Sunday, March 30, 2014

Baytown Nature Center

My pocketbook says I need to stay close to home for the next couple of weeks.  Fortunately, I don't have to go far to find birds.

In the shadow of refineries, chemical plants, and heavy vessel traffic, space has been set aside for wildlife.  This used to be a neighborhood until the land began to sink, the area began to flood, a hurricane caused extensive damage, and the homes were abandoned.  Eventually, the buildings were removed and the area became the Baytown Nature Center.

That's a Snowy Egret at bottom left.

I found a Great Blue Heron nest.  The noise she made when another heron got too close is what attracted my attention.  No one is going to steal any sticks from her.  She wasted no time running off the intruder.  I couldn't see any eggs, but she is sitting.  I'll have to add this to my list of sites to revisit in search of babies.

My first Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the year is in the above photo.  He winters in South America and returns to Texas in the summer to breed.  That blur in the background is a passing barge.  The birds seem to be used to the noise.

I saw a Northern Shoveler, too, so not all of our winter visitors have departed.

The Black-necked Stilts are year-round residents.  They scolded incessantly as I was photographing from a distance, clearly not happy at my approach.  It was a loop trail, so I had to walk past.  One more step after I snapped this picture, they decided they were done with me and flew away.

In my last post, I mentioned I hadn't been seeing Anhinga this year.  They made up for it yesterday.  I've never seen so many in one place.  This is a small part of the group that flew overhead.

There were recent reports of a rare bird here.  I went to the spot where I was told the White-winged Scoter had last been sighted and found a noisy Boy Scout troop.  If he was there, they ran him off.

The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail - Upper Texas Coast
Date of visit:  March 29, 2014
Time of day:  Mid-morning thru early afternoon
Conditions :  Cool, overcast, and windy at first - becoming clear and warm with a light breeze in the late morning
Species Identified (21):  Turkey Vulture, Northern Cardinal, Black Vulture, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Neotropic Cormorant, Mottled Duck, Black-necked Stilt, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, White Ibis, Killdeer, Anhinga, Forster's Tern, Least Sandpiper

I'm linking up with I'd Rather B' Birdin'.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Heronry at Shangri La

The Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center in Orange, TX is not a site on the birding or wildlife trails, but the birds don't know or care.  Below is the view from the photography blind at the heronry.  

(Why is it called a heronry instead of a rookery?  I didn't see any herons.)       

I saw my first Anhinga of 2014 - a pair perched together in a tree, grooming.  The volunteer stationed at the blind says they do nest here.  I only saw Great Egrets and Cormorants actually building nests and incubating eggs, though.  

I watched and photographed for several hours.  The males brought sticks to the females, tried to place some in the nests themselves, and the females moved them to the correct spot.  One of the men in the blind said, "I know which one is the female.  She's just like my wife. 'That's not where the couch belongs.  That is not where I told you to put the table.' "

Of course the women responded with, "If you'd put it in the right spot, we wouldn't have to move it."

He was right, though.  The female was the bird moving every stick exactly where she wanted.

Every once in a while, a little cormorant would sneak up and steal a twig from the egret nest.  A little boy asked, "Why don't they stop him?"

"Because they don't see him.  The cormorant is swimming under the water,"  the adults replied.      

Oh, look at those two.  He's standing on her shoulders.  Now they're...uh, oh...I hope the kid isn't watching... 

Every once in a while, the birds would stand up and I could see the turquoise-colored eggs.  I think there were two in this nest.  Some had three.  

It's an hour and a half away from my home, but I think I'll have to try to make it back to see the babies.

I'm linking up with Wild Bird Wednesday.  There are many more beautiful birds there.  Please visit to see them or link up your own.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Warren Lake

After leaving Longenbaugh Road, I still had some time to kill, so I followed the directions to the next site on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail map.  By the time I reached Warren Lake, it was raining steadily.  I saw no birds except what I thought was probably Starlings on the power lines.  I had already driven all those miles, there was no lightning, and the clouds weren't spinning, so I might as well have a look around.     

I found a rain jacket in my trunk, tucked my camera beneath it, and headed to the viewing platform.  Apparently, the geese had already headed north, but the Northern Shoveler's were still there - hundreds of them.  Most were far out in the middle of the lake.    

There was one pair close enough to photograph.

They spent most of their time with heads below water.  I watched them swim that way for awhile.  The rain continued without any sign of stopping, and my camera was getting wet.  If I ruined it, I'd be forced to buy the new version.  That would be just awful...

I took a closer look at the birds I ignored, and realized they did not have the silhouette of a sparrow or starling.  They were Purple Martins!  Spring migrants.  Hooray for spring!

I had to risk more photos in the rain for the martins.    


No, he didn't really stick his toe in his eye and scream.  He's just scratching an itch.  The photo made me giggle, though.

I thoroughly dried the camera and it continues to work perfectly.  Darn.

I'm linking up with I'd Rather b Birdin' at the Bird Depot.  Please visit to see more beautiful birds or link up some of your own. 

The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail - Upper Texas Coast

Date of Visit:  March 15, 2014
Time of day:  Midday
Temp:  68 deg F
Conditions:  Rain
Species Identified (4):  Northern Shoveler, American Coot, Purple Martin, Northern Mockingbird

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Longenbaugh Road

R is for roads, raptors, and ruminators, so I'm linking up with Alphabe-Thursday .

This weekend, I headed to the Texas Hill Country for a hike at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area with one of the Meetup Groups.  Enchanted Rock is one of the sites along the Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail - West, but I've discovered I cannot be a hiker and a photographer/birder at the same time.  With a camera, my pace is about a mile an hour.  I'll visit another time with the intention of wildlife photography.

The hike was not until Sunday, and check-in time at my hotel was not until 4 pm, so I visited some of the Katy Prairie sites of the Coastal Birding Trails on my way out of town Saturday.  That's Longenbaugh Road in the above photo.  I searched for the waterfowl pond, but was not able to find it.  I didn't see any signs, all of the gates along the road were locked, and there were no obvious large bodies of water.  I did find birds, though, including the ever-present vultures.            

I've seen vultures stretch their wings while roosting before, always shortly before taking off.  Are they doing this to dry their feathers and warm themselves, I wonder, or simply to loosen up before taking flight?  There was no sun on this day, but there was rain.

Both vulture species were posing this way, so I captured some shots that illustrate the difference in appearance when sited soaring overhead.  Turkey vultures have light feathers on the bottom halves of their wings...

...while Black Vultures have solid dark wings with the exception of light tips.

I thought I was photographing a Red-Tailed Hawk, but when I uploaded the pictures, the head was wrong.  The tail doesn't really look red, either.  With those facial markings, I think it has to be a Prairie Falcon.  Birds look so different when they are fluffed up against the rain and cold, they confuse me sometimes.

There was a cattle herd in the field, as well.  They mostly ignored me, but the young one never looked away.  I wonder what he found so fascinating.

I Googled  the site after returning home, and the satellite map does show a spot in the field that could very well be the Longenbaugh Waterfowl Pond.  I wonder if I looked right at it without seeing.

The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail - Upper Texas Coast:  UTC098
Date of visit:  3/15/2014
Time:  Midday
Temp:  68 deg F
Conditions:  Overcast, periods of light rain.
Species identified (11):  White-winged Dove, Northern Mockingbird, Turkey Vulture, Prairie Falcon, Black Vulture, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, Savannah Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Roadside Birding along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail

Birds aren't only to be found at the sites listed on the maps.  Keep your eyes peeled as you travel and you may be rewarded with some special finds.  

It's maybe a little gross, but I couldn't resist the urge to photograph the vultures feasting on a carcass.  There was not yet an offending odor, so they must have made quick work of discarding fresh roadkill.  Though Turkey Vultures are featured here, both species were present.  I'd heard that Black Vultures were a bit more shy.  I didn't realize to what extent until I studied my pictures.  They were always in the background and never perched atop their meal.  They did feed at the same time as the Turkey Vultures, but from the side, always ready to make a quick getaway.

I saw Sandhill Cranes by the dozens when I reached an agricultural area.  After passing a 3rd field full of feeding cranes, I told myself, "If I see one more flock, it's an omen.  I must stop."

According to this chart, a group of cranes is actually a herd.  I did not know that until today.      

Shortly before arriving at the Port Aransas NWR, I found a skein of Snow Geese.  Distinguished from Ross's Geese by their black "grinning patch" they can be blue-morphs or white-morphs.  Both are pictured here.  There is one adult and one juvenile blue-morph in the center.

Is skein correct?  They are a skein in flight, a wedge in V formation, and a gaggle on water.  What are geese in a cow pasture called?    

Last, but definitely not least, were the Whooping Cranes I found on day 2 of my trip to Rockport.  In fact, my best view of these birds was from the side of the road - better than I had at the wildlife refuge by far.

One word of caution:  Never, ever stop without first checking the rear-view mirror.  There are folks who will insist on riding your bumper no matter how fast or slow you are driving regardless of whether they've had the opportunity to pass.  

I'm linking to my favorite meme:  Wild Bird Wednesday.  Please visit to see more amazing birds from around the world.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Port Lavaca Bird Sanctuary

As I was travelling to and from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, I kept seeing the sign for the Port Lavaca Bird Sanctuary.  I didn't have time to visit on that weekend, so I drove a little out of my way on the trip home from Palmetto State Park.

I'm linking this photo to Sunday Bridges.  The pedestrian walkway crosses the coastal marsh to a birding tower, continues along the beach, and ends at a grassy field.    

The Willet, which I found near the birding tower, showed off his striking wing pattern.  

The Long-billed Curlew peeked out from the marsh grass near the beach.

I thought the Great Egret, which was stalking his dinner in the shallow bay water, might be spooked by a pair of loud teenagers pointing and shouting, "Look at that one!"  He ignored all of us.

There were joggers and a few noisy children that crossed my path, but the birds seemed to know they were safe from people on the bridge and weren't disturbed.

I found Savannah Sparrows in the grassy field.  No bridge here, just a sidewalk, so the birds are a bit more cautious of approaching humans.  They did allow me to watch and photograph them as long as I kept my distance.

The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail - Central Texas Coast
CTC: 030
Date of visit:  2/16/2014
Time of day:  Late afternoon
Temp:  70's (F)
Conditions:  Partly sunny, sea breeze
Species Identified (16):  Western Sandpiper, White Ibis, Rock Pigeon, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Long-billed Curlew, Lesser Yellowlegs, Great Egret, Laughing Gull, Savannah Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird, Eurasian Collared-Dove, European Starling, Great-tailed Grackle, Snowy Egret, Brown Pelican      

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Palmetto State Park

I'm not afraid to camp alone and have done it often, but sitting around a campfire alone is no fun.  When I learned one of the adventure clubs was spending a weekend camping at Palmetto State Park, I was happy to be able to join them.  It was sitting around the campfire with them that I learned of the "Ottine Swamp Thing".   After reading the story of the "thing" they said, "Now let's go on a night hike."   

Monsters?  They didn't mention this in the brochure.  I had to try to find this "thing" of which they spoke.  We hiked the Palmetto Trail by moonlight, but did not find evidence of the creature.  We did find a tree full of vultures, which was a little creepy.   

I'm jealous.  Why don't we have a "thing" in our Houston-area swamps?  Maybe we don't need to invent monsters because we have alligators.  Or maybe we used to have one until the alligators ate him.   

I suspect the swamp rabbit is the true culprit.  If he is hopping along through the palmettos, the fronds will sway.  I found this one on the San Marcos River Trail.

Also found on the river trail, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drills holes and comes back to eat the sap and the insects it attracts.        

There were a large number of vultures in this park.  I found these two Black Vultures along the Ottine Swamp Trail.

Also hanging out on the swamp trail was a Question Mark Butterfly, so named because of a mark found on the other side of his wings.  I spent a great deal of time waiting...waiting...for the wings to open for the perfect shot...not realizing he was posing with his namesake exposed.  Lesson learned.

He is beautiful.  I like the purple edging on the bottom.  

I'm linking up with Outdoor Wednesday.


The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail:  Central Texas Coast
Date of visit:  February 15-16, 2014
Time of day:  Sunrise - noon
Temp:  60 deg F
Conditions:  Overcast, calm
Species Identified (14):  Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Northern Cardinal, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Savannah Sparrow, American Goldfinch, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Carolina Wren