Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Birding Season 2009, or, Birders in the Mist

So I am not what you call a birder. I do not own $500 binoculars. I cannot tell birds by calls, or flashes between trees. I do not have a camera with $20,000 lenses the size and length of my thigh.

I'm just a nature guy who likes learning new stuff. This then, is the story of my time among the birders.

Gulf Coast birders have much in common with birding enthusiasts elsewhere...the hobby seems to be dominated by slightly more chronologically advanced folk and photographers, usually from a slightly elevated economic status. And often disproportionately interested in their chosen hobby. I do not, even now, number myself among their ranks.

The Gulf Coast is an epicenter for migration, and as such, harbors the development of REALLY INTENSE birders. The sort that will drive 4 hours to see a single species of warbler, and rank it among their most poignant life moments. The sort of thing you or I might react to with simply, "oh hey, cute little flitty bird, when's lunch?". There is an intense commumnity of birders here, and more than one thriving cottage industry, not to mention national camera and optics companies, supported by it. These people all have a copy of Sibley's guide to birds stuffed in every car they own, with spares for any potential occasion. It, or its ilk, is second only to the Bible for many. They are a focused, sometimes somewhat odd, bunch.

But for all that, they are, as a rule, a welcoming, deeply knowledgeable and interesting group to hang out with. There are weekly bird walks at Brazos Bend State Park (think, Everglades on a small scale) that have gotten me to dip my toes into their feathered world. I refuse to make a joke about them "taking me under their wing", but I have taken advantage of the kind offers of a few to show me some of the local birding haunts.

These are a few shots from the ~90 species I was able to see and photograph during this season (Migration is usually early march to late May). My equipment is woefully inadequate for this hobby, but I enjoy it anyway.

As always, click on photos for large versions, see more at

Anhinga (male) - Like a cormorant, this bird needs to dry its wings after diving in after fish
War Paint (Anhinga drying off)

American Coot - second cousin to the moorhen, and pretty much just as stupid.
Brazos Bend 25th Anniversary - American Coot

Cattle Egret - anwhere else, wading birds would be a rare and fantastic site. Not so with the Gulf Coast. Here, he barely elicits a turned head.
Cattle Egret in flight

Great Egret - He's an Egret. Great.
All along the watchtower

Purple Gallinule - odd odd little a marsh chicken dipped into a dozen different irridescent paints.
Purple Gallinule

Great Tailed Grackle - These raucous fellows are EVERYWHERE down here.
Great-tailed Grackle

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks - I know nothing about these birds other than they are aptly named.
Armand Bayou - Rose Breasted Grosbeakss (Male and female, right)

Pied-Billed Grebe - like miniature horses, seemingly to cute to survive the rigors, red in tooth and claw. However, they seem to do just fine. SO DANG CUTE. And I don't usually go for "cute"
Pied-Billed Grebe

Ring-Billed Gull - ho hum, a seagull....until you realize just how many species there are of these down on the gulf.
Ring-Billed Gull

Northern Harrier - one of my favorite raptors...these owl-faced hawks are deadly dive bombers.
San Bernard NWR 8 - Northern Harrier

Red-Shouldered Hawk - not the most striking of hawks, but this small fellow has kept me company all season long, nesting in the open field next to my office.
Red-Shouldered Hawk

Great Blue Heron - one of the largest and most easily recognized herons
San Bernard NWR - Great Blue Heron

Green Heron - a small but deadly fisherman
Green Heron

Little Blue Heron - often in the shadow of his Great Blue cousin, as beautiful in color as its voice is obnoxious in tone.
Little Blue Heron at Sunset

Black Crowned Night Heron - did I mention the Gulf Coast has a lot of cool wading birds?
Black Crowned Night Heron at sunset

Yellow Crowned Night Heron - along those same lines...
Japanese Gardens, Hermann Park - YCN Heron

White Ibis - Ibis, revered by the Egyptians, are a new experience for me here.
Brazos Bend 25th Anniversary - White Ibis

American Kestrel - this tiny falcon wouldn't let me get anywhere close, but was a fantastic flyer
Brazoria NWR 6- American Kestrel

Common Loon - Ok this one wasn't from the Gulf Coast (Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario), but one of my faves
Common Loon, Killarney

northern Mockingbird - cool to see...the first 1200 times. They're all over the place here and tend to chase away my hawks:(
Northern Mockingbird

Carolina Wren - seemingly the best bird:noise ratio around. Tiny bird, huge voice.
Brazos Bend 25th Anniversary - Carolina Wren

Common Moorhen - loud, dumb, and skittish. Their vocalizations earned them the nickname "swamp monkeys".
Common Moorhen

Northern Shovelers - apparently ducks come in more flavors than "mallard", "muscovy" and "other". Huh.
Brazoria NWR - Northern Shovelers

Barred Owl - I had never seen an owl at Brazos Bend before.
Barred Owl

American Pelicans - less usual around here than their brown cousins, they live in a drainage pond down the road from me.
Pelican Vanguard

Roseate Spoonbill - another odd-looking wader
Roseate Spoonbill 2

Sanderling - there are a million and one shorebirds, all looking vaguely alike. The Sanderlings are my favorites.
Bashful Sanderling (closeup)

Lesser Scaup - another flavor of duck! with that weird bright unblinking golden eye that several of these species have.
San Bernard NWR 6- Lesser Scaup

Loggerhead Shrike - The "Butcher Bird", for its carnivore activities.
Brays Bayou reservoir - Loggerhead Shrike

tufted Titmouse - tee hee. This bird is....teee heee...sorry, I mean, ferpete'ssake, you called it a TITMOUSE. REally? I mean...really? I need a shot of a couple. Then I can show off my great pair of tits. OH HEY NO ONE'S EVER MADE THAT JOKE, EVER.
Bear Creek Park - Tufted Titmouse

Ruddy Turnstone - sounds like a character name in a bad English comedy. Another shorebird.
Ruddy Turnstone (breeding plumage)

Warblers are the holy grail to the birding community (ivory-billed woodpeckers notwithstanding), but they are pretty elusive and tiny, meaning it was hard to get good shots. Here are a couple that were ok.

Cape May Warbler
Cape May Warbler

Northern Parula (warbler)
Northern Parula 4

Prothonotary Warbler - my fave, this little fellow with the ridiculous name is easy to spot and call.
Brazos Bend 25th Anniversary - Prothonotary Warbler with dragonfly

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks - yet another flavor of duck, but one of my favorites. Yes, they do whistle
Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

lots more on my flickr page here


stanford said...

Anytime you arbitraily turn a noun into a verb to create a hobby...I am leary. But this actually seems like a pretty fun hobby connecting a passionate community, a sense of place, being outside and collecting stuff (with the added benefit that the stuff you collect only takes a few MB rather than garage space).

Great pics as always.

JMBower said...


I still wouldn't claim the hobby as mine. There's a passion for it that I don't share. I like birds and all, especially those able to be grilled in a nice chipotle lime marinade, but some of these folks...

...they can be a little odd.

Still, as Texas fascinations goes, beats Nascar.