Another Cute Owl

Having found the Eastern Screech Owl the other day, yesterday I went hunting for a Burrowing Owl who is located not far away. I had driven there Wednesday but only found a feral cat hunting on the rock piles where the bird was reported.

Yesterday afternoon, the first thing I spotted was a Loggerhead Shrike and then another feral cat. “Great,” I thought, being pretty sure that the bird would be laying low.

Feral cats are everywhere in Texas -- and while pretty, are quite devastating to the bird population.

Feral cats are everywhere in Texas — and while pretty, are quite devastating to the bird population.

However, as I scanned the piles of rocks along the dike, a Burrowing Owl was perched up like nothing was amiss.  This is the best look I’ve had at one — and I took a few shots through the open truck window as the guy/gal posed.

BurrOwl1W

The Burrowing Owl appears to be diurnal because it can often be seen foraging during the day. In fact, it hunts all day and night long and is most active in the morning and evening. It catches more insects during the day and more mammals at night.

"Hey, you looking at me?"

“Hey, you looking at me?”

I plan to return with Mary to see this guy again once the cold front winds die down. It’s a great bird.

 

Posted in Texas birding, Texas birds, Winter2015 Trip | 1 Comment

Hello Mr/Ms Eastern Screech Owl

Last year, a couple put us on to an Eastern Screech Owl nesting in a tree at nearby Anzalduas Park. I could not spot it during our first visit this year but yesterday, a friend pointed out the correct spot (we were keying off the wrong building) and sure enough, there he/she was. I took a rather long-range shot so as to not bother the bird although it seems to sleep through hordes of visitors.

You can't see me (without help from others.)

You can’t see me (without help from others.)

The park is very birdy – lots of activity in the trees and overhead.  Here are a couple of other shots from Wednesday’s visit.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are pretty common and pretty noisy -- and just pretty.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are pretty common and pretty noisy — and just pretty.

There were dozens of Eastern Bluebirds at the park.

There were dozens of Eastern Bluebirds at the park.

I’m waiting for better weather to launch the kayak here in the Rio Grande. The border runs down the middle of the river so as long as I stick to the correct side …. perhaps I’d better carry my passport.  Good birding

 

 

Posted in Anzalduas County Park, Texas birding, Winter2015 Trip | 1 Comment

Goodbye Goose Island State Park

After a chilly (by Texas standards) start, we had a good end to our week at Goose Island. The birding was good and I got a couple of life birds: Clay-colored Sparrow and Harris’s Sparrow. One of my birding goals for 2015 is to get at least 100 birds in five U.S. counties. I did it in 2014, just squeezing through with my home county. So I was hoping to reach 100 birds during our week at Goose Island. It’s not easy since while the waterfowl are around (although I missed Green-winged Teal), only Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers are present.

One of the common sites at Goose Island is the Brown Pelicans waiting for anglers to return and clean their fish.

One of the common sites at Goose Island is the Brown Pelicans waiting for anglers to return and clean their fish.

By Saturday night, I was at 99 species; we were leaving Sunday morning. I got up early, took the dog for a long walk, and visited some feeders which had been unproductive all week. As things would have it, the 100th bird who hopped out of the bushes was Vermont’s State Bird, a pretty Hermit Thrush. Then, four White-Throated Sparrows arrived and I called it quits at 101 and went back to hook up the trailer and get ready to depart.

Large rafts of Redheads are everywhere, as are duck hunters traveling by noisy airboats.

Large rafts of Redheads are everywhere, as are duck hunters traveling by noisy airboats.

We are rather limited with Wifi and busting our data plans for the phones and iPads so posting photos is a challenge. After a long wait one night, I told a fellow who was standing their in the dark with his cell phone that “It’s like watching grass grow.” He didn’t get it — turns out he was a visitor from the Netherlands. He certainly agreed that the reception was awful. We are now in the Rio Grande Valley with thousands of other Winter Texans, many from Canada. Each year, as more folks get multiple devices, the signals get worse. You can get a 4G signal with three or four bars but there’s so much demand that you might as well forget it. I get up early and it works like a charm.

A face only a Turkey Vulture mother could love.

A face only a Turkey Vulture mother could love.

We are not sure we’ll make it back on the way home but in any case, it remains one of our favorite state parks in the Southwest.

Posted in Goose Island State Park, Texas birding, Texas birds, Winter2015 Trip | Leave a comment

Po-boys at Crofutt’s Sandwich Shop

It’s a place we would normally drive by, not being adventurous eaters. A tired-looking building on a wind-swept curve in the highway, parking lot filled with muddy pickup trucks, Crofutt’s is an area attraction, known for its monstrous hamburgers, shrimp po-boys, and cinnamon rolls to die for. We were told about this place four years ago and try to make the trek each time we are at Goose Island.

Crofutt’s doesn’t lok like much from a distance.

 

The shop has been in business for half a century or more and the walls are lined with pictures from the past. They make it on their food, not their ambiance. My kind of place.

My Ford looked a bit puny up beside these muddy working trucks.

 

Mary and I were the only ones in the place not wearing muddy leather boots. Guys working on ranches or oil/gas rigs flock to this place – a mixture of Hispanic and Anglo, and most were built like guards for the Dallas Cowboys.

We ordered Shrimp Po-Boys and as we waited, listened to the Texas twangs and the banter of the waitresses. It was obvious that most were locals – I suspect we were the only visitors (although they get many.)

I didn’t ask if there was a vegetarian menu. This sandwich rocked.

 

The sandwiches are big and they are good – well worth the drive. We bought a package of cinnamon rolls and loaf of pumpkin bread – because we could.

We did a little back road birding on the way home and after a rest, I took Penny on an hour and a half walk. I don’t know if she needed it, but I did.

Posted in local attraction | 2 Comments

An iPhone Red, White, & Blue Trifecta

This morning, a few of us brave souls met at the pier for a bird walk. I had every piece of warm clothing I had brought, including “hot hands” insert for my mittens, and managed to stay relatively warm. I was keeping score on my iPhone so that entailed working with bare hands but we had a good time. We recorded 40 species – nothing particularly unusual – but like many walks, too much talking, not enough looking and listening. It was too windy to steady the camera so I decided to do some shooting in the afternoon.

I brought the iPhone adapter along and did some digiscoping. The Red, White, and Blue Trifecta ( Snowy Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, & Little Blue Heron) was the first group of birds I encountered. They were at a distance but happily feeding away. Many of the other shorebirds were too far for clear shots, particularly on a cloudy, windy day. The Great Egret posed nicely for me before flying off so I called it quits to return to the snug trailer.

A Snowy Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, & Little Blue Heron in one scope view.

 

A Little Blue Heron.

 

A Great Egret posing for an iPhone digiscope.

 

So far, I have 76 species in three days in the County and would like to break 100 this week. We’ll see if improving weather stirs up some. We plan to drive down to the boat ramp tonight in hopes of getting a look at some Black-crowned Night Herons.

Posted in Digiscoping, iPhone, Southwest trip 5, Texas birding, Texas birds, Winter2015 Trip | Leave a comment

Checking Out The Whoopers

Today was a day to catch up a bit since the weather is cool and rainy, so we drove into Rockport for some groceries and way too much bird feeding gear and supplies. We also picked up some comfort food (apple turnover, cinnamon roll etc) to get us through the morning.

Returning, we invited our neighbor, Gail from Nova Scotia, over for coffee and goodies. I am often surprised about the backgrounds of fellow campers: it turns out Gail is a recently-retired psychologist who specialized in dealing with special needs kids and who now is traveling the U.S. in an old VW camper, teaching herself to paint watercolors, while her husband tends the fort at home including caregiving for an aging parent. Good conversation, calories, and caffeine made for a nice late morning in spite of the weather.

One of the things you do at Goose Island is to check out the Whooping Cranes who return to some ranchers’ fields (where they are fed) just north of the park. Mary and I (and of course, Penny) motored up there this afternoon and sure enough, there were five Whoopers and about 32 Sandhill Cranes.  Here are a few shots that I took with freezing fingers in a minor gale.

The  Whooping Crane flock journeys 2,500 miles south from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to Texas.

The Whooping Crane flock journeys 2,500 miles south from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to Texas.

About thirty Sandhill Cranes are also enjoying the local hospitality.

About thirty Sandhill Cranes are also enjoying the local hospitality.

Not to be outdone by exotic visitors, a couple of elegant Great Blue Herons also grace the field.

Not to be outdone by exotic visitors, a couple of elegant Great Blue Herons also graced the field.

Whoopers and Sandhills often feed together here, providing a nice comparison of size and marking differences.

Whoopers and Sandhills often feed together here, providing a nice comparison of size and marking differences.

It’s great to see the cranes each year after their long return from up north.  They are a wonderful success story.  Like the Peregrine Falcon, the Bald Eagle, the Osprey, and several other species, they remind us that we can succeed with conserving threatened species, but it takes lots of effort and more vision and leadership than we often see these days in the halls of our public servants. These elegant survivors give us hope.

Posted in Goose Island State Park, migration, Southwest trip 5, Texas birding, Texas birds, Winter2015 Trip | 2 Comments

Sorting Sparrows at Goose Island State Park

Our six-day trip to Texas was highlighted by:

  • Trekking down our icy driveway with last minute luggage for a 5:45 AM launch Monday
  • Whiteout with treacherous driving for 20 miles around Saratoga on the Northway
  • Awful crosswinds for the first three days
  • Black ice on I-81 in PA below Chambersburg
  • Freezing rain and 30 degrees in MS
  • Heavy rain around Beaumont and steady rain through Houston (and a backup that I luckily circumvented, pulling the Mass-h_le trick of driving up the right side of everything)
  • Four comfortable nights in La Quinta Inns which, while seeming to lower in quality as we went south, still were clean, warm, and restful.)

Once out of Houston, the weather cleared and we stopped for fuel at Buc-cees (and topped off our fat levels with some great barbecue sandwiches.  Soon, I was starting to see more birds –  and at 70 mph (on low traffic roads) I noted Eastern Meadowlarks, Great-tailed Grackles, a Crested Caracara, several Northern Harriers, many Red-tail Hawks, and the ever-present Turkey Vultures. We are now settled at Goose Island State Park for a week and whilebit’s cool and windy, the only white stuff around are American White Pelicans and Great Egrets. The park is one-third full and we have a quiet spot to relax and get the trailer organized.  And bird.

I took Penny on four walks today and the bird activity was good — too early for warblers except for many Yellow-rumps, but loaded with sparrows. Sparrow identification is not something I would list when considering KSA’s (Knowledge, Skill, Ability.) It’s not easy when they keep flying up from the tall grass to spots just out of binocular range while the Vizsla on leash pulls your arm off.  I missed more than I even got a look at.  Yet, I got a lifer, a Harris’s Sparrow.  It popped up on a bush not too far away and I got the glasses, then the camera, on it. I didn’t know what it was but went back, downloaded the photos, and tentatively identified it as a juvenile Harris’s.  Then I emailed my friends at North Branch Nature Center and Chip, the Executive Director, agreed with my call.  So it was life bird #412 — first of the year and the trip.

This was one of two juvenile Harris's Sparrows I saw this morning. Lifer #412

This was one of two juvenile Harris’s Sparrows I saw this morning. Lifer #412

I ended up with six sparrow species (and may have missed others):

  1. Song
  2. Field
  3. Savannah
  4. Lincoln’s
  5. Harris’s
  6. House

I hope to sort ducks and gulls in the next couple of days.  There are rafts of Redheads and Northern Pintails and it will be time to relearn the gulls and shorebirds. Good birding.

Posted in life bird, Life list, Southwest trip 5, Texas birds, Winter2015 Trip | 2 Comments

Slip, Sliding, Away

We have been watching the weather forecast for several weeks and were not happy to see a winter storm scheduled for the day before our departure. However, the snow was going to be followed by freezing rain, and then rain — so I figured we had a chance to get going as scheduled. When we looked out this morning, it was not pretty.

Two days ago, I had managed to back the Airstream up the driveway to a flat spot where we can load it. My neighbor Jason, seeing me struggle to get the rig up around the big rock, came up and gave some great guidance.

I hit it hard, moving stuff from the house, loading the kayak in 10 degree temperatures,  and burning through a tank of propane just warming the unit up.

The storm hit as expected and we awoke to a less than happy site — four inches of snow with a nice crust of ice.

The Airstream was covered with ice and snow this morning

The Airstream was covered with ice and snow this morning.

The truck was coated and the kayak was wondering what it was doing on the rack.

The truck was coated and the kayak was wondering what it was doing on the rack.

I spent several hours getting the driveway passable and then tackled the truck and trailer.  Temperatures were warming and little by little, the frosty units thawed out.

By suppertime, I had the rig hooked up, lights tested, and ready to move.

By suppertime, I had the rig hooked up, lights tested, and ready to move.

The forecast for this evening is for much colder weather in the morning, and the driveway I had so carefully scraped with the Kubota, and a patina from the day of freezing rain and rain on frozen ground. I decided to not chance an ice-skating party in the morning so I carefully, in low range, crawled down to the bottom of the driveway — to leave the rig there for launch at early dark thirty. Two chunks of firewood block the wheels and if we can hobble down without mishap, we’ll be off for Harrisburg, PA. I’ll let you know how our first few days go — we’re aiming for dull and non-newsworthy.

Posted in Southwest trip 5, Trip Planning, winter travel, Winter2015 Trip | 1 Comment

A Couple of Nice Saturday Morning Birds

We are in Merrimac, MA for a while and enjoyed a wonderful Christmas. This morning, I took the dog and went looking for birds for a few hours on a brisk, but sunny Saturday morning. One of my favorite places to exercise the dog while birding is Cherry Hill Reservoir in West Newbury — although on a Saturday, half the world seems to have dogs cavorting so we passed on that and went looking for a Greater White-fronted Goose which has been reported hanging out with a gaggle of Canada Geese there as well as nearby Artichoke Reservoir.

I spotted geese feeding in a field beside the water and scanned them with no luck and went on to check the rest of the reservoir. Reversing course, I noticed more geese on the water that were not visible during my first look, and sure enough, a GWFG was in the midst of them. Here are some shots that I took as it cruised around.

It was rather easy to see the stranger in the group of CAGO's.

It was rather easy to see the stranger in the group of CAGO’s.

GWFGW2

I decided to drive over to Salisbury State Beach Reservation so that I could let the dog run a bit off leash. While there were dozens of dogs everywhere, the campground was rather empty and perfect for a workout. We then checked the river for Harbor Seals and Common Eider (plenty of both) and I decided to check out the boat ramp area. I saw a grey bump on a log way off but could not distinguish it with my binoculars. But, just in case, I dragged out my scope from the truck cap and set it up in the breeze and sure enough, way off was a juvenile Snowy Owl.

This Snowy is a long ways off and looking away from me - but it's my first this winter.

This Snowy is a long ways off and looking away from me – but it’s my first this winter.

I think that it’s the first one this season from Salisbury. In any case, even though  it was looking West most of the time, it was a nice find on a nice Saturday morning.

Posted in MA Birding, Salisbury State Park | 2 Comments

Why is that guy stopped along the highway?

I took a little scouting trip yesterday morning to nearby Caledonia County which I may use for a County Big Year in 2015. It’s a pretty good haul over there and nothing except a few American Crows seemed to be moving. Once I got to the County, it was even worse – nothing but lovely frosted trees (with no birds that I could spot.)

Approaching the Village of Hardwick, I decided to swing north for a moment on Route 16 and just as I made the turn, noticed a car, with a guy in it, parked alongside the road – which overlooks the river. I slowed – didn’t see any binoculars, but waved as did he. I pondered as I crawled northward what he was doing – and then I saw snowy tire marks in the road and thought, “He spotted something and circled back to check it out.”

The truck is too long to “hook a u-ie” on a main road so I drove up to the next driveway, reversed course, and noticed that he had pulled out and departed. I slowed, pulled right into his tire tracks alongside the road, checked the river for mergansers, and then checked the trees.  Bingo!  He had spotted a Bald Eagle and returned to look it over.  So I did the same.  Carefully exiting the truck, I took a few shots from behind the vehicle, pausing as trucks and cars past, and quietly watched the regal bird eye the river, eye me, and just quietly sit there. I carefully left the area without disturbing him.

The SX50 Canon is perfect for "grab and go" shots like this.

The SX50 Canon is perfect for “grab and go” shots like this.

Sometimes, spotting birders is a great way to spot birds that you might not otherwise see. More than once, I have been put on a good bird by someone who already has it in binos or scope. I probably would have missed this guy today if I hadn’t seen those tire tracks in the road. I have no idea if my predecessor was a birder or just someone who spotted an eagle but in any case, thanks.

Posted in Caledonia County, Vermont Birding | Leave a comment