Sister Time

Have camera and binocs, will travel

I travel light. A few clothes thrown into a tote bag, my binocs, a camera and I am off for another weekend visit with my sisters.

My two sisters just celebrated birthdays. One in December and the other just last Saturday. Recently I heard a young aspiring contestant on a television program describing her age in terms of how many times she had been around the sun. For her it was 20 times. For me and my sisters it is a whole lot more. I find myself thinking about how fortunate I am to have had both of my sisters so close to me throughout my entire life. Each time I complete one more trip around the sun, my oldest sister always describes in minute detail my arrival into their world. I always love hearing her descriptions and never tire of it. I get to enjoy a moment in my life of which I was totally unaware. So we now have a new way of reporting our ages. It is not measured in “years of age” but as how many “trips around the sun” we have been fortunate enough to complete.

Red-Shouldered Hawk – Burton, Texas

So on Friday night we shared a home cooked meal, birthday cake and many memories.We laughed and enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with sisters knowing each other so well. On Saturday two of us checked out some of the birds in the Burton area and near-by Lake Somerville. We were making memories with every bird we spotted. And secretly I am always hoping that my passion for bird watching will transfer to them.

We spent some time at the Big Red Barn just outside of Round Top, Texas where antique dealers had gathered for a winter show. Walking up and down the aisles I am always entranced with the merchandising skill of the booth vendors. They hawk their wares by using them in new and different ways and displaying old and much-loved items in such ways that I am tempted to purchase even though I have no clue where to put them nor why I feel I must have them. They are sorcerers!

Sunset from my sister’s front porch

Exhausted, but filled with satisfaction of a day well spent, we visited a local cafe for dinner before returning to her home to watch a movie. Nothing fancy, just a day spent with someone I love and who loves me equally.

Every encounter builds memories and each is emblazoned in my mind forever. They are important and meaningful and I hope to share many, many more with my sisters.

Happy bird searching!!!

PS: Still searching for Mr. Pileated Woodpecker!



Burton Birds Revisited

Just a few of the birds I managed to capture with my camera this past weekend.

American Tree Sparrow
Male Cardinal
Black Vulture
Crested CaraCara
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Red-Tailed Hawk
Eastern Bluebird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Red-shouldered Hawk
American White Pelicans – Lake Somerville – January 2016

Happy bird searching!!!

Beauty From the Beast

The beast was a hurricane named Ike. He roared onto the Texas Gulf Coast on Galveston Island in 2008 and in his passing he wrought great destruction to the sleepy resort city of Galveston. The wind ripped trees from the ground and the salty ocean tidal surge washed ashore and in its path left thousands of dead trees and other vegetation. But from the death of some of these great oak trees sprung a whole new cottage industry for some very talented artists. They cut and IMG_1962shaped from the dead trunks of these trees beautiful sculptures many of which are reminiscent of ocean front icons that have been used by authors to describe coastal areas throughout the centuries. And others are just plain whimsical.

The Causeway leading onto Galveston Island is lined with oleander bushes that have been there as long as I can remember. They bloom profusely throughout the hot Texas summer and combined with crepe myrtles they announce the arrival into a city filled with beautiful foliage and blooming plants. Many of the homes date back to the early 1900’s and have historical markers. The gardens that surround them are meticulously tended and lovingly maintained to enhance the homes that they adorn. Many of these homes are located in the Garden District. The very name tells you to expect an oasis of beautiful flowers and plants.  Salt water destroys….be it plants, trees, paint on houses, rust on cars….inland, where it does not belong, it is a killer. Birds of Paradise, plumbago, crepe myrtles, roses, hibiscus and so many other varieties had to be replanted. After Ike, the rebuilding began. The people who inhabit Galveston Island are survivors. They have experienced many hurricanes…some barely dusting the island with blustery winds and rain and others like Ike that are killers dealing fatal blows.

Bottle Brush Tree

There are many entertaining things to do in Galveston….shopping on the Strand, the Pleasure Pier on the sea wall, Moody Garden’s Rainforest, perusing souvenir shops, walking the beaches, birdwatching, fishing and the list goes on and on. The one that has become a must see tourist attraction is called the Tree Sculpture Tour. Self guided or with a guide, it is fun and entertaining to seek and find the homes that have engaged one of those IMG_1731entrepreneur artist to turn a dead tree in their front yard into an art object. It is truly remarkable to see how beautiful they are and certainly an example of one of the highest forms of recycling.

I am sure that another hurricane will eventually make its way to Galveston Island. Mother Nature is a powerful force when it takes the form of a hurricane. Rebuilding after one is the price one pays for living on the Gulf Coast. Is the price too high? Only the person living it can answer that question. The love of beach life, the smell of the salty air, the warm gentle Gulf breezes and the healing powers of a walk on the beach are powerful motivators for challenging Mother Nature for a piece of real estate that offers what many islanders consider to be “the good life”!IMG_1726

Happy bird searching!!!




A beautiful day in the neighborhood

Another walk, another beautiful day in the neighborhood. Lady Bird Lake gems.

Ring-billed Gull – Winter Visitor – January, 2016
Cormorant – January 2016
Preening Cormorant


Snowy Egret – January 2016
Great Blue Heron on the hunt – January 2016
Great Blue Heron – January 2016


Cormorants Drying their Wings
Great Egret
Fall Leaves Hanging On
Snowy Egret having a bad hair day!
A bird of a different species
And Another from the past
Snowy Egrets Branching Out
One of the many
Male and female Mallards catching a little shut eye


Great Egret
On the Boardwalk – Lady Bird Lake
Look What I found! – Lesser Scaup – January 2016
Dabbling Gadwalls – January 2016

Another great walk on Austin’s beautiful Lady Bird Lake.

Happy bird searching!!!

A Short Walk Along Lady Bird Lake

A beautiful winter day, blue skies, and 70 degree temperatures always inspire a walk along Lady Bird Lake. Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cardinal, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Lesser Scaups, Wood Ducks, Mallards, American Coots, Grackles, Cormorants, Rock Pigeons, Squirrels, and beautiful reflections on the water were all sprinkled throughout a leisurely stroll along one of Austin’s greatest treasures. Here are few of the regulars that I captured along the way.

Lesser Scaup – January 2016
Great Egret – January 2016
Snowy Egret – January 2016
Mallard – January 2016
Mr. Curious Squirrel – January 2016
Reflections – January 2016
Wood Duck – January 2016
Winter on Lady Bird Lake – January 2016

I started my walk today with the hope of spotting a Green Kingfisher that has been seen multiple times. Even though I didn’t spot him, I had a very pleasant walk and a great visit with many of the Lady Bird Lake regulars and a few winter visitors.

Next time Mr. Green Kingfisher! Happy bird searching!!!

Galveston’s East Jetty

Snowy Egret – Personal Photo GKennedy

Many years ago, BB (before birding) I visited this area of Galveston with my best friend when we were spending a week at the beach with our girl scout troop. We were fortunate because she had a boss who owned a beach-front house in Pirate’s Beach, so we were able to enjoy a week with only the expense of food and outings. What fun we had!  We would bring some spaghetti, Chicken South Texas, hamburger fixings and then with a salad and bread thrown in the mix, we had a great tasty meal with easy clean up. At least one or two nights we would go out to dinner and one of the places we visited was located on the East Jetty beach road. I think it was called Tubby’s. I really can’t remember except they had outstanding fried shrimp, their windows overlooked the ship channel and the sky was most often filled with twisting terns, soaring sea gulls and patrolling brown pelicans.

Caramel Apples

During the day we explored the Strand treating ourselves to salt water taffy, ice cream cones or caramel apples at La Kings Confectionery and of course no visit would be complete without a visit to Colonel Bubbie’s, an old army/navy surplus store with the aisles crammed full of old military paraphenalia…camouflage clothing, jackets, mess kits, canteens, even old gas masks… all of which seemed to appeal to our scouts. They swam in the ocean, built sand castles, practiced their skits for the Cadette Event talent competition, played games and once we even visited the Dickens on the Strand celebration at Christmas time. So many memories, so many good times. But back then I was much more interested in treasures that might wash up on the beach….sand dollars, shark’s teeth, cockle shells, whelks….and never paid much attention to the plethora of bird species that surrounded us on a daily basis. That was then…a good 40 years ago. And Galveston has morphed over these many years as well.

Benno’s Restaurant on Galveston’s Seawall

Every visit to Galveston now includes several trips to the East Jetty which is one of my favorite spots to seek out birds. No matter the season, I am always richly rewarded with many birds that are old familiars but still excite me with their beauty. I often wonder how I could not have been aware of the huge quantity of birds that abound on the Gulf Coast. My best guess is that I was so wrapped up in my “child rearing” years that there was just no time for me to take in any more than dealing with the immediacy of feeding and protecting the scouts that were in our charge as well as shepherding my own children through their growing years.

I have seen huge flocks of American Avocets, dancing Reddish Egrets and white morphs, secretive Night Herons, scores of juveniles, Long-billed Curlews, long-necked Great Egrets wading through marshy grasses, a Great Blue Heron standing as still as a tree trunk waiting for a fish, and a whole lot of LBJs (little brown jobs) that I still have difficulty correctly identifying. I am addicted! Even as I write this, I can feel the ocean breeze, inhale the salty air and hear the pounding surf as it glides onto the beach. I can feel the soft sand beneath my feet and squishing through my toes. I can taste the fried shrimp at Beeno’s on the seawall and envision the sun settling on the horizon. I’m packing for the beach!


Happy Bird Searching!!!



Beaks and Feet – American Coot

American Coots – Somerville, Texas January 2016

The beak on the American Coot isn’t all that remarkable, but the feet of this bird species is quite unique. American Coots are more closely related to Rails and Cranes than to ducks. Easily identified by its plump dark grey body, black head and short, pointed white bill, this bird can be found most anywhere throughout North America. They readily intermingle with ducks on ponds everywhere even though they are not really ducks. On land they walk more like a chicken with bobbing heads rather than the waddle we most often associate with ducks. They require a long runway for take off much like a 747 must have a longer runway to become airborne. And they are not the most graceful birds once they have lifted off. In fact to get lift off, they use their wings to raise them slightly out of the water and then literally run across the water before finally achieving full flight.

American Coot – Personal Photo GKennedy
American Coot Feet – Personal Photo GKennedy

But this bird’s feet are worth a closer look. Their feet are quite large and have lobes on each of the toes. No webbed feet here. Specifically designed to enable them to walk on ground or in marshy areas where they scavenge for leafy greens, snails, worms, frogs, crayfish, and other bird eggs, these feet do triple duty….enable coots to walk on land, walk on marshy areas, walk on the water prior to taking flight. In other words….these feet were made for walking!

So just because a bird is floating on water, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a duck. If it walks like a duck (and coots don’t), talks like a duck (they don’t – their call was frequently used in old Tarzan movies) or looks like a duck (bills are pointed, not rounded like ducks) then it must be a duck doesn’t apply to the American Coot.

They are interesting birds, fun to watch when taking flight, and easy to identify. So go find yourself an old “Coot”

Happy bird searching!!!

African Birds Encountered – 2008

Cameras have come a long way since I took these photographs. I am amazed at how much better the quality of my photographs are with my new camera. But….I am infinitely grateful that the day before I left on my trip to Africa I purchased a new Canon and a telescopic lens specifically for this trip. I was reading the instructions on the flight over and literally learning on the “fly”. The telescopic lens tried valiantly to give me the close-ups I wanted, but the vastness of the African continent, the sheer size of it all, can dwarf an elephant and effectively hide a giraffe in plain view.

But here are a few of the birds I was lucky enough to see and capture on film even before I knew I was going to be a birdwatcher.

Ostrich – Personal photo – GKennedy
Saddle-billed Stork – Personal photo GKennedy
African Fish Eagle -Personal Photo GKennedy
Helmeted Guineafowl – Personal Photo GKennedy
African Sacred Ibis – Personal Photo GKennedy
Wattled Crane – Personal Photo GKennedy
Lilac-breasted Roller – Personal Photo GKennedy
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill – Personal Photo GKennedy
Pied Kingfisher – Personal Photo GKennedy
Meyer’s Parrot – Personal Photo GKennedy
Magpie Shrike – Personal Photo GKennedy
Burchell’s Coucal – Personal Photo GKennedy
De Plane

And the bird with which we spent most time interacting, was a very light wing bush puddle jumper that served us well throughout our entire adventure. Flying was never so much fun and being up in the air yet close to the earth, we had a bird’s-eye view of everything and it was magnificent.

Africa must be seen to be believed. I will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to visit this continent and to observe nature at its finest!  Happy bird searching!!!

A Zoo View

In 2008, I took a trip to Africa and my view on zoos forever changed.

Many years ago I went through the training at the Houston Zoo to become a docent. It was quite extensive with each of us receiving instruction from all of the different directors of various areas within the zoo. Lectures on mammals, birds and reptiles were designed to arm us with as much information as possible so we could provide educational programs to schools throughout the Houston area.

Boa Constrictor & Me

I had some trepidations about the handling of reptiles since snakes were never right up there on my list of favorite creatures, but time would prove to me that of all the animals and reptiles we took in the zoomobile, the snakes were the only ones that didn’t try to bite me! Prairie dogs have very sharp teeth as do ferrets, baby lambs would knock me down in their excitement to get to the bottle of milk I had for them and hedge hogs were prickly. The snakes were cool, smooth and dry and they were quite content to wind around my hand or arm with absolutely no thought of biting me.

Bull Elephant in the bush – Personal Photo GKennedy

I recognize the valuable role zoos across our planet play in promoting education and in some instances preserving a species from extinction. One of their greatest benefits is providing people with the opportunity to see a species that they might not otherwise be able to see. But once I viewed the animals indigenous to the African continent in their vast homeland, I lost a lot of the pleasure I once derived from visiting different zoos in each city I visited. I’ve seen good ones, bad ones and struggling ones doing the best they can with limited resources and I just can’t get past the fact that as nice as a zoo might be, they all still lack the natural environment and sheer space that promotes good health and well-being in an animal.

American Flamingo – Personal Photo GKennedy

I  acknowledge the benefits of zoos and as recently as last year visited the San Diego Zoo, considered one of the best in our nation. Here I was able to spend much time watching one of my favorite birds…The American Flamingo. I may never see one in the wild, so I greatly appreciated the opportunity to be up close and personal with these magnificent birds. There is a video that a friend recently shared with me that shows these great birds performing their mass courtship display where hundreds of them move together in what appears to be a coordinated dance of sorts. Check it out at science spirituelle -Projet Lumiere, the dance of the pink flamingos.  A group of flamingos is called a “flamboyance” which I think is the perfect word to describe their brilliance.

Lion & Lioness – Botswana Bush – Personal Photo GKennedy

I can still enjoy a visit to one of the great zoos, but now I find myself comparing the animals there with the ones I was fortunate enough to witness in the African bush.  No animal should be caged. So I am always transported back to that magical two weeks spent inhaling the sights and sounds of a place that every human being should visit at least once in their lifetime if at all possible. Save your pennies now and I promise you will never regret the African adventure.

Happy bird searching and “bushwhacking”!!!