Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 Spring Migrants I

After a quick trip to Austin, driving up Sunday and returning yesterday, it feels good to be home today.  

That type of fast-paced car trip reaffirms my love for RVing where travel can be slow, good weather can be chased, and my condo-on-wheels and its creature-comforts are with me.  One more month…

Today I wanted to post some of my spring migrant photos, with more to come.  This week’s forecasted north wind will likely find me back out in the field.  But today I’m glad NOT to be behind the wheel.

No stellar photos, but I surely enjoy all opportunities to photograph the feathered Ones.

One can never have too many Black-throated Green Warbler photos:

Or Cerulean Warbler:

An Indigo Bunting:

Another Indigo Bunting, blue and red saturating my lens!

Scarlet Tanager:

Swainson's Thrush:

Best thoughts for safe travels, for Aves and human travelers, during this season of Mother Nature's violent springtime storms.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"The Rose-breasted Becard!" Oops!--I Mean Grosbeak

Even if you aren’t a birder, you’ve gotta love the name of this bird, with my carefully, correctly stating the name:  Rose-breasted Grosbeak. 

I’m especially fond of the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak because he has become my iconic reminder to laugh at myself.  If I didn’t have the ability to readily laugh at myself, I’d find myself awfully hard to live with. (Including my fondness for grammar dangles) 

I’ll laugh with others; I’ll laugh at myself.

As the title of this blog advertises, I have a terrible genetic tendency to confuse words.  I get stuck on a word or phrase and it pops out of my mouth instead of the correct word or phrase.  

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is THE icon for this befuddling trait.  If I sight a Grosbeak in the presence of other birders, I’ll quietly exclaim:  “Rose-breasted Becard!”  And of course the serious birders look at me as if I’m an idiot and politely say “Don’t you mean Rose-breasted Grosbeak?”

My immediate reaction is quiet laughter over the joke that only I know:  These last few winters I’ve fixated on spotting a Rose-throated Becard in the RGV, a bird that looks NOTHING like a Grosbeak.   So when I start vocalizing the word “Rose” for a bird sighting, I muddle it all up and out pops:  “Rose-breasted Becard!”  (And no, I still have not sighted my longed for Rose-throated Becard)

This embarrassing character-trait shared itself last week while birding Boy Scout Woods at High Island.  While sitting on the “bleachers” and listening to other birders call out migrant sightings in the drip area, I noted several Rose-breasted Ones dropping into the Mulberry trees, just over head.  And before I could stop myself, I quietly called out:  “Rose-breasted Becard overhead!” 

The looks, smirks and polite corrections echoed all about me.  (Thank goodness I didn’t scream about the snake some hour before!)  And thank goodness my reaction was to apologize with a quiet, but distinctly audible set of the giggles; my spontaneous giggles probably added to their labeling of me and my hat.

But mostly I’m fond of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak because like me, these feathered ones have a serious sweet tooth.  And like me, they tend to want to stuff their face (bill) in privacy. 

My sweet-tooth stuffing is most frequently enjoyed in the privacy of my couch-potatoed TV mode. As for Grosbeaks, they have quite the knack for utilizing Mulberry leaves to hide their fruit-focused stuffing. 

Some might say that I have an eating disorder and they have a robust hunger after a long flight.  I prefer to think that we both share a natural gift, manifested as a solitary hobby.  Regardless, the Grosbeak's talent for leaf-hiding-while-fruit-stuffing makes for a difficult photo opportunity.
Most of my Rose-breasted Grosbeak photos look something like this:

Or this:

Or when in full-out fruit-plucking mode, like this:

And when lucky, I’ll get an almost full shot, complete with a fruit-dripping bill that needs a dinner napkin:

And every once in a while a bit of sun dapples its way onto a beautiful Rose-breasted Grosbeak, while taking a fruit-filled (Oops—I mean fruitful) rest:

Friday, April 25, 2014

Residents Among the Migrants

The wonderful outdoor weather has slowed my progress in developing spring migrant photos.  

And each time I try to focus on photos of my migrant sightings, I’m drawn to the photos of the Gulf-Coastie residents that share their habitat with the springtime migrants.  I thought I’d share a few today.  Tomorrow, some migrants!

Some folk might think the Red-eyed Vireo is a plain-looking hyperactive bird, difficult to sit still for the camera:

But when you catch that beautiful red eye, shining brightly in the dappled light, you catch your breath at its beauty:

Whoever named the Black-necked Stilt kind of missed the point.  These hot-pink-long-legged beauties walk about as if they were wearing platform high heels:

I’ve never shot a stellar photo of a Black-and-white Warbler.  But that’s OK.  I love each sighting of these quiet wood warblers:

And then there is the Brown Thrasher.  These ground-lovers use their bills and wings to toss sand, dirt and water into the air, always reminding me of children in a sand box:

And then the thrasher will suddenly stop, look up and freeze, kind of like said children, as if asking:  “Are you watching me or those fly-away migrants?”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Cattle Drive, the Crawfish Farm and the Snake!

Yesterday I spent a wonderful eleven hours day-tripping to Anahuac NWR and High Island.  Truth be told, the last hour involved sitting down in my grungy jeans and T-shirt for some great Italian food at a local restaurant, after driving back to my neck-of-the-woods. 

I started my daytrip with no breakfast; birded all day with no packed lunch; and so I was tired AND hungry when driving away from High Island’s birding field-of-dreams.  So I convinced myself that I was presentable enough (even with hat-hair) to enjoy a bit of after-the-fact carbohydrate loading.  It just made sense, right?

And so I’m spending today, Earth Day, mostly indoors to develop yesterday’s bird photos.  But before giving time to the feathered ones, I wanted to share two unexpected sightings and one near miss!

The first unexpected sighting occurred while driving Whites Ranch Road, between Anahuac NWR and High Island.  I happily drove along this deserted FM highway, trying to stay within the speed limit as I was lead-foot excited about getting to High Island.
As I drove along, watching Scissor-tailed Flycatchers playing tag with each other on both sides of the road, I remembered reading a blog post (from the wonderful blog site “Travels with Emma”) about the author getting stuck behind cattle drives that covered this entire road.  And what to wonder but that I drove up behind this:

Watching the dog in the pickup-bed in front of me (in above picture) was almost as entertaining as watching the four cattlemen and large herd of cattle.  This was no city dog.  No barking; no trying to jump out of the truck.  This dog moved from one side of the truck’s bed to the other, alertly watching. This working dog knew exactly what was going on and would have gladly raised a paw to help. 

But for this birder headed to High Island, there would be no getting around this modern day Texas cattle drive.  But that was OK, for how often do you get to say you’re stuck on the road behind four cowboys on horses and a big bunch of cattle? 

And if you don’t think this is the real deal, check out the spurs, rope and such on this cattleman.

Missing from my photos (besides the smell) are the sounds.  The cattlemen’s loud whistles and calls, and the crack of a whip (in the air) that these cattle were trained to respond to, slowly turning from the FM highway into the opened gate leading to land.  No hurrying or running, just the calm motion of a familiar routine; expected behavior:

The second unexpected sighting, once past the cattle drive, is what I think is a crawfish farm.  So I pulled over and snapped a photo.  Whether crawfish or crayfish or crawdads, watching a small boat go by and empty the contents of each red-bobbed basket was a new sighting for me:

And speaking of the unexpected, I have a non-birding near miss to report, after finally arriving at High Island:
Even for a Monday, and even for a non-fallout kind of day, quite a few birders were out and about Boy Scout Woods.  So I found one of my favorite quiet spots, and birded in the deep shade of mature Mulberry trees.  These Mulberries were loaded with their plump red fruit, just the meal ticket for tired and hungry migrants.

As I stood under the largest Mulberry, with neck craned upward, I got delightful looks at a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, busily feeding on the favored red fruit. 

Suddenly I heard the sound of an object crashing downward through the Mulberry’s branches.  Assuming the sound to be a probable small branch, broken from the robust dining efforts of a squirrel or other bird, I took a quick step backward, as the noise sounded as though the branch would fall right on my head! 

Being too familiar with the stubborn stains of ripe Mulberries, my step backward was made with purposeful haste.  And PLOP, landing on the ground right where I had been standing, was a snake!  And without purposeful thought, two more of my backward steps made haste.

Now I know that almost all snakes are not harmful to humans, and so this snake crashing down and harming me (by landing on my head!) was not my first alarm.  My alarmed heartbeat was that if I had not HEARD the falling object, and had not stepped backward, this snake landing on me would have caused me to SCREAM LIKE A GIRL! 

And can you imagine, my quietly birding less than thirty hidden-yards from the human-whispering of those in this birding heaven, and THEY suddenly hearing the screeching squeal of this birder?  Oh, the stories that would have been told at my anonymous expense…

And so I leave you with this not so good photo of a disoriented snake that was a near miss.  The picture is poor quality as I had NOT the right lens NOR the right mind to focus.  I’m thinking it might be a Texas Patchnose snake, just by looks.  (You will definitely need to "click-on" photo to see it)

But I don’t know if Patchnose snakes like swinging from trees and dropping on birders, just to get a laugh from the squeals that come out of otherwise quiet humans.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Reflections

I recently whined to a friend that it seemed the only thing that anyone ever asked me to do was meet them at a restaurant.
It is true that restaurants can make for relaxed places to talk and enjoy the tradition of “breaking bread together.” But they can also be noisy, uncomfortable and extremely bad for my past-mid-life waistline.

Since that specific whining episode, this friend (we’ll call her Debbie) has asked me to do some really fun things that didn’t involve food and that I hadn’t done in many a year: 

1) Bowling (I just barely broke 50 the first game and didn’t break 50 in the second—I laughed and laughed and had so much fun!)

2) Walking an upscale shopping mall (I usually avoid malls at all cost!); we giggled and were silly with our pondering the styles and colors that are so “in” and how “out” we would throw them.

3) And just yesterday we met at a paint-oriented hobby shop, having signed up for a three-hour class.  (Thanks Deb for treating me.) In the company of six other women we attempted to paint a mountainous scene with flowing river and mature trees, using kid-safe acrylic paints and little tutoring. Chick-flick music, alcoholic drink and women-being-kids were our company.  We laughed and laughed and had great fun. 

And so I spent a good bit of today reflecting on the healing power of friends who enable the kid-in-us to laugh, and do, and be.

Yesterday evening my introverted self needed quiet time with a good book, much the same as elementary kids need a nap after time on the playground.  And so I finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel:  “The Invention of Wings.” 

I could write a blog about how deeply this book touched my heart, but I’d rather suggest that you read it.  “The Invention of Wings” does more than personalize the 1800’s world of slave and free; this book does more than speak to the beginnings of women’s suffrage.  

This book gifts the reader with the introduction of two historically-real sisters, and multiple other women, slave and free, whose stories were left out of ALL of my history books.  Women’s history is missing from mainstream American history.  I believe it will take women to correct this wrong. 

Sue Monk Kidd shares a piercing quote that encouraged her to write this book:

“History is not just facts and events.  History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”  Read that quote more than once; let it sink in.

I spent a good bit of today reflecting on this quote; on this book.

And this morning I did not go to church.  Even that life-ago when I attended church most Sundays, I avoided Easter.  The Easter crowds and their offerings may be good for a church’s yearly budget needs, but not for me.

And this morning I did not go birding.  During these last few years of spending a good bit of time in Texas State Parks, I quickly learned to avoid Easter weekend crowds (and Spring Break and Thanksgiving crowds).  The Easter crowds and their day-pass purchases are definitely good for a state park’s yearly budget challenges, but not for me.

Instead I spent a quiet Easter morning at home, reading a bit from the book of Luke, Revelation and Genesis; and a bit more time with my Mountain Dulcimer and favorite Irish tunes whose titles would not be welcomed by a church choir. 

I spent a good bit of today reflecting on the concepts of Paradise and the Tree of Life; on their symbolism that fascinates this nature lover.

And this afternoon I walked my hour walk at a favorite greenbelt.  The walk was quiet, but the noise of earlier crowds was given-away by the broken boiled eggs and colored eggshells that littered the picnic area.  This particular litter did not anger me.  The raccoons and opossums and such would have their Easter feast this night.

I walked and reflected on this day.  And walking did what it always does for me:  it reminded me to walk past yesterday and walk toward tomorrow’s possibilities. 

And this morrow the crowds will be at work; in school; and this One can take wing and go birding.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Cerulean

The word cerulean, standing on its own, is not a part of this Texan’s vocabulary.  I’ve always thought “The Cerulean” would be a great title for a western movie, or perhaps an epic novel. 

Those of us long-term Joni Mitchell listeners have spent many an hour with “Blue” and its introspective melodies.  But I’m guessing Joni Mitchell, the gifted painter, has spent much more time with the Cerulean Blue pigment.
Cerulean Blue is considered particularly valuable for artistic paintings because of its “purity of blue”, especially when an outdoor scene includes sky.

I’m especially pleased with each springtime sighting of a Cerulean Warbler.  In terms of a western theme, Texas is as far west as this beautiful warbler is “nominally” sighted, and then only as a migrant, headed for its summer nesting grounds in Northeastern U.S.

In terms of color, I find the Cerulean Warbler’s blue to be an elegant understatement of the natural blue’s of Mother Nature’s palette.

Like so many warblers, this Cerulean was difficult to photograph.  Sitting still for my photo shoot was not on this handsome male’s agenda for the day:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fun with Hooded Warblers

I’ll declare spring birding to mean more photos and fewer words.  At least until I catch up on photo development from these last two weeks of shooting spring migrants.

The friendliest migrant seems to be the Hooded Warblers.  They pop out of thick cover, seemingly just to check me out.  One male Hooded hopped right up to me, stopping just at my booted foot before going around me to continue his solo game of hopscotch. 

Playful they seemed and bright colored they are.  But their bright coloring of saturated yellow, lime-green and stark-black hood gave my Photoshop software fits when trying to cleanly develop the Raw images.

And so I’m not overly pleased with any of my results.  But developing photos of these lovely Aves makes me want to do one thing—get back out in the field!

Catching the dance of romance or a family's private squabble:

The coloring and poses of these spring migrants encouraged me to have a little fun with them, applying some magic Photoshop paint. (And note the insect wing hanging from the bill--this boy needed a napkin--or a reminder to chew with his bill closed):

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Living Color: This Tanager's Day

On May 7, 2013 I wrote a story.  A true story that was hard to write.  I posted it to this blog site and gave it the title:  “The Scarlet Tanager, the Maroon-shirt Man, and the Life Lesson.” You can go back and read it, but you don’t have to.  But I had to write it.  It will tell you more much more than any of my photographs:  The Scarlet Tanager, the Maroon-shirt Man, and the Life Lesson

Today I returned to that same year-ago motte and was gifted the chance to sight many a spring-migrant warbler, tanager and oriole.  I will spend a bit of time developing photos and posting them in the coming days.

And on this day, as I walked and birded and photographed many a beautiful bird, I especially remembered that magnificent Scarlet Tanager that shared its day with me a year ago.

In honor of that Scarlet, I share today’s photo of a young Summer Tanager. 

This tanager, in living color, shared this one day of its life with me.  And may tomorrow’s southeast winds ease its journey onward, into its next day of living that I again will not know.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Tricolored Heron in Breeding Formal Dress

I found myself shaking over the beauty of this Tricolored Heron, making it hard for me to hold the camera still for a quality photo shoot!
The blue saturation of this heron’s lores and malar area was a sight to see.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Longest Bill and the Biggest Pile of Horse Sh*t

“Wow—look at you!”

“You know, you were my Dad’s favorite bird.”

“Yes, I’m talking to you.  Look at you looking at me.  You look just like a Greyhound dog, all elegant-faced and friendly and long-legged.”

“Now you are acting like a Greyhound—walking over all friendly like.”

“Yes I see that incredibly long bill of yours and beautiful prance.”

“Wait!  Don’t turn away, I didn’t mean to offend you with the long bill comment.  I guess you are kind of sensitive about it.  Wait, WAIT!  Watch where you are going!  Look up!  Don’t walk with your head down!—you're about to step into a really big pile of Horse Sh*t!”

Where else but Texas could a birder photograph a beautiful Long-billed Curlew in front of a really big pile of horse manure!