Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dreaming of Spring

Today's downpour and the promise of more rain and cold over the next week have me dreaming of warmer, sunnier days. And nothing warms the soul like the radiant colors of tanagers during spring migration.

Scarlet Tanager - 4/30/2010
Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

These two fellows were both life birds for me, seen last spring at Boy Scout Woods in High Island, Texas, just up the coast a couple of hours from Houston.

Summer Tanager - 4/30/2010
Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out this week's installment of World Bird Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bird Photography Weekly #122

One bird that can almost always be found around the Houston area is the proud Mockingbird, the state bird of Texas. Mockingbirds inhabit parks, suburban neighborhoods, and can even be found around downtown — anywhere that has trees or even shrubs, you can probably hear a mockingbird singing its pilfered songs. We even have one that serenades us year round from the trees in the parking lot of our office building.

Northern Mockingbird - 4/9/2010
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

Mockingbirds reportedly form enduring and faithful partnerships with a single mate and are known to defend their nests and their young with surprising vigor, chasing away cats, dogs, hawks and other larger birds, and even humans who wander a little too close for comfort.

Northern Mockingbird - 9/8/2008

Each mockingbird seems to have a different repertoire, as they learn and mimic the songs of other birds they encounter or that live around them. And as they continue to learn new songs throughout their life, some individuals may have dozens of calls to choose from. Mockingbirds' mimicries are often almost indistinguishable from the original. But if you hear a certain bird song three or more times in quick repetition and then a totally different sound repeated from the same spot, you can be pretty sure you are listening to a mockingbird's medley.

Northern Mockingbird - 1/20/2009

As always, you can click on any image to see a larger version. Also, check out Bird Photography Weekly #122 for more great bird photos from around the world.

Bird Photography Weekly

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Here's wishing you a very

Merry Christmas

from the entire McCreary family!

Have a safe and Christ-filled holiday season!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

World Bird Wednesday: Savannah Sparrow

It's been a year since I have visited the Katy Prairie, but I'm hoping to get out there one Saturday morning before the kids' winter basketball season starts up in mid-January. One of the treats from last winter's visit to the area was this little guy:

Savannah Sparrow - 1/20/2009
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)

I pretty much missed fall migration this year, but I am going to try to start posting pics of some of the great birds I saw and never got to blog about from last spring's migration and from the little bit of birding I did over the summer. In the meantime, I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wednesday Wings: Baytown Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle - 3/12/2010

Bald Eagle - 3/12/2010

Bald Eagle - 2/15/2010

Featuring a pair that nested this past spring in Baytown, Texas, just southeast from here (and not far from where I grew up).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back to the Birds

There's nothing like an awesome, spontaneous event to make you realize how much you miss a loved hobby. And quite by accident, that's just what made me realize last week how much I have been missing birding over the past several months.

A week ago Friday, I realized that my son's Cub Scouts camping trip was almost upon us and I had not yet started breaking in my new hiking boots. (When the third set of soles wore out on my old ones, I decided it was finally time to break down and get a new pair.) So I took them to work with the intention of going walking at lunchtime. I happened to still have my camera in the car after Cowboy's last soccer match, so when I got over to Bear Creek park at noon I grabbed the camera just out of habit.

Other than a handful of crows and a Red-tailed Hawk soaring high overhead, I hadn't seen anything of interest by the time I reached my halfway mark and began walking back toward the gravel parking area. Then I heard a familiar call overhead and stopped in my tracks. It took only moments to find them — a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers flitting from one tree to the next.

Red-bellied Woodpecker  - 10/29/2010
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

Red-bellied Woodpecker - 10/29/2010

I followed the pair for a few minutes, trying to get a good shot or two, but was quickly distracted by a soft hammering just a bit further down the trail. Following the sound, I came across another, smaller woodpecker — this little downy female, drumming away on a small branch above me:

Downy Woodpecker - 10/29/2010
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Very shortly after this sweet find, yet another distraction flew right by the downy's tree. The third member of the woodpecker family within five minutes.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 10/29/2010
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

What a day this was turning out to be! I was smiling broadly over my good fortune as I turned back down the trail in the direction of my truck. Three woodpecker species in one quick, unplanned outing, and it was the first time I'd been birding since spring migration. You just can't beat that.

Until those red-bellied fellows flew back into view, this time accompanied by what I first thought was a female of the breed. She was pretty elusive, but it had to be another red-bellied. Looked like she had red on the back of the head but none on the cap. About the same size. But the coloring was wrong. I'd never seen one that was more tan than black or gray on the back and wings.

Then I got my camera on her, and you could have knocked me over with a feather. A Northern Flicker feather, at that!

Northern Flicker - 10/29/2010
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Okay, so it's not much of a shot, but I couldn't care (much) less. Believe it or not, this fairly common resident of the area has been on my wish list for a long time. It's a lifer!

After that, I think I pretty much floated back to the truck. I hardly even remember the drive back to the office. So much for "no time for birding" — I've got the bug again! I may be limited to short lunch excursions for the most part, but I'll take what I can get. Which, as you can see, can be pretty awesome when you least expect it!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bird Photography Weekly

From my weekend camping down at Brazos Bend State Park, just a few miles inland from where the Brazos River meets the Texas Gulf Coast.

Great Blue Heron - 11/6/2010
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Check out Bird Photography Weekly #115 for more great bird photos from around the world.

Bird Photography Weekly

Monday, May 3, 2010

Blackburnian Warbler

This weekend I got to meet and spend the afternoon with fellow bloggers Dawn and Jeff Fine (of Dawn's bloggy blog) out at High Island, Texas. Dawn and Jeff are the nicest folks you could ever meet, and were quite willing to help this poor little warbler-ignorant blogger find a few treasures. And treasures there were aplenty!

The morning was a bit nasty, with rain and then a heavy foggy mist covering the area like the proverbial pea soup. Which, to our luck, turned out to be the perfect weather for bringing migrants in for our viewing pleasure. There were warblers, warblers everywhere! One of my favorites — a new addition to my life list, in fact — was this male Blackburnian Warbler:

Blackburnian Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler (Dendroica fusca)

Blackburnian Warbler

I'll post a few more pics from the High Island Migrant Extravaganza as soon as I have time to get them uploaded. In the meantime, check out Bird Photography Weekly #88 for more great bird photos from around the world.

Bird Photography Weekly

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tern Here for Fishing

While in Baytown a few weeks ago, I happened upon a fishing frenzy of Forster's Terns out over Burnet Bay. There were forty or more terns wheeling and diving over and over into the choppy bay water. Most of the flock was concentrated about halfway across the bay, too far to catch any decent pictures, but a handful of terns ventured closer just long enough for me to fire off a few shots.

Forster's Tern - fishing #1
Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri)

Forster's Tern - fishing #2

Forster's Tern - fishing #3

It was really quite something to watch.

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #83.

Bird Photography Weekly

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Life Bird #150: The Elusive Osprey

It pays to take your camera along when making a pit stop.

Hmm... That didn't sound quite like I meant it, but I stand by the statement. There have been numerous occasions when I've been out birding, either by foot or in my truck, and emerged from a rest stop or port-o-potty to find birds that I've been watching for (or didn't even know to expect) perched outside just waiting for me. It's as if they've been carefully avoiding me as I moved through the area, but when I disappear for a few moments they have to stop by to see where I've gone.

Such was the case last week as I visited the Baytown Nature Center. I had one primary goal, one target bird that had eluded me both in the local coastal sanctuaries and in last summer's trip to Colorado — the Osprey.

I had tried all the suggested locales in the park to no avail, and after two hours of driving, walking and freezing I was about to give up on finding any ospreys. No sightings at the (completely deserted) Duck Pond or the Brownwood Marsh Pavilion, nothing moving on the promisingly-named Osprey Island, nary a sign of any perched in the trees by the Y-intersection. Finally I was running out of time and decided to head once more down the thin peninsula to San Jacinto Point for a final quick check for waders and cormorants near the fishing piers. I took my camera and binoculars and walked over to the little birders' room.

When I emerged from the cramped, plastic cave — Why are those things never tall enough for a person to stand up straight, anyway? — there he was, not thirty yards away, sitting primly atop a wooden piling near the water's edge.

Osprey - 2/15/2010
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

I moved slowly to a nearby park bench and sat, taking pictures, until this magnificent creature lifted suddenly into the air and headed across the bay. I followed his flight with my binoculars, but within seconds he was only a dark spot against the hazy background of the opposite shore.

Osprey - 2/15/2010

Minutes later I found him again, wheeling back towards me with a trophy clutched tightly in his talons, the triumphant fisher returning with his lunch.

Osprey with fish - 2/15/2010

Osprey with fish - 2/15/2010
Click any image to view full-sized version

I stayed in my spot as he returned to his former perch, taking a few more snapshots. But since he seemed somewhat reluctant to begin eating his catch with me in such close proximity, I decided to ease myself up and move on.

Osprey with fish - 2/15/2010

Osprey with fish - 2/15/2010
Click any image to view full-sized version

More to come from last week's trip to Baytown...

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #78.

Bird Photography Weekly

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bird Photography Weekly #77

Since I spent Friday complaining about the cold dreariness of our Texas Gulf Coast winter, I figured maybe a little reminder of our other season might go a long way towards warming up the place.

Eastern Bluebird - 6/11/2009
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

These are what I'm really looking forward to again: the bluebirds of summer. Last summer, in fact, with the golden sun shining above and plenty of good ol' Texas heat warming the heart and scorching the grass.

Eastern Bluebird - 6/11/2009

For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #77.

Bird Photography Weekly

Friday, February 12, 2010

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

Okay, so it's a little past "mid-winter," but with all the rain and sleet we've had lately and the temperatures hovering just barely above freezing, I'd say the bleakness wins out.

Luckily, I did catch a break in the steady drizzle long enough to make a run over to Bear Creek Park at lunch. Most of the park is currently closed — due to being underwater at the moment — but I was able to find a few objects of interest lingering on the outskirts of the flooded areas.

Red-shouldered Hawk - 2/10/2010
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

This Red-shouldered Hawk was hunkered down against the wet and cold, and nothing and nobody was going to make him move.

On the other hand, there were dozens of warblers flitting about, heedless of the inclement weather conditions.

Pine Warbler - 2/10/2010
Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus)

Pine Warbler - 2/10/2010

There were harbingers of the coming spring already in place as well, mobs of robins scouring the soggy green groundcover for sustenance during the cool spell.

American Robin - 2/10/2010
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

And as always, the waders were out and about, treading slowly through the standing floodwater and along the water's edge.

Great Blue Heron - 2/10/2010
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

I look forward to the end of this rainy season, to heading back onto the trails at Bear Creek once the water goes down and things dry out just a bit.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fishin's Over, Time to Get Back to Blogging!

When a friend asked me the other day when I was going to "come back from that fishing trip," I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. Turns out that my last post here bore the somewhat prophetic title of "Gone Fishin'." The prophetic part — I haven't posted a single time in the five months since. Ack!

As a matter of fact, I have hardly even done any birding since last September. About that time we started going into overdrive mode on a big project at work, with pretty much all "off time" (including lunchtime, evenings, late nights, weekends, etc.) being spent in bishok mode (butt in seat, hands on keyboard). Before I knew it, Christmas was here with choir programs and family in town and everything else that entails. Then the kids' school was starting back up, our project was going into final testing and then production, everyone got sick, the autotrophs began to cool, Neanderthals developed tools, we built a wall (we built a pyramid), math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries that all started with the... well, you get the idea. Busy.

Now here it is February already and suddenly I'm realizing — I need to get outside and live again! So yesterday I headed over to the little neighborhood park where I used to go so often on my lunchbreaks and WOW, I'd forgotten how wonderful it was to sneak away from the office in the middle of the day and just walk.

It was pretty cool and extremely windy, but as usual there was plenty of avian life to see. Twenty some-odd white ibis waded through the marsh and mud across the field, looking for their own lunches. A couple of red-shouldered hawks soared in the winds above the treetops. The resident kingfisher skimmed over the surface of the bayou, his rattling call echoing through the area. And almost a dozen cormorants were busy swimming and diving in the smaller pond.

Neotropic Cormorant
Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)

Yup, it's past time I take down the "Gone Fishin'" sign and got back to birding!