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!!!

Purple Martin Mania

IMG_1444
Purple Martin 

At the end of June and through July, the Purple Martins descend on Austin in vast numbers. Not hundreds but thousands of these birds arrive in Austin on their long journey to South America where they will winter. For years they roosted in about seven trees in the Highland Mall parking lot but last year they moved to the Capital Plaza Shopping Center parking lot and this year they have moved again a little North to the Embassy Suites Hotel parking lot. No one knows why they changed sites but the move they made isn’t very far from their old roosting site.  Each morning they leave the trees in the parking lot and take to wing in search of the many insects they will devour all day long before returning to their roosts at night in those same trees in that same parking lot.

This phenomenon has become so popular that our local Audubon Society actually has Purple Martin parties on Friday and Saturday nights. These dedicated volunteers are in that parking lot just before dusk to answer questions and provide education for all the people who come to watch this incredible event. It is difficult to describe but I will try.

People begin drifting into the parking lot just before sundown. They may have umbrellas to protect them from the obvious byproduct of so many in-flight birds. They open their car trunks or tailgate and remove lawn chairs, select their chosen site, sit with binoculars in hand and begin the wait for the grand finale….when all the birds have settled in for the night. Looking up in the sky it is easy to see martins beginning to circle the parking lot. Gradually as darkness starts to increase, the birds begin spiraling in circles over the trees. They begin to land on branches and as their numbers increase, the boughs of the trees begin to droop with the sheer weight of the massive volume of birds. Each bird is seeking a roost for the night and the trees literally become alive with birds, shoulder to shoulder each chattering their indignation as other martins try to wedge themselves into any tiny available space. Estimates are that between 100,000-200,000 birds spend the night in those trees before ascending the next day to repeat the cycle. At first it was believed that these birds were staying here for about 4-6 weeks before continuing their journey south. But the recapture of some banded birds has suggested that this huge number of birds may not be spending more than one or two nights here before moving on. If this is the case, then the sheer numbers of Purple Martins traversing our city on their migratory journey increases exponentially. Check out a video here….. https://highlandneighborhood.com/purple-martin-migration-at-highland-mall/

IMG_1437
Purple Martin Condo 
IMG_5132
Purple Martin Condo

Purple Martins are members of the swallow family. They eat and drink on the wing and spend our winter in South America. Landscapes in small towns and farms and even in urban areas, are dotted with purple martin houses erected to entice some of these interesting birds to take up residence, build a nest, lay their eggs and raise their young all to the delight of the property owner. They are colonial nesters which explains the preponderance of condominium style purple martin houses erected by homeowners.

So if you happen to be in the Austin area during the month of July, I highly recommend an evening with the birds. It is tremendous entertainment, totally free and I promise you won’t regret taking the time to include this activity into your itinerary for the day.

Happy bird watching at the Embassy Suites parking lot!!!

The Chrysalis

IMG_0576
Hanging from the bathroom window sill

My BFF Kathleen has been nurse-maiding some monarch butterfly chrysalis eagerly awaiting their metamorphosis to butterflies. She is a very dedicated “Butterfly Mom” who went to great lengths to plant milkweed to encourage replication of the monarch butterfly’s life cycle in her IMG_0578backyard. A few weeks ago she was the proud “Mother” of one brand new Monarch butterfly and waiting in the nursery were perhaps four or five more. I was privileged that she shared this great moment with me and what a beautiful event it was to witness. I admire her dedication to help in the preservation of these beautiful butterflies. As the saying goes…”It takes a village” to help save a species, to make a change for the better. Kathleen took up the banner and stepped up to the plate to make a difference for these beautiful creatures. A small difference, but all the small differences can make a huge impact on the survival of a species.

IMG_0579
Closer to emerging. Look closely and you can see the wing markings.

How fragile is a butterfly? Very! How many dangers lurk along their lifespan that might interrupt the life cycle? Too many to count!  Is it difficult to plant milk weed?  Definitely not!  Is the protection and preservation of these beautiful creatures worth it?  Resounding, I say YES!!!!

IMG_0577
Completed emerged from the chrysalis

So, rock on Butterfly Whisperer!

A Butcher Knife, a Cup of Water, Some Sticks and Faith

IMG_8306
Killdeer

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.

IMG_8330
Whimbrels
IMG_8310
Common Terns
IMG_8344
Sanderling?

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 IMG_8380resident 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!!!

 

IMG_8377

IMG_8374

 

Sister Linda’s Flower Garden

IMG_7676
Hand tools

This past weekend I visited my sister in Burton again. Walking around her beautiful garden is a great pleasure. Gardening is therapy in our worlds… digging into the soft soil, smelling the earthy aroma, watching the squiggling earthworms as they burrow deeper trying to escape the trusty shovel or trowel, the mystery of planting seeds and the daily anticipatory excitement of watching for the appearance of the first green sprouts. My sister is a Master Gardener and the beautiful flowers that flourish under her tutelage are breathtaking.

IMG_7667
Yellow Iris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_7662 (1)
Climbing Pinkies

Spring is always an exciting time for any gardener. Winter clean up has been completed, seed catalogues perused, selections made, ordered, received and eagerly planted. Gardeners are optimists…always hopeful that each seed will grow and we can reap the rewards of our hard work of digging, hoeing, weeding and mulching….flowers to adorn our dinner table or a kitchen window sill and fresh vegetables from our gardens that enhance our meals throughout the growing season.

IMG_3252
Purple Bearded Iris
IMG_7673
Texas Brazos Penstemon?
IMG_3263
Red Poppy
IMG_7675
Dill

Each season brings with it the end of the flowering cycle, movement to the seed making cycle, dispersal or gathering of those seeds to save for sowing the following late winter. I have gathered thousands of larkspur seeds and shared them with fellow gardeners. The very larkspur seeds I shared were given to me by a complete stranger when I stopped my car one day and admired her garden. This is what gardeners do…we pass it on. Seeds are spread by birds, the wind, other mammals and of course from the hands of one gardener to another.

IMG_7674
Lamb’s Ear and volunteer

And the beautiful flowers, blooming bushes and shrubs attract birds and bees who also participate in the life cycle process.

IMG_7670
Visiting Mockingbird

So take a chance, grab a trowel and plant some flower seeds, herbs or tomato plants. It is a vastly rewarding and relaxing endeavor!

Happy Gardening and 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!!

 

 

Spring Happenings

IMG_7593
Bladderpod Sida (I think!)

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.

IMG_7529
Keith Urban – Houston Rodeo 2016

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.IMG_7588

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.

IMG_7605
Female and Male Northern Shoveler

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!

IMG_7598
Male Northern Shoveler
IMG_7625
Black-necked Stilt

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!!!