Thursday, April 30, 2009

SkyWatch: Daybreak

I drove down to Brazos Bend State Park last Friday for a day of birding. The early morning skies were filled with ominous dark clouds, and for the first hour of the drive I was afraid I might have to leave the camera in the truck for fear of it getting drenched. But as I continued, much of the clouds and the haze gradually burned off and the rising sun appeared. By the time I had almost reached the park, I just couldn't help but pull off the two-lane highway to snap a few pictures.

Sunrise - 4/24/2009

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

SkyWatch Friday

Friday, April 17, 2009

SkyWatch: Hawks and Kites

I've had a couple of really nice raptor encounters this week over at the neighborhood park where I often spend my lunch break. The first happened on Monday, when I sat and watched several Red-tailed Hawks wheeling lazily around the sky and in and out of the treetops. The skies were blue and cloudless, and the day seemed perfect as these noble birds celebrated the warmth and beauty of spring.

Red-tailed Hawk - 4/13/2009
(Click any image to enlarge)

Yesterday, I returned to the park just as the storm clouds began moving in for the weekend. After a half hour of watching egrets and herons wading about in the pond and swallows performing their aerial acrobatics all around me, I happened to notice a small group of large birds flying high above.

I pushed my zoom lens to its maximum length and grabbed a few quick shots as they passed straight above me. Even though the picture quality is pretty dismal due to the distance and the bright glare of the overcast sky, I had to share these shots of the newest addition to my life list:

Mississippi Kite - 4/16/2009

Mississippi Kites - 4/16/2009
Mississippi Kites (Ictinia mississippiensis)
nearing the end of their spring migratory flight from South America

You just never know what wonders you might find waiting for you in these vast, rich Texas skies!

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

SkyWatch Friday

Thursday, April 16, 2009

SkyWatch Friday #40

I headed out for a walk at lunch today with camera in hand and a pack slung over my shoulder. Besides a few mediocre shots of hawks, herons and egrets, I brought back some views of the Houston skies to share today.

The blue skies of morning are quickly being overtaken as storms move in for the weekend. This was the view looking off to the west of my position:

...while turning around to the eastern skies revealed a bit more foretelling of what's in store for the next few days:

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

SkyWatch Friday

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly #33

I passed this handsome fellow on the way to work this morning and just had to double back and grab a quick picture.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - 4/14/2009
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #33.

Bird Photography Weekly

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Of Flower Power and Easter Luckies

"Oh, sweetie, have you seen my flowers lately?"

"Well, I don't know, Mom. Which ones?"

"Oh, honey, it's these white ones that you brought me the other day. They're absolutely gorgeous. I've got them sitting between the ... um, the little purple ones I have and then the big plant with the ... the dark leaves. But these blooms are just so pretty, I've been sitting here looking at them all morning while I drank my coffee. They're ... Easter luckies, I think."

This was the first call of the morning. We had already covered the normal opening topics. What day is it? Does she have a person (caregiver) coming today? Is there anything specific I need her to try to accomplish today? (There rarely is.) Oh, and Jake (the cat) says to tell me _______ (some variation of hi, he's hungry or he wants to go outside).

And now we were to my favorite part of the first call routine: the daily flower report. This is when Mom's inner joy finally bubbles up and overflows the worries and confusion that constantly cloud the mind of an Alzheimer's patient. Never mind that she cannot remember the names of the flowers and plants she enjoys so much. Or that it was actually a pair of sweet ladies from the church who brought the Easter lilies earlier in the week and I haven't even seen them yet.

Of course, it isn't always even the flowers she reports on, although that seems to be the most common topic. Sometimes she launches into a colorful description of the previous night's sunset, or the wonderful spring weather outside her back windows, or a card she has just gotten (or just discovered anew) from a neighbor, or a letter from one of my sisters. The topic isn't really important at all; the daily flower report is all about the simple things in her life that bring her happiness.

Raising three kids alone, my mother did an amazing job of teaching us all the life lessons she could pass along, including a love of life and the Lord that I sometimes found unfathomable. As I grew into adulthood, I continued to learn lessons from this woman who had given so much of herself for her family through the years. As her Alzheimer's began to progress over the past several years and I began to take on more of a responsibility over Mom's care, I discovered there were even more lessons to be learned, many of which (loving patience, for example) I am still struggling to apply in my role as a father.

But the simple routine of our morning flower report is one of my favorite lessons of late. I'm learning once again that it's good to slow down and focus on the beauty in life, in spite of the problems and adversities around me. And that the small details aren't always as important as we think they are. And that sharing the joys in your life with someone you love makes that joy grow even more.

And I am looking forward to Sunday morning, when we'll go to pick Mom up and take her to church for Easter services. And we'll finally get to see Mom's beautiful "Easter luckies." Or whatever their name may be this morning.

This post is an entry in the group writing project What I Learned From.... This month's topic is "adversity." To read more participating posts or to find out more about this project, hop on over to Middle Zone Musings for all the details.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ten Thousand Birds, One Million Visitors

This is almost two weeks old, but I just spotted it today as I was browsing through their site. The excellent birding and nature blog 10,000 Birds — hosted by the terrific trio of Mike Bergin, Charlie Moores and Corey Finger — just hit an amazing milestone: 1,000,000 visitors!

Of course, not to be outdone, I immediately had to go see what kind of statistics I've been compiling here on my own home turf. So I checked SiteMeter and did a little figuring, and as it turns out I’m getting pretty close to the 1,000,000 visitor milestone myself. If I can just keep up the pace I’ve been averaging, I should hit my millionth visitor sometime around the beginning of summer... in the year 2195!

Ah, well. Congrats to Mike, Charlie and Corey on their fantastic milestone. Keep up the great work, guys!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

San Bernard Revisited

It's been three weeks now since I returned to San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge with three separate memory cards full of photos. I've simply got to work on getting a better turnaround for getting pics downloaded and posted!

(Note: You can click on any of the images in this post to see the full-sized, detailed versions on Flickr.)

The morning sun rose unseen behind a dense fog that had settled in from the coast to well north of Houston, but the weathermen swore it would clear out by mid-day. As luck would have it, the skies had just about cleared by the time I made it to the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson, just a couple of miles from the refuge. Stopping over briefly at the GCBO, I started the morning watching cardinals, chickadees and titmice taking turns at the feeders and a tree full of roosting night-herons.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - 3/16/2009
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

By the time I turned down the gravel and dirt road leading into San Bernard, the fog had finally burned off, revealing a beautiful expanse of crisp blue Texas sky chocked full of life.

Northern Harrier - 3/16/2009
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

I started with the drive around Moccasin Pond, which was not quite as crowded as on my previous visit but still had plenty of waterfowl enjoying the spring weather. There were Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers and American Coots aplenty.

Ducks on Moccasin Pond - 3/16/2009

While I saw fewer Red-winged Blackbirds than expected, there was an abundance of Boat-tailed Grackles on hand. Males and females alike perched briefly on branches, reeds and roadside posts all along the drive.

Boat-tailed Grackles - 3/16/2009
Boat-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus major)

I also saw plenty of ibises, with both adults and a few juvenile White Ibis present. The White-faced Ibises were even more numerous than on my last visit, and they seemed especially active and vocal this day.

White-faced Ibis - 3/16/2009
White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)

The egret family was well-represented...

Great Egrets - 3/16/2009
Great Egrets (Ardea alba)

Snowy Egret - 3/16/2009
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

... as were the herons.

Great Blue Heron - 3/16/2009
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Little Blue Heron - 3/16/2009
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

Tricolored Heron - 3/16/2009
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)

There were also a handful of Black-crowned Night-Herons, both adult and juvenile birds that had not yet lost their youthful plumage. The glowing orange of these night-herons' eyes were absolutely stunning.

Black-crowned Night-Heron - 3/16/2009
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

I have already posted several pictures of the kingfisher, grebes and bitterns that I saw, all of which were especially exciting finds.

American Bittern - 3/16/2009
American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)

A trio of cormorants rounded out the highlights of the trip. One perched gracefully within fifty feet of my truck, its clear aqua blue eyes keeping a close watch as I crawled slowly by.

Neotropic Cormorant - 3/16/2009

There were at least a dozen or so more birds on hand, including gulls, several shorebirds, Tree Swallows, sparrows, kinglets, mockingbirds and cardinals. Plenty of Red Slider turtles, a sleeping snake and a pair of alligators also made appearances. All in all, this was one fantastic outing.

I've uploaded more photos from the trip to my Flickr photostream, in case you haven't had enough. (The first six in that set are from my previous visit to San Bernard, all others are from the more recent trip.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly: Belted Kingfisher

I see and/or hear Belted Kingfishers several times a month now near the neighborhood park where I so often go to walk and bird at lunch. Unfortunately, that one is extremely wary of people and I have yet to get more than a blurry streak of a photo as he zooms back and forth patrolling the bayou.

I got much luckier with this kingfisher that I spotted at San Bernard NWR a couple of weeks ago. He was so busy fishing in the waters right next to the road that I was able to observe him for a good long while and to get a few decent shots of him.

Belted Kingfisher - 3/16/2009
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

Belted Kingfisher - 3/16/2009
(Click on any image to see the full-size version)

Click here to see the rest of the shots I got of this little 'fisher, including one exultant pose with fish in bill.

And for the record, I did finally finish going through all those San Bernard pictures that I promised to post. I've got them all on Flickr now and will try to post some of the highlights here by Tuesday.

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #32.

Bird Photography Weekly

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Watery Wednesday #29

A couple more shots from my recent San Bernard trip, which in itself would have made a great Watery Wednesday post.

Blue-winged Teal - 3/16/2009
Blue-winged Teal, female (Anas discors)

Tricolored Heron - 3/16/2009
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)

For more great water-themed images, visit the Watery Wednesday home page.

Watery Wednesday