Friday, July 22, 2011

Red-headed Crossbill?

... Or "Wicked-billed Woodpecker" — I just couldn't decide.

First let me just say, July in Houston is just plain hot. And muggy. And while I used to do "hot" without any problem, I've become spoiled in my dotage. I like air conditioning much more than I like sweating. So I really haven't done much in the way of birding in a while.

But one day last week, I dropped by the neighborhood park where I often spend my autumn, winter and spring lunch breaks — just to see if the usual Texas-summering birds had come to their senses and left for cooler climes. I expected to find the place pretty quiet right in the heat of the day but boy, was I wrong.

As I pulled up in the parking lot, I immediately spotted the brilliant scarlet streak of a Red-headed Woodpecker flitting between the trees in front of me. I watched from the driver's seat as it zipped back and forth, busily catching grubs and insects to feed a youngster who was following it around, apparently "learning the ropes" (trying to copy the parent but not having any luck catching food on its own). This industrious fellow was presenting a veritable feast for his young fledgling, who gulped down every morsel that was offered.

But when I pulled out my binoculars and took a closer look, I discovered something even more interesting than the action itself. The adult woodpecker was "handicapped" with a deformed bill which appeared to be at least twice the size of a normal RHWO bill, thinner than normal and curved to the extent that it must cross the tips in order to close its bill.

Red-headed Woodpecker, deformed bill
Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

I was amazed at how adept the adult woodpecker was at catching food even with its "handicap." It definitely appears to have adapted to the deformity quite well.

Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera in the car that day; when I returned a couple of days later and got these shots, the juvenile was nowhere to be seen and the adult was just hanging out, taking a break from its hunting. However, I have been back once more since and once again spotted this distinct adult, so I assume it is at least a temporary resident of the area.

Here are a few more shots I snapped of this unique bird. Click on any of the thumbnails to see the full-sized image.

Red-headed Woodpecker, deformed bill     Red-headed Woodpecker, deformed bill

Red-headed Woodpecker, deformed bill     Red-headed Woodpecker, deformed bill

I hope to get back over there early next week to see if the woodpecker is still around, and hopefully to spot and get some pictures of the juvenile as well.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dick Van Dyke: the man, the entertainer ... the memoir

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A MemoirMy Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, what a great read! I usually don't spend time reading bio/autobiographies of still-living people, but I'm such a long-time fan of Mr. Van Dyke that when I heard about his newly published memoirs, I just had to read it. Believe me, it was not a disappointment. From the first paragraph on, this book was almost as full of laughs as the original The Dick Van Dyke Show series. With the wonder and enjoyment of Mary Poppins thrown in, to boot!

As he points out right from the start, there are no scandals here. I must admit I was a little disappointed by the kid-glove handling of the broken family and divorce, but I also realize that I'm a little more sensitive about such things than most in today's culture and he does treat it as a serious topic, just down-played. But there were so many things that I never knew about this great entertainer's life, from the way he first got into "the business" and the things that shaped his life and career to the lengthy struggle he had in overcoming alcoholism. But in spite of the hard times, he really has had (or should I say, made) a charmed life. And he covers it all here in heartwarming candor, from the most scandalous thing that ever happened to him (his birth) all the way up through his plans for this very afternoon.

If you have ever enjoyed having high tea on the ceiling with Bert and Uncle Albert, falling over the ottoman with Rob and Mary Petrie, or skating through the halls of Community General Hospital with Dr. Mark Sloan — you will absolutely love My Lucky Life.