Who are we? We are our stories.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Miscellaneous 02-26-2015

Roseate Spoonbills

I don't know what to say about Spoonbills, other than they are both exceptionally beautiful and exceptionally homely. Somehow there should be a life lesson for us in that, but I don't know exactly what it would be. They are starting to come into their breeding plumage right now and at the very least they are very striking, in a pink cotton candy sort of way.


Friday, February 27, 2015


These are Least Sandpipers, one of the small Sandpiper species that are generally grouped together as "peeps". They are about the length of a common House Sparrow, a tad lighter in weight, though with much longer wings. We generally see them in small flocks, feeding as they scurry along mud flats or sandy shorelines. They are usually hard to get close to, just when you are almost close enough to really look at them, they fly up the shore another fifty feet, always staying just out of reach. I suppose they must sit and rest sometime, but in general they are birds in perpetual motion, either on the ground or in the air. 

I shot a set of pictures of them flying three days ago and now finally looking through the pictures I appreciate the peeps even more. They are great in the air, turning together like schooling fish, changing the group color from light to dark to light again as they wheel above the water. They fly so fast I never really noticed, they are so coordinated that most of them even have their wing beats synchronized, beating their knife wings up and down in unison as they cut their flock through the air. Amazing.

What do I do with a handful of photos, none great, but all fun? Post'em all I guess. Enjoy.

Live well, -Gunnar

Black-necked Stilts

Black-necked Stilts are 14" tall with a 29" wingspan. They are noisy and a little gawky in appearance with their extremely long legs - rather like a thin, long-legged kid, first time in her high heel shoes. Still, in their formal attire, they pull off the look with a certain sense of class..

The pictures were taken this morning south of Alamo at Pintail Lake in the Santa Ana NWR . It was cool and damp. For the record, I wore heavy pants over silk underwear, a leather-trimmed heavy Woodrich shirt, a Filson vest, and I was still a bit cold early in the day. The birds, as usual, seemed oblivious to it all.  

Whoa, brakes!



I have a bunch of bird pictures I need to sort through and edit, but for now, here is one picture of Lorna, taken on this cool Texas morning at Pintail Pond, smiling with the inner glow of her new 8.5 X 42 $warovski EL binoculars.

Friday, February 20, 2015

My Own Life - Oliver Sacks

.... on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer link. An interesting read. 

As I am now in my 70th year of a very good life, I have lived five years longer than either my father or father-in-law. My mother-in-law died very early in life to cancer. My own mother lingered into her late 70s and slowly slipped into the fog of dementia. Most people in human history or even in this present world get a fraction of what I have had. I am living on free time.

I do not believe in another life. I do not fear death nor dwell on it, but I have considered how I am going greet the Grim Reaper if I have the opportunity - "Damn you! Get away from my door!" or "Greetings, I have been expecting you. Come in, let us have a glass of wine before we begin the journey."

I have seriously thought about this. I am not stupid; I will let the medical folks have their way with my aging body if I have a repairable condition - cataracts, little bits of body gone bad, etc. Yet, over the years I have seen too many people seduced by the song and dance of  "quality time". 

Death is a poor dancer. I believe will have a glass of wine before we hit the road. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lorna's Thrush Pictures

Crack! Dawn cracked ... morning had broken; I was surrounded by the devastation. I hid beneath the bed covers as long as I could as Lorna moved about, dressing, prepping and packing her optics. By the time she went out the door I was more or less vertical, sitting in my underwear, sucking down my first cup of coffee of the day. She was headed to Estero Llano Grande, where at 8:00 our friends Steve and Sue were guiding a birding outing. Jeez, it was 50F degrees .... and for Christ's sake, it was morning! I really don't like the group effort brand of birding and I suspected with the two rare birds at the park there would actually be ....  people. 

L said as they were leaving on their hike they were accosted by a group of elderly Christians without binoculars who stormed their position and overcame them with their senior bluster. Later it was determined they were actually supposed to be on another outing which was to be led by Huck Hutchins. Thankfully by then Lorna had already saved herself and cut away from the milling herd to head back to the vicinity where the White-throated Thrush had been spotted the day before feeding in a large fig tree with a handful of Clay-colored Thrushes. 

An aside: When rare birds show up, birders tend to lose their sense of perspective. A week ago we were getting fleeting glimpses of the White-throat in a loose flock of half a dozen Clay-colored Thrushes. The Clay-color, in any other circumstance is a rare bird - as Paul would say, even a "Great Bird". People, with their yard long howitzer lensed cameras, right off the airplanes from god only knows where, were blowing off the beautiful Clay-colors, almost ignoring them as they leafed through the foliage in quest of the White-throat so they could check it off their life list as no. 632. Or whatever. Worse than that, across the road there was a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, a bird which I would wager a number of the Thrush hunters had never actually seen. (The Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet is a small non-decrepit bird which is rather famous for having a name which is longer than the actual bird.) 

My long story, cut short in it's prime, link: Lorna got great photos. Makes me really happy.

For those keeping track of the score, two days go we saw a Sprague's Pipet; yesterday we saw an American Pipet, although through the spotting scope of a generous couple from China - another long story, maybe for later. It's raining lifers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Two Life Birds!

This maybe should be broken into two or three postings, but I think I'll just dump some of today's pictures and comment on them a little.

We left Alamo at 7:30 this morning, meeting Steve and Sue at Bensten State Park south of Mission at about 8:00. Every good blog posting needs a narrative theme to drive it. Today it was weather. It was cold as we left, windy and 42F. It had rained during the night which was also to affect us later as the day went on.

We have never had much luck birding at Bentsen. It was devastated by floods in 2008 which really hammered the environment. You CAN see birds, but it tends to be the usual group of suspects feeding at a series of artificial feeding stations.

The group of folks above were a guided group of relatively casual birders. The couple on the left were from St.Paul, Minnesota. Shorts at 45F? He said if he was only spending one week in the Rio Grande Valley he would be damned if he was going to spend it wearing long pants. Personally, I had four layers on top and long underwear under my heavy long pants. And I was only relatively comfortable.

Orange-crowned Warbler. Ubiquitous and non-descript, but this is a nice photo of it.

Kiskadee. Another common bird, but certainly not nondescript. I like this photo because he is flaring his top crest reacting to another Kiskadee.

After a hike around the paved Bensten roads, we rode together in the Ridgeline to the Mission Nature Park. Sue was fixated - almost obsessed about adding some birds to her annual list. Near the parking lot we found a Cactus Wren, a wren which is much larger than other wrens.

Windy. ;-)

After introducing ourselves to the wren we said goodbye, climbed up the slope and started walking the top of the levee, hoping for a glimpse of Hooked-billed Kites, which are specialized raptors which feed on the tree snails in the trees along the levee. The gray Texas clay is amazingly sticky and tenacious.With every step our shoes gained weight - walk a few strides, try to kick and scrape the clay off, a few more strides, scrape again. Fatiguing.

Really tough walking and no Kites. But suddenly up ahead, movement in the edge of the grass. I saw the bird through the binocs, quickly dropped them for the camera and fired off a few shots. The Pipets are grassland birds, sparrowish in size and markings, but not closely related to them. It was far away and the photographs are lousy and out of focus, but I am tickled.  A Sprague's Pipet sighting was a life first for me.

Unfortunately Sue didn't get the Pipet, but she did get a Roadrunner for her annual list. We cleaned our shoes and headed for Anzalduas County Park where we saw an Osprey, Bluebirds, Vermilion Flycatchers, and a few other small birds.

By then we were draggin' ass a little, but before a late lunch at the Ranch House Burgers, we had one more stop at another location, to hopefully get some long range looks at a Burrowing Owl. We eventually spotted the bird, staying back on the road trying to disturb the bird as little as possible, only getting out of our vehicle to get some steadier camera shots, so these shots were really long range. I'm quite happy with mine, done with my relatively short lens.

It was my second life bird of the day.

Hope your day was good too, - Gunnar

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Yesterday: Desperados Waiting For a Train

"There were old men with beer guts and dominos, lying 'bout their lives while they'd played"

We kind of frittered the day away, sitting in the sun, buying groceries, stopped and picked up some citris at a farm. The fruit is so cheap here you could almost eat free, .... but people seem to prefer fast food. Toward evening some people dropped by and neighbors came over, so the seven of us sat around drinking IPAs, bemoaning the absense of Carolee and Paul, because last year Paul would have been here to pick and sing Guy Clark for us. Eventually hunger overcame us and we went three blocks down the street to Tower Burgers, camped in a big booth and talked some more. No pictures today, but John showed us some fresh Bobcat pictures on  his camera - great shots. I'll repost them if he ever gets around to posting them somewhere. 

Be well, - Gunnar (not a Winter Texan) Berg

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Deep South Texas

We picked up Steve and Sue early for a run south to the far southern tip of Texas. Early morning was pea soup fog, but it was burning off by the time we got to Brownsville an hour or so later. We first headed to the Nature Conservancy's Southmost Preserve, which is southeast of Brownsville. It is at the end of a rutted clay dirt road which runs through the border fence to a remote piece of land tucked into the southern-most loop of the Rio Grande, as far south as you can go in Texas, actually lies east of Matamoros, Mexico. The Nature Conservancy doesn't really encourage visitors, doesn't post signs (other than No Trespassing). Steve, our navigator (term used very loosely) navigates by confidence rather than by dead-reckoning, so eventually it took a couple of cell phone calls, a Garmin, a cell phone map, and a double-back to get us there, but damn it was beautiful once we found got there. Well done.

The foliage was extremely wet, but at some point you just can't get any wetter and you ignore it. The mosquitoes were harder to ignore.

One of the reasons we were there was to see a reported Cape May Warbler. Now I had photo- graphed a Cape May in my Minnesota backyard last Spring, but this time of the year it was supposed to be in the West Indies, not in Texas. Any bird that is direction/location challenged is infinitely more desirable. Desire as we might we could not conjure up a Cape May, but we saw assorted raptors, a large cat - Ocelot country, but more likely a large Bobcat, heard Coyotes. Over 1000 acres all to ourselves. A beautiful morning - overall very satisfying.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
Raptor shooting.
The Rio Grande
"Shit! I didn't get it." "Me either."
Da fence

We left Southmost for the short hop west to Sabal Palms, another through the Big Fence location. We walked around looking for a Dusky-capped Flycatcher. We didn't see it, but we got some good looks and poor photographs of a Black-throated Green Warbler, a Great-horned Owl, other common birds - the usual suspects, and a nice couple from Boise, Idaho who got swept up in our misguided folly.

Eventually we starting talking about food enough that we couldn't stand it any more and we made a fast break for the Super Cream Mexican restaurant in Brownsville. Mexican cuisine, not Tex-Mex, great food, becoming a regular stop. 

Then tired, we headed back to our homes in Weslaco and Alamo. Great weather. Great day,

 Be well, -G.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Birds At NABA

Sunday, it's Texas so everyone was in church and we had the world to ourselves. We rolled out onto the empty racetrack road and headed to the McAllen Nature Center for a first time vist. Overall we found it to be beautiful, possibly virgin woodlands that were rescued when the city fathers in their wisdom thought it would be quite a good idea to bulldose it all and put in tennis courts to make it more "useful". Not many birds yet. It has been abused. Give it time to heal; they have added some water features and in time more critters will find it. The volunteer who was filling feeders and putting out half oranges on sticks claimed they had a Jaguarundi. I have very, very serious doubts. Likely a large feral cat, possibly even a bobcat, but I think I would have to see a Jaguarundi pelt nailed to the shed to be convinced of that. Doubter that I am.

Next we went to the National Butterfly Center. This association obviously got a huge endowment to jump-start it. They charge too much admission and are spending money like drunken sailors on the facility and grounds. We swallowed hard, paid the price, and rented their birds and butterflies for a few hours. Nevertheless it kind of turns my stomach to see incredible amounts of resources spent like this when  people in the area are homeless. 'Nuff said. Bleeding heart.

White Checkered-Skipper

Great-tailed Grackle
Altimira Oriole

Khaki-skirted Lorna

After we left the NABA center we swung by Bengsten State Park which is just down the road. It was in the 80s and by then we were dragging a little so we took the tram ride. Ain't much to see and we saw most of it.

Be well, enjoy the tram ride, - Gunnar