Home maker.

A pair of red-bellied woodpeckers have consistently made appearances at my feeders for at least two years.   The male has chosen a tree in the front yard to make a hollow for their nest.   I will be keeping an eye on them!

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Back on the water.

There were good winds today, pretty steady at 20 knots, so we headed to the lake. We washed a thick layer of pollen off the boat and then we were good to go. We sailed for a couple hours and then picked up Michael and Amber for more sailing and then enjoyed sunset back in the slip.

A good day…

Birding trip extraordinaire.

I finished our tax return today, with 2 days to spare!

Now I’m finally getting the opportunity to look back through the notebook that I took with me on a birding trip last weekend.   I enjoyed two wonderful days on High Island on the Texas Gulf coast.   A cold front was predicted to sweep through southeast Texas last Saturday morning, and I got up early so that I could get to the coast about the same time the Norther did.   The hope was that the cold air and strong northerlies would persuade the wave of birds migrating north from Central and South America to land in the woods on High Island for cover, rest, and stay there for a day or so.   I left Austin at 3:30AM, drove through the advancing cold front and made it to Boy Scout Woods bird sanctuary right after sunrise.

It was drizzly, not pouring rain, but because of that, I didn’t take my camera out all day on Saturday.  But WOW was I treated to a diverse collection of birds.   It turns out that the front stalled a bit and took its time getting to the coast.  But it eventually did.  And though it wasn’t a fallout of colossal proportions, the birds were happy to stop for a break and birding was fantastic, giving me the opportunity to see nearly 100 different species, many of them lifers for me.

We southeastern and central Texas residents are incredibly fortunate to live right on the superhighway that is the twice-a-year-traveled pan-American bird migration path.  So, let me share with you a bit of my experience.  High Island is a small coastal island on the Gulf of Mexico, southeast of Houston; and it is unique in that it sits on a salt dome foundation, rising over 30′ above sea level, providing a habitat in which shrubs and forests thrive where they are not usually encountered until well inland.   The beach along Bolivar Peninsular and the trees in the sanctuaries on High Island are often the first thing migrating birds see after completing their 600 mile (and 15-24 hour) non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico.

My trip to High Island was quickly-planned, but I had an amazing experience.  First of all, High Island is home to a number of lovely birding sanctuaries/locations that are beautifully owned and managed by the Houston Audubon Society and/or the Texas Ornithological Society.   On my trip I visited Boy Scout Woods, Bolivar Flats, Smith Oaks woods & rookery, and Hooks Woods.  And since I was in the neighborhood, I spent time at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on my northwest trek back to Austin.

The Houston Audubon Society charges admission of $8/daily visit to their sanctuaries.  Or you can buy a (lovely) patch for $30 which is good for admission to all their High Island sanctuaries for the entire year.   I opted for the patch.  Because I WILL be back.

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A Prairie Warbler graces the 2018 High Island patch from Houston Audubon Society.

Around lunchtime on Saturday I got mighty hungry.  So you can imagine how pleased I was to see a sign outside the Boy Scout Woods entrance advertising the local St. Matthews United Methodist church BBQ lunch.  Every Saturday during Spring migration.  $12 a plate.  Delicious.  Also, I simply must encourage you to make sure you take advantage of the FREE, 3-times a day each Saturday during Spring Migration guided walks hosted by the fantastic group Tropical Birding.  Tropical Birding have been partners of Houston Audubon Society for many years.   Three expert guides walked us around the island with sharp eyes, ears, and spotting scopes, making it easy to see the birds that are usually so invisible.  I spent at least 8 hours with these guys and enjoyed every minute of it.

I didn’t have a plan to stay on the coast overnight, but I knew I would.  It was very easy to find an inexpensive place to stay in Winnie, Texas, just 20 miles north of High Island, right off I-10.

I did eventually get my camera out on Sunday, which was quite chilly, but at least it wasn’t raining.  I may post a picture or two from that set of photos in the future.  But, for now, if you are even mildly interested in birding, you must get down there soon!

Spring in the Hill Country.

I love this time of year in Austin.  The hills look like broccoli.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the golden-cheeked warbler returns for nesting season.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I wish it lasted longer, but I’ll enjoy it while I can.

Feeling a little blue.

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Big blooms already in our bluebonnet patch out back

Spring is in full gear in Austin!   Temps swing between the 40’s and 80’s every few days.  The wildflowers and trees are in bloom.   Trying to make sense of just how quickly the year seems to have flown by, I looked back over my calendar, only to realize that I have been out of town four of the first ten weeks of the year.  Yep, that’ll do it.

I’m looking forward to getting out and about to take in all the beautiful sights.  This is the prettiest time of the year.

Wrens about.

A pair of Carolina Wrens are nesting in a planter on the back patio.   This puts them frequently within 10 feet or so of the window.    I can’t wait to watch for the babies in a month or so.

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Just a regular moon.

Wednesday morning I set my alarm for 4:30 am, got up, and looked out the window;  overcast skies and foggy.   I told myself that it was unlikely I’d get a shot of the first-in-150years-super-full-blue-blood moon.   I went back to bed without taking a step outside.

So, I don’t have a photo of that.   This, however, was taken yesterday morning while I was freezing and hiking around the woods.  The moon is pretty, most days.

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Close encounter.

Apologies for all the bird pictures of late.   But I’ve had a lot of birding moments since the new year began, so they dominate my thoughts.

This one was sweet.  I visited Pedernales Falls State Park today, which has a wonderful pair of bird blinds.  While I was inside one of the bird blinds, a little ruby-crowned kinglet hit the roof and fell inside the bird blind.  He was stunned, and stuck in a narrow opening in the wall.   I picked him up and set him on the floor.  He eventually got his wits about him again and flew off.

It is rare that I can even lay eyes on these guys long enough to identify them.  So I enjoyed getting an up close look at this little one.  I had my telephoto lens on my Olympus, so I had to take this macro shot with my iphone.  So tiny!

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First lifer of 2018.

I went for a hike today around our neighborhood greenbelt and pond.  I came across this white-throated sparrow, who posed just long enough for me to raise the camera, focus and press the shutter.   It’s a rare thing for me to have the sun at my back when I try to get an unexpected shot off.

It’s a pretty bird, with an even prettier song.

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By the way, “lifer” just means it is a first in my lifetime sighting of the species.

My modest year.

Birder’s track the number of bird species seen in their lifetime (a life list), and also keep track of those seen in a given year.  Sometimes, a birder sees an incredibly large number of species in a year, which is lauded as a “big year.”  This past year, 2017, was my first year of really paying attention to birds.  I have sought them out, listened to them, tried to lay eyes on them, and have learned much.  And…I am happy to tally 167 species that I have seen in 2017.  Not a big year, really, but a fantastic one in my book.  I can recall where I saw each of these birds this year; some, but not all, captured on film.  I look forward to more birding in 2018.

Here is a pic of a some of my common backyard birds on the fountain today.  Temperatures have been in the 20s for a couple of days.  Since the pump keeps the water moving, it is the only unfrozen source of water in the yard.  I see two female house finches, three male lesser goldfinches, and a female northern cardinal.

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And, there they go.  You have to be quick to capture the birdies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

CBC 2018.

Yesterday, I participated in the 118th annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for an area around the Pedernales River out in the Texas Hill Country.   This was my second time doing it.   The first time, last year, was my first real birding experience and I enjoyed it immensely.   In the year since, I must admit that I have officially caught the birding bug and have many hiked many miles and logged hundreds of hours seeking out and identifying birds.

So, yesterday,  I was a much better birder.  And because of that, I enjoyed it more, and saw some new (for me) birds – aka “lifers.”   Thankfully, while the collective consensus weather forecast was for downpours all day long, it only rained a bit in the morning, and we were left with just fog and humidity for the rest of the day.  We hiked through woods, canyons, river and creek-side trails from about 8AM to 4PM.   Our group logged 40-50 species, most of which I was able to spot in my binoculars.

Yes, the birding was nice, but it is just good for my soul to get out and experience places like this…

A damp and foggy overlook above the Pedernales River:

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A sparrow-laden native prairie on an uplands section:

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There is still time to join in on a CBC in your area – going on through January 5th.  Check out the Audubon website to look for sign ups in your area.