Saturday, February 6, 2016

Goodbye Paul and Carolee

Earlier this week, Lorna got three life birds in one day, and another a day earlier. The Blue Buntings (a pair!) and the Crimson-collared Grosbeak are quite rare, the Black-headed Grosbeak and Painted Bunting rare because of location. At this point in our lives, getting three life birds in one day is simply unheard of.

Late yesterday there was a White-throated Thrush seen at Estero Llano Grande so we were out there quite early today to try to get a look at it. This is a rare bird and some birders will travel distances to see it. I had fleeting looks at one last year, but never a real clean look. The bird was cooperative today and we got a few looks. When we first saw it our company only numbered eight or ten people. But grew.

During the evening the bird had been reported to the Texas rare bird alert and soon the parking lot began to fill up, first with birders, then with the camera people.

"Make way, step aside, I am a very important photographer with my very important large camera mounted on my very large expensive tripod, so I should be in front of all of you simple birders." 

A number of these people always show up for rare birds and they are a distinct pain in the ass. They are not really interested in the birds; they are only interested in "the shot". If there is a hell they will be certainly there in the front row taking photographs. I got a two or three photos with my simple camera, dreadful focus, but clear enough to identify the bird. Paul Prappas got one, still not terrific, but better than mine so I am stealing his. 

White-throated Thrush

After "The Bird" we took a short hike around the park looking at birds, talking to friends and taking a few pictures. Bid farewell to Steve and Sue who are moving on to Florida for the rest of the season.

Great Egret

Red-eared Slider and Fluvous Whistling Ducks

We are about to go over to Bill and Cathy Mauck's for a goodbye dinner for Paul Prappas and Carolee Colter who are leaving early tomorrow morning. It has been great fun and we will sorely miss them. Until next year.

Joy and sadness - practicing holding two emotions in my heart at one time - Gunnar

Friday, February 5, 2016

Pickin' Butterflies

Yesterday afternoon - we went with Paul and Carolee to look at butterflies at the National Butterfly Center. The sun was out and there were clouds of small butterflies over the low flowers and shrubs, mostly varieties of Hairstreaks. I took a few pictures, but I am only posting a photo of one medium-size skipper. Why? because I like skippers best, that's why, and it is my blog. :-)

Laviana White-skipper
Laviana - closed

Mid-afternoon we left to visit with Mike and Ginnie in Mission. 

A quick aside: This is a recording studio photo taken in the early 1950s of  Buddy Reynolds and his 1949 Gibson guitar.

Fast forward: This is a living room photo taken last night of Mike Rickard and his 1949 Gibson guitar. It has a few more miles on it now, but still has a BUDDY strap on it. A great instrument - with Mike behind the wheel, it even sounds vintage. :-)

And Paul Prappas playing a Taylor, a loaner from Mike that Paul has been playing this season. Paul and Carolee are about to return to the Great North and last night he returned it to Mike. The party is over for awhile, leaving Mike to carry the load alone. I believe he is more than able.

The young lads spent a couple of hours playing their own songs and covers of Townes Van Zandt, John Cash, James McMurty and Guy Clark. All good stuff.

Once again, thanks guys for pouring out your souls for us. Well done again.


Monday, February 1, 2016


Sunday morning - slept in long and hard. After we got our food and equipment together we drove over to Mission, picked up Sue Keefer and drove a couple of miles to the National Butterfly Center for a walkabout. 
Brazilian Skipper

Tropical Leafwing 

Goatweed Leafwing

 Addendum: The bottom photo is apparently NOT a Goatweed Leafwing, it is also a Tropical Leafwing - a disagreement between people who actually know about this stuff. ;-)

It was quite hot in the sun so after a few butterfly shots I found the shade by the birdfeeders for more bird pictures.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Altamira Oriole


By the time we were joined by Paul and Carolee at the Butterfly Center it was getting hot so shortly we knocked off and went back to Steve and Sue's where we had a little lunch. Other friends came by and we met a few new ones. Eventually we were joined by Mike R. and his wife Ginnie. For a couple of hours between beer, snacks, and bullshit the singer/songwriters took turns entertaining us. Eventually there were about a dozen people.

What did I learn? Food, beer and music will usually draw a crowd ...... and you can learn a hell of a lot about a person from the songs they write and those they chose to share. 

It was a great afternoon, one I will always remember, and I just want to say how much I appreciate artists sharing their work and time with us.

Still hot in Texas - Gunnar

Saturday, January 30, 2016


I got nothin', no connective narrative, no stunning birds, no rare birds; I really got nothin' today. After breakfast we went to Estero Llano, took a few pictures, the wind came up and we went home. Oh, we did see a Barn Owl being chased by a falcon, probably a Merlin - first Barn Owl I have seen in years. Very cool.

Middle of the afternoon Lorna went across the garden to talk with Cathy Mauck; Paul and Bill came over, we sat in the veranda shade and drank a couple of beers. An okay day, not fabulous, but pleasant.

May your life have a few pleasant days, - Gunnar

Me and Paul

Lorna took this photo of Paul Prappas and me after our Rose-throated Becard vanished before we were able to get a camera on it - both feeling a combination of exhilaration and dismay - me staring at a place in space and time where a bird once perched, Paul dreaming of what might have been. ;-).

The next morning when I walked down to the park there were already people milling about searching the trees. We have occasionally checked the neighborhood since, but the bird has proved to be a "one day wonder". 

Friday, January 29, 2016

A Broken Pencil

In the afternoon Paul had to make a run to the McAllen airport to pick up Carolee who was returning from a business trip to Minnesota, so we decided to drive the five miles down to the Santa Ana NWR and spend the morning birding, particularly trying to see if we could get a look at the Groove-billed Anis which had been sighted there. They would not be first life sighting for any of us, but they are interesting birds and are relatively rare. 

Due to my affection for sleep and love of my morning coffee it was about 8:00 before we actually got on the road. (My lollygagging would later prove to be an issue.) Arriving at Santa Ana we walked the shortcut road toward Pintail Lake. As we emerged from the path through the scrub we were greeted by a beautiful morning.

I do not pretend to be a great photographer. I do my best with the equipment I have and I try to post interesting photos and occasionally some reasonably good pictures. With modern equipment it would seem to be easy. Here is reality, for every picture that looks like it fell out of the National Geographic, there is a boatload of pictures that are out of focus, an empty perch for a bird that just flew, a bird turned around so it doesn't seem to have a head, branches blocking eyes. Etc. Etc.

Almost a Ruby-crowned Kinglet
A mixed bad of headless ducks
Find the Pipit

Pipits - let's talk about Pipits. Pipits look vaguely like sparrows, but they are not closely related. Distributed worldwide, in America we have two species, the Sprague's Pipit and the American Pipit. The books list the American as "common" (yeah, common if you happen to see them), the Sprague's as "uncommon and local". Yesterday on the Brushline Road we saw a couple of Sprague's doing a spectacular mating flight, the pair flying straight up 10 or 15 feet, twisting, turning, spinning about each other - then dropping straight down out of sight into the weeds. Last night Paul reported the location sighted to a rare Texas bird sight. They are uncommon enough that in the next couple of days there will likely be birders up on Brushline to see them and check them off their life list or simply look at them. The Sprague's are doing their mating rituals because they nest here. Do the American Pipits do a mating flight too? Hell, I don't know; probably, but they nest far up on the Arctic tundra and I am not sure what they do up there.

American Pipit

Birders across the marsh, up to and including a Mennonite mother and her babies.

A broken pencil on the trail

Paul is a diligent counter, recording every bird species and the number of each species sighted in his little spiral bound notebook. He enters them on Excel spread sheets for his own information, reports them to eBird maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the unusual ones (yesterday a Green-tailed Towhee and the Sprague's Pipit) to the Texas rare bird alert. 

Why is this an issue? We had to leave and we had 69 species for the morning. Because I was slow to get started this morning we didn't have 70 or 75 species or whatever frickin' even number you want to pick. ;-) I am not a bird counter. Most experienced birders seem to be. That Ticonderoga No.2 in the path may have been dropped accidentally, or it may have been broken in frustration, either by a bird recorder or by the people who birding with him who may have selected it as a potential murder weapon.  

Who's counting?, Gunnar

P.S. We didn't see the Anis.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Brushline Road

Up early, coffee, then we - Lorna, Paul Prappas and myself, hit the road north to Brushline Road, then over to a hike at the hyper-saline lake La Sal del Rey, on to Delta Lakes, then back to Alamo, checking out all the birds along the way. 

Brushline is shrubby on one side and farm fields on the other. I drew the farm field side of the vehicle so, although I saw a lot of birds, I was somewhat limited by my photo opportunities. We saw maybe 50 Pyrrhuloxias!,  a Green-tailed Towhee (locally rare), and Sprague's Pipits in mating flights (!) - a bunch of birds - 44 species on Brushline alone by Paul's count.

Here's a few random shots:  
American Avocets

Savannah Sparrow

Harris's Hawk

White-tailed Kite
Caracara - female

Least Sandpipers at La Sal de Rey

Take care, Gunnar B.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Estero Llano w Paul

While we were out we bumped into David Seal (a regular happening). Dave is cool. He has a couple of niches, hawk counts - his flying raptor identification skills are simply amazing, and he has probably banded more birds than anyone alive. Today he introduced us to his friend. They have been birding and banding together since 1949.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it - working together at something they love since 1949!

Yellow-crowned Night Heron


Least Sandpiper

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Santa Ana NWF - Pintail Lake this morning (before the wind came up).

Saturday, January 23, 2016


No birds, no butterflies, just things on a walkabout ... well, a few birds, but in bunches.