Welcome to my world!

Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Sometimes I feel like I'm one of the paparazzi spying on celebrities with my camera.  But, of course, the celebrities of my yard are its birds.  I've spied on them with scope and binoculars for years.  Now  with a digital point-and-shoot zoom camera, I am  relentless.

Hooded Orioles continued to be among the most spied upon birds in our yard today.  They were everywhere:  bathing, eating orange halves, sipping nectar from the hummingbird feeders and the bottlebrush blooms, following each other around from tree to tree, calling from the top of the ash tree, males chattering and scolding other males, females inspecting nest sites in the palm trees.  Two pairs, at least, have claimed the yard as their own, doing almost everything as "couples."  I spy on them with binoculars and capture them in photos.

The female in the photo here was not bathing alone.  Just out of the picture, still in the bath but obscured by foliage is the male. I don't think their actual nest building has begun.  I have yet to see them carrying plant material.  From previous years, I know that their nests are amazing little pouches made of  fibers stripped from the palm fronds, probably torn away from the base of the fronds that still cling to the trunk.  Now that I have a camera with a zoom lens I'll be able to photograph a nest this year.  The females make holes in the palm fronds and then suspend the nests under them, weaving the fibers tightly into a small pouch.

The first Orchard Oriole of the season stopped by the bottlebrush tree yesterday.  See if you can spot him in this photograph.  It may look like just a blob of brick-red and black, but it is a bird if you look closely.  (Do you feel like you're looking at a photo of Jennifer Aniston taken from two blocks away? Paparazzi photos are sometimes just little blobs, too.)  Several females were in the tree at the same time,  probably some of them Orchards.  To speculate about their relationship really is too paparazzi-like, so I won't, but I can say there were several female orioles, one Hooded male, and one Orchard male. 

Tropical Kingbirds are another new tick off the year's yard list.  I think they've been here all along,  but today was the first time this year I had heard them.  Unless they sing, I can't distinguish them from the Couch's Kingbirds, so I was glad to hear the ascending pip-pip-pip-pip of the Tropical Kingbird that sang from the electric wire today. I can now officially list them in the sidebar Yard Birds 2010.

Tonight the most noticeable birds on the river have been a large number of Snowy Egrets that even now after dark are circling, reflecting the fishing light as they fly.  Little bait fish startle under them, exploding like silver fireworks in circles of light.  We see Snowy Egrets all year here, but these must be migrating.  They struggle mightily against a strong east wind as they navigate down river.  A few have just landed in one of the trees on the far bank.

The buoyancy of the Snowy Egret's flight helps distinguish them from cattle egrets that have also been traveling the river in large numbers.  Of course, the bird's yellow feet are unmistakable if you can spot them.  Notice the "golden slippers"  in the photo of the flying bird, taken two weeks ago as we fished upriver. 

Below is a picture of egrets that rested in the trees across from our yard two days ago.  At the time, I thought they were Cattle Egrets,  like the ones I'd seen on the deck of the boat lift the day before (see Wednesday's post for a photo), but maybe they were Snowy Egrets.  The paparazzi doesn't always draw the right conclusions--or if it does, it's not known for truthfulness.)   Which egrets are these, really?

Friday we went to South Padre Island for lunch and stopped by the Convention Center where we enjoy strolling the boardwalks out into the marsh along the side of the Laguna Madre, watching shorebirds, rails, gallinules, bitterns, and other birds, as well as a resident alligator. We were surprised to find the boardwalk blocked off.  A sign told us to enter (and pay $5 each) from the South Padre Island World Birding Center next door.  I was disappointed, slightly angry, and not rich enough to pay ten bucks for a brief stopover, so we watched the trees, shrubs, and water features around the Convention Center for warblers and took some very long-distance photos of the terns, gulls, and Black Skimmers that were relaxing on the shore by the Laguna Madre.

I'm sorry that families and retired Winter Texans ("Snowbirds"), not to mention locals like us who wanted to make a quick stop,  may have been priced out of a wonderful site for birding.  I felt kind of like paparazzi, unwelcome and  sneaking a look through my camera.

Nevertheless, lots of birds were there, though far away.  Here are a couple of  the more interesting photos. If you click on them and enlarge, you will see all the interesting things the various birds are doing. What kinds of terns are in the top picture?  What kinds of gulls are in the bottom one? (Sometimes the paparazzi don't even know whom they're taking pictures of!)

The Black Skimmers are among my favorite shore birds.  I remember how excited I was the first time I saw them on the Alabama coast years ago,  skimming over a small brackish lake near our campground with that long lower mandible scooping the water.  In the first photo, they're the ones with the long black and orange beaks.  In the second photo, flies toward the gulls on the fence. This bird's posture in flight is quite recognizable (but I guess that's true of most birds).

Black Skimmers fly over the arroyo at night, white bellies reflecting the light and dark backs and wings fading into the night.  It's one of the reasons I like to awaken in the night and gaze over the river from an upstairs window. 

It's not just birds we see from our yard and windows.   Coyotes wade along the river,  bobcats hunt there occasionally, and this morning a deer ran along the shore, water splashing around its feet. But we're not seeing one favorite mammal nearly as often as in other years: the bottlenose dolphins.  I hope that doesn't signal something wrong in the river or a decrease in dolphin in the ocean or intracoastal waterway.  Some years they have been daily visitors along  our Arroyo Colorado, a brackish river of saltwater and fresh, feeding and leaping out of the water, swimming in groups up to a dozen, small ones alongside their parents.  Perhaps we will start seeing them again soon.

Yesterday morning as I watched a deer running through tall grass above the bank on the other side of the arroyo, spying from my living room window,  two Wild Turkeys were startled by the deer and flew up to the top of an Ebony  tree.   Of course I ran for my camera.  For  the next quarter of an hour I watched the male turkey fanning, then folding, then fanning its tail. The wind was blowing so hard I don't see how the bird managed to keep its balance, but it did.

And I managed to get some photos.  They were not good ones:  the camera was so far from the bird, the lens zoomed in so far,  that they are indistinct and fuzzy.  But that's often the  case with paparazzi photos, too, isn't it?

 Just think of this as not National Geographic but National Enquirer! I'm your paparazzo stopped by a river, or a blocked-off boardwalk, spying with camera and scope for a long-distance peak at our celebrities.


denapple said...

I agree with you. I'm sure the birds get annoyed when I follow them round and round a tree. Notice I never "chase" them at all!

The Early Birder said...

All wildlife watchers are the paparazzi in one disguise or another. Another lovely selection from your location Kay. FAB.

Kay said...

Thanks, Frank! Glad you stopped by.

Kay said...

Denapple, some would say we're obsessive in our following--but I'm always polite!

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

This is the perfect place for birding Kay. Some of the birds seem to love having their pictures taken. :)

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Kay: Fun photos of nature, thanks for showing us the animals of Colorado and Texas. Thanks for the visit.

Rambling Woods said...

I never thought of it that way..but I guess lurking around hoping to see something taking a bath could be seen that way. Fantastic birding your way...Michelle

eileeninmd said...

I have thought the same thing about us "birders" being the paparazzi. Wonderful post, I enjoyed all the birds and the lovely photos.

Larry said...

Wow! You have some fanastic yardbirds!I'd love to have those orioles in my yard. I've never seen a skimmer before either.