Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wild Bird Wednesday: Neotropic Cormorant

Cormorants have become one of my favorite birds to watch.

Unlike ducks, their feathers are not waterproof.  I often see them drying water-logged wings in the sun.

That's not a stick or a snake, it's a cormorant swimming under water with just the head and neck above water.  

That's a big fish he caught.

Yesterday, I found these juveniles harassing mom.

Photos taken on Heron Island at Smith Oaks (High Island, TX), Shangri La (Orange, TX), and Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana.

I'm linking up with Wild Bird Wednesday.   Stewart has posted Australian cormorants this week.  They look a bit different than mine.  No, I didn't do it on purpose.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wild Bird Wednesday: Fighting Flycatchers

I've been MIA for a bit - working hard but playing harder.  I've done quite a bit of travelling and bird-watching.  I'm back just in time for Wild Bird Wednesday with a few of the more than five hundred photos I now have to wade through.         

Is it wounded? Dancing? 

Then there were two and I thought it was two males fighting.  They were all over the place.  On the ground...

In the trees...

Or maybe they were a male and female doing...ummm...errr...something else...

Then I noticed this guy would try to sit by them during an occasional lull in the action and realized they were two female Vermilion Flycatchers.

What!?!?  Ladies, you've got it backwards.

Photos taken in Rio Grande Village, Big Bend National Park.

For more birds from around the world, or to link up your own, visit Wild Bird Wednesday.

Monday, February 25, 2013

PPW-E 114: Gambill Goose Refuge

Prairies and Pineywoods Wildlife Trail - East

Instead of trying to make the 7-hour drive back home to Houston from Oklahoma in a single day I picked a site close to the state line, located the closest town, and divided the trip in half.  I checked into the Days Inn of Paris, Texas on Sunday evening, planning to get an early start in the morning.          

It turned out to be a good choice.  Exploring this site does not take very long so it's perfect if you're just passing through.  Most of the refuge is off-limits.  You can only bird from the road driving in or from the small parking area.  There is a fenced-in area containing feeders in front of the lot, signs on either side advising restricted access beyond, and someone's front yard in the rear.  (It is not a good idea to trespass in Texas.)

At first I was disappointed because there were no geese inside the fence.  Not even one.  Then I heard honking.  They were in the fields beyond the signs. Bring your zoom lens and binoculars.      

Unlike the domestic geese I've seen in the city parks, these do not approach begging for food.  (I hate those geese.  They peck me if I don't feed them!)

These were fun to watch.  The pairs stuck close together honking, eating, running, or just standing in unison.       

All the geese are gone by late May, so visit in winter.

Birds seen this visit:  Canada Goose, Red-winged Blackbird, Savannah Sparrow.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lake Thunderbird State Park

I'll start with the best photos of the weekend taken while bird-watching in Oklahoma.  The ring-billed gull is my favorite of a bird in flight yet.  I'm improving.

The white-breasted nuthatch was spotted near a campground parking lot.  

The wood duck was hanging out with mallards and geese in the lake next to the zoo.  I've never seen so many different colors on one bird.

One of the outdoor groups I've joined - HATS (Houston Area Trails) - posted a trip to search for snow and bald eagles in Oklahoma.  There were a few snow flurries the night I arrived, and some of it stuck to the ground.  Check.

We signed up for a tour at Lake Thunderbird State Park to try to find the bald eagles.  It was terrible.  The woman leading it was an hour late and didn't bother to let us know.  Once she did arrive she turned what was supposed to be a 45-minute informational session into an hour and a half, then spent 20 minutes putting on her shoes before we headed out to finally hunt for the birds.

We found one!  Mission accomplished!  OK, she's redeemed - sort of.  She did provide some information that was interesting and useful, but it could have been condensed into a much shorter lecture.

I only got one photo of the eagle before he flew away.  Although more than sufficient for identification purposes, it's not sharp enough to publish here.  I've been told there are bald eagles at the Baytown Golf Course and also at Hermann Park.  I'll get a better photograph one day.

I do get to add him and three others to my lifelist!  Hooray!  My list is not that long since I'm new to birding, but it's a thrill every time.

It's nice to travel with people who don't think you're nuts for pulling over and parking on the side of the road to photograph birds and to continue to photograph them until they've moved on or you've captured them from every possible angle, whichever comes first.  At one point, we parked and left the car to chase photos of a deer herd.  We returned to see a police vehicle parked behind us with lights flashing.  Uh-oh.  Turns out he was just making sure everything was all right.  Once we confirmed we were alive, not lost, and not broken down he wished us luck and went on his way.  Cops not harassing, but being helpful - that's a welcome change.  Another woman in an SUV slowed down to make sure we were not having car problems.  She waited until we returned her thumbs up, then accelerated and continued on her way.  Norman, OK is apparently a very friendly town.      

We spent the rest of the afternoon and much of the next morning looking for more eagles.  We didn't find any.

Birds seen this trip:  American Crow, Bald Eagle, Canada Goose, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Chickadee, Wild Turkey, Ring-billed Gull, American Coot, Northern Cardinal, Mallard, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Robin, Eared Grebe, Wood Duck.

I'm posting to this week's Wild Bird Wednesday with 40 minutes to spare...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Scavenger Hunt Sunday: Oklahoma City Zoo

The previous two SHS hunts I did at zoos were so much fun, I did it again.  This time was in Oklahoma City, OK.  The items are candy, pink or red, love, kisses, and smile.

Candy for sale in the gift ship.

Red-throated bee-eater.

Chimps showing some love and affection for each other...

...and sharing kisses.
Who says hippos can't smile?

See other interpretations or link up your own at Scavenger Hunt Sunday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

UTC084: Challenger 7 Memorial Park

The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, Upper Texas Coast

I visited Challenger Seven Memorial Park, named in honor of those who died in the space shuttle explosion, during a break in the rain early Sunday afternoon.  Black vultures perched atop light poles greeted me.  They are beautiful in a macabre sort of way.  I do appreciate the service they perform.   

At most sites I've visited alone so far, people have approached to chit-chat.  This time it was a park official.  At least he had some useful information to contribute.

"If you were here 45 minutes ago, you would have gotten some great photos of deer," he said.

"I'm more interested in birds."

"Oh, well you need to drive down this road and around the curve where we have some viewing platforms."

I parked where he suggested and soon heard a commotion.  I looked just in time to see a hawk on the ground, clearly attempting to capture something.  When I got close enough to the tree to which I'd seen him return, I discovered a pair of red-shouldered hawks.  Neither was eating, so it's possible their prey got away.              

There was only one bird hanging out at the viewing platform I visited.  A snowy egret was busily hunting for a meal.  He almost seemed to be shivering.  Then I realized it was because he was shuffling his feet, trying to stir up something edible from the bottom.  I've never seen one do that before.  Every once in a while I'd capture a glimpse of bright yellow feet, confirming his identification.

I didn't get to spend very much time at the park before it started raining again.  There were more viewing platforms and a nature trail I didn't explore.  The forecast called for possible severe weather (lightning, hail, strong winds), so I didn't think it wise to stay.  I did see more birds than I expected at this time of day.  Two killdeer were among a large flock of starlings, and some caracaras were scratching and pecking at the earth almost like chickens - both new birds for my checklist.

Birds seen this visit:  Great Egret, Black Vulture, European Starling, Killdeer, Northern Mocking Bird, Eastern Bluebird, Snowy Egret, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Crested Caracara, Laughing Gull.    

I'm linking up with Wild Bird Wednesday.  Please visit to see more beautiful birds from around the world.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Scavenger Hunt Sunday: Webster

During a short break in the rain today, I did a little bird-watching and scavenger hunting in my current hometown.  This week's items are the small things, illustration, valentine, work of art, and window beauty.

  Small things make a big difference - like putting trash where it belongs.

Illustration of a bird on the sign marking the nature trail and boardwalk.

This was actually taken last weekend in Nassau Bay, but it was perfect for the prompt.  I think Mr. Pelican Brown has found his valentine.

I got excited when I saw the sign pointing to the Mother Earth Eco-Sculpture, thinking I would see a real work of art.  I don't get it.

I've always liked windows made of the brick glass that allows light through, but still allows for privacy.  I was surprised to find the attempt at window beauty in a public restroom of a city park.

To see other interpretations, or to play along yourself, visit Scavenger Hunt Sunday.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

UTC 083: Nassau Bay Park

The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, Upper Texas Coast

I was not expecting much from this site because the map/guide stated this is "not a major birding destination", but is included as a respite for business travelers.  I was pleasantly surprised.  I saw a greater variety of birds at this park than the others I have visited so far this year.  In the photo above a great blue heron, two brown pelicans, several double-crested cormorants, and a neotropic cormorant  (the little one) seem to be harmoniously sharing a platform.    

Not quite as harmonious were the American white pelican and smaller ducks.  He tried several times to approach and they wanted nothing to do with him.  Seeing the size of that beak, I can understand why.  Was he hunting them?  A little internet research confirms he very well may have been.

The gold tones in the photo are a reflection of the sunrise.  I got up early and arrived at the park just as the sun was coming up.

Another pleasant surprise was the small flock of monk parakeets I found here.  I knew there were places descendants of escaped pets now breed in the wild.  I didn't realize one of those places was less than three miles from my home.

This one is dining on an acorn.

I also found and photographed my first warbler.  The yellow rump, yellow patch on the chest, and yellow crown revealed in a second photograph confirm he's a yellow-rumped "myrtle" warbler.  The audubon version has a yellow throat.

When I first arrived, there was only one other vehicle in the parking lot with the owner nowhere in sight.  As other people starting arriving I was asked, "Are you a photographer?" and "What kind of camera is that?"  They didn't exchange quick, pleasant greetings - they wanted to hold conversations.  I'm glad I live in a friendly town and won't complain, but I can't find birds and talk at the same time.  It was time to go.

Birds seen this visit:  American Coot, Mallard, American White Pelican, Ruddy Duck, Greater White-fronted Goose, Grackle, Rock Pigeon, Monk Parakeet, Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Neotropic Cormorant, Yellow-rumped "myrtle" Warbler, Laughing Gull, and Great Egret.      

This is a multi-use park with picnic tables, restrooms, fishing pier, enclosed dog runs, covered basketball court, and playground.      

I'm linking up with Wild Bird Wednesday.  Visit to see other amazing birds from all over the world or link up your own.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Scavenger Hunt Sunday: Nassau Bay

This week, I went bird-watching and scavenger hunting in a local park.  This week's items were hidden, plain, left, fast, and peace.

A parakeet nearly hidden in the grass by his green feathers.

The female mallard is very plain compared to the male.

A goose balanced on his left foot.

A gaggle of geese, fast asleep.

I wonder if keeping the little dogs away from the large dogs helps to keep the peace.

See other interpretations or link up your own at Scavenger Hunt Sunday.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

I'll Huff and I'll Puff

...and I'll blow those houses down!

I had an appointment with my asthma specialist today.  There is a lung function test that I hate because it's always so difficult.  There are three houses on a computer screen and I have to try to blow through a tube and knock them all down.  That darned brick house never wants to fall.

Well, today I knocked them all down with no problem!  Could it be because of all the hiking I've been doing lately?

Not exactly related, but I like this song, and a house does get blown down...


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

UTC 091: Hermann Park / Houston Zoo

The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail - Upper Texas Coast

I tried to time my arrival late enough so that it wouldn't be just me, the birds, and the derelicts, but early enough that I could still see some birds.  I arrived around 8am, which seemed to be just about perfect.  This was confirmed by a jogger who stopped to talk to me.  She wanted to know if I was looking for the bald eagles that had recently been sighted and tried to steer me in the direction they might be found.  She made it clear that I was not safe here before daylight.  "Make sure there are joggers around."    

I'm not sure if she was exaggerating, but this is an urban park in the United States' 4th largest city.  It's probably wise to err on the safe side.         

Sam Houston statue.  He's pointing toward Hermann Park. 

I didn't find the bald eagles or the hawks she said were often to be found in the Japanese Garden.  I did find plenty of other birds, though.

I either saw several blue jays, or this one was stalking me.  Do you ever find yourself wondering if birds watch people as intently as people watch birds?

This is the first ring-necked duck I've ever seen.  He's wintering on the lake within the park.  The ring around his neck is not evident in this photo, but that unique bill helped identify him.

There are two different cormorants to be found on the Gulf Coast, so it took a closeup of his face to confirm he is a Double-Crested Cormorant.  You can also tell by the slight crook of the neck if seen in flight.

I saw some sparrows bathing in a puddle and headed over to a bench, planning to sit quietly and watch.  A pair of mountain bikers stopped and began conversing quite loudly, chasing them off before I could identify them.  Would it have been rude to ask, "Are you going to ride or chit-chat?"  I stayed a few minutes, hoping they'd move on soon.  They didn't.

The park was becoming more and more crowded with people as the morning went on.  I decided it was probably a good time to head over to the Houston Zoo, which is within the park.  They have some amazing birds to see any time of day.  There's an aviary where birds (more than 200 according to my map/guide) fly freely within the enclosure, as well as the usual cages.  I don't think I'm supposed to include them in my diary, though.  It doesn't really count if they're captive.      

Birds seen this visit:  Mallard, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Blue Jay, Mourning Dove, Ring-necked Duck, Rock Pigeon, American Coot, Double-crested Cormorant, Snowy Egret, Grackle, domestic geese, domestic ducks.

This is a large, multi-use, city park with jogging, walking, and biking trails, picnic areas, grills, playgrounds, and restrooms.  There is also a train, a zoo, a theater with free performances during the summer, and a golf course.  The Houston Museum of Natural Science, IMAX theater, planetarium, and butterfly center are across the street.  One could easily spend an entire weekend here.

The park and zoo are wheelchair accessible.        

I'm linking up with Wild Bird Wednesday.  Visit to see more birds or link up photos of your own.    

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

HOTW012: White Shaman Preserve

Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail - West 

That's the Pecos River.  Hidden down there are some amazing paintings between 1,000 and 100 years old.  

The Rock Art Foundation conducts weekly tours of the White Shaman Shelter.  I was extremely tired and sore from the Pressa Canyon tour the day before, but this was the main reason I drove so many miles to get here.

I came to see him - the White Shaman.  My photos cannot compare to being there in person.  The hike is not as difficult as Pressa Canyon, but it does require a somewhat steep descent into the canyon and then up non-regulation "stairs" (more like a stone ladder).  There is a chain along the most difficult parts which proved very helpful.      

There are also displays depicting the people that lived here and what life may have been like for them.

Although this is part of the wildlife trail and there is certainly wildlife to be found in this area, including bears and mountain lions, our tour did not coincide with prime viewing hours.  We saw only a lone deer spooked by one of the guides on the rim as we were making our ascent at the end of the tour.

The only restroom I saw was an outhouse next to the cabin our guide decided to show us even though it was not part of the official tour.  I suggest making a pit stop en-route.  Seminole Canyon SP is 1.4 miles down the road.  If you're camped there, use the facilities before you leave.      

I cannot remember any part of the tour that was wheelchair accessible.    

This week, I'm linking up to Outdoor Wednesday.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Scavenger Hunt Sunday: Houston Zoo

Lace:  Sunday Morning means it's time to lace up my walking shoes and head out on a scavenger hunt. 

Bling:  I donated $2 toward care of the animals and received this bracelet.

Wood:  Wooden pathways wind through the primate area.

Fuzzy:  For some reason I thought the word was fluffy.  Fuzzy works, too.

Fabric:  What a life!  This chimp is napping in a hammock high in the trees.  I didn't notice he had a blanket until I uploaded the photos.  That's fabric x2.

See other interpretations of this week's items or link up your own at Scavenger Hunt Sunday.