Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Walk in the Park

Early yesterday morning,  I went for a walk in Pine Gully Park here in Seabrook, TX.  Although it is in part a "nature preserve", it is surrounded by suburban development and the trail is quite heavily used by joggers, dog-walkers, bicyclists, fishers, and picnickers.   But, if you get out early, before most specimens of Homo sapiens emerge from under their three-bedroom, 2-1/2 bath rocks, the park can be surprisingly "birdy".  Yesterday was one of those days.  In a little over two hours, I identified 32 species of birds there (see list at end of this post).

Least Sandpipers were feeding at dawn on the bayshore flats at the mouth of the bayou.

A Willet with Sanderling, Dunlin, and Least sandpipers.

Snowy Egrets are common but still beautiful to watch as they hunt in the marshy ponds.

Black Vultures are common in Winter.

A Tricolored Heron is a somewhat unusual sight in the park.

Green Herons winter elsewhere, and this is the first I have seen this Spring.

A pair of mottled ducks preparing to nest?

An Osprey is usually present in winter.  I saw this on eating a large mullet earlier on the walk.

In the early morning several Swamp Sparrows were out where they could be identified.  This one even sat long enough for a photograph.  Later in the day they will keep pretty well hidden
Unfortunately, it seems to be hard to discourage "development" of the park.  Brush is cleared, picnic shelters and playgrounds erected, native plants are mowed down.  Most of the park users remain oblivious to the richness of the natural environment and will never know it existed when it is gone.

List of birds seen 3/13/2013 at Pine Gully Park, Seabrook, TX:
Mottled Duck  4
Pied-billed Grebe  1
American White Pelican  3
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  3
Snowy Egret  7
Tricolored Heron  1
Green Heron  1
Black Vulture  8
Osprey  1
Killdeer  1
Willet  22
Sanderling  5    
Least Sandpiper  19
Dunlin  3   
Laughing Gull  3
Eurasian Collared-Dove  4
Mourning Dove  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
Blue Jay  1
House Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
American Robin  25
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
Le Conte's Sparrow  2
Swamp Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  13
Red-winged Blackbird  45
Great-tailed Grackle  7

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Common but Beautiful

It was a beautiful clear cool day with light winds and we went to Galveston Island to find a couple of rarities reported on eBird.    We missed those but enjoyed some good views and photo opportunities with more common birds.

Common Loon (Gavia immer)
This Common Loon on Offat's Bayou at 61st Street is still in winter plumage.
Common Loon (Gavia immer)
Close-up of the Common Loon .  These birds are common on the salt water bays here now, but will soon be headed north to breed on fresh water lakes.

 We noticed this Red-tailed Hawk in a tree close to the road to Galveston.   Fortunately there was no traffic and we were able to pull over and get a good look and some photographs.

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Red-tailed Hawk in tree beside Hwy 146 near Hwy 3 in Texas City

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Red-tailed Hawk not happy to be photographed?

Of course we would have liked to find a new "life bird" or two, but the enjoyment of our familiar birds fully compensated.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Global Warming: Not so hard to Swallow?

A clear cold day with a very brisk north wind, not a day one would associate with swallows, (or Global Warming).   But, I saw and photographed four species of swallows, perched on the same wire, here in Seabrook, TX.
Cliff Swallow with dark orange throat, white forehead and short tail.
In the past couple of days a few Cliff Swallows have been reported in the Houston area.   But, this date is unusually early for this species to return here on their northward migration.  When I tried to enter the sighting in eBird it was flagged and,  because of the early date, additional information was requested.  One other observer noted that this was the earliest date he had seen them in this area. 

Barn Swallow with orange throat and white underside (like Cliff above) but with long forked tail.
The other swallows are apparently not so rare on this date, but were the first I had seen this year.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, brown on breast, head, wings, and back.

Tree swallow, all white below and  greenish black above.

The fact that all four species were sitting on the same power wires along a suburban street was interesting.  Of course there was a small pond along the road at that point, and swallows were flying above that pond apparently feeding on insects.  These swallows and a few others must have taken a break from feeding to rest on the wire.

It may be hard to directly associate any particular sighting to climate change.  But, there are so many  birds expanding their range north, or appearing earlier in the spring.  It seems hard to miss the fact that there is significant climatic warming despite the occasional colder than normal day. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cold and Gray but Beautiful

A cold gray dawn had its own beauty. The bold patterns of the altocumulus sky were reflected in the marshy pools along the bayou.Altocumulus at Sunrise

The cold north wind discouraged the dog-walkers, joggers, and bikes. I had the trail nearly to myself. A small herd of deer came down along the bayou and frolicked on the beach.

White-tailed Deer and Ring-billed Gulls on the beach at Pine Gully Park, Seabrook, TX
Deer frolicking on the beach

The north wind had blown the water out of the bay.   The newly exposed mud flats attracted a bonanza of shorebirds, Least and Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, Sanderling, and Killdeer.

A few Least Sandpipers in flight
Least Sandpipers

A Kildeer and its reflection in the wet mud.  
(Photo not too sharp due to distance and lighting, but has sort of a "watercolor" effect.)

Although the day started slowly, in two hours the list had reached 26 species. Not a bad day of birding at all.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Birds of Seabrook Photo Display

Flier for the photo exhibit.
Twenty-five of my bird photos have been displayed in the Evelyn Meador Library, Seabrook, TX this month.

I do not see myself as a great wildlife photographer, or an expert birder.  However, as an amateur, I have enjoyed a good deal of time birding and photographing birds in Pine Gully Park and Robinson Park in Seabrook, TX  (the town where I reside).

With the exhibit and this blog post, I hope to  inform others  who are not aware of the treasure that these parks represent for Seabrook.

My purpose is to urge that the habitat continue to be preserved and improved for the enjoyment of nature 

Pied-bill Grebe, Robinson Park
All of the photographs in the display and the web gallery, with one exception, have been taken in the City of Seabrook, but they represent only a fraction of the total bird population.  Birds of 169 different species have been reported ( in Pine Gully and Robinson Parks, and my wife Jane and I have personally seen 109 species here.

The Texas Coast is truly a "world-class" birding locality, and the parks in Seabrook include diverse woodlands bay shore,  bayou, and wetland habitats, with a remarkable variety of resident and migratory birds.   Pine Gully, Robinson, Hester, and McHale parks are all stops on the Upper Texas Coast Birding Trail.  (You may have seen the rectangular brown signs with "UTC" and a number designating the trail site.) 

Red-shouldered hawk, Pine Gully
This year, 2012, is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring".  This book brought attention to the problems of indiscriminate pesticide use and hazards of other pollution.  Since then there has been some progress.  On the Gulf Coast, the Brown Pelican and Osprey have both been brought back from near extinction.  Many birds, however, are still in decline.  Today, much of the blame can probably be laid on the destruction of the habitat birds need. 

Belted Kingfisher, Pine Gully
Woods,  marshes, and fields continue to disappear under concrete as our population grows and industrial activity expands.   At three score and ten, I am old enough to remember freely roaming fields and woods around our home as a boy.  Today, few such opportunities  exist for young people.  Parks like Robinson and Pine Gully are hardly wilderness, but they become ever more important as wildlife-friendly nature preserves.

As individuals we need to support those organizations that are engaged in preservation.  We need be more aware of the impact our own actions and those of our children and pets have on wildlife.   And, we need to resist unnecessary non-wildlife development and human-centered "beautification" of our remaining natural parks.
Sewer outfall on Pine Gully
New storm sewer (?) outfall under construction viewed from acorss Pine Gully in Robinson Park west of Toddville Road.  To get an idea of the scale, each  sluce appears to be approximately 8' x 6'.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Getting #330 was Ruff

It was like a a scene from the movie "The Big Year":  a crowd of eighteen birders, the viewing platform a forest of scopes,  a cacophony of clicking camera shutters.  The Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a shorebird common in Eurasia, but very rare on the Gulf Coast.  The local Internet bird "alerts" had just announced the Ruff's presence at a nearby county park (El Franco Lee Park) and the birding crowd descended on this location.

The male Ruff is quite a spectacular shorebird when it is is in breeding  plumage (see here) on its nesting grounds.  However, the one we saw was a relatively plain, immature bird.  It stayed at a distance, and I managed only a poor photo.  (See a better photo of the same bird here.)

The Ruff is facing right, in the center of the lower half of the photo, feeding behind the marsh grass stubble, below the Cattle Egrets. 
The Ruff is species number 330 on our "life list".   As we have gone through the more easily seen species, it is necessary to chase these more rare and elusive species.   This year we have added only about 20 species to the list.  Our first year keeping the list, five years ago, we tallied over 100 species (see "Keeping Score").

Although it is fun to pursue rarities, we mostly enjoy watching "old friends" among the birds, like the Cattle Egrets in the photo.  Sometimes we see some new and interesting behavior.  As we watched them here, I noticed that, as they prepared to strike, the head and neck would wriggle left and right in a snake-like movement.   I presume this was to get a range on the prey.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Surely you're joking (The Big Year)

A movie based on a true story about birding...  The only profanity a few "damn" and "hell"...  The "hottest" sex scene involves two Bald Eagles...  A "moral" in the end... Who could believe such a movie could be made by a major studio today.  Well, "The Big Year" is that movie, unlikely as it may seem.

We went to see it yesterday, the first time inside a theater in a decade.  We really had a good time.  Of course, we are birders ourselves, but I think it would appeal to any adult not automatically put off by the "R" rating.  (Audubon Review (a birders perspective), NY Times Review (a non-birder's view)

Loggerhead Shrike, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Oyster Creek, TX  10/16/2011.  The habits of the Loggerhead Shrike (see photo to the right) are used as a metaphore for certain human behavior in the movie.
There is some license taken with the  actual locations (much of the High Island scenes were photographed elsewhere) and other details.  But, it is overall a remarkably accurate portrayal of birding.  A non-birder might even think that characters like "Annie Awklet" or the helicopter scenes were made up.  But, there is actually a woman pelagic birding tour operator who has legally changed her name to that of a bird.  The helicopter bird chase was an actual event in the true story.

It is a comedy but not a kid's movie.  The story is based on the conflict between a competitive obsession and the rest of the things that give meaning to life.