Who are we? We are our stories.

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 I shortly after our Rose-throated Becard vanished before we were able to get a camera on it - both feeling a combination of exhilaration and dismay - staring at a hole in space where a bird once perched, Paul dreaming of what might have been. 

Paul reported it to eBird and 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 proven 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.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Big Deal

This is really a continuation of yesterday's posting. 

On the way back to Alamo we stopped at the Blue Onion for a late lunch. Lorna took this photo of a befuddled old man waiting for an al pastor calzone.

Back in Alamo I posted my earlier blog entry and then walked with Paul five or six blocks to the "old firehouse park" where earlier he had seen some warblers, among them a Black-throated Gray. I have a bit of a soft spot for warblers and the Black-throated Gray summers on the West Coast, so I have never seen one in Minnesota. "Park" proved to be a bit misleading; in reality the park was a large, rough vacate lot with a few large trees. Trees=warblers.

We did not see any warblers, but I spotted a flycatcher. Expecting it to be a phoebe I was just gobsmacked. Paul asked, "What have you got?" "A male Rose-throated Becard!"  "Heh, heh, yeah right." "No, seriously, it's a Becard." He scrambled to see it and his eyes got really big. Paul does not use rough language, but he did then, "*G@d$#%*!!" Then, "Photos! Photos! We need photos!" I had a camera on my hip, but when I see see something amazing my mind tends to go blank with wonder. We tried to get a photo, but alas the bird did not cooperate and soon vanished, as birds often do. Unfortunately Lorna did not get to see it, but hopefully she will in the future.

Back at the apartments, Paul sent an email to Mary Gustafson, officially reporting the bird. We then reported it to our Alamo Inn Apartment birding friends, which for me are more important than the E-bird folks at Cornell University. Half a dozen of us gathered on our veranda and told stories and drank beer to celebrate friends and rare birds. Later we went to Bill and Cathy's apartment for Bill's great pork stew and sides. After we ate, Prappas pulled out the guitar and sang some Guy Clark tunes for us. Wonderful evening.

Those that know more than I do, feel there probably hasn't been a male Becard see in the Rio Grande Valley for at least a decade. It wasn't a life bird for me because four years ago I saw a female Becard. So after the smoke cleared and the feathers settled I didn't get a life sighting of a Black-throated Gray Warbler, but I got first sighting of a far rarer bird.

All in all it was a pretty fine day. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Slept in

... then dealt with some mundane, pissy things that just wouldn't go away and fix themselves. Late morning it was sunny and 82F - hot midday so there just aren't many birds out, so ... oh, what-the-hell? we went birding at Estero Llano Grande anyway. Not much, but I took some pictures anyway.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Northern Jack!

Often first year birds tend to wander out of their normal range. This year one of those, a Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa) has wandered out of coastal Mexico or Central America to our Lower Rio Grande Valley. Aka "the Jesus Bird", so called because it seems to walk on water with its incredibly huge feet. I have been out mornings scouting places where it has been sighted or could be sighted - standing and waiting, waiting, waiting, Lorna even more, because she is more patient and dedicated. We have only been able to see the bird at an extreme distance. 

This morning we waited. The bird showed up far off on the edge of the reeds on the next pond to the west. After a long time of looking at a little brown blob "way the hell out there", a few watchers wandered off. Normally I would too, but today we hung in there "just a little longer". Eventually there were just four of us left, Lorna and I, and a couple from Oklahoma. The bird came closer, not so close you could really see it with the naked eye, but it was there! Suddenly it flew closer and we scrambled to get to a better vantage. We got settled in with the binoculars and now it was even in long camera range. Then the show, it lifted off, shit! it's leaving .... but no, instead of flying away it floated closer and settled down in the cattails 40 or 50 feet from us and it spent ten minutes working the edges right in front of us. 

This bird is in mid-molt, changing from its juvenile light color to a rich chestnut brown, dark neck and head, and yellow flight feathers.

I can die now ... or maybe I will just die until the next rare bird comes along. - Gunnar B.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Outing No 73: Clappering and Bitterning

Morning didn't really break this morning, rather morning slipped in under a wet, gray blanket fog when we were distracted by our sleep. Lorna, Paul Prappas, Carolee Colter and myself - at 7:30 we mopped the water off the old Ridgeline Birdmobile, packed our assorted optics, and hit the high road to South Padre Island, Paul behind the wheel as I am still fighting off a cold/flu and I am kind of draggin, ass. Low.

Driving into the glare of a sun-up fog, the early trip was a little painful. As it burned off we made a side trip stop at a mudflat harbor for shorebirds, particularly Oystercatchers. Got them. Very birdy - see below.

We pulled into South Padre at about 9:30 and drove directly to the Convention Center where we deboarded the birdmobile. We strapped on our cameras and binoculars and hit the boardwalk. Honestly we didn't see much by South Padre standards - a flock of Roseate Spoonbills poking around in the water, but mostly just napping, a few Ospreys, Pelicans, etc. We went back up the road to the World Birding Center to try our luck there. Paul wanted to see a Least Bittern, a bird which I understand shouldn't be here now. Eventually we did get eyes on it, not enough for a photo for me, but Lorna and Paul did get a couple.

(Paul's photo) 

No matter, here some others I was able to take as we looked for the Least Bittern..

Paul eventually got his Least Bittern so we took a lunch break at Padre Brewing. Brewmaster Mark Haggemiller sat with us for a while, talking Minnesota, beer and food - he has had a same cook for 20 years. We had some of his great beer and seafood.

After lunch we checked out the beaches looking for more shorebirds.

On the way home we stopped at Estero Llano because ... well, because it was on the way.

At home Paul and I split a tall beer - a Surly Over Rated, and I finished the leftover chicken soup that Bill Mauck made for me to help cure my cold. Did it help? Maybe, maybe not, but the soup tasted fantastic. 

Started out cool, damp and foggy. Saw some beautiful things along the way. Finished sunny and 80 degrees. A great day. 

Be well, - Gunnar