Port “A” Revisited

Port A surfside

Even short moments sitting on a beach or exploring new birding venues can boost spirits and alleviate the summer doldrums. And what nicer way to revisit Port Aransas than with my daughter, grandsons and friends. The beauty of traveling with them now is that the burden of all the “doing” of things is not on me. Yes, I have finally arrived at that sweet moment in life when I can be totally free of responsibility and confidently place my care and well-being into the hands of loved ones. I LOVE IT!!!!

Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center

After a Saturday sitting in the canopy shade on the beach, listening to the surf, and being caressed by the ocean breeze, I set out early Sunday morning to explore some birding spots I had not seen before. First up was the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center located adjacent to the water sewage facility. Some might think this to be an unlikely place to encounter birds of any merit, but I was richly rewarded that morning. Walking through the gate and onto a well constructed boardwalk that snakes out over the salt marshes, I had the entire place to myself and immediately enjoyed three Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring high in the clear skies above me. Black Skimmers were flying low over the water ponds collecting breakfast, a Little Blue Heron flushed with my presence, a Common Gallinule creeped among the marshes closely followed by her baby chick, Cormorants, Black Vultures, Black-necked Stilts, Killdeer, Snowy and Great Egrets, one lonely Coot, gulls, terns, Tricolored Heron and a flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks made for a nice birding morning.

Next stop was Wetland Park where I was greeted by American Avocets, White Ibis, Common Sandpipers and Marbled Godwits. This stop was a spectacular one for me since I was able to identify by behavior, a Reddish Egret White Morph cavorting in the shallows. Surrounded by Great and Snowy Egrets, he was easily identified by his dancing skills.

Reddish Egret White Morph
Marbled Godwit

Finally I visited Paradise Park, a very small swampish area located behind a local restaurant. A boardwalk twisted through the trees and as I strolled I spotted a GBH and then my third prize of the day, an Immature Little Blue Heron. Baffled by his white egret-looking body and light green legs, I finally realized what he was. Once again, location and behavior assisted me in the identification. Little Blues are mostly solitary and shy and even though this small pond is smack in the middle of a very urban area, it was well concealed by trees, brush, marshy reeds and brackish water.

Immature Little Blue Heron

My weekend was a great combination of family time combined with alone time. Great memories made in a close-to-home location.

Common Gallinule
Common Gallinule Chick

Happy bird searching!!!         

Acadia Birding Festival/Bar Harbor Maine

My annual extreme birding adventure took me to Bar Harbor Maine this year and a special visit to Acadia National Park, a spectacularly beautiful place famous for lobsters, several bird species specific to the region and some pretty awesome scenery. After all, what is not to like…ocean, mountains, beaches, great food and Mother Nature everywhere.

IMG_2330

I was joined in this adventure by my oldest sister Linda and my BFF Linda! Right off we decided I needed to be able to differentiate which Linda I was speaking to so sister became “Lin” and BFF became “Da”. It has been at least a year ( a really tough year!) since I had seen my BFF and when we embraced in the JFK airport for our connecting flight to Bangor, it was as if only hours had passed between us. Thus is the depth of our soul sister bond. My goal at this stage in my life is to build memories and to spend as much time as I can with my loved ones. Traveling is never easy and becomes more difficult as I get older, so it was a great joy for me  to share this trip with my sister as well.

IMG_2792
“Lin”, G, and “Da” – Top of Cadillac Mountain

It is difficult to compress ten days of exploits into a blog post but here goes…fast forward… Flight to Bangor Maine, rental car to Bar Harbor, arrival at Wayman House residence, four days of early rising for multiple birding excursions to Witch Hole for beautiful views of Frenchman’s Bay and Mount Desert Range, an Owl Prowl till midnight, Little Cranberry Island highlights of common eiders, catbirds, red crossbills, and long-tailed ducks, Sieur de Monts up close and personal encounter with my favorite Pileated Woodpecker,  and Frenchboro Island where we simply sat and enjoyed visits from magnolia, yellow and yellow-throated warblers, chickadees, robin and cedar waxwings busily striping an apple tree of its blossoms.

IMG_2759
Cedar Waxwing

Perhaps the highlight of our birding field excursions was our Pelagic boat trip 25 miles out into the Atlantic in search of the seabirds that rarely visit the shore area. And we were not disappointed. My sister accompanied us on this particular field trip and layer dressed with scarves, hats and heavy coats, we began our journey. It was freezing cold and windy but with bacon and scrambled egg sandwiches and prophylactic Dramamine in our backpack, we forged ahead. Passing Duck Island, two bald eagles graced us with their presence. Successful nesters for several years, it was a real thrill to see our national bird in such a beautiful environment. Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots, Razorbills, Great Cormorants, Atlantic and Common Terns effortlessly gliding through the sky.  All of these sea birds were “lifers” for me, so I was richly rewarded on this trip.

IMG_2658
Common Eider Sea Duck

And of course, a trip to Maine would not be complete without a few lobster meals. My favorite memory is at Thurston’s Lobster Pound where we each attacked our own personal lobster guided by the waitresses expertise in how to best dismember this huge ocean crawler. It was a perfect evening highlighted not only with great food but the shared camaraderie of friends and family just enjoying a specific moment in life.

IMG_2699

Exploring the beautiful island, shops and special attractions rounded out the rest of our visit to Bar Harbor. These yearly birding trips are greatly anticipated, thoroughly enjoyed and revisited in my birding journals until our next adventure.

IMG_2517

Happy bird searching wherever you may be!!!!

 

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
Cormorant
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!!!

Winter Birding

I mentioned previously about taking a sparrow class in an attempt to demystify some of the little brown birds that all seem to look alike. Our instructor, Dr. Birdie, has great knowledge about these members of the bird world and did a great job of imparting his knowledge to us. We would meet Wednesday nights  to discuss and view different sparrows common to the Austin area, learning their markings, differences,  and preferred habitats and haunts. The field notes provided were used by me to sketch and paint the different birds in my attempt to help my brain remember some of those characteristics.

img_1208

On Saturdays, we had our field trips to different popular birding areas in the Austin area to try to actually locate and get up close and personal with some of the birds we studied. Some of the ones we were chasing were obvious…black throated sparrow, rufous crowned sparrow but others are so similar that I am still having difficulty determining the accuracy of my sightings without Dr. Birdie there to help guide me through the identification process.

img_9083
Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Small birds move quickly, darting in and out throughout grasses, bushes and shrubs. This rapid movement makes it challenging for my identification skills. We trudged our way through waist-high grasses and tried to surround one La Conte Sparrow for at least 30 minutes. In the end the sparrow won, flying easily away each time we though we had cornered him leaving behind some very tired and frustrated bird searchers. Did I see the bird…yes. Could I identify him again if he sat still long enough for me to study his markings…perhaps. The only thing I “caught” for sure on that particular day were some chiggers.

I have learned over the past few years that improving my bird identification skills is a long-range process. And slowly but surely, I am getting better. But at the rate I am progressing, I will probably expire before I become a super expert. That really doesn’t bother me though because I still get excited with each bird I see, my eyes constantly scanning my surroundings just in case something new and different or old, tried and true appears within my scope of vision. You see, it is the thrill of the hunt, the excitement of the sighting and the satisfaction of making the identification that bring an immeasurable amount of  joy into my life.

img_8357
Debris on the banks of Lake Somerville

Happy winter bird searching!

 

Nest Architecture

In the Springtime, Mother Nature signals all her bird species to begin the long process of building a family. A family needs a place to live and grow, and the nests of different bird species differ as much as the birds who build them. Some are meticulously woven and others are just a shallow hollowed space in the dirt or mud. Some are colonial nesters and others are solitary. The various materials used differ by species as well, with some bird species having a particular fondness for certain nest-building materials.

As the young birds grow, the nest takes a beating. Throughout the whole process, many bird species will continue bringing in twigs, sticks, moss to repair and reinforce the basic nest structure if need be. And after the young birds have fledged and the nest is abandoned, it may fall into complete disarray and remain that way until the following Spring when the parents may return and “remodel and update” as they begin the procreation cycle again. Or, another bird species may decide that what remains is a fine home and may move in to raise their brood.

IMG_7490
Cavity Dwellers
IMG_7698
Oriole Nest

Bird nest 2

IMG_8131
Pileated Woodpecker Home

 

IMG_7665
Carolina Wren Nest
IMG_0780
Baby Eagles

IMG_6126.JPG

IMG_8940
Juvenile Osprey

Whatever the building materials, wherever it may be located, Spring is just around the corner as evidenced by bluebonnets dotting our highways, redbud trees bursting into bloom and the light green tinge on many trees signaling that the sap is running, time is of the essence and a new cycle of life has begun. Birds are feverishly seeking mates, selecting a nest site, gathering nesting materials as the race is on to have a home for their offspring. Everybody needs a home.

Happy bird searching!!!

Dudley Drama

I’ve written several times about Cornell University’s live bird cams that enable people all around the world to spy on the interactions of different bird species as they begin the mating season, build their nests, brood their eggs, hatch their offspring, nurture them to fledging and then helicopter them as they gradually become self-sufficient.

This year high drama has surrounded  the Hellgate Osprey Nest in Missoula Montana. But first we must recap last years drama…  Iris and Stanley continued their relationship from years before, refurbishing their nest, brooding their eggs and cam watchers delighted in seeing Stanley deliver a fresh fish to Iris, delicately ripping fish flesh pieces that he then gently fed to her as she sat brooding the eggs. They worked as a highly efficient team driven by instinct to procreate and ensure the survival of their species. Unfortunately Mother Nature dealt them a deadly blow last year in the form of a hail storm that damaged their eggs and that year’s brood was lost. Stanley and Iris eventually migrated South for the winter and when April arrived the Hellgate cameras heralded the arrival of Iris. We and Iris watched for days and days for the arrival of Stanley. He never arrived and we will never know what happened to prevent his return. Most likely he died during the winter. So Iris waited, was approached by several males attempting to mate and ultimately her next “husband” arrived and won her over with his charming character and clownish ways. Louis had secured her affections and they set about to raise a family.

IMG_0752
Louis

The experts let us know that this was probably Louis’s first year as a Father-to-be based on his inexperienced behaviors. After multiple awkward mating attempts, Louis finally got the hang of that piece of the family making puzzle.  He had much more to learn though and Iris was more than ready to teach him. We watched as she yakked at him almost constantly, perhaps directing his nest enhancement skills or ordering a fish for lunch. As she laid her eggs and began to brood them, Louis would fly in with a huge gangly stick and in his efforts to place it correctly in the nest he many times bopped her on the head. He seemed not to realize that it was his responsibility to fish, fish, and fish some more, to bring those fish to Iris and give them over to her. She would fly off with the proffered fish and he settled in to fret about  how to gently turn the eggs and position his body over the eggs before covering them for brooding. All new skills that he was desperately trying to learn. Iris yakked and yakked and yakked.

But Louis wasn’t a quitter, he learned quickly and gradually took delight in his time brooding the eggs. When Iris returned from her brief forays, he was reluctant to relinquish his position. But ultimately he did because Iris was yakking at him. She definitely was the boss. As time passed, two of the three eggs were damaged…how we don’t know…maybe accidentally punctured by a talon claw, maybe by a beak that turned the eggs too vigorously, any of which could have been caused by Louis’s inexperience as a parent.

At last we waited and waited and waited some more for the last egg to pip. Expert bird people know exactly how long it takes for the egg to develop and as the days passed it became evident that this last egg was probably not viable. But both Iris and Louis are still being driven by instinct and continue to brood until some internal switch turns off and they accept that this year their efforts are unsuccessful. But the egg remains in the nest and although Iris is spending less and less time each day brooding the egg, Louis is still hanging in there, protecting his offspring which has become known to the world as Dudley. Dudley  the Osprey who would never be.

IMG_0867
Dudley

Iris and Louis will spend the remainder of this summer fishing, flying and just hanging out together, continuing to bond as a mated pair. Then they will depart on their migration South each going their separate way. Hopefully next Spring they will both return to the nest at Hellgate and will begin again to build a family. And perhaps next year, they will be successful.

Watching the beauty of nature as it evolves is a gift. Thank you Cornell for giving the world a “bird’s-eye view” so we can learn, enjoy and embrace these beautiful creatures.

Photos courtesy of Cornell live bird cams

Beach, Boys, Birds and Baseball

IMG_8864
Brown Pelican Beach Patrol

At the end of June, I made the trek with my daughter and two grandsons to Gulf Shores Alabama. Not a fun drive but we had a mission. My youngest grandson was playing his last tournament series with the baseball team he has played with for many years. So a bittersweet tournament. They always do well and this year was no different. Not first but second in their bracket which racked up the third year in a row that they brought home some hardware. They were happy.IMG_0853

Interspersed throughout the week, we had time to stroll or just bask on the beach. And Gulf Shores beaches are magnificent. Sugar white sand so very different from the sand I grew up with on Galveston Island. It was a pleasurable experience and of course being near the ocean is always good for birding opportunities.

IMG_8856
Gulf Shores with Sugar Sand

On this trip, Ospreys abounded. Everywhere I looked I found platforms with Osprey nests. Most had juvenile birds that had fledged from their nests but continued to return and beg for food from their harried parents. Even though they can fly, the juveniles have not honed the fishing skills necessary for their survival. Their parents may continue to drop food for them for many weeks until they master those skills. At one of our late afternoon baseball games I witnessed this phenomenon from my baseball perch. The juveniles were flying off and on the nest, yakking away begging for food and I spotted one of the parents in a tall pine tree very near the nest…close enough to monitor and intervene if necessary, but far enough away to encourage independence from his/her offspring. If the game dragged, I had another source of entertainment, up close and personal.

IMG_8940
Osprey Juveniles

Beaches, boys, birds and baseball! How much more summertime can you get?

Happy bird searching!!!

Art Journal Basics for Drawing/Sketching/Painting

IMG_7632
Pileated Woodpecker

As long as I can remember, I have drawn, sketched, colored, painted and in general taken great joy in piddling in different mediums in my feeble attempts to be an “artist”. It took me years to learn that as long as I was happy with my creation, that was enough. I have finally lost the need for perfection or approval. I am happy when I can capture the essence of a bird or a landscape or a human figure. I guess that makes me an impressionist. Whatever I am, it matters not. I derive great pleasure from sketching my birds and revisiting those pages in my journals to revive the memories of their sightings.

So just what are the basics for drawing, sketching or painting in a bird journal? A short list might include the following:

  • Sketching pencils – 4B and 2B (higher the number, the softer the lead)
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Eraser
  • Mechanical pencil ( an optional item, personal preference)
  • Strathmore Drawing Pad (many different sizes so once again personal choice)
  • Strathmore watercolor paper – 90# coldpress (this is a medium weight paper)

    IMG_7633
    Various drawing mediums
  • Strathmore watercolor paper – 140# is a higher quality and therefore more absorbent
  • Windsor Newton Water Colors – get student quality (really cheap ones will frustrate you but professional quality are not needed for learning)
  • Water soluble wax pastels. (Aquarellable)
  • black sharpie
  • Stabilo pencil
  • Charcoal pencil
  • A couple of watercolor brushes
  • And of course, some type of journal
IMG_7636
Bird Journal Entry

The list could stretch on and on. Experiment, try new products/papers. It doesn’t take long to find your “go to” favorites that help you capture a memory in a birding journal. Paste in beach passes, restaurant receipts, print a photograph and lay it into the journal. Make your journal yours and build memories along the way.

IMG_7631
Art paraphernalia

Happy Sketching!!