Monday, January 31, 2011

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge - 2011

Aransas NWR... How gorgeous is this? Waaaayyy out in this picture was actually two Whooping Cranes!

This is the last of my posts from my recent trip to Texas. It has been a depressing day so I figured a little reminiscing of this trip would do me some good! Just a short drive from Corpus Christi, TX, Aransas NWR is just one of many places in the area that require much more than just a few hours to bird properly. It is, in short, one of many Texas birding locations that I would consider my favorite. Well, actually, every stop we made in Texas was my favorite. So, what made this stop so special? Birds, of course!

The target bird for the day was the Whooping Crane and the Whooping Crane was the first priority. After a quick stop to the visitors center, we made a trip to a location where two Cranes had been reliably seen. Thankfully, they were on location as I had hoped. Next, it was anything and everything. Highlights were everywhere you looked. They included: Northern Pintails (tons), Snow Geese (tons and a life bird), Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Redhead's, Crested Caracara's, American Kestrals, Sandhill Cranes, Eastern Phoebe's, and Bufflehead's to name just a few. We even saw three more Whoopers!

My time at this location was short but it just gives me one more reason to go back. Perhaps this November for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival!

Great Egret... if this bird wasn't present, the experience would not be complete.

Pine Warbler

Ducks and Geese... Mostly Snow Geese and Northern Pintails... this raft of ducks stretched forever!

Alligator Pond... actually one of the best stops. A fantastic diversity of ducks were present in a very small area... as you can see for yourself!

Alligator... at Alligator Pond!

Royal Terns... this was not taken at Aransas. It was actually taken in South Padre but since I had to get my 250 pound body on the the ground to take this picture I wanted to be sure and share it! The sun was almost down but for the lighting I had, I like the picture!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Turkey Run State Park

Blue Jay... my all-time favorite. I have come across some awesome birds over the years but this one continues to stay in the number one position! The entire family of Jay's are my favorite group of birds so I might occasional allow another Jay to tie for first place - but, this one will always be a tiny notch closer to the top!

This weekend was all about the birds but with little time to actually go and "bird". This past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I, along with the other wonderful Board of Directors for the Indiana Audubon Society came together to kick off another great year of educating the public about birds. We covered allot of ground. I am especially excited about what we will continue to do in support of Indiana's Young Birders via the Indiana Young Birders Club. The IYBC year will kick off with the Great Backyard Bird Count at Eagle Creek in February. From this point, we will be having "Let's Go Birding!" hikes all over the state.

As far as birding goes, Saturday night we spent a little time listening for owls. Just as we thought we were skunked, a Barred Owl began to call. Unfortunately, it never came into view, but, it was close, and its presence was all we needed.

On Sunday, after our meeting adjourned I was finally about to spend a few hours watching the feeding stations at the nature center. I was very pleased with the assortment of feeder birds present which included: Purple Finch, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinches, Tree Sparrow, Mourning Dove, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, and my favorite - Blue Jay.

I spent most of my time photographing Blue Jay's with little success. They seemed to know that I was targeting them because the refused to hold still long enough for a picture. In the process, I was able to snap a few shot of some of the others species and did capture some decent pics. After a few hours of fun frustration it was time to head home. Now that I am here, I am ready to go back to Turkey Run. I don't want to go to work tomorrow!

Red-headed Woodpecker... this is THE true Red-headed. Many people think some of the other woodpeckers are Red-headed Woodpecker because so many have read markings on their heads but as you can see - this is the real deal!

Red-bellied Woodpecker... another awesome bird. See why some may think they have a Red-headed here? Once you see them both, you will never forget which is which.

American Goldfinch... even in the winter they are cute. I appears that this one may already be on his slow road to having all of his bright yellow feathers back in time for the season of love.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

South Padre Island Birding Center, TX 2011

I'm getting there, my second to last blog on my late 2010, early 2011 birding trip to south Texas. I wasn't planning on blogging tonight but once again, the stress of life has overcome me so I decided I would take the best medicine out there for me - to talk about birds!

The South Padre Birding and Nature Center is yet another location that is a must see for anyone who enjoys the outdoors - especially birds! Situated on the Laguna Madre Bay just a jump across the street from the Gulf of Mexico, this birding center is absolutely spectacular. The center itself is an interpretive center that not only teaches you about the birds and natural surroundings, but also has a outlook 5 stories in the air that offers a very scenic view of the island. Unfortunately, I never had time to make the climb. There is also a nice gift shop in the center.

After you pay admission, $5 - you are able to walk outside into a world of coastal birding. There is a 4800 ft boardwalk that carves its way through the marsh and seaside habitat allowing visitors an up close look at the wildlife that make the area home. Tricolored, Little Blue, and Great Blue Herons were visible from all directions. Western Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers, Willet's and Greater Yellowlegs worked the muddy sidelines foraging for critters and Yellow-rumped Warblers kept your peripheral vision working non-stop!

For those of you that really like challenges both Gulls and Terns will keep you looking at the sky in mind boggling confusion as you try to figure out each species. Caspian and Royal Terns along with Laughing Gulls made up a bulk of my observations. Brown Pelicans also put on a great show of fantastic fishing displays. Some great ducks were also present including Red-head's (in numbers), Northern Pintails, American Wigeons, and Blue-winged Teal.

Tricolored of my favorites for obvious reasons but also because like many herons, this bird is very sleuthy and is a blast to watch hunt!
Aside from the birds, it is just great to be in an area that seems to have an overall awareness of birds and wildlife throughout. Although South Padre is definitely a very modern area full of hotels that in no way can be compared to an untouched environment - it is clear that the island recognizes birders and the birds as having some value.

If you have yet to make your way to South Padre or the Rio Grande Valley, I would suggest that you make this must see spot a definite part of your agenda. You will be glad you did!

I love this sign! Love it! A great sign that birds dominate the area!

Brown Pelican... one of several during the trip. Another bird that is so much fun to watch. Also, the icon birding the shoreline.

Willets and Greater Yellowlegs... basking in the afternoon sun.

Clapper Rail... a lifer for me. I saw two of these along the boardwalks. A cool bird!

Black-bellied Plover.... yet another gorgeous shorebird.

Tricolored Heron... plumage fluffed and by the look on his face, excited about his next meal.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Brutal Buff-bellied!

The more I look at my pictures of this Buff-bellied Hummingbird, the more I realized I wanted to write something more about them. After all, such a cute bird deserves to be acknowledged.

A little over a year ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Kenn Kaufman describe the reality of a cute little chickadee and I thought the same thing applies to this cute little hummingbird.

As you look at these pictures, what do you see? Probably exactly what I do – a gorgeous little bird full of color and cute personality, doing nothing more than bathing in the sprinkler and enjoying his little hummingbird life. I was amazed actually at how long this little bird allowed me to photograph him. He stayed in place at least 5-10 minutes and was seemingly okay with me watching him bathe. As I look at these pictures, I wonder what this tiny creature was really thinking. What was going through his tiny little brain as he enjoyed the rays of sun shining through his personal rain shower?

The reality is he is likely thinking about how he can completely dismantle the next cute little hummer that makes his way into the area. You don’t see them in these pictures but there were three feeders within just a few feet of where he was bathing and this hummer believed that they are all his property and can’t be shared. You see, in the hummingbird world sharing is not permitted. Cuteness is nothing more than a disguise of complete selfishness. If and when another hummer approaches the area, this bird will readily and and viciously dive bomb him hoping to inflict enough damage that he will never try again. When you do witness harmony, it is likely more a result of temporary exhaustion. It will only be a matter of moments before the acts of attempted murder resume. And they will continue! Day after day and fight after fight the ruthlessness will never cease.

So, the next time that you see a hummingbird just know that although he may be cute, his thoughts are something entirely different. I’m not trying to de-glorify these jewels of the sky I am merely making a point that looks can be deceiving.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Estero Llano Grande State Park, Texas, 2010

Buff-bellied Hummingbird... bathing under the sprinkler!

I guarantee you that Estero Llano Grande State Park is one birding spot that you will immediately fall in love with. It was very hard to leave! I am not sure exactly what made me fall in love with this outstanding state park so instantly. Perhaps it was my first Black-chinned or Buff-bellied Hummingbird, or possibly my first Common Pauraque or maybe it was the copious number of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks that were resting throughout the park. Whatever it was, I want to go back.

No matter where you went, there were birds. The morning started with a gorgeous Altamira Oriole. It then faded into a large number of Great Kiskadees, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Plain Chachalacas. Late morning brought on Paraque's, Hummingbirds, Fulvous Whistling Ducks, and a Bewick's Wren. The remainder of the day brought such highlights as Green Kingfisher, Anhinga, and Curve-billed Thrasher. The last highlight was an unusual Buff-bellied Hummingbird complete with a substantial amount of rufous in the wings. All I'm trying to say is this place is the bomb! I must visit birding destination at least once in anybody's lifetime!

Common Pauraque... this is one of the most amazing birds I have ever seen. It doesn't move and blends in so well that you are likely to never see it. This particular one was alongside one of the trails.

A cute but nameless lizard

Plain Chachalaca... these birds are everywhere and can be compared to chickens. Very wild, but very common.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks... all over the place!

Softshell Turtle alongside the trail... not really in a good location.

Snowy Egret... one of the most beautiful sights in the south. Not many birds are so picturesque against the water.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Laguna Atascosa - Texas 2010

I just returned home from my first birding trip to Texas. Finally, I was able to spend a few days birding locations such Corpus Christi, South Padre, and the Rio Grande Valley. To see as much as I could in just a few short days, the trip had to be in fast motion but it was still very much worth every moment. I will be dividing the trip up into several parts because there is just too much to say at one time.

The first stop was Laguna Atascosa NWR, an outstanding refuge just northwest of South Padre Island. This would be one of those places that words really can't describe. Simply wonderful! Whether you want a great experience just birding the area around the visitor's center or you want to bird the 15 mile auto-tour, it is impossible to be disappointed. From Green Jays to White-tailed Kites, birds are everywhere - plentiful enough that you won't know what direction to look at times.

Below are a few pictures from the day!

And the winner is... Green Jay. By far my favorite bird of the trip. I saw my first one in my first 5 minutes of birding. This is now my second favorite bird next to the Blue Jay.

Bathing, this Yellow-rumped Warbler was just too cute to not credit!

Olive Sparrow... another new bird for me!

Great Kiskadee and Northern Cardinal... a colorful couple.

Orange-crowned Warbler... and an annoying piece of grass! I wanted to include this picture because it shows why this bird is called "orange-crowned" - a part of the bird seldom seen.

Crested Caracaras... and I think a torn up snake. Great birds!

Long-billed Thrasher... one of my new favorites! Doesn't this bird just look like he is full of happiness? Gotta love the grouch look!

Long-billed Curlew... yet another new bird. Check out the beak!

Indiana State Bird

Indiana State Bird
Northern Cardinal