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.