In the beginning there was a bird…

I reflect sometimes on how I came to be interested in birding. Looking back on my life, I have always had a love for birds….a pet canary given to me by my Father and a barrage of parakeets who amazed me with their intelligence. And then as an adult I had a Yellow Nape Amazon parrot named Kazoo for about 15 years. But just how did my interest in birdwatching begin?

Great Blue Heron – Galveston Island December 2014

About four years ago, I was in Harlingen visiting my friend Linda who had escaped Michigan’s cold weather to winter in that area. The house she and her husband had leased was located on the Colorado River where it dumps into the Laguna Madre. We were sitting on the back porch enjoying the beautiful sunshine and the view across the river. Birds flitted here and there, occasional patrols of Brown Pelicans skimmed over the river’s surface, when we spotted something sitting in a large tree across the river. It was very still, appeared to be approximately 5 feet tall, had very long flowing feathers and we tried to determine if we were seeing a part of the tree or if this might be some kind of giant bird. After much observation through binoculars, we determined that it was a giant bird and we named him Big Bird. At that time we didn’t know what his true name was and thus began our journey into the birdwatching world. We finally realized that what we saw was a Great Blue Heron in full breeding plumage. He was a magnificent specimen and in future years we always were checking to make sure that “Big Bird” was still roosting across the river. We also noticed large birds sitting in the trees lining the riverbank during the day. All we could see were semi-large birds that were black with white bellies. We named these “penguin birds” since that was all we could see of them at that time. Quickly we learned that our penguin birds were black-crowned night herons.

Our learning curve rose rapidly….With books, phone apps and both of us glued to our binoculars, we quickly grew in our identifying skills. A new hobby had been embraced and a new adventure begun with both of us experiencing tremendous joy in sharing our new-found love of bird watching.

Happy bird searching!!!

What is BBC?

Picture this….it is cold, rainy and the wind is blowing at gale force making it feel even colder. Not ideal birding weather for people for sure. Perhaps so, but I am still driven to try to see as many birds as possible since I am probably in one of my favorite birding towns. My solution is a simple one. Jump into the car with binocs and camera and slowly drive my favorite haunts, hoping to spy some of my special friends and every now and then a new one I haven’t seen before. It never gets old, even if I have seen the same bird species repeatedly….another blue heron, great egret, spoonbill, sandhill crane, canada goose, reddish egret….it still stirs something within me as I admire their beauty. It doesn’t matter that the weather is horrific. Inside the car it is warm, I have something to drink or eat and if I happen to spot a bird, I can capture their picture with my trusty zoom lens.

BBC, or Birding by Car, can be quite satisfying when nature doesn’t cooperate to give us ideal bird watching conditions. Many times I am not sure what I am seeing, but if I can get a photo, then once I am back in the comfort of my hotel room, I can examine my books and apps to try to identify my subject.

One of my BBC ventures led me to one of the smaller communities on the West end of Galveston Island. There weren’t many houses in this subdivision and it wasn’t on the ocean side, but driving slowly around, I spotted a bird that I knew was just different. I stopped my car and watched him, snapping pictures repeatedly. He sat on one of the power lines, was pretty good size, had the raptor beak and had distinctive coloring. As I watched, he flew over a grassy field and helicoptered in place scouting the ground below for his supper. He fired toward the ground but missed his target and then flew back to the power line. His behavior, along with his distinctive coloration helped me to identify him as a beautiful American Kestrel. That same day I was also treated to two Crested CaraCara’s hanging out together on some fence posts.

American Kestrel
Crested Caracara


So, my message here…..don’t let the inclement weather keep you from having a positive birding experience. One never knows what might be found just out the window of your mobile bird blind.

Happy bird searching…..



Bird Nicknames

When my BFF Linda and I attended our very first Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen, we had an experience that was very frustrating to  “new birders” .

We were up early, so excited about this new hobby we had discovered, leaving the house while still dark, to drive 20+ miles to the convention center to board the bus for our very first birding adventure. We packed snacks, water and were draped in the paraphernalia that we felt was necessary for us to have on our first outing….cameras, binoculars, birding vest, birding books….a very long list of “things”.

We followed along behind our birding expert guides, listening intently to their every word and quickly scanning the bushes, trees and skies for the birds that they spotted or heard. Frequently we were unable to understand the names of some of the birds they were sighting. One particular experience led us to loudly complain to our leaders. Everyone kept shouting “there’s a Sharpie”. A what???? Excited isn’t quite the word to describe the atmosphere surrounding this “Sharpie”. Linda and I were frantically checking the index in our birding books trying to find a “Sharpie”. When we finally asked our guides just what a “Sharpie” was, they said “Oh, that’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk. We just call them Sharpies”

We exploded with….”How in the world is a new birder suppose to know this?” The lesson learned for future trips that may include new birders….Avoid nicknames, use the correct name of the bird and then follow with what their nickname might be!

Happy bird searching!!!