Thursday, January 24, 2013

Stepping Out In STYLE!

I never thought I would have someone say to me “Better wear your snake guards.”
But those were the words I heard from our biologist, Jonathan, as we were getting our gear ready to head out this morning.

Is this a fashion statement or what?
Our job today was to find 5 irrigation structures, clean out around them, spray herbicide, and get GPS coordinates.

We actually found 8 structures (5 bubblers, 2 vents, and one outlet).  I guess the GPS coordinates will be very helpful in the future.

We got all our gear loaded up:
Ear protection, gloves, bug juice, and tick tape (duck tape works very well for getting the tiny little seed ticks off clothing).
Here is Mark loading up the ORV.

Here is Mark making a fashion statement!  Full face gear, ear protection, snake guards and, although he doesn’t have his gloves on here, he did wear them.
 This is what the areas looked like before we cleared them:
Here is the result of our efforts:
While Mark ran the weed-eater, I raked the cut grass away to make it easier for him to see the area. 

We took GPS readings:
Sprayed herbicide:
What they DID NOT TELL US was to watch out for this bad boy!!  He saw us first and scooted into the water.



Wednesday we did our weekly waterfowl count at Laguna Atascosa NWR.  I always take the camera along to capture images of the birds and wildlife that we run across.

As  I reviewed the images I noticed that we'd seen three nearly identical pairs of animals, and here they are!

These two Nilgai bulls looked like a single animal until they moved apart.

Nilgai Bulls
These Feral Hog piglets were most likely from the same litter. Notice that they are still wearing their stripes.

Feral Hog piglets

This is probably a mated pair of Crested Caracara.  I don't know that you can tell male from female, as they appear to be identical.  They can probably tell though!!

Crested Caracara


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Guess What This Is...

 What have we here??

We made yet another visit to the South Padre Island World Birding Center.  The sun was out and the wind was calm, so about 100 birders were out on the boardwalks getting a little bit of sun.

We were not the only ones catching some rays. This group of turtles was out sunning themselves.

And to answer the question, this American Alligator was also basking in the sunshine.  My, what nice teeth you have!
American Alligator


Monday, January 14, 2013

What (else) is on The Island?

Yesterday I showed some of the long legged wading birds that we saw at the South Padre Island Birding Center.  Today I'll show some of the less leggy birds out there. 

Every time we visited last year a Tropical Kingbird was perched in the trees out front.  Do you think this is the same bird?

Tropical Kingbird
As soon as we entered the boardwalk a group of Brown Pelicans began diving into a school of fish. They put on quite a show for about five minutes and then left to fish in another spot.

Brown Pelicans fishing
Brown Pelican
There didn't seem to be as many ducks there as we remember from last year, but there were still plenty.

Northern Pintails seem to be the most graceful of the ducks with their long necks and tails.

Northern Pintail
Northern Pintail
Redheads were there in good numbers, with their distinctive copper-colored heads.
Redhead and American Wigeon
 When the sun was shining just right we could see the green arc on the head of the American Wigeons.  Otherwise that area appears to be black.
American Wigeon
You have to be a die-hard birder to appreciate this last little fellow.  The Least Sandpiper is the smallest of the North American sandpipers. 
Least Sandpiper

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What's on The Island?

If you were following our blog last year you know that the South Padre Island Birding Center was a favorite place for us to visit.  Lots of good birds and boardwalks that get you close to them.

The drizzle finally relented for a few hours so we headed out there.

This is a great place to see many of the long legged wading birds of the Texas coast. We saw several Great Blue Herons, as well as a Little Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
 We were also treated to good looks at this Reddish Egret that was resting out of the wind.
Reddish Egret
This Tricolored Heron quietly searched for a meal.
Tricolored Heron
 The Snowy Egret was perched up high enough out of the water that we could see the "golden slippers" that are often used as a field mark.  Those are some pretty fancy shoes!
Snowy Egret
Though not in the same family, this White Ibis likes to wade around in the water, so I'll include it.
White Ibis
Check back tomorrow for some birds with shorter legs!


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Too Close!!

Taking bird pictures seems to involve always trying to get closer. I use a large telephoto lens that helps a bunch, but no matter where I am I wish that I could maneuver to a spot nearer the bird.

But every now and then the tables get turned.  We spent a couple of hours on the boardwalks at South Padre Island Birding Center a few days ago. As we were completing our walk I looked at tiny little island no more than 10' from the boardwalk and right smack in the center was a beautiful American Bittern!!

The problem is that the boardwalk is only a few feet wide and there was no way to back up.  So this is all I could get in the picture:

American Bittern
We moved a little on the boardwalk but it didn't make much difference:

American Bittern
We sure enjoyed great looks at this wonderful bird!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Few Mammals (But Only One Native!)

While about 95% of the pictures that I take are of birds, I'll shoot other things as they come along.

Teri and I took the Bayside Drive loop today  and saw a few of the residents here.

First was a White-tailed Deer doe and her fawn.  The archery hunts have just finished here at the refuge, so those two are in the clear!

White-tailed Deer
A little further down the road we spotted three Feral Hogs rooting around in a field.  These introduced species have become widespread throughout Texas and the southern US and are a real environmental nightmare.  They destroy so much vegetation and eat just about anything they come across, including ground-nesting birds, small mammals, etc.
Feral Hogs
As we were getting close to the end of the loop we spotted a small herd of Nilgai. These large antelope were imported from Asia by hunting ranches in South Texas.  They eventually escaped those ranches and have become free ranging pests in the area.  A large bull can weigh 600 pounds so they consume a lot of vegetation.  They are not considered as big a pest as the hogs, but they surely don't belong...
Bye for now!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Ring Around the Rosie

It seems like woodpeckers like to play this game when you are trying to get their picture.  If you are on one side of their tree, they will hitch around to the other.  If you move, they move. So I get plenty of pictures like this:

If I keep at it, I can get a picture like this:
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
And if the woodpecker tires of the game before I do I might finally get a decent shot.  This male Ladder-backed Woodpecker eventually came out in the open for me.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker male

Sunday, January 6, 2013

South Texas Birds

The weather is still cold and gray, but I decided to walk around the Visitors Center here at Laguna Atascosa and see what kind of pictures I could get.  The refuge maintains a couple of bird feeding stations and a photo blind to attract birds.

The Altamira Oriole is a beautiful tropical species that barely makes it into South Texas.  Orioles will eat nectar and fruit and can be attracted to nectar (hummingbird) feeders and citrus.
Altamira Oriole at nectar feeder
Altamira Oriole at grapefruit
Another South Texas specialty is the White-tipped Dove. This large dove has a soft moaning song that sounds like someone blowing over the top of a coke bottle.
White-tipped Dove
The Green Jay is another colorful tropical species that lets us know that we've arrived in South Texas.  Like most jays they are gregarious and vocal.
Green Jay
Green Jay
The Long-billed Thrasher is in a family called "Mimidae" which you might guess makes it a mimic.  While it is not as accomplished as the Northern Mockingbird it can develop a pretty impressive repertoire. 

Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
We know that the sun will come out soon and more birds will be out and about.  So stay tuned...


Friday, January 4, 2013

An Unusual Gull

A front blew through south Texas on New Years Day and it has been cold, windy, and misty since.  Not exactly the perfect weather for bird photography!!  We did get a chance to drive the Bayside Loop here at Laguna Atascosa NWR and see what was out in the Laguna Madre.

In a small group of gulls we noticed that one was very dark.  It was sitting among some of the common Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.  On closer inspection we identified it as a Lesser Black-backed Gull, which is listed as "Accidental" on the refuge list, meaning that it has only been seen once or twice.

In the picture you can see that it is much darker than the smaller Ring-billed and larger Herring Gulls.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
We also saw a large flock of Willets.  These common shorebirds are generally dull and gray until they fly.  In flight they display a striking black and white wing pattern.  A large group in flight is a treat to see. In the picture you might notice that a pair of Redheads went along on the flight!

Willets in flight
Sometimes we don't realize that we "saw" a bird until we look at the pictures.  In the picture below I noticed some brown shorebirds mixed into the group.  With their slightly upturned bills they can be identified as Marbled Godwits. Should I count them as "seen" if I only see them in the picture???
Flying Willets with Marbled Godwits

Once we get some better weather I'll get out and get more pictures.  So stay tuned!!