Tuesday, April 26, 2005

View From My Bedroom Window

This morning I looked out the bedroom window to see a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak perched on one of our new feeders. Pretty cool! Hoping the grosbeak might be a harbinger of some larger wave of migrants, I went outside and spent some time searching the yard, but aside from one Broad-winged Hawk and a male Yellow Warbler there wasn't much action to report.

Michelle was sick over the weekend, but since then has more or less recovered. Yesterday I left her resting at home and drove down to Sabine Woods. The weather was awful, but not the kind of awfulness that causes a spectacular fallout of birds. For a day in late April it was strangely cold. The sky turned an ominous shade of gray, and then it started raining and refused to stop. Major fallouts are usually accompanied by such nasty weather, but the wind was out of the south and probably pushed most of the birds farther inland. Highlights included thrushes galore, a male Cerulean Warbler, an Ovenbird or two, and mulberry trees full of Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Not too shabby.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Crawfish & Fried Twinkies, More Birding & Gardening, Michelle Gets Sick

Last night Michelle and I had dinner at Rocky's Roadhouse in Beaumont. From the name I expected it to be just another crowded steakhouse with peanut shells littering the floor, but it turned out to have a very pleasant outdoor dining area, a stage with live music, and some of the biggest crawfish I've ever seen. Shared two heaping platters of mudbugs complete with corn and potatoes and fake butter to dip it all in. Did make one mistake - ordered the fried twinkies for dessert. That's right. Fried twinkies. Tastes about as bad as it sounds.

This morning I looked out the front window and was surprised to see a Yellow-breasted Chat near the birdbath. It was perched out in the open, and hung around long enough for Michelle to come see it too. Afterward I walked around the yard hoping to find some other goodies, but didn't see much aside from a pair of Gray Catbirds and a lingering Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Later in the afternoon a female Summer Tanager was splashing in the birdbath where the chat had been seen earlier.

Michelle and I both had the day off, but she had arranged a full schedule of appointments to keep us busy. This morning we met with the priest at her church about our impending wedding, then we went to Joe's Crab Shack to have lunch with some of Michelle's patients from the convalescent hospital in Silsbee. We left the restaurant a bit early because Michelle was having chills. Later in the afternoon we went to Tyrell Park to meet a photographer and have some engagement pictures taken. The Garden Center in Tyrell Park is very photogenic and can be a good birding spot - today it was good for Prothonotary Warbler and Scarlet Tanager. Also saw a few watersnakes (possibly 2 or 3 different species involved?) basking along the edge of the slough there. Unfortunately we had to leave early because Michelle was feeling ill. Checked her temperature when we got home and she had a fever of 103. Acetaminophen and a cool bath brought her fever down, and a lime slushie from Sonic might have helped too. At least she's resting comfortably now.

On a more positive note, our garden is looking great. Only one of the azaleas is still flowering, but the lantana, salvia, and coral honeysuckle are all in bloom. Even the hamelia and bananas (which appeared to have been killed by the winter freeze) are showing signs of life, with fresh foliage emerging from their roots. We now have 3 hummingbird feeders and 4 seed feeders in the yard, so the birds and squirrels should be happy too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A Few More Backyard Birds

So far this spring, songbird migration on the Upper Texas Coast (High Island, Sabine Woods) has been slow & uneventful. Tedious, in fact. I base this comment on two disappointing trips of my own and the sort of tepid trip reports that I have been receiving from Texbirds lately.

So why drive all the way to High Island when I can see plenty of birds in my own backyard? I've yet to experience a real "fallout" at my house, but on a slow day the action around here can rival that at one of those more famous birding destinations.

Early on Saturday the 16th I found a singing Yellow-throated warbler working its way through the pines around the pond. Other birds seen that morning included a Mississippi Kite, a Yellow-breasted Chat (in a neighbor's yard), and Summer Tanagers.

Yesterday (April 18th) I spent some time birding and working around the house. A Great Crested Flycatcher and male American Redstart in the backyard were my best finds. Other goodies included several Little Blue Herons flying over, Broad-winged and Red-shouldered Hawks, large numbers of southbound (?) Tree Swallows, a lingering Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Summer Tanager, and Common Grackle.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Few Backyard Birds

After Monday's big thunderstorm the sky cleared and I was able to do some more work in the garden. Late in the afternoon I spotted a small kettle of Mississippi Kites and Broad-winged Hawks circling overhead. I went to get Michelle, but by the time she came outside they had already disappeared. This is very typical of raptor migration here - one or two birds appear, more arrive and a kettle quickly forms, and then just as suddenly the sky is empty again. Other sightings...a male Eastern Bluebird was briefly observed in the backyard (hopefully they will nest again), and an Orchard Oriole singing in a neighbor's yard was my first for the season.

Monday, April 11, 2005

What's Going On Here

I've got the day off, and I spent most of the morning gardening, that is until the big thunderstorm arrived - at this moment there are waterfalls pouring off my roof, and the front yard is becoming one big puddle. Just watched a Green Anole scurrying frantically in a panic to escape the torrents. I'm writing this at noon, but it's dark enough outside that it could be late evening...

The garden is coming along nicely in spite of today's deluge. Michelle enjoys gardening and has been a great help. We've bought a lot of new plants, moved some things around, and started new flower beds in the backyard. We've also planted more azaleas and shrimp plant along the driveway. All the weeding and raking is done now, and the place looks pretty good, but it's gonna look great when the flowers are in full bloom. I'll have to post some pictures.

Michelle is completely moved in now. It's been quite an adjustment...living together is sort of like a marriage with training wheels. I've been a bit of a loner and I'm still getting used to sharing my home with this other person and her small barking creature (Pipa). It's been stressful at times because I am not as good as Michelle is at dealing with the discomfort of change (change which has definitely been for the better, incidentally).

Yesterday I took Michelle on her first trip to High Island and Galveston. The weather was beautiful, but the birding totally sucked ass. High Island was dead as the proverbial doorknob (why a doorknob, I've always wondered?). Strong southwest winds probably pushed migration well to the east or further inland. At the Boy Scout Woods we saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, a male Summer Tanager, and a couple of Scarlet Tanagers. Not much else. Mostly we were just tree watching. The Houston Audubon Society was having a plant sale there, and we picked up a couple of new additions to our garden (a black & blue salvia and a flowering maple hibiscus), so it wasn't a total disappointment. At Smith Oaks there wasn't much of nothin' - not even a plant sale going on. Saw a Northern Parula and an Indigo Bunting or two near the parking area, but the woods were birdless. We did enjoy seeing the large breeding colony of wading birds there - Some of the Great Egrets already had downy young in their nests.

After that we drove up the Bolivar Peninsula (stopping long enough to see a white morph Reddish Egret and flock of Black Skimmers at Rollover Pass) and took the ferry to Galveston. We had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, a restaurant on the beach with a tropical reef/jungle ambiance. It was very Disneyesque, with tiki-hut architecture and an impressive waterfall outside, lots of faux foliage and audio-animatronic elephants and gorillas inside. While eating, patrons are treated to simulated monsoon cloudbursts. Our table was next to a big tank full of reef fish. I got a nice buzz off the big margarita I drank, and the food was ok. Afterward Michelle and I took a walk along the beach and she got her feet wet while I did my best not to.

On Saturday (April 9th), as I was leaving for work, I heard my first Summer Tanager of the season. Later that day, while I was busy raking leaves, Michelle found a Blotched Watersnake in the backyard. It was a BIG one (at least 3 feet long), but stretched out in the tall grass of the lawn it was easy to miss. Unfortunately my neighbors kill every snake they come across, no matter how harmless, so I don't get to see snakes here very often. That evening we had a bonfire down by the pond, and sat watching the flames until mosquitoes drove us back indoors. Weather has been mostly very pleasant lately, aside from today's downpour.