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.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bad Hair Day

This egret reminds me of one of those models on a shampoo & conditioner commercial, slowly slinging her long silky hair back and forth with a flick of the head.

Bad hair day
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

Taken on a very windy day out on the Texas City Dike.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Return to SkyWatch

It has been months since I have participated in the SkyWatch Friday meme, but last Friday's beautiful Texas sky just demanded to be shared.

Going down

Cowboy and I had arrived at the Cub Scout camping grounds with just enough light to help out a friend and then get our own tent set up and our gear unloaded from the truck. As we finished, I glanced up into the windy sky at the first real glimpse of blue that we'd seen all day. What a glorious sight!

Peeking through the trees

We stood there for a while, soaking in the beautiful colors that played through the trees as the day — and a long and tiring work week — slowly came to an end. I really need to find more chances to stop and watch the sun set. It's been way too long.

Final glory

As always, you can click any of the images above for a larger view. And for more intriguing images of the skies above our world, check out the SkyWatch Friday home page.

SkyWatch Friday

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Daily Bird: Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are becoming quite a favorite of mine. I don't remember ever having seen or even heard of grebes before I started seriously birding a couple of years back, but now I seem to see them everywhere!

Swimming in the green stuff
Swimming in the split pea soup at Brazos Bend State Park

Pied-billed Grebe - 3/16/2009
Enjoying clear waters and sunshine at San Bernard NWR

Pied-billed Grebes are commonly found in fresh water wetlands and small lakes and ponds with marsh grasses and reed vegetation, but they can also be seen in saltwater habitats. I was surprised to find a couple of grebes diving in the choppy waters of Galveston Bay near the Texas City dike last month, in addition to the pair I spotted in the marshy pond of Bay Street Park, just a block or two inland.

Pied-billed Grebe - 3/16/2009

As always, you can click on any of the images above to see a larger version on Flickr, or see a quick slideshow of more of my grebe photos.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday Warblers

Yellow Warbler - 4/30/2010
Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)

Cerulean Warbler - 4/30/2010
Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea)

Hooded Warbler - 4/30/2010
Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina)

Northern Parula - 4/30/2010
Northern Parula (Parula americana)

Blackburnian Warbler - 4/30/2010
Blackburnian Warbler (Dendroica fusca)

All were taken last spring at HAS Boy Scout Woods in High Island, Texas.

As always, you can click on any of the images above to see a larger version. Also, check out World Bird Wednesday for more great bird photos from around the world.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Daily Bird: Common Moorhen

The original "candy corn":

Candy corn
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Taken at Elm Lake at Brazos Bend State Park in Brazoria County, Texas.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)

Spring fever is in the air all along the Texas Gulf Coast! And from what I hear, the rookery at High Island's Smith Oaks sanctuary is all aglow with the greens and pinks of happy egret pairs and spoonbill couples. (Can you say "twitterpated"?)

Unfortunately, I still have a week or two before I get to make that trek to High Island, so I'm biding my time by looking back at the shots from last year. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Roseate Spoonbill - 4/16/2010

Roseate Spoonbills nesting - 4/16/2010

Showing off

Roseate Spoonbills

Yellow tails

Looking for twigs

Hopefully I'll get some better ones later this month!

As always, you can click on any of the images above to see a larger version. Also, check out Bird Photography Weekly #128 for more great bird photos from around the world.

Bird Photography Weekly

Friday, April 8, 2011

Ibis in the Morning

Looking for snacks
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

Taken at Elm Lake at Brazos Bend State Park in Brazoria County, Texas.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Scarlet Epaulettes

We saw our first Red-winged Blackbird of the year yesterday, perched in the oak tree in the middle of our front yard. Not exactly where you would expect to see RWBLs, but I'll take a new addition to my miniscule yard list any chance I get.

Unfortunately, yesterday's visitor didn't offer any good photographic opportunities, but it reminded of these shots that I got a few months ago.

Red-winged Blackbird

The Highest Perch
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

As always, you can click any image to see a larger version. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday Wings

Being still quite the amateur when it comes to shorebird identification (I'm about at the level of, "Hey, that's a shorebird!"), I had some trouble figuring out what this handful of birds were from the Texas City dike:

Ruddy Turnstone

Distinctive back and wing patterns

After searching through all of the plovers in several different reference books — and after getting more and more frustrated at not finding an acceptable identification — I finally picked up my brand new Crossley ID Guide. I have been enjoying the beautiful photographic compositions included in Mr. Crossley's guide book, but this was the first real chance I'd had to go to it for help with an ID problem.

Sure enough, as I scanned through the shorebirds — first the plovers again, then moving on to the sandpipers — I found the telltale signs in his flight photographs. Those distinctive patterns on the back and wings that only show up when the bird is in flight (and which were not shown in any of the illustrated references through which I had previously searched) helped me get a firm identification:

Ruddy Turnstones
Ruddy Turnstones (Arenaria interpres)

It's definitely not a field guide you'd want to take on a bird hike with you, but I think I'm really going to like this new work!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Texas City Dike

I have wanted for quite some time to visit the Texas City Dike, near Galveston, but the dike had been closed for the past two year for repairs of damages sustained during 2008's devastating Hurricane Ike. I've heard nothing but good reports since the dike reopened late last fall. So when I discovered I was the only one in the family who got Presidents Day off last month, I leaped at the rare chance for an outing.

Royal pierage
Royal Tern (Sterna maxima)

The dike itself is very nice, extending out about two and a half miles into Galveston Bay. There is a paved, two-lane road running the length of it, several piers and boat ramps and a nice stretch of sandy beach on the northern side (away from the gulf).

Golden slippers
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

Since spring migration was still several weeks away, there were not any unexpected birds to be seen. However, I still found almost twenty different species on and around the dike just in the short time I spent there. There were numerous Royal Terns, plus a lone Forster's Tern diving for food in the choppy waters of the gulf side of the barrier. As you would expect, gulls were everywhere, from giant Herring Gulls to the smaller Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls. There were also a handful of egrets, pelicans (brown and white), and lots of both Double-crested and the smaller Neotropic Cormorants.

Ready for take-off
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) in winter/non-breeding plumage

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

I was a little disappointed at the extremely low numbers of shorebirds to be found, but I expect that will pick up quite a bit over the next few weeks as migration hits the Gulf Coast. The only shorebirds I saw were a lone Willet, two tiny Sanderlings and a handful of Ruddy Turnstones.

Watching all the gulls
Laughing Gulls (Larus atricilla), with Ring-billed Gulls in the background

As I started to leave for home, I did make a very quick stop at the Bay Street Park, located just around the corner from the entrance to the dike. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the marshy pond running the length of this park held quite a few more birds, including Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, Blue-winged Teal, American Coots and a couple of Pied-billed Grebes. A small pier overlooking the pond also gave some great photo opportunities with the dozens of gulls resting there.

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis), with a Laughing Gull in the background

All in all, this was a nice day of birding. I will definitely be returning to Texas City whenever I get the opportunity!

Note: As always, you can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Catch of the Day

After the Catch

Osprey with fish
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Taken over Burnett Bay at the Baytown Nature Center, Baytown, Texas.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Roadside Portrait

Another case of "drive-by birding."

As I was driving along Bolivar Peninsula one day, I saw a fairly large shorebird fly up from a nearby field and alight on a fence post just ahead of me. I carefully slowed to pull alongside the post and snapped a couple of quick shots before moving on.

The Willet didn't seem the least bit concerned at the truck pulling up next to him. I was rather pleased with the portrait I ended up with:

Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus)