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Monday, December 26, 2011

For You, For Boxing Day

This seems to work in Foxfire, but not at all in Explorer Internet. So, try going HERE.

Oh, and after you view it, think "What a Wonderful World" a lot, watching BBC, not so much.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Sister Dolores, my niece Doris and her two sons William-Allen and Marion-Elliot are on the other side of the country from me. Ah! Looking so hale and hearty, they make my heart warm.

My family in NYC

Warm is important just now. I got up this morning and the temp was a not-so-balmy 28 degrees. Burrrr...

Monday, November 21, 2011

They're HOME!

Only two days after returning from Texas, I was off south to Monterey County to pick up my poor girlies, who had been at Barbara's house from mid August. While I took two hens to Barbara for baby... or rather, hen-sitting, I brought home, not two, not three, but five birds!

As I wrote back in August, both Barbara and I bought several new chicks of which I was to have two. My two chicks hung out with a broody hen, wandering far and wide on Barbara's property. Sadly, when the two half grown chicks were to be put back in the separation pen with my two... rather 'chicken' hens, the chicks were wild and wanted to beat up on my hens. So, a decision was made to keep the two wild little Americana chicks wild, with the rest of Barbara's flock.

A portion of Barbara's flock, including the mean & onery rooster

Barbara also has some Toulouse Geese, whose eggs I savor every chance I get

Then Barbara had an idea. She knew I'd long considered having Maran hens - which will ultimately lay the darkest of dark chocolate colored egg shells. So, Barbara acquired for me, 2 half grown Black Copper Maran pullets. The 2 new pullets went right into the desperate pen with my 2 hens, and the four of them got along right from the start. My salmon Faverolles hen Babette began to mother the pullets immediately, even putting her wings over them on their roost at night. Am sad photos of that miracle were not able to be caught.

The new Black Copper Maran Pullets with my 2-year old hens

So I had a flock of four chickens. But didn't I say I brought home five? Here's that story...

Barbara had an Amerucana hen (Easter Egger actually), who was the favorite of Barbara's mean rooster's harem - *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*. The poor hen was sooo very popular, she had no feathers on her back - at all. She looked like dinner waiting to hop on a plate. Add to that, because she was so popular with the rooster, or more likely because she looked picked on, the other hens of the flock regularly beat the crap out of her. Poor hen had no neck feathers either. I have no photos of her in that state, but take my word for it, she looked dreadful.

Barbara asked if I would take the hen, out of mercy for her, to save her from being picked on all the time. Well, what's one more, right? So I adopted the little Amerucana. Here she is about two weeks after I took her. She had already filled her bald spots with pin feathers. She still shows a bald spot on the back crook of her wings. Didn't she look raggedy? Poor little hen!

Poor raggedy hen, her feathers grown in a bit

When I got all five birds home, I kept them in the chicken coop and run for a full week - so they could all settle in and know where they lived. After a week, when let loose, my 2 old hens were out like a shot, flapping, racing around the yard like their tail feathers were on fire. The new pullets looked startled - they knew they wanted to be with their 'Mama' Babette, but didn't know where the door was. It took most the day before one, then the other, ventured outside the chicken run.

Poor American hen took better part of 2 days before she had the courage to venture out of the run. But by the following day, when I'd go out after dawn to 'RELEASE THE HENS' they all eagerly shoot out the door and commence their daily hunting for worms and other tidbits.

four of my five hens under the Hawthorn tree

For those worrying - no, I am not going to be a chicken hoarder. Five is enough really, and I have room for a half dozen so I'm not even at full capacity. Five is quite enough hen-age, thank you very much! I'm so excited, three breeds, five hens! I'm RICH I tell you, RICH! A cow and maybe a goat or two, and I can buy a husband!

Oh! Before I forget. The names of my 2 older hens are as you may recall, Babette and Adele. My Great-nephew William suggested 'Lucy' for the was-naked Amerucana. That is Lucy, as in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. A capital name for a now capital hen. The pair of Black Copper Maran Pullets? Right now I'm leaning towards the names 'Godiva' and 'Dove', in reference to their up and coming dark chocolate colored eggs. If you have any better ideas, just drop a comment. Oh, and if you have any cows or goats to spare...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Whooping it up on the Skimmer

I ought to have seen Whooping Cranes already. I mean, back in 1998 I was Aransas National Wildlife Refuge but there were no cranes about at the time. Back then I could have gone out on a boat to see them but my luck, there were no boats available for crane seeking due to a major Coast Guard boat inspection.

Add to the above, I saw two wild Whooping Cranes in Florida. But noooo... they didn't count for my life list either; Whoopers being recent re-introductions to the sunshine state. So! Texas, 2011 had to be my year for adding Whooping Cranes to my life list. Or so I hoped when I left Harlingen on Sunday night, heading north west on the Texas coast.

Aransas Visitor Center

On Monday morning when I arrived at Aransas it was Deja vu time - well no wonder. In 1998 on arriving at the Aransas Visitor Center, I sheepishly asked the docents for a 'lady Ranger'. The were baffled as to why I requested a 'lady' Ranger at first. I told them, and after they laughed, they fetched one for me. The lady Ranger and I climbed into a broom closet so I could pull up my shirt and have her pull an embedded Lone Star tick out of my back. Deja vu? Yeah, well you don't forget that sort of mini-adventure in a hurry.

The scene of the Great Tick Adventure of 1998
- the Aransas Visitor Center's former broom closet

Flash forward to 2011 and this visit, I was totally tick & chigger free. Sadly, on the birdie front, the news remained the same: no visible cranes that could be seen from the land portion of the refuge. Bugger! But this time, there were boats available for Crane tours. Hurrah! I headed south to Fulton Harbor where I caught a ride on the Skimmer.

The Skimmer's captain, Tommy, is himself a birder who knows what birders are looking for.

The Skimmer

When all the birders were aboard, the Skimmer headed out of the harbor, and on the way, a small school of Bottle-nosed Dolphins tailed us, on the far side of the harbor break.

Bottlenosed Dolphins cresting

Soon we were out crusing along the coast of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in areas that can't be accessed without a boat - or fins.

View from Captain's level

The captain had his eye out, and inside of say a half hour, he spotted our first Whooping Cranes - my LIFER Whooping Cranes - lifer #600 for me!

My wwwaaayyy out there lifer whoopers

What? You're saying there's nothing in that photo above? Can't you see the four little white specks? Those were live, walking, Whooping Cranes! Honestly - take my word for it.

Ok, I was disappointed the first look was of birds so far away, but the day was young. After checking out the cranes with spotting scopes, the Captain promised us better views and we were off again. He pointed out all sorts of coastal birds of wetlands as we sailed along. The Captain spotted Roseate Spoonbills. He shouted, "Hey! There are some Spoonbills! Who doesn't love a BIG PINK BIRD!"

I cracked up. He was right. Who doesn't love a giant, baby pink birdie?

Everyone loves BIG PINK BIRDS!

One thing about the Skimmer, something special that most, if not all, of the other tour boats ca not do is - it can quietly lodge itself onto the sandy shore of little islets, turn off the engines and then... SHUT THE **** UP! That means one can happily bird without terrifying the birds with engine noises. Ahhh! Soon Captain Tommy has nestled the boat onto a sand bank and just beyond, were a pair of Whooping Cranes so close I could see the color of their eyes with my binoculars.

Pair of Whoopers

Aren't they majestic? They're HUGE! Larger than Great Blue Herons and I just adore their white feathery bussles, the height of fashion - if it were the 1800s. We sated ourselves watching the two cranes walk elegantly along, bent over, watching for a snack.

Whooper close-up

You may want to click on the photos for a larger look. After taking a good b'jillion photos of these birds, I looked overboard and noticed there were Moon Jellies floating around in the algaed waters around the Skimmer. You may as well know now - jelly fish get me all excited and squeally. Embarrassing really.

Moon Jelly!

After nice long looks at the Whoopers, we were off again to see what we could see. There were loads of water birds. Fosters terns, numerous shorebird species, and humongous White Pelicans.

White Pelicans

Captain Tommy took us to some islets, one of which had strange looking platforms, built so Herons - Reddish and/or Great Blue - could have places on which to build their nests. One such structure had a surprise on it - a Peregrine Falcon with piercing eyes.

Built by volunteers - Heron/Egret Rookery

Close-up Peregrine

Just opposite the isle of Peregrine, was a narrow strip of sand, and on it were American Oystercatchers. Here is a close up of one below. I love how the light shown right through its crayon orange bill.

This Oystercatcher had ID bands, one on each leg

Another bird that was a pleasure to see were dozens of Sandwich Terns. I only ever saw this species once before in Florida. They crack me up for this silly reason: they are called Sandwich Terns - and if you look carefully, you can see a big dab of mayonaise on the end of their bills, after all, we all like a little mayo on our Sandwich. Check out the third bird from the left, it's most obvious on its bill. Too cute! Click photo for a better look.

Squabbling Sandwich Terns, with that dab o' mayo

Reddish Egret on one breezy islette

The Skimmer, back at port

What a fun way to spend an afternoon, and to pick up one's landmark 600th ABA area lifer. After Aransas I returned to Harlingen and had another day worth of adventures. Then before I knew it, I was flying back to Sacramento for a rest up from my vacationing. Retirement is AWESOME I'm telling you!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Estero Grande State Park

Yes, I know, I'm taking forever to post my TX trip. Well suck it up, I'm almost caught up now. Really. So! Sunday, the last day of the Rio Grande Birding Festival was a bit of a chase, with several different vans headed out to find vagrant birds that got their feathered rears lost in south Texas during the festival. There was a Black-vented Oriole to be found in Bentsen Rio State Park, and a Tropical Parula (a tiny warbler) flitting about the Laguna Altacosa Refuge, but I was off in a van headed after a Rose-throated Becard. This one was a female, and they are sort of brownish with adorable little beanie cap'd noggins.

I'll shorten this story by say, many of the people who joined the hunt saw the female Rose-throated Becard, but I wasn't one of them. $#*%, of the birdie variety happens, even if there are no windshields or freshy washed cars involved. Still, I had a fun time exploring Estero Grande State Park in Weslaco (WES-la-co), TX, where roamed the girlie Becard, unseen by me.

First thing I noted was that as many birds there were at the Center, there were just as many butterflies. Now, normally I don't mess much with butterflies unless there aren't any birds around to gawk at. But honestly, could you ignore a butterfly that looked like this?

Can't believe I saw a Mexican Bluewing!

Is that a pretty insect or what? Ugh! Even the word insect is repugnant to me, but when it comes with gift wrapping for wings, you have to admire it, even if it has 2 more legs than necessary for any normal creature of nature.

Hanging Butterfly Feeder Branch

There are lots of tropical butterflies in south Texas, and at Estero, they not only have bird feeders, but butterfly feeders. The feeders are stocked with a secret formula of fermented bananas and- get this - Guiness Stout. Butterflies can't get by on looks alone you know! Here are more of the little beauties I was lucky enough to see, and photograph at Estero Grande.

Zilpa Longwing

Question Mark Butterfly

Tawny Emperors

Not a butterfly, but still rather striking: a Carmine Skimmer

The most amazing butterfly was buzz-bombing around so fast, I didn't even notice it until someone pointed it out to me. It was a Clearwing Hummingbird moth! They so resemble hummingbirds in their behavior, I was told some people think they have an incredibly tiny hummingbird in their yard, unknown to science. Imagine the rush they feel before they find out their cryptozoology discovery is a glorified bug! For you butterfly scientists out there, I know this is actually a 'lep', and that bugs are 'hemips'. See? I almost even speak your jargon.

Almost too fast for me to photograph:
a Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

Really, what I ought to have done was shoot video of that fast moving moth, but I didn't. So, in a semi-apology below is a post I got off YouTube that demonstrates how bird-like, strangely beautiful and yet creepy, these moths are.

Kinda beautiful. Kind of Creepy.

Back to birds! There were what I now think of as 'the usual line-up' in south Texas. Several Altimira Orioles were about, and there was an Oriole nest hanging off a telephone line. The guide told us he had watched the Oriole that started the nest, weaving grass strands into a sort of triangle shape over the telephone line. The birds are master weavers as you can see. This nest below was used to raise a family of orioles.

Altimira Oriole Nest

This Oriole eyed us, eying its nest. Probably
though we'd want to lay our eggs in it

I spent a while watching an area set up for birds, and enjoyed watching this Black-throated Gray Warbler take his morning bath.

Black-throated Gray Warbler, prior to his bath

Nearby dozens of bird feeders kept Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Inca and White-tipped Doves and quite a few other birdie species occupied.

Box o' Birds

Of course there are those birds who know they are too good for handouts. Ok, maybe it's just because they don't eat seed, prefering to catch insects - butterflies included - for their meals.

Too proud for handouts? A Couch's Kingbird

Black-crested Titmouse looking like it belongs
in the North Pole with all the other elves

A couple of days earlier at another Nature Center I saw a Parauque. Well, Estero Grande had two good spots where Parauques could be spotted - if you had a clue where to look. I was so happy to see them! They were one of the birds I most looked forward to seeing and photographing in Texas.

This Parauque gave looks as good as it got


Last but not least, 2nd favorite bird at Estero wasn't exactly out there in the open. This little Eastern Screech Owl, which wasn't found by me, was hidden in the branches of a large tree. The gray blotch with white spots under the green leaves (dead center of photo) is the side of the owl. Eastern Screech Owls are only about 6 inches long. Yes, you can't see much of this bird, but wow! What an awesome little mite that owl is! Its seated facing left, only it's side and fuzzy talons visible - sort of.

Hidden away, Eastern Screech Owl