Cook’s Beach Birds

The highest density of birds we saw at one place during the  Cape May Spring (birding) Festival was at Cook’s Beach. They are drawn to the beach by the horseshoe crab eggs – rich food to fatten them up before they continue north on their migration.  I took lots of pictures and was challenged to select the ones I would include in this post. I took a sequence when something startled the birds and they took off – swirled around and landed again. The beach seemed very full even when there were a lot of birds in the air.

In some places the gulls seemed to dominate and there were a lot of horseshoe crabs still around. The Laughing Gulls (black head) and larger Herring Gulls are easy to distinguish.

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Sometimes it was a large group of just Laughing Gulls.

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I got my best picture of a cormorant of the festival at the beach. The birds were on the pilings – not the beach – and seemed to be observing the ruckus on the beach. The out-of- focus birds in the foreground are Ruddy Turnstones. The gull is probably a second year Herring Gull.

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This picture includes Forster’s Terns (the black and white birds) and Ruddy Turnstones on the pilings – preening. The Ruddy Turnstones look rounded…probably are already fattening up.

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There is a back of Ruddy Turnstone on the beach in this picture….and the bird facing the camera is a Red Knot. Both birds are a little larger than the other shorebirds.

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The crowd of birds in the picture below are all Red Knots.  The birds with reddish color are in breeding plumage. The others are non-breeding. Note that two seem to be making eye contact.

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I liked this lineup of Herring Gulls, with the mature bird in front and sitting…the immatures standing behind.

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How many birds can you recognize in the picture below:

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The easy ones are laughing gull, red knot, and ruddy turnstone. There are some smaller shorebirds in the mix as well.

I couldn’t resist one botanical picture as we headed back to the car – a rose growing where vegetation meets the beach.

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Back Bay Birding Boat Trip

Our afternoon session on the second day at the Cape May Spring (birding) Festival, was a pontoon boat trip around Cape May’s back bay (Cape May Harbor and tidal wetlands along the Intracoastal Waterway). I saw more birds than I could photograph…but the boat was steady enough for photography as well. Can you identify the birds in this picture?

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They are easy enough: American Oystercatcher, Black-bellied Plover (2 of them), and a Laughing Gull. I didn’t identify the one facing the water.

There were lots of Laughing Gulls and they were close enough for portraits.

There were a few Brant (geese) that hadn’t left yet. From far away they look a little like a Canada Goose but smaller; taking a closer look…the markings are quite different.

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I took a picture of the Great and Snowy Egrets to provide a comparison of the two birds in the same photo: size, bill color, etc.

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There was an island where there were a lot of nesting Laughing Gulls and Forster’s Terns.

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The terns (different stages of development) were feeding on the mud flat.

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A Least Tern seemed to enjoy the bobbing of a barrel.

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By far the ‘star’ of the nesting birds were the Osprey.  They seemed to be nesting on everything sticking out of the water that could hold a nest!

The Peregrine Falcons were also using a man-made structure for their nesting site: a bridge. The bird was protecting her young as our boat went underneath the bridge. The female was with the chicks. The male was having lunch on the next bridge support over.

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Being on a boat provides a different perspective….and we would not have seen the falcon any other way. Even though many of the birds seemed to be watching our progress…they were not disturbed by the boat as they are by large groups of people moving about on land.

Heislerville Wildlife Management Area

Our next field trip of the Cape May Spring (birding) Festival was at the Heislerville Wildlife Management Area a the end of Matt’s Landing Road. There are ponds on each side of the road as it gets close to Haase’s Marina. There were shorebirds on the mudflats – like these that (I think) are all Semipalmated Sandpipers. It was a challenge to get birds in small enough groups where the individual birds could be distinguished.

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Some are easier to identify than others like this Semipalmated Plover.

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On an island in one the ponds: a Double-crested Cormorant rookery! It is one of the few in the mid-Atlantic region. Most of the cormorants migrate further north for the summer and to breed.

There were the usual Red-wing Blackbirds and Crows around too. We heard both Fish Crows and American Crows…not sure which one this was.

Heislerville was the first place I began to realize the numbers of birds that migrate through Cape May in the spring and fall….I couldn’t resist a picture of birds in flight…with a lot still on the mud flat!

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There was a group of Black Skimmers on another island almost out of camera range with a Forster’s tern on a log in front.

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Overall – the area was rich in bird sightings - and a good contrast to the state forest earlier in the morning.

Road Trip to Cape May NJ

Last week we drove up to Cape May NJ for the Cape May Spring (birding) Festival. It’s a little over 3 hours for us. We decided to wait until mid-morning to let the traffic clear out…but the traffic was still very heavy on I-95. It took us more than an hour to get to the Maryland House Service Area; we opted to take the stop even though we usually pass this one by. It has been rebuilt in recent years with more areas for people to sit and eat…even places to charge electronics or use a laptop (although no one was doing that while we were there). The landscaping is still growing into the place.

Getting back on the road – the major traffic seemed to have cleared. We got to Delaware Memorial Bridge about 30 minutes later. And we were in New Jersey.

Our route turned south now that we had passed over the Delaware River and were on the other side of the Delaware Bay. Millville NJ was along our route to Cape May. I had completely lost track of where it was located in New Jersey since I had visited back in Fall 2014 (see post here).

This time we continued further south – into an area I had never been: Cape May, the furthest point south in New Jersey with the Delaware Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. We arrived by mid-afternoon, checked in to our hotel and then picked up our registration packets for the festival. Then we headed out to the Cape May Wetlands State Natural Area. I’ll post about it tomorrow….and the rest of festival in the days to come.

Egrets at Chincoteague

This is the last of the posts about our trip to Blackwater and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. It was a very windy morning that my husband and I photographed two kinds of Egrets along the main drive of the refuge. We used the car as a blind – rolling down the windows on the driver’s side (I was in the back seat) and stopping whenever we spotted something we wanted to photograph. The sequence below is of a Snowy Egret…fishing with the wind ruffling its feathers.

A little further along another Snowy Egret sat still for a portrait (face and yellow feet)!

A Great Egret caught a fish!

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After than action – it continued to search for food. I missed the beginning of the action and the bird must have been frustrated because it didn’t come up with a fish!

This was a very different experience from the Egret Rookery in Dallas (see post here) where the birds were nesting rather than searching for food.

Rainy Morning at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

The last morning of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival was rainy. We’d signed up for a field trip about birding by ear and habitat at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It was one of the few field trips that was not cancelled entirely but it was changed considerably by the weather. We talked through the topic of using other than markings for bird identification – songs, habitat, silhouettes, behavior…and then did the best we could to observe some birds. We didn’t do any hiking…just observed what we could from the visitor center and from within the car along the wildlife loop. Still – it wasn’t a bad morning for seeing birds. The visitor center has feeders that attract Painted Buntings this time of year. What a treat to see these brightly colored small birds!

Then it was out to the wildlife loop to look at water birds. The first one we saw was a smallish white bird at the edge of the water. In was in the right habitat for a heron or egret…about the size of a cattle egret but in the wrong habitat since they are usually in fields. It was a juvenile Little Blue Heron with green legs and a washed out looking face….definitely not a Snowy Egret.

There was a group of Northern Shovelers feeding – living up to the ‘shoveler’ name.

Glossy Ibis were feeding in the shallows and mud.

There were some Roseate Spoonbills feeding almost out of range of my camera. Watch the one in the center in this sequence.

There were was a mixed group of birds: Roseate SpoonBills, American Avocets, and a Great Egret. That area near that shore must have been rich pickings.


A little further along the shower there was a group of American White Pelicans in the water. The group might have been working together to herd fish into the shallows – easy feeding.

Last but not least - a Tricolored Heron made an appearance. It too was looking for breakfast in the shallows.


Overall – it was not a bad ending for the festival. It would have been better had it not be raining…and even better if the sun had come out. We picked up some snacks intended for some trips that were cancelled and headed back to the hotel to pack for the trek home the next day. Both my husband and I enjoyed the festival and I’m sure we’ll do it again – leaving more time between field trips (and before/after the festival) to do some photography at our own pace. It’s a rich area for birding and more comfortable in the winter than it is in the summer.

Whopping Crane and the rest from a Central Florida Field Trip

Continuing the third day of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival….this is the last post about our field trip into Central Florida. The high point of the day was seeing a Whooping Crane. This is one that started out life at the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge (program now ended) and doesn’t migrate. It generally stays on a cattle ranch and enjoys cattle feed! We stopped at the ranch’s entrance, so the pictures are a little blurry with the max zoom required to take the picture.  There were some sandhill cranes around as well and it was obvious this bird was different – bigger and very white. Our guides told us that the dwindling numbers of whooping cranes in Florida will be captured and relocated to join a non-migrating group in Louisiana.

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Even though it was chilly while we were in Florida, it was still much warmer than in Maryland. There were flowers blooming and going to seed.

The deciduous trees had lost their leaves. The guides pointed out bald cypress domes…the tallest and oldest trees being in the center.

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I was pleasantly surprised by the paint job in the rest room of the place we stopped for our picnic lunch. Very artfully done!

A cow escaped the pasture and was in tall grass heaven near one lake. Fortunately, the grass held the cow’s attention and it didn’t wonder up into the picnic area.

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We stopped when we spotted a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on a fence post. It moved to the fence wire and I got another angle.

We were just getting ready to retreat to the bus when a Crested Caracara flew in with some prey followed by an entourage of Turkey Vultures. The big lenses and binoculars were trained on the caracara trying to figure out what the prey was. Maybe a snake.

They stayed around long enough for me to take a portraits. The crest of the caracara reminds me of a bad toupee.

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The vultures kept a respectful distance but would move in as soon as the caracara left.

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We made a last stop before the end of the day at the Helen and Allan Cruikshank Sanctuary where we had spent a very rainy morning a few days before. This time we saw an Osprey before the scrub jays.

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But the Florida Scrub Jays showed up soon enough. One alighted on the hand of one of our guides – probably thinking there would be a peanut for it…no peanut appeared.

Another bird stomped on the hat of our other guide. The bird obligingly turned around for him to get a selfie. That was the last event of the day. Note that all the jays we saw were banded…sometimes multiple times.

Our day in the field (5AM to 4PM) was probably the best of the festival…so much seen in a relatively short period of time!

Water Birds of Central Florida

Continuing the third day of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival…today’s post is still based in the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area…observing birds around the lakes rather than woodpeckers.

On bird that was new-to-me was the Limpkin. It’s a crane relative and lives in the Americas. Their diet is mollusks – dominated by apple snails.

Here’s a sequence of one walking.

Another bird that I had not seen before and that also eats apple snails is the Snail Kite. I was hunting on the same lake as the limpkin and it found a snail – took the snail to a post in the water to eat.

There were empty snail shells in the water so both birds were probably getting enough to eat. Most of the shells were the larger apple snail which is invasive to Florida but both birds can apparently eat them as easily as they do the native species.

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There were three kinds of white birds around: the juvenile Little Blue Herons,

(which grow up to have gray-blue adult plumage with some red on their neck and heads),

The Snowy Egret with its black legs and yellow feet,

And a Great Egret which was the largest of the three.

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There was a Great Egret in a tree near where we had a picnic lunch. Evidently he gets fed nearby and is named Pete.

There were two other herons beside the Little Blue: Tricolored Heron and

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A Great Blue Heron in the tall grass.

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Nearby there was a Sandhill Crane barely visible in the grass and its mate standing nearby. I took a picture of the one that was standing. Evidently sandhill cranes seen as pairs in Florida are resident;  they don’t migrate. There are cranes that come for the winter but don’t breed in Florida and they generally stay in larger groups.

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There were Anhinga around sunning themselves or preening. They are easier to photograph out of the water.

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The Common Gallinule has very large feet. To make it easier for them to walk on vegetation in the water.

There were a lot of insects that the bird was finding on the grasses near the water.

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A near relative – the Purple Gallinule – was doing the same thing.

There was a juvenile nearby. I liked the way the light changes the colors of the bird. It was like the color of peacocks and morpho butterflies…changing color with every slight variation in light. They too have big feet.

I saw a Pied-billed Grebe just as it turned away…got one picture.

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A Glossy Ibis was also enjoying the lakeshore…finding food.

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It was a good day for water birds. There were even more (white pelicans, some ducks) but they were too far out on the lakes to get reasonable pictures. I was pleased to see three new-to-me birds: snail kite, limpkin, and purple gallinule.

Florida Scrub Jays at Cruickshank Sanctuary

The second morning of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, it was raining when we got up. When we headed out at about 8 AM, it was thunderstorming …complete with nearby lightning. By the time we arrived at the Helen and Allan Cruikshank Sanctuary, there were puddles everywhere but was the lightning was gone and the rain was slowing. We headed out walking around the larger mud puddles.

The sanctuary is managed to stay scrub – which requires periodic burning. There are occasional live oaks, but most vegetation is low…and the Florida scrub jays love it.

They were everywhere and acclimated to people being around. Even with the light rain and thick clouds, I managed to take some pictures. The blue color changes in different light but I discovered that once I zoomed in enough, the birds were colorful even in the low light (from afar they looked like dark gray birds!). The birds bury acorns in sand and remember where buried food is better than squirrels. It was obvious that people had left peanuts for the jays because we saw a bird dig up a peanut still in its shell!

The sanctuary is an island surrounded by housing development…and the invasive Brazilian pepper is growing among the native vegetation. I learned that some people have skin sensitivity to the plant – like poison ivy.

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There were mounds of lichen on the ground. It looked like reindeer moss (maybe the same genus: Cladonia). I went back to take a close up picture with my smart phone and macro lens….even though the next line of rain was coming through and the hiking group was dispersing a bit early.

Festival of the Cranes – part 10

We got up early for the last day of the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge to see the flyout. There were more clouds on the east horizon than in previous days. They made for deeper color of the sunrise.

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The water around the sandhill cranes that were just beginning to move around was tinged pink.

A few begin flying away but most of them stayed put.

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It was a cold morning and a thin layer of ice had formed on the water. I took a series of pictures of a crane carefully walking and breaking through the ice.

The morning light began to fade as the clouds blocked the sun. A juvenile sandhill crane seemed to pose for my camera. The redhead feathers of adulthood are still to come for this bird.

I finally managed to capture the drama of the flock of snow geese leaving the pond. They swirl up into the air. Sometimes they come back to the same pond; other times they go somewhere else. I guess it depends on what caused them to fly up and out.

As cranes take off from the water – the legs are still down but they ‘point their toes,’ becoming more aerodynamic. I’m always in awe of how close together they can be and not get their wings tangled as they take off.

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Finally – I took some pictures of a single crane surrounded by snow geese – head pointed up and vocalizing, flapping wings. Was the bird celebrating the morning, calling other cranes to join him, or just starting a normal crane day?

It was a good conclusion to the last fly out of this festival.

Baltimore Birding – part 3

We continued our Baltimore Birding experience with a walk around Fort McHenry the next morning. It was mostly sunny and warmer. Even with the better light and no rain – I saw more birds than I managed to photograph. I’m featuring the ones that say still long enough for me to get the camera in position. There were quite a few Great Crested Flycatchers (I remember seeing one in my back yard last year about time…posted about it here).

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There were American robins in the grass.

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The small birds moved around rapidly in the trees. I think this one is an orchard oriole.

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I photographed mushrooms when I saw them. The mulch was support several groupings….and a sycamore stump had a collection of small shelf fungus.

There was a grackle aggressively defending a trash can at the front of the visitor center.

There were mallards about. There was a female that looked calm for the moment…the males were being very aggressive.

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There was a ‘mixed breed’ duck…probably mallard and a domestic duck of some kind.

There were some sycamores along the path that did not look healthy. I wondered if salt water incursion was happening through the seawall around the fort….or maybe they are all the same age and getting old. I took a picture of one that already had its top gone; there was a knot with leaves sprouting at about eye level with ‘wrinkles’ on all sides – almost like skin.

We headed over to a marshy are beside the fort…and I managed to finally get a picture of a one kind of swallow we say: a tree swallow. We saw barn swallows on our walk as well.

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Overall our Baltimore Birding experience provided a different perspective on the city. I would guess that birding in just about any city would have the same results. Maybe it is something we should do more often….although the amount of trash (particularly in the water) is always depressing.

Baltimore Birding – part 1

My husband and I participated in the Baltimore Birding Weekend this past weekend. It’s a new perspective on the city for us. On Saturday morning we participated in a session that started at Swann Park and then walked several segments of the Middle Branch Trail parking convenient to trail access: in the Harbor Hospital parking lot, on Warner Street near the Horseshoe Casino, then at the boathouse at Middle Branch Park on Waterview Ave. It rained for most of the time we were out, but my husband and I stayed dry enough in boots, rain pants and windbreakers (I used an umbrella part of the time because my windbreaker was not as waterproof as I thought it was).

Because it was raining and cloudy…and I was often holding the umbrella….I didn’t get as many pictures as usual although the umbrella enabled me to get more than I would have otherwise because it kept the rain off the camera. There were a lot more birds that I saw but couldn’t photograph. The bird pictures are often good enough for id but not much else. At the first stop (Swann Park) – I managed a double-crested cormorant (way out over the water) and killdeer (on the walkway ahead of us).

The second stop (accessed from the Harbor Hospital parking lot) was cut short by the path being flooded under a bridge. We did see a mallard family (4 ducklings) head out into the water before we turned around and went back to our cars.

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We parked along Warner Street near the Casino next. Our destination was the Gwynn Falls/Middle Branch trail head, but we stopped to note the bird mural on one of the buildings.

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There were a lot of smaller birds in the woods which I didn’t manage to photograph but the rain let up slightly and we stood on a bridge over the water. The trash was depressing (it is everywhere but particularly in the water…some of it probably came from a long way down the Patuxent River). The black-crowned night heron seemed to take it in stride.

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There was a green heron nearby as well.

But the highpoint of being on the bridge was a belted kingfisher that flew toward us, under the bridge and then settled onto a branch. I took some pictures. It had a fish but made no move to swallow it….and then it flew on.

I’ll continue our adventure in Baltimore Birding in tomorrow’s post.

Gleanings of the Week Ending April 21, 2018

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Adventure Photographer Captures Majestic Scenes of the Natural World – Starting out this group of gleanings with some eye candy!

Arctic sea ice extent at 2018 winter maximum was second smallest on record | NOAA – It will be interesting to see what happens to the Arctic this summer since there was less ice this winter.

With a Green Makeover, Philadelphia Is Tackling Its Stormwater Problem - Yale E360 – This article discusses what Philadelphia is doing…also what Philadelphia has learned from other cities. Dealing with stormwater has become a challenge in many urban (or suburban) environments….and rain gardens, green roofs, wetlands, and other techniques are leading to more sustainable solutions.

More Reason to Leave the Car Behind When Visiting the Columbia River Gorge - News | Planetizen – Have to keep this in mind for a vacation to the Northwest.

A North American Climate Boundary Has Shifted 140 Miles East Due to Global Warming - Yale E360 – Quite a few of my family members live in the Dallas area…and they are now on the dry side of the boundary!

Basking sharks gather in large groups off northeast US coast: Group sightings are fairly rare -- ScienceDaily – Opportunist data gathering…maybe someday it will be clearer why they happen with the second largest fish in the world.

Google X Spinoff Dandelion Raises $4.5 Million To Explore Residential Geothermal – Residential Geothermal primed to become mainsteam?

Birding For People Who Do Not Like Lists – Cool Green Science – This is me…a birder that does not like lists. I’m just thrilled to watch them…trying to get good photographs of them.

More than 50 new Nasca Lines, found with the help of GlobalXplorer and citizen archaeologists | TED Blog – citizen scientists searching satellite images.

Top 25 Wild Bird Brood Parasites – National Geographic Blog – I never can resist the collections of bird photographs….even these that are brood parasites.

Birding through a Window – March 2018

I was out and about more during March than earlier in the year so I wasn’t around to see birds through my office window as much. I did catch the birds that seem to always bee around: the blue jays,

The cardinals,

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The mourning doves,

The juncos (they’ll be leaving for their nesting grounds in the north soon),

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The titmouse, and

The Carolina wren.

There are the ones I see less often – so continue to view them as special:

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the pileated woodpecker and

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The northern flicker.

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There seemed to be more flocks of birds in the yard and around the feeder/bath: cowbirds,


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Starlings, and

Robins of course (I always associate springtime and flocks of robins coming through…some staying for the season and others continuing northward).

All in all – a good number of birds around in March through high winds and snow….the swings of temperature. It’s been a wild weather month.

After the Great Backyard Bird Count

This year was by first time to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. It started last Friday (see my post from Friday) and ended yesterday…and was a learning experience in several ways.

I was glad I had decided to simply observe from my office window because the weather was not very cooperative. It rained and snowed! There were lots of times I looked out and saw no birds at all. I felt lucky to see 15 species. The pileated woodpecker was not one of them…but the downy woodpecker visited twice.

The juncos and doves were the most frequent visitors.

I didn’t take as many pictures because the light was so poor….but I did capture several ‘personalities: bluebirds (sometimes they look affronted…like they know someone is looking at them).

And a Carolina Wren (it seemed like the bird noticed me through the window and interrupted singing to check…then continued singing).

South Padre Island and Bay Cruise – Part 3

The last part of the field trip was a cruise on the bay. The first ‘sight’ was a lighthouse with scaffolding around it as we neared the dock on our bus.

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Then we were off and looking for Peregrine Falcons under the bridge. We spotted several but there was only one that was positioned for pictures.

There were mud flats with Laughing Gulls,

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An Osprey surveying the scene, and

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A Great Blue Heron walking awkwardly in the mud.

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There was an island that provide roosting sites for Great Blue Herons (7 of them in the foreground) and Roseate Spoonbills (8-10 of them in the background).

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This is the best picture I got of the Roseate Spoonbills as we cam around their side of the island.

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Brown Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, and laughing gulls were groups on the sandy beach.

What birds to you see in these two pictures? So you see the Green-winged teals (2 males and a female), Black-Necked Stilt (2), Great Egret, Laughing gulls.

As we headed back to the dock, there were Double-Crested cormorants on pilings we were passing

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And a Laughing Gull settled on the highest point of our boat.

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There were so many Brown Pelicans. It’s thrilling that their numbers have recovered from the brink of extinction caused by pesticide pollution!

Home Again


I am glad to be home again after 2 weeks in Texas! During the first week in North Texas, there was a birthday to celebrate along with day to day activities like walks to Josey Ranch and the plantings still blooming, a trip to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge…a lunch at an upscale Mexican food restaurant (some large baskets decorated the walls of the entrance)

And some wire art in the atrium of a medical building (noticed when a was chauffeuring to doctor’s appointments). I’ve posted about that first week.


Over the next weeks I’ll post about week 2 in Texas – near Harlingen, Texas in the far south where we made the most of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival…. lots and lots of birds. The Harlingen Municipal Auditorium was the headquarters for the festival with lots of buses and vans heading out to birding spots around Harlingen between 5:30 and 7 in the morning: birders are always anxious to get out in the field early!

We flew in and out of San Antonio so the last day, I spend the morning at the San Antonio Botanical Garden…well worth the visit.

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As we took off just before 6 PM CDT, I took one last picture from Texas from the plane: a sunset just as the plane climbed above the cloud layer. We were headed home.

Yesterday I was challenged with a lot of catch up activities: groceries, laundry, verifying my 2018 medical plan selection, signing up for training for my December volunteer gig (it involves a model train exhibit) …and trying to get back to the east coast time zone. I put off the raking of leaves until today. They are a thick carpet in the backyard --- all the leaves from the maple and tulip poplar and sycamore are on the ground and the majority fell while I was in Texas!