Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Thursday - Birding Aransas on the Skimmer

Sorry, I've been delayed on this last post of our Fulton/Rockport trip. On Thursday, we joined Captain Tommy Moore on the Skimmer for a water-side view of the Aransas Wildlife Refuge. It was a great trip (as usual). We didn't see a lot of Whoopers, and those we did see were at a distance, but they all decided to fly, so I got a few good flight pics. It's early in the season, and last year was particularly bad for the whoopers (mostly due to drought and shortage of blue crabs). I think they lost 23 birds last year.

On the way to the refuge and on the way back, we often see a lot of other birds -- I was able to add three new birds to the life list -- I even have pictures! (Some are not so good). One bird we saw a lot of and that is new to our list is the Dunlin -- they seemed to be everywhere. I got this great pic of one flying.

We also saw Royal Terns (as opposed to Caspians). The main difference is that the bill is more orange than red. This is another new addition to the life list. I love their "hair do's" -- reminds me of Groucho Marx.

And the last "new" bird is the horned lark. These were at a bit of a distance from the boat and they were running across an open stretch of land, so the pic is not so good -- but it works for documentation. ;-)

Captain Tommy is a great birder, with a great sense of humor. He makes a point to identify all sorts of birds along the way -- not just the whoopers. For example, he reminded us that the American Oyster Catcher is misnamed. It's not like it's all that hard to "catch" oysters.

Kingfishers are common around water -- though I'm more used to seeing them inland. They have such a prominent crest shape that they are easily identified on a post or wire, but not necessarily when flying. Fortunately, I saw this one on a post first.

Something new that I learned from our esteemed guide. There are two kinds of cormorants in our area: Double Crested and Neotropic. The differences according to Sibley's are mostly a little white at the corner of the eye. I wasn't particularly sure how to tell them apart. Captain Tommy pointed out that the Neotropics are darker and smaller. There are both in this picture.

If you've viewed this blog in the past, you'll know that I'm especially fond of birds of prey. Most of the "hawks" that I saw were at a pretty good distance. At first I thought this bird was a hawk of some sort (seen from a distance without optics), but it turns out it's a Black Crowned Night Heron. I've seen one before, but this is my first chance at a photo.

Usually, we see a lot of Ospreys in the area. We saw a few, but most were far away, flying or the boat was moving. This was my best osprey shot of the day.

But my best sighting of the day -- even better than the flying whoopers (IMO) was this Peregrine Falcon. This one was on a nesting platform, so I'm hoping she has a nest there -- but maybe it's just a lunch stop.

Okay, I saved the best till last. We saw about three sets of whoopers this time around. One set was a family. The bird with the brown splotches is the juvenile.

And finally, we saw a pair of whoopers, who also flew. Here they are, below.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wednesday at Port Aransas

Wednesday morning we drove out to Port Aransas to visit their Birding (and waste management) Center. OK, they share a parking lot -- but it's really a nice place. When we were coming in, we were told there was a lot of Red Headed Ducks -- but if they were, they were in a huge group at the far end of the pond.

There were a lot of Teals (both blue- and green-winged) and a lot of turtles, but other than that, not a lot of the birds we usually see. In this picture, you see a couple of Ibis, a lot of turtles, and a bunch of "brown" ducks -- they might be redheads, but I couldn't tell.

We did see one Spoonbill flying over (too quick to get a picture), and there was some sort of heron off in a corner "dancing" around, but I could not get a clear picture of that one either.

However, of the pics I got of some of the birds, this is my favorite: a male Blue-winged Teal in his breeding plumage, among rippling water with stray feathers and a great reflection.

This is a Ruddy Duck, whose breeding season is March to August. You can see that his blue bill is almost back to gray (no, it's not all mud).

I took a pic of a Ruddy at this same place back during the summer. Who knows, it might even be the same duck! But you can see that he is much brighter and his whole bill is blue!

We often see Nutria at Port A -- this time, we only saw one and he was a small one. They are often considered pests in many parts of the world (like Louisiana). I wonder if they're edible? (Marc says they're pretty nasty -- they're like rats.)

Fall trip to Fulton, TX - Tuesday

Well, we finally made it back to the coast to see our favorite coastal birds, and whoopers. We got up early in the hopes of catching the afternoon birding boat tour, but they didn't sail on Tuesday afternoon, so we drove around a bit. I took lots and lots of seagull pictures, but they're pretty much all the same, so I'm not including them here... We did get some interesting shots, though:

In addition to the seagulls, I took several pics of Brown Pelicans -- my favorite sea bird. This is a good shot of an adult coming out of his breeding plumage. I think this was taken by the Convention center, where Marc likes to feed the gulls.

As we drove further down Fulton Beach Road, almost to the Kontiki resort, we saw this interesting trio of birds:

From left to right, a Snowy Egret, a White Ibis and a Little Blue Heron.

Here's the view from the back. It took us a while to figure out the ibis, as he had his bill tucked under his wing!

Across the street from this location are two ponds, which will usually yield an egret or heron. This one was standing at the side farthest from the road when we went by, but on the way back, he had moved closer to the middle, and was giving us a showy walk. Not sure whether to call this "Walk this Way" or "Walk Like an Egyptian". Either way, with his neck jogged to the side and his toes curled, he makes an interesting sight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Which Pics?

My church in Pattison, Texas has an annual German Sausage Dinner the first Saturday in May (this year, that's the 2nd -- if you're in the area, it's served between 11-2, come on by!).

We always have a silent auction and I usually print and frame a couple of pictures to donate. I find that some pictures go better than others, and I'm wondering if you all could help me by suggesting any photos that you might be willing to buy (no, I'm not asking you to buy anything, but if you were, what would you choose?).

I'll probably do 3-4 shots, and I'm seriously considering the Krider hawk in the post below and possibly the Swainson's as well. I love pelicans, but they don't seem to sell well. I might pick one of Marc's Whooper pics, or a good Caracara, if I have one (I'll have to look again). If you have any you particularly like, please comment on this post and let me know.


Update: Here's the Caracara pic I'm thinking of...

This will need a bit of editing (there was also a vulture in the original). I find that I need to do the editing at the camera store, as I can't get the size right with my photo editing software, and it defaults to 72 dpi (yes, I can fix that, but it's a pain).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Birds of Prey on a Gloomy Day

OK, I know that I promised the whoopers, and I was trying to update my posts in the order that the photos were taken, but I'm behind, and today was a "good birding day".

The weather has been gloomy and overcast all day, but we wanted to get out of the house, so we made the "loop" down Woods Road -- our favorite birding locale. The birds were low to the ground -- sitting on fence posts. We saw this bird first. It took me a while to identify it, but I think it's a Swainson's hawk. When it flew, I could see the mostly white underside, with a dark "chest".

Almost exactly across the street on another fence post was this beautiful Krider's Red Tail Hawk.

CORRECTION: This is a juvenile Swainson's hawk. Thanks to Jonah for setting me straight!

Marc finally honked the horn to get it to fly, but I missed that shot. He flew a ways down the fence-line and was there when we back-tracked, but those shots were too far and turned out blurry. This will probably be one of my Photos for the silent auction at this year's Sausage Dinner.

Around the corner on Hwy 359 we saw another of our favorite local birds -- a Crested Caracara. The bird is looking directly down at the camera -- it has a very intense glare!

Here's a close-up so you can see its face!

Friday, April 03, 2009

November Fulton Trip -- Mostly Shore Birds

I focused on the pelicans in my previous post, and I will do a special post on the Whoopers that we saw on the trip, but we see a lot of other birds, and some are really special!

Every time we go to the coast, Marc loves to feed the seagulls -- they are excitable birds. Taking shots of the feeding frenzy can produce some great vignettes, like the one below.

In Fulton, there are a lot of wetland areas, full of herons and egrets. Here is a great, reflective shot of a Great Egret. He (or she) has caught something -- I'm not sure if it's food, or just a reed and maybe lunch got away.

This pic of a Long-billed Curlew was taken from the Skimmer, Captain Tommy Moore's boat, in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Another great reflective pose. These birds are rather large, standing 23 inches. Sibley's says this bird favors drier habitats, but I guess this one is an exception.

This Ruddy Turnstone was posing for me. This is the non- breeding plumage. I have a shot of one in breeding plumage in my post of one of our first trips to Port Aransas. If you click on the link and scroll down below the Wilson's Phalerope, you will see the extreme differences in breeding and non-breeding plumage.

This little guy is a Spotted Sandpiper -- again in non- breeding plumage. (He gets spots during breeding season -- what a surprise!). This was another bird for the life-list.


I think of all the sea and water birds, Brown Pelicans are my favorites. They are much more colorful and prettier (IMO) than White Pelicans and a lot more interesting. They hunt from the air, diving down into the water head-first to come up with dinner. This shot was taken on our November trip (continued from below, just a few months later :-). I think it is one of the best shots I've taken -- I didn't have to do any adjustment except resizing to upload here.

This is the same bird, shortly after takeoff. I left most of this picture, including the Laughing Gull in the water, just to show you how large these birds are. And the Brown Pelican is the smallest of the Pelican species.

For contrast, here are a couple of White Pelicans. The one on the right is showing some of his wing-tip feathers, which adds a bit of contrast, but really, I think the white pelicans are rather boring, and plain. You can see, however, that they like these rocks as a perch.

To give the White Pelicans some credit -- they look really nice when they are flying. Black wingtips seem to be common on a lot of white water birds -- pelicans, cranes, ibis, storks all seem to exhibit this trait. I think these flying pelicans contrast nicely with this lovely cloud, and with the perched pelican below.