Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Birding

The last couple of years, we seem to have started a tradition of birding during the holidays (no, we don't do the bird counts). Yesterday was really gloomy, so this year it's the "Day-after" Christmas bird trip. (Much better than going to the mall!)

We were excited to see Cara Cara again today (haven't seen any in a while) and in fact, one flew right across the road just as we were returning home. Unfortunately, we weren't quick enough to get pictures. However, there's something to be said for living right at the edge of the coastal prairie -- there are lots of good birding opportunities at this time of year -- and close to home. We saw a huge flock of geese flying, and were hoping to see some eagles -- but no such luck.

We started the trip with the kingfisher that usually hangs out over the part of the ditch that never drains -- right near the rice dryer. He was a bit nervous and flew a few feet away, but I was still able to get a good shot. He even turned to give a good view of his topknot!

One thing we have noticed lately are a lot more Kestrels in our area. We used to only see them when we headed for the coast. This one was right in the sunlight, so she looks a bit washed out.

Of course, you know that I am especially partial to birds of prey. You would think they would be less skittish up on a wire, but they get a bit nervous when a vehicle stops to look. Well, it is hunting season, after all, and there are plenty of geese getting shot at! I'm sure they don't realize they are protected.

Here's a Northern Harrier out in the rice stubble. Note the "owl-like facial disk" to quote Sibley's.

And of course, in our part of the world -- the most common hawk is the Red Tail.

It is amazing the amount of variation in these birds. This one might be Kriders (prairie variation). This poor bird was a bit nervous of us. Every time we'd stop, it would fly off to the next pole. We followed for a bit, but didn't want to harass it too much.

A Late Guest for Christmas Dinner

Last night, we heard squabbling on the porch. We assumed it was this year's brood of junior raccoons and opened the door to watch them scatter (or listen anyway). But to our surprise, it wasn't the 'coons, but a 'possum instead.

It didn't seem to be afraid of us and munched quietly on the left-overs while we both took pictures! One thing that concerned me was the rusty patch on the side of it's head. There was a smaller patch on the other side. I looked up some pictures of possums (Opossum, to be accurate), and none seemed to have that coloring -- so I hope it wasn't injured. I'm sure they tangle regularly enough with the 'coons. On the other hand, we saw a what I'm pretty sure was a coyote run across the driveway the other night, so there's no telling. (My husband thinks it was a fox, but I think it was too big for a fox...)

Anyway. Here's another shot of the 'possum -- note it's splayed "fingers", and you can barely see the opposable thumb on it's back foot!

Goldfinches are back!

... And so am I. It's been a very hectic fall at work. My 6-month project, started in July was suddenly due by mid-September. And then there was the rollout, and next year's schedules. Please forgive me if I didn't feel much like blogging when I came home.

But the holidays give us a chance to rest, so I have a few pics to share.

We've had a few goldfinches here and there for the last couple of weeks, but they showed up in flocks just before Christmas (as usual). I've tried several times to get a good picture -- there have been a couple of challenges. First we've moved the thistle socks rather close to the windows. Well that's not quite accurate -- when we installed the porch, it made them seem closer to "people". And secondly, the weather has been overcast and gray for the last week and more... depressing!

Here's a goldfinch up close -- its the one in the top right of the picture above.

You may be thinking to yourself that these don't look much like Goldfinches -- after all, they're not very "gold". This is their winter plumage -- more a gray-green. To see the male goldfinch in his breeding colors, see the site at Cornell, or alternately at NatureWorks

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Trip to Paris

Well, I've survived another trip to Paris. I think I've finally overcome the problem of getting sick every time I travel, which is really a nice thing! I still dread it, and I've discovered that the trip over is actually the worse. The trip back is about an hour shorter, and you're coming home, so maybe that makes the difference. Traveling during day-light probably helps too.

I must admit, though, that Paris is a lovely city. I normally stay in an area called Montrouge. On it's signs it says "Ville de Fleurs" or Village of Flowers. Every light pole along the streets has baskets of flowers -- it's really lovely!

This picture was taken from the bus. I was attending an internal business "fair", so I only took a few pictures. I didn't see many birds while I was there -- probably because there were so many people around the fair and at night we went out to "French Dinners" so there was little time to look. Of course, there were plenty of pigeons!

(These were taken from my trip earlier in the year.)
I also saw at least three Magpies and a flock of LBB's (little brown birds), probably sparrows, but they were too far off to tell.

While attending a meeting during the fair, I had the opportunity to show this blog to a co-worker. At a later dinner, I was taking pictures of some of the people there and he said, "Hey! I'm not a bird!" I had to chuckle -- so no pictures of co-workers here.

The best activity (in my opinion) was a boat-ride/dinner on the Seine. One of our table-mates was from France (his wife was actually from Paris), so he was able to point out some of the major sites and answer the questions we had along the way. I only took two pictures.

I'm sure I don't need to identify this landmark! One interesting thing, for they year 2000, France installed flashing lights on the tower. Just as the tower itself, built for the World's Fair in the 1890's, was only supposed to last for a couple of years, these lights were only meant to be temporary. However they are still working, and are run every hour for about 10 minutes. I'm told they are only supposed to be flashing at night, but I could have sworn I saw them during the daylight when I was in Paris last spring.

Either way, it's a pretty awesome effect. They now sell the little models with rhinestones to simulate the flash -- but there's nothing like seeing it in person! (Oh, I should mention that the tower is not leaning! That's just a combination of the angle -- we were getting pretty close -- and my turning the camera to try to get the whole thing in the shot.)

So it was a fun trip -- I ate too much and didn't walk enough, but overall a good time was had by all.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I think this hummer was "backing up" and probably ended up being surprised instead of hurt.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Flying Jewels

It's Hummer time again! We must have a dozen or more and the numbers are growing. One thing I have found is that it is very hard to take a picture of a humming bird!

It probably doesn't help that I ususally wait until the last of the sunlight to get my camera out! And the best way to get some freeze action is to use the flash, which makes the background dark. Usually, I just get a lot of blurs (about 20 in this batch), but this time I got lucky with a few good shots!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Going Coastal!

I heard this term in an advertisement about a month ago and it really resonated with me. Every time we go to the coast, within a few days of returning, Marc is saying, "You need to take a vacation -- let's go to Rockport!" I've decided he's just "going coastal" on me!

I don't enjoy the trips to the coast so much in the Summer -- it is way too hot! However, as you can see from the clouds posted yesterday, we had a bit of rain. That cooled things down a bit the first day we were there, an unfortunately, hastened our departure on the last day. But in between, we were able to feed the seagulls (Marc's favorite activity) and catch a few of the year-round natives of the area.

This trio of Laughing gulls shows the great variation in these birds at this time of year. During the breeding season, the gulls have black heads -- but after the breeding season, they only have a few dark streaks. Officially the breeding season lasts until September -- but there will always be variances, and after all, it's mid-August.

We also saw a lot of juveniles, no big surprise there! They are brownish -- like many juvenile birds, but they have a black band across their tail-feathers. It's a bit easier to see when they are flying, as the black wingtips cover it when they are on the ground.

I think these juvenile gulls are really handsome birds. They are a bit more colorful (or at least patterned) than their parents. I'm told that the Latin forms for most Gulls are some form of "Laughing", so to some extent they are ALL Laughing Gulls, but my Latin Dictionary doesn't agree.

The bird below was an interesting find:

At first I thought this was an Anhinga, and was really excited, but when I got around to the other side of the bird, it didn't have the white streaks on the backs of the wings. I looked it up, and it's probably just a juvenile Cormorant.

We went over to a little park behind the Airport and saw this Blue Heron who seemed to want to pose for us!

This great egret was not quite as sociable, and wondered away down the sandbar.

But the greatest surprise was the belted Kingfisher that flew by us. Marc pointed it out, but it quickly went behind some brush.

But only a moment later it flew back across the beach where we were standing and landed in a nearby tree -- just enough for me to get a good shot. This one appears to be a female. The males have a bright red belly under the dark blue "belt".

Back at the beach -- all sorts of birds like to hang out on the pier!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

On Cloud 9

We've just returned from "going Coastal" back down to Fulton. In the last month or so, coastal Texas has gotten into it's summer heating pattern, and there have been so many cool-looking clouds. I see them going back and forth to work, or in the evenings going to dinner, and have wished I had my camera!

So when we headed for the coast, I had a great chance to snap some wonderful cloud pictures. Most are building cumulus.

This first one seems "picture perfect" -- it has that classic "building" cumulus shape on it's way from the puffy "fair-weather" cumulus -- to the monster cumulo-nimbus thunderhead. I think the seagull in the nearer distance is a nice touch.

Most of the cloud names come from Latin, of course:
Cumulus, -i, m. – heap, pile; increase addition
nimbus, -i, m. – cloud ; storm cloud, black rain cloud; rain storm, heavy shower, pouring rain; (fig) storm
nimbosus, -a, -um, adj. – stormy, rainy

Hmmm... maybe I should change my name to "Nimobsa" -- nah, I like plain ole "Stormy" better. ;-)

This picture shows the clouds building out over the water. The view is past a long pier. I like the way the shadows show on the left from the higher clouds.

Here we see some very dark clouds. Clouds become dark for two reasons. One reason is because they are very dense (as a "nimbus" rain cloud), or it may be that another cloud is overhead and shadowing the lower cloud. The picture below is probably a little dense, but also being shadowed from above.

And this is my favorite -- I love the sensation of looking into a looking glass and seeing the differing layers of cloud. It's almost like an pathway to heaven!

More pictures soon -- I have plenty of the obligatory seagull pictures! Not too many other birds around this time of year. Just seagulls, herons and a very few pelicans.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Photo Tips and Spiders

I saw an interesting tip in Photography Magazine. They suggested putting a piece of craft paper behind a flower to brighten up the picture. When I saw that I thought it was a pretty cool idea, but figured it would be a bit challenging to hold a piece of paper behind a bird. ;-)

But I had forgotten about spiders. Spiders are surprisingly difficult to photograph. It takes a background and a flash. Take this photo for example:

Coming home from work today, I saw this huge golden orb spider just off the driveway. I quickly grabbed my camera and ran outside to get some shots. (We've had lots of rain lately, and I've had some pretty intense days at work, so I haven't felt much like getting out to take pictures). Anyway, can you see the spider in this picture? I'm only a couple of feet away from this guy and he's really big (or she, probably). Even as close as I am, the camera doesn't want to focus on such a thin creature and all you get is that big blur in the middle.

So add a little flash and some background. Now you can see the spider.

Of course, the spider could also see Marc's hand, and wasn't too excited about this big thing coming after it. He/She scooted up the web out of reach, and therefore, out of sight.

It's amazing to look out across our yard and see these huge webs strung between the trees. They can catch all sorts of flying bugs -- I don't doubt they are well fed! I worry about our humming birds. Get a couple of hummers squabbling over territory and not looking where they are going and suddenly they end up as lunch for one of these mega-spiders. Fortunately, we haven't discovered any hummers in the webs.

Another spider set up shop just a few feet from the one above. This one used our tractor shed as the supporting structure for it's web. Now you get a really clear picture of these spiders. This one is smaller than the one above.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Cheeky squirrel

I've discovered that a lot of animals that are "cute" from a distance are not so cute up close. I looked out of the window the other day and saw this squirrel perched on one of the rockers on the porch.

Cheeky critter. Now I know why they call them tree rats. Yuk.

Saw a rabbit hopping by...

What's any respectable cabin by a wood, without a rabbit? We had a rabbit for a couple of years, but he disappeared -- probably got too close to the roadway, or fell prey to one of the many predators in the area. But recently we've been seeing a new rabbit.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

New Fledgling Cardinals!

We have fledgling cardinals! Today is rainy and gray, and the window is dirty, but I was still able to get a few pictures of the new batch of cardinals. Whenever an older bird shows up, they flutter their wings and squeek! "Feed me, feed me!" Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Then baby goes back to feeding himself!

Here's Junior. Isn't he cute?

There is definitely a hierarchy among all the birds. The babies know when it's ok to approach an older bird (maybe it's mom or dad), but they also know when to wait their turn. And males have priority over females, except when they're courting.

This little lady is waiting her turn at the feeder. She is probably a baby from earlier in the season. You can tell she is a bit older because her beak has taken on the orange color of the adults, while baby birds have a black beak.

These two little ones are waiting while another cardinal is at the feeder. They learn quickly who will share and who will not. If it is not their turn at the feeder, the senior bird will let them know. Especially if it is an older male (though not Dad).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

UK Gulls

So by request, here are the photos of the gulls. Unfortunately they didn't come out well...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

UK Trip

Well, I've been offline for about a week on a business trip to the UK. After I finally got the hang of using my camera, Marc decided to adjust the settings for me. I didn't get a whole lot of pictures on my trip and most of them were bad! ;-)

The major sitings on my trip (most of which I don't have pictures of)were:
In Gatwick: Crows, Magpies, sparrows (English house sparrows, no doubt!), starlings (also a common import that we have here), regular pigeons and a pigeon with white on the sides of it's neck (I looked it up, but now I can't remember what it was).

In Aberdeen I saw lots and lots of Gulls (well it's on the coast). Most were Herring Gulls. I also saw crows, ravens, magpies, pigeons, a few unidentified hawks (they call Buteo-type hawks "Buzzards"), a lot of LBBs (little brown birds), a deer and lots of rabbits.

My most exciting find was when one of my friends from work took me to lunch at a nice little pub out in the countryside. I saw a really unusual looking bird, and my friend identified it as a pied wagtail. Obviously somewhat common, but very unusual for me!

I did get to go into Aberdeen one evening for dinner, and since it stays light until late, I was able to take a few pictures of the city.

This castle-like building is the Salvation Army. In the far right of the picture, you can see some round stained-glass windows. There were several of these and I tried to get a picture but they all came out blurry. It had started to drizzle a bit, my coworker was fielding a phone call and I was taking refuge in a convenient gazebo in the square in front of this magnificent building (represented by the dark triangle in the upper right corner).

There are a lot of churches in Aberdeen, I am told. Sadly, many of them are being used for other purposes. This one is the Soul Club. Why is it that many converted churches are bars? Some are also resturants -- I know we have at least one in Houston.

We had travelled down Union Street, the main "drag" in Aberdeen. We turned left down a side street, and about a block down from the Salvation Army building is the University of Aberdeen. This is one of many buildings on the University's campus. The opening on the left opens into a quadrangle-type area, though we didn't go in. Interestingly, though there were several buildings, they were located on the streets just like they might have been office buildings. I suggested that maybe I needed to move to Aberdeen and go back to school. ;-) The reality is that I was there on a couple of really nice summer days. I'm not sure how well I would take to the cold winters that far north. Though it would be nice to see the northern lights someday!

So we turned left from the university onto another street. Here's a nice view down the street. One thing I noticed in Aberdeen was that the majority of the buildings were gray -- obviously a stone local to the area. I should also mention that these pictures were taken around 9:00pm. Being that far north, the sun doesn't set until around 11pm and rises again around 3 in the morning!

So that's the last of the Aberdeen pics. However, I did take one final shot from the airplane on the trip home:

This view fascinated me! The bright white spots in this picture are ice floes on the ocean! I checked the monitors and we were just past Greenland on our flight, so I shouldn't be surprised. I suppose this is the left-over bits of the pack ice as it is breaking up for the summer.

Anyway, it was quite a whirlwind trip for one week and I'll admit I am really glad to be home -- and really tired too!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Our Rainy Trip

I've always loved weather and clouds and storms (though, I'll admit I don't like driving in them!).

Our trip to Rockport was pretty overcast with rain off and on the whole time. On our last day there, we went out on the pier belonging to the place we were staying (eveyone has a "private pier" there!) and I took some pictures of the approaching weather. Somehow, I kept thinking -- this is June 1st -- the first day of hurricane season!

In the last picture (above), you can see it raining out over the bay!

Before we left, we went to eat and I shot this pic of a blue heron walking along the docks. Notice that the conrete is wet!

On the way home we really got into the rain! It rained hard and fast -- so fast that as we were driving past the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, the water was over the road (see the arrow in the pic above)!