Friday, January 30, 2009

Unclear on the Concept

Red-bellied Woodpecker. Wood pecker. Seems simple enough, doesn't it?

But this fellow seemed a little unclear on the concept.

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I came across this feisty little woodpecker at a local park the other day. As I walked from my car, I heard a strange sequence of sounds coming from the nearby tennis court. Moving in that direction, I spotted him perched on the side of a metal pole, alternately rapping on the hard surface and stopping to listen. After a moment, he hopped up to the top of the chain link fence and peered down as if to inspect the problem from a different angle. Then he chittered loudly and flew along the fence to the next pole.

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Where are all the bugs? There ought to be bugs!

After repeating this on at least four poles, each followed with what seemed to be increasingly frustrated chattering, the little woodpecker finally reached the end of the fence. With a final loud chirp, as if to say, "I give up!" he flew off toward a stand of nearby trees.

I might have just imagined it, but I thought I heard a small, satisfied squeak as I walked on. Perhaps he finally found what he was looking for.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

SkyWatch Friday #29

A day in the skies of southeast Texas, from a couple of weeks ago.

The morning started out beautifully blue, with plenty of interesting cloud formations to occupy the eyes.

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8:03 am — 1/7/2009

At lunchtime, the clouds had thinned to hazy wisps hanging silently in the heavens, but there were plenty of other things overhead to capture one's interest.

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12:17 am — 1/7/2009

By the time for our evening drive back home, the clouds had gathered once more to provide a canvas for the brushes of the setting sun.

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6:50 pm — 1/7/2009

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

SkyWatch Friday

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Caracara Surprise

Or perhaps more correctly, a surprise caracara. Crested Caracara, that is.

I was looking back through my pictures from my semi-recent drive along Longenbaugh Road (same trip I saw the enigmatic Northern Harrier), trying to make sure I had my Savannah Sparrows distinguished from my Song Sparrows ... when all of a sudden I ran across four consecutive shots of a Crested Caracara in flight. The photos are embarrassingly poor in quality (along the lines of that second Harrier pic), but very easily good enough to identify the caracara.

The crazy thing is, I don't even remember seeing that guy!

On a separate note, and in an attempt to make up for that fuzzy Harrier shot I posted on Friday, here's a little teaser from the weekend's Houston Audubon Society field trip to the Greens Bayou Wetlands Mitigation Bank.

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My first good look at a Tri-colored Heron.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly: Loggerhead Shrike

I love these little masked banditos.

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Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)

And I just couldn't resist sharing this one, perched in the perfect spot: just above Audubon Springs Drive.

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For some great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #22.

Bird Photography Weekly

Friday, January 23, 2009

Stymied Again!

Help! Help! Somebody, help!

Okay, so I'm flaunting my newbie ignorance once again, but here goes. I recently saw this beautiful hawk in flight, waaaaaaaaaaaay over across a field, and I snapped a few quick shots before he ducked out of sight.

The primary problem is, my first onsite attempt at identifying him went way astray once I had a chance to look at the pictures. My first guess was a Swainson's Hawk (mostly due to size, the light belly and patch between the wings and tail, and also due to the location). But once I compared my shot to other images I could find of Swainson'ses (Swainsons'?), it didn't look like the same bird.

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Please click to see larger image

Second problem: that was the only one of my quickly snapped shots that was even close to decent. The rest were a lot more like to this one (which I include here only because it at least sort of shows the coloration of the tail and wings):

click to enlarge if you want to, but it's not gonna look any better!
One of these days maybe you guys will be able to learn me my birds. In the meantime... help?

UPDATE: For those few who (like me) didn't know, it turns out I found me a female Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), also known as a "Marsh Hawk." (White rump = Harrier. Gotta remember that!)

Thanks so much to my quick responders / teachers (Dawn, Kathie and Susan) for the help on this one! I'm learning, guys! Slowly, but I'm a'learning.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SkyWatch Friday #28

Early morning sky paintings over northwest Houston, taken earlier this week.

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

SkyWatch Friday

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Kitty Cat!

I still remember the night she was born. Tiffany had been in labor for about twelve hours, the epidural never kicked in, the doctors were running around with "Stat!" written in their very expressions, mommy and baby were both running a fever ... and I'm the one that nearly collapsed from exhaustion by the time it was all over and done. (Shows you who the strong one in my family really is!)

God blessed us with this wrinkled, pinkish purple, squalling, perfect little angel, and our lives have never been the same since. And now, ten years later, she is still turning our world upside down!

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We celebrated the big day over the weekend, with Cat picking the meal and festivities.

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Cat flanked by BFF on one side and insane little brother on the other

We gorged ourselves on Tex-Mex and fajitas at Lupe Tortilla, and then headed over to spend the rest of our vast fortune at Build-a-Bear.

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We had little mini-celebrations throughout the rest of the weekend, culminating in lunch-with-Daddy and cupcakes for the class at school yesterday. All in all, a wonderful weekend and a fun celebration of our joyous babe.

Here's the best shot of the weekend:

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Who couldn't love that face?

...I still can't believe she's ten, though.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Further Adventures of "Beginning BirderMan"!

I made another brief trip out to Bear Creek Park earlier this week. The bad thing about Bear Creek is that it takes the majority of my short lunch break just driving there and back to the office. The good thing is that it's a beautiful place with a nice variety of bird life and plenty of wooded area, and it is virtually empty on weekdays (at least during this time of year).

This week, the work crews were busy around the park, noisily clearing away piled up brush and using tractors to spread heaping mounds of ground up Christmas trees. I headed down the nature / equestrian path for quite a ways before encountering any bird life bold enough to face the crashes and bangs coming from the treeline. (I doubt my slipping, sliding and crunching along the muddy and leaf strewn path had anything to do with it.)

Finally I started seeing life in the bare branches, starting with a pair of chickadees.

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Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)

After a bit, I locked onto a Downy Woodpecker further down the trail, and tried my best to approach within camera range without disturbing her. Twice I almost got a shot before she hopped around a trunk or flittered to a more obscured branch, but I kept hearing her rat-a-tat-a-tat and kept inching closer. Then the drumming sounds changed, coming from another direction entirely. I thought at first that the downy had flown the coop, so to speak. But this sound was different; deeper, louder, more "echo-y," if you know what I mean.

Then I heard it, and even with my limited experience I caught my breath. I'd heard that sound before, plenty of times up in the piney woods of East Texas, but I'd never seen the originator of that distinctive call. That wonderful, maniacal laugh (audio files borrowed from PileatedWoodpeckerCentral). And I immediately and totally forgot the little downy.

Slowly moving toward the source of the call, I saw a great flutter of black. At first I thought I was seeing a vulture back in the trees. Surely woodpeckers don't grow that big! Then I saw a flash of red and stopped in my tracks.

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I waited a bit and watched as he moved slowly closer, still staying deep in the tangle of trunks and leafless branches. Finally I got a good view of him and snapped as many quick shots as I could get before he moved behind thicker underbrush.

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Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

Glancing down at my watch, I realized I was almost twenty minutes late starting back towards the office. I scrambled back down the trail and into the car.

Luckily everyone was hard at work when I snuck back to my desk and no one seemed to notice my extended lunch break. It would have been worth it, though, even if I'd gotten caught. Chalk up another lifer for this new year!

For some great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #21.

Bird Photography Weekly

SkyWatch Friday #27

The start of a beautiful Friday morning in Houston, Texas. Even if I did have to come inside and work right after taking these shots.

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(Click on images to enlarge)

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

SkyWatch Friday

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Nested Question

First day out birding last week after I finally found my Canon battery charger (which at least partially explains the lack of new pictures for the past couple of weeks), I came across this busy little fellow at my favorite near-the-office neighborhood park.

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Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

He stayed in one tight little area the entire time I watched, and with the abundance of waving branches and leaves between us I had a hard time getting any decent shots of him. It wasn't until I got the pictures downloaded to my computer that I saw the hole that was keeping him so busy.

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In one (rather blurry) shot, it looks like his entire head and upper body are plunged inside this cavity.

So as I'm still pretty new to all this, I don't feel too stupid asking the question. Is this a nest under construction, or is this guy just really getting ambitious in grub-hunting? Is there an easy way to tell?

For some great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #20.

Bird Photography Weekly

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Holiday Update and a New Year Lifer

I can't believe it has taken me two full weeks to post a holiday update. It's amazing how much of a backlog of work can pile up when you are out of the office for almost two weeks.

We had a really good Christmas, even though we missed the out of town family who have been with us the last several holidays. The kids raked in the gifts, and to be honest Tiffany and I didn't do too poorly either. We spent a wonderful Christmas afternoon across town with Tiffany's aunt and cousins, eating and yakking and exchanging even more presents.

Mom joined us in Deer Park for the Christmas festivities and seemed to really enjoy it. Everyone was understanding and patient with the repeated questions and conversations that are a staple of life with Alzheimer's. And this year is the first in several that we have seemingly evaded the annual bout of depression that is another side effect of the disease. I thank the assistance of Houston-based CareTemps for that — their help in providing consistent caregiver service to Mom has relieved a lot of the stress that usually builds up this time of year, as well as their help in monitoring her medications to make sure they are not forgotten.

I must have been a much better boy than I remembered, because I made out like a bandit at the Christmas tree. The ladies in my life were all very kind to me — it was a very "birdy" Christmas: one of my sisters presented me with a membership to the Houston Audubon Society, My new Stetson! (photo by Tiffany)my other sister sent gift certificates to Wild Birds Unlimited and a bookstore (for the new Sibley bird guide I've been eyeing), and my Wonderful Wife bought me both a book of North American birds with recorded calls and songs and a good warm pair of gloves. Oh, and my new Stetson!

Unfortunately Cat ended Christmas day with a fever, and by the weekend everyone but I was sick with cough, fever and/or sinus problems that took the next week to clear up. I held my breath for a week straight and scrubbed my hands raw with anti-bacterial soap, and somehow managed to avoid the ickies for a change. We spent that week putting together Cat's new desk (which reminded me of why I never considered carpentry as a career) and Cowboy's new Hot Wheels set, playing Wii, and watching cartoons and reruns on TV.

By the time New Year's Eve arrived, we were exhausted. Tiffany crashed on the couch while the kids and I sat around playing games. Next thing we knew the neighborhood was alive with the glitter of fireworks and the crashing booms of cannon fire, and we all gathered around the kitchen window to watch the show. It was the first time the kids had both stayed awake all the way until New Year's, and we had a blast. But by a quarter past midnight we were all in bed, and we didn't get up until time to start cooking the roast and black-eyed peas.

By Friday, the kids were finally well and very ready to get back to playing with their friends, so Tiffany and I took the extra day off from work to catch up on sleep, see a movie (first time we've been on a date in forever!) and do a little birding. We headed up to Kleb Woods in Tomball for a couple of hours for a very pleasant walk. And while the majority of the bird life stayed out of sight, we did catch glimpses of two exciting life birds for me: an Anhinga crossing the trail just ahead of us, and later a Great Horned Owl in flight (we later heard both the one owl and a farther away response). According to an employee of the nature center who had seen the owl the day before, this was the first GHOW visit they knew of at the park. An auspicious start to the new year!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly: Mrs. Mallard

Yeah, yeah, I know... What's so special about mallards that would make them BPW-worthy? And the female mallards at that!

I don't care if they're found pretty much anywhere there's water. I just love those wonderful, iridescent blue racing stripes (speculum) they sport!

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Mallard, female (Anas platyrhynchos)

And an action shot...

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For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #19.

Bird Photography Weekly