Sunday, April 27, 2014

The magic tree

While we were on Padre Island, we signed up for a birding tour guided by a park volunteer.  She clued us in to the location of 'the magic tree.'

Yep, that's it.  It doesn't look like much, but it's the most substantial tree for miles, and it attracts migrating songbirds looking for a siesta.  We watched for about ten minutes as thrushes, orioles, grosbeaks, and a few warblers and other guys used the 'rest area.'

Rose-breasted grosbeaks were common, as were Swainson's thrushes.

Orioles, though, they were all over the place, the entire trip.  Baltimores and orchards.  Maybe only indigo buntings were more common.

A few mystery birds were around, too, like this flycatcher that never sang, which is pretty much what I'd need to make an ID.  

The magic tree is next to the maintenance shed for the park, certainly not glamorous.  Our guide told us most of the park workers aren't there for long before they become birders; they just can't avoid it.  In any case, I never thought staring at a shrimpy tree next to a shed could be so interesting!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A taste of vacation from the road

I'm trying my hand at blogging from the road, so bear with me here.  This trip is centered on the Gulf coast in Texas and Louisiana.  Most of our nights have been spent camping on the beach, like our spot below on Bryan Beach.  

We had this beach all to ourselves for the most part.  The Gulf is a wonderful white noise machine.

Another aspect of this trip is the wonder of being here during spring migration.  Birds (and birders) are EVERYWHERE!  We found some very nice photographic subjects, like this tri-colored heron, at Leonabelle Turnbull Birdding Center in Port Aransas, TX.  

And we are just now heading out from New Orleans, where we visited St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which holds the reputed tomb of voodoo queen Marie Laveau, and had a seriously good muffuletta sandwich.  It's basically an Italian sub with a big slathering of olive salad.

Obviously, we wrote a "New Orleans exception" into our diet!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spring grebes and gulls

We went to East Donegal Township Park today, since it was so warm and sunny.  The park doesn't have a very flashy name, but it's one of my favorite local spots.  It borders the river, there's a big wetland reclamation project, and it's in general a very birdy spot.

Still, I wasn't expecting to see so many ducks today.  Red-necked grebes have been hanging out on the river since January, but I thought they had all moved along.  But the first bird we saw was a red-necked grebe who seemed to be resting in an eddy out of the main current.

What really surprised me, though, was a horned grebe paddling around a small stream that flows into the river.  We watched it for 10-15 minutes.  I'm pretty sure it is missing a leg, although that didn't seem to slow it down or prevent it from grebe-ing.

This guy was unconcerned with our presence, so I took dozens of pictures.  Its red eye was extremely apparent in the late afternoon light.  This bird is transitioning into its adult plumage, but the golden-brown "horns" will grow longer and fill out, creating a really fun hair-do.  This is by far the best looks I've had at a horned grebe.

A lot of other ducks were around, too.  The wetlands area held ring-necked ducks, blue-winged teal, and a pair of wood ducks.  The cornfield ponds had northern shovelers, green-winged teal, american wigeon, and northern pintail.  I don't remember ever having seen that many different types of waterfowl spread out over the different parts of the park.  I am guessing the long-awaited relief from this killer winter is driving lots of ducks that would normally migrate at different times north all together.    

Another  migrant is on the move, too. The likelihood of seeing Bonaparte's gulls was the entire reason we went to the park in the first place. And, fortunately, the river was sprinkled with these small gulls.

A common feeding technique for gulls on the river seems to involve flying upstream, then floating back down on the current, looking for grub.  I estimated about 50 "Bonies" doing this, and found a couple that had nearly completed the transition to breeding plumage.  In breeding plumage, Bonies have a black head.  This is mostly a documentation shot as the gulls were very far away.  But you can get the gist!


Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Spring has finally, perhaps, sprung?  Bits of color are showing up, in any case.  When we bought our house, I was happy to find dozens and dozens of daffodils in the backyard.  Then, my mother-in-law gave me dozens more, plus allium, narcissus, sedum galore, and hellebore, and I rounded all of those out with some crocus.

Crocus nestled in Angelina sedum

Needless to say, spring is one of my favorite times in the garden.  Weeds are not awake yet, the perennials are coming out of hibernation, and the bulbs are going gonzo.  We're not quite there yet, but we're definitely headed in the right direction.

I have a nice collection of various kinds of "hens and chicks,"  also thanks  to my mother-in-law.  They've spent the winter curled up in tight little buds and are just now thinking of uncurling.

I have a lot of sedum that acts as ground cover, but I also have a few that mound.  I can't remember, off the top of my head,what this type is called, but its a favorite.  Right now, tiny little buds are emerging at the base of last years stalks.  They'll be edged in pink and will fan out symmetrically when they get bigger.

A new Mercy Thompson book

This is the eighth book in a series that I have grown pretty fond of over the years.  I have been on the library's waitlist for about a month, and last week I finally got it.  And read it in two days; these go down easy.

I guess you would call these books urban fantasy - there are all kinds of supernatural characters.  Mercy shape shifts to coyote form, she's married to a werewolf and is part of his pack, and there are vampires and fae and other wilder beings to spice things up.  And Mercy's smart, scrappy, and has a tongue that could strip paint.  

Usually urban fantasy series that become popular end up warping into some sort of unrecognizable crap by the time they get this far.  I have a lot of respect for Patricia Briggs, because her series stay on track.  I have read three of them and a few stand alone books and she is consistently great.  You never get the sense she's churning out whatever comes to mind to keep up a-book-a-year publishing rate.

   Final call:

If this is at all your bag of tea, try Mercy out.  I can't think of a higher quality series of this type out there!