Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Birding lists downloaded into Excel spreadsheets/sorted: CHECK! and CHECK!
Campground reservation process begun: CHECK!
Date selection: CHECK! (no link here--it'll be January 29th-31st)
Birding spot selection: CHECK! and CHECK! and possibly CHECK!
Birding research: CHECK! and more CHECK!
Weather research: CHECK! and a little more CHECK!
So the preliminary steps are completed; I'll be digging up my famous camping checklist, putting the gear together, and all that stuff as we get into January. I'll also keep researching prime spots, adding and removing spots, sorting my checklists, and so forth, all in nervous anticipation of seeing as many South Texas specialties as I can.
Again, any suggestions on where to find the best birds on and around South Padre Island (the Port Isabel end) and the lower Rio Grande Valley (from Harlingen east) would be appreciated, so all you RGV Birding Festival veterans, lemme hear from ya!
Sunday, December 27, 2009
As another ID bit of info, he was doing that warbler thing where they rub the sides of their beaks on the branches, as though sharpening the beak on the branch. Do you know what I mean, or is that just some weird thing I've noticed and made into a warbler thing?
So I came inside and listened to the BirdJam and didn't hear a lot of chipping except at the end of the recording, and that chipping was rather less sharp and strong than what I heard in the yard. Still, when I looked at my field guides, I recognized the fall plumage of the YRWA right off. Do they make sharp chipping sounds, to the exclusion of their downward-slurring trill? Again, I wish I'd had my camera--I grabbed my binocs but not the camera, as the battery was pretty much dead on the camera. Dangit.
This morning I went outside and listened for the chipping, but I couldn't hear it. Instead, I heard the constant buzzy chatter and chick-a-deeing of some Black-crested Titmice and Carolina Chickadees. I managed to get some photos too, having charged the battery, although the birds were moving very quickly in the cool morning:
See the bird there? No? Come on, really? You can't see him? Okay, how about here?
Surely you see the birds in this one, right? Right?
Okay--I admit it: I took these pics by pointing my camera in the direction of the rapid movement, hoping I'd capture something. But if you can make out anything remotely bird-like in all those moss clumps and leaves, then you've got me beat. I could swear there was something there when I was snapping the pics, but I can't find anything now.
I did get lucky a couple of times, though:When I started snapping, he was on the roof; by the time the shutter opened a split-second later, this bird was on the wing. Honestly, I have no idea what it was. At the time, I remember thinking "Orange-crowned Warbler?" (they're almost as abundant down here as sparrows!) But looking at this pic, I really don't know.
I also saw this:I think it's a Black-crested Titmouse, though the photo doesn't capture much of his head. But I remember thinking it was when I was snapping, though I was snapping so fast (and it's been a long day since I took them) that I don't remember.
I thought this was a chickadee, but there's no black chin-strap:He's really tiny, and look at that needle-like beak. A warbler? A kinglet (also very common, the Ruby-crowned)? John? Hap? Patrick? Help me out here.
It's frustrating working with all these leaves and moss clusters on the trees, not to mention that I can either snap photos or look through my binocs and make careful IDs--never both. These guys just move too fast, and I'm way out of practice. It's been a long non-birding fall and winter so far, and I feel like my meager-at-best field skills have gone to pot.
On weekdays, I get up really early and I'm out the door by 7 a.m. I just wish I didn't have to get right into the car in order to be on time for work; it's a 25-mile drive to the temp job, and it takes me the better part of an hour to drive it each morning. That's one thing I've had to get used to again since moving back to a big city: traffic. I sure didn't miss it when I was living a whole eight minutes from my job in Bellefonte!
I was talking to my brother about some birds in his backyard; he lives south of here in Kingsville (the town where I went to college). He described what sounded to me like a whole mob of Great Kiskadees around his place. I can't be sure, though he was positive that's what he was seeing when I showed him the field guide. I've really got to take a weekend and drive down that way; I could check out his yard on Saturday morning, then head south about an hour and half to Harlingen. I want to try the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, in the hopes of seeing some Texas/Mexican specialties. Hard to believe that I could know the Valley so well yet not have a clue where this refuge actually is, but I lived down there a full 27 years ago and I wasn't a birder back then. I don't even know if the refuge existed back then; I don't think it did.
As always, I tend to make rather overblown plans with very little detail, and then they usually just fall apart. That's a life lesson I've learned since the whole California move fiasco, and I'm trying to change it. I just get very excited, you know? But I'm going to do some research on the TX Audubon Society Web site; if anyone has any tips about how to take a super-fast South Texas bird swing, please pass them along in the comments!
Friday, December 25, 2009
Pretty cool! She said she's taking orders for next Christmas, so I'm thinking of an entire series of warblers....
It's been a birdy day all around this Christmas. Mary, my niece Lilia, and I took a walk around the neighborhood to look for birds; I'd seen a Yellow-rumped Warbler in the front yard this morning (but didn't have my camera, dangit!). This little Mockingbird flew up into the setting sun to pose for me:Birdy Christmas, everyone!
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Still, there are signs of life in the bird world, as we've had Carolina Wrens in the backyard each morning, teakettling their little lungs out. The Inca and White-winged Doves are still reporting for breakfast each morning, as my mom leaves them a nice mix of birdseed. Bluejays and Northern Mockingbirds are everywhere as well, having little skirmishes among the high branches of the live oaks and hackberries.
Raptors are everywhere too: Black Vultures have replaced the Turkey Vultures of earlier in the season. Each day when I leave work, there are four or five of them on the streetlights outside the building complex. The other day, I was walking out of a restaurant at lunchtime when a beautiful Sharp-shinned Hawk flew about ten feet above my head! And Red-tailed Hawks make regular appearances on the lightposts and fenceposts along the highway on the road to work.
I have been working as much overtime as I can lately, trying to save up money for when this job ends. I'm applying to jobs both here and back east, hoping to get something closer to AB in Pennsylvania. My temp job end date was moved from December 31 to January 31, so at least I'll have a little more time during which to work and save money. I'm trying to get something lined up for when it's over, but so far--nothing. Still, I'll keep trying.
Meanwhile, seeing those few birds has really made me hungry for the spring migration. My goal is to see a Golden-cheeked Warbler here in the only place they can be found, near Camp Bullis just to the northwest of here. I want to see one before I move on to the next chapter, ideally back up near/in PA with AB; I'm not really planning on being here much longer (or so I hope!).
I hope you're all having a wonderful pre-Christmas week. Merry Happy Hannukah Kwaanza Christmas Yule!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
As I sat in the chair waiting to be seen, I studied several wall posters with information about various dental subjects such as tooth deformities, the structure of the teeth and jaws, and so forth. I saw this interesting little image:
So that's what's in my future, I guess: three crowns in one. I asked about it, and the hygienist said you have to sacrifice the teeth on either side of the empty spot in order to anchor the bridge. I already have a crown in back (which is probably what cracked my tooth in the first place; it never did sit right in my mouth and was hurting from the time I got it, just before I left for California). The tooth on the front side is healthy. I guess they could take off that crown (can they do that?) and then put a bridge in. Sounds expensive.
Besides, the tooth in front of my abducted tooth is now becoming my new favorite tooth, as it is also very smooth. I've found myself licking its surface more and more, again as a source of comfort to me when I'm bored, anxious, etc. If they made it into a bridge, my little smooth surface would be gone!
By the way, I think my dentist must shop at this website. He had all that stuff, right down to the model of the rotted teeth!
Imagine: if I were to get a bridge, I'd have a total of FIVE robo-teeth on that side of my mouth (can you tell which side I've chewed on my whole life?). I already have two crowns on the two back teeth on the bottom (one was a filling that fell out in sixth grade and I let it go too long = root canal) and the other tooth I broke while eating CornNuts in my tenth grade English class. Ouch! So anyway, there would be those two robo-teeth (or teefs, as I like to call them) on the bottom, and then the three (two crowns and a fake tooth--a fake tooth!) on top. Wow. As I was telling AB last night, I would be unstoppable! I could chew through anything! I could bite the caps off beer bottles!
Still--that's a good ways off, I'm guessing sometime around the day I get dental insurance again. In the meantime, I'll be healing until I can gum things to death. I can't wait to chew on that side again, but then again--there's kinda nothing there to chew with. No surface for the bottom robo-tooth to masticate against. Will it ever be the same? And imagine chewing something like a tortilla chip--a sharp-edged one like a Nacho Dorito or something--that'll just be asking for a painful poke in the gums!
I miss my tooth.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
I'm feeling better today. It was tough getting up this morning, but I made it to work (a bit late) and managed to stay the whole day. The pain has subsided a good bit, and I was able to eat some potato leek soup this evening for dinner. The broth I had last night and at lunch was hardly enough for me! I probably have to keep eating the soft foods another couple of days, but I'm feeling a ton better than I did at this time last night.
I miss my tooth though. It was my favorite tooth. I had a habit of feeling the side of it with my tongue because it was very slick, you know--like a comfort thing. Now it's gone. The big molar on the other side is just as slick but it's not the same. Does anyone else in the world have a favorite tooth?
Meanwhile, I'm trying to look for jobs in the Philly/Baltimore/DC area now. Nothing's happening down here in San Antonio anyway, and if I were to move up that way, I'd be so much closer to AB and to the spring wood warblers I know and love! I'm sure spring migration down here must be amazing, but it's not the same. PA is the last place I called home, and I'd love to get up there again, if only to be with or near AB again.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
You'll recall my toothache I spoke of when I was driving to TX from CA--this is that same tooth. No wonder it hurt. Note the fact that it's split in half. That happened in my mouth, probably shortly before I left CA. All that jaw-clenching in my sleep, I guess. Plus it was a big filling that should've/would've been crowned had I not left PA and my dental insurance.
Okay, it's getting hard to type because my hands are shaky from the pain. Think good thoughts for my little holey head.
Goodbye, old friend.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Meanwhile, birds are getting a bit scarce around here other than the usual winter residents. I see a lot of spastic little Ruby-crowned Kinglets, fussy Bewick's Wrens, and plump White-winged Doves. This past February, you'll recall I made a trip here in the winter cold to see my family and also saw some good birds. I figure the early migrants will begin their trek back north sometime around then.
In the meantime, I've been seeing some nice butterflies and moths. I need to go outside and stake out the garage door under the lights to get some cool moth pics like I did back in PA this past summer. There should be some pretty interesting moths down here.
I hope to update soon, and to make some time for checking out your blogs. In the meantime, take care and good birding.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Here's a butterfly I saw today:
I don't know what it's called, but it's pretty. Reminds me a bit of a Gulf Fritillary but it's got more spots on the wings and the undersides are very odd, as seen (kinda) in that first pic. You'll note that part of the underside wing area is just a dusky gray. Pretty. Hap or John, what is this butterfly?
I spent a lunch hour last week driving some Bewick's Wrens bonkers with my BirdJam calls, but all I got for my trouble was this shot of some Bewick's Tocks:TOCKS!
On one of the first days of my temp job, I went out the front door and found this Tarantula on the porch:Mom said she sees them all the time! Needless to say, I'm quite certain to stick my head out and look around before stepping onto the porch now.
This last pic is of a piece of (ahem) "art" in the building where I work:I'll just stop typing now and let you sit with that for a while.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I've long watched others do their mobile blogging and stuff from their laptops, but I always had a job that included computer access so I never bothered to learn much about laptops or consider buying one. Since leaving my old job, moving in with the parents, and being without almost constant access, my online life has suffered!
I suffer no more. This is an HP G-60-513NR. In regular lingo, that's a nice big 15.somethingorother wide screen, a keyboard with a ten-key pad, and wireless internet access to my dad's home network. No more weak signals, interminable upload times, or lack of computer access. I still won't have all day to play on the blogs (I have to pay for this thing somehow!), but I'll be able to work in my room anytime I want and get online to look for jobs, play on the blogs, and finally get to check out new friends on Facebook. Wheeeee!
Birding's been a bit rare these days, but there is a nice wooded nature trail at work so I plan to take some of my lunch hour and watch birds out there. I saw a beautiful warbler the other afternoon, probably an Orange-crowned which are plentiful around here, and a bunch of Black-crested Titmice, and some other birds that I haven't been able to ID. It's very woodsy out there around my workplace, so I'm expecting some good birds, especially if I'm still there during the spring migration.
That's getting a little ahead of myself at this point, however, as we are still temps with no clear end-date to our assignment. I've gotten pretty comfortable in my job, so that's good. I do have a few tips for those of you with debit cards:
1. ALWAYS use your card as a credit card, not a debit card. When you do a signature transaction, you have all sorts of rights including dispute rights, return rights, etc. When you input your PIN number, you're stuck with what you get.
2. DON'T sign up for free trial memberships to ANYTHING online like Google Millionaire, NetMillions, credit report crap, etc. One minute you're clicking on an OK button for a buck-forty-nine, and the next minute they're hitting your bank account (through your debit card number) for like $79.95 per month. Ouch.
3. ALWAYS check your bank statement carefully. I never did--until now! You wouldn't believe how many people are double-billed for things, or overcharged, or whatever.
4. Restaurant employees sometimes add tips onto a receipt when you've left the money on the table; if you leave cash, be sure to write "LEFT TIP ON TABLE" in the tip field. Don't leave it blank! Draw lines through it or write NO TIP or whatever.
5. If a merchant accepts VISA, he is NOT allowed to set a minimum (or maximum) charge amount for you to use your card. You could swipe your card for five cents if you wanted to; merchants who set limits--or who charge a different price for cash transactions than they do for credit ones, like many gas stations do--are violating the terms of their agreement with VISA. They can be fined $10,000 or more per violation for doing these things. If you find this happening to you--the minimum charge or the credit-is-more-expensive charge--tell that merchant he can either charge your card for whatever purchase amount you want/sell you that gas at the same price as if you were paying cash, or you will file a complaint with VISA. You can call your bank to report that merchant, and VISA takes these reports very seriously. Usually, the merchant will back down and let you charge that 49 cents or give you the gas at cash price. If not, report him!
Anyway--I hope to do a little birding tomorrow at work. For now, I've got to get on the old job search sites and see what's new out there since I last looked (night before last)....
Monday, October 26, 2009
Red Phalarope--despite being listed as "very rare" for October, this guy posed for every birder there. Very cool.
Least Sandpiper--these are supposed to be abundant during October at HBBR; true to advertising, two flocks of 50 or more were in the drying areas, along with other sandpipers mixed in--but IDing the others was way too tough for me. Someone else ID'd these guys for me first.)
American White Pelican--two of them were lounging on the water like swans! They were beautiful.
Crested Caracara--these birds are AWESOME, a much anticipated lifer--they look like the kind of scary bird that would eat your eyes out in a horror movie.
White-faced Ibis--these were supposed to be plentiful as well, but I only saw one--he looked almost like a Glossy Ibis, but they're supposed to be rare here right now, so I felt confident calling this one a White-faced in winter plumage. I thought I'd gotten a photo, but I think Mary's the one who got it.
Least Grebe--I didn't see any Eared Grebes although the web site site they'd be common; I did, however, see this tiny little grebe, along with some other birds listed as "uncommon" during Octobers past, like the White Pelicans and the Crested Caracaras.
Loggerhead Shrike--wish this one had been closer; I was glad I at least had the scope to watch him for a bit in the distance; a birding guide who was leading a trip pointed him out to us.
Ruddy Duck--they're working hard to become my favorite duck because of their sassiness, but being in winter plumage didn't help them knock Wood Duck out of the top spot.
Killdeer--it was like being back in PA, listening to these guys calling constantly.
I saw a few unidentifiable birds too: some generic sandpiper/peeps that were mixed in with the tiny Least Sandpipers; a flycatcher of some sort (not vocalizing, so no chance of an ID from me); a warbler that might have been a Nashville, but I just didn't get a good enough look to make sure (people were saying there was one around); and one bird that looked like a small wren but had a crazy call that was unlike any wren I know of -- I haven't been able to ID him at all, but I do have a short video of his call so I'm still working on it.
HBBR is quite a place, with three huge ponds full of ducks and other birds, a wooded trail that has several cuts to the Colorado River and some good viewing outlooks, and a marshy area in one of the big ponds. There are also a lot of open fields around the facility where we saw the caracaras and the shrike. Mary and some other birders saw a coyote but I didn't.
It was pretty wild to see that Red Phalarope, and I'm so glad I got such a long look at him.
There were many birds I didn't see that were supposed to be abundant or common during October. I didn't see any Eared Grebes, Swainson's Hawks, Wilson's Snipes, American Pipits, Lincoln's Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, or Lesser Scaups. I was bummed that I didn't see the whistling duck; those guys are supposed to be all over central and southern Texas.
Listed as fairly common among the sandpipers were Baird's and Stilt Sandpipers--I just couldn't summon the patience or the closer view to ID the bigger pipers wandering among the little Least Sandpipers though. I thought I saw a Long-billed Dowitcher but he vanished during my flipping through the guide to make sure. Wilson's Phalarope was also supposed to be there but wasn't; same for the Vesper Sparrow, Dickcissel, and Nashville Warbler (assuming I didn't see him that one time I mentioned above).
All in all, though, it was quite a day at the Reserve. My old friend Kris and I went back on Sunday but didn't stay long--we saw the avocets and some more caracaras, then we went for breakfast! Mary and I had spent all morning and all afternoon (with a short lunch break) there on Saturday, and I was just too tired to stay much longer than a couple of hours on Sunday. But we had a nice time; I hadn't seen Kris in years, and our friendship dates back to the early 1980s!
So my lifelist stands at 233, and I'm really looking forward to a quick weekend trip south. I really want to see some Green Jays and all the other RGV specialties. I might have to wait until spring, but even then it'll be a great trip. I might even get to see my old college town of Kingsville, my old hometown of Harlingen, and my birthplace of McAllen. It's funny; it feels like I've been away from Texas forever, even though it's only been seven years. But the old memories are still there, and my heart still swells with Texas pride when I think of bluebonnets, longhorn cattle, and huge open expanses of this state.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Here's Mary, stylin' with my little scope:
Here are some of the birds we saw, starting off with the weird buggy eyes on this MODO:
I swore at first that it couldn't be a Mourning Dove--I mean, MODO eyes aren't that big and buggy and the eye ring is much smaller and more subdued! But I can't find any other dove it might be, based on all the other field markings. Is it possible that this dove has that House Finch eye disease? Look at how shaggy his head is. Poor little guy.
This poor American Kestrel was having a bad feather day:I don't think this pic captured it, but he looked like he was having a rough molt.
The butterfly migration is still in high gear, and I caught this beauty:
I love those silver spots on the wing undersides. I remember seeing lots of these when I was a kid in the Rio Grande Valley: Gulf Fritillary!
At one point, there was a huge dither among the many birders who were on the trails; someone had spotted a Red Phalarope in one of the big ponds, and the bird was posing for photos! Check out this rare lifer:
There was a guy there who went to every little crowd of birders gathered along the shore of the pond and said that this was "the bird of the year!" I don't know about that, but this bird is certainly a long way from his Arctic home and from his "southern oceans" wintering area. I would give anything to see one of these in breeding plumage. Apparently, the female phalaropes are the ones who do the searching for the mates, and they leave the males behind to take care of the nest--a matriarchy!
Later, I saw these Crested Caracaras, another lifer!
I have been able to really look at a lot of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers lately; they're everywhere down here:
Check out those salmony pink undercoverts. Even the tail feathers are that color, with black at the ends.
The butterflies were a constant presence:I kept seeing their movements and thinking, "BIRD!" and then it was just another butterfly. Monarchs, all kinds of Emperors (this one a Hackberry Emperor), and those American Snouts from my last post.
This swallowtail--Zebra Swallowtail?--put on quite a flying show:After watching him for a long time, I realized that his upper wing segments moved all the time, while the lower segments were more like rudders.
Look at this big fatty of a turtle; is it a Snapping Turtle?The ones in PA looked different.
Here's another lifer, an American Avocet:There were four of these guys, enjoying a marshy area at the head of one of the big ponds on the facility. It was a real thrill to see one of these, finally. I love that upturned bill.
Finally, there's this sparrow:I thought it was a Song Sparrow, but then I thought it wasn't because the center "hat-pin" spot isn't there, then I thought it couldn't be anything else -- finally, I realized I was probably over-thinking the whole thing. Is it a Song Sparrow or what?
Now that I'm working 8-5 during the week, it's harder to get birding trips in. I also don't really know if there are any birds around right now. I know the Gulf Coast is hopping, but I don't think I'm gonna get down there anytime soon. Still--I'd like to hit the Rockport/Aransas Wildlife Refuge area some weekend to see the wintering species. Of course, my shorebird ID skills are so lame that I don't know how much good it would do! I'd also love to head all the way down to Harlingen and look for those specialties that can only be found in the tip of the state. But there again, money and time and a problem. Maybe once I get regular paychecks, I'll be able to set aside a few bucks a week until I have enough for a winter trip.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Mommy-the-birder and I went for a leisurely walk in the hot muggy afternoon, and I sweated about a gallon's worth. Birding down here is certainly going to be a lot harder than in the cool breezes of Pennsylvania and California!
We saw the usual squajillion White-winged Doves all over plus a couple of Inca Doves running away from us on the sidewalk:They didn't let me get very close. I really like these little guys, with their "scalloped"-looking feathers. They're everywhere down here. I keep trying to make one of them into a Common Ground Dove, but so far no luck. Apparently, the ground dove has black edging on the tail--these guys all have white.
We also saw this hummingbird of undetermined species (probably just a Ruby-throated) partaking of these beautiful orange-yellow flowers -- check out the blur of the wings:Speaking of hummers, that male Calliope Hummingbird--as well as all the other regular visitors to my mom's feeder--vanished. We've been watching every day, at all the usual times and whenever we pass that window, and nothing. Not even ruby-throats. I guess they've gone south.
As we walked back toward the house, Mom looked up and found these migrants!
I figured these were Snow Geese, but when I went home and checked the guides, I realized that the wings were wrong. I'm stumped and I need your help: What are these birds?
They looked to me almost like pelicans (Mommy-the-birder says I'm crazy), but pelicans don't fly in the wedge, do they? And do they even migrate down here? Still, looking at the guides, the black pattern on the wings matches American White Pelican... and my first general impression was that I was looking at a pelican--with the head drawn back, long bill, white with the black on the wings.... ? Look at them in isolation, cropped from the original two photos above (click all for huger):
These are not Snow Geese! Look at the black pattern on the wings.
Check out this guy in the upper right corner--crane? pelican?
What are these birds?
By the way, did you notice the little black specks in those photos? There were literally thousands of small butterflies in the air, headed for points south. I found a couple to photograph, one alive on a window screen and one, sadly, dead:
This guy wasn't too colorful, but look at this poor little half-gone specimen:
Everybody's migrating south -- even me, come to think of it.