Who are we? We are our stories.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Butterfly Mating Photos!

The first photo is pair of Queens mating, the male being the smaller bug. I thought, boy you don't see that every day. Then an hour later I saw a pair of Gulf Fritillaries, the female on the ground, tail up with the male fluttering above. Butterflies making more butterflies (or as Carolee says, "egg/larva/chrysalis/adult".

Later Lorna spotted a Banded Peacock flying by. She wasn't able to get a photo, but it came my way, set down for a flutterbeat and I banged off a handful of shots and got lucky with one. Then later I got my first photo of an American Lady.

The Green Heron is a small bird as Herons go, but the most colorful of our North American herons. Most years we have seen a few, but this is the first one I have seen this year. The photo was taken through a screen of branches, but the bird's colors do show up pretty well.

- Gunnar

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Little Bug For Redwing

For all you non-bug aficionados out there, this is a photo of a small Gossamerwing, about 3/4" long that I just took in the garden out front. I am not certain of the top color - it didn't seem important, just another Ceranus Blue. *click* But now that I try to really nail it down I have some doubts. One for Paul or Carolee, or if I get really desperate - Rick or Mike. ;-)  Aw, its just a flower bug.

Living fat in Bugland - Gunnar

Friday, January 27, 2017

Leftovers No 2, Skippers

Leftovers No 1, Feather Tending

We were at Estero Llano before daylight because Lorna wanted to get a better photo of the Rose-throated Becard. It was cool by south Texas standards, 48F. We dressed for it and I was armed with a small thermos of hot coffee - no problem. For the first hour or so we were alone, then Doug showed up with seed and half oranges to fill the birdfeeders. Good for some birds, but the Becard is a Tyrant Flycatcher and doesn't seem to be very interested in our weed seeds.

Hopeful people eventually started arriving and drifting down to the water drips until there may have been a dozen of us, wandering around talking softly, necks craned, eyes to the tree tops. I knew some of them and met a few new interesting people. Good thing, it was not a terribly birdy day. Around 1:00 we hung it up and came home.

No pictures today, so here are some leftover shots from the other day at South Padre.

More later, - Gunnar

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Desperate Times ...

... call for desperate photos. Lorna and I went to McAllen Nature Center, mostly to see an Audubon Oriole, and then to go to Sprouts Organic Grocery, as an escape from the H.E.B. You just have to live here to understand that. 

We saw the Audubon, but neither of us got a photo. Photos? Here is a Mocker. The Mockingbird is the Texas State Bird. They are everywhere - ubiquitous is the word isn't it? They don't hide. Nobody ever takes photos of Mockingbirds.

Today, I did. Battery? Check. SD card? Check. General settings? Check. This was one of a handful of photos I took checking my camera settings when we first arrived. 

Tiny active olive bird - white wing-bar, large eye, delicate beak. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a good bird, not a great bird, but certainly good enough when that is all you have to show. Actually, it is a great little bird. 

Late afternoon, back in the apartment kicking back, playing with the new Sangean table-top radio, looking out the window I noticed the sunset sky. I told Lorna, our designated sunset and landscape photographer, that she should get a shot. She said that it was too full of clutter. She is right of course, this is not a upscale neighborhood. There are barking dogs, poles, posts, cables, antennas and wires. It really does not look this idyllic, but hell, there are palm trees and a tropical sky behind them.

I took it anyway and I'll have to live with the result. - Gunnar.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Ups and Downs

A pleasant day. Up and about fairly early to get over to the group bird walk at Estero Llano hosted by our friends Steve and Sue, assisted by Huck and Doug. Actually we ended up going alone up on the dike to check the Llano on the other side for waders and waterbirds before the wind came up. On our way back to join the group we bumped into Dave Seals who was looking for a reported female Blue Bunting - a report of a report of a report. Frankly I have some doubts.

There are the ABA big life number individuals who blow into town, check a bird or two off their life list and fly off to their next "big bird". It can become a driven, competitive sport, and often very self-centered.

On the other hand we have Dave Seales, one of my birding idols. He is in his mid-80s, still hard-muscled and looks like he could kick my ass. His old eyes can still I.D. a hawk high up in the sky like a black spot, and this time of year will again be working the annual hawk count at Santa Ana NWR.

He is a modest man who first began birdwatching in 1943. Dave Seales is a behind the scenes workman, who along with his lifelong birding buddy, has been banding birds every year since 1949! Instead of chasing birds he has quietly spent a lifetime gathering knowledge and establishing population baselines. 

There seems to be a natural hostility between birders, some even carrying moderately sized cameras, and the people who are primarily photographers - often taking pictures of birds they cannot identify. They can both be trophy hunters - birders are often after a rare bird sighting, the photographers are after a perfect photo. 

It has been observed that the larger the camera, the closer to the bird the photographer seems to want to be. Birders have unwritten rules about approaching birds, taking turns viewing and never blocking anyone's view. The big camera and wide splayed tripods take room, and the only room available often seems to be in front of the birders, even if it means setting up and blocking everyone's view and spooking the birds with blinding flashes of light. The birder's hobby of quiet bird observation does not interfere with the photographer, the photographer's hobby goddamn well does.   

We talked about the issue with this fellow, a regular at a water drip that attracts birds. Lorna told him that the front of his lens should never be closer to the water drip than the front of her binoculars. He seemed stunned that people would hate him and his damned camera (with two flash units?). He is probably not a bad person, he is just frickin' clueless.

Harumph - Gunnar

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

South Padre Herons, Rails and Egrets

I really wanted to get a couple of good shots of the tougher birds to get - the rails and bitterns that live in the reeds and make their living by not being seen. I was only marginally successful. There were reports of a King Rail, which got us a little excited. I think it was a bad report. The Gulf sub-species of the Clapper Rail is very similar to the King Rail - hard to tell them apart except by call. I got a few bad shots of a Clapper, still a good bird, but much more common. The last one was a surprise shot. I had lost track of the Rail's location, when it popped up again as I was taking a picture of a Common Egret.

Lorna was the person who initially got eyes on the Clapper Rail and she got a wonderful set of photos before her slacker husband finally got there to get a photo of the west end of a bird headed east before it hit the reeds. Here is a link to her photos. Check these out; they are really fine shots.

Common Egret

Great Blue Heron

This all was a much longer process than  1, 2, 3. Even after he flopped the bird on the ground, stabbed at for a while (to kill it?) he stared at it for a long time, as if deciding if he could actually swallow it - getting up his courage. Even after he got it lined up head first, and grabbed it, the actual swallowing took a long time. After the tail finally disappeared and the lump in his throat slowly slid down, he went back to the pond and took one looong drink of water. I think a beer chaser might have been better, but he was probably under age. And didn't have a pocket to carry the cash.

Snowy Egret

Little Blue Heron

Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret

Soras, a small Rail, don't seem to be fearful, just extremely furtive; one day in a dozen they will hop right out of the cattails, pose for a while, then vanish again. Yesterday wasn't like that. We saw two or three Soras - movement in the cattails, sometimes a Marsh Wren, sometimes a Sora - a blink of a glance, then nothing - vanished into thin air.  Finally I got a solid look for a few seconds. I was studying the cattails trying to get a heartbeat time to focus. Some helpful fellow came up behind me saying, "Did you see the 'gator? C'mon, lemme show you the 'gator." I replied, "Not now, I have (had) something way cooler than an alligator." He glanced down at where the Sora had just been.

Likely he wouldn't have been impressed anyway. A Sora cannot eat you.

- Guunar

South Padre Outing

Yesterday morning we got an early start to South Padre Island, about a hour and a half from our home base here in Alamo. When we arrived at the Birding Center on the island we were immediately greeted by our friend Javi Gonzalez. While some of the gardens and fountains surrounding the building are lovely to look at, they were not designed and planted by a naturalist and are are not necessarily bird friendly, particularly for small perching birds that really need green spaces, native trees and bushy shrubs during winter and migration. Javi has recently landed his dream job, as the first naturalist that the Birding Center has ever hired, with a mandate to expand and restore native plantings - to make the center as bird friendly as possible. 

Here some general atmosphere shots. I will post some birdier shots in another posting (and maybe more - god forbid, butterflies).

We also a great seafood - oysters, shrimp and whitefish - lunch at Padre Brewing. "Bar food" :-).

Living well, - Gunnar

Friday, January 20, 2017

Little Flower-bugs

This afternoon I got a look at a Tropical Parula, not in the open enough to get photographs, but still a good look. It was not a life bird for me, but it is still rare and lovely. Satisfied.

The morning was overcast and foggy, typical for this locale and season. We stayed in the apartment until after a hearty homemade chili lunch, and then drove over to Estero Llano for the butterfly walk led by Rick Snider with Mike Rickard going ahead as a spotter - two extremely knowledgeable butterfly experts. It had heated up by then and was nearing 80F when we started and the butterflies were reacting to the heat. Eventually it got up to a very humid mid 80s, maybe hotter. Tomorrow 92F is forecast here, but more importantly, it may be 89F in Brownsville where Lorna and friends will be walking in the Women's March.

We saw a lot of butterflies today. I am familiar with most of the large ones, but today there were a number of species of small Grass Skippers and Hairstreaks, which are flitty and only about 1/2" long. I can only identify about half of these if I'm lucky. Some of these photographs are bad, with sticks in the way, etc. I am not going to even attempt to tag them right now, but posting them now will allow me to more easily go back and hang an I.D. on them later. I somehow missed getting a picture of the White-scrub Hairstreak. And bunch of others, but that Hairstreak is a little rare and I really should have gotten it. Enjoy, they are just as wonderful even if we don't know all their names. 

The next two plants are the Mexican Olive, a native, and the Bougainvillea which is native to Brazil. The Bougainvillea do very well here and they add a splash of color to the yards of humble shacks to giant mansions. The butterflies have evolved with the Mexican Olive trees and today it seemed there were butterflies in every flower. Twenty feet away there was a large Bougainvillea, a butterfly desert - not a butterfly on it. None. 

An uncertain time right now; our country will survive - Gunnar