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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!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

All Things Great and Small

The tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, where oil is choking wildlife and killing bays and estuaries, sickens me and makes me angry.   I keep thinking  of Coleridge's albatross (in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner") that was so wantonly destroyed by the unthinking mariner. When the mariner destroyed the innocent bird of the poem, the seas turned into a nightmare and it's that image I envision in the scene of oil and fire at the site of the fallen rig:
"About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue, and white."
Yesterday I posted a photo of a Great Egret we saw on its nest at dawn in the Everglades this spring.  In honor of the birds of the Gulf  Coast from here in South Texas (where thankfully we are not affected by the spill) to Florida I'll post some of the other pictures I took on that trip.

Here is the most fascinating bird of our trip: a Wurdemann's Heron, which is a hybrid of the white color morph ("Great White Heron") of a Great Blue Heron and a regular Great Blue Heron.

Can you see the Great Egret sitting on the nest just behind this nest?  If not, click to enlarge the photo.  It's like one of those "how many birds can you find?" drawings.  

The "Wurdemann's Heron" looks like a Great Blue but has a white head.  On our way to fish for tarpon the fishing guide took us by a mangrove island rookery where he knew a Wurdemann's Heron was building its nest.  We approached slowly, using only a trolling motor, and did not disturb any of the birds.  Of course these photos are taken with a zoom lens so we were not as close as it looks.

 In breeding plumage, all the birds were at their most beautiful, especially this Tri-colored Heron I photographed  when we were kayaking in the Everglade's "River of Grass."  I'm used to seeing these guys fly by in twos and threes along our Texas coastal river, but this one was so close I could admire its two-toned blue beak. 

This is the same Great Egret as the one in the photo of my last post.   Its plumes are not showing as well, but the green at the base of the bill is amazing. The color changes during spring breeding season are among nature's most beautiful miracles.
The red bill of the White Ibis is another amazing coloration.

The few American White Pelicans we saw were probably not breeding.  They for some reason had not migrated as the Florida white pelicans do.  We have a flock of white pelicans in our area in South Texas that remain for the summer also.  I see them in the bays sometimes when we are fishing.  I read last week a post on Texbirds that described one being hit by one of those large wind turbines that are along the coast north of us.   The fishing guide in Florida thought these two guys were probably too weak to have migrated.  I wonder if they will survive the summer.

It's the pictures of the Brown Pelicans covered with oil that are so heartbreaking in the news of the gulf oil spill.  As we saw this beautiful bird in breeding plumage on the mangrove islands of the everglades, we already knew that oil was spilling into the gulf and we were hoping that somehow the birds in Louisiana could be safe. 

Another bird we enjoyed seeing in Florida was the Osprey.  This one was nesting on an electrical pole near Chokoloskee Island.

Birds were not the only creatures we saw in the bays and rivers of South Florida.  Here a Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle comes up for a breath and a peek at our boat.

Seeing a hooked tarpon jump was exciting, especially to my husband the fisherman. Click to enlarge this photo to see the fish  in more detail.


Our vacation to see the Florida Everglades, to fish among the islands and paddle through mangrove tunnels
and along the quiet and beautiful "river of grass,"  was a wonderful week of stunning landscapes and fascinating wildlife.  I cannot imagine oil covering and killing this beauty, but of course that is exactly what is happening in other parts of the Gulf of Mexico and it is because of the carelessness, and yes the greed, of humans.

I keep thinking of Coleridge's ancient mariner.  His story is of a man who took for granted the wonder of nature.  As he tells the story, the mariner finally learned a lesson:

"He prayeth best, who loveth best; 
All things great and small; 
For the dear God who loveth us;
He made and loveth all."

It was his punishment to wander from land to land telling the story of the death of a beautiful and innocent bird at the hands of a man who was not evil but who was thoughtless and unaware of his actions.  Coleridge tells us that the "wedding guest," to whom he recounted the story, woke up "sadder and wiser," but I wonder if he really did.  I wonder how many environmental disasters it will take for us to be any wiser.


Jen said...

Great shots of the water birds- I don't see them often.
I went to the Everglades for the first time last year; neat place.
Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog.

Cottage Garden said...

Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for your comment Kay. I have had an engrossing look around your wonderful blog. I hope you don't mind that I add you to my blog list under 'Gardens' as I don't have a category for birders!! I see that you like poetry too. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a salutory tale isn't it. So dreadful about the situation in the Gulf of Mexico - I concur with your feelings completely.

On a happier note, I will definitely be back for more!


Wanda said...

I love your photo of the white pelicans, they look epecially graceful!Beautiful water scenes too, Kay!


Kay said...

Hi, Jen-thanks for your comment and for visiting! Hope you'll return.

Kay said...

I call my yard a bird garden--it's mostly native and planted by the birds, the wind, and by accident! It suits me.
thanks for stopping by!

Kelly said...

You have such beautiful photos here. I love the osprey! I miss all the Florida birds. We were there in April. I'm going back next spring. I'd like to go to the Everglades. All of your posts have enticed me! I love the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks too. We saw them near Longboat Key. They are beautiful.

Kay said...

We love florida, too and will be going back to the Everglades and to my sister's house in the Tampa Bay area. We watched eagles and swallow-tailed kites above her house.
Though we have most of the same birds here in the Rio Grande Valley/coast of Texas, it is nice to travel.
Thanks for stopping by, Kelly!

Carver said...

I am in awe of all of these photographs. What a beautiful place and great seeing it through your camera.

The oil catastrophe is so awful.

ramblingwoods said...

Beautiful series of photos especially with the oil spill.. It makes me so angry and then I cry.. Michelle

Crafty Green Poet said...

wonderful photos, such a variety of herons and egrets, lovely birds.

The oil spill is beyond tragic and I really sometimes fear that we as the human race, just won't learn....

Kay said...

Thank you, Michelle, Poet, and Carver for dropping by.
I always appreciate your comments!

Kay said...

Thank you, Michelle, Poet, and Carver for dropping by.
I always appreciate your comments!

eileeninmd said...

Kay, I love all your bird photos and a cool capture of the turtle. I would love to visit the Everglades. Looks like a great trip. BTW, thanks for visiting my blog.

Kay said...

Hi, Eileen.
yes, let's hope the everglades will remain as beautiful as it is now.

dAwN said...

Wonderful photos..
I get sick thinking about this oil disaster and how it is affecting wildlife..this is all so very tragic.

Elaine said...

I read the Ancient Mariner in high school but only understood its real meaning after reading your chilling post. Thank you.

Jules and Ken said...

Just been able to catch up with you on your blog. We hope to get to the Everglades soon. What a yard you have full of wonderful birds, we're envious. We are sickened by the old disaster too, just can't think of any way they can clean up such a mess. We just saw an Osprey here in AK.

The Early Birder said...

I never made it to the Everglades when we visited Florida many years ago so thanks for sharing your experience. Cheers FAB.

It's Time to Live said...

To many great images to pick a favorite from. Great job.