Who are we? We are our stories.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dowitcher Bathing

I took these pictures yesterday late in the day at Estero Llano Grande. My Sibley field guide says the Dowitcher is about 11" long with a 19" wingspan. I believe this bird is a Long-billed Dowitcher, although if someone told me it was a Short-billed Dowitcher I wouldn't exactly fall off the tractor. My I.D.ing is mostly based on habitat because frankly in winter plumage I couldn't tell the difference if I was holding one in my hand. 

There was much splashing, preening, jumping up and flapping the water off of feathers, only to splash away again - much like a young humanoid cub in a bathtub. We really have no idea of what goes on in their birdie brains, but at some point this obviously became pleasure .... or dare I say .... "play". Play? I am reasonably certain some of the Corvids play, but Shorebirds? Well, maybe they do. Someone needs to study this for years and years, then write a doctoral thesis on "Play Among Various Limnodromus Sandpipers". Then we would know for certain.

Be well, enjoy life - Gunnar

Friday, January 30, 2015

South Padre Outing: Sora

South Padre Outing: Least Bittern

Intense. Focused. These birds can spend an hour without moving, though when their necks are extended they move very gently side to side, maybe mimicking reeds swaying in a breeze? 

South Padre Outing: General

Yesterday was a sweet weather day - warm, but not oppressively so. Lorna and I picked up Steve and Sue at Estero Llano at about 8:30 and we loaded the Ridgeline for a run to South Padre Island, arriving there about a hour later.

Tidal mudflat, mangroves, Laguna Madre, sky - high sun at 2:00 P.M. ;-)

The town of South Padre was once a sleepy beach village. Now it had gone over to the dark side, with high rise condos and hotels, and a dozen t-shirt shops. Originally these popped up on the south end, but untreated, these festering carbuncles are rapidly spreading north along the narrow barrier island beaches. The Laguna Madre is extremely saline - 45 ppt (compared to the ocean gulf at 35 ppt). On the Laguna Madre side of the narrow barrier island is the power plant and the waste water treatment plant. The resulting fresh and brackish water of the tidal flats, coupled with streams that flow in and out with the tides, support large numbers of small fish that are a strong draw for wildlife. We did not drive for an hour for t-shirts and flip-flops; we were there to see those birds. 

I took a lot of photos, particularly Soras and Least Bitterns. These are both birds that are extremely skulky, hiding in the reeds, only occasionally giving us calls or fleeting glimpses. Yesterday both came out to play in the open, particularily the Sora, and I shot way too many photos ... which now I have to edit - sort through and delete 92.7% of them. I'll probably post a couple of more postings concentrating on each bird specie. Or maybe I'll just wander off and forget all about them forever. The weather is pretty nice today - I might just go out and shoot another sh*tload of pictures I'll never look at again. 

Also, at lunch time we went to Padre Island Brewing for a deep-fried seafood basket and an IPA - well, actually two (Paul would like to know). Really good. Talked to Markkus, the brewmaster, for a while about Nordeast Minneapolis brewpubs. He is a Minnesota transplant and closely monitors the Minnesota brewing scene. He grumbles about the changes to South Padre, but after 20 years on South Padre I doubt he'll only return to Minneapolis when they bury him. 

The pictures are mostly egrets and herons. They are just starting to come into breeding plumage. Another couple of weeks and they will be spectacular. For now they are just simply amazing.

Great Blue Heron

Snowy Egret

Common Gallinule (aka Moorhen). There was a Purple Gallinule, but accordling to eyewitnesses it was eaten by a Great Blue Heron. ???!  *burp* )

Tricolored Heron - this one is close to full breeding trim.

Great Egret, just a little breeding plumage on the rear.

Black-bellied Plover in non-breeding plumage (but still has black "arm pits".).

Great Blue Heron, he's getting there.

 Mottled  Duck, a close southern cousin of the Mallard. 

Reddish Egret

Green Heron

I'll probably get to posting the other pictures eventually.
Be well, G.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hargill, Texas

Hargill is a "census-designated place" claiming a population of 1300. In reality the town itself is a wide spot in the road with an abandoned grocery store, one functioning building across the street which contains a cafe for the frackers, a convenience store and a gas station, - maybe three houses and one dead cat on the road. For us it was a place for five carloads of birders to rendezvous. The area around Hargill is dead flat farmland punctuated by well heads and a compression station. The horizon is far, far away in all directions. It is marvelous raptor country. The primary reason we were there is someone had seen Mountain Plovers in a melon field. Mountain Plovers are misnamed, they were where they should be. They are birds of short grass or bare flat land. We found the melon field straight away - never did spot any Plovers - it is very big country. We saw a lot of raptors of various species through scopes, at distances where they could be identified, but of course way beyond what I could shoot with my 55-300mm rather short lens. For instance, in the center of the picture below is a White-tailed Kite posed nicely on  branch. A great bird. You'll have to take my word for it.

After most of the dozen of so disappointed birders drifted off we followed a family group we bump into regularly at Estero Llano. A man, wife and their three children The children are devastatingly cute and sweet, and all just spooky smart. The boy behind Lorna at the scope is Jachin. I would guess he is about 10 years old. He has a sweet Nikon camera worth about three times what mine is. Jachin is a product of my friend Steve's photography classes. His best student. He worked his way up the camera food chain, buying his camera with prize money from photo contests. He is good - very, very good.

Sandhill Cranes along the road home. About that time we were hungry beyond reason and were starting to argue and bicker. It got worse, but after half an hour we found a good Mexican Cafe - one of those places where the waitress cannot speak English and Steve thinks he can speak Spanish. Inspite of his confidence, the ordering was eventually done by pointing at the menu pictures, laughing and making hand gestures. It worked.

After a stop at Costco we arrived back at our apartment; Sue and Steve came up and our neighbors Bill and Cathy came over for drinks, snacks and conversation. A nice ending to a good day.

Be well, -G.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A No Warbler Sighting

The past couple of days there has been a lot of action at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Guiding the bird walk yesterday morning, Huck Hutchens identified and someone photographed a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat. We received a call yesterday from friends who had seen it. I have a well-deserved reputation for not being very diligent about my birding, particularly target birding for an individual bird. We were both tired so we decided to wait until this morning. We were there with cameras and bins a little after 7:00. Because of the internet, the place was frickin' crawling with birders from all over. Intense, diligent birders.

Lorna and I were out all morning. I became bored of the waiting, standing around scanning the grass and shrubs, bird talking with the slow milling group of a dozen people in our portion of the larger flock. I eventually wandered off and managed to be in other places, missing the action when the little bugger finally did show up. Keeping all things in perspective, this is just a bird, a bird which has wandered off from where WE think it should be - evolution spinning off an outlier. Most fail: once in a while something works.

The last time a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat was spotted in the U.S. was in 2006 when a pair actually nested at Bengsten State Park over south of Mission. In an infamous incident (and I couldn't even make this one up) the nest was stepped on and crushed by a birder looking for the birds. The birds were never seen again. Jeez. I did notice that people seemed particularly vigilant about staying on the paths this morning. So ..... no Gray-crowned Yellowthroat pictures. Here's a couple I shot while I was busy NOT seeing the rare bird.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Neotropic Cormorant
Cinnamon Teal
Be well,
Be vigilent, be diligent, - G.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Warm Day

Birdwise, nothing out of the ordinary, just beautiful creatures. I took these this morning at Santa Ana, breaking now for lunch. I may go out to Estero in late afteroon. Right now, salad and sunshine.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Texas Home

If any of these photographs make this place look plush they are misleading. It is a very poor town and most of the money and the majority of the "Winter Texans" live across the expressway on the other side of town. There is a small sheet metal fabricator next door, miscellaneous barking dogs, an alert watch-goose, and railroad tracks across the busy street to the north.

All that said, the people of the neighborhood and apartments are friendly, we have a fairly large apartment with a functional kitchen, a bedroom with a comfortable king-size bed, views of beautiful gardens from covered verandas on both front and back, wi-fi, cable, laundry, etc. We get by.

View from front veranda.
View from rear veranda.
View of street.

Laundry door.

Stay warm, -G.