Sunrise over Lower Red Rock Lake

Sunrise over Lower Red Rock Lake
Sunrise over Lower Red Rock Lake

Friday, December 31, 2010

It's Still the Season - for Christmas Bird Counts

December 14 to Jan 5 mark for me the season of Christmas Bird Counts.  This is a tradition started by Audubon about one hundred years ago and is a way to see what is happening to the birds across the country, in count circle by count circle. It allows regular people to collect data which Audubon manages and then uses to report on each species.

For me, it is a way to give back something to the birds for all the enjoyment they provide, learn more about how to identify birds by going out with experts, and have a social occasion with old and new friends.  My favorite way to bird is by canoe or kayak, and this year I'll be able to do 3 of the 4 counts by canoe.

On Tuesday I did a nineteen-mile paddle on the Trinity River near Cleveland, Texas with a paddling/birdwatching friend, where our personal highlights were seven bald eagles and two greater yellowlegs.   Yesterday we did a 14 mile paddle as part of the Old River Count.  This area is in my favorite paddling area - a lot of wild places with many routes that may or may not be open at any given time. We only found 43 species of birds but several hundred yellow-rumped warblers and several hundred American goldfinches. We also found about one hundred white-winged doves, a species which has moved into the U. S. with a vengeance.  I had to go to the Rio Grand Valley to see my first white-winged dove.  Now they are urban yard birds in places like Houston and Austin, Texas.The day was mostly overcast so my pictures are not the best but here are a few if them.


Our Route from Old River to the Cut-Off to Pickett's Bayou. 
We took out at Champion's Lake in the fairly new Trinity River NWR.

Bruce Scans for Birds at the Put-in Under Old River Bridge on Hwy 1409




We got our only house sparrows around the Old River Bridge. 


Looking and Listening for Birds

Most of the time we were paddling, we could hear myrtle warblers.  Kingfishers, grackles, American goldfinches, crows, and blue jays were also common voices along our route. 


Bruce Catching Up on Species Counts

Palmettos Growing at Edge of Old River

An Osprey with a Big Fish on the Cut-Off
One hundred fifty species of birds were found on this count by about twenty people. The count dinner was at Iguana Joe's, a very good Mexican Restaurant just north of I-10 on Hwy 146. If you are passing through, be sure to check it out. And check out the counts for your area and try one or more next year. Click here to find out more about how to join a count.

I'm off to get ready for my last long day of paddling and counting birds.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'm All the Way in My Trailer

Ever since I've been at Anahuac, starting November 1st, I've been trying to fit myself and my stuff in here.  Mind you, I've moved from a 3400 square foot house to a 960 square food condo to a 10 X 12 room and finally to this trailer. I think it's about 240 square feet and had sleeping for 6 or 7 people.  But they would have to stay in bed naked because the one closet is only one foot wide and two people have to be REAL friendly to even pass each other.

My sleeping nook with clothes above
 A little cupboard now holds my underwear, socks, bananas and jewelry, after I got little stacking drawers.  My main clothes and coats are in bins on the top bunk, above the double bed where I sleep.  Soon I'll get larger stacking drawers to make it easier to keep them neat.  And I'm going to hang a peg board for my coats, hats and gloves that I regularly use.

 But I always procrastinate getting stuff into a final home. There are always so many more interesting things to do, like building brush piles or weeding in the garden; taking pictures, or going to visit friends. But finally I invited a friend to spend the night and when she accepted, I had to get to work.  I cleared off her bed, propped up the mattress and board it rests on and got a lot of loose stuff stowed. I added hooks for my keys and head lamp.   Found places to  stow all the detritus  that accumulates  on my table/desk. Fixed the medicine cabinet so the door stays closed. Cleared off the sitting benches and couch.  My camera case still lives on the couch until I can figure another place for it.  The tripod, scope, and binoculars seem to have found a place in the back of my truck.  The bird feeder is up and the seed is in a covered bin under the trailer. So are my tools.

My friend gave me a little set of shelves that now gives me a place for my oven, radio, and a bin of still homeless stuff. The top shelf serves as my dish drying area since my sink also has to also provide counter space, when I cover one of the double sinks with a little board.

Hooks by the door



Guest Bedroom

Livng room, dining room and kitchen

Table has room for food and computer now. Lunch box needs a home 

Book storage in the living room

Living here can be comfortably done and I'm going to enjoy it a lot more since I will no longer have to move stuff off the benches, table and couch every time I want to offer a guest a seat.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chasing Birds and the Lunar Eclipse

I got up this morning to confirm whether a bird I had seen and photographed last Wednesday was a pectoral sandpiper or a ruff.  I was out scanning the field as soon as I had enough light, which down here is about 7:00A. Another lady from Beaumont, Texas joined me with her camera. We spent two hours photographing a pair of them.  I came in picked out the best of over 200 pictures of  birds that stubbornly refused to come any closer than about  50 yards and preferred to be hiding behind wispy dead grasses. Then I had the TexBird list readers take a look at them.  The experts said I definitely had pectoral sandpipers so the excitement diminished. But they were still lovely birds. Hopefully they will still be here tomorrow so they can be counted on the Bolivar Christmas Count.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Size comparable to a killdeer

Pectoral sandpiper pair






I attended a going away luncheon for one of the volunteer couples and took the opportunity to stop by the library and get the directions for downloading an audio book. I found I have to be on a waiting list for most of them but did find one.  Now I'll have something interesting to listen to when I'm planting grass seed. 


I went to bed early with my clock set for 12:20 A.M. so I could get up and watch the eclipse.  It was beautiful and, as the light from the moon faded, orion was joined by legions of stars.  But we had a partly cloudy sky and finally it closed in altogether, just as the eclipse was at its fullest.

Eclipse is well on the way but partially hidden by clouds


The last view I saw just before the moon was totally eclipsed
 And now it feels like bedtime again, so good morning. I'll try for a few more hours of sleep before getting up and getting ready for company, the Christmas count tomorrow and getting ready to leave for Christmas with my grandson and his family.  Oh yes, I'll also have to do a little work and hope to plant grass seed and work on cutting downed branches to complete a big brush pile.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Favorite Place in Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

I've been working on the Skilern Unit along East Bayou for the last several days.  I'm building some piles from the downed trees that will attract sparrows. And I'm seeding grass along the new accessible trail.

The more I'm there, the more I want to be there. This place lost it's bridge and lots of its trees but it going to be an even more people and bird friendly place in the future. It's going to have 700 acres of wet fields, some of which will be in rice this spring.  It now has the new bridge completed and two new overlooks, one overlooking the bayou and the other looking  over a little pond and the rookery area where I expect to see neotropical cormorants, herons, and roseate spoonbills breeding this spring.

I love being in the trees and looking out over the bayou and the wet fields as I work and listening to and watching all the birds here.  I'll include my list of birds I saw a couple of mornings ago, when I went early and and really looked for them. This is also my favorite place to go at the end of the day and watch the sun set and the cormorants and great egrets come in to roost in the rookery area.

But here are some of my favorite pictures from this area.

First some birds by the first little wet field.  You can bird from your vehicle.  There were American pippets, common snipe, Savanna sparrows and killdeer, our most ubiquitous bird.


Wilson's Snipe

Pectoral Sandpiper

Kildeer
 This is a common view many times each day as something disturbs a huge flock of geese. This is a view looking east from the road.


I'
Snows Uplifting - This happens when a hawk or perigrine falcone flys over

 This is a view from the new bridge just past the new parking lot.


The East Bayou Overlook


 
The New Bridge

Overlook Over Pond and Rookery

Handicap-Accessible Trail





 The skies almost always have birds flying in them: snow geese, greater white-fronted geese, various species of ducks, including whistling ducks, white-faced and white ibis, red tail hawks, harriers - often in groups.Merlins, cormorants, anhingas, great egrets, and great blue herons are all all common to abundant.

Merlin Hunting Supper

Cormorants and Great Egrets Roosting

Mine! No, Mine!

The moon is up at sundown.

These pictures were taken over a two hour period in this area. TWO HOURS! But it felt like fifteen minutes!

And here is a link to eBird where my list of birds is stored..

Monday, December 6, 2010

Birds du Jour

Today I hauled trash and took my camera along.  There were some great new birds and good looks at some old friends. A black-neck stilt was lingering, long after most of his friends had left for their winter vacation. Ditto for a cattle egret.  I saw my first common loon of the season as well as red-breasted mergansers and bufflehead.We still have lots or redtailed hawks, harriers, and kestrals and sometimes see merlin, perigrine, and red-shouldered hawks.  And on the highway between the VIS and the trailer, two caracaras flew across the road right in front of me. Couldn't stop and grab the camera in time to catch them.


The black-necked stilt was in the VIS pond .

The refuge is managed for geese, ducks, and alligators. So we have lots of snow geese.

The common loon was off Frozen Point in East Bay.

This pair of white-tailed kites arrived a few weeks ago.
A strange mix of laughing gulls and bufflehead.
Red-breasted mergansers
We have lots of great egrets but I love watching them. 
This pie-billed grebe will get a black band in February



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Playing in the Rio Grande Valley

I spent all of last week camping out, going birding, enjoying the scenery of South Texas and the Corpus ChristI areas and finding butterflies. I also had a great time with a few of my friends. We had beautiful, albeit somewhat warm weather while we were camping and only got a little rain while we were tucked away in our beds in Corpus Christi. 

We found a wonderful butterfly garden at Falcon Dam State Park.  I took a whole bunch of pictures and then tried to ID them.  I found a list made by another person from the day before which had very few of the butterflies I saw and lots I didn't. Here are a few pictures of my favorites:


This is Painted Lady

This is very common and is called the Two-Barred Blue Flasher

Sickle-winged Skipper

Phaon Cresent

We were very disappointed to not be able to visit Bentson-Rio Grand State Park and Santa Anna National Wildlife Refuge.  Both of them were still flooded and may be flooded for a couple of more months. But we did enjoy views of the river near Bentson-Rio Grand State Park.





A View From the Levy Back to the River


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fighting the Good War on Veteran's Day

Today, as usual, I spent some time in my ongoing battle against Nutgrass, AKA Nut Grass -  Purple Nutsedge – Cyperus rutundus.  This is an international invasive that causes massive problems around the world and great economic damage to farmers. The country of origin is not known but it came from some warm place and loves lots of hot sun  and some water, both of which it easily finds here.

Some of the more mature nutgrass

My weapon of choice, the trusty Chopper Doper

The nuts of nutgrass
The nutgrass army was waiting  in their trenches, both over and under the landscape cloth in the butterfly garden. I came armed with my cultivator/hoe, fondly called Chopper Dopper, a 5-gallon bucket, and gardening stool.  Soon the battle commenced with me loosening and then feeling for the connecting fibers between the nuts of nutgrass.  These guys are impervious to beheading, It's the hidden nuts that are their life force. Soon I was getting out whole squads of them at once, then going back to find the nuts still gripping the landscape cloth. Platoons of them filled my 5 gallon bucket at the rate of one per hour.

Two nuts clinging tenaciously to the landscape cloth under the mulch. One is at the bottom middle of the picture and the other is to the left near the top of the picture.

 Finally I had almost routed the entire unit from the 5 or 6 square feet that was this day's battle ground. Soon, that is in another 3-5 days, I'll have an entire section of the garden cleared out.  Then I'll have to be diligent on fiinding the survivors before they can regrow more troups. I'll also be assisted by my ally,  Frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora, a wonderful  little plant that also grows very aggressively here. I plan to take pieces of plants, with a little root attached,  and just move them over to the area that I will have twice weeded visible nut grass. The frogfruit  will soon spread and help prevent nutgrass from becoming a monoculture again.  And it will provide food for butterflies and bees while making it's cute little white flowers.


A small cleared area.  This takes a couple of hours. 


And more battles waiting for soldiers:


The Cattails are taking over around the VIS pond.  They are on my battle list as well.

Ragweed is another invasive. Rain will help be be able to pull the plants up but the millions of seeds will sprout again next year.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bird du Jour

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge serves as a  winter home for many birds.  In the summer, it gets very quiet with only a few wrens, sometimes a shrike, herons,  egrets, roseate spoonbills, morhens, and a few other species. .  But in winter.... suddenly we are playing host to millions of geese and ducks but also to many other water, marsh and prairie birds.

The first bird I photographed today  was a Wilson's snipe - the first I've seen this season.  We usually have a few using the pond.  It gets real hard to find them when they are sleeping in the grasses around the pond as they are so cryptic. But against the water, their strips, warm brown color and long bills make them easy to find and identify.

Wilson's Snipe 


Snipe feed on larval insects, worms, crustaceans, mollusks and some seeds.  This one was feeding in the mud.  They use their bills both as sensors to feel their food and as very flexible fingers.  They can open the ends of their bills without opening the entire bill.

Snipe are one species of birds that occur in enough numbers that they are hunted. With guns, as well, of course, with a gunny sack on a dark night in the scariest place your tormentors can find.  The Texas hunting season is from October 30 to February 13, 2011.  But this snipe is on a protected area so he probably won't get eaten by a human.  But he'll be fair game to a coyote or bobcat. And alligators sometimes get wading birds, but I think this guy's legs are too short to get in water that will hide a 'gator. And he'll provide lots of pleasure to our visiting birders who come from all over the world.