27 November 2009

Black Friday

In the true spirit of consumerism, commercialism and materialism Black Friday, Matt and I were up at the crack of mid-morning and wrangling a parking spot before breakfast. Yep, Matt was out of coffee so we hit the HEB on our way to the park. So much for 100% celebration of Buy Nothing Day

Seriously though, Anakin hadn't been to the park in a while and Matt and I certainly needed the change of pace after two weeks of hectic work. Ah, stick-chasing.

Anakin's first find was a bark clump that he carried with him while running after other sticks, and it made for some lovely photo ops. The cool, bright morning really energized the little waggler and brought out the "golden" (if not the retrieving). We all found something cool to look at among the driftwood by the lake - and we even posed with the biggest stick we could find.

There were American Snouts absolutely everywhere and flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers (Myrtles until proven Audubon's) were flycatching after them all over the place. One stray American White Pelican flew over along with one Osprey, several Forester's Terns and Ring-billed Gulls added to the mix. As we were neither birding nor bugging, we didn't really keep track of diversity or numbers. Wrens and chickadees and cardinals were heard, but the focus was definitely on wet paws and stick carrying, chasing and exploring. Sooo many sticks. Happy puppy.

Very happy puppy.

After this year's roller coaster of events, Thanksgiving has taken on a few new meanings this year. Being thankful for family has meant, now, two families and a flock of relatives who have supported and nurtured us through some very rough times. Being thankful for friends has taken on the lighter tones of tailgating with futile hopes for Baylor. However, much of this year's consolation also came from friends... and we count ourselves most fortunate to have eliminated the CA/TX, Waco/Abilene distances that kept us from being closer in supporting each other.

Immediately in mind, of course, is Laura. Her wisdom and guidance were impeccable throughout the year that Matt and I were two time zones apart. She was as much a friend and confidant as birding companion and biologist. The Packer family has come to be very important to both of us and it is not often with dry eyes that we reminisce.

Here's one, taken by my sister, in front of the blind now named for Laura

Indeed, as much as the Packers have been friends (and quite nearly family to us), Charmaine and Collins Ganson have kept us under their wing during our frequent trips to Houston to check on my parents. Whoever coined the phrase, "friends are the family you choose," certainly knew what they were talking about.

While the aforementioned roller coaster sure had a lot of screaming free-falls, there were gracious buoys of love and adventure across the country (FL and NM come to mind) while we both tried to figure out the job market. Or lack thereof. It is easy to discount a zoo as being the coolest place to work (except when you're actually working at one), but for the first time since 2006, I'm actually getting paid to work full time with live animals. Even healthy, uninjured live ones. Ones that are in no way, shape or form subjected to manmade hazards in the wild (just in captivity). For now, Matt and I have swapped "underemployment" status and it seems to be the price we pay for actually being in the same place - and it turns out that the Abilene wind farm gig would have ended in late October, so it's not like I missed out on a hypothetical four year contract when I left. There are definitely a few more uncounted blessings there...

Whew, long post, kudos for getting this far! I hope everyone had a happy, delicious Thanksgiving and safe travels.

Very happy people.

16 November 2009

blatant promotion

The Moth and Me is now up! It's the last for 2009, and it will be a long winter until March and April when it returns...

08 November 2009

Leather-colored Bird Grasshopper

The general rule of thumb in the bird/bug world is that the more names it has, the cooler it is. Names are made from words that are generally colors, sizes, abundances, generalizations or any combination of all of the above. On occasion a reference to vocalization is made as well.

Example #1: Common Grackle. How abundant? Common. What kind of bird? Grackle (probably also a bit of a vocalization reference there).

Example #2: House Sparrow. Two words that describe a drab, abundant, small, brown sparrow.

Example #3: Blue-throated Goldentail. Heck, you don't even need to know it's a hummingbird because your brain is already swirling in a magical land of sparkles and whatever this hawk-chicken (pork-cow?) is, it's probably capable of excreting rainbows.

Brings to mind Great, Middle and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers.

This brings us to October's yard-bug, better late than never. Leather-colored Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca alutacea) is the common name for a grasshopper that's huge and kind of brown. It even flies a bit like a bird (Matt found it before it launched itself across the yard, where I photographed it).

This creature definitely has a subtle grace and quite a presence - it veerrryyyy sllooowwwwlllllyyyyyy tried to make an escape, by walking up the fence. Due to my inability to weed out any single image from the next three shots, I offer thumbnails.

If you had to give this one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater grasshopper a name, what would it be? Would you name it for the yellow stripe down its back and bright antennae? Would you even call it a grasshopper, or a spike-legged catapulter? A brownish vaulting yellow-stripe? If you don't find those names too outrageous, well, we'll keep the blog family friendly and simply refer you to the Great Thick-knee. Nope, it's not a hippo.

07 November 2009

Friday at the Wetlands

Yesterday's butterfly list wasn't too bad for a breezy day, nor was the bird list bad at all. In fact, the water was low enough that there were shorebirds among the ducks! The photos below indicate water levels and a team of birders in wader garb... whilst scanning the mud flats, we noticed an American White Pelican by itself, wings limp and head back. I ran back to the office and was graciously outfitted with waders by Nora, the site coordinator. Matt even volunteered to schlep into the mire with me to investigate the unresponsive pelican.

In the photo below (L), you can barely see a lump of pelican out on the flat. Once back on the trail, we examined the critter - no external signs of injury, nothing broken or tangled. It's a relief to see that the critter was not apparently suffering at the end, nor did we have to wrestle a stressed and injured bird out of the muck.

Unfortunately, there's not much to offer in terms of scale. This Osprey is about as close as I can get for now. (It's a collision bird from Abilene, I tried to pick the least graphic photo.) The pelican's feet more than covered my palm and the beak/head length was about from my elbow almost to fingertips.

DISCLAIMER: State and federal permits are required to handle/move/possess native bird species per the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act. I have the appropriate permits. If you're interested in "saving" a dead bird, it needs to be done through a permitted entity (most large colleges, natural history museums, etc).

Until next time, here's a lovely mystery spider:

EDIT: here's the bird portion of the post!

L. Waco Wetlands 6 Nov. 09, Ross' Goose, American Bittern and Avocet

Location: Lake Waco Wetlands
Date: 06 Nov 09
Time: 0845-1230

Notes: ROSS' GOOSE, 1, seen flying overhead for a little over 5 minutes. We'll gladly submit an RBA if needed.
Plegadis spp Ibis, 11, assumed White-faced. Water level extremely low, exposing expanses of mud; and shorebird species presence responded.
CRESTED CARACARA, 2, soared over northern portion.
Vacated the area heading north.

Full species list in order of encounter:

American White Pelican, 45
Eastern Phoebe
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Belted Kingfisher
Red-tailed Hawk, 2
Killdeer, many
Neotropic Cormorant, 12, pretty much all sporting breeding plumage
White-throated Sparrow
Lincoln Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Marsh Wren
Great Egret
Double-crested Cormorant
American Coot, 100's
Turkey Vulture
Pied-billed Grebe
Plegadis spp. ibis, 11
Ring-billed Gull
Great Blue Heron
Northern Cardinal
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Brown-headed Cowbird
European Startling
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Yellowthroat
American Bittern, 1
Black Vulture
Ross' Goose, 1
Greater Yellowlegs, 6
Northern Shoverler
American Avocet, 1
Northern Pintail, 50+
Lincoln Sparrow, 2
Crested Caracara, 2
Cooper's Hawk, 1 adult
Blue-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal
Long-billed Dowitcher, FOS, 24
Vesper Sparrow
American Widgeon
Tufted Titmouse
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-rumped Warblers(Myrtle), we didn't work too hard drawing out all
the small chips or we would have listed more of the usual suspects
listed in previous weeks
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher


Whew, it's definitely not summer anymore and birds are on the move! The Ross's Goose was a peculiar little fellow. We were watching an aerial tower of pelicans slooowly shifting and circling (it felt like home) when a tiny, flapping, gull-sized, black-and-white figure cut through the formation. It was lucky to be Mallard sized, with a very round head and barely a beak to speak of... hence, a Ross's Goose. A Snow Goose would have been expected, but the size and profile would have been significantly larger. In typical "good bird" fashion, the Ross's never slowed nor stopped. C'est la vie.

I'm done with this post now, I promise =)

(un)Common Buckeye

A condensed summary of yesterday's butterfly notes, per Matt:

Observers: Matthew York, Heidi Trudell
Location: Lake Waco Wetlands
Date: 06 Nov 09
Time: 0845-1230

Butterflies included:
Tawny Emperor, dark
Dun Skipper
American Snout, 100's a-migratin'
Red Admiral
Common Buckeye, one individual had a seriously trippy genetic color deviation, completely dull-red on both underside hindwings
Little Yellow
Cloudless Sulphur
Painted Lady
Sleepy Orange
Gulf Fritillary
Variegated Fritillary
Phaon Crescent
Clouded Sulphur


I shall reply to my own post...

Regarding a note on the Common Buckeye individual I researched and took this excerp:

"Many autumn individual ("dry season") Common Buckeyes show rich brick red (often described as rose-red) under hindwings"


The text above was posted (along with a bird list) to the Central Tx Audubon list, and the photos below are to be taken in context with the post. Starting, of course, with the startling Common Buckeye who impressed us so much (the bold text in the list is mine, added for emphasis).

Here's the top view of any normal Common Buckeye, which this one appears to be. Generally you also expect the wings, when folded, to continue the drab grayish coloration (sans markings). The photo on the right betrays a hint of warm rusty color underneath. Brace yourself!

Holy seasonal-variation, Batman! That thing is BRIGHT. And gorgeous. And remarkably cooperative, for a buckeye (who are notoriously skittish). Neither of us has ever, to our knowledge, encountered this morph before. Perhaps Texas isn't a prime location for fall colors, so this fallen leaf mimic is in sub-prime habitat. Regardless, we're thrilled to see such a stunning creature (not to mention, wondering how we've missed this morph in the past if they're supposedly common).

Now, for two mini-portraits - dark Tawny Emperor and Matt:

The Emperor is deceased and Matt is reflected in a window. I'm familiar with insects bumping into windows, but this coincidental location (dead butterfly in front of a highly reflective window) doesn't seem causal in the demise of the emperor. Tis a window, after all. Not a windshield.

Now for your upside-down Red Admiral of the day:

...it's always fun to see variations on normal things (melanism in Least Sandpipers, for example) but it's not always easy to document the sightings or research how common the variations are. The internet now allows folks to document partially albinistic sparrows and follow up on leucistic hummingbirds. Have you spotted any of these anomalies in your yard? Or were you startled to learn that red morph Eastern Screech Owls actually DO exist? (I was quite certain they were imaginary, like Black Rails and Henslow's Sparrows)

Let us know (or send us pictures), we'd love to hear about the critters that keep you on your toes!