Birds. Beers. Bikes. Blues.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Last Pics Of Texas

This is the last of the last of the last Texas bird photos - taken on South Padre Island the day after the last of the Spring Break hungover kids stumbled back over the causeway, and the day before we packed it in for the Fulton Beach shrimp, the Aransas cranes, then on home to Minnesota. All in all, the weather sucked, but we saw a lot of birds, reunited with some great friends, and met some new ones. A salute to you all. Skoal. 

A non-birding aside, we have frequented Padre Brewing often enough that the brewmaster, Markkus Haggenmiller joins us at our table, craving a tiny bit of "ya, you betcha that's good beer, ya know" Minnesota beer talk. Mark comes from a long line of brewers. His father and grandfather were brewers at Hamm's Beer, and he has a pit-found antique beer bottle that has raised lettering - "Charles Haggenmiller Brewing Company". Very cool. And now, back to the birds: 

Be well, have another great year - Gunnar Berg

Least Bittern

"Least". Sometimes photos do not convey size. This bird is as small as a long-legged Robin. This is two different birds - a breeding female and a breeding plumage male. Again, pictures from our last BIG DAY at South Padre Island.

Green Heron

Green Heron. This was also taken our last day at South Padre. At most times we see it as rather dark drab bird, but when they get their breeding plumage they light up with some really sexy colors. Normally they are a crow-sized bird with an apparent short neck.  Apparent.

An "almost" picture. There was a small fish involved in the sequence.

Clapper Rails

Clapper Rails are about 14" or 15" long. Normally they are just a clatter call deep in the cattails, impossible to see, but on some magical South Padre Island days all rules are off and these secretive birds will step out of the marsh shadows into the sunshine for a few minutes to strut their stuff for us. I took these about a week ago on our last day on the Lower Rio Grande. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Aransas NWR

The Aransas refuge is beautiful. With the past year's rains there is water everywhere and the resulting mosquito population seems to be holding its own. In spite of rubbing deet on all of her exposed skin Lorna is covered with welts. Thankfully I do not react to the bites, but I really got chewed up.

Whooping Cranes are notoriously difficult to get close to, so I was quite pleased with these photos of the birds.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Painted Redstart

Yesterday we got some wonderful pictures of a Clapper Rails, Green Herons, and  a Least Bittern at South Padre Island. I will post them when I get time to sort through them. Today we are are in Fulton Beach, just returned from a shrimp dinner on the upper deck of Charlotte Plummer's seafood, right down on the docks - had the bread pudding dessert to celebrate some good looks at the Whooping Cranes this afternoon. By then I was tired and wasn't packing a camera.

So far today, two lifetime birds at the Falfurrias rest stop this morning - a Painted Redstart and a Yellow-throated Warbler. The Yellow-throated Warbler is "uncommon", but if you happen to be from southern Minnesota it is non-existent. The Painted Redstart doesn't even make an appearance in the Sibley Guide to Eastern Birds. This bird has no reason to be where it is, but as we have said before, some birds cannot read OUR maps. Lorna got a picture of the Yellow-throated Warbler; I did not, but I got some passable pictures of the Painted Redstart. The tree bark is nicely in focus; the bird, not so much. ;-)

Be well, -G.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Last Day At Estero

Today we went to Estero Llano Grande to pick up some loaned books from May Snider before we leave. While we were there we did a short walkabout. There are very few birds left (relatively) - less every day, as they move out to their northern nesting grounds. I took a few pictures of what was still there - reptiles and butterflies.

After my pictures of non-descript dull brown 1/2" Skippers, here's is a change of pace, a big ol' flashy butterfly, a 5" Giant Swallowtail. Next, an Alligator guarding it's nest and a couple of courting Skinks.

Rebirth of life. Spring.  Don't miss it, don't waste it; it only comes once a year.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Last Butterfly

Most of our friends have already migrated north. On Tuesday morning we are headed to Fulton Beach, Texas on our first leg north. Yesterday was Lorna's last outing with a few of her lingering butterfly lovers. While I appreciate the little bugs, I do not have the passion for them that this group has. I took one picture of a butterfly, then I took pictures of the flutterbuggers themselves, who I find far more fascinating.

The group hunting itty-bitty brown flutterbugs.
Little brown bug AKA: Celia's Roadside- skipper

The Queen and her court.

Following are a couple of pictures I shot a couple of days ago that really aren't posting quality. The lighting was poor and I was not careful about my camera settings. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was really a heart-breaker. It is the first time I have been close enough to get a good picture of this bird and I really blew it. Interesting - as long as his tail might appear to be, they are new feathers and not completely grown out. All I can say is that over the past couple of thousand years female Scissor-tails must have really been attracted to males with long tails to select the characteristic to this extreme. Lovely colors too.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Red-crowned Parrots

Also, thanks to Erik Bruhnke for again sharing food, drink and stories with us last night. Erik is a fine young man and an expert birder. If I were to select a birding guide either here in Texas or up in the Sax-Zim bog of northern Minnesota, he would be my man. 

Take care, Gunnar

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Green Herons

St. Patrick's Day, so I'm posting Green Herons and Green-winged Teal. In hindsight I suppose I should have gotten a Green Kingfisher too as I even know of a ditch where there is a normally a pair waiting for the photographer.

Green-winged Teal. A favorite duck.

Snowy Egret

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

Clay-colored Thrush, previously called the Clay-colored Robin. I prefer the old name.

Green Heron
Green Heron. This one was across the lake, far out of my camera range - thanks to Lorna for this picture which shows the beautiful breeding feathers on his back.
Be well,
Gunnar Berg

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Our days in Winter Texas are winding down - both birds and people are beginning their northward Spring migration. 

Two days ago the sky was filled with vultures and raptors as far the eye could see, all headed in a northerly direction. Most larger birds tend to migrate during daylight. It is striking to see raptors scattered across the sky from horizon to horizon, not in flocks - all individuals moving in programmed directions to predestined destinations. Small birds tend to migrate at night so you cannot see them unless you look at the moon with a telescope. Like an elaborate magic trick, one day there are none in our Minnesota May yard; then the next morning our trees and shrubs are filled with wood warblers.

On this day someone with incredible eyesight spotted a kettle of Sandhill Cranes, tiny spots swirling in the high sky just beneath the clouds. They ride the thermals up a couple of thousand feet seeking elevation and tailwinds to carry them as they glide for two, three, four hundred miles toward their prehistoric northern nestling grounds. Very efficient winged dinosaurs. If they linger long on their journey, we may meet them again feeding in fields along the Platte, gaining energy for their final sprint to the Canadian prairies and tundra.

Last night we met with nine of our birding and bugging friends for an end of season dinner at a group friendly Italian restaurant. Having recently read The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture Of Criminals, Collectors, And Conservationists, I particularly enjoyed Rick's firsthand stories of the passionate backstabbing intrigue of the butterfly world. This morning one of the couples are already on the RV road, headed to their home in Missouri. The rest of us are hesitating, hanging back with the birds for a while, as we are all from either Minnesota, Vermont or Ontario. 

A good year? The weather has been tough, very unpredictably hot, cold. or wet, yet we have seen some great birds and have had good times with good friends and neighbors. And the party ain't over yet, we have two more weeks before we head to Rockport, Texas and then likely on to Kearney, Nebraska before returning to Minnesota in time to do our taxes. More photos upcoming.

Friday, March 13, 2015

In Quest Of the White-striped Longtail

I started out with Lorna's butterfly friends and after fifteen minutes of bugging I drifted off solo to see if there were any birds to be seen. With the heavy rains the water levels are high, and the sandy shores and mudflats are under water. The peeps, shorebirds, and waders that earn a living on pond edges have picked up their tools and moved their operations elsewhere for a while. Of course some ducks were still around, but they are starting to migrate north and their numbers are off.

It was late morning 80 degrees and the sun was hot, forcing birds to hide in the shade. The Pauraque are almost always in the same general area, so I stopped to try to pick one out on the stick covered ground to say hello. The Pauraque says,"Hi".

As the sun was really beating down on me out by the ponds I headed over to relocate Lorna and her merry band of eccentrics where there was more potential shade. When I found the group they were all excited to find another skipper, a White-striped Longtail. Uncommon if not rare.

These are the people that a couple of generations ago would have been wearing pith helmets and carrying bamboo handled butterfly nets, capturing the pretty flutterbys to mount them on long labeled pins in glass topped drawers. Now with the advent of modern cameras, catching and killing any butterfly is considered to be in quite bad form. An understatement. 

Young Nicholas shows off his picture to a friend.  Little kid.  Big camera.
The butterfly was feeding in a type of Orange bush, The locals said it sets small sour fruit that really aren't edible. All I know it smells absolutely incredible and the butterfly seemed to like it too.