Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lunch at Bear Creek

Yesterday was a pretty quiet day at the office, as is normal for the week between Christmas and New Year's. And since the few hearty souls who were there all had diverse lunch plans, I snuck out at noon for a quick jaunt over to Bear Creek Park.

I figured it was a good sign when I saw my first notable before I even got there. This hawk was perched atop a telephone pole just north of the park, and I snapped a quick shot through the truck window while I waited for the light to turn green.

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Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

When I reached Bear Creek Park I found the playground areas quite busy, but the rest of the park was almost empty. I picked a quiet area alongside Langham Creek and headed out. The trees and underbrush were busy with warblers (basically unidentifiable with no binocs and my limited ID-ing skills), cardinals and chickadees.

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Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)

Walking along the edge of the creek, I found mockingbirds, more chickadees, and this busy little Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), who just refused to sit still long enough for me to get a better picture.

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As the creek turned away from the clearing to double back into the trees, I came upon a stand of sycamore trees, bare except for their seed balls and peeling bark.

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There was activity going on high up in those branches, but it took a few minutes to finally spot just exactly who it was that kept hopping around from trunk to branch and tree to tree. Unfortunately, this fellow was also too shy (or maybe just too hungry?) to let me get a better shot.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

All in all, it was a good outing, if abbreviated. Final list of (identified) birds for this trip:
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Great Egret
  • Common Grackle
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Black Vulture
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • American Crow

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly: Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks resting on the bank at Bear Creek Park in northwest Houston.

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Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

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According to reports by the Houston Audubon Society, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have recently been expanding their range in Texas. They can frequently be found in and around neighborhood ponds and lakes to the north and west of the Houston area. I have seen them on several occasions this fall at Bear Creek Park and once up north in the Tomball area, usually in groups of two to four.

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #18.

Bird Photography Weekly

Friday, December 26, 2008

SkyWatch Friday #24

Since our skies for the past few days have been a dull, featureless gray, I've been thinking a lot of bluer skies from earlier in the year. These shots were taken of and from the suspension bridge over the Brazos River in Waco, Texas, while we were there for Baylor Homecoming a couple of months ago.

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For more intriguing images of the skies above our world, check out the SkyWatch Friday home page.

SkyWatch Friday

224 Birds for Christmas

Just a quick pointer to a wonderful post on 10,000 Birds detailing the various birds featured in that wonderful Christmas favorite, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Everybody knows the Christmas carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Easily the most endless song this side of "99 Bottles of Beer," this old chestnut has simultaneously delighted and horrified holiday celebrants for centuries. Of particular note is the song's emphasis on avifauna. No Christmas carol features birds as prominently as this one. To the birder, this begs the question: what species of birds appear in the Twelve Days of Christmas?
A great read with lots of information I'd never thought to research. Read the whole post at Birds of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Greetings

From our family to yours...

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We would like to wish you a very

Merry Christmas

and a Happy New Year to come!

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Have a safe and wonderful holiday season!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rodents of Unusual Size

When we last saw our fearless adventurers, we had made it back to the final stop in our excursion to Meyer Park: the duck pond. Our path was quickly blocked by the guardian of the lake, but our courageous Cowboy quickly leapt to the forefront to challenge the menacing beast.

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With eyes of steel and a handful of stale bread, our hero was able to gain us safe passage to the bountiful waters beyond.

The duck pond was teaming with life this day, with a half dozen or so Swan Geese actively competing for our bread crumbs with the Mallards that regularly inhabit the place.

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Also visiting were this dandy duck-with-a-'do and his companion.

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Wading slowly near the opposite bank was a Great Egret, casually wandering back and forth as he searched the water for something a bit more lively to eat.

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Near the bank where we were standing, Cowboy spotted this three-foot-long snake taking a siesta in the cool water.

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At first I was afraid it was a water moccasin, but the markings didn't look right for that. We never did figure out exactly what kind it was, but after a few minutes it tired of being a spectator sport and quickly swam out of sight.

Just then, Cat grabbed my arm. "There they are, Daddy! Quick, take a picture!"

I looked across the pond and spotted them — the Rodents of Unusual Size. All I could think to say as I lifted my camera was, "As you wish."

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It was the "giant beaver things" that had prompted this weekend adventure. Nutria. (Or "neuter rats," as my high school buddy Cliff Gammill used to call them.) There were two or three of them swimming along without a care in the world, completely unconcerned with the noise of the people nearby. One of them even ventured out on the shore, just a few yards from where we stood.

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I love those wonderful little hands, which they use to pick up and hold food as they eat, very much like raccoons do. If you are unfamiliar with nutria, they are a bit smaller than beavers but larger than a muskrat, with a long thick tail that flows gracefully out behind them as they swim.

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They have webbed feet and rather sharp claws, and have lips that can be closed to allow them to chew while swimming without letting any water in.

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After we watched the various inhabitants of this small pond for a while, the air turned cool and the rain we had been expecting all morning finally began to fall. So we bade the critters goodbye and headed off to enjoy a hot lunch before finally returning home.

Unfortunately, the dirty dishes and the laundry were still lying right where we left them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Weekend Excursion to Meyer Park

A couple of weekends ago, we were all about to go crazy cooped up in the house. So we left the laundry, unfinished homework and dirty dishes in their respective piles and headed out for nearby Meyer Park. The kids had been there on a field trip before Thanksgiving, and wanted us to go see the "giant beaver things" that were supposedly lurking in the lake there.

Meyer Park is a nice place during the week, rather peaceful with its wide open fields and two calm, quiet ponds. Its small wooded area backs up to Cypress Creek, with short nature trails visiting the creek and looping around to the fishing hole and the duck pond.

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But on weekends, the park is overrun by soccer. The fields are filled with refs, teams and supporters. There are kids in every direction. Soccer balls skip and float across the duck pond. And noise permeates the quiet solitude of the tree-lined creek.

As you may then imagine, this particular outing could not really be classified as a birding excursion. Other than the expected waterfowl and the caged doves, we could count the birds we spotted on one hand. With fingers to spare.

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We were ably led in our adventure by our intrepid explorer Cowboy and his tireless mountain-climbing associate, Cat.

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As the din from the soccer fields followed us down the walking trail, we quickly despaired of seeing any wild birds, although there were a few other critters to see along the way.

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The squirrels were out in force, scurrying about as they gathered food for the coming cold season. We spotted a few fleet-footed lizards who barely even noticed our presence. Even the spiders seemed to be too preoccupied with storing up snacks to bother with these noisy weekend invaders.

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Just as we reached the creek, we saw the streak of a kingfisher as he flew downstream just above the surface of the water. The only other bird we found was a Blue Jay, squawking at us from high above at the edge of the trees.

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Continuing along the circular trail, we came upon a nice, large fishing pond. We detoured to loop around the water's edge, stopping from time to time to look at leaves or to skip rocks across the smooth surface of the lake.

The paved walk around the lake finally led us back to the edge of the soccer fields, through which we zigzagged back to our original starting point at the duck pond.

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To be continued...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #17

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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

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For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #17.

Bird Photography Weekly

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SkyWatch Friday #23

From last week, the morning the last cold front started rolling in.

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For more intriguing images of the skies above our world, check out the SkyWatch Friday home page.

SkyWatch Friday

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Celebrating the Holidays, Disney-Style

You know, I realized that we made a big impact in Florida when we visited Disney last year, but I had no idea they would remember me a year and a half later! Not in a good way, that is...

But obviously the imagineers of Disney were more impressed than I ever realized by this humble visitor. Just take a look at the latest news coming from the Magic Kingdom:

They like me. They really like me!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly: Another Pochard

A few weeks ago, I posted a picture I'd taken last summer of a Rosybill Pochard. This week, I offer another waterfowl from across the pond, a cousin of the rosybill:

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Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina)

And the equally lovely, if understated, Mrs. Pochard:

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female Red-crested Pochard

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #16.

Bird Photography Weekly

Friday, December 12, 2008

If You're Squeamish or Easily Bored... may as well stop reading here. And to be perfectly honest, I threw that "squeamish" thing in just to make it sound exciting!

My favorite online vet and bird-id-verifier, KatDoc, tagged me with the "Six Random Facts" meme. I've never done one of these before, and can't think why anyone would want to glean any more information about me than already shines through in these pages, but what the heck. Here goes nuttin':

  1. I love classic radio shows. As in the old drama, music and comedy shows from the 1930s, '40s and '50s. I've loved them for years, but since getting XMRadio almost a year ago I've been in radio heaven with an entire channel devoted to these classics. My favorites: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, Jimmy Stewart's The Six Shooter, the original Dragnet, Fibber McGee & Molly, and William Conrad as Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke. They just don't make radio like that any more. Siriusly!

  2. My knees contain more hardware than cartilage. A result of playing too much contact sports (basketball and volleyball) in my younger days. (Or perhaps of too little coordination, but I'll never admit that!) I've even been known to set off a metal detector or two in the distant past.

  3. I once visited the Polar Bear Capitol of the World and never saw a single bear. My Wonderful Wife and I took a 10-day nature tour to Churchill, Manitoba for our fifth anniversary a few years back, and never saw a single bear (or any of the other land-dwelling arctic mammals expected). We spotted dozens and dozens of ptarmigans, took an entire day hiking to find a (newly-abandoned) arctic fox den, and we did get to see pods of beluga whales, but no bears. No explaining our luck.

  4. My ultimate dream job: full-time writer. Some day...

  5. Part-time jobs I held to pay my way through college: farm labor, washing dishes in a bio-chemistry lab, fence building, architectural draftsman, church janitor, data entry for insurance agency, house-sitting, furniture moving (that one often just garnered pizza and fuel as payment). None of which looked particularly helpful on my first resume applying for a computer programming position.

  6. I have another blog that is a repository of new and old Kid Songs. It's a fun project, still very much in the works. Lyrics for over 130 songs currently included.

Here are the rules for Six Random Things:
  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. Post the rules on your blog.
  3. Write six random things about yourself.
  4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
  5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
After checking, I've found that a couple of my intended "victims" have already played this game recently, but here are my tags:

1. Susan at Susan Gets Native
2. Christopher at Picus Blog
3. 2SweetNSaxy at Eyes, Mind, Heart
4. Alan at Birds 'n Such
5. Wren at Wrenaissance Reflections
6. Bevson at Murmuring Trees

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chet Saves Christmas ... Again!

Cowboy is seven-and-a-half now, and I have been fully expecting any day to hear those dreaded words, "Dad, I know there's no such thing as Santa Claus." But after overhearing the deep, spirited theological debate raging in the backseat on the way to school this morning, I'm guessing I have nothing to worry about for a while yet.

Cowboy started the discussion with a simple question. "How come Chet isn't in the songs like Rudolph and Comet and all?"

Of course, it took me a minute to remember that Chet is the still-wet-behind-the-ears, doesn't-have-his-flying-permit-yet young reindeer from the Santa Clause 2 movie. By then, big sister Cat had already come back with, "He's not real, that was just a movie. Just like the grown-up man Tooth Fairy and Mother Nature weren't real."

"Yeah, but those were just actors. Chet's a real reindeer, not somebody just dressed up in a reindeer costume!"

That's my Cowboy, quick on his feet. Even when he's sitting!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rainy Days on Tuesdays

"...always get me down." I had high hopes of heading back over to the park at lunch today, to see if I could spot yesterday's kestrel or heron again. Unfortunately, the warm drizzle of the morning turned into a gully washer just as lunchtime rolled around, so I abandoned those plans. Instead, I'll share a few of the other shots I took on Monday's brief (but profitable, birdwise) excursion.

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American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

You can go here for yesterday's post to see a couple more shots of the kestrel, who did several flyovers of the bayou while I was there. He moved back and forth between the telephone cable, directly over the water, and the trees opposite where I sat on the bank of the bayou watching a Great Blue Heron downstream.

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Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Looking back the other way, I also had a great view of this egret in the distance. Unfortunately, a truck rumbling down a nearby road spooked him after I got only this one decent shot of him.

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Great Egret (Ardea alba)

I also got a nice long look at this shrike, who brought some tasty little tidbit up to the top of the footbridge and then stayed for a minute or two to take in the scenery.

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Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)

Throw in a handful of doves, a blue jay and a mockingbird, and as I said before, "Not bad for a 45-minute lunchbreak!"

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bird on a Wire

From a brief lunchtime excursion at a neighborhood park near my office.

American Kestrel
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

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The outing also included sightings (and pictures) of a Great Blue Heron, Loggerhead Shrike and a couple of egrets. Not bad for a 45-minute lunchbreak!

For some great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #15.

Bird Photography Weekly