27 February 2009

2 birds, tales from Meridian State Park

This is surely a small segment of what could turn into a full novel if given the chance. Matt and I spend a very late Thursday morning/early afternoon at Meridian State Park. It was my first time there and one of Matt's familiar haunts - I figured we were a full 2-3 weeks early for Golden-cheeked Warbler. So trekking the path where GCWA would be expected, the first notable butterfly we saw was Henry's Elfin, a life butterfly for me and Matt's second observation opportunity for the species.

Matt just posted the juicy details for our *** Golden-cheeked Warbler (expected there, but the earliest record on the books! ...2008 had one on Feb. 29th, 1950-something was the other early record of March 2nd)

So the next juicy segment will be about our VERY unexpected Long-eared Owl - a life bird for Matt, the first live one for me. I collected my first LEOW as roadkill in mid-March of 2008. <- by all means, click at the pics for a bit more LEOW appreciation!

Location: Meridian SP (PPW-W 044)
Observation date: 2/27/09

Bugs: henry's elfin, southern dogface, american lady, sleepy orange, red admiral, question mark, juniper hairstreak

Pied-billed Grebe 1
Great Egret 1
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Killdeer 1
Greater Yellowlegs 1
***Long-eared Owl 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
American Crow 10
Carolina Chickadee 20
Tufted Titmouse/Spp 1/X
Carolina Wren 1
Bewick's Wren 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Eastern Bluebird 1
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 10
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
***Golden-cheeked Warbler 1
Dark-eyed Junco 30
Northern Cardinal 20
American Goldfinch 10

Number of Species: 24

...as you can see, we definitely got the quality, if not the quantity! More juicy details to follow at some point, I'm sure.

*note, to celebrate this excitement, we dinnered at Buzzard Billy's with Matt's sister, Melody and her husband, Jose. It's all about the bread pudding.

A note of Golden-cheeked Warbler documentation

sent to an editor of a North America bird periodical, to a member of Texas Birds Record Committee, to a staff member at a NWR...

Heidi and I came across the earliest documented sighting of a Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) today. The GCWA is an endangered songbird and the only species to nest exclusively in the state of Texas.

Anyhow the letter is as follows:

D.D. Currie,

Heidi let me know of your request for further details on our GCWA sighting.

First, some brief and pertinent personal background:
My family lives in Waco, and thus this area has sort of been home (or "homebase") for me for over a decade now. I am a wildlife biologist. I have recently returned "home" from spending most of last year working with the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike Recovery and Monitoring Project on an island off the southern CA coast.

I have also been employed in the past as a GCWA Seasonal Biologist with TNC @ Ft. Hood.

I was showing Heidi, my fiancee and knowledgable birder, one of my favorite GCWA spots due to ease and proximity to Waco. This being Meridian SP.

Alright. Details. We were actually still on the Long-eared Owl high, a species we had just encountered on the well-known GCWA trail (the paved portion of the Shinnery Ridge Trail), when while driving downhill ultimately to head to the other portion of the park I swore I had heard atleast part of the Golden-cheeked call.

It's a vocalization I would hear in my sleep after day-in and day-out work at Fort Hood. To me, I always phonetically had it in my head as "I'm a busy bird-IE! " I stopped the truck, and then heard it in full. At that point we were just trying to determine in front of us, behind us, above us...from what direction is this GCWA calling?

We determined where, found a parking area at campground site # 24, and the call continued. Close.

Heidi and I then were able to localize a couple of 30' tall Ashe Junipers, in very thick Juniper-oak vegetation association, where this bird must be. Again, close, from canopy-height..." I'm a busy bird -IE! "

Heidi saw the movement.

We both got on it. It was calling while foraging along the upper 4' of these mature Juniperus. So we had him for 15 minutes of relatively steady singing, and 3-4 minutes of visual observation. Granted this visual obs was as one would expect from this family, pretty much bouncing around inside and outside the juniper, appearing-disappearing. During this time, I noted the white breast continuing to a white belly. Heidi then mentioned, "yeah and the black crown, nape, and back..."

This bird was diagnosed as soon as the full song was heard again. But I always like to emphasis those things when the first opportunity presents itself, because Black-throated Greens liked to be fairly tricky, certainly in appearance, but to a degree in pitch and syllable in song.

GCWA, in GCWA range, in GCWA habitat, and a GCWA. Since getting back to Texas, I've been looking forward to spring for familiar butterflies and migration.

This was a great reunion to an old friend.

"Is it still February??", laughing as we thought. I told Heidi "this Golden-cheeked has gotten here before any Black-and-White Warblers or White-eyed Vireos..." "we still have hordes of DE Juncos around."

I had forgotten how we left the bird. I've just asked Heidi and she reminded that "when we left it, it had just foraged further into the woodland."

I guess that's pretty much it.


25 February 2009

dogs of our lives - the Duke post

Duke? Yes.

Most conversations with Duke go something like this:

Duke: *snore*
person: Hi Duke.
Duke: ...
person: HI, DUKE.
Duke: ...
person: DUKE!!!
Duke: ...
person: *nudges the puppy*
Duke: *jump!*

...Duke is, to the best of our collective knowledge, 13 years old. He was the companion dog for an old fellow who died and whose wife had such Alzheimer's that she had no idea that there was a sheltie in her care. The wife, in turn, released said sheltie and a dalmation to her kids - her son "took care" of the dalmation "the farm way" (read: into the woods with a shotgun) and her daughter took the sheltie home to share a food bowl with a jack russell terrier.

Thanksgiving of 2007 was when a cousin (my landlord, Abbie) inadvertently adopted Duke. I'd been toted along to Cabot, Arkansas for the festivities and the absolutely wonderful food. Somehow upon meeting Duke, I exchanged a sympathetic glance with him over the housing issue (really, who wants to fight a jack russell for the foodbowl?) and the recurring joke of "he'd match the cat!" bounced around for a while. Before leaving Cabot, this dear creature was in the truck.

Duke, with his thin, wispy fuzz. It was only an ~8 hr drive...

Upon arrival in Abilene, Slinky (pictured below) was certain that we had brought home The Epic Monster of Doom and refused to surface from under Abbie's bed for 40 days and 40 nights. Closer to 3 of each, really, but when you have to pull out a protesting cat and carry it across the house to the food bowl and litter box, it seems lengthy. Clearly, she was Not Pleased.

Arch Nemesis Duke, in his wispy-fuzzed glory took a trip to the vet within the week. He had a nail-like growth poking out from under one of his eyelids. Nails were easily an inch and a half too long. Lumpy growths on side and legs. Sight, lacking at best. Hearing... WHAT? (and he sleeps like the dead a bit too literally at times). No jumping, slow pace, thin fur, light weight, you get the idea. Still, a very sweet dog with nothing but waggles for people. It should be noted that he was Catholic and has since started attending the Christian Science Reading Room on occasion with Abbie or myself. It would be fitting for him to attend Sunday or Wednesday services, but we're not sure he'd stay awake through them.

It could certainly be worse, we could have brought home the very-friendly-goat.. but instead, in the course of the last year, Duke has gone from a sad state of neglect to the picture of life (when he's awake, anyway). He supports the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Rangers (if he wasn't a baseball fan before, living with Abbie has converted him), and he's especially fond of UT football. Granted, he confuses most people by sporting the Razorbacks leash on occasion with the UT collar. His fur is thick and healthy, the eye growth thing has fallen off along with some of the lumps, he trots and chases squirrels and even finds time to decorate the house with uneaten milk bones.

I feel quite fortunate to have shared the last year and a smidge with Duke, and my entire Abilene stay with Slinky... alas, the cockatiel that captured my heart, Chiq, is no longer with us. This family (my landlord, her husband, the cat, the dog, the bird, the renter - me) is a peculiar one. We are all strays of sorts, each of their children having quite nearly fledged, aside from the son that just returned home after serving 7 years in the Air Force. It's a family that I could not have asked for, and has made life in Abilene far more survivable than it would have been otherwise.

Ideally this post would end with the photogenic shot of Duke doing something dignified, like napping in the busiest spot in the house, or getting stepped on by someone getting out of bed, but I've got no such evidence to post. Instead, here's a shot of the Waco pup, Anakin. In all of his outweighing-Heidi glory.

23 February 2009

Dublin Swans, Part II

Matt and I took a lovely Sunday afternoon drive in search of the reportedly absent Dublin Trumpeter Swans.

Species list:
Gadwall (6)
American Wigeon (1)
Northern Shoveler (2)
American Coot (2)

Other mentionables:
Deflated Foil Balloon
Power Line Reflection

Trip highlight:

...the true highlight of the trip was the sheer number of Invisible Swans (Cygnus invisus), though. Matt may have gotten 2 Trumpeter Swans in one picture while I was working and in class on Wednesday morning, but really, I crammed that pic FULL of Invisible Swan goodness. I'm sure the Trumpeters are well on their way to greener pastures (bluer ponds?) and heading back north, from whence they came. Thankfully Dublin's resident invisi-swans will be here next time, just waiting for me to make another Dr Pepper run.

For the juicy details on Dublin Dr Pepper, their site's not thrilling, but the wiki article does a decent job of covering the details. It should be noted, however, that while glass and aluminum Dublin DP is standard, plastic "Dublin" DP can be found sporadically around the state via a Plano distributor. Sneaky!

Back to those swans - no, Matt is not in the dog house. Good thing, because otherwise he and Anakin would have a tight squeeze to contend with! Granted, if Anakin *had* a dog house, it might be tempting... but all is fair in love and birding. It's the work and school that threw off the balance!

19 February 2009

That's no moon...

that's a huuuge Golden Retriever.
Well, he's no space station either.

This is my installment of "The Dogs of Our Lives."

**Preface, I am quite the Star Wars fan. Not necessarily the last 3 (or first three episodes in the "series" if you will) but the Original Trilogy, unaltered. I grew up on those movies. As for my dog, Anakin, he's a 100-pound Golden Retriever.

That's right. He's "big-boned."

I would have kids come up to me, and upon hearing his name responses followed such as "Whuh?" or "Mister, he looks like a lion" or "Anakin, he's a bad guy."

It's this last retort I would like to quickly address. Those of you not in to Star Wars, first of all I somewhat understand as George Lucas has kind of ruined things (in my opinion) over the last few movies. Secondly, I try to tell the kids have you not seen the end of Return of the Jedi?

Kid, his is a redemption story.

"You were right, you were right about me. Tell your sister, you were right." - Anakin Skywalker

Child, do you not understand what I am saying to you.....?"
Sigh, they generally don't. Generation thing.

Anyhow. When I was in graduate school and living in Alpine, TX (<-- hit that link. For those who don't know me or what I look like, that's me on the horse.) I was doing a bit of shopping. Understand that Alpine is far away from everything. "Splendid isolation." So, sometimes when one must, one goes long distances to an airport, or to shop for a particular item, or to just get out of town. I was in El Paso when I came across this breeder with retriever puppies. That's where the relationship between young Skywalker, Anakin III (seriously, so a couple of other owners have named their dog Anakin?? Wierdos.) and me began. On the drive back to Alpine, I stopped for gas in Van Horn. When I got back into my vehicle the puppy was gone. Well, actually, he decided to hide under the passenger seat of my Pontiac. There must have been maybe six inches between that seat and the floor. It was difficult to extricate this tiny guy with a pot belly and "big paws" from underneath the seat. More difficult still is believing this dog was once that small.

People used to say, "What a cute puppy. Look at those big paws. He'll grow into those."
"What?" I would casually think at the time.

I wish I had pictures of him that small. I can't find any right now, and they may have all been film anyways.

To the right is a picture of Anakin, when I was back home visiting the family for Christmas.

He is 4 to 5 months old there.

I never liked that "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" song growing up. So Anakin is getting out some puppy energy while I workout some personal issues.

The following are a few pictures of Anakin and his first snow. It does snow in Texas. Alpine is at 4500 feet elevation.

This is the front yard of the house I rented while in Alpine.
I would throw a snowball, as we had done time and time again, high in the air.
Only this time, when the ball hit the ground, it would disappear.
He was thinking so hard trying to figure out what happen to the snowball when it fell back to earth and hit the snowy yard.

I would eventually resolve to compact enough snow to make a large snowball that he could push and roll and otherwise play with on the ground.

I also learned of how wonderful this little (well, growing beyond little) blessing was when we were both educated on the finer niceities of slushy, muddy pawprints on a carpet that I did not own.

My landlord was a Vet Tech Professor at the local school, and was thankfully understanding during the Learning Times.

The next pictures are when I took him to Balmorhea Lake, near Balmorhea, TX. I was still a resident of the trans-Pecos region of the state, working and going to school.

Being born and raised in the Chihuahuan Desert, this was one Golden Retriever than was not too used to the water. The picture below is when we first arrived at this man-made structure. He wasn't sure what to do with it. Eventually, though he came to enjoy the water.

Anyhow, the puppy is now huge; 100 pounds. He's not really fat, anymore, but he is certainly on "high end" of the Golden Retriever biomass range. He'll be 5-years-old in July.

A picture taken moments ago.

With this wonderful world and all the fellow organisms we share it with, I look forward.
I look forward very much, in fact.

With Heidi and, yes, even with young Skywalker I greatly enjoy the present and certainly look forward to the future.

Together, walking up the hill and looking over and out toward ...

Learning about the Known. Embracing and absorbing the Not Yet Known and That which may never truly be.


Trumpeter Swans in Dublin, ...


Swans (Cygnus spp.) are not Family Anatidae members that one might expect to find in central Texas.

Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) are the largest waterfowl in North America. They have over 35,000 feathers and their downy layer is two-inches thick. So they aren't too adverse toward cold weather. While most trumpeters spend the spring and summer nesting season in northern British Columbia, part of Northwest Territories and much of Yukon territory, Canada; a large number inhabit Alaska during that time.

Come winter, they migrate downward toward south-central and western BC, western Washington state, and a few localized areas in southern Idaho, northwestern Nebraska, northern Iowa and central Minnesota, north-central Colorado, and other sporadic places.

All of aforementioned winter locations most certainly endure very cold conditions during these months.

This day, 18 February 2009, it reached near 80 degrees in central Texas.

I wonder if these particular Trumpeter Swans were re-thinking this whole "two-inches thick downy layer" they possess.

This was a new bird for me. I was in Waco, while Heidi was in Abilene. Dublin is in between. I went to see these swans without Heidi.

Oh man, I hope this isn't a deal-breaker... ;-)

So if anyone wants to chime in on my behalf, in my defense, please feel free. Any opposite opinions will be strictly regulated. Kidding..... maybe.

Here are a few pictures I took of the two Trumpeter Swans in Dublin, TX:


07 February 2009

got relatives?

Family is important, but "starting" our own is not exactly a priority. We have plenty of family, the wee ones just aren't biologically ours. That's what we have a nephew named Oliver for, even if he and my sister and brother-in-law are in California (Oliver's blog is over at Avid Inkling). Otherwise, Matt's folks, sister and brother-in-law live in Waco, TX (a mere 3 hr drive from Abilene). There's even a plethora of relatives scattered along I-35 and NM, CA, OR, LA, etc. My parental units still reside on the south side of Houston where I grew up, just down the street from NASA. Let's not even start on the dearest of family - the fuzzy ones adopted into our lives! "Dogs of Our Lives" is an upcoming post ;-)

Aww, I have parents (pic is circa July '08), and they have a kitty for their otherwise empty nest.

dealing with stress

This week has been somewhat exciting - a presentation for Big Country Audubon by Matt and the beginnings of Attwater's Prairie Chicken madness for me. Classes and lifestyle rearrangement (I can see the floor in my room now!) has kept the weekend less relaxing than I'd have hoped, but at least I was spared the 8 hr drive to Houston. This time. Next weekend is more likely. Dad's condition is stable, from the sounds of it. On a more local scale, my closest friend in Abilene has just started chemo and our thoughts & prayers (and chocolate!) have been with her and the family. On a less local scale, my ├╝ber-awesome cousin, Pete (in Santa Fe, NM) called this morning to let us know that his wife, Annette, hatched Phoebe Ann(e?) this morning! Matt and I are currently debating which of the Tyrannidae she is named after. I vote Eastern Phoebe, for the call, Matt thinks Say's Phoebe for the range (and his personal affection for the species during the fall and winter months on San Clemente Island).

Otherwise, Matt and I had a lovely afternoon at the Abilene Zoo (the zoo, for work and leisure) and fetched quite an exciting variety of children's toys. Linda, the store manager seemed concerned, but not once Matt and I clarified that the recipients were not, in fact, ours. So desert creatures will go to the west coast, marine creatures will go to the high desert. Puzzles and ducks will migrate to the eastern portion of Texas. And Matt and I will share a weary evening picture of our true alien nature.