The Evening Star

Ever been tasked with something you weren’t sure about? Maybe you committed to an event that might be (way) outside your comfort zone to the point it starts to produce stress several months out from the designated day? How about being cast in a situation where the audience probably knows more about the topic you are presenting than you do? Okay, now imagine a situation where ALL those conditions come to the same confluence and you are standing in the middle wondering if the current is going to drag you under. That is my best analogy of what Wednesday evening felt like to me.

Vesper Sparrow discovered at William Goodrich Jones State Forest in December 2016

I eluded to a commitment I had made last December but really didn’t go into it – choosing to wait and see what kind of disaster would occur. History has taught me humbleness over embarrassment, obscurity over grandstand and work before celebration. Those tenets have served me well. It is also the reason for the stress over the last several months. Last year, I had mentioned my interest in birding and wildlife to a member of my wife’s dog club (Carol). Not sure how, but somewhere in that conversation it came up I had a blog. Carol is also the catalyst for extracting my wildlife content into a separate site for broader consumption. Turns out Carol is currently the president of the Peoria Audubon Society and asked if I would give a presentation on my blogging and photography. Whoa, that’s definitely putting the big boy pants on. At the insistence of my wife and brother, I confirmed and we eventually set the date.

Vesper Sparrow discovered at William Goodrich Jones State Forest in December 2016

Hit the jump to find out what this bird is … well, maybe ha!

Continue reading The Evening Star

Just Need to Find the Pygmy

Still trying to dig out from the fluffy stuff around here – looks like another 2″ to 3″ on top of the previous ~7″ fall. White gold if you happen to live on a well. That snow will melt slowly into the ground and keep our water supply up for a while – hoping for more because it has been pretty dry around here as of late and worried if we do not get a soggy spring we are going to be in for some hauling. Funny how perspectives change with age. I remember leaping out of bed on a school day morning after a night of a good winter snow hoping for the talking head to announce the school closings. Now I gently roll my aching body out of bed and hope there’s enough snow to saturate the ground…and admittedly to see if I can go make snow angels (some experiences from childhood never get old!). I’ll save the angels for tomorrow, tonight it’s time to add another new bird to my list.

Brown-Headed Nuthatch found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest in Conroe, Texas

Before I go any further, I must admit these shots are not bound for any walls. The mere fact you can make out that it is a bird is lucky, the ability to get it focused enough to validate the key features to ID it is a complete miracle. The creature you see before you (sometimes it helps to squint to artificially make the soft edges a bit sharper), is a Brown-Headed Nuthatch. You really just needed a coupled of clues to get this specimen categorized – it has a brown head and it is pointed straight down a tree trunk – Alex I’ll take Easy Birds to Identify for $800. This Brown-Headed was found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest in Conroe, Texas back in December 2016. If you recall, this is where the Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducks were found (link here). Unlike the ducks, this Nuthatch was hanging out at the far end of the pond at the extent of my glass – thus the reduced quality of the shots – it also didn’t hang around very long – I spotted it running down the trunk of the tree immediately putting it in the Nuthatch family (dismissed the Creeper family due to the coloring and the fact I could discern it from the tree bark – them Creepers be well camouflaged – link here). I am very familiar with the White-Breasted variety (link here) and previously posted on the Red-Breasted (link here). This post completes the 3rd of the 4 seed stashers in North America. The remaining one for me is the Pygmy but I need to head west for that one.

Brown-Headed Nuthatch found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest in Conroe, Texas

Only have two worthwhile pictures of this specimen – that far away, it could fit in my focus area with plenty of room on the sides. Some quick facts. It definitely prefers to hang out in the southeastern region of the US. It is not a migratory species and known for not traveling far from whatever forest they call their home. As mentioned earlier, they are quite agile traversing tree trunks in all directions thanks to their strong claws. They are a very social bird – if they are around you, you will hear them. They often travel together and have strong family bonds with the male and offspring sticking around to help the female raise the latest batch. For you crossword aficionados out there they participate in allopreening where they wrestle in kiddie pools covered with Aloe Vera – sorry, my fact checking department has just informed me that allopreening simply means they will straighten each other’s feathers. I am skeptical about this correction based on the mere fact that there was an intriguing number of kiddie pools strewn about the trees.

In a hurry tonight so no time to go back and check the negatives – will have to take their word. Hope you enjoyed this very brief introduction to my new addition on the bird list!

Whistle While You Waddle

How’s it going out there in the blogosphere? I am starting to feel really good about the Texas production – been some work to get to this point, but clearly on a path to put a serious dent in my birding backlog. Not to mention, definitely picking up some ground on my brother, although I am taking advantage of his distaste for the cold weather (I keep reminding him how odd that is being that he chooses to live in the Windy City). Maybe have a large queue of unprocessed trip pictures is a godsend and not a yoke.

How about we do some more den birding. Back in December 2016 (trust me, my backlog goes several years beyond this), Linda and I stopped off at Conroe, Texas on our way down to South Padre Island. Guessing this was a good stopping point for a day’s travel as opposed to a specific destination at the time. For those interested, we found an incredible Mexican restaurant there – major yum. Since we had some time to spare I looked up some local birding locations.

Whistling Duck found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest, Conroe in Texas December 2016

The William Goodrich Jones State Forest had good reviews and was relatively close. It also boasted having the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. I’ve been to several preserves and refuges claiming they host this Pecker, but every time I’ve come up empty tinned. This happens to be an oddly situated park. There’s an apartment complex on the side of it (at the main pull off entrance) and a sizeable (and busy) road cutting right through it. To be honest, I really didn’t have too high of hopes for finding anything decent. My optimism for the Pecker has since devolved into pure pessimism. I’m always up for a good hike, so grabbed the Beast and headed out to explore.

Whistling Duck found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest, Conroe in Texas December 2016

There was a small pond as you first come into the forest. I saw some activity on it from the RV, but again, didn’t really think much about it – probably some Mallards splashing around or Coots practicing their walk on water bar trick. Every experience that moment when something catches your peripheral vision, but doesn’t really process until you’ve taken a few more steps. Slowly the mind sorts through the grey matter until it finds some piece of stored data it can relate this new input – maybe I am just getting old and my processor is getting long in the tooth. As it came into focus I even stopped walking to re-run the quick sort algorithm – Bird->Water->Duck->No Green->Not Mallard->Partial Black->Not a Coot->Orange Bill->Merganser->Black Eye->Not Merganser WHAT?

Whistling Duck found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest, Conroe in Texas December 2016

Hit the jump to read more about this musical duck!

Continue reading Whistle While You Waddle