Saturday, April 10, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.