Wednesday, December 30, 2009

RGV Trip status: GO!

I've been putting together a trip down to the Rio Grande Valley for January, and I'm deep in the planning stage, getting birding lists, highlighting birding spots, and making reservations! My sister-pal Mary will be joining me on the adventure, and the details are coming together!

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

Front-yard birding

The other morning, I saw what I guessed was a Yellow-rumped Warbler, just getting some pale yellow splotches on the sides of his breast, making sharp "chip" sounds in the live oaks of our front yard. Now I'm not so sure; I was looking through Birding Mommy's Texas field guide (a Peterson's that I got her in February), and he didn't even list the YRWA at all; this book was written before the lumping of the Myrtle and the Audubon's warblers into the Yellow-rumped. Still--I think it was a Myrtle variety; the yellow spots on the streaky breast were just starting to get a bit pronounced. I couldn't see whether he had the butter-butt, though; he was just too high in the tree.

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

Birdy Christmas!

Some of the gifts this Christmas:My sister Raquel, painter of the birds, created these ornaments for Birding Mommy (above) and me:
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!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Run for your lives.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter birding, minus photos

Although winter here feels like autumn to me now, complete with trees shedding their leaves, we have had a few sub-freezing nights here in San Antonio. Driving around the neighborhood, I see so many frozen little tender plants, not prepared for the slight frost of a Texas winter night.

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

Healing well!

So I had my follow-up appointment with Dr. Bice, my cool dentist, yesterday. He said I'm healing very well! I was in and out of there in a half hour.

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

Feeling better today

This was the only picture I could find online showing George and his gold tooth with his friend Martha. From Blingee--whatever that is. AB only recently introduced me to the greatness that is George and Martha. If you've never read the books, you're missing out!

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 I need a hole in the head

Presenting, in these last few moments of excrutiating pain before I take my Tylenol w/ Codeine, my beloved upper left big molar:I told my dentist (that's his gloved hand) I'd put it on my blog. Thank you, Dr. Bice, for a pain-free extraction. I just wish it was still pain-free, but thanks to a nasty infection in the roots, it sure isn't.

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.