Flat Stanley In Texas

So, I was checking out photos of Flat Stanley other people have put in at the Flat Stanley Project and people totally photoshopped him in on some photos.  That's cheating.  I could have done that with my nephew's Flatty S--he could have been in Israel and birding with me in a minefield but I didn't have him when I went there and that is so not the point of a Flat Stanley.

But I did take him to Texas and to the happiest birding place on Earth--Estero Llano Grande. Here I had Flatty S ( I couldn't help but give him a good rap name) looking through my scope.

He enjoyed all the different ducks including shovelers, green-winged teal and cinnamon teal. But we weren't the only ones interested in the waterfowl at Estero.

We found a Cooper's hawk very interested in the ducks--see Flat Stanley is pointing to it.  This was one relaxed hawk, I can't believe how close it was to the trail and that it let us walk past without getting spooked.  I tried digiscoping it with my phone.

The Cooper's hawk looked and Flat Stanley as though it was thinking, "Can I eat that?"  But the hawk did not eat Flatty S.  It stuck around for quite some time, even others walked past without phasing the bird.

The hawk sat there for so long even a pigeon flew into bathe...then suddenly had that awkward moment when you realize that a predator has joined you in the bath.

These were awesome birds but I wanted to show Flat Stanley a real Texas specialty, something he couldn't see anywhere else so we went to look for for the common pauraque.

Here my buddy Flatty S is pointing the mysterious nightjar the common pauraque.  Can you make it out at the trunk of the tree?  No worries, I took a photo with my iPhone through my scope:

Here's the hiding pauraque up close.  I had to chuckle, as I was taking photos with Flat Stanley on of Estero's volunteers said, "I have to ask...what's with the little guy?" I explained Flat Stanley and what I was doing, then he gave me a hard look..."You're not going to put it up against the pauraques are you?"

Feeling a little sassy I said, "I'm not THAT stupid." I know he meant well and he had no idea what kind of birder I was.  The pauraques were close to the path and though their defense is to stay still and hidden, some people would take advantage of that and might try to get closer than they should.

So, I've sent Flatty S back home.  Wonder if my nephew will catch the birding bug?




2 Caracaras In 1 Year

Winter and lots of snow brings with it cabin fever. We have lots of modern conveniences that help ease that tension, like Netflix Watch Instantly and Amazon Streaming and alcohol! You don't have to go to a rental facility, you don't even have to wait for Netflix to arrive in the mail--you can have most any movie...even things you shouldn't watch like Dagmar's Hot Pants delivered right to your tv with the press of a button. But that leads to things like watching Inception several times in a row, which for me leads me to vexing states: either I need a more exciting job or I have no idea what reality I'm living in.  Bwaaaaaa. But being cooped up is a great time to go through photos and put them in storage since I'm running out of space on my laptop.  I have so many birds that I have not blogged!  Holy crap, I completely forgot the caracaras!

One species was observed during the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival at Laguna Atascosa.  I remember looking at their images in field guides as a kid and thinking, "How cool would it be to see one of those?"  They are one of the birds that attract me to Texas.

Man, stick a cigar out the side of this bird's beak and you could confuse it with Groucho Marx. I'm not sure if you can make it out in the above 2 photos, but there's a yellow bulge on the caracara--that's a full crop.  These birds eat quite a bit of roadkill and will forage for insects too.  Man, what must it be like to get a nice big fat food baby in the middle of your chest and then have to fly around.

I have to admit, it kind of grossed me out to watch the bird preening around the bulge.

The second species of caracara I saw in 2010 is a yellow-headed caracara on one of the field trips with Canopy Tower in Panama.  I didn't get the weird crop/saggy yellow boob view on this one, but it was cool to see nonetheless.

So random bird blogging coming soon.

Gratuitous Grebes!

One thing I love about visiting southern states is that some of the birds I see in Minnesota are so much more camera friendly.  Pied-billed grebes are shifty in Minnesota, they don't trust anyone staring at them for too long or they submerge and resurface further away.  While in Corpus Christi, my buddy Clay took me to a place with a ton of great waterfowl and some rather obliging grebes.  The above bird is an adult pied-billed grebe.

They even showed me their grebe toes.  How do you like them apples, not webbed like a duck at all.  Let's get a closer look:

Look at that crazy foot...wonder if this will lead to a slew of foot fetish comments getting clogged in the blog spam filter?  The feet of the grebe are far back on the body and the lobed toes do aid it as it swims underwater.  They really can't walk on land very well.  Ask yourself if you have ever seen one on land?

Here's a first year pied-billed grebe--it barely has any pie on its bill.

This grebe was so young that it still had the stripes on its face and was begging for food aggressively from its parent.

The adult bird was trying to preen its feathers, but the younger bird pecked and pecked while peeping in a high pitched tone incessantly.  Periodically the adult would nonchalantly reach down, grab a minnow and hand it to the begging young and then go back to preening.  I wonder how the adults teach the young to get their own food when the young are this aggressive when they are about the same size as the adult. Perhaps the adults just flee in terror of the incessant begging?

Anyway, it was fun to spend time with brown birds with freaky toes.

Do You See That Pauraque?

I'm going to start this post off with landscape shots that have a brown bird called a common pauraque in them.  See if you can find the bird(s) and at the end of the post, I'll put up the photos pointing out where they are and you can see if you were able to find them.

Let's start with an easy one, there's one common pauraque in this photo.

There's one pauraque in this photo.

There's one pauraque in this photo.

This is the hardest one, but there sure is a pauraque in this photo.

There are actually 2 pauraques in this photo, one easy...one almost impossible.

Most of my birding time during the Rio Grande Valley Birding Fest was spent at Estero Llano Grande State Park.  Partly because I love it but also because some of my other favorite birding sites in the area were closed due to flooding.  I went there several times with both Birdspot and WildBird on the Fly.  One of the target birds on the trails is a common pauraque, a nightjar that is similar to nighthawks and whip-poor-wills.  I've heard them and I've seen them flushed on roads at night in Central America, but I've never seen a roosting pauraque.

I knew people were seeing between 1 - 3 at a time and I was hopeful we'd find more than one.  We sure did, above is one of the pauraques.  With that cryptic brown plumage, you can understand how they might be easy to miss.  They are active at dawn and dusk and fly around to catch insects with their mouths wide open.  Don't let that tiny beak fool you, it belies a mouth worthy of any mother-in-law.

The park rangers and other birders were very helpful to point out the general areas of where the nightjars were being seen, but you still had to some work.  Here's the trail near alligator lake where they typically have been found roosting.  Note the white sign, it warns people to stay on the trails so the pauraques do not get flushed.  Note the pile of brush on the left side of the trail, that's where the pauraques were.  I suspect the brush was placed there to encourage people to stay on the trail and not wander in looking for the birds and inadvertently flushing them.

Check it out: Disapproving Pauraque! We found one right away and I was happy for that.  These nightjars were a challenge to digiscope.  Number one: they were in the shade.  I could get around that by using the timer on my camera and minimize camera shake for a long exposure.  However, the second and the most challenging problem was that the birds were too darned close to focus in my spotting scope!  The sticks that were protecting the pauraque roosting location blocked some angles and I wasn't about to move the sticks, they were there to help the pauraques. But with patience and creative angling, I managed to grab some shots.

As I was setting up the above digiscoped shot, I found a second and then a third, each closer than the last.  The third pauraque we found was literally three feet away from the trail. Finding the pauraques reminded me of morel hunting.  Once you find one, you instantly see all the other mushrooms surrounding you.  It was the same with pauraques, once you found one, the other popped out like an image in a magic eye painting.

Many of the pauraque photos like the above bird were not digiscoped because they are just too close.  I always wonder how many owls I pass under on a regular basis, not I wonder how many pauraqes, poor-wills and other nightjars I have almost stepped on in my birding travels.  The pauraques did seem to be everywhere in South Texas.  Birdspot and I were wandering around Frontera Audubon, watching a brown thrasher that was working some leaves, when all three  of us--especially the thrasher jumped with a leaf toss flushed a pauraque.  I wonder how often other birds flush nightjars.  And I wonder if they are irritated because of the scare?

And now to see how you did with finding the pauraques in the first five photos:

Here's common pauraque number one.  This one may have been too easy, that eye sticks out.  But I walked past it at least twice before I finally realized it was three feet from the trail.

Hidden pauraque #2.

Pauraque nestled all snug among sticks.

I realize that even though it's circled, this pauraque is hard to see, so here is a zoom in of the cryptically plumaged nightjar:

Even up close, you can see how well their feathers work in their habitat!

The one in the front is fairly obvious, but the one in the back is really hard to see.  Here's a close up:

See, there really is a parauque by those sticks!

Ah, nothing makes me as happy as looking for brown birds!

South Texas Redheads

These are some redheads bathing and splashing against the sunset at Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas, TX.  I took this particular photo through my spotting scope.  The redheads were not at the best sun angle, but with the splashing, I thought it was an arty shot.

It was a huge flock of birds.  At first glance I would have guessed 1500, but in the scope, the redheads just kept going.  We estimated that there were close to 4000 redheads were in this raft.  I half wondered if any of these birds had been counted on our aerial waterfowl surveys on the Upper Mississippi River.

Suddenly, the flock of redheads took off.

Something must have spooked them.  There are warning signs about alligators around the boardwalk, so my guess is that an alligator went for a duck.

One of the benefits of being one for 4000 is that you are less likely to be the one nailed by a gator.

Once the flock what in the air, you could really get a sense of the size and agree that yeah, there must be close to 4000 birds there.

I couldn't help but notice other species mixed in with the flock and making mental notes.  In the above photo there are a couple of scaup mixed in--can you pick them out?  I still crack up that even though I was on vacation from my waterfowl surveys, I'm still attracted to ducks in large numbers.