Southwest Texas: Building the List

Vermilion Flycatcher

It was challenging for many reasons to get photographs on this day. The birds were far away. They were backlit. They were hiding behind branches of trees or leaves of cactus. It was somewhat cloudy. And yet I was surprised to finally go through all the pictures more thoroughly and find some images I didn’t know I had. Most of all, it is great to get a feel for the landscape where the birds and other creatures were.

Saving the big hike for the following day, we explored the low-lying areas along the Rio Grande.

White-winged Dove

Most of these birds we continued to see throughout the trip, like the Say’s Phoebe below. I like the cactus cover this bird was using.

Say’s Phoebe

Mexican Jays are stunning. I don’t think we ever saw more than two at one time. They were somewhat elusive.

Mexican Jay

We saw Roadrunners on occasion but not close enough or long enough to get really good pictures. Maybe we were too distracted by our search for less common species.

It must be West Texas – there’s a Greater Roadrunner!

Hearing and barely seeing a Bell’s Vireo is a big event where I come from, so witnessing their incessant chatter and then getting such great views was heaven for me.

I adore Ravens and tried to get photographs whenever I could.

Common Raven

We spent some time locating and then looking at this Tropical Parula. It was so far away I wasn’t at all sure I got a photograph so I was surprised to find a few that were in focus. So I guess it was good I was carrying around my monster lens most of the time, although by the end of the trip it was starting to fall apart…

This Turkey Vulture is actually kind of cute. Snazzy pink legs and face to match.

Turkey Vulture, posing

Vermillion Flycatchers were almost everywhere. I like the female’s subdued plumage.

I think Western Wood Pewee was a new bird for me.

Western Wood Pewee

I got only one distant fuzzy shot of the male Varied Bunting, bottom right.

We were privileged to have good, long looks at a perched Zone-Tailed Hawk. You can just barely see the trademark tail band tucked underneath the tips of its folded wings.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks are beautiful. Without the monster lens I would not have captured this detail.

Swainson’s Hawk

The Gray Hawk is…well…very gray.

There were more Scott’s Orioles to be seen, but even though this one was quite far away, I love the vegetation it has decided to perch on.

Scott’s Oriole
The Rio Grande
Inca Dove
House Finch
Golden-fronted Woodpecker

The Cordilleran Flycatcher was a new bird for me. I wish I’d gotten a better photograph, but this at least gives me an idea in case I am lucky enough to see one again.

Cordilleran Flycatcher

The gray day didn’t do this Acorn Woodpecker justice, but I still think of The Joker.

Acorn Woodpecker
Some of the dramatic landscape surrounding the Zone-Tailed Hawk’s perch.

It will take me some time to process the rest of this trip’s pictures, but I get to savor my memories a little bit longer. In the meantime, we keep wondering when summer will arrive in the Chicago area. While I am glad it’s not hot, it’s been colder and wetter than I ever remember for mid-June. I hope your summer solstice is going well.

Montrose and My CF Card Snafu

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I hadn’t been to Montrose Point – the Magic Hedge – for years, so I thought it was a good idea when my friend Susan suggested we meet there on my one free Sunday morning this month, which turned out to be Palm Sunday on the calendar, for those of you who relate to that. It was a fine day, and not overly crowded with friendly birders or photographers, which can happen later in the season with warbler migration.

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Winter Wren

I was pleased to discover that the paths are now more clearly marked and the natural areas roped off, which likely makes the birds feel more secure.

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Tree Swallow

Unfortunately I only have maybe half the pictures I took, because I neglected to make sure they had all transferred off the camera that takes compact flash (“CF”) cards as well as SD cards.

While I was in Panama I discovered that I could no longer transfer pictures off a CF card reader to the laptop, so I had to wait until I got home to find the patch cord that came with the Mark III 5D and transfer them directly from the camera. Something has apparently changed in the software and I wonder if the plan is to render CF cards obsolete.

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Swamp Sparrow

All that said, while I was transferring my Montrose pictures, the laptop appeared to be finished ingesting them and I disconnected the camera and wiped the card clean. Only when I went to process did I realize I was missing the last hour or so of photos that I took.

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Common Grackle

I was mourning this loss for days because I had some great shots and they were gone forever. But I also knew the loss would be minimized the sooner I took more pictures, and told myself it was a learning experience. (“What’s your favorite song?” “Uh, I guess the one I just wrote.”)

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Brown-Headed Cowbirds and one female Red-Winged Blackbird

I will never reformat a CF card, or an SD card, for that matter, again before I check to make sure I have transferred everything off of it. (Repeat after me…)

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American Robin

After some deliberation it appears all the thrushes we saw were Hermit Thrushes, below.

One generous individual pointed out to us the female Coyote below, who otherwise faded into her surroundings.

Coyote 4-9-17-0568I won’t elaborate on what is missing from these pictures after we saw the coyote… I’ll be back soon with more from Panama, just needed to put this to rest.

P.S. Three more days until the March For Science!

Christmas Bird Count Tidings from Fermilab

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American Tree Sparrow

It wasn’t raining. It wasn’t snowing. It was predictably very cold and I had harbored second thoughts about taking the camera with me. But after all, the Christmas Bird Count happens only once a year. And even if I am ever-so-slightly wondering if I’m still doing things the old-fashioned way when there is probably new cutting-edge equipment that is easier to use in inclement weather, I persevered.  Resigned to the fact that if there was anything worthwhile to shoot I’d probably have to remove the gloves and deal with the frostbite later.

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So here are a few photos from my morning with one of the three teams assigned to various areas for the count.

There are always more Canada Geese and Mallards than one can count individually so you wind up doing estimates. And scanning through the crowd to see if there are any different species. Somewhere in this group were three Greater White-Fronted Geese, a couple Common Mergansers and I forget what else at this point. Not allowed to count the geese when they’re in the air.

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It took awhile before we found the inevitable American Tree Sparrow flocks. This flock had an American Goldfinch with it.

And at one point we had a coyote who was easy to see if hard to get a decent picture.

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There is a wood lot not far from the Red Barn where we always go traipsing through quietly looking for owls. There is a lot of undergrowth between the pines that presents a challenge just to find a way to walk through it. I never find anything. I was looking down at a lot of frozen mushrooms underfoot that unfortunately were not captured by my ginormous lens. Then I stopped and looked up. And there it was. A Long-Eared Owl, staring at me.

Although the owl was very cooperative, it was backlit, it was dark in there, and a lot of twigs blocked my view (the owl knew all this, of course). After I took enough pictures that would at least prove what I saw, I tried to find someone in my group to tell about it. By the time I did, I had no idea exactly where I saw it. The guys went in to find it and flushed it. I felt as if I had betrayed the owl, but the owls we saw in other spots, mainly Great Horned, were also flushed, so I guess we get one day a year to disturb them for science.

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Not much else to report at the moment. Singing tonight with the Unity Temple Choir for a Christmas Eve service. Looking forward to a nice, quiet Christmas Day at home with the birds. Thanks for visiting, and have a very merry holiday!

Fermilab Shorebirds

Coyote, Dusaf Pond, Fermilab

Coyote, Dusaf Pond, Fermilab

I met my friend Leslie at Fermilab’s Dusaf Pond Saturday morning on another shorebird quest. A variety of birds had been seen in the last week or so and we were hopeful. The moment I got out of my car I saw a coyote, who seemed to be virtually ignored by the herons. As soon as I started taking his picture, though, he moved on.

Pectoral Sandpipers

Pectoral Sandpipers

I hadn’t been to Fermilab since the Christmas Count and felt like I owed it at least one visit this year. Click on the pictures for larger images, but for the most part, the birds were too far away to get much detail. And again, we did not see anything unusual. The only thing predictable was the lack of rain would likely produce good shorebird habitat. The rest was up to the birds. Other than the species depicted here, we saw Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs, and one Black-Bellied Plover.

Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper

Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper

The lack of water has done something else, too. There has been a large fish kill. We drove down to one end to walk through plowed stubble where the smell of rotting fish was not welcoming.

Fish Skeleton

Fish Skeleton

Here’s a Great Egret with a fish and a Lesser Yellowlegs maybe waiting for the egret to drop a piece of it. This picture was taken on the other side of the A&E Sea, another Fermilab body of water.

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Great Egret & Lesser Yellowlegs 1I2A1471

Invariably there were Killdeer and maybe since we don’t pay inordinate attention to them they don’t seem to mind the occasional photograph.

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Killdeer

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Great Egret

Summer is winding down. It’s hard to believe all these birds will be gone soon.

And the butterflies too…

Orange Suplhur  Butterfly

Orange Suplhur Butterfly