Friday, February 24, 2012

Trash Talk

One of the big disappointments about Texas birding is the amount of trash you encounter along roadways - about anywhere. Many times I've spotted a Crested Caracara up ahead to find it's only one more Walmart plastic bag tangled on a fence post. Of course, with no recycling, no returnable deposit, and a "toss it out the window" mentality, what can you expect?
Recycling is about non-existent throughout the South. It hurts to crush plastic milk cartons and toss them with the cardboard, cans, and other recyclables. State parks are pretty lame, with only aluminum cans collected. Since we drink no soda or beer from cans, well you get the picture.
The other day I drove over to a large wildlife management area for some birding. It is used for grazing as well and some of the residents didn't seem too impressed by the Vermont plates and kayak on the red truck.

It was a foggy morning and on the way on the access road, I saw a life bird - a White-tailed Kite perched in a dead tree. I took a photo through my scope which was pretty fuzzy but ok for documentation.

Once I left the truck and began birding alongside the Guadeloupe River, I was shocked by the debris. Some was from recent high water but much was crap left by hunters and fishermen. Beer cans galore, fishing line in trees, it was really depressing. But some great birds helped make up for it. Red-bellied woodpeckers made a racket while dozens of yellow-rumps did their flycatchers act.
The highlight was a big bird that flew off and perched in a tree up ahead. Thankful that I didn't have the dog with me, I got right underneath a Great Horned Owl who watched me through the branches but stayed perched as I photographed it and then quietly moved on.

It was a good birding outing but I could not help but contrast it with my trips to new England WMA's. Sure, you'll always run into idiots who litter, but in Texas, it seems to be genetically imprinted. .

We certainly haven't been impressed by recycling efforts in Tennessee, Missssippi, Louisiana, or Texas. We'll be hauling a lot of stuff home but can't start collecting quite yet. Mary and I are far from alone at our disgust for the situation - many from Canada and the upper mid-West share our opinion - as I'm sure do many Texans

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Penny's Operation

I dropped Penny off this morning for the operation to remove the lump from her hind leg. Going there, I mentioned to Mary as we traversed a school zone in busy Rockport, "Boy, these sneak up on you - and people really adhere to the speed limit - must be tough enforcement."
I dropped Mary at the Laundromat and returned to leave off Penny when, "Oh, crap, the school zone" and I hit the brakes just as I saw the two cop cars moving. I pulled over, had my paperwork out, and as the young officer came up, Penny greeted him with a lick. After a long wait as he ran the computer check, he came back with a written warning. So, the day started out ok after all.
We got a call at lunch from the vet's office saying that Penny was resting fine and I could pick her up at four, which I did. After lifting the groggy 55 pound Vizsla into the truck, we traveled back to Goose Island where I carried her into the trailer.

The biopsy will take a week or so but we'll see the vet Saturday to change the bandage and check things out. Stitches come out in two weeks and right now, we don't have a slot here after next week. Weekends fill up and all reservations are taken but we'll figure out something.
Penny is sleeping beside me on the couch as I write and is quite tuckered out. The trick will be as she heals because she can walk but can't run for two weeks. We are glad to have her home.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shooting Birds

One of the many photographic challenges, particularly when you have a Vizsla on leash in one hand, binoculars in the other, and a camera hanging from your neck, is to get a decent shot of flying birds. Here at Goose Island State Park, it's sometimes easier since the vistas open up and many of the birds are larger and easier to find in the view finder. If there's a stiff wind and you can catch them fighting it, they slow down for you.
So, with Penny "helping," I have been shooting some of the birds we see on our outings, with varying success. It's very much a work in progress and a $5k telephoto lens would help - but that's not going to happen.

As a pilot, I like Brown Pelicans as much as any bird. Wonderful fliers, big targets, and they always look like they are having fun.

Not a good shot of a Northern Harrier but it does show the white body marking that, along with their low-flying hunting, makes them easy to ID.

An Osprey who got away while I grabbed for the camera

A couple of Roseate Spoonbills we saw yesterday. Their breeding plumage will start soon but they pretty neat right now.

The ubiquitous Turkey Vulture with its pronounced dihedral. They are everywhere in Texas.

White Ibis with the black wingtips - hard to miss.

So, tomorrow the sun should be out with better lighting possibilities. We'll see how it goes - good thing it's easy to trash digital prints. Practice does help.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Pause For Penny Repairs

I've been pecking away at Airstream fixes the last week, just finishing the repair of the rock screen that we nearly lost in Houston (after ordering a couple of small parts from Out-of-Doors Mart, a wonderful Airstream outfit in North Carolina which handles $10 orders as fast as major purchases). I've got a new plug for the electrical system and need to wait for a dry day to install it.

Meanwhile, a lump on our dog's left hind leg is getting pretty ugly, as she "works" it. We noticed it last Fall during an annual exam and did bloodwork at the time - and when the results were OK, decided to wait and see. But, things have gotten worse and while she doesn't favor it while running, it needs attention.

And we are 2,000 miles from our vet. So, I did a search and started calling. The first clinic was not accepting new patients but the next was, and I took her into Rockport to the Bay Breeze Animal Clinic where Dr. Kim Harrell and staff checked her out. I was pleased with their professionalism and care - and Penny is on antibiotics in preparation for surgery next Tuesday.

Of course, we were planning to leave next Wednesday but I jumped on line before the appointment and snagged the last camping spot available. So we won't have to move and will stay another week to see how things go. Not the worst place to be stranded in February. We are getting some more needed rain but forecasts for next week look in the 70's.

I look forward to dealing with this. I don't look forward to living in a 25' tin can with a Vizsla who can't run for two weeks. Of course, some might say that she's a little too much like me. Moi?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Birds of Goose Island

Goose Island State Park in Rockport, Texas is a great birding spot - even in a drought year like the present one. Between shorebirds and woods birds, there's a great diversity of species and some years (although not this one) a rarity or two. Here are some captures of a few of the interesting feathered friends I've encountered in the last week.

A Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Laughing Gulls

Orange-crowned Warbler

Ruddy Turnstone

Spotted Towhee

Turkey Vultures

White-crowned Sparrow


Rain - finally

Listening to the rain patter on our aluminum roof is comforting, even after a sleep-depriving series of thunderstorms last night. Ever since we got here at Goose Island State Park, the impact of the long drought has been very evident. Little wetland areas along the trails are bone-dry and the soil is dusty. Yesterday, we saw six cardinals gathering near our water hose connection, taking drinks from a small leak.

One of the biggest concerns is about the Whooping Cranes that migrate here from Wisconsin. An AP release last month noted:

"The lack of rain has made estuaries and marshlands too salty for blue crabs to thrive and destroyed a usually plentiful supply of wolf berries. In addition, a long-lasting "red tide" — a toxic algae that blooms in salty water — has made it dangerous for the birds to eat clams, which retain the algae's toxin and can pass it along the food chain."

The refuge folks and local ranches are feeding the cranes to help them avoid starvation. Normally, there are a few in a field just north of the park where the owners provide feed. It is a popular spot for photographers and birders. This year, we counted 13 Whoopers and several Sand Hill Cranes.

Some have noticed more of a survival mentality as well. Usually, crane families are territorial - in fact, we have seen newcomers driven off by the host birds. This year, they all hang together - sort of a "times are tough" community. They've got a long road ahead of them to build up strength for the long haul north.

Of course, the diversion of fresh water by oil interests, a subject of a law suit by environmental groups, has exascerbated the salinity situation. The lawsuit was filed last year by The Aransas Project, a nonprofit group of local governments, advocacy groups and tourism-dependent businesses in the Coastal Bend, claiming the state mismanaged water in the Guadalupe River watershed, contributing to the record die-off in 2008-09 of 23 endangered whooping cranes.

This rain, while welcome, is just the proverbial drop in the bucket. I suspect that the drought will continue for some time and that the cranes will have to survive on handouts.

Photo of Whooping Cranes at Aransas NWR by Fish & Wldlife Service

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My Latest Interest: Geocaching

I was out looking for a bald eagle's nest at Fountainebleau State Park when a Texas auto pulled up. The driver asked if I'd found it and having been there before, helped me locate it through my scope. When I asked if they were birders, he replied, "No, we are geocachers from Biloxi."

Well, I knew what geocaching was since our grandson, Mac, had just gone on a Cub Scout geo outing. When my new friend asked, "Want to see one?" I followed him up to a little path into the underbrush. He reached down and lifted up a root, showing me the drilled hole in the underside, with a small cylinder inserted. He showed me the rolled up log sheet inside - and I was hooked. I went to his website (Gulf Coast Geocachers)read up a bit, downloaded an iPhone app, and was off and running.

Here's a little of what I learned (from Wikipedia):
Geocaching is an outdoor sporting activity in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world.

A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook where the geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their established code name

Larger containers such as plastic storage containers (tupperware or similar) or ammunition boxes can also contain items for trading, usually toys or trinkets of little value.

Geocaching is often described as a "game of high-tech hide and seek", sharing many aspects with benchmarking, trigpointing, orienteering, treasure-hunting, letterboxing, and waymarking.

Geocaches are currently placed in over 100 countries around the world and on all seven continents, including Antarctica. After 10 years of activity there are over 1,532,000 active geocaches published on various websites. There are over 5 million geocachers worldwide.

So, I've done some geocaching at Fountainebleau and Lake Fausse Pointe in Louisiana and at Village Creek annd Goose Island state parks in Texas. I find that it goes well with dog walking, biking, and birding and like the fact that it gets you outside. I also like the geeky aspect of gps and online record-keeping and tracking objects around the country and the world. I also like the inter-generational potential of it; kids love it.

So for now, it's a "give it a try" activity to check out. When the birds are resting, it is a chance to get out the iPhone and see where the closest geocache might be. And perhaps, there's a new bird waiting there as well.