Saturday, December 31, 2016

Stick A Fork In Us...

We're Done!!  We led our final bird walk at Goose Island State Park on New Year's Eve. We had a great group of ten people and located 53 different species of birds which is the most we've seen in our two months here.

Yesterday we led our final "Woods Walk". The feeding station that we've been maintaining is starting to see more action, and I finally got a picture of the resident Buff-bellied Hummingbird that feeds there.
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
The rarest bird that we found during our walks was a Black Scoter. This sea duck isn't expected in Texas, but we had one (and briefly two) that stayed at the park for two weeks. Not a really fancy looking bird, but it sure got some folks excited!
Black Scoter
We get a lot of new birders on our walks, and by far the most popular birds are the big and/or colorful ones. Getting a Roseate Spoonbill in the scope can turn a "maybe" bird watcher into an excited birder.
Roseate Spoonbill
A cooperative White Ibis standing on the observation platform hand-rail is also a popular sight.
White Ibis
We've given our "Bird Host" sign to the couple who will begin bird walks next week, and we're getting packed up to roll out of here on New Year's Day.

We plan to return next year and look forward to picking up where we left off.

Happy New Year!!


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Little Something for the Tree

Our time here at Goose Island State Park is winding down quickly.  In addition to four bird walks a week, we also offered two Jr. Ranger programs on Saturdays.  Although most of the Jr. Ranger programs were not very well attended, our December “Make a Christmas Ornament” program tended to bring in a pretty good crowd.

Several of the parents would make their own special ornament too.
First you start with a clear, plastic ornament.  Then you add sand.  This is native sand that Mark and I picked up at Rockport beach.  Next you add little shells and sea glass (non-native, these where in a box for our use).  Then you replace the top plug and write whatever you want on the outside with our gold or silver paint pens.

That’s all it takes to make a beautiful Goose Island State Park Christmas ornament!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Time for a Christmas Bath...

We visited the park bird feeding station on Christmas morning to see what the birds were up to. In addition to feeders there are a couple of water features that the birds seem to love.
Ready, Set...
Once the Northern Cardinals got going, a little Orange-crowned Warbler got in line. 
I'll just let you finish. 
When the last Cardinal hopped out, the Warbler jumped in.
Orange-crowned Warbler
For such a tiny bird, an Orange-crowned Warbler can make quite a fuss!
Splish - Splash
In addition to the water features, we have seed feeders and peanut butter mix. Our first Pine Warbler of the season took a liking to the peanut butter log. 
Pine Warbler
While we didn't see it at the water or on a feeder, a sneaky White-eyed Vireo popped out just long enough to give us a quick look. 
White-eyed Vireo
Merry Christmas from Teri and Mark, and the birds at Goose Island State Park!!


Monday, December 12, 2016

Did You Bite Off More Than You Can Chew??

We have seen quite a few Great Blue Herons here on the coast. Occasionally we're lucky enough to see one catch a fish. They have to swallow their meals whole, and yesterday we saw one that had speared a really nice fish, but wasn't able to enjoy it.
Great Blue Heron with Fish
The heron worked and worked to position the fish different ways, but it was just too wide to swallow. Too bad, because it looks like it would have been quite a meal. 

Great Blue Heron with Fish
Earlier in our stay we saw a different Great Blue Heron catch a large fish. This fish was more streamlined than the first. It didn't take long for the heron to flip the fish into the correct orientation and swallow it right on down!  You can see the lump in its throat in the next picture.
So are you hungry now for a nice fish dinner??


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Charlie's Pasture

As we've been exploring the area around Goose Island State Park, we've come across a (relatively) new birding site in Aransas Pass named Charlie's Pasture. This large wetland has been improved with over a mile of trails and boardwalks as well as a viewing tower.

Remember to click on the pictures for a larger view!
Roseate Spoonbill
Our first visit was on a windy and overcast day that didn't lend itself to picture taking, but we returned on a beautiful morning and found conditions perfect for bird viewing and photography.
Snowy Egret
Several larger birds were flying over the boardwalk and allowed us great looks. On bird walks we refer to the Snowy Egret as wearing "Golden Slippers" and they show up well in this shot.
White Ibis
Probably the strangest bird at this site is a wayward flamingo. While many folks see Roseate Spoonbills and think that they are flamingos, this one really IS a flamingo. The story goes that this Greater Flamingo escaped from a Kansas zoo and has been around the Texas coast for about 10 years. Kind of sad, but interesting!
Greater Flamingo
For shorebird fans, this is a good place to see Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs side-by-side.
Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs
Other less colorful shorebirds abound as well. We got great looks at Dunlins and Dowtichers.
In winter plumage they aren't very colorful. We look forward to seeing them this summer when they'll be much brighter!
Dowitcher species

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Whoop It Up!!

We had friends visit from South Texas, and we took the opportunity to go out on the Skimmer tour boat to see Whooping Cranes up close. While it is possible to see cranes from the observation towers at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, or even in the fields around Goose Island State Park, taking a boat out to the shores of the Wildlife Refuge is the best way to get close-up views of dozens of these wonderful birds.
Whooping Crane
We saw single birds, pairs, and family groups. 
Whooping Crane pair
In a family group you can tell the juvenile bird by the rusty markings that they carry for the first year. 
Whooping Crane family
This particular family group decided to take flight while we were watching, and their synchronized landing made for this interesting image.
Whooping Crane family landing
Many of the cranes were carrying impressive leg hardware. This individual had a plastic band on its right leg and a radio transmitter on its left. Fancy!
Banded Whooping Crane
In 1938 the total population of Whooping Cranes had fallen to just 15 birds. Today the population is thought to be around 600, with 450 in the wild and the remainder in captivity. Hopefully they'll be around for centuries to come. 


Friday, November 25, 2016

Goose Island Birds

Don't forget that you can click on pictures for a better view!!

Teri and I go out birding every day. Whether we're leading one of the park walks (4 days a week) or exploring the area on a day off, we're always on the lookout for birds.
Brown Pelican
We feel like many of the "winter" birds have not arrived yet, as weather continues to be warm in much of the country. We are still waiting on many of the ducks to show up, and birds like sparrows are tardy as well.
We have enjoyed watching and photographing many of the resident birds that call this part of the Texas coast home.
White-tailed Hawk
Some birds, like the White-tailed Hawk and Least Grebe are thought of as South Texas specialties, but we are close enough to have them up this way. This Least Grebe is getting ready to enjoy a delicious red wasp. 
Least Grebe
It is hard to believe that we've only got another month here. The time is going by so quickly!
White-faced Ibis

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Local Celebrities

The most commonly asked question on our bird walks is "Have you seen any Whooping Cranes?".

Well, now we can answer "Yes". While they aren't being seen in the area where we hold our walks, a group of three has been using a large field a couple of miles away near the park's Big Tree site.
Whooping Cranes
This is a huge fenced area that is probably a half-mile square. This picture was taken from 1000 feet away, so isn't great. But we're thrilled to have this trio of Whooping Cranes feeding within a couple of miles of the park. We do have some good marsh habitat inside the park, so hopefully they'll come a little closer!


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bird Host

We have been at Goose Island State Park on the Texas Coast for almost two weeks now. We have the position of "Bird Host".

If you can't read the sign, here is a close-up.

While it sounds like we may be here to cater to the needs of the birds, that is only part of our job. We do maintain feeders at our site and in the "Bird Sanctuary" in the park. There are resident Buff-bellied Hummingbirds here, so the hummingbird feeders are up year-round. We also put out sunflower seed and peanut butter/cornmeal mix. 
Goose Island State Park Bird Sanctuary
Our main job is leading bird walks four mornings a week. We do three walks out on the island and one in the woods. So far the shorebirds walks have been very successful. Birding in the woods is slower with fewer birds. But we're having a good time and our participants have enjoyed the walks.

The park has a nice viewing deck overlooking a marsh, and this is a great spot for us to bring folks and show them pelicans, gulls, waders, and shorebirds.

We will also be running a couple of junior ranger type programs on Saturday afternoons. This is a short stay for us, as we are leaving at the end of December. Our time will be up before we know it!


Friday, November 4, 2016

Feeling Crabby

While staying at Matagorda Bay and exploring the sand beaches, we saw a lot of crabs scurrying around. The gulls and shorebirds saw them too, as they seemed to be a favorite food!

Most common were Ghost Crabs. The smallest were less than an inch across, but we'd occasionally see large ones like the crab in the picture. This one was about 4" wide.
Ghost Crab
We did see a much larger crab, but are not sure what kind it is. It may be a Stone Crab, but if anyone knows for sure we'd like to know. This one was over 6" across.
Stone (?) Crab
We've seen plenty of crab pots for sale in this area, so folks must enjoy catching and eating them.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Bittern and Rails

Some marsh birds are secretive and well camouflaged, so are a real treat when you get a look at them. American Bitterns have bold vertical stripes that allow them to blend with marsh grasses, and a habit of standing perfectly still with their heads thrust up into the air.

We spotted this one while exploring Big Boggy National Wildlife Refuge. I don't think he was as well hidden as he thought! (Click on pictures for a larger version).
American Bittern
Unfortunately he got nervous and took to the air soon after being discovered.
American Bittern
On our way to the refuge we were on a road with wet ditches on each side. I'd no sooner said "This would be a good spot for a rail" than this Clapper Rail revealed itself.
Clapper Rail
Clapper Rails are secretive birds that slide off into the grass as soon as they are spotted, and getting a decent picture can be tough! This one disappeared after just a few seconds. 

On our way back from the refuge, we saw another (or the same) Clapper Rail. This one posed facing us for a moment before stalking off.
Clapper Rail
A morning of birding with both an American Bittern and a Clapper Rail is a good morning!


Monday, October 31, 2016


We have been on the Texas coast for a few days and are enjoying getting re-acquainted with the many shorebirds. Since we will be leading bird walks at Goose Island State Park for the next couple of months, we're making sure that we know all of their names.
Black-bellied Plover
One of the things we've run into when leading walks is different pronunciations of common bird names. We've had more than one participant insist that we're using an incorrect pronunciation when we understand that there is no single accepted way to say the name.

"Plover" is one example. There are several species of these plump little shorebirds that we'll see during our walks. Pronunciation seems about split between "Pluh-ver" and "Plo-ver".
Semipalmated Plover
We expect to see four different plover species on a regular basis. We'll identify them based on size (Black-bellied is much larger than the others), leg color (yellow/orange for Semipalmated and Piping, gray for Snowy), and back color (light gray for Snowy and Piping, darker brown for Semipalmated).
Piping Plover
But how to pronounce the names?? We've decided to go with "pluh-ver", and expect to hear about it!
Snowy Plover
So how about it birders? How do you pronounce "plover"??


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Leave Me Alone!!!

Teri and I have spent a few days at Inks Lake State Park. Not volunteering here this year, but it makes a nice stop to visit with family and friends.

We spent a couple of hours at Inks Lake National Fish Hatchery looking for birds. The winter birds haven't really arrived yet so birding was slow, but we did witness an American Kestrel harassing a young Red-shouldered Hawk.

The poor hawk was perched in a tree minding its own business when a male Kestrel decided to start dive-bombing. It made about a dozen high-speed passes at the hawk while screaming and carrying on.
Where is it??

It's hard to bend my head back this far...
The Kestrel will be back!
After about a minute of this, the hawk decided to find another place to rest. Mission Accomplished for the Kestrel.
We're heading to the Texas Coast for a couple of months of volunteering. Stay tuned for plenty of Pelican and Duck pictures!