A Patient Poser

Perched alongside a Brazoria County road, this Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus) had chosen to survey its territory from the tallest tree in the neighborhood: typical behavior from a bird that’s equally willing to walk a country mile in search of grasshoppers or lizards. A large bird, caracaras in the open are hard to miss, so I stopped for a closer look.

Despite being classified as a falcon, caracaras often are mistaken for eagles; in Texas, it’s not uncommon to hear them called ‘Mexican eagles.’ That said, their flight differs from that of an eagle. Rather than soaring high in the sky, caracaras tend to fly low across the land, wings flat and nearly motionless as they search for prey.

One of their most delightful characteristics is their occasional willingness to tolerate human presence. After a few quick photos taken from inside the car, I decided I had nothing to lose and stepped out onto the road. The bird, seemingly impervious to my movements, never stirred. Finally, I called out to him. In response, he stopped staring into space and turned to look at me while the wind ruffled his head feathers.

On a whim, I continued the conversation. “You know you’re handsome, so how about a better view of that shiny blue beak?” Why he raised his head I can’t say, but it’s fun to imagine that he knew he was being admired, and wanted to show off one of his most unique features.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Boys (and Girls) Are Back in Town

 

Dry conditions have meant fewer birds in spots that I normally visit, but last Sunday there was activity at the San Bernard refuge. A small flotilla of what appeared to be Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors) was accompanied by a pair of American Coots (Fulica americana)  and — to my amazement — a single Scaup: the bird with the solid brown head on the right.

The Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) and Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) are easily confused. One field mark is the shape of the head; after much pondering, I decided this one’s head is more round than peakèd, indicating a Greater Scaup. Clicking to enlarge the photo will provide a closer view of these beautiful birds.

The Coots, easily recognizable by their black bodies and white bills, are a common winter bird that sometimes appear at the refuges in great numbers. With a strong front predicted for this coming weekend, I expect to see many more. Other species — Gadwall, Bufflehead, and Pintail — are arriving now, and the unmistakable sound of Sandhill Cranes filled the air as I watched these ducks. The season is turning, indeed.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Importance of Names – The Birds

Osprey ~ Wikipedia

 

Oh, large brown, thickly feathered creature
with a distinctive white head,
you, perched on the top branch
of a tree near the lake shore,
as soon as I guide this boat back to the dock
and walk up the grassy path to the house,
before I unzip my windbreaker
and lift the binoculars from around my neck,
before I wash the gasoline from my hands,
before I tell anyone I’m back,
and before I hang the ignition key on its nail,
or pour myself a drink—
I’m thinking a vodka soda with lemon—
I will look you up in my
illustrated guide to North American birds
and I promise I will learn what you are called.
                           “Osprey” ~ Billy Collins

 

Comments always are welcome.
Image courtesy Wikipedia. For more about poet Billy Collins, please click here.

By Their Ripples Ye Shall Know Them

Spreading, circular ripples on still water may seem mysterious, but they often signal the presence of one of our area’s smaller but especially attractive birds: the Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps).

Shy, with a preference for bank edges and small vegetation-covered islands that offer protective cover, the bird rarely is seen in flight. Instead, it dives: often at the slightest hint of a human presence. Its genus name, Podilymbus, is rooted in the Latin word for “feet at the buttocks.” Like many diving birds, its feet are located near its rear end: a feature which helps the bird propel itself through the water.

Despite their tendency to disappear in a flash, they sometimes will pause for a portrait despite their awareness of a human observer: cautious as ever, but undeniably cute.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Dawn Patrol

Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) ~ Galveston Island

On the Gulf-facing beaches of Galveston Island, dedicated surfers known as the Dawn Patrol arrive at first light. Disciplined and motivated, they add their own experience-based knowledge to the apps that help them gauge wind and waves before paddling out into the surf: hoping for a good ride.

The beauty of the sunrise, the uncrowded waves, and a certain edginess associated with still-roaming noctural predators all combine to make membership in the Dawn Patrol irresistable for some. Even in Galveston, where waves hardly rival those in other parts of the country, there are pleasures to be had.

Meanwhile, on the bay side of the island, a different sort of dawn patrol comes to life in the rising light. Herons, egrets, ducks, and ibis stir among the reeds and rise up from the water, ready to begin another day. Arrive early enough, and you may find one basking in the open, touched by that first, golden light.

 

Comments always are welcome.