by gkennedy2171 Categories: Bird of the Month, UncategorizedTags: Austin Texas, birdwatching, dabbling ducks, Gadwall ducks, nature, Town Lake Leave a comment
An Ordinary Day
As I was driving to work this morning I found myself thinking about the everyday minutia that comprises are lives…commuting to work, grocery shopping, putting gas into our car, cooking meals and actions as mundane as brushing our teeth.
On workdays, I always set my alarm for approximately 2.5 hours prior to my “I need to leave for work now” time. I enjoy drinking a couple of cups of coffee, reading the newspaper and generally easing into my work day. Driving to work there is always the possibility of seeing a Great Blue Heron flying over the freeway or a Red Tailed Hawk perched on one of the freeway lights. And of course, the whole world abounds with rock pigeons, white wing doves and the ever-present grackles. At work we have many house sparrows flitting in and out of the trees around our building. Last Spring I heard a bird calling in distress and opened the door to investigate. I spotted a killdeer frantically trying to encourage her two babies back into the grassy area. Her chicks were so very tiny yet totally complete birds and they were running here and there completely unaware of the dangers that surrounded them. I cheered the parents on in their efforts to conjole their offspring, but I am sad to report that they were unsuccessful with at least one of them. These chicks were so small (very mobile, but tiny!) and as I watched, a car passed directly over one of them. The car’s tires didn’t crush him, but the air draft from the car passing over him tossed the chick against the underside of the car and a tiny fragile life was instantly extinguished. I was devastated. I cried and cried, frustrated that I could do nothing to prevent it. Although I don’t know for sure the fate of the other chick, I prefer to believe that he successfully navigated back to the safety of his parents.
Driving home in the evening, I pass a football field complete with those extremely high lights necessary for illuminating a night-time game. On the platforms just under these lights, monk parrots build great colony nests and raise their young. I once spotted a hawk hanging out near them….great hunting ground for his dinner no doubt.
Once home, the birding from the balcony kicks in. With binoculars or my spotting scope I can watch the snowy or great egret or the Great Blue Heron as they fish for their last meal of the day before settling in to roost for the night. It is a peaceful sight.
Nothing really unusual about the day but since I started my birding adventure, my world has expanded greatly and my observation skills regarding my surroundings have grown exponentially. An ordinary day can be filled with extraordinary drama. I love the drama!
Happy bird searching in every ordinary day!!!
From The Front Porch Looking Out
This past weekend I traveled to Burton Texas to spend some time with my sister and meet up with my friend Kathleen to explore the many wondrous objects being displayed for miles and miles as part of the Round Top/Warrenton Antique Festival. We scoured different booths at various locations for the past two days not really seeking anything in particular, but there always seems to be something that calls to me. I recently began rearranging a room in my home as an art studio and on this trip, baskets seemed to jump out and scream to be added to my studio as organizational tools for the wide array of art supplies that I have accumulated over the years on my artist journey.
Late afternoon we drag ourselves home to my sister’s house to review our purchases, share a meal and fall into an exhausted sleep in preparation for the next day when the scavenger hunt begins again.
A frequent visitor to my sister’s home is a permanent “fowl” resident of Burton. Nicknamed Burton Ernie (a play off of Bert & Ernie I believe), he struts through yards looking for bugs and many times eats my sister’s kale, honks loudly scaring unsuspecting residents, and roosts on a neighbor’s shed roof each night leaving behind a predictable mess.
Early morning coffee on the “front porch looking out” gave me an exciting moment this visit. As soon as I stepped out of the front door onto the wooden porch, I caught a quick glimpse of a very large bird flitting around in a tree in the next door neighbor’s yard. It was very early, sunrise was breaking and there was Mr P.W. (AKA Pileated Woodpecker) out and about early looking for his breakfast. My binoculars brought him up close and personal and once again I was totally captivated by my favorite woodpecker. He flew across the street to another very large tree and off I went in pursuit, my robe flapping, binoculars bouncing and my camera on and ready to try to capture Mr. P.W.. He moved quickly from limb to limb and I had great difficulty trying to capture an image of him. But capture one I did. Not the best lighting and not the best photo I would have liked, but I managed to capture the moment….a moment I had been seeking for many, many months.
The birds were shy this weekend. Using the straggling leaves still clinging to limbs to hide and turning away from the camera shutter, Eastern Bluebirds, Cardinals, Black capped Chickadees, starlings, hummingbirds, red bellied woodpeckers and a squirrel busily collecting pecans to store for his winter’s stash, comprised a steady parade this morning from the “front porch looking out”.
My quest for the perfect Mr. P.W. photo-op will continue. But for this moment, I am at peace….
Happy bird searching!!!!!
Beach, Boys, Birds and Baseball
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.
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.
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.
Beaches, boys, birds and baseball! How much more summertime can you get?
Happy bird searching!!!
A Butcher Knife, a Cup of Water, Some Sticks and Faith
I visited my sister in Burton again this past weekend. We jumped into my car and headed over to Lake Somerville to do a little birding. Along the way we spotted a Crested CaraCara, Black Vultures and once in the park, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Whimbrels, Sanderlings, Killdeer, Cardinals, Mockingbirds, American Coots, Ring-billed Gulls, Common Terns, a lone Cormorant and a Savannah Sparrow. The lighting wasn’t great, but we captured a few photos as memories of this outing. We headed home and had a lovely dinner…pork roast, sweet potato, vegetables and an apple crumble for dessert. After dinner we drove out into the country and tried to call up an owl or two. Unsuccessful, we went home and reminisced on a good day of birding.
One of the things I love about visiting my sister is hearing some of the stories from our childhood. Being older than I, she has some memories of our maternal grandmother that I don’t share. One of these was of a time when our Grandmother was visiting us at our new house in Southwest Houston. Grandmother had some azalea cuttings and she was determined to plant them all along the front of our new house. Armed with a butcher knife, a bucket of water, those bare cuttings and my sister Linda, she began directing the planting of those cuttings. She used the butcher knife to stab holes in the soil, instructed my sister to plunge the cutting into that hole and pour a cup of water from the bucket upon each one. Our Grandmother had great faith and she must have provided an ample amount that day because those azalea cuttings flourished and grew to be enormous, each Spring bursting forth with beautiful blooms to adorn the front of our modest house. My sister confessed to me that as she was performing this planting ritual with our Grandmother, she had serious doubts about those “sticks” growing. She thought that the effort was pointless and it was a big waste of time and energy. Yet she forged ahead and helped our Grandmother. I believe our Grandmother planted her own seeds that day…the seeds of a master gardener in my sister’s soul.
As we sat on her front porch overlooking her beautiful gardens, listening and watching the resident birds, we were witnessing the transformation of our Grandmother’s faith before our very eyes. Each plant, seed or cutting in my sister’s yard was lovingly planted, tenderly cared for, vigorously protected, and ultimately culminated in a peaceful place of repose. We sit on that porch drinking our morning cup of java, enveloped in the peacefulness of nature that surrounds us on all sides. It is a great place to reminisce, share memories and plant the seeds of our next adventures.
Happy bird searching!!!
Spring usually comes very early to Texas. In fact, Central Texas really hasn’t had much of a winter this year. February brings rodeos to many Texas cities and the one that I grew up with was the Houston Fat Stock Show & Rodeo, as it was called way back when. The “when” was me as a young child. Each year my Daddy would take us to the rodeo and back then there were no fancy stages or country western rock stars performing. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were eagerly anticipated and each year after singing some songs they would ride Trigger and Buttermilk slowly around the arena shaking each child’s extended hand and allowing us to touch their horses. The Midway enticed us with bearded ladies, hawkers promising great prizes for winning a game or the fortune-teller who enthralled us with promises of exciting adventures in the future. The roller coaster made us wildly scream and a ride on the tilt-a-world always left me slightly nauseous. A trip to the rodeo was always an exciting adventure.
I know it has been at least 40 years since I attended the Houston Rodeo but a couple of weekends ago, one of my BFFs invited me to go with her. I eagerly looked forward to it because one of my favorite entertainers was performing…Keith Urban! And he certainly delivered a rocking good time for all of us. He did one thing that looped me back to my childhood. Toward the end of his concert, he exited the stage and proceeded to walk around the entire arena shaking hands, giving autographs and even taking selfies with eager fans. It was so refreshing to see and it made me happy that some small part of my childhood memory was being recreated.
Driving home, I was scanning the landscape and enjoying all of the beautiful wildflowers that grace our highways. Carpets of bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrushes, primroses, all brilliant examples of nature preening. I was drawn to an old cemetery where aging, faded tombstones were adorned with a multitude of colorful wildflowers.
Returning to Austin, my journey down Highway 71 passes close to Hornsby Bend, the water treatment facility for Austin. Settlement ponds are a beacon for migrating birds…a place to forage for food or just rest along the way. Just a quick stop landed me some great shots of some visiting Northern Shovelers. I am always fascinated by the huge shovel like beaks on these beautiful birds. And another shallow area brought me a sighting of some black-necked stilts. Birds abound if we but take the time to look and listen!
Spring is a new beginning, so grab your binoculars, a sketch pad, or a camera and take the plunge into the spectacular world of nature that surrounds us all.
Happy Bird Searching!!!
Bird of the Month – April 2016
When my daughter and her family moved to Southern California I was blessed to be able to enjoy this beautiful part of California and of course expand my birding opportunities when I visited. Some birds on the West Coast are different from ones that I live side by side with in Central Texas and on the Gulf Coast, so it was with great anticipation that I ventured out to explore different birding areas that I previously scoped out on the internet.
As one might imagine, the Southern California coastline is high dollar real estate and approximately 90% of it has been developed leading to the loss of natural wetlands that are imperative for the survival of many bird species. Fortunately there are pockets of these wetlands that have been protected to ensure that some of these areas remain for our bird friends. One in particular that I can’t wait to revisit is the Tijuana Estuary at Imperial Beach. It is part of approximately 2500 acres that is part of the Tijuana River watershed.
On my first visit there, California was experiencing what they call a “California King Tide” which basically meant that the salt marshes and estuaries were flush with water. That translates into great birding opportunities. The tides flow in, fill the shallow estuary basins, providing food and shelter for many species of plants, animals and invertebrates. The depth of these ponds and the types of soil can determine what species live there. It is a careful balancing act that many times unfortunately can be upset by man.
On this particular day, a few we were fortunate to spot were Whimbrels, Egrets, cormorants, common rails, house finch, California Towhee, American Kestrel and Western Grebes.
Walking beaches and trails in search of birds makes one hungry. And what better way to satisfy that craving than seeking some street tacos to assuage our hunger. Easily available in a town bordering Mexico.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting Southern California check out this wonderful protected natural resource if you just want to enjoy some beautiful scenery or experience the thrill of finding a new “lifer” bird species. Find more information at http://www.trnerr.org.
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.
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!!!
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.
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!!!