Thursday, May 31, 2012

Today's Bird: The Sandwich Tern!

Today's bird is the Sandwich Tern!  Terns are closely related to gulls and sometimes they hang out together (there was a laughing gull in the background). They're one of America's more rare terns, only living along the Gulf Coast.  Their distinguishing feature is the black bill with that little yellow tip; it's a sure thing you've got a Sandwich rather than one of the other types of terns that's also lurking in the original, uncropped version of this photograph.  I took this picture at South Padre Island on the bay side on May 26, 2012.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Today's Bird: Great Blue Heron

Today's Bird is the Great Blue Heron!  You've probably seen this bird before in marshlands or along coastlines.  They live just about everywhere in the United States and at almost 4 feet tall, they're tough to miss.  This is one of the few birds I remember from my childhood and could identify from a really young age. I took this picture at South Padre on May 19,2012.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Today's Bird: Common Nighthawk

Today's Bird is the Common Nighthawk!  They're nocturnal birds that eat mosquitoes and other bugs.  Mostly, they swoop around kind of unpredictably following the flight patterns of their next meal.  Common Nighthawks are all over the United States in the summer, so look out for one in your neighborhood, especially after a big rain.  Look for a bird that's bigger than a bat (wingspan's almost 2 feet!) with triangular wings and white wing bars.  I found this guy in the early morning (7:30 or so) at Estero Llano Grade State Park on May 24, 2012.

Today's Bird: Purple Gallinule

Today's Bird is the Purple Gallinule! This is a pretty rare find in South Texas.  They only really hang around during the summer, and even then it's a big deal when someone spots one.  They don't show up on the Texas state-wide rare bird alert, but they will show up on our Lower Rio Grande Valley Hotline, which gave me the location for one that I started looking out for last week at Estero Llano Grande.  When I was coming back into the Visitor's Center from an extensive search, two of the park rangers called me over and said, "Did you want to see the Gallinule?  It's right here in the spotting scope..." I got a good look at it but it was too far for a picture.  But...this Saturday, at the South Padre Island Birding Center, who should I run into but my favorite Marsh Chicken?  It's a pretty unmistakable bird...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Today's Bird: Lincoln's Sparrow

Today's Bird is the Lincoln's Sparrow.  He's one of many "Little Brown Birds" that I run into from time to time.  Before having a camera, I didn't really bother to study them because there was no way I could remember all the distinguishing features and so many sparrows look alike.  The Lincoln's lives down here during the winter, migrates up through most of the United States and into the Rocky Mountains and Canada.  No matter where you live, keep an eye out!  I took this picture at South Padre Island's World Birding Center on May 9, 2012.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Today's Bird: The Great Tailed Grackle

While I'm out getting pictures of more birds, you can check out this guy: the great-tailed grackle.  People who live here in the Rio Grande Valley know them as the birds that go all Hitchcock on you in the HEB parking lot.  During the winter, they gather like crazy on telephone wires and squeal and squeak until the sun goes down.  Most people ignore them because they're EVERYWHERE and frequently misidentify them as "crows."  They're not crows, which are more closely related to Blue Jays.  This bird is more closely related to blackbirds and orioles. Despite how loud and numerous they are, they're quite lovely birds.  Even though I see them almost every day, I decided to take this photograph at the South Padre Island Convention Center.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Today's Bird: Black Necked Stilt

Today's bird (or in this case, birds) are Black Neck Stilts.  They're tall, lean and make a funny little squeaking noise that sounds a bit like a dog toy.  They live along coastlines and in marshes in the western United States.  In the winter, lots and lots of them come down here to hang out by us in the warm weather.  I see them almost every time I bird at Estero Llano Grande.  They'll hang with whoever's in the pond by the front deck: ducks, sandpipers, coots...they're not fussy.  I spotted this pair at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center Boardwalk on April 21, 2012.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Today's Bird: The Blackburnian Warbler

Today's bird is one of my recent favorites: the Blackburnian Warbler.  Around here, they're a migrant, coming up from Central America to head towards the northeast.  Like lots of other warblers, they're not always this striking--my first Blackburnian was actually not black and orange like this but was more of a drab gray and yellow.  This guy, in his full splendor was stopping over at South Padre's Warbler Rest Stop on May 19, 2012.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Today's Bird: The Laughing Gull

It's true: there's no such thing as a seagull.  There are tons of different types of gulls in the United States, but none of them is called a seagull.  The most common are probably the Ring Billed and Herring Gulls, but different coastal areas have their own special gulls that plague their beaches and steal their french fries.  Around here, this is our gull: the Laughing Gull.  They're everywhere at South Padre, but they'll fly inland as far as McAllen and you'll see them hanging out in parking lots and open spaces.  I took this picture at South Padre Island on May 19, 2012.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Today's Bird: Red Breasted Merganser

Today's Bird is the Red Breasted Merganser! It's one of a few types of Mergansers that live in the US, but these guys are mostly found in salt or brackish water along coastlines.  My  range map also shows them on the Great Lakes.  If you spot one, look for a lean duck with a long beak (rather than a more spatula type) and a seriously bad hair day.  I actually ran into one this weekend at South Padre because they migrate through the Gulf, but I took this photo on a cold but beautiful winter birding trip to Gloucester, Massachusetts on December 29, 2011.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Today's Bird: The American Golden Plover

Today's bird is the American Golden Plover!  If you've ever seen or read The Big Year, Jack Black's character identifies it as his favorite bird.  When his father asks why (noting that it's just small and gray), he explains the migration route: from the Arctic Circle to Argentina and back in a single year.  On their long journey, they stop on beaches in Central America and Texas and in fields in the central United States.  I was lucky enough to catch this guy on the South Padre Island Bay on April 6, 2012.  Hope he's having a safe trip to Canada.

Today's Bird: Orchard Oriole!

Today's bird is the Orchard Oriole! Orchard orioles live mostly in the eastern half of the United States but they're only seen during the spring and summer.  For us in South Texas, they're migrants.  I've only seen a few, but when I do run into them, I'm struck b how small they are (only about 7 inches tall) compared to our Altamira, who's much stockier and taller.  I took this picture at the South Padre Convention Center on April 11, 2012.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Today's Bird: Magnolia Warbler

Today's bird is the Magnolia Warbler!  They're a migrant down here and they pass through in April and May on their way up to New England and Canada for the summer.  They're really easy to ID once they're in their full plumage like this one.  Doesn't he look sharp? I was lucky to catch this guy at Estero Llano Grande State Park (not my usual Warbler searching spot...) on May 12, 2012. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Today's Bird: Altamira Oriole

Today's bird is the Altamira Oriole.  They're America's largest oriole, checking it at about 10 inches tall.  Like the Kiskadee, they're a Rio Grande Valley specialty bird.  This is pretty much the only place you can see them.  When I went up to King Ranch to see the owl, even that was too far north.  This is where they're from.  They're great feeder birds (they like peanut butter and seed) so they're pretty easy to photograph at the different parks around here.  But this pair is building a nest on a power line at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco.  The nest will dangle down like a little purse...the next time I'm there, I'll try to get a picture of what it looks like completed.  I took this picture on March 31, 2012.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Today's Bird: Roseate Spoonbill

Today's bird is the Roseate Spoonbill!  It's a Gulf-Coast specialty bird in the summer, but down in South Texas you can see them year round.  Their name is pretty apt: the pretty pink with that big, soup-spoon of a bill.  What they do is bend over and skim through the mud and the muck at the bottom of shallow ponds looking for food.  When you see them in a flock, they'll walk back and forth, sweeping their heads to move their giant bill.  These aren't the first Spoonbills I've seen--the first one I saw in the wild was on a run in a Weslaco Canal.  I knew right away what it was because of the pink feathers.  This flock was hanging out at the deck pond at Estero Llano Grande State Park on May 12, 2012.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Today's Bird: Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Today's Bird is the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo!  I had a cuckoo clock when I was a kid but never really worried too much about what actual cuckoos looked like.  Turns out, they're pretty big.  I saw this bird on South Padre Island on a day when I was plagued by small birds (mostly flycatchers) that can only be identified by sound and, of course, they weren't singing.  Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the branches on a nearby tree flop and bend.  I raced over and as soon as I got my binoculars on it, I knew for sure what it was...I'd passed it a bazillion times in the bird guide thinking, "I won't see one of these any time soon."  Lucky for me, I live in one of the greatest migration zones in the country.  I took this picture on May 5th, 2012.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Today's Bird: Blackpoll Warbler

Today's bird is the Blackpoll Warbler!  The Blackpoll is sometimes called the "Chickadee Warbler" for reasons you can see below.  The black and white head/body and even the overall structure are a bit Chickadee-like.  In fact, that's what I thought the first time I saw this little guy.  He's not a Texas bird--he actually spends his summers up in Canada.  But like lots of birds I've seen lately, he was on migration.  I spotted him at South Padre Island's Warbler Rest Stop after a long flight across the Gulf of Mexico.  He was wiped out and keen to pose for this picture which I took on April 21,2012.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Today's Bird: Great Kiskadee

Today's Bird is the Great Kiskadee!  The Great Kiskadee is a Rio Grande Valley bird.  This is probably the only place in the country where you really get to see them.  They're a type of flycatcher, so they mostly eat bugs, but they've been known to eat fish as well; a friend of mine actually a story of a Kiskadee picking those big fancy goldfish out of the Koi Pond in her backyard.  Once you know what they look like, you'll see them EVERYWHERE With their little bandit masks and large size, they're pretty distinct.  The Kiskadee was the first bird I saw on my first birdwatching trip in the Valley back in 2007, but I took this picture at Estero Llano Grande State Park on May 12, 2012.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Today's Bird: Happy Mother's Day!

This little guy (who happens to be a Black Bellied Whistling Duck Duckling) wants to wish all of the moms out there a happy Mother's Day today.  It takes great moms to make adorable children like this one.  I took this picture at South Padre Island's Convention Center on May 9, 2012.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Today's Bird: The Green Parakeet

Today's bird is the Green Parakeet.  The last Parakeet I posted was a different species that seems to only have a small flock down here.  Green Parakeets, on the other hand, have several, large, well-established flocks throughout the Rio Grande Valley.  The giant hailstorm we had did some damage on the flock I usually see (at 10th and Dove in McAllen) and I haven't seen them since.  But, I stumbled on these guys in a small business plaza in Weslaco. They were up in the dried palm fronds and a few others in the flock (there were six all together) were popping in and out of woodpecker holes on another palm.  I've actually seen them a few times since, so I wonder if they're setting up shop here. I took this picture on April 28, 2012.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Today's Bird: Turkey Vulture

Today's bird is the Turkey Vulture!  They're EVERYWHERE around here, flying low and high looking for delicious dead things to eat.  I cropped most of the roadkill out of this picture, but honestly, I think that it gives the photo a greater level of authenticity.  I took this picture in south Mission on a back road on February 21, 2012.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Today's Bird: The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

While I do have some photographs from a short bird trip I took yesterday, I haven't processed them all yet.  So, today's bird is the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher!  He's a tiny little thing, maybe 5 inches.  He's blue-gray (duh) with a long tail.  This photograph looks nice but it's one of about 20 that I took and the best of the lot.  Since gnatcatchers are always on the move (catching...well...gnats), they're hard to get a good picture of.  I took this picture at Frontera Audubon in January of 2012.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Today's Bird: Greater Roadrunner

Today's bird is the Greater Roadrunner!  They really don't look too much like the cartoon, nor did this one seem to be doing a particularly good job foiling coyote plans.  Anyway, they're pretty common all over the southwest, but I actually don't get to see them often.  They mostly live in the dryer, scrubbier habitats, and most of my regular birding haunts are closer to the gulf, making them a bit more tropical.  I happened to run into this guy at Bentsen State Park this weekend (Cinco de Mayo, 2012) in Mission Texas.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Today's Bird: The Rufus Crowned Sparrow

Today's bird is the Rufus Crowned Sparrow!  It's a bird that lives mostly in the American Southwest.  I really struggle to identify different types of Sparrows because to me, they all look like little brown birds.  Like its relatives, the Rufus-Crowned's pretty nondescript. I actually had to get some help on the ID, so thanks to the people of WhatBird!  The win here is really the photograph itself; we were hiking some trails and he landed in a bush about 3 feet away. I took at Eisenhower Park outside of San Antonio, Texas on March 25, 2012.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Today's Bird: The Reddish Egret

Today's Bird is the Reddish Egret.  They come in two different colors--the one you see here (dark morph) and an all-white version (white morph).  When you see the white morph, you have to double check that it isn't a Great Egret, another all white bird with the same structure.  Bill color and leg color are the best indicators.  Reddish Egrets live along the Gulf Coast and around Baja California year-round.  I took this picture on April 6, 2012.

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Today's Bird: The Black Bellied Whistling Duck

By request from my friend Tracy, a former South Texas resident: this is a Black Bellied Whistling Duck!  Someone told me not too long ago that they're actually tree ducks (rather than diving ducks like the Ruddy from last week or dabbling ducks like a Mallard) which explains their odd behavior.  In my neighborhood, you can see them sitting on rooftops and power lines.  I've often joked that they just don't know that they're ducks.  If you live in South Texas, you can see and hear them coming.  They make a squeaking/whistling noise and in flight, you can distinguish them by their white wing bars.  Keep an eye out!  I took this picture at South Padre Island's World Birding Center on April 6, 2012.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Today's Bird: The Black Skimmer

  As many of my friends are off to the beach today, I thought today's bird should be the Black Skimmer. Just to be clear: this bird is not dead.  This is the way that they rest.  I promise.  Anyway, the Black Skimmer is the only North American skimmer species.  They're related to Gulls and Terns, but they almost act like mini-Pelicans. The reason that they're called Skimmers is that they fly down really low over the water to scoop up food in their big bill just like a Pelican would--skimming the surface of the water and eating whatever they gather up.  I took this picture along Route 48--the road that connects Brownsville, Texas to South Padre Island.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Today's Bird: Black Throated Gray Warbler

We've made it to Friday!  I'm excited (tomorrow's birding day!) and so is this little guy!  Today's bird is the Black-Throated Gray Warbler.  He's pretty tiny (only about 5 inches long), but he makes some pretty crazy long trips from Mexico to the Pacific-Northwest and back.  For us in the Rio Grande Valley, he's an occasional migrant.  More of them fly through Arizona and New Mexico, but every year, we have a few come through.  I photographed this guy, leaping around a tree looking for bug-snacks on February 11, 2012 at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Today's Bird: The Wild Turkey

Today's bird is the Wild Turkey.  There's not much I can say about him you don't already know.  We love to eat them, they're healthier than beef, they're really ugly but Ben Franklin wanted them to be the national know all that.  What you probably didn't know is that down here in the Rio Grande Valley, we have a subspecies of Turkey called the Rio Grande Turkey.  The differences are slight, but the word is that the golden sheen on his tail feathers is what makes him unique.  I took this picture at the King Ranch, Norias Division on 4/28/12. 

Have you had a dramatic encounter with a wild turkey?  Post about it in the comment field!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Today's Bird: Eastern Wood Pewee

Today's bird is the Eastern Wood Pewee!  He's one of many types of flycatchers that live in the United States. His name's pretty much a give-away for where he summers and what he eats.  His main gig is sitting on top of branches like this, shooting up, grabbing bugs and landing to eat them.  It often makes them a good target for photography because they'll sit still (like this) while they wait for something to pass by.  The first one of these I actually saw was on my in-law's property in Western Pennsylvania, but I took this photograph on South Padre Island at the Valley Land Fund's Sheepshead Lot (near the Pizza Hut, if any of my local friends want to go) on Sunday, April 29, 2012.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Today's Bird: Cape May Warbler

On this first day of May, it seems only fitting that today's bird be the Cape May Warbler.  The Cape May lives up in eastern Canada/northeastern United States during the summer.  It spends its winters in Central America.  Normally, it flies across the whole Gulf of Mexico, through Florida and up to it's summer home during April and May.  For whatever reason, this one got a touch lost--maybe blown off course?  Lucky for me, though, because it was tired, hungry and cooperative for a whole bunch of photos.  I took this on April 29, 2012 at the South Padre Island Convention Center grove, affectionately (and appropriately) known as the "Warbler Rest Stop."

Happy May, everyone!