Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ish Birds...Four In The Pink...Sora! Sora! Sora!


Reddish Egret. Obviously, this is a white morph, probably a young bird judging by the dull base of the bill. Hella elegant though. Speaking of Reddish Egrets, how come no other "ish" birds are in the U.S. and Canada? What about Purplish Sandpiper? That's a winning name right there. Yellowish Rail? Great Bluish Heron? I think I've struck gold.

Ever since the demise of the Perpetual Weekend, Saturdays and Sundays have taken on meaning again. No longer do I think, "Oh cool, my 9-to-5 friends will be down to go to a bar now". This is because A) I don't know anyone here that I would want to meet at a bar and B) because I work hella and I can only get some genuine and sustained birding in two days a week.

This weekend I am taking the nerdism to a much higher and more embarrassing level than usual and combining forces, once again, with Nate of This Machine Watches Birds. He's going to show me around the Corpus Christi/Port Aransas hotspots and hopefully hand me a lifer on a silver platter. I've spent minimal time birding that area, although I am happy to say that I am a Whooping Crane veteran. We'll see what the weather does, but next weekend I'm crossing fingers for a certain couple warblers and crossing toes for a certain couple nightjars. Or it might be a Life Is Pain weekend, but it will be good to escape the grips of the valley for a couple days.

Before BB&B returns to spring warbler madness, I thought I would pay my respects to some of the waterbirds that were around South Padre Island the other day.

Reddish meets Roseate...Reddish wins. South Florida is not the only place to go to see Reddish Egret and Roseate Spoonbill side by side.


Roseate Gull! Franklin's Gulls are migrating through the area now and they are easy to pick out from a distance because they are the only gulls that are glowing pink.


Here's one with a couple boring-breasted Laughing Gulls in comparison. Of course Franklin is not in possession of the most famous pink gull (that would belong to Ross), but I've always liked them.


You probably like them too. Admit it. Viewing this photo gives you the warm fuzzies. According to whatbird.com, this gull was named after Sir John Franklin, (who according to Wikipedia, died a horrible death while exploring the arctic wastes). The original name for this bird? Franklin's Rosy Gull.



Roseate Tern!!! Oh wait...it's just a roseate-colored tern, not a Roseate Tern. Sandwich Tern is an abundant bird on South Padre Island, and many of them are glowing pink now, much like their Elegant Tern cousins on the west coast.


There is a lot of sandwich courtship going on here. It's not as cool to watch as tandem aerial displays, but it is funnier.


The mighty bellow of a Royal Tern is a thing to behold.


I was lurking on the boardwalk at the birding center (which is next door to the convention center) and this semi-snazzy ibis traipsed out of the vegetation, not giving two fucks. I assumed it was going to be a White-faced (the expected Plegadis here), but a closer look proved me wrong.


Seeing no pink face and a depthless brown eye, I was ready to embrace it as a Glossy Ibis. But why the gray face ibis? Glossy Ibis does not look like this either.


Upon photo review, there does seem to be a slight tinge of pink in the face (apparently pink is the theme of this post), and maybe even some redness in the eye...which compliments the pale gray facial skin nicely if the bird is actually a Glossy X White-faced Ibis. Lifer hybrid! Tragically, I noticed that a "Glossy Ibis" was reported from eBird at the same spot that day.


The Sora. The commonest small rail. And yet, their abundance makes them no less difficult to observe from a very impressive proximity.


Soras of the boardwalk apparently do not know they are supposed to hide all the time. I know that not many people are frothing at the mouth for Sora observations, but it's a nice bird to come across when they are in a confiding mood.

I was pretty happy with these photos, even though the angle is kind of weird. Is there a scene more bucolic than a content Sora in a wetland? Clapper Rails run amok under the boardwalk too, hopefully I'll have a portrait of a Clapper Rail eyeball by the time I leave Texas.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Bird Police For The People?



We are not "list police". - Oregon List Police

The Oregon Bird Records Committee (aka the Oregon List Po...ahem, the Oregon Bird Police), in an apparent PR move, have begun a brand new blog to build on their relationship with those they are obliged to protect and serve. Unlike most bird police departments, who conduct their business in smoke-filled, dimly-lit back rooms, the OBRC are attempting to forge a stronger bond with the birding public. They state, "Your feedback and questions are essential if we are to maximize our service to the Oregon birding community. Yes, you read that right. We want to better serve Oregon birders." So if you have a question for the bird police, there is now a place to ask it and perhaps even get an answer.

The flip side to all of this is that most other state bird police departments have condemned this as "socialism in the guise of transparency", as a safely anonymous South Carolina bird policeman succinctly put it. These other shadowy organizations now look lazy and secretive in comparison...which would be a fair assessment to make in reality, if bird policemen actually did any of their work and worrying for money.

We here at BB&B look forward to how this blog develops, and especially the heated public discussions and power struggles that are bound to ensue. Good on ya, OBRC. Oh yeah the above photo features a Yellow-throated Warbler from South Padre Island, TX. Because Yellow-throated Warbler.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hoods Up...Abiding and Confiding...Foxtrot Oscar Yankee


Do you like Hooded Warblers? I like Hooded Warblers. I like them numerous and fearless. They were the bird that was impossible to ignore at South Padre Island last weekend...I'll say it again, this is not a bad place to find yourself during the spring.


I like Hooded Warblers with Louisiana Waterthrush legs.


I like Hooded Warblers on the ground.


I like female Hooded Warblers that do not make a sound.


Ok, I'll chill on the Seuss. This was the only female HOWA of the day. Her hood? Modest. The buffet-style birding out there is something I recommend highly.


Northern Parulas were also being especially confiding on this celebrated day. I found one away from the hordes of birders that would hang out just a few feet from me.


I could get used to crushing warblers this hard. The birds reminded me of some of the ones I met on the Dry Tortugas...hungry to the point of not-giving-a-fuck if there were people there or not.


Look at this thing! So sick.


I just realized that there is a completely unrelated bird that has a similar style to the parula... the winning combination of blue, black, white and yellow is worn by Tricolored Heron as well.



Unlike parulas, they are skilled at fish-juggling.


Here's a different individual, with the bright blue lores of the breeding season.


The light was pretty harsh but the bird was abiding. This was off the boardwalk at the birding center. For many years I have heard tell of this boardwalk, and the rumors seem to be true...there are animatronic birds strategically placed throughout the marsh for quality observation.



I'm kidding about that. A joke was made...do not be alarmed. Perhaps this Little Blue Heron will appease you. They are not as fancy as a Tricolored, but not exactly cringe-inducing either.


Ah, the Clapper Rail. This posture makes it look especially kiwi-esque.



The abundance of Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in the region is truly something to reckon with. Talk about an adaptable duck.



Foxstrot Oscar Sierra/Foxtrot Oscar Yankee Tango Echo Whisky Alpha.


The convention center has a few signs posted to encourage birders and photographers (especially photogs) to not act like treacherous douchebags. While I was there some photographer got "chased off" from the convention center for essentially mangling one of the precious few planted trees in order to get an unobstructed photo of some bird (maybe this one). I then saw someone at Sheepshead fitting the same description get kicked out of someone's front yard while trying to follow another bird. It's like magic...put a camera in someone's hand, and just watch 2/3 of their brain shut off.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Migration At Last



Back on March 24 I saw that first fateful email of the spring...the one that confirms what you have suspected all along...spring had arrived. But it wasn't the usual "FOS" I'm used to, about the first Western Kingbird or Warbling Vireo...no. This is not California. When you read about Blue-winged and Worm-eating Warblers, Wood Thrush, 25+ Hooded Warblers...those are not-fucking-around spring birds.

You see, despite my standing in the birding community (#7), I rarely get much exposure to the epic movements of spring migrants that happens from Texas to Maine. If you want to see a bunch of migrating songbirds in California, you have to go to some bizarre desert shitholes, which is incredibly fun but also incredibly out of the way. You are stoked to see 10 species of warbler, not 20+. And so last weekend I found myself grateful to be living less than an hour from South Padre Island, which is known for it's great migrant traps and legitimate fallout potential. I have never experienced a fallout, and I would be more than willing to do a variety of awful things (most of them felonies and capital crimes) in order to bear witness to such a spectacle.

It turned out I was there on a "slow" day, but I was more than happy.


A few Yellow-throated Warblers were hard to ignore...they have melted my face over and over again for many years now, and this time was no different. I appreciate the epic stance this bird adopted for the photo.


By the end of the day I could no longer deny how crippled I felt by looking at these birds for too long, at dangerously close proximity. But there was another Yellow-throated beast that inflicted much damage...


The first bird I looked at when I got the South Padre Island Convention Center was this Yellow-throated Vireo. It gave me the shakes. 


It's good to see you again, my big-headed friend.


This vireo is superior in appearance to any native Californian vireo. Someone was really phoning it in when those west coast vireos all came into existence. Sure Yellow-throated Vireo seems to have borrowed the exact palate of a bright male Pine Warbler, but it's a winner.


Speaking of vireos that are better-looking than west coast vireos, there was a single White-eyed Vireo at the Convention Center, the only one I saw that day. White-eyed Vireo is by far the most confiding member of it's family that I have ever met, and come in to pishing rapidly and recklessly.

Of course White-eyed Vireo is one of the most common birds one finds in shrubland and forest in this part of the state, but that has not yet diminished my enthusiasm for them. Especially when they choose to sit motionless, on an unobstructed perch, about eight (8) feet away. 


I know what you are thinking. "Seagull Steve...I didn't know that bird photography was so easy." And to that I say, you are correct! Naw just kidding, it's hard as fuck. Here is a failed photo of a Black-and-white Warbler that I actually kind of like.


Luckily not all my Black-and-white Warbler shots from last Saturday were so blurry. This bird is a striking bird. There were a handful of Black-and-whites at the Convention Center and at Sheepshead, but they were so busy foraging nuthatch-style that they would rarely bother looking at you...which is great to see, but not to photograph.


I couldn't believe how many awesome birds were getting in my face...the geri-birding scene there is raging, and this is why.


How could someone not feel moved by such a rear end? Hella intricate and thought-provoking. 


"Every breath you take, every move you make...I'll be watching you." - Scissor-tailed Flycatcher to American Golden-Plover. 

Thankfully, there was much more to see and attempt to crush that day, so expect another South Padre Island post in the near future. Until then, drink whisky and read bird migration forecasts.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The $$$ Bird, Green Pie, A Dripping Warbler


Green Jay. This is a real $$$ bird...this is one of the reasons birders come here to spawn...er, birdwatch. This is why there are so many World Birding Centers. Is there anything quite like a Green Jay? Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Brownsville.

I fear for myself this spring. The birding here can just be so good...how will I settle for anything less? Being based in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (less than an hour to South Padre Island, less than an hour to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge), I've been exposed to a lot in the past three weeks. Migration is on, without a doubt...the first wave of warblers, flycatchers, raptors and shorebirds has washed over south Texas...I think it's safe to say that this corner of country pops out of the March Doldrums earlier than most places, which is very good for my mental health.


I see these birds on the reg, but have yet to fully come to terms with them. If there was some intermediate looking relative between Green Jay and Blue Jay (Teal Jay? Aquamarine Jay?) it would make sense, but we lack the avian context.

With each passing weekend I've been able to get a better grasp on the birding scene here, which generally involves a lot of time on eBird, Texbirds (although that's more useful for watching birder drama), and checking a couple relevant blogs before heading out and using my #7 powers to lay waste to any birds that have the misfortune of being in the area...never before have they been observed, listened to, and precisely identified with such speed and mastery. Things will never be the same.

There still hasn't been a bird I've felt the urge to chase yet, which I find baffling, but that has not instilled any sense of apathy in me. Spring migration with both trans-gulf and circum-gulf migrants coming through is really motivating to get out and bird with no abandon.

Right. Here are some more recent birds to ponder.


Red-crowned Parrots...another slice of the avian green pie down here. Aside from the local population (and the 100% exotic population in California) Red-crowned Parrot is a declining Mexican endemic, with a small range in the northeastern part of the country. It has been suggested that some of the birds here are Mexican natives (in other words, not escaped caged birds or their progeny), although it is impossible to prove one way or the other. Photographed at Mont Meta Cemetery.



I haven't visited any of the big parrot roosts yet, I just happen to see these things once in a while during normal birding outings. If you are not completely deaf, their raucous calls are hard to ignore if the birds are in the area. If you are completely deaf...then I apologize.


Black-crested Titmouse is one of the least sought-after valley specialties. No one plots a trip here salivating over the thought of point-blank views of BCTI, but that has not prevented me from growing fond of them. They are a common bird in native woodland habitats and often form the backbone of mixed flocks. Photographed at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.


Some people like to think that their puppy is cute, their kitten is adorable, or their baby is to die for. I think we can all agree this titmouse is taking to whole concept of "cute"to a whole new level.


Northern Parula is a common early migrant here, and they provide a much-needed respite from the Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warbler scene. Oh, and if you have ever heard the line "warblers were dripping off the trees", I offer you this photo of a warbler dripping off a tree.


Northern Parulas rank fairly high on the crippling scale. I find the breast pattern mesmerizing (as I find many breast patterns).


Seriously though, this is a nice bird to get to see regularly. I suspect you easterners take them for granted, to your detriment. Photographed at Laguna Atascosa.


White-tipped Doves are pretty common here...this is the best I could do in the crush department so far. They are easy to find at feeding stations but getting them to sit still is rough. I like the purple spectacles these doves use to see through. Photographed at Sabal Palm.


White-tailed Hawks ply the skies here year-round. With their long wings, sharp head pattern, contrasting underwing and short tails, they look like the perfect cross between Short-tailed and Swainson's Hawks. Photographed east of Brownsville, TX.


Eastern Phoebe is not a bird that will leave the observer broken on the ground and twitching once eye contact is made, but people have strong feelings about them. It's an amicable bird. It is a birder's bird, and so it is only natural that I sponsor this practitioner of The Economy of Style. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.


Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (one of the world's greatest birds) are saturating the valley right now. It's difficult to not see one once you get out of the city. I have lost track of the number of these I've agonizingly had to drive past when I didn't have a camera or couldn't pull over. If Green Jay is an improbable bird, then Scissor-tailed Flycatcher borders on an impossibility, although sadly I can't back up that statement with the right photo...yet. Photographed west of Laguna Atascosa.