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Posts Tagged ‘birdwatching’

“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?” Rose Kennedy

This alligator was shot from the viewing platform in Wolfweed Wetlands and was more than a football field away. -- Photo by PatBean

This alligator was shot from the viewing platform in Wolfweed Wetlands and was more than a football field away. — Photo by PatBean

And a Hissing Alligator

It was a busy day for my son, who had chores, errands and Community Theater rehearsal – He’s playing Marley in an upcoming production of “A Christmas Carol.” But he chose to play hooky from them for a couple of hours on the last day of my visit with his Texas Gulf Coast family.

The magical path leading into Bpbcat Woods at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The magical path leading into Bpbcat Woods at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. — Photo by Pat Bean

We two passionate birders stuck out of the house early to continue our birding adventures, which had been rudely interrupted the day before by a heavily weeping storm. This day, which shone bright and clear with bird song echoing from the trees, the two of us headed to San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.

The birds were out in good numbers this morning, we noted, as their musical tweets came through the open windows of our vehicle. On the drive we saw a field of cattle egrets, which like yesterday’s scissor-tailed flycatchers were late in migrating south for the winter.

A great blue heron stood as still as a statue near a pond that we passed, and a magnificent broad-winged hawk atop a tall pole stayed in place as my son stopped and backed up the car so we could get a better look at it through our binoculars.

The hissing alligator. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The hissing alligator. — Photo by Pat Bean

I had only seen one other broad-winged hawk before so I was especially thrilled at this sighting. Our drive also turned up a flock of red-winged blackbirds and a few kestrels, which were just migrating back into the area for the winder.

At the refuge, we walked the refuge’s Bobcat Woods boardwalk, where we saw cardinals, ruby-crowned kinglets, eastern phoebes, red-bellied woodpeckers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

The plants, tree leaves and moss were thick along the boardwalk, letting us hear more than we saw. I surprised myself, however, that by sound I identified an orange-crowned warbler, whose sweet, single note call is so different from that of the single call of a yellow-rumped warbler.

Also identified by sound was a red-shouldered hawk, whose high-pitched keah, keah  screeches cannot be mistaken for anything else. We both spotted, at the same time, a cute belted-kingfisher flying low above a small stream. We both pointed and uttered the word “Look” at the same time, then we simply grinned at each other.

It was also a day for butterflies. You just never know what beauty will turn up in just a couple of stolen hours. -- Photo by Pa Bean

It was also a day for butterflies. You just never know what beauty will turn up in just a couple of stolen hours. — Photo by Pa Bean

It was when we had left the boardwalk, headed toward the viewing platform of the Wolfweed Wetlands that we were startled by a strange sound. I at first thought it might be a sudden gust of wind that had stirred the foliage.

Lewis, walking toward the sound to investigate, suddenly jumped back. It’s an alligator and it’s hissing at us. It certainly was, I saw, as I stepped closer to the small pond so I could take its picture. It wasn’t a big alligator; still we didn’t long in the area.

“I’ve never before been hissed at by an alligator,” Lewis said.

A little bit later, in another area of the refuge, Lewis was looking for rails in a reed-filled pond when he heard something popping into the water. He thought at first it was turtles, but on closer examination saw that it was baby alligators.

He left that area pretty quickly, perhaps because from the viewing platform that had looked out over a huge wetlands area we had spotted a second alligator – and it wasn’t small at all.

The Wondering-Wanderer's blog pick of the day.

The Wondering-Wanderer’s blog pick of the day.

Bean’s Pat: Jamaica Bay Shorebirds http://tinyurl.com/l83rlso A great birding photo blog

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            “A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles” Tim Cahill

My morning walk with old birding friends on Two Rivers Trail began here beneath Ogden’s 21 Street Bridge across the Ogden River. — Photo by Pat Bean

But First, Bird Watching on Two Rivers Trail         

Along with seeing that great Southwest bird overhead, everyone also got a very close-up view of this juvenile great blue heron. — Photo by Pat Bean

    “Hey! Did you see that big bird with silver wings and a red tail?” asked Jack Rensel, whom I know is as old as this wondering wanderer, but whom looked as young as ever and was still carrying his birding scope and tripod over his shoulders as we walked the Two Rivers Trail early this morning.

“You mean the Southwest bird,” someone quickly jibed.

It felt ever so good to be back among my old bird-watching friends after a year’s absence.  Jack and Keith Evans, whom I also got to see this morning at the bird-walk breakfast, were my mentors and my reference sources back when I was writing a birding column for the Ogden newspaper.

It’s a good thing one or the other of them was always available, as I was a novice birder at the time and hated making a fool of myself in print.

My birding skills have improved since those days, and so has Ogden’s trail system.

The river was still this morning, making it the perfect canvas for landscape reflections. I especially liked this double bouquet of yellow blossoms. — Photo by Pat Bean

Good for me and good for Ogden.  The city has grown since I left it eight years ago, but the Wasatch Chapter of birders that I left behind hasn’t changed at all. It’s still the best Audubon group I’ve ever had the privilege of birding with.

I hated to leave this group of awesome birders early,  but I had miles to go before I could sleep.  I’ll tell you a bit about those miles tomorrow.

Book Report: Travels with Maggie is now up to 44,916 words. Still inching along like a snail.                

The Wondering Wanderer’s blog pick of the day

Bean’s Pat Cliffy http://tinyurl.com/8e4ghhd  Today’s arm-chair travel blog made it to the top of my list today simply because it looks like an intriguing place to sit and drink a Jack and Coke. Should I put it on my ever-growing to-do list?

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            “Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.” –Victor Hugo

Minus One Sharp-Tailed Grouse

 

Only occasionally do I see western tanagers at Lake Walcott State Park. — Photo by Pat Bean

           I keep bird lists. These include a life list for all the bird species I’ve seen, a yearly bird list and a list of Lake Walcott birds. My life list stands at 702 bird species, the one for the year currently at 203 and the one for Lake Walcott, minus 1.

That one bird is the sharp-tailed grouse. Of all the birds that have been seen in the Lake Walcott area, it’s the only species not on my world list. Admittedly, it’s a rare bird for here, normally preferring more northern habitat, but I keep hoping.

Lake Walcott has, however, given me two lifers. A rare migrating Sabine’s gull that winters at sea, primarily off the West Coast, and a gray partridge, that calls Lake Walcott home year-round and which I’ve seen, among other places here, out the rear window of my RV.

Yesterday evening, the lake hosted a flock of Franklin gulls, a bird I’ve frequently seen but this was my first sighting of it here at the park. I think the flock was  just passing through because there were none of these gulls still around when Maggie and I took our walk this morning.

But white pelicans are on the daily bird-watching menu here. — Photo by Pat Bean

The visiting gulls, which both look and sound a lot like laughing gulls, were far enough out on the lake when I saw them that I had to use my binoculars to make an identification.

Birds I see here at the lake almost daily include white pelicans that make their nests on the opposite shore from me and which gather in great numbers below the dam where the Snake River froths up white as it flows down and over some rock ledges.

House sparrows, American goldfinches, black-headed grosbeaks, house finches, house sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, brown-headed cowbirds, Brewer’s blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves, robins, killeer, and broad-tailed and black-chinned hummingbirds visit my camp site almost daily.

And black-headed grosbeaks make daily visits to the bird feeders I put out. — Photo by Pat Bean

Common nighthawks and a variety of swallows fly overhead each evening. A red-tailed hawk frequents a huge nearby cottonwood tree; I wake to the hooting of a great-horned owl and the cooing of doves.  I watch western grebes, Canada geese, quacking mallards and an occasional pied-billed grebe and northern pintail swim about in the water.

Life is good for this wondering/wandering birder here at Lake Walcott. If I were to send a postcard, I’d say: “Wish you were here.”

Book Report: “Travels with Maggie” now stands at 31,331 words. While that’s just about 600 more words than yesterday’s final count, I did a lot of slashing and rewriting to make things read smoother. Rewriting can be both easier and more difficult than the first time around, which I already knew. The good news is that I’m having fun with it.

Bean’s Pat:  10,000 Birds http://tinyurl.com/8t62xry Check out these bee-eaters.

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“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” – Michael Caine

The flock of American wigeons I saw recently that reminded me of my five-year search for its Eurasion cousin. -- Poor photo by Pat Bean

Bird Talk

My kids tell me I have a better memory for where I’ve seen a new bird species than I do for their birthdays. Well, they’re wrong. I know the dates they were born very well. They just think I don’t because of how often I forget what day it is.

They are right, however, in thinking that I can remember where and when I’ve seen a new bird for my life bird list, which I started back on April 10, 1999.

The first bird on it is an American avocet. It and the next 67 birds on it were all seen when I went on a guided bird tour to Deseret Ranch in Northern Utah. I tagged along as a reporter assigned to do a story on sage grouse.

It was the first time I kept a list of the birds I saw — and the day I became a birder. I give

An American wigeon, a species that can be found all across the United States. -- Wikipedia photo

all credit for my newly found passion and addiction to birdwatching to Mark Stackhouse, who led the tour.

After I had listed the 67 birds, and had decided I would start my bird list, I did a very foolish thing. I added a Eurasian wigeon to the list.

A few years earlier, when I had been following Congressman Jim Hanson around during one of  his visits to Northern Utah, he made a stop at what was commonly known as the Millionaire’s Duck Club, a private hunting club located adjacent to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

Everyone was all excited that day because someone had spotted a rare Eurasian wigeon through a roof-top telescope. I was invited to take a look, and the wigeon became part of the story I eventually wrote. With written proof that I had seen the bird, I didn’t think twice about adding it to my list.

Eurasion wigeons, which can normally be found in winter along U.S. coastal areas. -- Wikipedia photo

But then I got into the spirit of birding, and realized I wouldn’t recognize a Eurasian wigeon if it dropped down from the sky five feet in front of me. And I knew that I didn’t want any bird on my list that I hadn’t personally identified. But to take it off, would be to mess up the entire order of my list.

It took me five years before I did finally see this duck. It was Oct. 4, 2004, in Yellowstone National Park. What a great day that was. And I remember it as well as I remember the days my children were born.

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There's gotta be a tasty morsel down there somewhere -- Photo by Pat Bean

“For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive.”– David Herbert Lawrence
 
Bird Talk
 
Went birding this morning instead of posting my blog. So all you get today is a picture of the great egret I watched fishing for its dinner at the Sea Center in Lake Jackson, Texas.  I hope you had a great day, too.

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“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” Buddha 

This Muscovy duck wasn't shy at all. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Bird Talk

“Want to go to Texas City with me?” My son, Lewis, asked yesterday.

Giving nary a thought to the writing and other items on my busy day’s agenda, I said: “Sure.”

While the trip was a business one for my son, I knew that there would still be plenty of opportunities to see birds along the way. Lewis is as passionate about bird watching as his bird-watching mom.

Besides, road trips are my thing. Nothing makes me happier than watching life through a vehicle’s windows, especially knowing one can stop at any time for closer looks. While I once had to hit an older son just to get him to stop and let his mom go to the restroom, Lewis has always been as eager to explore the roadsides as me.

The first stop on this overcast, foggy day was at an RV park near Angleton. I had been looking for a place to dump my holding tanks and this was a possibility. While we weren’t in my RV today, I still wanted to check out the possibility.

It turned out not to be an option, but the long driveway into the park passed by a field full of killdeer, meadowlarks and mourning doves.

 

The waves rolled in from a horizon made invisible by the fog. I had my son stop along the Galveston Sea Wall so I could try and capture the day's mood. -- Photo by Pat Bean

And the park grounds turned up some Muscovy ducks, a Mexican species that’s beginning to be seen more and more of in North America. The ones we saw this day, although free to fly away, clearly preferred domestication.

They swarmed Lewis in hopes that he would have food to give them. I stood back and took pictures, enjoying the iridescent sheen of their feathers and the bright red nodules on their faces.

Back in the car, we drove on to Texas City. After my son had taken care of his business, we took the long way home through Galveston and over the San Luis Pass toll bridge to Surfside, birding as we drove.

Laughing gulls and brown and white pelicans were the seashore’s primary occupants along the Galveston Sea Wall. At LaFitte’s Cove, a small birding sanctuary in a residential section south of Galveston, the shallow pond area was full of ducks, teals, ibises, yellowlegs, coots and sandpipers.

“A good day for ducks,” said the one other birder we passed.

Indeed it was.

It was also a good day for a road trip. While I do so love sunshine, this day’s mist and fog added a hint of mystery and magic to the day’s drive – and 57 different bird species.

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 “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.” – Georg Wilhelm Hegel

Gray partridge -- the pair disappeared too quickly for me to get a photo of them, so thanks to Wikipedia for this one.

Travels With Maggie

I was on the phone with my daughter in Arkansas when I saw two quail-like birds trot across the manicured lawn beside my RV.

I quickly cut the call short, and rushed over to the window for a better look. I knew if I went outside my RV they would quickly disappear. As it was they pretty much did that anyway, although not before I had a quick study.

They were short and plump, gray and brown, and sported a rusty-red face and throat design. I suspected they belonged to the quail or grouse family of birds that spend more time on the ground than in the air.

I was right, which is a clue to how far I’m come since becoming a birder 12 years ago when I couldn’t tell a gull from a tern or a swallow from an oriole.

Back then, I spent many hours thumbing through an entire bird book just to identify one species, or to tell a ruddy duck from a mallard. Today I quickly narrowed the possibilities, and with the help of my National Geographic “Field Guide to the Birds of North American, soon decided the birds were gray partridges.

Maggie and I daily stroll Lake Walcott's many paths, always finding new wonders of Mother Nature. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The guide’s range map, which let me know this partridge could be found in Southern Idaho, and the bird’s facial color,  were the deciding factors. Later, when I mentioned the sighting to a park worker, he told me gray partridges were commonly found here at Lake Walcott State Park.

I was an ecstatic birder. The gray partridge was a life bird for me, my 697th species.

Birding, as a passion, came at exactly the right time of my life. My journalism career was nearing an end, and I was planning for a traveling retirement. Chasing birds not only gave me a new interest in life, it fit in perfectly with my upcoming life as a vagabond.

While you can see robins and red-tailed hawks everywhere, in North America you can only see a Florida scrub jay in one small parcel of land in Florida, or a white-tailed hawk only in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, or an elegant trogan in Southeast Arizona.

I still have a long way to go to see all of North America’s nearly 1,000 bird species, and even farther to go to see the world’s nearly 10,000 species. But that’s OK, because there will always be birds to chase.

Learning about birds, and boy is there a lot of fascinating stuff to learn, has also been great exercise for my brain. But the most important word here is passion.

While of course there’s the male-female sex thing, it can also mean anything in life that moves us. Adding birds to my passion, along with the passions I have for family, writing, art, reading and travel has made my life richer.

If not a gray partridge, what’s your passion?

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