Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Ten-Year-Old Good Memory

If someone asked me to share something good about the year 2004, I’d probably spit on the ground.  Or, if I chose to mimic how Paul (of The Apostle fame) might answer, I’d probably take my shoes off and bang them together, shaking off their dust with the imagery of disdain for that year.

But if I think really hard about it, I can come up with two good things that happened in 2004.  Thing number One:  I didn’t die.

Thing number Two:  I began birding with a 400mm lens in hand and binoculars around neck.  

I didn’t know much about birding those ten years ago.  But family will tell you that I've loved watching birds since I was a little thing. I certainly didn't know the name of many birds; and ten years ago, I couldn’t venture very far from home base.

But I surely found a thirst for life when I began focusing on my feathered friends, on short day trips, out and about my Upper Gulf Coast backyard.

I don’t trip-down-memory-lane too often, or at least not in ways that I admit to others. But last week’s two-days of birding Galveston Island State Park brought back the best of a ten-year-old good memory.

Ten years ago this fall found me just able to put on rubber boots and explore the bay side of Galveston Island State Park.  I started shooting photos of every feathered object in my view.  And one November day ten years ago, I stumbled on my first unknown warbler.  I was taking photos of a Snowy Egret when I turned around and found this little guy watching me:

I had no idea what I was looking at; a warbler wasn’t what came to mind.  I thought I was looking at a Mocking Bird that had plopped his rear end in Easter-chick yellow paint!

But that night, I got out field guides, studied multiple photos, and added my first exciting new lifer to my life-list of Upper Gulf Coast local residents.  I had sighted a Palm Warbler!

And so that really good ten-year-old memory came back to me as I watched a small group of Palm Warblers move about trees and brush during this past week’s visit to GISP.  I didn’t get any award-winning views.  But I did get a really good sense of building on the good I found in life, some ten years ago. 

And today, on learning my RV should arrive next week, I found a great deal of joy in developing these last-week photos of the One that gave me a new beginning:  The Palm Warbler.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Marsh Views

My stick house next-door-neighbor brought in a crew of folk to landscape and trim his backyard (putting to shame my fifteen bags of mulch).  Some of his tree trimming work included branches that hang right over my air conditioner’s outside compressor unit.  I decided to stay close to home today and keep a look and listen for falling limbs.

I’ve entertained myself with manipulating colors and textures of recent field photos.  For those who think I never take photos of anything but birds, these photos prove that assumption to be only mostly true.

Ducks are hard to photograph.  Shy ones they are and a bit snobbish.  They don’t freeze frame for the picture, but turn their backs toward you as they make their way opposite of my camera’s stance.  

Anyone watching me attempting to photograph this Mottled Duck pair would have gotten a good laugh.  I was sneaking, hunched down, and trying to hide behind shrubs before popping up to photograph these lovelies: 

 A Tricolored Heron tried to sneak past me unnoticed, as I focused on the ducks.  He almost made it:

You may have noticed that I never tire of taking photos of Willets.  Akin to Killdeers they seem to parade for the camera:

I have a “thing for” bean pods.  A friend of mine applied her artistic watercolor talent, taking one of my RGV Ebony tree bean-pod photos and transforming it into physical art. It hangs on the wall, just left of my computer, keeping me company.

These GISP bean pods were abundant:

I don’t usually take photos of people that I see when out in the field.  But how could I resist this colorful red-hatted lady, kayaking and birding?  I think she might like this photo:

It was a lovely couple of days at Galveston Island State Park.  And I still have a bounty of photos to develop.  But no more, today.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Hey Mom! Look at What I Caught!"

“Hey, Mom!  Look at what I caught!”

“Watch, Mom, Watch!  Just like you taught me!”

“Hey-hey, Mom!  Watch me flip this sucker right down my hatch!”

“MOM! Help! He’s fighting back!  What do I do?”

“Oh, crap—I dropped him.”

“It’s OK—it’s OK!—I got him!”

“Watch, Mom, Watch!  No more showing off—just down the hatch!”

“MOM!  Help!  Help!  He’s REALLY fighting back!”

“No—No—this is it—I got him—one big swallow.”

“Gulp.  Uhhhh…I’m not sure it’s supposed to feel like this…”

“Uhhh…OK, I’ll try to take one big swallow…”

“Something’s tickling the back of my throat…”

“Mom, I’m just gonna sit still for awhile.  Yes, yes—I’ll think harder about all you taught me, starting with telling me NOT to take such big bites and NOT to play with my food.”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Chore Day, Rest Day

After two day-trips to Galveston this past week, I faced reality yesterday and stayed home to catch up on chores. 
I can’t claim that I personally accomplished all that occurred at my little stick house yesterday.  I gave up on heavy yard work several years ago when my back declared “I’m done!” 

I’m thankful to have found a reliable “handy-man” that I pay, on occasion, for help with some of the heavy-lift work.  And so my little backyard looks fabulous this morning after yesterday’s handy work of pulling weeds and putting down 15 bags of mulch. 

After all the rain of summer, my shrub beds were sorely hurting for mulch.  I landscaped my tiny backyard a few years ago in a way that got rid of all grass; in a way that only holds native shrubs that are drought tolerant.  Both decisions were single minded:  long RV trips.  The Mockers are especially fond of the Yaupon Holly's winter berries, never leaving enough for the Cedar Waxwings to stop by for one of their epicurean parties.

But I myself really did take on a good set of chores yesterday.  Bathroom, kitchen and general housekeeping were given my full attention.  I’m not good at much, but I could win a national contest when it comes to cleaning toilets!  (That’s not an offer)  I keep hoping that some bright, engineering-minded young woman will introduce a new toilet design.  Seems someone would have reinvented them by now; especially since a failure of one plastic part inside the tank can flood an entire house.

Yesterday also found me doing a LOT of new, important laundry—washing all the new bedding for my upcoming RV!  One hint on this new RV:  it has a corner bed.  I HATE corner beds in RVs!  But everything is a compromise—and I decided to live with this one.

But I had no mattress pad; no sheets; no heating blanket or other bedding materials that would work for this corner bed. It is much bigger than a twin size, but not quite a full mattress size.  And I decided to design a home-made “sheet-bag” that should limit the number of times I have to remove a fitted sheet from the corner bed mattress.  This “sheet-bag” was a learning experience from my Sportsmobile days.

And so a trip earlier in the week found me spending a ridiculous amount of money (for items on sale) at Bed, Bath and Beyond for outfitting this corner bed configuration.  And yesterday found me washing everyone of them (except for the foam pad, although I did remove and wash its cover).


I’ve never been one of those lucky individuals that can buy clothing or towels or sheets and just wear them or use them.  I break out in a rash all over.  I have to wash everything before I wear it or use it. So yes, I even carefully washed the electric blanket.  My washer and dryer deserve a rest day much more than I do.

But since today is Saturday, I’ll probably not leave the house.  Too many people will be out and about.  So I’ll declare today a rest day for my washer and me.  I have a mound of photos to develop and four more two-hour episodes of the recent PBS series about the Roosevelt’s.  The first episode was really good.  Today I’ll give the second a try.

Before filing them, I thought I’d post a few of my Great Blue Heron photos from my most recent trip to the Texas City Dike.  As most folk know, these big birds don’t let people come too close (smart ones, they are).  So I was pleased with these “action” shots, as this beauty slowly and elegantly walked along the dike’s granite boulders; a quite different approach from my childhood jumping and hopping from boulder to boulder, leave scars on my hands and knees that bare witness to my not-so-elegant approach. 

Have a wonderfully birdy day!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow?

Better Birders than Me (that would be most birders)—I could really use your help!  

I’m attaching a few photos of what I think might be a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow.  I’d really appreciate confirmation OR your thoughts on the correct identification of it being a different sparrow.

I’m including photos with NO touch-up of any kind.  I simply converted from RAW to JPEG, cropped, and saved.  The photos are not good, but I’m hoping “good enough” for identification.

The Habitat:

I know that “Sharpies” are found “almost exclusively in grassy marshes”.  I’ve spent a few years participating in the Freeport CBC, and after one December’s cold dawn of slopping through thick, pristine, waist-high marsh grass, (supporting the team lead who was specifically searching for a Sharpy), I never did that particular hunt again.  My knee-high rubber boots could not be seen in the marsh thickness; and the dawn wetness left me soaked up to my waist.  It was a miserable-cold morning and my jeans never did dry.  I was just thankful to not have been snake bit!  I was disappointed at not sighting a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed and with that experience, I pretty much gave up hope of ever adding the Sharpy to my lifelist.

But yesterday found me birding one of my favorite spots:  the marsh side of Galveston Island State Park.  I’d donned my rubber boots and was slowly walking the sandy, mucky, grassy, brushy, marsh-side of the park.  I was delighted with what I was seeing in the way of the expected.  Suddenly I sighted a sparrow flush out of marsh grasses, and into the brush.

Here are the two close-cropped photos.  The breast, belly, bill-color (same as cheeks), crown, and lack of wing barring caught my eye:

And here is a pull-back photo of that habitat (unknown sparrow top center):

And I’m including this Reddish Egret photo to show you the habitat just to the left of this brushy area (many more Reddish Egret photos on an upcoming post!):

This bay water goes behind the above brush-sparrow photos.

As a side note:  this time-of-the-year is that miraculous intertwining of summer and winter coastal birds.  Towards the end of my day-trip, I was watching Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (summer bird) along the power lines of GISP, when a loose flock of Palm Warblers (winter bird) came through.  I’ll share the Palm Warbler photos soon. 

But for now?  Another beautiful day in Ahhctober—and another day trip!

What do you think?  Can I claim a new lifer?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Brazos Bend: A Quiet, Much Needed, Beautiful Day

This past week has NOT graced our country, or our world, with much in the way of good news.  It is easy to get plastered to the TV's twenty-four-hour news cycle; or the web; or other modes of real-time crisis reporting.

Thankfully, this past week gave the Upper Gulf Coast of Texas its first real taste of fall weather.  And for me, as with so many others, time outdoors was just the needed medicine.

I never grow tired of Brazos Bend State Park; birdy or not.  This past rainy-hot summer I disappointed myself with no day trips to this amazingly complex habitat.

But this week, Brazos Bend gifted me with a quiet, much needed, beautiful day.

With no scientific or habitat detailing, Brazos Bend is best described as what you get when you combine:

A healthy set of Oxbows (Resaca’s):

With hardwood forests:

And a good bit of “prehistoric swamp” habitat:

And what do I get from time spent in this uniquely complex habitat?  A turning from my focus on the human sorrows of the day, to a view of the path forward, where Mother Nature leads we humans; intended or not; wanted or not.

Mother Nature is not Santa Claus.  She and Her creation are so very real.  Sometimes, it seems, only my imagination can come close to describing what She so willingly shares.

Monday, October 13, 2014

So Ugly, So Beautiful

I got my walk in this morning, pre-front windy!
And now I look out my window at lightning and dark skies, and I listen to the rolling thunder. 

My childhood excitement returns:  a day so ugly, I find it beautiful.  And this rain; this storm; this wild weather will bring a beautiful fall day tomorrow, and the next, and the next…

Surely I’ll go out in the field this week and shoot some more birds.  But my recent time at Galveston Island State Park, where I paused from shore birding to give a few Great-tailed Grackles my focus, turned into some playfully-favorite photos.

These locals, stereotyped with lowness in the bird-watching world’s caste system, never cease to surprise me with their beautiful intelligence. 

We could argue Great-tailed vs Boat-tailed, but I’ve seen enough Boat-tailed to always look at the eye.  For the Gulf Coast, the solid brown eye of the Boat-tailed is a clean marker. 

These Great-tailed were mixing with other species, showing themselves to be beautiful in look and playfulness. 

Note the deep blues and purples of these males, sporting their over-sized tails:

And then this tail-less, war-torn (molting) female is so ugly, she’s beautiful, yes?  How many of us could balance in this way and still pull off that elegant Helen Hunt look (“As Good as It Gets” bathtub scene)?

Speaking of bathtubs:

And catching this eye blink makes me want to stop throwing away such photos.  Maybe I’ll start an eye-blink collection:  

And the self-awareness reflection that tells a story, unknown to we humans:

The beautiful sound of driving rain is calling me to get off the computer, take my cup of tea, and listen.  

And what’s that silence behind the rain?  The ugly sound of the air conditioner’s compressor has stopped!  Ahhctober!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

For the Love of Brown Pelicans

Yesterday’s morning walk was hot and humid and only delightful because of the hyperactivity of my feathered friends.  

With storm clouds threatening, I can always count on the birds to be in overdrive, feeding and fussing and chasing, before hunkering down for a good rain.

Chickadees, Bluebirds, RB Woodpeckers, Bluejays, Mockers and such were out and about.  I literally had to duck my head, caught between the squabble of two RB Woodpeckers.   Only the egrets retained the elegance of their graceful stillness.

I’m working on photo filing this morning before heading out to run a few errands.  I thought I’d share these recent Brown Pelican photos, shot on the Texas City Dike.

I never, ever get tired of watching these Big Ones.  In flight they can only be described as beautiful; elegant; other-worldly; ancient, prehistoric-world ones.  And then they make their belly-flop maneuver, hitting the water as the most clumsy, yet successful fishermen. 

I’m never satisfied with my in-flight photos of Brown Pelicans.  But I’ll keep shooting.   

Three days until Ahhctober! 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Where's Ahhctober?

It’s a wee bit hard to complain about the unseasonably warm weather, what with all that’s going on in the world.  

And a wee bit harder to fuss at Mother Nature, after an award-winning Upper-Gulf-Coast summer that never “officially” hit triple digits (my garage surely did!); never threatened a hurricane; AND, consistently provided a bounty of good, soaking rains.

But we Gulf Coasties have long declared October to be one of our favorite months.  Threats of hurricanes are past.  And almost always, the long summer’s heat and humidity are behind us.  

October brings those low humidity, high’s in the 70’s kind of blue sky days that makes we summer Texans go outside and spread our arms and say Ahhhh….we love Ahhctober!

But not yet.  So where’s Ahhctober?  Coming next Tuesday the forecasters promise.  After a good bit of rain.

So what do we locals do?  Well, this one likes to walk in the rain.  My feathered friends?  They like to cool their heels in the puddles.