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!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Spring comes early in the Rio Grande Valley.  Proof is in the blossoms of a tree that came up voluntarily in my bird garden.  I think it's a peach tree, maybe a pear.  I know most of the names of the native trees, shrubs, and flowers that spring up around the yard, planted by birds or wind or by catching a ride on animals or on my pants' legs, but some of them are not native and I'll need to ask a neighbor who probably has the parent plant to help with its identification.  This one is a beauty, soft pink and certainly as beloved by the butterflies as if it were native.

The photo of spring was taken before I came to NYC where I am now.  Here it's definitely winter.  This view from a window is  quite different from the view of my arroyo yard.  (But lovely in its own frigid way.)  I'm babysitting a granddaughter who is in a Broadway show.  So far the only birding I've done is accidental and uninspiring. 

(Does finding a pigeon in Times Square count as birding?) 

Looking through photos that might be interesting for my February blog (notice I am no longer pretending to post weekly), I found another shot of Queen butterflies on mistflower at home, taken in the first week of February. If you look kind of upside down and a little sideways, you might see a heart, appropriate for today, Valentine's Day.
In fact, hearts are everywhere in nature.  I'll post a few in honor of this day.

The ruffled feathers of an Eastern Screech-Owl show at least one heart. Can you find it?

Barn Owls are known for a heart-shaped face.  This one was among several captive rehabilitated birds that cannot be released to the wild, but are used for education. I photographed it  at the Rio Grande birding festival.  I often see Barn Owls at night flying over the river and during the day in their excavated holes in the banks a few miles upriver.   Look here for photos of some fuzzy babies.  The photos were taken from long range, as we floated quietly by as we fished upriver. The owls peeked out at us but never flew or acted disturbed. 
I love plants with  heart-shaped leaves, even the pesky twiny vine that grabs hold of everything. 
The low-growing Heart-leafed Hibiscus,   in a photo from the Native Plant Society website, is one of my  favorite native flowers. (I have them in my yard, but can't find a photo I have taken myself.)
A cactus, damaged by the freeze two years ago, shows some ugly spots,  but if you look close a valentine emerges from the yuckiness.
A Great Blue Heron says Happy Valentines Day.

Inca Doves have a sweet-looking, loving nature.  Or at least they appear to.  I may be anthropomorphizing, but I love listening to their gentle cooing sound.

The same freeze that created the heart on the cactus two years ago left ice on the hummingbird feeder, but that didn't deter this Rufous Hummingbird that seemed to be sporting a heart in the feathers of the emerging ruby-colored gorget.

We haven't had a freeze in the Rio Grande Valley this year and probably won't, but winter is certainly here in Manhattan.  While Spring waits for me in Texas,  I'm spending Valentine's Day with one of my favorite  girls.

I would have liked to see the countryside, feed birds, and see bird tracks in the snow while I'm in a state that has winter, but  snow angels on the terrace of the apartment more than make up for a birdless snow.

I'll return to the banks of the Arroyo Colorado next week to watch more signs of spring in the Valley, but for now I'm content with snow angels, pigeons, and listening to little girls sing.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Birds of a New Year

Our first bird of 2013 was a Brown Pelican  following a barge going upriver early this morning and diving into its wake for fish (probably menhaden one of its favorite meals). This New Year's bird was of the red-pouched form which I like the best, a form more common in the Pacific west, that  by my observations seems to make up less than 5 percent of our Brown Pelicans here in south Texas. 

A Brown Pelican was also the last bird I saw in 2012, flying downriver last night just before midnight. I quit watching then because I like my last bird and first bird of the transitioning years to be different. But as I walked up the stairs this morning and looked out the back windows at a barge going by, a group of about 15 pelicans were diving into the wake left by the boat. Usually my first bird of the year is on the opposite side of the house, a hummingbird or winter warbler, or a noisy Kiskadee or Altamira Oriole, but these large wonderful diving birds fishing in the Arroyo Colorado were not to be denied, and the Brown Pelican wins both crowns. So congratulations to the Brown Pelican, bird of both 2012 and 2013 in the Baughman back yard!

Last night I tweeted that the pelican's being the last bird of 2012 was especially fitting since 2012 marked the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. That book chronicled the effects of poisonous pesticides on the Brown Pelican.  DDT, by weakening the shells of the eggs of birds, was especially harmful to Brown Pelicans that incubate eggs in an unusual way, often covering them with their feet.   The heaviness of these large birds virtually standing on eggs that were weakened by the overuse of pesticides in agriculture contributed to their demise.  Rachel Carson spoke up against  DDT and for the birds.  Her advocacy caught the attention of lawmakers who banned the pesticide, and the bird is now thriving. It is certainly one of the most common birds in the river behind our house, especially in the winter. (Summer finds them nesting on the islands and spoil banks in the Laguna Madre.)   So  it's not only fitting that the last bird of 2012 commemorates the great Rachel Carson on the 50th anniversary year of her landmark book, but also that the Brown Pelican is the bird of the  New Year -- a symbol for what humans can do that is positive to undo or at least mitigate the destruction already done to our wildlife and environment.

I am reminded of one of my favorite poems, Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur."  It celebrates the grandeur of a God that creates and protects, and of nature that "is never spent," that survives humankind's wastefulness and destruction:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.