My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Remembering the Birds, Part II

I had too many wonderful encounters with birds to be able to get even the best ones into one blog.  So this blog commences where the last blog left off.  They include Montana Birds, and then the birds I found back in Texas this past fall.  I have really love getting to see birds in their breeding plumage and giving the calls and songs they use to maintain their territories . 

Long-billed curlews bred in our prairies at Red Rock Lakes and often flew overhead calling

Western Grebe with a red-necked grebe on Widgeon Pond, Red Rock Lakes NWR - The western grebe was the only one but the red-necked grebe had a girlfriend follow him in a few days later.  

Horned Lark in Breeding Dress

Yellow headed black-birds sang their whirring song -  sounding more like
a strange little toy than a bird. 

I only had these birds in my yard for a day - saw the parent feeding a child by my little creek - Evening grosbeaks. 
As soon as I set up my feeding station in my yard, I had a yard full of Cassin's finches.

Male Cassin's finch

Female Cassin's finch

I had lots of pine siskins at my feeders - they loved niger seed and the babies would let me
 get within a few feet of them when I was refilling feeders.

A male Wilson's Phalarope feeding near his nest - males tend the kids while the
women wear the fancy clothes and enjoy life.

Snipe singing from a fence post

Monitoring the mountain bluebirds and the tree swallows were part of my job. I never got tired of watching them in and out of the nest. Their house wars led me to research their interactions and ultimately, build more nest boxes and put some up in pairs.  

Mountain bluebirds at their nest box

Mother tree swallows often stay in the nest before they start sitting on eggs.

A short-eared owl that nested near one of my fence projects

One of the pair of eagles that constantly cursed me while I hunted unsuccessfully for their nest

One of a couple of baby killdeers foraging with their mom in Yellowstone NP

Gray jays were the iconic Yellowstone birds - they always showed
 right up when we set out our lunches.

September was hummer season at my trailer. I spent hours enthralled by the hords of hummers that came through.

Broad-tailed hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird - the yard bully

While the broad-tailed hummers would share a flower

One of our many Swainson's hawks - here hacking up a pellet

The barn owl with a second chance being released after being caught on barbed wire and rescued

The rest of the pictures are from Texas.

A few of a few hundred marbled godwits feeding in a field at Fort Travis on the Upper Texas Coast

A great blue and a tricolor heron show off their comparative sizes at Galveston State Park

Wood storks and roseate spoonbills on Champion Lake in Trinity River NWR

A comparison of the larger juvenile double-crested cormorant with the three little neotropical
cormorants at Champion's Lake in the Trinity River NWR

Birds have played a huge part in my life this past year and I'm grateful for all of them and hope they will live on. Many of them are at risk.

For more wild bird blogs, click on the picture.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Remembering 2015: Part I Recuperating and Playing

I started off the year still recuperating from three surgeries: two carpal tunnel and one rotator cuff. I stayed with my friend Natalie, who ferried me everywhere and put up with me.  What a Friend!   But I was able to start physical therapy in January, and was also able to go birding and camping, starting with our annual trip to Goose Island State Park for birding and paddling. This also included the trip on the Skimmer to see the whooping cranes.

(I linked each picture to the blog it came from.)

I couldn't paddle but I could enjoy hiking, taking pictures and hanging out with friends. Also kept up on my exercises, her still just working on regaining movement

By February I was again traveling to visit friends and had a great bike trip on the Tammany Trace, a Rails to Trails hike/bike trail in southeast Louisiana.

I also decided to repair my canoe, which desperately needed new gunnels and thwarts as well as a paint job. I stopped at a place that sold sinker cypress and hauled home a huge board.  I got it longer than needed, on the advice of my repair person, who wanted to be able to avoid any bad places in the wood.

I forgot my racks so had an interesting time hauling this 18' x 2" X 12" board
a few hundred miles back to Galveston, TX

I also enjoyed Mardi Gras, Galveston, Texas style, in late February, especially the parade of Barkus and Meoux.

 I didn't do much in the way of volunteering, but did have a really fun day helping out the Corpus Christi Master Naturalists in March.  I thought I would be hanging out with my hostess and friend, Winnie, while she talked about birds that had migrated to the Central Texas Coast, but I got my own station and a new friend, Randy, the rat snake, to help  me teach kids about snakes and turtles and their importance to the environment as well as the dangers they face in developed areas.

Randy was super cuddly - mostly because it was a WAY cold and rainy day 

In looking back, I see that I spent much of the down time looking for birds.  I even attended a the Galveston Featherfest and helped Natalie host a few of our friends who came up from Corpus Christi for it.

But I also did some hiking and camping, and visiting attractions across Texas, especially  in the Central and Lower Coasts, and the Hill Country.  Some of the time I stayed with my daughter and just did day trips.  I enjoyed revisiting the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where I loved to work at growing the plants for the two big native plant sale days, and a first time visit to Lyndon Bains Johnson's Texas White House.

Part of the new Family Garden at the Wildflower Center

Lyndon B. Johnson's Texas White House

View of the Pedernales River in Reimer Ranch, a wonderful hiking
and birding spot in the Texas Hill Country

The Pedernales Falls at Pedernales Falls State Park, another wonderful hiking and birding spot with two magnificent bird blinds

Vernal pools at Enchanted Rock where I spent and enchanting day
with butterflies and a ring-tailed cat

I also got to start paddling again and had several paddles with friends,  and birds, which made them three times special.

Paddle with friends on Sheldon Lake - contains ten islands of wading bird rookery

Happy Paddler with a new left arm and repaired canoe

Pat, a longtime friend, fellow camper and paddler, who organized this early morning trip

Then it was time to move on to my summer job with lots of adventures on the way.

I hope your are getting some time to slow down and enjoy this season with your friends and family.  I'm working at Pea Island Visitor Center and getting to share nature from the windows of the Visitor Center. I will also be doing three Christmas Bird Counts for my days off this week.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Remembering the Birds Part I

I try to spend a lot of my time looking at birds for fun or work.  Right now I'm in the midst of Christmas counts and had one yesterday and will have three more next week. This is free time birding.

But at this time of year, I always like to reflect back on what I've done.  A lot of my time was spent birding with friends, especially while I was recovering from three surgeries and thus not working.  January saw me going off on several short to long birding trips, as well as birding while traveling.

I was very surprised to find a juvenile wintering purple gallinule at Anahuac NWR. I took a picture of it in January, and again in April, just before the rest of his species was supposed to arrive to breed there. And on a trip there with several friends, we found a completely albino pie-billed grebe, complete with pink eyes.

Purple gallinule in January

Albino pie-billed grebe

Several of us went to Rockport to take the Skimmer out to look for whooping cranes and other wintering birds on the Central Texas Coast.  I HAVE to do this trip every few years and can't recommend it highly enough. Some years, I take it in late March or early April, so I can get the whooping cranes and the first of spring migration. Whether in the winter, or early spring, we usually see more than 60 species in about 4 hours. Sometimes we even see small groups of passerines flying just above the waves as they come in on their last energy stores.

A pair of whooping cranes

It's not often we get to see American white pelicans and brown pelicans together
 so I really like this picture

Another great memory was of a trip I took by myself to Bolivar Flats, getting there for the golden hour before sunset. Watching the birds and their reflections felt like a dream. And I watched hundreds of skimmers come in to roost. These are some of my favorite pictures from that trip.

Willet and greater yellowlegs. 

A lot of marbled godwits were feeding in that beautiful light

I ended up doing a couple of birding trips to the valley and some of my favorite places, including South Llano River State Park. The birds there are always fabulous but this year, I got to see a black capped vireo for the first time, WHILE in the presence of Greg Miller, who was one of the birders portrayed in the movie, The Big Year.  (But couldn't capture it's picture.) Greg was a featured speaker at a local bird festival and was preparing to lead a tour of the park. And I got my first ever - for the park - picture of a road runner.  Otherwise the park was full of all kinds of sparrows, orange-crowned warblers,  painted buntings, hummingbirds, flycatchers, chats, verdins, and lots of other wonderful birds, including those signature birds, bell vireos that come in to nest there and sing all day.

The roadrunner near the camping area at South Llano River State Park

Bell's vireo taking a breath between songs

I did a two week trip across several sections of Texas.  The only sad part about it was that I planned it for a special friend and then she had a family emergency and couldn't come. But several other friends were on different parts of it, so, I at least got to have fun.  I got several special birds there, including some new life birds.

First year altimira oriole

Green jays - I get them regularly but only in the valley or just outside it

My first ever rusty blackbird

The olive sided sparrow - a valley special

A bird I love - and often see in other parts of Texas  - the fulvous whistling duck

A first for me - a white -tipped dove - now expected to invade the US, following the path
of the white- winged dove - which I saw in Montana this year.  And now the
white-winged dove is being reported in North Carolina

Common pauraque  at Estero Llano Grande - although we know where it is,
within a few feet, we still have to hunt for it

Some other birds that were firsts for me or almost firsts included several birds we saw on the all day King Ranch bird tour. This was a wonderful experience and a tour I highly recommend. I got several friends to go and fill up the van and we all had a fabulous time. Then we had a slumber party at the friend's house who lives nearby.

I've only seen dicksessels a few times - this is first photo

Grooved-bill anni

Ferruginous pygmy owl - another lifer

For more great blogs on wild birds, click on the picture.

I wish all of you the happiest of Holidays and the hope for lots of chances next year to get outside and marvel at our natural world, and maybe also to do something to help save our plants and animals. And I hope I can wish all of you Merry Christmas Bird Counts. There is probably a few count circles near you.  If you haven't registered for one or more already, there may still be some near you.  Click here to check.   Remember  this is one of the best ways to gather data on how well each species of bird is doing. And you only need to be able to tell a bird from another animal to be useful.