Thursday, December 28, 2006

Feeder Birds

Photographed this Pine Warbler at our seed feeders today. We've also had a Ruby-crowned Kinglet visiting the feeders. These Texas birds are deeply confused. Back in California I never saw such perverse behavior. The bug eaters ate bugs and the seed eaters ate seeds. Wasn't it foretold that insectivores snacking on sunflower seeds would be a sign of the impending apocalypse?

We still have a Rufous Hummingbird and an Archilochus-type hummingbird coming to our feeders. I posted a request for help in identifying the latter on the Frontiers of Field Identification listserv, and Allen Chartier responded that the the bird in the lower two photos posted on my blog appeared to be a Black-chinned Hummingbird, based on the blunt & curved shape of the tenth primary. I have other photos in which the tenth primary looks straighter and more pointed, so either some of the photos are misleading or I may have to go with a "two bird theory." I'm trying to get more photos of the bird (or birds) to resolve this little mystery.Yesterday while looking around the yard I saw 2-3 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a Blue-headed Vireo, a White-eyed Vireo (regular but uncommon in winter), and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. Modest flocks of Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, Chipping Sparrows, and American Goldfinches are also in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bolivar Peninsula CBC, Christmas, Bah Humbug

Well Christmas is over, and not a moment too soon. I had to work Christmas Day, and it was a grim ordeal. I opened and closed the store, and we were so busy in between that I didn't get a bite to eat or even a sip to wet my parched lips all day. On top of which one of my cashiers wanted to leave early, and when I took issue with her she made some calls...her boyfriend's mother happens to be a store manager with some authority in our district. So guess who starts calling to set me straight? When I finally left work it was with a raging headache. Don't tell me about comfort and joy, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and all that sentimental drivel. I was drinking last night, not in celebration but to deaden my nerves. Bah. Humbug.

God willing I won't be doing this next Christmas - there's a New Year's resolution I mean to keep.

Ah, but be of good cheer, for we still have Christmas Bird Counts, the real reason for the season! On Thursday (12/21) I took part in the Bolivar Peninsula CBC. This year I went without Michelle, who had a good excuse not to go (doctor's orders), but Troy joined our group for part of the day. After some pre-dawn rain and drizzle the morning was fairly decent. Dry and not too cold - even warm enough for a few mosquitoes. Then the weather turned to crap in the afternoon.

We started the day as we always do, following a narrow strip of woods along a little bayou. The trees were full of American Robins. Thousands of them. Inside the thicket their abundance and constant motion was very distracting. I’m sure other birds got overlooked in the robin-incited chaos. I had better luck on the woodland edges. A small flock of Vesper Sparrows were the only ones found on the count. Further on we came upon three Palm Warblers, which seemed a bit excessive (they were perched together, no less!). After that finding a fourth nearby was just plain piggish. On our way back to the cars we crossed pastures where we scared up a couple of Sprague's Pipits. Watched one fly off into the distance, then plummet to the ground like a rock. Troy and I walked back to the spot where it dropped but found nothing. Excellent disappearing act.

After that we explored some dirt roads and visited an abandoned ranch. Highlights included two small flocks of Sandhill Cranes and a Wilson's Warbler. While I was chasing sparrows Troy saw a Barn Owl fly out of one of the old derelict buildings. Sadly I didn't get any pictures on the count. I left the camera at home because I was already encumbered with binoculars, scope & tripod, etc. Bad decision, because I would have gotten some nice photos.

After lunch we parked by a little building at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, and used its cover to get out of the rain. Troy wisely called it a day at that point - he's a a good sport but a non-birder, so the idea of getting drenched didn't hold as much charm for him as it did for the rest of us. When the rain temporarily stopped I walked behind the building to search the marsh there for LeConte's Sparrow, a species I'd seen a couple of times in North Dakota but still needed for Texas. As luck would have it I spotted one. I ran back to tell the group, and subsequently we all got nice looks at a pair of LeConte's lurking in a patch of tall weeds. What a colorful little sparrow!

We spent the remaining daylight hours on the refuge, where we had a couple of surprises awaiting us. Farther down the road we had an immature White-tailed Hawk perched in a bare tree (one of two found on the count; another group had an adult somewhere on the refuge), and flushed a Short-eared Owl out of a roadside marsh. We left the refuge with darkness closing in. All in all we had a pretty good day - I personally tallied 75 species, including 6 species of warblers.

The countdown was again held at Al-T's in Winnie, which is known for its Cajun food and zoological decor, featuring a menagerie of taxadermied birds and critters. I had the crawfish étouffée, yum. Now that's the way to celebrate Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas (Bird Count Season)

...When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature dog, disguised as a reindeer

Friday, December 15, 2006

Is This Beaumont Or Iraq?

My job sucks, a fact I alluded to earlier. Well lately my job has gone from sucky to more sucky, with an added element of risk.

I'm a retail manager working in a low income area of Beaumont. Last week the store was burglarized. This week's theme was "wild west." Monday evening there was a shooting right across the street, and then Tuesday we had a shooting occur IN our parking lot. The victim came into the store and collapsed near the front. Our photo technician Kevin and I tried to calm him down and get him to keep still while we waited for police and paramedics to arrive. Calming a person who is going into shock with multiple gunshot wounds is not easy. Afterward there wasn't that much blood to clean up, which was a bit surprising, considering that he had been shot four times in the chest and hips.

Beaumont is a small world and it turned out that the victim was a cousin of one of our employees. I've been told he's in stable condition, and according to news reports the shooters in both incidents (unrelated, apparently) are still being sought by police.

Channel 6 News has a report and video that can be viewed here.

In the video Lt. Charles Tyler of the Beaumont Police says "this is usually a quiet area" and "I think this area is still...uh...pretty safe." Really. I see it a bit differently. This part of Beaumont is crawling with thieves and other human dregs. It's the sort of place where you look over your shoulder and hurry to your car after dark. Why so many people choose to shop here after nightfall is a mystery to me. I used to work in a low income neighborhood of Port Arthur that was notorious for its crime problems. I'd have to say it's worse here.

My boss told me that we would soon have a security person to watch the store at night. I'm waiting to see if that really happens. I get told a lot of things that don't really happen. Like I said, my job sucks, but this probably isn't the place to open that whole can of worms.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hummingbird Photos

Friday (Dec. 8th) we again had two hummingbirds at our feeders. This time they played nice, and even tolerated each other well enough to use the feeders simultaneously. I've confirmed that our resident Selasphorus sp. is a Rufous Hummingbird - managed to get a decent photo of it with tail feathers spread, and the shape of the retrices clinched the identification. It's not a great photo, but compared to the bird in the Luneau video this one's a piece of cake.

The other bird is of the Archilochus type, probably the same greeny female that has been at our feeders intermittently since sometime in November. This one is a bit trickier. Below are a few snapshots of this "mystery" bird. I believe it to be the same individual in all of the pictures, with changes in lighting accounting for changes in appearance. Looks a bit larger than the Rufous. I think it's either Ruby-throated or Black-chinned - any comments are certainly welcome! Click on the photos to enlarge the images.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Bollywood Goes Birding

And now for something completely different...

Came across this little movie clip while reading Martin Collinson's blog. Here's another one by Menzie. The references are British. And because too much of a good thing isn't enough, I made a couple myself. The first is dripping with intrigue (or something like that), and the second is a bit more melodramatic. Now go and make your own movie - I double dare you!

Temperatures have dropped into the low 30s tonight. That's cold by local standards (there are really only two seasons here - summer and December). Winters are generally mild in Southeast Texas, and most plants are hardy enough to survive these frosty nights. Some will appear to die and go dormant for a few months. Warmer weather will eventually produce new growth, but it still makes me sad to see our tropical vegetation turn brown and whither.

When it comes to identification problems, female/immature male hummingbirds remain my nemesis. In recent days we've had two visiting our feeders intermittently. One is a Selasphorus type (probably Rufous), and the other is an Archilochus type (probably a female Ruby-throated, but this one will require further study).