Who are we? We are our stories.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Estero Llano Grande, Sunny

A little cool, windy, but pleasant. We did a mid-day hike, just to move our bodies a little after being held captive by the weather yesterday. As we were eating our fruit at Alligator Lake, watching Pied-billed Grebes downing sunfish that seemed impossibly over-sized for them,  a group of four walkers came by. They asked if there were any 'gators. They seemed quite excited to see the big ol' boy pulled up, sunning himself on the far shore. They had no cameras or binoculars. I try not to judge people TOO much, but it has stuck me that birders are interested in nature in general, but not particularly in alligators. Conversely, non-bird watchers, seem absolutely fascinated by alligators. Alligators? I haven't really figured that one out.

We didn't see much, but here's a few pictures of what we did see. I think Lorna may have some better pictures on her blog later, even a nice Red-shouldered Hawk, which was a little beyond my camera range.

Common Pauraque. If you aren't seeing many birds, the Pauraques sleep in the same places every day. They are almost invisible if you don't know where they are. If you do know, it's almost a guaranteed photo-op.

Anhinga. Uncommon, but predictable if you know where they are. We knew.

Mockingbird. Ubiquitous. They are all over, in various habitats - cities, parks, brush land, woods. So common, nobody would bother to photograph them. Today, I did.

Orange-crowned Warbler. Along with the Yellow-rumped Warbler, the most common Warbler of the Lower Rio Grande. Distinguished by being drab and undistinguished - doesn't even really have an orange crown. 

Be well. Stay warm.

Cold Day

The Lower Rio Grande has been whipped by the cold tail of the storm smashing the southeast. We awoke yesterday to ice on the trees. This does not bode well for the tropical butterflies that Lorna loves to photograph. Birding would have been silly, so we hung around the apartment reading and catching up on computer photo editing. By afternoon I was going stir crazy so I picked up Paul Prappas and we headed to the Blue Onion where we found a quiet booth to talk and drink a couple of pints of their house-brewed Stout Porter. Late in the afternoon we picked up more craft beer for the evening at Feldman's on the way home. 

We had plans for an outing to the Ranch House Burgers on the east edge of Weslaco, a old farmhouse which has found new life as a hamburger joint - a restaurant where the john still has bathtub and a "Wash your hands and say your prayer, cause Jesus and germs are everywhere." sign over the sink. Bill Mauck was not feeling well so he and Kathy were no-shows, but it was still a good group, - eight of us in all. The Bacon-Jalapeno Cheeseburger and Texas Toothpicks were great ... and priced very reasonably. A testimonial. I'm trying for a reviewers discount.

Our apartment is the largest so after eating we all came back here to drink wine and listen to Paul play and sing old pop songs, leaning toward things like the Beatles and older - music we all grew up. It got late. A few of the group had enough wine to sing along with the choruses. I did not, but I enjoyed it immensely.

This was a special evening. I hope all of yours were as wonderful. You all be well, listen to the music and enjoy your friends while you can.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Warm Morning At Santa Ana

The day. It was about 65 degrees and sunny when we started out. Very little breeze - very atypical. The temperatures climbed into the low 80s by early afternoon when we came back to Alamo. The day may have been cut a little short because it is a fasting day for us and all the birds start looking like lunch. ;-)

Green. The past  years everything was bone-dry parched from a multi-year drought. You could sense the the plants screaming for water as they slowly died away. Green is good.  The Rio Grande Valley has terrible water problems that are only going to get worse, but right now at least things are green.
Black-necked Stilt. 

A Harris's Hawk giving me the eye. I've long ago learned you cannot sneak up on  a hawk. The picture is taken on their terms. You get as close as they are comfortable with and not one step closer. This one is getting edgy.  Take the picture, it's going to fly regardless of any retreat you may try. 

Lorna. My partner for 44 years. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

South Padre Today

Here's a few from the South Padre Island outing today. I like the first picture. It captures the day - assorted waterbirds on the windblown water of the Laguna Madre, with Black Skimmers slicing through the sunshine sky; a day of being out in nature with good friends, with a nice mid-day break for shrimp, mixed vegetables, garlic potatoes and a pleasant winter ale at Padre Island Brewing. Pretty damned good all around.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Here's some pictures from yesterday's outing at Estero Llano Grande.

First, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. The photos are deceiving - it never stops moving, flitting. It is tiny. According to my Sibley it is 4 1/2" inches long (half tail) and weighs in at a hefty 5 grams. That means it would take a pair of them to equal the weight of one thin dime. This fragile, insect powered half-a-dime will migrate 1000 miles north to breed, build a beautiful little nest, and raise it's family. Think about that for a few minutes - just to put life in perspective.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Pied-billed Grebe.

Plain Chachalaca

Inca Dove


Common Yellowthroat clamped to a reed overhanging the mucky pond edge. Another small bird, one of the Wood-warblers. I hate it when they name something "Common". We do not have to accept this shit. Hencefore, this shall be known as the "Uncommonly Fine and Special Yellowthroat".

Friday, January 24, 2014

Kind Eyes?

"Kind" eyes.

I have a friend who insists I have "kind eyes". The only explanation I can think of is that as time has worn me down, my eyes are starting to look like my grandfather's did, and she was very partial to him. While he did seem to be kind, I am no kinder than average, certainly not enough that it would actually leak out in my eyes. In any case, I'm fixing them so they won't be kind. Today I received a telephone call from Mayo Medical. I funked the peripheral vision tests and my insurance company has finally agreed that I do need to have an eyelid tuck. I am scheduled to have hard steely eyes by the end of next May. 

How To Speak Minnesotan

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Burglar Alarms

Shots From the Top

The elderly are supposed to get flu shots. I guess I might qualify, depended on the definition. My hindsight is pretty damned good. Whatever, I didn't get the shot.  I've been holed up the past couple of days while Lorna is out gallivanting with Steve and Sue, yesterday at Estero Llana Grande, today at Santa Ana. Paul is headed to Port Isabel this afternoon. I may get off my sickbed and go along. Prolly not. So, I took pictures off the Wesmor verandas, our apartment front entrance and the private sunny one out back.

This is the part of the garden that I burned to the ground last year. It was a combination of severe drought torched by a careless cigar butt. I think the garden looks decidedly better for my efforts. I was an agent of change, but no one has thanked me yet. Without a smirk.

Okay, now the back. We have a nice, very private porch overlooking the owner's private garden. The yard is surrounded by a sturdy gated fence, and is guarded by an old dog and his sidekick, a large noisy gander. The dog is far too laid-back and friendly to be a guard-dog. The goose is another story. John, the maintenance man, warned me to be careful and keep an eye on him, as the gander bites and tends to go for the crotch. One of these days I'll get some pics of the dog and goose team.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Helpful Photography Hints

... for the beginning nature photographer:

One way to get a clear close-up photograph of a nervous bird such as the Eastern Phoebe sometimes involves both wile and prior planning. This ploy has worked well for me. 

Pick an exposed, open location, such as a marsh or meadow, which is bordered by small trees and shrubbery. Pace off about ten steps from the edge and drive a four foot stake into the ground. Paint the top of the post with Tanglefoot or other sticky adhesive. When a bird lands it will become stuck in the glue. After it calms down it will accept it's fate and cease flopping about, which will allow you to approach it at your leisure to take as many pictures as you desire. 

After you have taken your photos, merely snip off the bird's feet with a large scissors. It will fly off to die somewhere else while you wait for another bird to land.

Tomorrow: Birding With Mousetraps.

Wishing you all good luck and better pictures!

(Yeah, I know ....)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Santa Ana Walk

We've been pretty fortunate, the Groove-billed Ani is a fairly rare bird - the bird of the year at the Santa Ana Refuge. The group of five have moved to different locations and a lot of people have struck out on it. We have seen them three different days, slowly getting better vantage points and getting better shots of them.

Kiskadee, the largest of the Tyrant Flycatchers

Black-crested Titmouse

Long-billed Dowitchers and Black-necked Stilts

Black-necked Stilt

Friday, January 17, 2014

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Edinburg Wetlands

A few more birds yesterday, still nothing like in the past. Probably because of the bizarre weather patterns the water birds have scattered up the coast, and the smaller birds likely drifted south or maybe never came to Texas at all. Whatever caused it it's what we are dealt. Gotta play it, so we've kicked up the social end a little. The Wesmor apartments are part of the Alamo Inn a block to the west. Today John, the maintenance man, said he likes coming over here because all the residents hang out together and are so friendly. Me too. It's a community that scatters during the summer then reassembles again in winter. We migrate south with the birds.

The first pictures are from Edinburg. After we returned from there in mid-afternoon we caught our breath, changed clothes and drove over to Estero Grande south of Weslaco, where I took the last pictures. After hiking around Estero Grande a little we went to the Blue Onion in Weslaco for dinner with Sue and Steve, Julie and Ian, Carolee and Paul, Lorna (and Gunnar). It was a great time, a little beer, a little wine, some good food and intelligent conversation. I think we actually solved the nation's health care issues. 

After we finished eating we all boogied back to Estero Grande and joined some other hearty souls for a 8:00 o'clock night-time nature walk which was led (officially) by Steve and Sue who are volunteer naturalists at the State Park. It was Texas cold, started out at 50 degrees and fell through the evening. We had on warm clothes, but the birds, scorpions, spiders, mammals were all laying low. Two hours in the cold dark and we saw nothing, nada. Supposedly it was all weather related, but personally I'm blaming it on Steve.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Nashville Warbler

Neotropical Cormorant

Vermilion Flycatcher