Monday, September 7, 2009

Gone Fishin'

Houston summers are not always the best for noontime birding. Between the heat and ... well, actually the heat is pretty much the problem all by itself. Blistering 100° days with 90% or higher humidity and little or no breeze just sort of takes the fun out of lunchtime excursions. Especially when the birds themselves are generally too smart to venture out between the hours of sunup and sundown.

But every now and then we get a little respite, a brief relief in the form of a day or two of cooling showers, and for a time the world comes alive again. On just such a day, I recently headed over to nearby Bear Creek Park to try to get in a little "fishing." Or more to the point, to look for a little fishing.

Great Blue Heron - 6/11/2009
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

As luck would have it, I found just what I was looking for, in the form of a handsome Great Blue Heron who was enjoying the temporary rise in the water level of Langham Creek.

Great Blue Heron - 6/11/2009

In just a matter of minutes, I watched as this majestic piscator caught and feasted on over a dozen small fish, a meal fit for a king.

Great Blue Heron - 6/11/2009

Unfortunately, my lunch break wasn't long enough to enjoy the spectacle for long. But days like this are wonderful reminders of how fortunate we are to have several scenic parks and venues around the Houston area where we can observe and appreciate the beauties of nature. Bear Creek Park is one of those places where you can always find such hidden treasures. And it invariably is the perfect destination when I need to take a little lunchtime fishing trip.

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #54.

Bird Photography Weekly

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Personality Portraits: Cattle Egrets

One thing I have noticed while photographing birds over the past couple of years is that, like people, different birds quite often seem to exhibit different personalities.

Sometimes this is a reflection of mannerisms and vocalizations, other times it is simply a side effect of distinguishing markings or other physical characteristics. But once you begin to closely study a group of birds, it is quite easy to realize that not all birds — even of the same species — look and act the same. Of course, it is also a little too easy sometimes to begin to assign human "personality traits" to birds and animals, simply because of their different looks.

Take for instance this group of Cattle Egrets that I spent some time photographing a few weeks back. Looking back through my photos of the day, they each quickly stood out as a unique persona.

There was the cool bird, fit and trim, full of self-confidence:

Cattle Egret - 6/3/2009

There was the cranky old codger with what seemed a permanent scowl on his face:

Cattle Egret - 6/3/2009

There was the quiet loner who stayed off by himself, meekly blending into the background:

Cattle Egret - 6/3/2009

And then there was the tall, wide-eyed, gangly, gawky one — his hair never quite lying straight — who tried but just never quite fit in with the "cool" kids. You know, kind of a birdy version of me back in high school:

Cattle Egret - 6/3/2009

Of course, in reality all of these birds acted pretty much the same, too busy hunting for nourishment in the heat of a dry Texas summer to reveal much real personality. But that's part of the magic of photography: it can take a simple moment in time and feed the imagination into whatever wondrous revelations the mind can create.

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #53.

Bird Photography Weekly

Thursday, August 20, 2009

SkyWatch Friday #58

A hazy morning sunrise, painted by the loving hand of the Creator.

Hazy morning sunrise
(Click image for larger view)

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

SkyWatch Friday

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Willet Stay or Willet Go?

On a recent excursion down in the direction of the coastline, I made a swing by Bryan Beach (near Quintana) to see what shorebirds were out and about enjoying the summer heat. Somewhat to my surprise, there were almost none to be found.

Willet - 5/29/2009
Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus)

Only this one lone Willet was wandering around the shallow pools behind the dunes, searching in vain for some small midday snack. He was a bird on the move, running or flying from one pool to the next.

Willet - 5/29/2009

Unfortunately (for me), it wasn't long before he gave up and shook the sand from his feet, winging it off to find some more lavish locale.

Willet - 5/29/2009

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #51.

Bird Photography Weekly

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Dog Ate My Blog Post

Well, not literally, but that's the best excuse I can come up with on the spur of the moment.

In all actuality, there are a number of reasons why I haven't posted in more than three weeks. Work has been completely crazy lately, with several big deadlines having just passed (and still more looming on the horizon). The kids started back to school last week, which always means a big adjustment to both morning and evening schedules as we try to reorient our lives to doing homework every night, getting the kids to bed on time and dealing with the new transportation schedules that always seem to change with a new school year.

And oh, yeah — we got a new puppy three weeks ago. So throw out all those silly notions of "keeping schedules" and "getting enough sleep." They just ain't gonna happen. *sigh*

So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce you all to the newest (and by far the most spoiled) addition to our wandering household: Jubilee.

(pictures by Tiffany)

"Jubilee, meet the blog. Blog, Jubilee."

As I'm sure you can tell, she is not the least bit loved.

in Mama's lap Cat and Jubilee Jubilee and Cowboy
Puppy love kisses for Dad

And as for blogging, well ... I'll do my best to get back on some semblance of a schedule. But honestly, if you had a choice of sitting down at the computer each night or snuggling on the couch with a lap full of cuddly love, wouldn't you be a week or two behind?


'Nuff said.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

SkyWatch Friday #54

My last Colorado SkyWatch shot, from somewhere along the drive through the winding canyons of the Colorado Rockies.

Colorado SkyWatch

One of the many things that impressed me so much about the beautiful imagery in Colorado was the deep rich blues of the sky. You just don't see that kind of color in the low-altitude, smog-saturated skies of Houston.

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

SkyWatch Friday

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly: Horned Lark

Another outing we did in Colorado was to Fossil Creek Reservoir in Fort Collins (Larimer County). As we first entered the area, we were met by this friendly fellow:

Horned Lark
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

He was not at all intimidated by our presence, sitting calmly as we admired him and even turning his back on us long enough for us all to get a good look at his "horns."

Horned Lark

If you look closely, you can even see the subtle yellow highlights around his eyes (hard to make out in the bright late morning light).

Horned Lark

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #47.

Bird Photography Weekly

Thursday, July 16, 2009

SkyWatch Friday #53: Still Standing

Still standing

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

SkyWatch Friday

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reaching the Summit

A few more pictures from the last leg of our winding ascent through the Rocky Mountains.

Overlooking Hidden Valley and Sheep Lakes

This is the beautiful view from Rainbow Curve, where I spotted the Clark's Nutcracker of my previous post. In fact, at the top of the largest clump of scrubby-looking trees in the lower center of the picture is where the nutcracker was perched. (If you look at this much larger version of the image, you can barely see the little blog of light gray and black that is the nutcracker.) Not quite at "eye-level" as I had remembered, but still an excellent vantage point from which to bird.

Running crazily in and out of the rocks and boulders in the foreground were several small chipmunk-looking critters, which according to this authoritative site were actually Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

These spastic little creatures were constantly on the go and not at all afraid of people, to the delight and enjoyment of a number of kids and other sightseers who seemed more interested in their antics than in the beautiful panorama spread out before us.

Moving farther up the slopes, we quickly move beyond the tree line and into more and more patches of still-lingering snow. And enjoying the thin air and cool summer temperatures were a small family of the most magnificent animals we had yet encountered in the park: North American Elk.

North American Elk

North American Elk

Unfortunately, it was just about the time we spotted the elk that the altitude sickness hit me square in the head (with a corresponding kick to the stomach). We stopped off at the Alpine Visitors Center for the kids to realize their lifelong dreams of touching real snow, and for me to get a little fresh air to clear the cobwebs. But as the headache and nausea increased and a wave of dizziness started to take hold, a resident park ranger / E.M.P. sent us scurrying back off the mountaintop with scare tactics worthy of a middle school principal. The rest of the trip was, quite literally, downhill from there.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tree Top Surprise

Nearing the top of the tree line as we climbed steadily toward the snowy caps, we stopped off at the observation point at Rainbow Curve. Looking out over the spectacular landscape stretching away before us, it was very easy to miss the hidden treasure perched in the top of a much closer tree top. Just at our eye level, this Clark's Nutcracker sat quietly watching the busy sightseers coming and going.

Clark's Nutcracker - 6/27/2009
Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana)

This turned out to be one of two of Clark's namesakes (the only two resident to North America, as far as I know) that I added to my life list during my weekend in Colorado. I'll post pictures of the Clark's Grebes as soon as I can remember to download them from the other memory card...

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #46.

Bird Photography Weekly

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rocky Mountain Skies

We break the blow-by-blow account of our recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park to simply enjoy the deep blue perfection of the Colorado skies, the peaceful green valleys, and the brilliant snow-capped peaks of this beautiful area.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain High

Green valleys and snow-covered peaks
Click any image to see the full-sized version

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

SkyWatch Friday

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A River Runs Down It

Rocky Mountain National Park

Once we got inside the park, our first stop was for a nice picnic lunch with the birds. Next stop, however, was to do a little climbing to see this glorious sight:

Flowing down the mountainside Tumbling down the mountainside

A little closer look

With my knee problems, I quickly decided that I would be the one to stay down low and take pictures. Cat and her Aunt Susan got a little more adventurous, climbing up the rocks that bordered the swift-moving flow.

Rock climbing at the falls

Of course, if the girls were going to do a little climbing, then Cowboy and Uncle Jason were going to have to work to show them up. This shot is taken from the same vantage point and at the same resolution as the one above. See those two little blue forms in the middle of the picture that appear to be waving?

A little perspective

Eventually, they all came back down, and my sister even enticed me to get out from behind the camera for a change, if just to prove that I really was on the trip. Then it was time to pile back in the car and head farther up into the mountains.

The windblown look

For more great water-themed images, visit Watery Wednesday #43.
Watery Wednesday

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lake Loveland and the Search for Bighorn Sheep

Starting out for the mountains, we first passed through the city of Loveland, Colorado. Loveland is well-known for its public arts collection, most of which consists of sculptures that decorate various public lands and parks around the city. (In fact, one of the sites I hope to see the next time I visit the area is Loveland's Benson Sculpture Garden, which contains what is reportedly one of the nation's best outdoor sculpture exhibits.)

We hadn't planned on stopping in Loveland, but as we drove alongside Lake Loveland we just couldn't pass up such a picturesque view of the mountains.

Lake Loveland

Colorado Rocky Mountains

And of course we then had to stay and enjoy some of the sculptures located along the scenic shore.

Loveland art   Loveland art

Once we finally had our fill of scenery and sculpture (and, of course, had skipped about half the rocks in Loveland across the surface of the lake), we piled back in the car and headed into the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Rocky Mountain foothills

One of the things Cat had been hoping for was to catch a glimpse of the mountain goats that live in the mountains of Colorado. (Well, the actual request was for "yodeling mountain goats," but I blame that on too many hours spent watching The Sound of Music when the kids were younger.) As we passed through the canyons leading toward the park, we soon discovered that Colorado doesn't have mountain goats. We all agreed that Bighorn Sheep would do just fine, but no matter how hard we looked we never did spot any of the creatures. Yodeling or not.

On the lookout for bighorn sheep

Looking for mountain goats

Another thing we had talked about seeing was waterfalls, and Cowboy was so excited when we came across our first one that he used up half the film in his camera documenting this natural wonder.

Estes Park waterfall

Unfortunately, this one was man-made and only about three feet tall, located near the parking lot of a strip center in the touristy town of Estes Park. A bit of a letdown, but the next leg of the trip more than made up for it!

TOMORROW'S POST: The real thing...