A Stealthy Imposter

I have trained myself to look for the loner when it comes to water and shorebirds.  Experience tells me those are the ones that end up being the most intriguing.  In the birding world, it is the intriguing ones that get you excited because those are the ones that end up making the latest checkmark in your life list.  Contrast that with staring at a cover of Coots – if you do not have a Coot you are in luck, already been to any body of water near me, then you typically utter “more damn Coots” and move on.  Although not as diligent on tera-firma, I do try to keep an eye out for those brief encounters.

A few posts ago, I featured the White-Winged Dove (link here).  That encounter at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is the location for today’s post.  Most of those shots were captured from within their bird blind just out from the visitor center.  While getting that +1 in the tin, another creature came darting out from the ground cover, made an aggressive move toward my subject and then raced back into the shadows.

White-Tipped Dove found at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas in January 2017

Hit the jump to read more about this elusive bird.

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A Jealous Jay

I suspect my reader base that isn’t fond of birds feel like they are getting a root canal when they come here as of late.  To those individuals I must extend my upmost apologies.  I will do my best to make up for this lean to the feather, but I am on a mission and I’m running out of time.  Funny how a couple of months before the finish line seem like an eternity until that calendar turns and you’re left looking at your to-do list wondering how it could possibly still have that many items.  There are definite upsides to all this focus on production – my photo queue, although still rather slight, has been shrinking.  It did undergo a transformation from FIFO popping to LIFO popping meaning the memory banks will need to be excavated as the snap to post gap on some of those queued items are getting pretty long (3+ years yikes).  The other benefit is I get to show off a number of cool birds!

Green Jay discovered at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX in January 2017

This bird is so cool it got the Linda stamp of approval.  She doesn’t pull this particular stamp out very often.  Contrast that with her “Total Crap” stamp which is so worn down from overuse you can barely read the words – she’s a pretty harsh critic of my work hehehe.  When it comes to bird photography, she will not even give the subject the dignity of taking a picture if it isn’t “pretty”.  Needless to say, Sparrows will never occupy her tin.  It didn’t take her long to get her camera out and start taking pictures of this gorgeous specimen.

Green Jay discovered at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX in January 2017

Hit the jump to see a few more pictures of this striking bird!

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Edge of Seventeen

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!  Linda and I had the opportunity to learn more about the International Crane Foundation tonight thanks to a guest speaker at the local Audubon Society chapter.  We are members of the ICF based in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  Linda discovered that place sometime back when investigating things to do while in the area.  About every year since then we have been making our way back up there to see how the Cranes are doing in their recovery.  Tonight we were able to learn a bit more about the site and pleased to see the Whooping Crane (link here) status is starting to look up.  Unfortunately, Linda nixed my efforts to put on the Crane suit the speaker brought showing how they imprint the young – someday I’ll get to try that bird suit on and post the pictures here hehehehe.  Big thanks to the Audubon Society for hosting that event.  Oh, and if you are in the neighborhood you might want to check out the guest speaker for next month – heard it might be on Texas Birding.

Speaking of Texas birding, how about this intriguing specimen.

White-Winged Dove Shot at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX in January 2017

If you live in North America and Central America, at first glance you might mistake this bird for the Mourning Dove.  That Dove is very common in those regions and wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t see at least one a day hanging out in trees next to your feeders or hanging out with their friends on powerlines trying to choose which car they want to aim their white bombs at – based on experience this always ends up being the shiniest clean car they can find.  From a birding perspective, the Mourning Dove is one of those species that has become so common I generally do not pay them very much attention. Same goes for those water chickens the Coots.  I might take a few pictures of them just to help with the end of day count summary.  That is exactly what occurred while we were at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on our Texas trip back in January 2017.

White-Winged Dove Shot at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX in January 2017

Hit the jump to read a bit more about this feathered encounter.

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Pigeon Paper Scissors

Had a bit of a scare last night.  I had just started into a training run on the treadmill – weather has not been conducive to outside runs as of late either due to a deluge of the fluffy stuff or dangerous single to subzero temps.  Trust me, if I could run outside, I would, rather that subject myself to the modern day torture machine my fellow runners and I refer to as the killmill.  Less than 2 tenths into the planned 7 mile run a sharp stab hit me just below the ankle nearly throwing me off the deck.  Managed to stick an ugly landing that brought me to my knees.  Tried rubbing and stretching it, but the foot was locked up and wouldn’t hold weight.  Had to call it for the night and thinking it might be a stress fracture.  Found out from the chiro today, likely not a fracture but had dislocated a bone in the area – that was snapped back into place (that was near equal to the pain of when it happened).  Foot moving now – gonna wait for a couple of days before pushing it again.  Thought I would get a quick post out there before applying some ice.

Today’s featured feathered species is one I had to go all the way to the southern tip of Texas to get.

Rock Pigeon shot at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in January 2017

On second thought, I guess technically I didn’t need to go all the way to Texas for this one.  Nope, I could have simply walked a quarter mile down our road and snapped one hanging out on some nearby power lines.  You know what I say, why do something in the cold when you can simply drive for two days and do the exact same thing, but in warmer weather.  The region map for this species looks like someone grabbed a can of purple paint and just threw it on the US and let it drain all the way down to the tip of South America.  It also includes a line up to Alaska so our isolated friends to the northwest get to experience them as well.  Problem is, they are not really a prized bird, unless you are historically bad at Roshambo and need a confidence builder –  these birds absolutely suck at it opting to pick Rock nearly 100% of the time. (in a rare move, they’ll through a Spock out thinking they’re playing the expanded game developed by Sheldon). It is actually their stubbornness in always throwing rock that has given this species their name – Rock Pigeon (you can even the one below this about to clinch those talons and do it again – never ever learn – Paper .. you lose).

Rock Pigeon shot at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in January 2017

This particular Rock Pigeon was spotted at the South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center.  “Spotted” in this context being it walked down the railing toward me until it was less than a foot away promptly challenging me to a game of claw wits.  It couldn’t match my $10 bet so I declined – not going to take the risk of humiliating myself to a Pigeon without some skin in the game.  I did take the opportunity to create some distance between us in order to get a picture.  I had The Beast out there and that was waaaaaay to close for me to focus.  Laughing at how long it has taken to get this fairly common bird in the tin, grabbed a few shots before it headed off to find a more willing challenger.

Rock Pigeon shot at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in January 2017

As far as facts go, Pigeons are well known for the ability to find their homes – some say through magnetic fields along with senses and sun positioning.  Must be a handy talent after a night of drinking at the local bar.   Cornell mentions these Rock Pigeons carried messages during the first and second World Wars.  I was not aware that the various variations of their coloring are given names – the blueish-gray version with the two black bars shown here is referred to as the blue-bar variety – will have to keep a look out for the other patterns (one is rusty red, some have spots, others solid and then there are splotched, mostly red and mostly white etc.).  I was always under the impression these birds carried some pretty nasty diseases, but unable to confirm that on the Cornell’s site.  Wikipedia did have a blurb about them harboring a diverse parasite fauna (which they started to name causing me to quickly go for the back button before getting the crawlies.

That’s all I have for you tonight.  Definitely not a rare bird by any means, but happy to finally be able to officially add the +1 to my list.

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From Virginia by Rail

For the second straight day I have had to plow our driveway thanks to a near non-stop snow storm that has decided to take up residence in the heartland of Illinois.  It was coming down pretty hard on our way back from our “dinner with a skunk” Valentines dinner last night – think I mentioned that event on my last post.  Our local Wildlife Prairie Park holds the event as a fund raiser for their now privately funded park (thankfully taken back from our fiscally weak state).  Yes, they do have a live skunk to visit and get pictures with.  In the past they have had two, Tink and Tank, but this year we were sans Tank.  Not sure why, but hope all is well with the little guy.  If you haven’t made the association yet, this is a play on Pepé Le Pew who would likely be enemy #1 for the Metoo movement based on his aggressive behavior in those old cartoons.  As expected, we had a great time socializing with our good friends and partaking in the festivities.  Maybe I’ll even pull out our pictures with the Tink for a future post.  Now that the effects of a free bar have worn off, time to get back up on that saddle and ride the [fence] posts.

Today’s featured bird and new notch on my camera strap is…

Clapper Rail found at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in January 2017

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this elusive bird.

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There’s Elmo

Today we are back at my favorite South Padre Island birding spot, the Bird Viewing and Nature Center.  In case you have not been keeping track, this incredible site has been spinning the wheels on my bird counter as of late.  May just have to get the can of WD 40 out and give the gears a drink to cool them off.  Once again, we are getting hit with another blanket of snow here in the heartland.  Considering we have been fairly dry this winter, we were due for a good covering.  There is one benefit to the harsh conditions – more time for blogging!

Keeping with the Texas theme and for that matter the bird theme and well the +1 theme I present to you Elmo.

Redhead at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center December 2016

Okay, maybe not THE Elmo, but it does have a red fluffy head at least.  Not very difficult to figure out this particular duck is called a … wait for it … yep, a Redhead.  It would save me a lot of time digging into reference books if all the birds could be named after their key feature.  While taking the pictures it occurred to me that something might be wrong with this particular Redhead.  The Wing was carried lower than I expected and looked a bit underdeveloped.  Not being familiar with the Redhead, I tried to find some reference shots on Google – surprising how few pictures there are of this duck standing.  Even Cornell was sans standing reference shots.  Of the two I did find, their wings were folded neatly along their body.

Redhead at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center December 2016

Hit the jump to see more of the Redheads!

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A Well Placed Sign

I think one of the reasons I am drawn to birding is the ever increasing challenge inherit in the activity.  Like my other favorite pastime, running, the barrier to entry is pretty low.  If you want to get started in running, all you really need to do is grab your favorite pair of sneakers, lace them on and pretty much go.  Over time that gets to be easy so you think to yourself, maybe I will go further or perhaps try to go a bit faster the next time.  Complete that bump in ability and next thing you know you are training for a marathon or some other crazy running related activity – wrapped up in all of this is the ongoing investment in tailored shoes, technical clothing and of course new breakthroughs in hydration and fuel.

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker discovered at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in January 2017

Compare that to birding.  To get started, all you really need is to … well, go outside and look.  There are very few places that are inhabitable, that doesn’t have at least one bird to look at if even a House Sparrow or Crow.  Like Running, the desire to do more starts creeping in so you expand your circle and start acquiring a few reference books.  Eventually you are planning your vacations around a particular bird and invested in some serious photography equipment.  The challenge has escalated to getting a better shot of a bird or properly identifying a never seen before species.  In Running and in Birding, the thrill of the accomplishment is the fuel that keeps the interest revving.

Sounds impressive doesn’t it – the struggle of man vs wild, overcoming incredible obstacles to get the shot and burning the midnight oil pouring through reference books barely able to keep the lids open enough to compare your blurry image to the hand drawn reference.  That may be true for some situations, but don’t be fooled, there are times like this that are embarrassingly easy.

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker discovered at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in January 2017

Hit the jump to find out what this new bird is!

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Just Need to Find the Pygmy

Still trying to dig out from the fluffy stuff around here – looks like another 2″ to 3″ on top of the previous  ~7″ fall.  White gold if you happen to live on a well.  That snow will melt slowly into the ground and keep our water supply up for a while – hoping for more because it has been pretty dry around here as of late and worried if we do not get a soggy spring we are going to be in for some hauling.  Funny how perspectives change with age.  I remember leaping out of bed on a school day morning after a night of a good winter snow hoping for the talking head to announce the school closings.  Now I gently roll my aching body out of bed and hope there’s enough snow to saturate the ground…and admittedly to see if I can go make snow angels (some experiences from childhood never get old!).  I’ll save the angels for tomorrow, tonight it’s time to add another new bird to my list.

Brown-Headed Nuthatch found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest in Conroe, Texas

Before I go any further, I must admit these shots are not bound for any walls.  The mere fact you can make out that it is a bird is lucky, the ability to get it focused enough to validate the key features to ID it is a complete miracle.  The creature you see before you (sometimes it helps to squint to artificially make the soft edges a bit sharper), is a Brown-Headed Nuthatch.  You really just needed a coupled of clues to get this specimen categorized – it has a brown head and it is pointed straight down a tree trunk – Alex I’ll take Easy Birds to Identify for $800.  This Brown-Headed was found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest in Conroe, Texas back in December 2016.  If you recall, this is where the Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducks were found (link here).  Unlike the ducks, this Nuthatch was hanging out at the far end of the pond at the extent of my glass – thus the reduced quality of the shots – it also didn’t hang around very long – I spotted it running down the trunk of the tree immediately putting it in the Nuthatch family (dismissed the Creeper family due to the coloring and the fact I could discern it from the tree bark – them Creepers be well camouflaged – link here).  I am very familiar with the White-Breasted variety (link here) and previously posted on the Red-Breasted (link here).  This post completes the 3rd of the 4 seed stashers in North America.  The remaining one for me is the Pygmy but I need to head west for that one.

Brown-Headed Nuthatch found at William Goodrich Jones State Forest in Conroe, Texas

Only have two worthwhile pictures of this specimen – that far away, it could fit in my focus area with plenty of room on the sides.  Some quick facts.  It definitely prefers to hang out in the southeastern region of the US. It is not a migratory species and known for not traveling far from whatever forest they call their home.  As mentioned earlier, they are quite agile traversing tree trunks in all directions thanks to their strong claws.  They are a very social bird – if they are around you, you will hear them.  They often travel together and have strong family bonds with the male and offspring sticking around to help the female raise the latest batch. For you crossword aficionados out there they participate in allopreening where they wrestle in kiddie pools covered with Aloe Vera – sorry, my fact checking department has just informed me that allopreening simply means they will straighten each other’s feathers.  I am skeptical about this correction based on the mere fact that there was an intriguing number of kiddie pools strewn about the trees.

In a hurry tonight so no time to go back and check the negatives – will have to take their word.  Hope you enjoyed this very brief introduction to my new addition on the bird list!

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Mr. 200

Greetings from the white tundra.  If you are currently in the heartland you are likely looking out your window wondering if someone just shook the snow globe you’ve been living in.  The back breaking fluffy stuff is officially blanketing our driveways and travel-ways.  Fortunately, this is nothing new for those of us choosing to live in Illinois where are motto is “Our state might be completely broke, but at least we get all four seasons!”  Everyone knows that the best thing to do in a snow storm is to go birding … well, birding in my den that is.  In a glass half full perspective (probably with ice), a large backlog comes in handy on days like this.

On this snowy day, I bring you Mr.200 from the warm confines of Texas.

Great Kiskadee shot at South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center in January 2017

Now that is a beautiful bird.  I came across it in the nick of time while visiting the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.  Should be no surprise for my regular readers, but just in case, Linda and I were visiting down there in January of 2017.  A shockingly short time ago based on my usual delay in getting my pictures processed and posted here.  I was heading back to the visitor center after a fruitful day birding at the center.  It was my second time there that day and it was getting late and wanted to get back to Linda who was keeping the dogs company in the RV.  We were reluctantly heading back home the following day.

Great Kiskadee shot at South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center in January 2017

Hit the jump to learn what this new colorful addition to my birding happens to be!

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Gator for Fast Food Delivery

The month counter has officially gone up by one which means the post count falls all the way back to zero.  Figured it was time to give my non-birding friends a break from the barrage of birds last month.  Don’t be fooled though, you are not out of the woods yet .. or more appropriately I guess, not out of the Gulf Coast yet.  If things go as planned, there will be a bevy of new birds to read about this month from our Texas trips.  First, let’s have a chuckle!

Birding Gator Speak for Food Delivery

That there is one scary beast.  For some reason I really wasn’t thinking about the dangers of birding on my first trip to Texas several years back.  It wasn’t until our second visit to Padre Island that we came face to face with a living dinosaur or rather BIG ASS LIZARDS.  Our first day at Padre Island Birding and Nature Center back in January 2017, we saw a number of signs on the railings supposedly indicating an Alligator sighting.  We didn’t see a single one that morning and both of us decided it was all a grand hoax to tease the visitors.

Alligators encountered while birding Texas in January 2017 - South Padre Island

Hit the jump to see the rest of the Gator shots we were able to get in the tin!

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