wooded walk gave me a bounty of other birds to sight.  I stood quietly in this muddy spot, watching and listening to a beautiful Pileated Woodpecker, not thirty yards away:



Some of the other birds from my two-hour, wooded walk:

OC Warbler (many)
Blue-headed Vireo
Hermit Thrush (4)
T Titmouse (many)
BG Gnatcatcher (many)
RC Kinglet (many)
Pileated Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker (multiple)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (3)
C Wren (multiple)
E Phoebe (multiple)
Mockingbird (multiple, seems I woke one up from a nap—hilarious!)
Mourning Dove
W Pelican (Oh, to be in heavy woods and see these fly over!)


I hope these Yellow-rumped Warbler photos bring you a bit of the comfort and joy that I found, when watching these beauties today.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Helen Hunt and the Whistling Duck


I don’t know if birds remind me of people, or people remind me of birds.  But I do know that I tend to learn a bit about both, when watching one or the other. 
I’ve never had a bird remind me of a specific actress, playing a specific role, in a specific scene from a movie.  But that’s exactly what happened when I recently birded Brazos Bend State Park. 

I’m not a movie buff.  I’m a bit embarrassed to say I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie theater.  And until Friday’s really cold snap, I hadn’t curled up on the sofa and watched an old DVD movie in forever.  But last Friday afternoon I intentionally dug through my small stash of DVDs and picked out a specific movie to watch; all because of what happened a couple of weeks ago when birding in the field.
To set the stage, my birding style involves a lot more standing still than giving chase.  I seek out a quiet place that gives promise of a birdy spot.  I look for shadow to stand within; wide tree-trunk shadows are especially good.  I quietly wait, avoiding movement, and hope for birds to appear. 

If I’m lucky, a bird or more comes into close view, not noticing my shadow stance.  I’m rewarded with the lovely day-in-the life of birds, going about their world’s work. 
Usually, within a too short time, these highly observant birds note my presence.  One of two events always occurs:  1) the bird immediately flies (or swims) away; or 2) the bird turns its back to me; intentionally turns its back to me.  The back-turn is what I “view” as the “If I-Bird can’t see You-Human, then You-Human can’t see Me-Bird” behavior.

It is both humorous and frustrating to get the back-turn from a bird.  If I’m attempting identification, I admit to the frustration creeping in.  If I know the bird, I find this cold-shoulder a bit funny, especially because of what ALWAYS happens next (if I stay standing ever so still). 
Keeping a frozen backside posture to me, the bird will slowly turn its head to one side, looking toward me over its shoulder; she is checking to see if I’m still in frame. 

I’ve watched in wonder this sudden awareness of my presence, followed by an immediate back-turn toward me, followed by a frozen cold-shouldered wait a bit, and then, and only then, turning of head toward me.  This amazing bird behavior almost always reminds me of human behavior, including my own.  But this Brazos Bend day, something extraordinary happened: a Whistling Duck became the actress Helen Hunt!

I don’t remember how many years it’s been since I watched the movie AS GOOD AS IT GETS, with Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear. I rummaged around in my stick-house DVD drawer, and confirmed I did own the movie.  I was surprised to note this academy award-winning movie was from 1997—how time does fly!
I couch-potatoed and watched the movie.  And sure enough, the famous scene unfolded of Helen Hunt sitting on the edge of the bathtub, with her towel-wrapped back toward the artist, Greg Kinnear’s character (and movie audience). There it was! She quietly and elegantly turned her head, to see if the artist was watching!

I had not thought of that scene since I don’t know when; but this beautiful Black-bellied Whistling-Duck’s behavior, and head-turn to see if I was watching, became Helen Hunt, in the feather:

 
If you haven't seen this movie, I’d offer opinion that it is worth your time; I’m guessing Santa can get the old DVD pretty cheaply.  I should probably stop writing at this point, but another thought has been on my mind since Friday’s movie time. 
It’s not that I hesitate to continue writing for fear of giving away the movie’s story, because my thoughts will not.  But I do hesitate because my thoughts involve sharing my opinion; I’d forgotten this 1997 movie so wonderfully addressed my opinion on one of today’s hot topics: medical insurance.
We could question and debate the actions of the movie’s fictional characters, starting with the actions of the artist’s (Greg Kinnear’s character) mother and father, as told from his childhood memories. His childhood is victimized by both parents, in my opinion.
We can easily question the action of the grown artist’s agent in selecting an unknown human, quite literally off the street, to serve as the artist’s model.  This current event (in the movie) definitely resulted in the artist’s victimization. 
Opinions on actions and resulting behaviors can be debated.  But I believe that all would agree:  the fact that the self-employed artist did not hold medical insurance resulted in an immediate stoppage in his productivity and his financial livelihood.  He stopped work. 
And then there is Helen Hunt’s character, the very likeable and empathetic waitress.  I’d remembered that Jack Nicholson’s character had helped her with her son’s illness.  But I’d forgotten the why.  Turns out this working-waitress had poor medical insurance that did not cover the needs of her son’s health condition.  The pattern became familiar: sick days for mother and son, with trips to the Emergency Room, where solutions were missing, but the ER cost would be covered by her medical insurance.  Sound familiar?
Opinions on actions and resulting behavior by this waitress can be debated.  But I believe that all would agree:  her poor-quality medical insurance resulted in an immediate stoppage of her productivity; in her livelihood; in her work as a waitress.  She stopped productive work because her medical insurance did not cover her family’s need.
I’d forgotten this specific medical insurance storyline of the movie.  I’m not going to take these fictional examples and get on a soapbox and spew my personal beliefs.  But the movie does frame two very different human stories; two very different forms of victimization.  The movie makes premise:  good medical insurance is readily tied to citizen productivity. 
If you haven’t watched AS GOOD AS IT GETS recently (or ever), give it a try.  The third human story detailed, weaving the two other stories together, is Jack Nicholson’s character.  He is so awful he is wonderful. 
The extreme diversity in opinion of these three main characters makes today’s political polarization seem mild.  And look at what these three difficult people did?  They built a community between them.  How?  They started listening to each other; they asked for a pausing of judgment toward each other; they began lifting each other up and helping each other.
Community can be a beautiful thing, especially when it is healthy, safe and productive:
 
 
 
 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Thirty-Eight Degree Birding


After two indoor days, noon-time today brought on a bad case of cabin fever.  So I did what I do:  bundled up and set out birding.
I learned several years ago that for me, wearing a heavy winter coat does not work well when birding.  The coat constrains my arms in a way that makes raising binoculars and camera uncomfortable.  So I came up with my own mix of 5 layers, with layer 5 a light-weight windbreaker.  Layers 1-4 include a big-armed fleece sweater and a heavy sleeveless vest.    
I don’t don all five layers very often, but at high noon today my outdoor thermometer read thirty-eight degrees.  (Yes, a new record cold for this day.) But cabin fever trumped cold temperatures, so I grabbed my camera, binoculars and layers, and off I went.
With no sunshine and a dark-grey sky trying to hold back drizzle, I knew today would not be great for photography.  So I decided to have a bit of fun and attempted a “selfie” with my phone’s camera.  I look like one cold big-bird, all fluffed up to keep warm in my five layers (not to mention my windbreaker hood pulled up over my funniest warm hat:

 
The lighting was terrible.  The photos would be terrible, but still I had to try….
A male Lesser Scaup:

 
A female Lesser Scaup:

 
 
And after seeing so many Royal Terns at the Texas City Dike, I was delighted with sighting this Caspian Tern, whose deep-red bill over-saturated my camera sensor on this greyt day:

 
 
It took less than two hours out in the cold to send me back inside, ready to sip hot tea and warm my hands by tapping on the keyboard. 
Before closing this post I thought I’d include a few pictures from this past week's sunny, warm day on the Texas City dike.
American Oystercatchers won’t let you get close, but I happened on these as I was watching distant Common Loons, from the gulf-facing side of the dike.  I find Oystercatchers especially difficult to photograph.  The bills and eyes are a challenge, often looking plastic or digitally manipulated.  But the lighting for these gave me my best Oystercatcher photos to date:
 
 
 
And a couple photos of Royal Terns:
 
 

How’s that to brighten your day?  The warm tea was good but I’m ready for some hot chicken soup…
 
 
 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Upstaging the Brown Pelican


Today I could easily write about the cold weather.  But it would seem pretense because this corner of the Texas coast is in the 40’s.  Not to mention that I’m in a stick house with well-insulated walls and natural gas furnace, unlike some quarter million folks in the Dallas area, suffering from an ice storm that took away their electricity.
I have friends in Dallas; I have friends in RVs; and I have friends traveling in not so good travel conditions.  So rather than write about the weather, I thought I’d post a couple of photos that might bring some warm laughter, or at least a warming smile.
This past Tuesday, while birding the Texas City dike, I donned rubber boots and slowly walked out onto a sand bar.  “Walking” in my infamous squatting, rubber-boot duck walk, I slowly approached a Brown Pelican, surrounded by a group of gulls and terns.
I paused and stayed low to the ground, hoping for a good photo.  The pelican seemed delighted by my interest, posing for the camera and graciously turning her head to one side, allowing for that sought after eye reflection.
I was thrilled to get this one fairly crisp photo of a juvenile (first year) Brown Pelican, on land, exposing her soft white underbelly:


Suddenly, a Herring Gull, just out of frame of the first photo, made her move, flying low, and dangling pink legs with freshly painted black toe-nail polish.  She stole the scene, “Look at me, look at me, look at me!” 


And as you can tell from the photo, pretty much everyone turned their gaze to the Herring:  the young Brown Pelican, the Royal Terns, and this tickled birding photographer.  I especially like the facial expression of the Brown Pelican, as if to say “Excuse me, but this is my photo shoot!”
I fell backwards from my squatting view, and of course the Brown took her cue:  she was gone with the wind.  I left the area, knowing the juvenile would want to return to her spot.
I hope my Dallas friends and RVing friends have electricity, heat and a warm cup of tea.  And maybe a good warm chuckle…especially over the missing photos of my squatting in rubber boots (before the Brown) and my falling over backwards (before the Herring), who upstaged the photo shoot.