One Bad Toupee

As hard as I’ve tried, I have yet to find a way to keep Father Time from turning over his hourglass. Each little pebble of sand that falls is another step closer to my Texas birding post deadline. There is light at the end of the tunnel though. I only have a handful of posts that really need to be published before next Wednesday. That day will put an end to several months of stressing over a commitment that comes due. I blame that for my hair turning premature grey ha! Like me, some people embrace the signs of getting wiser, others take more drastic actions to disguise the fact that Father Time paints in grey – case in point…

Black-Crested Titmouse found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2018

This find from our recent Texas birding trip is apparently a little vain about what others think of his greying appearance. The shame sunk so deep in the conscious it has resorted to Le Style de Burt Reynolds. One can imagine the scene before heading out of the nest for the day. Mr. Titmouse slaps on his black rug, attempts to straighten it in the bathroom mirror before turning to Mrs. Titmouse and asking “do you think anyone will notice?”. After stuttering and stammering love rules out and she responds “Of course not dear”, fighting back a revealing eye roll.

Black-Crested Titmouse found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2018

Hit the jump to read a bit more about this bird and where it was discovered.

Continue reading One Bad Toupee

Shoots and Ladders

I actually thought we might be out of the cold for a while. Temps were creeping back up to the point I was able to get multiple outdoor runs with minimal layers. The downside in that it immediately convinces your body that running on a treadmill is beneath it – both metaphorically and literally ha! Apparently it was just a tease being that it snowed this week and temps are hanging in the cold zone. Good news for you, It is still a perfect temperature for birding in my den.

Today’s post happens to come from another one of our Texas birding shoots.

Ladder-Backed Woodpecker discovered at Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, Texas December 2017

That there is a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker,. which of course prompted my groaner of a title. The Ladder happens to be a +1 for my birding list, but this is not the only new experience I had that day. Should probably start by telling you where we were when Linda and I stumbled on this tree climbing Zebra. On our trip back to Texas over the recent Christmas/New Year’s break, we headed back to our favorite birding spot – the Texas Gulf Coast. This year we added an additional foray west along the southern tip of Texas. One of those places we stopped was near Brownsville, Texas at a place called Sabal Palm Sanctuary.

Ladder-Backed Woodpecker discovered at Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, Texas December 2017

Hit the jump to read more about our visit to Sabal Palm Sanctuary.

Continue reading Shoots and Ladders

Expert Assist

There are times when you look at a bird and go hmmm. Then you look at the bird a little closer and go hmmm. You reach into your pocket, start up your favorite bird identification app, do a bit of searching and then go hmmm. Desperate you ask every person with a camera or binoculars slung around their neck what they think of said bird and now everyone collectively goes hmmm. Pretty soon there is quite the gaggle of humans staring at pretty bird simply sitting on a fence watching the sun go by.

Tropical Kingbird found at the South Padre Bird Viewing Center in December 2017

If you haven’t guessed already, this is exactly one of those times. Linda and I were visiting one of our favorite birding locations along the Texas Gulf Coast – the South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center. This is our second time to this jewel of a birding place and each time it gets better and better. Oddly enough, we managed to show up there at the one year anniversary of being there back in December 2016. Ever get one of those times when you ask yourself if time travel might be possible and the unexpected side effect is you can’t remember initiating the time travel? (I have dibs on that idea before you get any thoughts of using that in a script hehehe).

Tropical Kingbird found at the South Padre Bird Viewing Center in December 2017

Hit the jump to find out what this bird is!

Continue reading Expert Assist

Yigüirro in Weslaco

Greetings everyone. My apologies for lack of productivity as of late. Wait, I should clarify that a bit .. for my lack of productivity in getting posts out. Thanks to an upcoming commitment, my post counts were significantly elevated in support of that endeavor. Unfortunately, my fairly ample runway of time was gobbled up by some form of rift in the space time continuum. There is no other explanation – one minute there’s like 3 months to go, then there was a small but finely tuned wind storm that ripped the pages right off my calendar. This forced a transition from prep phase to the produce phase and now pretty much in the polish phases. Can’t wait to find out how all this turns out, but you will assuredly be reading about it here…soon. Rather than leave everyone hanging a little over a week, thought I’d treat you to some finds on our recent trip to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Clay-Colored Thrush found at the Valley Birding Center in Weslaco, Texas January 2017

If there is one thing that is prevalent when birding the Gulf Coast and southern most tip regions of Texas its colorful birds. So stunning that many even passed Linda’s high “pretty” threshold that has to be met before she will even bother taking a picture of a bird. This rather drab looking specimen before you doesn’t come close to those other coastal finds (like here and here). That doesn’t mean it isn’t something I’m super excited to now have on my birding list!

Clay-Colored Thrush found at the Valley Birding Center in Weslaco, Texas January 2017

Hit the jump to find out what this bird is!

Continue reading Yigüirro in Weslaco

A Stealthy Imposter

I have trained myself to look for the loner when it comes to water and shorebirds. Experience tells me those are the ones that end up being the most intriguing. In the birding world, it is the intriguing ones that get you excited because those are the ones that end up making the latest checkmark in your life list. Contrast that with staring at a cover of Coots – if you do not have a Coot you are in luck, already been to any body of water near me, then you typically utter “more damn Coots” and move on. Although not as diligent on tera-firma, I do try to keep an eye out for those brief encounters.

A few posts ago, I featured the White-Winged Dove (link here). That encounter at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is the location for today’s post. Most of those shots were captured from within their bird blind just out from the visitor center. While getting that +1 in the tin, another creature came darting out from the ground cover, made an aggressive move toward my subject and then raced back into the shadows.

White-Tipped Dove found at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas in January 2017

Hit the jump to read more about this elusive bird.

Continue reading A Stealthy Imposter

A Jealous Jay

I suspect my reader base that isn’t fond of birds feel like they are getting a root canal when they come here as of late. To those individuals I must extend my upmost apologies. I will do my best to make up for this lean to the feather, but I am on a mission and I’m running out of time. Funny how a couple of months before the finish line seem like an eternity until that calendar turns and you’re left looking at your to-do list wondering how it could possibly still have that many items. There are definite upsides to all this focus on production – my photo queue, although still rather slight, has been shrinking. It did undergo a transformation from FIFO popping to LIFO popping meaning the memory banks will need to be excavated as the snap to post gap on some of those queued items are getting pretty long (3+ years yikes). The other benefit is I get to show off a number of cool birds!

Green Jay discovered at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX in January 2017

This bird is so cool it got the Linda stamp of approval. She doesn’t pull this particular stamp out very often. Contrast that with her “Total Crap” stamp which is so worn down from overuse you can barely read the words – she’s a pretty harsh critic of my work hehehe. When it comes to bird photography, she will not even give the subject the dignity of taking a picture if it isn’t “pretty”. Needless to say, Sparrows will never occupy her tin. It didn’t take her long to get her camera out and start taking pictures of this gorgeous specimen.

Green Jay discovered at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX in January 2017

Hit the jump to see a few more pictures of this striking bird!

Continue reading A Jealous Jay

Edge of Seventeen

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Linda and I had the opportunity to learn more about the International Crane Foundation tonight thanks to a guest speaker at the local Audubon Society chapter. We are members of the ICF based in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Linda discovered that place sometime back when investigating things to do while in the area. About every year since then we have been making our way back up there to see how the Cranes are doing in their recovery. Tonight we were able to learn a bit more about the site and pleased to see the Whooping Crane (link here) status is starting to look up. Unfortunately, Linda nixed my efforts to put on the Crane suit the speaker brought showing how they imprint the young – someday I’ll get to try that bird suit on and post the pictures here hehehehe. Big thanks to the Audubon Society for hosting that event. Oh, and if you are in the neighborhood you might want to check out the guest speaker for next month – heard it might be on Texas Birding.

Speaking of Texas birding, how about this intriguing specimen.

White-Winged Dove Shot at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX in January 2017

If you live in North America and Central America, at first glance you might mistake this bird for the Mourning Dove. That Dove is very common in those regions and wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t see at least one a day hanging out in trees next to your feeders or hanging out with their friends on powerlines trying to choose which car they want to aim their white bombs at – based on experience this always ends up being the shiniest clean car they can find. From a birding perspective, the Mourning Dove is one of those species that has become so common I generally do not pay them very much attention. Same goes for those water chickens the Coots. I might take a few pictures of them just to help with the end of day count summary. That is exactly what occurred while we were at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on our Texas trip back in January 2017.

White-Winged Dove Shot at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX in January 2017

Hit the jump to read a bit more about this feathered encounter.

Continue reading Edge of Seventeen

Pigeon Paper Scissors

Had a bit of a scare last night. I had just started into a training run on the treadmill – weather has not been conducive to outside runs as of late either due to a deluge of the fluffy stuff or dangerous single to subzero temps. Trust me, if I could run outside, I would, rather that subject myself to the modern day torture machine my fellow runners and I refer to as the killmill. Less than 2 tenths into the planned 7 mile run a sharp stab hit me just below the ankle nearly throwing me off the deck. Managed to stick an ugly landing that brought me to my knees. Tried rubbing and stretching it, but the foot was locked up and wouldn’t hold weight. Had to call it for the night and thinking it might be a stress fracture. Found out from the chiro today, likely not a fracture but had dislocated a bone in the area – that was snapped back into place (that was near equal to the pain of when it happened). Foot moving now – gonna wait for a couple of days before pushing it again. Thought I would get a quick post out there before applying some ice.

Today’s featured feathered species is one I had to go all the way to the southern tip of Texas to get.

Rock Pigeon shot at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in January 2017

On second thought, I guess technically I didn’t need to go all the way to Texas for this one. Nope, I could have simply walked a quarter mile down our road and snapped one hanging out on some nearby power lines. You know what I say, why do something in the cold when you can simply drive for two days and do the exact same thing, but in warmer weather. The region map for this species looks like someone grabbed a can of purple paint and just threw it on the US and let it drain all the way down to the tip of South America. It also includes a line up to Alaska so our isolated friends to the northwest get to experience them as well. Problem is, they are not really a prized bird, unless you are historically bad at Roshambo and need a confidence builder – these birds absolutely suck at it opting to pick Rock nearly 100% of the time. (in a rare move, they’ll through a Spock out thinking they’re playing the expanded game developed by Sheldon). It is actually their stubbornness in always throwing rock that has given this species their name – Rock Pigeon (you can even the one below this about to clinch those talons and do it again – never ever learn – Paper .. you lose).

Rock Pigeon shot at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in January 2017

This particular Rock Pigeon was spotted at the South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center. “Spotted” in this context being it walked down the railing toward me until it was less than a foot away promptly challenging me to a game of claw wits. It couldn’t match my $10 bet so I declined – not going to take the risk of humiliating myself to a Pigeon without some skin in the game. I did take the opportunity to create some distance between us in order to get a picture. I had The Beast out there and that was waaaaaay to close for me to focus. Laughing at how long it has taken to get this fairly common bird in the tin, grabbed a few shots before it headed off to find a more willing challenger.

Rock Pigeon shot at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in January 2017

As far as facts go, Pigeons are well known for the ability to find their homes – some say through magnetic fields along with senses and sun positioning. Must be a handy talent after a night of drinking at the local bar. Cornell mentions these Rock Pigeons carried messages during the first and second World Wars. I was not aware that the various variations of their coloring are given names – the blueish-gray version with the two black bars shown here is referred to as the blue-bar variety – will have to keep a look out for the other patterns (one is rusty red, some have spots, others solid and then there are splotched, mostly red and mostly white etc.). I was always under the impression these birds carried some pretty nasty diseases, but unable to confirm that on the Cornell’s site. Wikipedia did have a blurb about them harboring a diverse parasite fauna (which they started to name causing me to quickly go for the back button before getting the crawlies.

That’s all I have for you tonight. Definitely not a rare bird by any means, but happy to finally be able to officially add the +1 to my list.

From Virginia by Rail

For the second straight day I have had to plow our driveway thanks to a near non-stop snow storm that has decided to take up residence in the heartland of Illinois.  It was coming down pretty hard on our way back from our “dinner with a skunk” Valentines dinner last night – think I mentioned that event on my last post.  Our local Wildlife Prairie Park holds the event as a fund raiser for their now privately funded park (thankfully taken back from our fiscally weak state).  Yes, they do have a live skunk to visit and get pictures with.  In the past they have had two, Tink and Tank, but this year we were sans Tank.  Not sure why, but hope all is well with the little guy.  If you haven’t made the association yet, this is a play on Pepé Le Pew who would likely be enemy #1 for the Metoo movement based on his aggressive behavior in those old cartoons.  As expected, we had a great time socializing with our good friends and partaking in the festivities.  Maybe I’ll even pull out our pictures with the Tink for a future post.  Now that the effects of a free bar have worn off, time to get back up on that saddle and ride the [fence] posts.

Today’s featured bird and new notch on my camera strap is…

Clapper Rail found at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in January 2017

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this elusive bird.

Continue reading From Virginia by Rail

There’s Elmo

Today we are back at my favorite South Padre Island birding spot, the Bird Viewing and Nature Center. In case you have not been keeping track, this incredible site has been spinning the wheels on my bird counter as of late. May just have to get the can of WD 40 out and give the gears a drink to cool them off. Once again, we are getting hit with another blanket of snow here in the heartland. Considering we have been fairly dry this winter, we were due for a good covering. There is one benefit to the harsh conditions – more time for blogging!

Keeping with the Texas theme and for that matter the bird theme and well the +1 theme I present to you Elmo.

Redhead at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center December 2016

Okay, maybe not THE Elmo, but it does have a red fluffy head at least. Not very difficult to figure out this particular duck is called a … wait for it … yep, a Redhead. It would save me a lot of time digging into reference books if all the birds could be named after their key feature. While taking the pictures it occurred to me that something might be wrong with this particular Redhead. The Wing was carried lower than I expected and looked a bit underdeveloped. Not being familiar with the Redhead, I tried to find some reference shots on Google – surprising how few pictures there are of this duck standing. Even Cornell was sans standing reference shots. Of the two I did find, their wings were folded neatly along their body.

Redhead at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center December 2016

Hit the jump to see more of the Redheads!

Continue reading There’s Elmo