Saturday, March 31, 2007


We went out today in search of bluebonnets and other wildflowers. It's getting toward the end of the season, so finding some good fields of bluebonnets was a real challenge.

We did find this one field of mixed bluebonnets and other wildflowers. I liked the combination of gate, flowers and clouds. I had to do a bit of adjusting, because the light was poor today.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Change of Seasons, Change of Species

"Spring has sprung."

In Texas, this is the season for wildflowers, and especially for Blue Bonnets. The stand on the right is from my neighbor's yard. We don't have very many ourselves, because we have mostly trees, as you can see from the picture of our driveway, below.

It's been pretty cloudy (and in some cases, rainy) the last few days, and by the time I get home, it's pretty dark. My blue bonnet pictures have been a bit challenging. This macro shot was taken with a flash. As was the top photo, but that one required a lot of brightening.

Another flower that we see along with the Blue Bonnets, is the Indian Paint Brush. These lovely flowers on the right are a bunch of Paint Brushes -- the mixture of red and white and blue and white seems somewhat patriotic.

With all the rain we have been having, it's not a surprise that we are seeing a lot of lilies. This "round" of blossoms are called "Spider Lilies". My mother-in-law used to grow these in her yard. We had a few at our old house that we got from her. We may need to collect a few and see if we can get them to grow in the shade.

The bird species have been changing as well. Today is the first that I've seen Scissor- tailed Fly catchers this season. And we saw several.

Another bird that we have been seeing over the last couple of weeks that we hadn't seen since early fall is the Black Bellied Whistling Duck. These are interesting ducks as they are mostly seen in pairs or small family groups -- at least in our area. At Aransas, we've seen them in somewhat larger numbers. The photo below is one of my favorite of whistling ducks -- it was taken in Rockport last year.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Columbian Birds

I wasn't able to get any pictures, but in my peregrinations around Bogota (mostly heading out to lunch!), I saw about 3 different birds.

The first was a brown-gray bird about the size of a cardinal or waxwing. It looked like it may have had a black crest that was lowered. It had a quite complex song with a couple of different phrases. I am unable to find an example after a quick foray online, so I'm not sure what it might have been.

I also saw some doves. From the "Birds of Columbia" site, I found some pictures which suggest it might have been a ruddy ground dove.

The last bird was a large-ish black bird with a yellow beak and legs. It looked like some type of Myna. However, I looked up mynas and they are defined as an "Asian bird". Another possibility from "Birds of Columbia" is the Great Thrush. But I'm not 100% sure on this one.

It was really disappointing that I was unable to get any pictures.

Travel Travails

I spent the last week in Latin America. It was supposed to be two weeks, but I’m home early – what a trip! And I don’t really have any photos to show for it.

I arrived in Ecuador on Sunday just before midnight. For some reason, I had it in my mind that the driver would pick me up at 6:45, so I set the alarm for 5:45. Now I’m a person that needs a lot of sleep and 5 hours or so is not enough! Add to that fact that Quito, Ecuador is high in the mountains where Houston, TX is at sea level! Add to that a couple more factors like airplane food, new medication and that I’m simply not a good traveler anyway and you have the recipe for disaster!

I had barely made it to the office (yes, this was a business trip), before I became ill. I was a bit surprised to discover that my company had a doctor on-site. He recommended that I go back to the hotel and sleep. I thought that was a great idea! Unfortunately, half-way back, they called the driver and told him to take me to the hospital. Well, better safe than sorry, I guess, so I spent half the day in the hospital receiving fluids – but certainly not resting! Finally, about 2pm, I went back to the hotel and slept the rest of the day! I must say the Marriot in Quito was really nice – it had a feather mattress on the bed. I’m allergic to feathers, but with all my other problems, for some reason they didn’t bother me – and so the bed was pure luxury!

[As an aside, I'm told that President Bush was sick from the altitude on his trip to that part of Latin America as well!]

The next day, I was better, but feeling a little weak – I had only had liquids on Monday. That night, my coworker and I traveled to Columbia. (Thank heavens I was not alone, and thank heavens more so that she could communicate in Spanish!) When we arrived in Bogota, we found her luggage, but not mine! As we were filling out the missing luggage forms, one of the airport guys comes running with my suitcase. Whew!

In Bogota, we had a greeter at the airport who took us to the driver. He was worried because it took us so long to come out from the flight. So we take off and arrive at the hotel, only to discover that we’d been booked in two separate hotels. It turns out the reservations had only been made that morning, and all the hotels were full. I had to wait 30 minutes for my room. It was a really nice room – not quite as wonderful as the Marriot in Quito, though.

I had no idea when the driver would be coming, but I decided to make the assumption for 7:45. It was another late night, but not as bad as previously, so I had enough sleep. There were 3 people going to the office, so I had to wait for them – but it wasn’t too bad.

My 3 days in Columbia were nice. Both Bogota and Quito are set in lovely surroundings (though I didn’t see much of Quito!). Bogota seems to be a bit better off than Quito from the little I saw. I missed the office-sponsored dinner in Quito, but in Columbia, we were treated to both lunches and a really nice dinner. I actually had a glass of wine (hadn’t had any for several months – and it was wonderful!). My coworker and I were gifted with pre-Columbian necklaces and matching earrings.

In the Columbian restaurants, I discovered some great things. The second day we went to a place that specialized in coastal dishes. I had grilled shrimp, kabob-style with bacon wrapped bananas – something pretty mild (I avoided most of the bacon), but served with coconut rice – now that was really tasty! After meals, we were offered coffee or a drink called “Aromatica.” This is a type of tea made with different types of fruit and herbs, steeped, and then filtered. It’s mostly fruity hot water, but was very tasty. At this restaurant, it was mostly citrus-flavored. The next day we went to an Asian place and I ordered Aromatica again. This time they brought out the little glass tea bottles with the water still over the fruit. This one was made with apples, raspberries, mint and another herb, maybe angelica? It was also tasty, but different.

The Columbian segment of the trip was great, both socially and work-wise. We arrived at the airport a couple of hours before our flight to head off to Rio de Janeiro. The agent at the check-in said something and my co-worker translated: Where is your yellow fever certificate?

Huh? I don’t have one. Well – it turns out that if I was traveling to Bogota and back to the US, and was only staying in the city, I was OK. But it was not OK to go from Bogota to Rio without this. Ooops. I would need to get the vaccination, and then stay 10 days in Columbia. NO WAY! So I asked, can I go back to Houston? The answer was yes, but the next flight was in the morning. Long story short, I had to get a hotel (near the airport, please!) and be back at the airport at 5am to purchase my tickets.

I had to un-make all my arrangements for Rio, and thanks to the administrator in Bogota, I had a little help. I had planned to get some Columbian coffee, and maybe some more Inca jewelry, but all the shops were closed at 5:30 am. Oh well, I was going home! I finally got here about 2pm on Saturday – and my driver was nowhere to be found. I had to call. But finally, someone came and I made my way home. Whew! What a trip. I’m glad it’s over!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Bird among the Green

Here's an interesting sight. Red tails are not usually "forest" birds. These trees line a creek that runs along the back of a new sub-division (with few houses yet). So admittedly, the area in front of this bird was cleared. But isn't it handsome? This location is close to our house -- even closer as the hawk flies.

And of course, this hawk did. This picture to the left is actually the second in sequence -- the picture below was taken first.

Here's a hawk that we spooked along McAllister Rd. -- not far from the rice dryer.

And today's "pole bird" was found along Morton Rd. It was pretty cooperative, though watching us closely. I only got a couple of shots as another vehicle was approaching.


Today might not be the best day for thistle pictures (as the thistle is the symbol of Scotland), but I find these to be fascinating plants.

This picture to the right is a seriously cropped section of the reduced picture below. I was playing with my photo-editing software. I will admit that most of my pictures are cropped, though a few are only resized (for uploading). I have found that the program will also do a good job of adjusting brightness and contrast. I use the clone tool to remove the spots on my sensor that show up on many of the bird pictures. That's about all the editing I do.

Northern Harriers

Today was my day for Northern Harriers. Here is a great shot of a harrier working a field E. of Woods Road. See the white band at the base of the tail? This is the primary identifying mark for this bird. Shape-wise, they are longer and narrower than the Buteos (i.e. Red Tail Hawks).

Here's an interesting scene. Harriers often hunt in family groups (though most of the ones I see are individuals). However, they are still quite territorial. Here's a shot of a harrier chasing a vulture. Though right after I took this shot, it looked like the harrier had given up and flown to another area.

Sad Sight

This was a very sad sight on Neuman road. I'm guessing this happened yesterday, as there isn't much left but feathers. Look at those very long feathers -- I think those may be primaries.

There is very little to identify this bird, but at a guess it may be a Northern Harrier, as they are often flying very low.

This was the location where we have seen a harrier, a red tail and a crested caracara all in close proximity.

Dining at the Dryer

I've mentioned the local rice dryer several times. There are actually several in the area -- this one is called "Midway Rice Dryer". It has a shoot (actually a sort of pipe) that sticks out the side for the "exhaust" which is mostly rice hulls and some broken pieces. The blackbirds, of course, love the broken bits. So do the mice, and we sometimes see Hawks here.

This first picture is interesting. The black birds with the vertical stripes are Red-winged black birds. The black birds with brown heads are Brown-headed Cow Birds. I think the female bird among the RWBB's the other day was a female Brown-headed cow bird.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Variability in Red Tail Hawks

Of course, no bird watching outing would be complete without the ubiquitous Red Tail Hawks. Of course, we think "ubiquitous" is a good thing when it comes to Red Tail Hawks! ;-)

We saw this beautiful hawk along the dirt road that parallels Old Hwy 90. We have begun to label some of the raptors we've seen by their "locations". But along Hwy 90, we've seen as many as 14-16 hawks along the road. This particular hawk was not too disturbed by our approach and I was able to get some good shots.

Here, he's getting a good sideways look. I was very pleased with the outcome of these shots, as all of these pictures came out really clear and sharp. I'm not sure if I'm getting better with the camera, or just lucky. Probably the latter. ;-)

After the hawk above decided to fly, we headed over to one of our other favorite bird watching sites -- Woods Road. We passed the North Woods Road Kestrel and the South Woods Road Kestrel -- Marc wondered if maybe they are really a pair? We didn't see the Harrier that usually hunts on the West side of the road, today.

A little further down (South) on the left, we saw this hawk. It was very skittish and flew when we came even with the telephone pole before the one it was perched on. However, it flew toward us a bit, and I was able to get this shot -- wow!

I believe this is the "white eyebrow" hawk that I have pictures of below (in "Spring Migration" and "Hawk of the Day"). We were in this hawk's "usual location". Look at the white band across the tail! This is not uncommon -- but on this hawk the band seems pretty wide. This is one of the better shots I've gotten of this hawk -- definitely one to be proud of!

I should mention, that on the way home, we saw a Crested Caracara flying off in the distance -- too far for a picture -- but we have a good idea of that bird's territory too -- so we'll have to head out there and see if we can find it.... maybe tomorrow.

Bathing Black Birds and an onlooker

Today we found the red-winged blackbirds at "bath time". They were bathing in a partially flooded rice field, then flying into the trees to preen and dry off.

I thought I would take the opportunity to get pictures of the whole "blackbird family". To the left is the male -- singing merrily. Did you know that in most, if not all birds it's the male that "sings"? Females have calls and both will call alarms, but only the male actually "sings".

We were out taking pictures with out the bird book, so my original thought was that this was a juvenile bird. But it's most likely the female, though a juvenile might look similar (I think).

I saw this bird and thought it was the female blackbird, but after looking it up and seeing the bird above was the female, I was a bit confused.

The beak is slightly shorter, and the tail has a double rounded end. I'm not sure where it fits in, but it was in the same trees with the blackbirds.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Beginning of Spring Migration

I can tell that it's the beginning of spring migration. Most of the American Goldfinches are gone. After two days, our feeders are still mostly full, which means we're down to our resident birds. Over the last couple of months we've been going through about 14 lbs. of birdseed a week! And most of that ended up on the ground because the finches threw out the seeds they didn't like.

Another way to tell is that we made our usual weekend birding trek and saw very few birds. In a period of 2 hours, I only took 15 pictures. With a digital camera, that's almost none!

However, I got lucky. One hawk that I saw decided to fly around instead of away. I think this may be the "hawk of the day" from yesterday, or at least a relative. Notice the white "eyebrows".

It kept flying back and forth, probably looking at us (or at our vehicle) to see what we would do. But it enabled me to get some pretty good shots. (Not perfect, but not bad, either!)

Here's a shot from the "under side". When I saw this hawk on the telephone pole, I thought it might be the Krider's that we saw last year. It's the same area, so that's a possibility.

Now here's a surprise. The hawk below is a different bird from the one above. We ended up quite a ways north of our normal route, on FM 529 -- not a good road for stopping and taking pictures! There were two hawks on a telephone pole cross-bar and not much traffic, so we turned around to look. One flew right away, but the second thought about it for a moment. Then flew! I snapped a really quick shot, being certain that it wouldn't come out at all. Well, it's the usual "hawk flying away" shot -- but it turned out pretty well. So all in all, not too bad for a slow birding day!

I should mention that one of the birds we were particularly looking for today was an Eastern Bluebird. We haven't seen any since those shots I took in January. Well, surprisingly, we did see one. Just one. And it was on one of those roads without shoulders and with traffic. So I didn't get a photo. But I'll keep trying. Just be aware that I'm easily distracted by hawks -- I'm sure you're surprised at that! ;-)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Hawk of the Day

I only got one hawk picture today. I think I must have moved, because this is a really strange shot. Either that, or this bird has some strange injuries. Perhaps some of both.

This is definitely a Red Tail, but it appears to have an injury on it's neck (see the dark spot?).

I'm guessing it's the angle of the shot that makes the beak look so strange. But... as I said before, this was my only hawk picture today.

Sandhill Cranes

I don't know what it is about me and Sandhill Cranes, but I find them boring. Isn't that strange? These birds are smaller than the endangered Whooping Cranes and prefer open fields and meadows (where whooper's prefer marshes).

My husband went out the last couple of days and found these cranes in a field along one of our favorite birding tracks. He actually has a couple of shots of courting activity -- but for me the Sandhills were their normal selves.

This group appears to be a family. There are actually three birds in this picture.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


No pictures with this one. As many times as I have tried, I have not been able to get any good shots of the hawks I see through my office window. We have one I call the "resident red tail". Lately I've seen two separate hawks. One is a beautiful hawk with dark wing-tips. And the other is obviously either molting or has been in a bit of a tussle as it is missing both wing and tail feathers. (I saw them both today -- together!)

I've also gotten pictures of a hawk near my home with some primaries missing (see below). Both of these hawks have gotten me to thinking about molting in hawks. So tonight I did a bit of research on the web. From several sites, I read about the "first molt". Juvenile hawks wear their feathers for a whole year (at least) before their first molt. Interestingly, the juvenile feathers are longer than the adult feathers, so a juvenile hawk will appear to be larger than an adult -- though it's only in the length of the feathers, not weight or strength of the bird. Read about that and the order of molting in this Q&A found here.

This interesting article by "The Modern Apprentice" details the different types of feathers on a hawk with pictures!

From the Illinois Raptor Center's Learning Pages, I learned that the feathers look like little paint brushes as they begin to grow. Look at some great pictures of a juvenile hawk undergoing it's first moult. This page also gave me the first hint of what I was really looking for -- when do hawks go into molt?

Finally, I found a research paper entitled "Aging, Sexing and Molt" which explains that while most birds molt over the summer, some will have a partial molt before the breeding season, or before migration. Hawks migrate in the spring and fall -- so maybe these birds are molting either before breeding, or in preparation for the spring migration.