Thursday, May 28, 2009

Watching the Texas Skies

Just wanted to share a few insights into the ever-changing Texas skies from the past week.

We've gone from clear, almost spring-like deep blue skies ...

Standing tall

... to the beginnings of thunder storms rolling slowly in ...

Thunderheads rolling in

... to puffy cotton ball clouds in a bright pastel sky ...

Goode Co. BBQ

... and back to crisp, clear breezy skies that have the birds all awake and ready to soar!

Hawk - 5/21/2009

They always say that if you don't like the weather in Houston, just wait a few minutes and it'll change...

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

SkyWatch Friday

Smile for the Birdy!

So, just how far would you go to get that perfect shot?

(First seen on the Living the Scientific Life blog.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

One Good Tern Deserves Another

Living as close to the Gulf Coast as we do (and having kids that jump with excitement every time the word "beach" is uttered), you would expect we would spend quite a bit of our summers frolicking in the waves and brushing sand off our tushies. Unfortunately, we don't tend to get down to the beach nearly as much as any of us would like to.

However, I did make a run down to Quintana Beach a few weeks ago and was surprised at the number of terns that were present. Until the last year or so — when my interest in birds really grew into something that went beyond "Oh look, there's a bird!" — I had always lumped many of the shorebirds found at our local beaches into that ignorant misnomer of "sea gulls." But with the (mostly) patient tutoring of several more experienced birders on recent outings, I'm quickly beginning to discover the vast variety of gulls and terns. Here are a couple of my recent forages into tern identification:

Caspian Tern - 4/24/2009
Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia)

Royal Terns - 4/24/2009
Royal Terns (Sterna maxima)
(with more photos here and here)

Other terns seen on the trip included Least Terns, Sandwich Terns and a solitary Black Tern. Unfortunately, I didn't make it back with any decent shots of these.

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #39.

Bird Photography Weekly

Thursday, May 21, 2009

SkyWatch: Hazy Morning Sunrise

We stopped to take pictures on the way to school one morning when the kids called my attention to this beautiful scene. They are beginning to notice the beauty around them without it being pointed out to them. We must be doing something right!

Hazy morning sunrise - 5/13/2009
Hazy morning sunrise over the neighborhood trees

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

SkyWatch Friday

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Perseverance and Determination

I spent the morning at the kids' school today, proudly cheering Cat and Cowboy on during their end-of-year awards assemblies. Cat and her teacher The elementary teachers at the school present each student in their classes with a unique quality or characteristic that defines their attitude or distinguishes them from the rest of their class. It is always a highlight of the school year, and often a bit of a tear-jerker for teachers and students alike.

Cat's teacher assigned her the quality of perseverance, always striving to do her very best and put her all into her work no matter what effort or how long it takes. This was doubly emphasized when she also received the Principal's Honor Role award for maintaining straight A's through the entire year. She was one of only seven in the entire second grade class to make the honor role this year.

Cowboy and his teacherIn Cowboy's assembly, his teacher bragged on his being both smart and eager in his work and in all that he does. He was assigned the quality of determination, and his teacher noted that she saw real leadership qualities in him and looks forward to watching those manifest as he grows older.

Okay, so I'm bragging a bit here. Can you blame me? I'm a pretty proud papa!

After the fourth grade assembly, Cat took me outside to see the vegetable garden their class has been working on since the fall. She has peppers and a nice yellow squash growing in her section, plus tomato and green bean vines that she hopes will bear fruit (or vegetables, as the case may be) before school ends. The kids have been wanting us to plant a small garden in our backyard. After seeing how proud she is about the school garden, I'm thinking we just might have to do that this fall!


And since I hadn't realized until now how long it's been since I've posted pictures of the kids, here are a few more shots of some of our recent doings:

Cowboy's Pinewood Derby entry
Cowboy's entry in the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby earlier this month

Cat at the wheel
Cat stylin' at the Houston Zoo in April

A Llittle Llama Llove
Llovin' on the llama at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in March

Monday, May 18, 2009

Of Mudbugs and Night-Herons

When the kids and I asked Tiffany where she wanted to eat out for her special (early) Mother's Day lunch last weekend, it was no surprise to any of us that she picked Pappadeaux, the Cajun seafood member of the Pappas Restaurants chain. We both have a weakness for their brand of vittles, and our overall favorite is a spicy combination of those two most wonderful Cajun delicacies: fried crawfish and crawfish etouffee. Oh, man, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

Crawfish, crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs — no matter what you call 'em, they're good eating. And it's not just Cajuns and Texans that think so. Just the other day on the way home from work I passed this distinguished-looking gentleman:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - 5/5/2009
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

He was busily hunting frogs and crawdads in the post-flood mud near Big Cypress Creek. You can tell by the half-lidded expression of ecstasy just how much he was enjoying these fresh-caught morsels. (Fresh is always better than frozen when it comes to shellfish, you know.)

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - 5/5/2009

Of course, every now and then you come across one that's got just a little more kick in it than the rest. In fact, this poor fella found one particular critter that just refused to go down without a fight!

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - 5/5/2009

Unfortuntely, after a brief battle that mudbug was lunch, and I had to leave the bird to enjoy the rest of his buffet. It just goes to show you, though — no matter our differences, everyone can agree when it comes to good food.

Hmmm, I wonder if Pappadeaux has frog legs on their menu...

[To view any of these photos in more detail, just click on the appropriate image to view them on my Flickr photostream, then click the "All Sizes" button above the image.]

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #38.

Bird Photography Weekly

Thursday, May 14, 2009

SkyWatch: Week's End

Driving home last Saturday evening, I just had to stop and enjoy the peaceful beauty of the setting sun painting the skies over the trees that border our neighborhood.

Evening skies - 5/9/2009

Sunset - 5/9/2009

Sunset - 5/9/2009

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

SkyWatch Friday

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly: Whistling Ducks

I have had several good opportunities since the beginning of the year to see Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, but for one reason or another had never come away with any decent photographs of them. But it was one of the first birds I saw when I arrived at Brazos Bend State Park, flying over the parking lot toward 40-acre Lake.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck - 4/24/2009
Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

We got several good looks at the whistling ducks throughout the morning, both in the lake and perched on various stumps and trees around the water's edge. But the best by far was this pair that was perched atop a trailside nesting box.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks - 4/24/2009

You can see the entire set of shots from Brazos Bend here.

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #37.

Bird Photography Weekly

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tooting My Own Horn

Okay, no pretense of false modesty here. I'll admit it. I'm proud of myself!

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from some guy named Matt Mendenhall, who claimed to be sitting on several billion dollars in a Nigerian bank account that once belonged to his dearly departed uncle and all he needed in order to give me all that money was my own bank account inf... oh, waitaminit, wrong email.

Birder's World magazine
Actually, Matt is an associate editor for Birder's World magazine. He was writing to let me know they had picked one of my photographs to use on the magazine's home page for the next month or so. Imagine my excitement!

But then, it got better. Not only were they going to feature my photo — a shot of a White-faced Ibis that I recently took at San Bernard NWR — but the shot was going to be used as a front page link to an article by Kenn Kaufman! Namely, the online version Kenn's article on identifying ibises from the June 2009 edition of the magazine.

click image to enlarge
To see my ibis shot (complete with a link to my Flickr page), go to the Birder's World site and page down to find the "Subscriber-Only Features" section. There are a number of different pictures (and articles) that rotate under this section each time the page loads, so you may need to refresh the screen a few times to see the image. (I've done it a few times now, and have had to refresh anywhere from once to a whopping eighteen times before my shot popped up.)

Okay, so it's not a featured photograph included in the magazine itself — I've got a long way to go before that opportunity comes around — but it's a start. And I'm a bit proud, if'n I do say so myself!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly: Green Heron

Living in what has been nicknamed the "Bayou City" — surrounded by bayous, creeks and rivers — and less than a hundred miles from the Texas Gulf Coast, I am blessed to see an abundance of herons and egrets. It is rare day that I do not see a handful of egrets flying over on my way to work in the morning, and I can usually drive less than ten minutes from my office to find one or more species of herons during my short lunch break.

But until a week ago, I had never seen one particular member of the heron family that is supposedly not uncommon in this area: the Green Heron. I had followed numerous park trails and sighting reports in search of this small heron, but to no avail. So in heading to Brazos Bend last week, the Green Heron was at the top of my "Want to Find" list.

Green Heron - click to see full-sized image on Flickr
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

Eureka! Twenty minutes into our hike around 40-acre Lake, we spotted our first Green Heron of the day. All in all, we came across seven of them lurking in or around the water's edge, with the last sitting patiently only about twenty feet away as we paused to admire the rich, earthy tones of his plumage.

Green Heron - click to see full-sized image on Flickr

What a magnificent way to add this beautiful bird to my life list!

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #36.

Bird Photography Weekly