Friday, November 28, 2008

SkyWatch Friday #20

Wednesday morning's sunrise, before the clouds and the rain moved in. Taken within a few minutes of each other.

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

SkyWatch Friday

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

There are so many things I am thankful for in my life that I cannot begin to name them all. At the top of the list, though, are my Wonderful Wife and the best kids a dad could ever wish for.

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Happy Thanksgiving, from this bunch of turkeys to all the rest of you!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Don't Back Up!

Ever have one of those days where you feel like if you slow down, something's going to slip up and bite you in the butt?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Caught In a Time Warp

I realize that it's part of dealing with someone with Alzheimer's, but the last few days I've felt like we were stuck in a time warp.

Last Saturday, I picked Mom up to bring her "up north" to attend the kids' piano recital. On the way back to our house, she kept fretting that she hadn't brought (or had forgotten to fix) any food to contribute to the meal. She had it stuck in her head that we were heading to Aunt Frances' house for Thanksgiving. By the time we got back to her house that evening, she was asking if I was still going to come pick her up "tomorrow" for the piano recital.

This morning, we had already talked a couple of times when I got a call just as I was leaving for lunch. Mom was almost in a panic that her caregiver was over an hour late and hadn't phoned or anything. I gently reminded her that today is Tuesday and her caregiver came yesterday.

When I talked to her again just a few minutes ago, she wanted to make sure we had finished all of her shopping. "Shopping? For what, Mom?"

"Well, isn't this Thursday Christmas?"

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #13

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Rosybill Pochard (Netta peposaca)

For more great bird photos, head over to the home site of Bird Photography Weekly #13.

Bird Photography Weekly

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SkyWatch Friday #19

A flock of Cattle Egrets soars overhead.

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Scroll down (or click here) for more Cattle Egret photos.

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

SkyWatch Friday

Texas Cow Birds

Growing up in rural Texas, I've seen my fair share of cows. I even helped pay for college working weekends and summers on a farm, among a myriad of other interesting jobs. And for as long as I can remember, there have almost always been cow birds wandering among (or perched atop) the cattle. Big white, graceful cow birds. And that's what I'd always heard them called, simply "cow birds."

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It wasn't until a few years back that I saw a picture of a cowbird in a magazine, and instantly I knew there was something wrong. (I'm kinda smart that way.) So I went to someone I figured should know — a farmer. I showed him the dark little thing the editors had obviously mislabeled, and asked him what he thought. He shrugged and nodded toward the white specks in his field. "Well, now, the difference is, them's Texas cow birds. Bigger an' pertier'n everbody else's."

click image to enlargeCattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

Okay, so maybe that's not exactly the way it happened, but nonetheless I was very familiar with Cattle Egrets long before I knew their real name. And living in coastal Texas, we still have plenty of chances to see these atypical egrets year-round on a pretty regular basis.

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Unlike most herons, Cattle Egrets generally prefer foraging in grass to wading in water. They can be found in fields and pastures around the area, especially where there are cattle grazing and disturbing the crickets and other insects that make up the greater part of their diet.

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While similar in size and coloring to the Snowy Egret, Cattle Egrets tend to be a little stockier and have a thicker neck. They also have an orange or yellow bill and dirty yellow legs and feet, compared to the Snowy's dark bill and legs and "golden slipper" feet. The immature Cattle Egret sports darker bill, legs and feet.

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non-breeding plumage vs. breeding plumage

During breeding season, the Cattle Egret displays buff-colored patches on its crest, chest and back.

I've read reports that the Cattle Egret population is slowly declining in many parts of North America. From what I can tell, though, the breed is doing just fine here in Texas. They are abundant and going strong, as a Texas cow bird should.

For a great collection of more bird photos and information, check out Bird Photography Weekly #12.

Bird Photography Weekly

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sylar Meets Spock

Between sick kids, sick me, a swamped (and late) workload at the office, and the various inanities and mundanities of what we choose to call "normal life" around our house, I haven't had much time for birding lately, much less time for catching up on the entertainment world. Heck, I don't even remember the last time my Wonderful Wife and I got to sneak out to see a movie together. So please forgive me if I'm a little behind the times here in my most recent discovery.

I'm so far removed from "what's out and what's coming" that until this morning, I had no idea there was even a new Star Trek movie in the works. And apparently, it's basically finished and just waiting for the end of the school year to release for maximum exposure and attendance.

Anyway, I saw the trailers this morning, and it looks like it just might be an interesting addition to the Star Trek dynasty. Here's the preview I liked the best (see the other one here):

Looks pretty cool so far! But is that really Sylar (Zachary Quinto) playing the part of young Spock?!? That certainly puts a whole new spin on the old "Vulcan mind meld" thing!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sunrise, Sunset

SkyWatch Friday #18

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Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

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Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears

Fiddler on the Roof

For more intriguing — and hopefully less melancholy — images of the skies above our world, check out the SkyWatch Friday home page.

SkyWatch Friday

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving Turkey

From a recent trip to Burroughs Park.

click image to enlargeTurkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Non-Birding Photos

Pulling some more "old" photos out of my hat, this time from last week's lunchtime trip to Woodland Trails West Park.

All the good birding shots made it into last week's post. Here are some of the "rest of the trip" captures.

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click image to enlargeGulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

And an action shot...

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I was also able to capture a couple of cool autumn-colored dragonflies. (I'm going to have to invest in a decent insect guide to help in identifying dragonflies and such.)

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That last one has to be my favorite of the batch.

UPDATE: That second dragonfly has been identified as a Carolina Saddlebag (Tramea carolina). Thanks for the help, Susan!

Monday, November 10, 2008

'Tis the Season

Well, it was too dark and much too wet to get outside at lunch today, so I'll have to turn back a couple of weeks to find some shots for Bird Photography Weekly #11.

Just before our first real cool front of the season, I stumbled across this group of a dozen or so Killdeers (Killdeer?) in a field near the office.

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Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous)

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One of these little plovers was thoughtful enough to give me a great view of his coloring and field marks with wings spread — something I rarely get to see this close up.

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And even though I stayed in my car so as not to disturb them, apparently one fellow decided I was getting just a tad too close to his family. I'd heard it described before, but this was my first time to witness firsthand the broken-wing ruse they employ to lead potential threats away from their young. First he got as close to the vehicle as he dared, perhaps thirty feet or so. Then he extended and began dragging his right wing, slowly moving away from me and from the other Killdeers.

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When I didn't immediately follow, he began dragging one foot as well, hopping along and emitting rather shrill "dee-dee-dee." And watching me all the while.

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I doubt they had any nests nearby at this time of the year, but I let myself be led away from the rest of the birds to keep from spooking and flushing the entire flock.

On a related note, I just learned that a group of Killdeers is called a "season."

There is a season! Turn, turn, turn...

For some much more professional bird photos, check out Bird Photography Weekly #11.

Bird Photography Weekly

Friday, November 7, 2008

Help Fight Breast Cancer - For FREE!

This battle is very personal to our family. Two and a half years ago, we lost my mother-in-law to breast cancer. Earlier this year, her sister — my wife's aunt — had to undergo surgery to remove a lump. We give thanks to God that she is now doing very well, with no sign of the cancer returning.

There are many ways you can donate to breast cancer research. But I want to ask each of you to join with me to support a different weapon in the fight against breast cancer, and you don't have to spend a single dime!

Click to Give @ The Breast Cancer Site
Your click on the "Click Here to Give - it's FREE" button on The Breast Cancer Site helps fund free mammograms for women in need — low-income, inner-city and minority women whose awareness of breast cancer and opportunity for help is often limited. Your click is paid for by site sponsors and advertisers, and mammogram funding is provided to clinics throughout the U.S. through the efforts of the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Please take this opportunity to click on the above link to help this worthy cause. It will only take a few seconds of your time, but it could mean the difference between life and death for someone else.

Better yet, make it a daily stop as you browse the web. To date, this organization has funded more than 11,000 mammograms for women in need, but it needs a steady stream of visitors to continue its mission.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

SkyWatch Friday #17

For SkyWatch this week, I've selected a set of pictures from our trip last weekend to Waco, Texas.

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The Texas flag, flying outside the Texas Ranger Museum

Scenes from the Baylor University campus

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The cloud cover rolled in just in time to make sitting in the stadium all afternoon a little less unbearable.

I'll post a few more pictures from the Baylor Homecoming trip to Waco as soon as I finish wading through them all — hopefully by the first of next week.

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

SkyWatch Friday

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

One Downy, Two to Go, and a CFW

I tried to come up with a catchy title for this post that would describe my lunch outing today — I briefly considered a birder's alternative for the old "Three Martini Lunch," but "A Three-Pecker Lunch" just sounded a little too risqué. But whatever I call it, it was definitely worth skipping the greasy burgers the guys tried to talk me into.

The weather is nice and I really needed to get away from the office for a few minutes, so I headed over to nearby Woodland Trails West Park at lunch today. It's a neighborhood park bordered on one side by a large wooded area, and it backs up to a bayou and sunken field used as a run-off area after hard rains.

It was high noon when I headed over, so I didn't really expect to see much in the way of birds. But for a quick fifteen minute excursion, I certainly can't complain with the results.

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My arrival at the park was announced to the world by this Blue Jay, not that my presence seemed to bother him in the least. Once I'd been promptly and soundly told off, the disapproving jay dropped down to the grass a mere twenty feet away and started hunting for his lunch.

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I had only been there for a minute or two when I spotted my first woodpecker of the day, this male Downy Woodpecker. (The little red cap on the back of his crown identifies him as a male.)

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I followed the downy for a bit, then veered off for what turned out to be a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

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As I moved slowly toward the rear of the park, another flash of red caught my attention. After angling in to get a better view, I spotted my third woodpecker of the day: a male Red-bellied Woodpecker.

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Watching this bright red-capped fellow, I discovered a second red-bellied woodpecker following in his wake, pausing near each place he had stopped. The white crown on this one distinguished her as female — possibly his mate?

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Walking through the park, I heard but never spotted at least two mockingbirds and a dove. I also followed two little yellowish-greenish birds that flitted from branch to branch so quickly I could barely keep up. These are the best two images I could capture — they were just too fast for me.

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I assume from the size and coloring that these were warblers of some kind ("confusing fall warblers," as labeled by Mr. Peterson), but that's as far as my inexperience can get me. And I can't even guarantee they are warblers. Kinglets, perhaps? I dunno.

UPDATE: Ruby-crowned Kinglets, identification courtesy of KatDoc and Christopher. Thanks, y'all!

When I got to the bayou, I accidentally spooked this Great Egret into flight.

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Taking that as my cue to leave (plus the fact that programming bugs still awaited my attention back at the office), I headed out. But I have to admit, I was in a much better frame of mind after that twenty minute birding excursion than when I started.

All in all, not a bad catch for a spur-of-the-moment lunchtime getaway.