Saturday, March 14, 2015

Signing Off, For Now

"Far better be sieve to the deep waters that always move, than to dry to an acrid pool."  

Saturday, March 7, 2015

"Just a Savannah"

Whether entering a restaurant, or checking into an RV park, I’m asked the same question:  “How many?”

And when I reply “One”, I’m always asked the same next question:

“Just one?”

And so I’ve developed a bad habit.  I find myself entering a favorite restaurant and answering the “How many?” question with this answer:

“Just one.”

And on my latest visit to a Texas State Park, I again answered:

“Just one.”

So I’ve thought about it and I don’t like my bad habit, liking it even less than their question of “Just one?”

So I’m back to answering the “How many?” question with a confident “One.”  And when they immediately reply with the “Just one?” follow-on question, I smile and look them in the eye and say: 


This subtle prejudice toward singles is not unique.  In the birding world I’ve occasionally birded with other birders, better birders, and I often hear, when we sight a group of ground sparrows: “It’s just a Savannah.”

And so this ONE pays tribute today to the lovely and unique Savannah Sparrow.  It’s not just a Savannah.  It’s a Savannah!  (at Armand Bayou Nature Center)

This lovely Savannah inspired this ONE to spend a little time with my artistic side:

Of course, I’m not so great with sparrows so it could JUST be something else…

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Waxwing Courtship @ Armand Bayou

If people ask me about Cedar Waxwings, I have a reliable answer:  “I just love those party birds!”

I think of them as party birds due to their Mardi-Gras-type facial mask and their feathered cap.  But MOSTLY I think of them as party birds because of their winter BEHAVIOR.

Cedar Waxwings fly in loose, fluid groups, suddenly dropping into backyards or wooded areas, seeking ripe berries such as the Yaupon Holly.  I usually hear them, before I see them.  These party birds are gregarious and noisy with that insect-like rhythmic voice.  They drop in, eat every berry in sight, and then head out to take their party to the next red-berried buffet. 

If I were a restaurant entrepreneur, I’d open “The Red Berry Café” and put a Cedar Waxwing on my signature sign.  And certainly my café would include alcoholic beverages.  I’ve witnessed multiple Cedar Waxwings stuff themselves on overly-ripe berries and attempt fly-away with a bit of a drunken unsteadiness.  Yes, these beauties are dressed for party—and they know how to party!

And so this past Saturday’s sunless, wooded walk at Armand Bayou Nature Center found me standing still in poor-lit conditions, watching lots and lots of American Robins move through the woods.  And then I heard the insect-like bugle of Waxwings arriving!

But this sighting of Cedar Waxwings brought me a surprise:  it was March after all, and I was gifted a quiet corner to watch the courtship behavior of two very affectionate Waxwings.  These two had left the party, and were all “into each other” as teenage humans might say.

Mother Nature created the Feathered Ones, and we humans, with remarkable similarities in all kinds of behavior:  both the good and the bad.  But these similarities are striking when it comes to courtship.  Bird courtship frequently involves singing, displays, dancing, preening, building and feeding.  Sounds rather human, doesn’t it? 

I’m guessing most of us have watched (or performed) some form of public display of affection that included being fed a bite or two of some scrumptious desert at a restaurant, romantic environment or not. 

Now I want to gently remind you that Saturday was an extremely overcast day.  The kind of day that photographers, better than I, know to leave their camera gear at home as no high-quality “technical” photos will be captured.

And so this was the poor quality of my Cedar Waxwing photos:

But I find these overcast days wonderful for catching bird behavior.  No sun; no reflection bouncing off my big hat; no notice of me.  I can stand in shadow, very still and quiet, and become something like a parent behind the wheel, driving their teenager’s car-pooling friends.  I love the stories of what these parents hear, as the teenagers seem to forget that there is a parent in the car--with listening skills and capacity to hold their tongue (until back home with teenage offspring).

And so with the help of Photoshop Elements, I was thrilled with these poor quality photos that caught that tender moment of courtship.

 The probable female, watching the probable male gather berries nearby:

The probable male, slowly, gently feeding his lovely:

And I was especially touched with the male staying by her side, watching her, until all berries were swallowed.

Oh to be young, in love, and in a restaurant with that special other, wanting to court and spark.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Osprey's Catch on Armand Bayou

In my last blog post, I shared not-so-great photos of Armand Bayou Nature Center (ABNC), and mentioned I’d post more photos from that last-day-of-February visit.  Repeating myself:  none of the photos are stellar photos—but I was pleased with multiple “catches” of bird behavior.

Today I wanted to share photos that show an Osprey with her almost too-big-to-handle catch of the day.

But I wanted to first share a little bit of information about Armand Bayou Nature Center, in response to Hazel’s question (a loyal blog reader, and blog writer of the blog “Class A Greyhounds”), from her comment to my Monday post.

First, as a birder, I would not include ABNC on my top 10 list of birding hot-spots on the Upper Gulf Coast of Texas.  But it is a lovely preserve, with wooded and prairie trails, and it serves as an important environmental oasis in an area that has, and is, undergoing rapid development.  

For those of us that are 1-2 hours away, it is a great fall, winter, or spring day-trip.  For those RVing or other visitors that plan a multi-week visit to the Texas upper coast, I’d include it on a list of places worth visiting.  The entry fee for adults is $4. 

I don’t know a lot about the ABNC other than it is on Armand Bayou (one of the many bayous, tributaries and other brackish water estuaries that make their way to Galveston Bay).  But from their website, it is a non-profit organization with an emphasis on habitat preservation and environmental education.  

ABNC includes multiple buildings that serve as education centers, I think mostly focused on children.  My visit last Saturday gave me sighting of a group of children, with adult supervision, moving through fields with what I call “butterfly nets”.  With birding as my focus for the day, I moved in the opposite direction.

I would encourage readers to visit the Armand Bayou Nature Center’s webpage, as it holds a good amount of interesting information.  I used Google to find their page.  As a side note, most of the Armand Bayou coastal preserve (other than ABNC) is managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife, complete with a paddling trail.  More info on this coastal preserve and paddling trail can be found via Google and/or the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

Two of the joining wooded trails of ABNC give visibility to Armand Bayou.  My saying goodbye to February (my favorite month) found me watching and shooting poor-lighting photos of an Osprey with her large catch-of-the-day:

It is the behavior that I found fascinating.  If you click-on and magnify these poor-quality photos, you’ll note that the Osprey is attempting to balance herself, with the large fish, on a not-so-great table-top snag:

In the next three photos, you'll note she is literally airborne, hovering over the fish.  I also noted that she appears to be dining within the fish's mouth.  I don't know if that has to do with killing the fish to stop its movement, or as a particularly fond delicacy to be had first (or some other reason).  I'm certain better birders and ornithologists would know:

I watched her continued struggle to find balance on this snag until she finally gave up and made the decision to carry her heavy meal to another spot:

I watched her struggle with flight and the weight of the fish.  She'd gain a little altitude and then drop back down, almost touching the water:

The following photo gives reason for my ability to watch without her knowledge; I was behind dense shrubs and trees and attempting to shoot between branches:

In fact, after flying on to the left, she circled and came back to the right, passing me again.  By this point I watched with amazed eyes rather than camera.  All I know is this excellent fisherman was not letting go of her great catch!

Happy March 4th!  (the only command of the year)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Farewell to February @ Armand Bayou

I spent this past Saturday on a day-trip to Armand Bayou Nature Preserve.  I'd let the winter get away from me without a visit.  The day was dark with heavy clouds, threatening rain.  The kind of day where outstanding photographers leave their camera gear at home, knowing there isn't enough light to get good photos.

But I like the surprise of cloudy, birdy days.  And so I took a lot of photos with my aperture wide open, no depth of field, and some surprising "gets" of birds doing what birds do.  I'll post a series of photos this week on some of my favorite shots.

Today's photos are low-light overviews of this lovely park and the sunless day.

The wooded hiking trail gives multiple views of the bayou.  Note the spec in the sky is an Osprey, a most gifted fisherman (details to come this week):

An Osprey on distant snag:

The woods were dark and filled with American Robins and Cedar Waxwings (details to come this week):

This photo of a Cedar Waxwing, with no Photoshop development, gives you a feel for the darkness of the day. It also demonstrates the ability of Photoshop to " darkroom develop" the photo, as with the above Robin:

While I watched the Robins and Waxwings, this Yellow-rumped Warbler was watching me:

This park works hard on prairie grass restoration, including a recent prescribed burn:

Happy Birthday J.S.  :-)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Black & White and Blue All Over

I find the fast-moving, acrobatic flight of gulls and terns, against a blue sky, to be high on my list of photographic challenges.  But these feathered ones make me smile behind the camera.

Please click-on the photos for full screen viewing of these Laughing Gulls, viewed from the Texas City Dike:

A very rainy day; I envy the waterfowl.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Comparisons in Size

A Least Tern, alone:

One non-breeding Least Tern, looking upward, safely amid her kind:

Least Terns with two Laughing Gulls and a Black Skimmer's flyover:

A Ruddy Turnstone in front of a first winter Ring-billed Gull:

A Ruddy Turnstone in front of an adult Ring-billed Gull:

Size comparisons; just one of Mother Nature's many types of diversity.

Kind of like we humans:  we come in all sizes and shapes. If only we could just all get along.