The Cycle of Life




Today I was reminded to check out the Cornell University bird cams to revisit Ezra and Big Red, the Red-Tailed Hawks at Cornell University and Iris & her new mate Louis, the Ospreys, in Missoula Montana. Tearfully, I was saddened to learn that apparently Ezra the great Red-tailed Hawk provider and father of at least 15 nestlings, was euthanized after a fatal wing injury received in the wilds of nature where he lived his entire life. And his mate for all those years Big Red was soaring the skies over and around the Cornell area in mourning for her lost mate yet driven by instinct to find another. Will she be successful for this season is anyone’s guess. But nature has a way of balancing the uneven. And in Montana I was heartened to see that Iris is protecting her nest as Louis continues to reinforce it with huge sticks that they meticulously weave into the perfect home for their nestlings. So hope followed despair much as it does throughout life.

The hardship of living life is not confined to humans alone. Birth, Life, Drama and Death are an integral part of all life on our planet. Most human and other animal and bird species just want the basics…a place to nest, raise their young, food for their brood and to live peacefully to a ripe old age enjoying the bounties of our universe.


Fortunately for most species, life is rhythmic and very mundane filled with the ordinary tasks of daily survival. For birds, it is a cycle of hunting food, mating, raising young, protecting the home nest, teaching their young and then launching them into flight. For humans our days are filled with chores, learning skills, making choices, buying and cooking food, birthing our children and schooling them in the ways of life prior to launching them into their own life cycle. Along the way tragedies happen…events that may scar us emotionally or physically… and we will either succumb or survive.

Our Democracy is under assault right now. A war is being waged….one which threatens to interrupt the cycle of human life as well as bird and animal life. With the elimination of the EPA, our environment might become a more hostile place. Threats may be present in the air we breathe or the water we drink or in the destruction of our homes as glaciers and polar caps melt giving rise to ocean waters. Climate change is real and denying it only proliferates the harm to both man and beast. Democracy will either survive or suffer the fate of many nations throughout history and fall.

Promoting unrest, fomenting racial strife, using alternative facts, fleecing America and mounting a continuous assault on the many institutions that have so valiantly sustained our government and America’s position as a major world leader on our planet is treasonous.

As we sit on the brink of perhaps the most dangerous threat to nuclear war since the Cuban missile crisis, our life cycle is interrupted with worry, stress, uncertainly, depression. Our nation has become divided and it has become increasingly difficult to decipher fact from fiction. In a world where trust is needed most, it exists less.

We have no control over most of these events except to never forget…

Nevertheless we must persist!!! And I will survive!!!




When is a Grouse a Chicken?

Last weekend I took a quick road trip. Up early Saturday morning to travel to Eagle Lake, Texas to pay a visit to the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, home to approximately 35 chickens by their last bird count. Another 10 or so are hanging out at a neighboring rancher’s place. This refuge is about 10,000 acres of just what you would expect….prairie which is the type of terrain most liked as a homestead by these Prairie Chickens, members of the North American Grouse family.

Male Attwater Prairie Chicken

These plain, homely birds have been residents on the Endangered Species List since 1967. Intense captive breeding programs have tried to increase their numbers over the years, but without much success. When a bird is at the bottom of the food chain, survival is an onerous task. A hundred years ago, their numbers were in the millions, but the destruction of their preferred habitat in Texas and Louisiana, as well as being a good food source for people and other numerous forms of wildlife, has left them clinging to existence by the merest of threads.

I wanted to take this opportunity to see these special birds because they may ultimately disappear from our planet much the same way the passenger pigeon became extinct. The draw at this time of the year is to get lucky and see some of the breeding males as they perform their mating ritual dance for the females. In the Spring, the males enhance their appearance by changing some of their everyday plumage for their “courting” attire in the hopes of being the most handsome in the group. They usually do this on a slice of prairie land called a “lek”. Each morning the males parade up and down the lek puffing out their bright yellow cheeks and as their cheeks deflate, a booming sound emerges as the male furiously stamps his feet up and down. It is a sight worthy of being seen. And I was fortunate enough to see a couple of the 35 birds that call these 10,000 acres home.

I left The Attwater Refuge and continued my journey to The Armand Bayou Nature Center located in the NASA area. This beautiful expanse of  2500 acres of marsh land, riparian forest and prairie land is located right in the middle of a very urban area. Boardwalks and nature trails wind through the terrain and reptiles, mammals and birds enjoy a peaceful existence in a well maintained, protected environment.

Armand Bayou Marsh
Yellow-banded Water Snake

Leaving Armand Bayou, I took a short afternoon ride to check out some of my favorite birding spots in Galveston, I was rewarded with a few of my favorite birds but also with a sighting of a Clapper Rail strolling through a marshy area and stopping long enough to take a bath.

Clapper Rail – Galveston
Bath time
Red-bellied Whistling Duck
Snowy Egret

The next morning our group met at NASA for our special tour and up close and personal view of the Attwater Prairie Chickens that are part of a breeding program sponsored by NASA in cooperation with the Houston Zoo. The goal is to support the birds in their breeding efforts, monitor and support their young to an age where they can safely be reintroduced back into the wild. Breeding pairs are kept in screened pens and the eggs are meticulously examined, protected and monitored. It was exciting to see them up close, hear their constant booming sounds, and watch them do their mating ritual. 

A bonus of my Chicken Little weekend was walking through a large building at NASA that houses the Saturn 5 Rocket. The enormous size of the entire thing blew me away and it was mind-boggling to think of the courage it must take to climb into a capsule on top of thousands of gallons of rocket fuel and anticipate your propulsion into space.

It was an extremely quick trip, just an overnight stay, but packed with lots of adventure and some pretty impressive birds, both the feathered kind and the man-made variety. America is a beautiful and fascinating place both at home and throughout our many different states. America was, is and always has been GREAT!!!! We don’t have to make it great again, just preserve and enhance what we already are privileged to enjoy. Happy bird searching!!!

Sure Signs of Spring

On my way home from work last week, I stopped in a sports complex parking lot to take a peak at the Monk  (AKA Quaker) Parakeet colony where these beautiful birds were busily building and reinforcing the colony nests that look like condominiums. They are busy, very busy right now preparing to procreate their species. They are noisy, messy and fun to watch. And appropriately a group of parakeets is known as a “chatter” of parakeets.

Monk Parakeet
Nest building time

A recent trip to my sister’s home in Burton Texas rewarded me with some beautiful flowers bursting into bloom as Spring arrives in full force.

Climbing Pinkie Rose

Climbing Pinkies bursting into bloom
A new arrival in Burton – A friend for Burton Ernie!!

A short stop at LadyBird Lake found a few year round and some winter residents.

Female Mallard
Green Heron

Opportunities to enjoy Spring rituals abound. Turn off the cell phone, take a deep breath, go for a walk,  become aware of all the wonders that Mother Nature provides for our enjoyment if we only pay attention. And just like Spring which is a renewal, you will begin to fill invigorated by the beauty that surrounds us all in our ordinary lives.

Happy bird searching!!!

Pura Vida

Scarlet Macaw

Christmas has always been a “stay at home” event for me. Christmas Eve church services followed by homemade soup and fresh-baked bread, culminating in the serenity of the christmas lights as all quieted down for bed. Fresh squeezed orange juice and butterscotch rolls on Christmas morning, opening presents around the Christmas tree, bathing in the glow of home and family and the blessings of the good life. A time of thankfulness and reflection.

This past Christmas was celebrated out of the mold. We boarded a plane for a short flight to Costa Rica for a new kind of adventure and a healthy dose of what Costa Ricans call Pura Vida! Beaches, ocean surf, palm trees and white almond trees with scarlet macaws hanging from every branch greeted us.

My youngest daughter turned fifty this past December 28th and she wanted to have a celebration worthy of that momentous birthday. So off we flew to a tropical paradise for a memory making adventure. We rode ATV’s, walked the beaches, tried our luck at fishing, spotted and enjoyed some lifer birds and the most fun of all… rappelling down a two hundred foot waterfall.

Half way down! What a rush!!!

The hardest part about rappelling down a waterfall is climbing up to the top of it. For my younger travel mates, this was not a huge task, but for me it was difficult mostly because of an injury to my knee that occurred when a scarlet macaw flew straight at me from a tree that I had been stalking for the “best” macaw shot, causing me to fall. I heard and felt something pop at the back of my knee. This injury, combined with my age, made by ascent to the top of the waterfall problematic. But my two grandsons helped me. The whole process made me collapse with laughter….they used their rappelling belts/gear to clip to my belt in the front and one pulled me up as the other pushed from behind. It takes a village to haul a grandmother up a mountain!

Once at the top,  everyone else went first and as I watched their descent I admit I was having doubts about my sanity. The drop took faith, courage and trust…in the equipment and in my guide Jose who preceded me to assure my safety as I descended to the bottom.. It was a rush literally and figuratively. The rush of adrenaline pumping and the rush of thousands of gallons of water splashing against rocks above, around and below me.

My last thought before I took the plunge and leaned back into my harness to begin my descent came from one of my favorite movies, Strictly Ballroom….”A life lived in fear is a life half-lived”. The rush, the thrill of accomplishment was worth conquering the fear. The result…a wonderful memory of an out of the ordinary Christmas spent expanding horizons with people I love.

Wishing everyone a little piece of Pura Vida!

Bernie’s Pura Vida