Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nice One, Michelle

My darling Michelle took this photo from inside the house one day while I was at work. She called to let me know a pair of crested birds with yellow bellies were fighting right outside our windows. Only after I got off the phone did I realize that from the description they must be Great Crested Flycatchers. Of course this never happens when I'm home with my camera handy. Then they always stay in the treetops.

Troy took me up in a small plane on Sunday - he needed to log some flight hours and I wanted to see Texas from the air. From an airfeld near Houston we flew northeast, over the Big Thicket. Saw a lot of trees. It's no pristine wilderness, but there are still large expanses of forest covering much of the region - enough so that as we approached Steinhagen Reservoir Troy commented that it would be hard to find a place to land if we had engine trouble. Even if the habitat is fragmented by development and logging it's good to see that so much still remains. Gives me a measure of hope for the future.

I was surprised to see more development and road access to the Neches River below Steinhagen Reservoir than is indicated on maps. Even so, it was there that I saw some of the most interesting and extensive habitat, with large tracts of swampy forest and numerous small islands and oxbow lakes. I'd love to get a closer look by canoe or kayak. Here are a couple of aerial photos.
While taking pictures I started to feel a little motion sickness, and we made a brief stop at an airfield near Silsbee for soda and crackers before flying back to Houston. Thanks for the ride, Troy!

I don't have much bird news now that we are getting into the summer doldrums. With the hot dry weather we've had lately most of the action has been at our birdbath.

Friday, June 06, 2008

What Are You Doing Here?

When I first started this blog ages ago (2003?) it was for my own amusement and to keep a record of the sort of incidental stuff that Birdbase wasn't designed for - bugs, reptiles, petty complaints, criminal activity, strange atmospheric occurrences, etc. I didn't actually think that anyone else would read it except for a few friends, and since most of my friends have better things to do and aren't birders, and this blog is more or less focused on birds, I figured even they would find it dry reading and lose interest soon enough.

Lately blogging has been difficult for me, and since I don't get to do much birding I've had less to blog about. Also less inclination to do so. After I get home from work and put the babies to bed and do dishes and laundry and pay bills and do whatever else needs to be done I'm beat. All I want to do at that point is let the TV lull me to sleep. I don't spend much time online anymore, and seldom check my email (don't expect a quick reply). Occasionally I read other blogs and peruse the Texbird archives to see what I'm missing. Michelle would prefer I spend even less time at the computer, since she assumes that I must be looking at porn (blogging, porn...could be a distinction without a difference, depending on how you define masturbation).

Time for things other than work and family obligations has become an increasingly scarce and precious commodity. Costly too, because one way or another I always end up paying a price for those moments of freedom. Writing blog entries late at night in an exhausted stupor isn't very appealing, and I think if I continue this blog it will have to become less "literary" and more of a concise record of events and bird sightings, as was my original intent.

From May 30th to June 4th we were in southeastern Louisiana with Michelle's family celebrating Bryce and Lucy's first birthday. I did get to do some birding on June 3, and spent that morning in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area near Slidell. No, I did not see any Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, but I did have a guy stop his car to ask me if I was looking for "THE BIRD." I said no, and added that I didn't think there were any. Big mistake. He then proceeded to tell me all about his sighting, how he had seen this big woodpecker with white on it's back fly across the road, and later looked at illustrations that confirmed he had seen THE BIRD. How come the person who stops to chat is always a middle-aged guy with a bird story? How come it's never a Britney Spears look-alike in cut-off jeans and halter top who likes birders because she thinks they are hot? Dear Penthouse, I never would have believed this would happen to me, but last week when I was slogging through the swamp...

Anyway, I digress. My objective that morning was to find Swainson's Warbler, which is supposed to be fairly common there. Found everything but. Afterward made some stops along Highway 59 at Bogue Chitto N.W.R. The birds: Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Turkey and Black Vultures, Red-shouldered and Broad-winged Hawks, Swallow-tailed Kite, Barred Owl (5!), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Downy, Red-bellied, and Pileated (not Ivory-billed) Woodpeckers; Acadian Flycatcher (common), Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Fish Crow, White-eyed (abundant), Red-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireos; Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Barn and Cliff Swallows, Carolina Wren, Northern Parula (everywhere), Yellow-throated, Prothonotary (common), and Hooded Warblers; American Redstart, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, and the loathsome Brown-headed Cowbird.

Here is one of several Barred Owls I spooked while walking the paved road through Honey Island Swamp.Prothonotary Warblers such as this one were present wherever the road crossed water.Regardless of whether there are any Ivory-billed Woodpeckers or Swainson's Warblers there, the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area offers the best swamp birding I've found anywhere (and I've been in a lot of swamps). Biting flies can be bad there, but conditions were unusually dry and I had little trouble with them on this trip.

By noon it was getting really hot, but I wasn't ready to stop yet. After lunch I went to Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near Lacombe. Stopped at the headquarters to find out where I should go to look for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, and was given a map and directions and discouraging advice about searching in the morning or evening. I know they are more difficult to find in the heat of midday, but I'm just crazy enough to try anyway. So off I went.I was impressed by how pretty the wildlife refuge was, particularly the scenery along the marsh boardwalk. From the end of the boardwalk I walked the road further through marsh and open stands of pine. The trees used by the woodpeckers were marked with rings of white paint and were easy to locate. Took me longer to find the woodpeckers, and while searching for them the deer flies were finding me - I had to do a lot of swatting to keep them at bay. After some patient waiting I finally spotted a couple of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers foraging not far from the marked trees. Here's a picture of one taken at considerable distance.Other birds seen at the refuge included Mottled and Wood Ducks, Cooper's Hawk, Red-headed Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Bluebird, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Pine Warbler.

I'm really not very observant. When I got back to my car it caught my attention that there were several trees ringed with white paint by the parking area. I had parked right by a Red-cockaded Woodpecker colony and didn't even notice.Even when not marked with white paint the trees used by Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are easily identified by the sticky pitch covering the trunk around their nest holes.