Sunday, December 30, 2007

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

I should probably not start this segment off with a snake picture -- but this was one of the first things we saw when we stopped at Jones Lake at ANWR. This is not your typical "snake in the grass" -- this is a water snake (Marc thinks this is a Florida Green Water snake). It's also curled up among old Cattail leaves. It had a friend stretched out nearby.

These ducks were also on Jones Lake -- I am almost sure they are Lesser Scaup -- a new one for the life list!

Heading up the path to the lake, I tried to get a picture of a little bird that was flitting all over the place. I was never able to get a picture, but on the way out I saw it well enough for an identification. It was a Ruby Crowned Kinglett. I've seen one before (at home!), but wasn't able to photo that one either. Instead, I caught this "white" butterfly, and my white balance went out the window! [Thanks to American Woman who identified this as a Great Southern White.]

We went up to the viewing platform, and saw lots of wading birds: Herons, Egrets, Spoonbills, and a family of Whoopers -- but the distance was way too great for pictures. So we headed out on the Auto Loop Tour.

We saw this duck in a little pond (probably a flooded hog- wallow) by the side of the road. It kept diving -- so I think it's pretty safe to say it was a "diving duck". However, when I looked at all the pictures in Sibley's it really looks like a "dabbler" (maybe Mottled or a Gadwall?).

Here's a close-up of the head. (Sorry, it's a really bad picture). If anyone has any ideas, please let me know. I'm leaning more toward a Gadwall, even if that is a dabbling duck instead of a diving duck.

Along the way, I caught this Eastern King Bird. Again, not a really great shot -- I apologize. I guess I'm just out of practice getting clear shots (that blow up well).

And finally, a Loggerhead Shrike. We have a lot in our area, and I don't normally photograph them, but this one was really posing, and I couldn't resist.

Day 3 - Parting shots of Fulton

Of course, before we could leave Fulton, we had to feed the Seagulls one more time. I see a lot of injured birds when we feed -- mostly missing feet, but this little guy, with only half a beak, caught my heart. Most sea birds are carnivores, and I suspect this little guy received his injury from another bird while he was still in the nest. That's a guess of course. He was smaller than the other birds, and I don't hold out good chances for a long and prosperous life for him, but you never know...

Of all the pictures I took on this trip, I think this one might be the best. ...and of course, I love pelicans! He almost looks like he's just laying out on the air currents.

Another sharp looking fellow, hanging out on the bulkhead next door to the convention center. With the coloring on the adult brown pelican, I think they are so much prettier than the larger, white pelicans.

OK... off to ANWR

Wind-Blown Heron

On the way back from the boat trip, we drove around some and saw this wind-blown Great Blue Heron at the edge of someone's yard. At first, I thought it was some sort of yard ornament.

But of course, you can see that he looked at me while I was taking his picture. He doesn't look too happy. :-)

Day 2 - The Skimmer

This is the second time we've taken the Skimmer bird-watching boat tour of Aransas. It's also the second time we've gotten great sights of Whooping Cranes. But the cool thing about this tour is that Captain Tommy Moore is a real birder -- and he points out a lot of other birds along the way. I only have a few pictures, but a lot of birds. Those displayed in the photos are highlighted in Bold Red print.

While I don't have pictures of all the birds we saw, and I tried to check only those I saw, my list included: Eared Grebe,

White and Brown Pelicans, Great Blue Heron and Great Egret, White and White-faced Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black and Turkey Vultures, Gadwall and Mottled Duck, Northern Pintail, Common Goldeneye,

an Osprey,

Crested Caracara, Sanhill Crane, Whooping Crane, Black Bellied Plover, American Oyster- catcher, Long-billed Cerlew, Ruddy Turnstone, Laughing Gulls (of course), and Forster's Tern.

After Christmas Birding

As you've seen by Marc's great Whooper pics below, we made a trip to Rockport-Fulton and the Aransas Natural Wildlife Area. It was a great trip for birds, but less great for me. I was feeling a bit off all week, and now that I review my photos, I'm really disappointed in the outcome. However, there were a few good shots -- and I'm sharing them here.

On Wednesday, when we arrived, we started out by feeding the gulls as usual. The interesting thing about the gulls that gathered at our usual spot was the large juvenile bird, which I am pretty sure is a herring gull.

While feeding the gulls is a lot of fun, and I enjoy taking pictures, they all tend to turn out the same. So here's a couple of Laughing Gull portraits.

You'll notice that they have lost most of the black coloring on their heads -- this is their non- breeding plumage.

And of course -- one of my favorite sea-birds is the Brown Pelican. Here is one sitting in the classic perched pelican pose on a piling.

And here's another in flight -- this particularly shows some of the focus problems I'm having -- maybe I need to adjust my eye piece.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Aransas-ANWR Birds


Year end trip was a success! We watched Whooping Cranes! Lots more too.

Another of this close pair.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Catching Up

I apologize for not posting much lately. Things have been very busy and somewhat stressful at work, and that effects what I do at home (like blogging, or not...). Add to that, I have been both disappointed with most of the shots I've taken over the last few months, and somewhat lazy with working on the good ones (it takes a while to convert to something I can put on the blog).

In November, we took a trip to visit friends in Hunt, Tx. We drove from Hunt to Bandera, but saw very few birds of note. The few I have were taken at my friends' birdfeeder.

I was not particularly happy with this picture as it blurred when I zoomed in. In the very center is a black crested titmouse -- a new one for the life list. We have tufted titmice here at home. The black crested is a "Texas only" variation -- mostly West Texas, I guess, because we don't have them around the cabin.

This is a House Finch (on a house). I remember seeing these when we visited our friends when they lived on a ranch in the same area. I have actually seen a House Finch in Katy, Tx., but I don't think they're really common to our area.

And finally, I kept looking at the birds that seemed to be Goldfinches (and still gold!), but there was something not quite right. These are Lesser Goldfinches (another one for the life list) and different from the American Goldfinches we see at home (and only in their winter plumage).

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Freedom Trail - Part 1

I've been traveling lately, and have more travels coming up, so posts may continue to be thin for a while. This past week I've been in Boston. I did see a few birds, but was unable to get any good pictures. Most were gulls -- Herring Gulls, I think -- they were really large. I also saw a hawk in the Boston Commons. The bird was no more than 10 feet in front of me and flew up from the ground (and quite startled me, I must admit). At a guess, I would say it was a ubiquitous Red Tail (which, of course, is one of my favorite birds). It was quite an impressive sight!

I had a half-day on Monday, so I took a guided walking tour of the Freedom Trail. I will share my photos by topic, and not necessarily in order. In this post, I will focus on the Granary Burial Ground.

This shot of the burial grounds was taken quite quickly. The area was mostly quite shady, so I was pleasantly surprised by this play on light and shadow, monochrome and color.

It is estimated that 5-6,000 people are buried here, though there are only a couple of thousand stones. And while the locations of the many patriots buried here are known, most of the rest of the graves have lost any connection to the stones set in the ground. Our guide told us that before the buildings which now surround the grounds were built, water would often rush down the site and wash out the grave stones. The care takers would simply collect them and place them somewhere on the grounds. People were often buried one atop the other (usually family members) -- and some were buried vertically to save space.

One of the patriots buried here is James Otis -- the persona taken by our tour guide. Our tour guide had a dry wit, and a lot of great tales to tell about the Patriots and early days of the American Revolution. James Otis, the Patriot, was an orator and lawyer who argued against the "writs of assistance." It was Otis (or so our guide tells us), who actually coined the phrase "Taxation without Representation".

The Granary Burial Ground is the resting place of "more famous people than any other small graveyard in America," according to "The Complete Guide to Boston's Freedom Trail by Charles Bahne. It holds three signers of the Declaration of Independance (John Handcock, Samuel Adams and Robert Paine), 9 governers of Massachusetts, the victims of the so-called Boston Massacre, Benjamin Franklin's parents and Paul Revere.

The patriots have monuments that were erected later in their honor. One such is Paul Revere -- but his original gravestone is also present.

So, there were many sights to see along the trail... I will share more later.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Friday Birdwatching

I took a vacation day on Friday and we made our normal route looking for birds -- now that migration is starting. Right off, we saw a Crested Caracara on a telephone pole. I took several pictures, but none came out well. We went on down Woods Road (our favorite bird haunt), and saw several Egrets, small Herons and Ibises. We also saw a couple of smaller hawks that I was unable to photograph. One, we are pretty certain, was a Cooper's Hawk.

On the pass back, we saw the same Caracara -- on a pole a bit South of where we had "spooked" him before. He's pretty tolerant -- but you can see by the photo to the left that he wasn't too happy being watched.

It wasn't long before he decided to fly -- I did a quick point and shoot (and pray!). I'm amazed (and thrilled) at the results.

Pictures from the Porch

After a really hectic week at work, I was relaxing on the porch and saw this dragonfly on the antenna of my truck. It's covered with spider webs, so I'm not sure if it was eating them or what. It sat there for a long time and let me take several pictures.

And then there was this little lady humming bird, coming by for a snack. She visited our "flower" several times, while I was only sitting a few feet away. She was pretty nervous though.

Here she is at the "flower".

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Baby Raccoons

Here's this year's crop of baby raccoons. That's mom in the back. This was one of their first trips to the cat's dish (in addition to our kittens, we feed a stray cat -- but he's a real coward when it comes to 'coons). I believe there are actually 3 babies, but we only see two here.

[Correction -- there are 4 babies.]

In this picture, mom is planning to run off with the bowl of cat food. These may be her babies, but she has no intention to share with them. Of course with a baby in the bowl, she's not likely to make a clean getaway. You can see where this is heading...

And here's mom on the left and junior on the right, picking up the pieces.

We have a neighbor who really likes having raccoons around -- so we're planning to try to trap these babies and take them over to him. Don't worry -- it's a cage trap, they won't be hurt.

Kitten Update

As you know, we adopted a pair of kittens back in April. They are now about 6 1/2 months old, and they have certainly grown! This picture was taken in July -- they are still very close.

Pixie, the little female, is the most difficult to photograph as she tends to blend into one big blur -- especially at night, and even with the flash. This is a particularly good shot (I do get a few). One thing about Pix -- I think she's going to remain small and petite. But not her brother -- Specs is going to be a big cat!

Here are the two of them -- I distracted them from looking out of the window. Unlike Pixie, Specs is very photogenic. This is a good shot of him, though I have to be careful not to get too much of that pink nose! Our front window has a shelf on it just for the cats. It's been really hot out, and really cold in -- so our cheap windows fog up regularly.... did my camera lens as I made a quick "shot in the dark" out the front door to catch our neighborhood "bandits." They had been climbing on the treadmill (with the white cover in the previous photo) and trying to get at the birdfeeder. For a while they were nose to nose through the glass with the kittens. It was quite interesting, but they all moved too fast for me to get a picture.

More raccoon pictures coming...

Spiders -- two types

OK, if you don't like spiders, I suggest you skip this one!

The brown spider to the right is a "Writing Spider," Argiope aurantia.

It used to be that these were about the only large spiders we saw on our property. We might see two or three around our place and other places. And then a few years ago, the "Golden Orb" spiders arrived and seemed to largely displace the writing spiders. This year, we had two writing spiders on our front porch -- those are the only ones I've seen.

Acording to the link above, the white "writing" in the web is called stabilimenta. This extra thick webbing helps prevent birds from flying through the web. But apparently also helps insects (a.k.a. "dinner") from flying into the web as well. Perhaps that is why we see fewer writing spiders than golden orbs, who do not use stabilimenta.

This lovely lady (left) is a Golden Orb spider, Nephila clavipes. I have recently discovered a bit more about these spiders. The "Orb" in the name describes the type of web they weave -- the big circular type. In fact the writing spiders also weave orb-type webs.

In this picture, you see the same spider and her mate. You can also see the golden strands in the web. The Wikipedia article, referenced above, suggests that these spiders weave a golden colored web, but Marc suggested that some of the strands (the sticky ones) have attracted bits of pollen. This makes more sense to me, as only certain strands of the web are "golden". Another interesting thing is that these spiders use multiple-strands to create the anchors of their webs. Sometimes the anchors are not attached to something fixed, but to a bit of broken branch or large leaf. It is a bit of a shock to be driving out of the driveway early in the morning and have a small floating branch suddenly smack your windshield!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fall Migration is Beginning!

Well, it's been a long time since we've posted to the blog. That's because, just as the birds fly south for the winter, they also fly north for the summer. We're South -- so around here, we just don't have a lot of birds to take pictures of during the summer.

But lately we've been seeing ducks. Lots of ducks flying by. No geese yet, but they'll come. And very soon, we should start seeing more hawks. There is a spot near Corpus Christi where several hawk flyways converge. We went last year (won't be going this year). We were a week late to see any great numbers of birds, but we found out that the best week to be there is the third week/weekend in September. That's next week.

My work schedule is going to be pretty hectic for the next month or so, but we're planning a trip to near West Texas, probably in November and we'll be going Coastal around that time too, with the hopes of seeing Whooping Cranes. So things should pick up again soon. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Lexington, Part Dos

I will present these photos with few comments. I love airplanes, and wish I could have flown many of these. I did get a chance to fly a T-34 when I was a puppy! No takeoffs or landings, just in the air stuff. The recruiter navy pilot escorting me did a few barrel rolls and G turns, and was amazed that I didn't get sick. Much fun. Wound up in the AF instead. Never did get to fly anything. Bummer.

Tom Cat, my favorite, Retired like me. Too old I guess.

I spent 4 years working around the F-4 above. Really fine air craft. Retired like me.

Above center, is a gunship from the VietNam era. Below are more shots.

I watched them in action at night.
Awsome firepower in such a small aircraft! In the lower center is an electric motor powered Gattling Gun.
They also used electricly primed rounds. They shot a mix of HEI, slug, and tracer Ammo. (HEI=High Explosive Incendiary)
You wanted these pilots to be your friends

Back then we had rockets of the shoot and pray type, completely balistic after firing. Today we have the HellFire and more Guided Rockets and other munitions.

That's Stormy to the right, unsuspecting. Ha!