Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Close Encounters of the Kinglet Kind

One of my favorite Winter Texans is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  This Little One is a frequent companion to me, as I quietly bird the winter trails of Brazos Bend and other wooded parklands.

The problem with photographing the RC Kinglet is the same as with the Gnatcatcher:  this little one never, EVER seems to sit still; and they don’t come out to greet me, at trail’s edge, when they are in their hidden stillness of sleep.

The second problem with photographing these Little Ones is when they do greet me, they are often within five feet of my stand-still position.  Too close for my lens to acquire focus. 

Sometimes I find myself falling backwards in attempt of a close-range photo.  But mostly I’ve learned to leave my camera at my side, and leave my binoculars around my neck, and just use my eyes to watch these delightful little kings (Kinglets) and queens (I would have named them Queenlets!) that frequently show their ruby-feathered crown.

This set of photos won’t win awards for close range detailing.  But I was tickled to get the “look and feel” so uniquely Kinglet with these close-range photos.
First, a “regular photo” of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, in his matching living room:

And my close encounters, of the Kinglet kind (how can this Feathered One not bring a smile?):

When I first began birding, and first faced distinguishing the Kinglet from other Little Ones, I thought of Kinglets as the Little Ones with a “bar and a half” on their wings.  Experienced birders are good at noting wing bars; the number, the slant, the distinctive look, and so on.  As a beginning birder (before the RC Kinglet became a familiar friend in look and voice), I made up the concept of a wing “bar and a half.”

These last two photos show a hint of the ruby crown:

May your New Year's Eve be birdy!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chasing the Gnatcatcher's Chase

My favorite “Little Ones” seldom make it past the “Delete File” button on my computer.  Gnatcatchers, Kinglets, Chickadees and such will NOT sit still for my camera!  

But their boundless energy doesn’t stop me from trying.  Sometimes I’m amused to the point of laughter at the funny (and blurry) “action shots” that I catch, and delete. 

My recent trip to Brazos Bend gave me a few keepers of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  I caught this Little One attempting different techniques to “gnatcatch” and dine on a slow moving, protein-based life form, innocently perched on a leaf. 

The Gnatcatcher eyes the protein meal:

I swear the Gnatcatcher looked over at me as if to say “Watch this!”

First attempt was an unsuccessful fly by:

Then a surprise attack by leaping upward, and missing:

Finally a calmer, slower,  reach up and grab--success!

And then a rare moment of stillness:

May your day be birdy!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

December Days (at Brazos Bend)

Winter weather finally arrived yesterday; a rainy cold front, with temperatures this noontime still in the 40’s and the lovely sound of rain to keep me company.  I have a lot of great Airstream memories in this kind of weather. 

I’d gear up with rubber boots and a rainproof jacket as my outer layer, and bird and walk in cold drizzle.  Back into the Airstream I’d be greeted with the warm furnace, and a sofa to put up my feet and pour over bird guides.  Hot tea would bring me cheer.

But today I’ll give thanks for my little stick home as the furnace and LP system of the Winnebago View don’t yet fall into the trustworthy category. 

With this constraint, the upcoming week’s weather forecast will keep me close to my stick house, day tripping and running errands.  That’s OK because I have a zillion-bites of photos to develop. 

And after all, this is the Texas Coast.  Soon the low temperatures will be warmer and I’ll be back out in the View.  (By the way, thanks to Patty for the electric room heater suggestion.  It works great as long as the temperatures don’t dip too low.  It works perfectly for nighttime temperatures that stay in the upper 40’s.)

Last night I caught up on the December posts of the four blogs that I regularly follow (and link on my blog page).  Reading those posts brought back memories of years when opening Christmas presents was a part of my life.  Catching up with Patty, Judy, Hazel and Trisha, and the wonderfully unique lives they live, brought me great cheer. 

Joey and Scout's digging and running and dressing up in new PJs chase away my blues, and Patty’s beach photos made me want to say “You have a photo of a Willet on a beautiful beach!” 

Hazel’s day-in-the-life of roof and awnings and care-giving for her beloved four-legged Ones makes me want to say “You stay strong!” 

And Judy’s stories always blow my mind with her amazing NWR volunteer work—but December’s photos make me envy Emma’s lake view! And the ongoing story of Emma and the bees cause me to call out “Bendadryl is the emergency drug that every medicine cabinet should hold!”  (Benadryl has saved me from severe allergic reactions more than once.)

And then there is Ms. T, and her “wonderfully flawed” life.  I’m blessed to know the sound of her voice behind those gentle-spirited stories she so openly shares, addressing current events with an honesty that has no hint of proselytism.  Please keep writing.  Facebook?  What’s that?  J

So to all four of you, I give thanks for your wonderful stories and photos that I opened last night.  Christmas morning is what you gave me.

And now it is time for me to start sorting and developing those zillion-bites of bird photos. With photo development as my focus for this last week of 2014, I hope to post several daily blogs with species photos rather than stories. 

But for today’s blog, I’ve developed these “scene-catching” photos from my recent three nights, and four days at Brazos Bend.  Brazos Bend is my Holy Land. 

The iconic tower and forty-acre lake:

I love having access to my bicycle when camping at Brazos Bend.  I can ride from the campground to different locales and habitats in this large park, and walk and bird with bicycle in the wing.  I was tickled by this group of (out-of-focus) White Ibis.  They ambled down the wooded trail in front of my bicycle.  When I got off my bicycle to bird, they’d fly up into the trees and watch me.  When I’d return to my bike, they’d return to “leading” me on down the trail.

This year has brought a bounty of rain.  I’m always drawn to the reflections:

And the concept of being alone, or lonely, is a bit of a fabrication if we are in Mother Nature’s Land of the Living.  I constantly find myself being watched by the feathered Ones; in this case, a Tufted Titmouse was watching me photograph Swamp Sparrows:

And then there is this park’s most famous icon; the trail keepers that (patiently?) deal with my almost tripping over them:

May your day be birdy!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas with My Feathered Friends

Can I call it intent to not blog for almost a month?  Can I call on that age-old phrase that our grandmothers gifted us?  “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.”

I’ve traveled a good bit this month, in the Winnebago View. I returned to the valley for furnace repair; I visited Port Lavaca and drove about the back roads of the coastal bend, sadly seeing more roadside trash than birds.  I spent several days at Brazos Bend, thankful to stay in the park rather than daytrip back and forth to my stick house. 

I’ve taken a good number of bird photos, which I plan to develop and share. But I haven’t had the best of times.  The “I’ll say nothing at all” phrase has to do with the continuing saga of this View’s manufactured problems.  

OK—I’ll say one thing, because this one makes me really mad as it seems a safety hazard.  Neither the outside nor the inside LP shut-off switches work.  As best the furnace repairman could tell, the shut-off switches aren’t connected in anyway.  OK.  NO more RV talk today.

I’ve been back at my stick house for awhile, debating my next steps.  But with the holiday season, there is no place I enjoy more than the Upper Gulf Coast of Texas.  And so I spent Christmas Day driving about Galveston and the Texas City Dike.

My feathered friends did not disappoint.  And as usual, the common winter Ones gave me the best gifts.

This Great Blue Heron seemed most interested in my truck, allowing me to get ever so close.  We visited a good long time, and I took more pictures than any grandmother would.  I don’t know why, but Great Blues always remind me of the Three Wise Men.  

I never grow tired of Galveston’s winter Texans, the Sandhill Cranes.  I have so MANY blurry photos from afar, taken over several years.  But this Christmas Day, a small family of three allowed me to get out of my truck and stand surprisingly close.  I was on a remote road, with no traffic; these three were watchful of me, but did not turn their backs and walk away.

But my favorite feathered friend of Christmas 2014 is the good ol’ Mocker.  I was at Lafitte’s Cove, with not a soul around.  Walking the boardwalk back to my truck, I noted a Mocker doing what Mocker’s do:  perched in the very top of a shrubby tree, and calling out to all who would listen—“This is my little corner of the world!  Look at me!  I am the center of the Universe!”

And so I stopped and listened.  How human-like is a Mocker’s behavior.  And after giving him my full attention for a good several minutes (sans taking photos), I turned and walked the thirty yards back to my truck.

And would you believe it!  That same Mocker flew toward me, perching on the post at the front of my truck!  And there he stayed, allowing me to get back out of my truck, ever-so-quietly, and stand behind the shielding of my driver’s door to take about a million pictures.  He would look at me and turn this way and that, posing for the camera in the same way three-year-old humans pose for the iphones of their adoring grandmothers. 

And only when a stranger came calling did the Mocker leave me.  But I believe he would be pleased with these attentive photos:

And then two text messages came my way, from human friends.  One hoped I was having a peaceful Christmas. And the other, from a friend who knows  me well, gave me the best words to close out this post:

Hoping for comfort and joy among the birds and nature and nature’s Creator.

And with this blog post I want to give my thanks to those bloggers who read my blog, and who gift my life with their blog stories. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The House at Home

The RGV got some much needed rain yesterday evening, followed by cooler nighttime temperatures.  I caught sight of a rainbow.  The rain was a soothing familiarity for this Upper-Gulf-Coast gal.

In terms of my house-on-wheels, I’ll mention that I’m SO thankful for the “warming blanket” that I bought at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  This electric blanket lets me leave the Winnebago View’s thermostat in the “kind of cold for sitting around” position during nighttime sleep, avoiding too much dysfunctional-furnace noise or heat pump noise.  

The furnace, the noisy refrigerator, and the “pressure relief” dripping of the hot water tank into the shower are but a few of the many reasons this View has not yet become my home. (The shower is next to the corner bed; the dripping only occurs when the hot water heater is on; another day’s blog)

I definitely don’t think of this View as my beloved condo-on-wheels.  It is a house-on-wheels that is currently filled with regret.  Maybe the fix-it possibilities will bring my pressure relief.

But my RV house is not the subject of this day’s blog.  I wanted to share a few photos of a House Wren, giving me a peek at his home, in a broken snag in Bentsen State Park:


This lovely House Wren fussed at me as I slowly birded the path to the Hawk Tower.  When I stopped my movement and stood still, and let a good bit of minutes pass, this lovely feathered One went from fussing to singing his beautiful song. 


Moving about the front door of his snag-house, there was no question in my mind; I’d sighted the House at Home:

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Price of Freedom

When riding my bicycle around Bentsen on Saturday, I was delighted to meet Helen and Don, riding their bikes with binoculars around Helen’s neck and a camera around Don’s neck.  Like me, they were birding the park.

As Helen, Don and I chatted we soon learned we are neighbors, in the same RV park.  I got a good chuckle when Don commented on my accent.  Me?  A Texan?  An accent?  It turns out that Helen and Don are from Nova Scotia. I could listen to them talk all day, so delightfully lovely is their accent.

As we talked of birding Don showed me an image on his camera—a bird I’d never seen before.  But as soon as he showed the photo to me, I knew it was an exotic that had escaped its cage, or been dumped by an owner.  Don said this Cockatiel was pictured in Sibley’s and that he’d taken the photo sitting outside his RV, from a grassy area that back’s their RV sight.

Saturday evening I looked in my Sibley’s and sure enough, this bird was listed alongside other Parrots and their allies.  My 2001 edition of Sibley’s casts doubt as to whether Cockatiels can survive as feral populations.  I’ve sighted colonies of Monk Parakeets in other Texas locations, but never this bird.

And so yesterday I got back on my bicycle for a planned short outing to Bentsen, taking my binoculars but choosing to leave my camera behind; my version of a day of rest. 

As I rode out to the front entrance of the RV park, some hundreds of yards from Helen and Don’s RV sight, I noticed an odd bird in the grass.  Putting binoculars on it I immediately knew it was the Cockatiel.  This sunshine-cheeked One was alive and feeding.

I debated my own set of ethics and values and whatnot; I could come up with no good reason to NOT go back to the RV, grab my camera, and get a photo.  And so I did:


The fact that the Cockatiel was a good distance from the location of Don’s photo makes me believe it has some ability, perhaps limited, to fly.  The fact that it was actively feeding seemed a good sign.  The fact that both sightings were on the ground leads me to believe that this escapee's living days are probably very shortly numbered.

I could have approached the Cockatiel, but that is not in my nature, as observing rather than impacting Mother Nature’s feathered Ones is my baseline goal. I could have reported this Cockatiel to someone, but if caught, it would again be caged.  And so I returned my camera to the RV, and rode on over to Bentsen for a quiet afternoon.

I can wonder about this bird’s day and can hope that his circle of life comes to conclusion due to a hawk or other non-feral, non-human, predator.  I know that there is always a price for freedom.  We the living pay daily for it; we fight for it. We must not forget to cherish it.
Returning to the RV Park after a nice time in Bentsen, I noted two Great-tailed Grackle’s giving chase to something scurrying around a parked car of someone’s RV sight.  The small object turned out to be a very, very young rabbit.  My immediate gut reaction was to cry out NO!—and to ride toward the hunt to chase off the grackles.

But I caught my cry and bottled it in my throat.  And I swerved my bicycle away from the chase, stopping my want to impact.  I knew that these two grackles were expert tag-team hunters and that this young rabbit would soon be their protein dinner.

The price of freedom is not too high for most of the living, on at least a few days of our lives; and the price of freedom is so very high on other days, until it is no longer an option for any of us. 

The Cockatiel, the baby rabbit and the two grackles remind me to cherish the vast complexities of what we humans call a life of freedom; and perhaps what Mother Nature would call no more, and no less, than a day in Her life, eternal.