That man’s silence is wonderful to listen to.–Thomas Hardy
Feeling like a downtrodden character in a Thomas Hardy novel, I continue to battle entropy at home and work and have not been able to get back into the field. The late onset of cooler fall weather hasn’t helped matters–but tonight, a cool front! So don’t give up on us! Sooner or later the photo-birding will pick up again, and we will continue to share our adventures. Birding is fun, and fun will be had again!
Life is one long process of getting tired. –Samuel Butler
As summer winds down, and we try to wrap up a long list of projects, we find ourselves overwhelmed and exhausted (again). We’ll have to put bird photography on the back burner for a while. Never fear, friends, soon we’ll be back with more adventures involving our feathered friends!
He (the Turkey) is besides, tho’ a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.–Ben Franklin
On an early morning binocular bird walk in the neighborhood, I was both delighted and annoyed when a flock of Bullock’s Orioles decided to perch not more than twenty feet from me and call and sing. There were males, females, and immatures–all right out in the open–and me without my big glass! Once home, a bit dejected, I got back to work in the yard.
But to my surprise, a mother Wild Turkey slowly started to cross our property, a flock of youngsters in tow! Silently, I sneaked back to the garage to retrieve my big rig. A few images later they were gone. I have seen Wild Turkeys in Cave Creek Canyon Before (Barfoot Park, South Fork), but never this far east. It takes a while to know a place–and in birdwatching luck can turn from bad to good quickly!
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change. –Alfred Lord Tennyson
Over the past few weeks we’ve been slowly getting back to observing nature. It hasn’t been easy, but when it has occurred, it has been a tonic. We haven’t really had time to seek out the new and unusual, but rather have visited several nearby favorites like Brazos Bend State Park and Fiorenza Park.
After next week, we’ll be in the field again regularly, and we hope to rack up some new experiences and species. Until then, we’ll plan, stay local, and reminisce about birding trips of the past. Never has what a long-time birder told us when we were first beginning seemed more true: “Go birding, you’ll live longer.”
The most splendid achievement of all is the constant striving to surpass yourself and to be worthy of your own approval.–Denis Waitley
Regular readers will no doubt have noticed a decline in the rate of posting on twoshutterbirds.com. This is not by choice! This drop-off in productivity has been the result of a number of factors affecting our luxurious new post-Harvey lifestyle. A change in Chris’s teaching schedule has also meant the loss of an hour after work every day–the time he used to work on bird photography. Chris having a tenacious head cold the past few weeks hasn’t helped, either. In any case, for the near-term we’ll likely not be as productive as we have been in the distant past. Keep checking back! We’ll keep slogging forward, and a new equilibrium will eventually be reached!
I can’t even say the word “titmouse” without giggling like a schoolgirl ee hee! Ee hee hee hee hee hee!–Homer Simpson
Nothing messes up a bird photo more thoroughly than a feeder being present in the shot. A fairly straightforward solution to this problem is to build your own feeders out of attractive pieces of found wood.
As I’ve been clearing brush, I’ve made a point of setting aside particularly nice pieces of deadfall, mostly Arizona sycamore logs. Knots, rotted out cavities, woodpecker holes and granaries all make for visual interest.
The biggest problem with bird feeders still remains: mammalian pests. The feeders I have built with found wood are set up on 3 5/8” bird feeder posts. One anti-squirrel/raccoon baffle I have foils chipmunks and coatis. I watched a coati (from no more than ten feet away!) tear down a feeder I had just built on a post without a baffle. Can’t skimp on baffles: any but the expensive metal kind will be torn up in a heart-beat out here in the Arizona sticks!
What we call progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.–Havelock Ellis
No matter where the birder-photographer finds him/herself, there are challenges. Hey, if it was easy, then everyone would do it, right?
After clearing lots of brush and scrutinizing the landscape, I am to the point now of putting out some seed and suet to see who will show up for a photo-op. Back in Houston, the biggest problem with bird feeders was mammals: fox and gray squirrels plus roof rats. Looks like the biggest problem with feeders in Portal is also going to be mammals: coatis and cliff chipmunks (and likely Coues deer, too–a small herd shows up several times a day to drink from our dripper).
White-nosed coatis are members of the raccoon family (Procyonidae). They range from southeast Arizona/southwest New Mexico to northern Columbia. They are diurnal and omnivorous and eat a wide variety of foods–but boy do they love black oil sunflower seeds and suet! These critters have little fear of humans and will eat you out of house and home! Cliff chipmunks are also Johnny-on-the-spot wherever, whenever food is available. You have to be on your guard to keep doors and windows closed, or unwelcome cliff chipmunks will invite themselves in!
Of course, some mammals are always welcome, namely wild cats. We’ve seen two bobcats at the dripper: a gorgeous adult and a sub-adult with some remaining spotting (of course, a camera was nowhere to be found). Jaguarundis have been reported from our property (but never photographed in the entire state of Arizona), and several years ago a mountain lion spent some time lounging on our patio! It’s just a matter of time before we see some of these rarer or more secretive critters–although it may take a trail cam to capture images.
Black bears also live in the canyon, and have damaged some of our female juniper trees. They like to climb up and eat the berries, and in so doing they break off branches which dangle and turn brown. Bears can stay away as far as I’m concerned . . . .
Once the birds start to show up, the Mexican Jays are always first in the chow-line. There are lots of Titmice, Juniper and Bridled, as well as Black-headed and Blue Grosbeak, Towhees, woodpeckers, and many, many others around, too. Can’t wait to get the bit glass on them!
The recent major cold front has certainly brought some fantastic weather to the Texas Gulf Coast. And this weekend we hoped to make the most of it. Fully expecting to see a fallout, or the aftermath of one, we headed to Galveston. First stop on Saturday afternoon was Lafitte’s Cove. There were fewer birds than usual for a day in mid-April, and more people than birds.
I saw only a Scarlet Tanager, a Blue-winged Warbler, a Merlin, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, an Ovenbird, some Brown Thrashers (residents), assorted ducks and shorebirds, and a few Gray Catbirds. The Gray Catbirds (along with the Scarlet Tanager) were eating from the mulberry trees near the gazebo. A greedy Northern Mockingbird was guarding the trees and ran off the other songbirds again and again.
East Beach was glorious on Saturday evening (and Sunday morning), as it usually is after cold fronts. There were large flocks of gulls, Dowitchers, terns, Brown Pelicans, Black Skimmers, and a few scattered waders. Most interesting to me were the small shorebirds. Sanderlings, Least Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Plovers were everywhere.
One Piping Plover was trying to pass unnoticed among the smallest shorebirds. This bird was sporting no less than five bands of assorted colors. Clearly an object of devotion, this creature is likely a member of a dying breed. Threatened everywhere it occurs, the Piping Plover numbers in less than five figures. In contrast, the nearly identical-looking (and just as darling) Semipalmated Plover is one of the most common shorebirds in the world.
Finally, the contrast between East Beach and Lafitte’s Cove was stark. East Beach was nearly abandoned and a perfectly lovely place to bird. Lafitte’s Cove was jammed cheek to jowl with tourists yakking it up in the “quiet zones.” The time has likely come to bid Lafitte’s Cove a fond adieu . . . .
Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men. –Martha Graham
For this spring break, we took an epic road trip across West Texas, New Mexico, and southeast Arizona. It was the kind of road trip that produces exhaustion that hurts. But we were able to spend time in two major habitat types in the Cave Creek Canyon area, the Chihuahuan Desert at the mouth of the canyon and low elevation (less than 5500 feet) riparian areas adjacent to the creek.
The open desert areas are dominated by prickly pear, agave, and scattered grasses. Birds spotted here included Verdin, Pyrrhuloxia, Gambel’s Quail, White-crowned and Lincoln’s Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher, House Finch, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker (Red-shafted). Here, we hoped for shots of birds perched on the cacti and century bloom stalks . . . .
The riparian habitat at low elevation is dominated by juniper, deciduous hardwoods, and grasses. Junipers are the most flammable trees in the canyon and likely have, in places, achieved unnatural densities due to decades of fire suppression.
But upon closer inspection, tangles of dead or crowded juniper contain a greater wealth of lovely (and more fire-resistant) deciduous trees than is first evident–Arizona sycamore, Arizona walnut, and oak. The recent wildfires in California have aroused fears of the same in Cave Creek Canyon. Some have even started taking action to clear out the dead and low vegetation that could act as fuel for major wildfires. More as the story develops . . . .
Be thine own palace, or the world’s thy jail. –John Donne
Many birders inside and outside Texas are aware (and horrified) that planning for construction of Trump’s border wall with Mexico at Santa Ana National National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) near McAllen, Texas continues to progess. Often described as the “crown jewel” of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Santa Ana is nationally and internationally famous as one of the birding destinations in the United States. Some of our earliest and most profound birding adventures have occurred here. In fact, it is here where we became serious birders. Over the strenuous objections of world biologists and birders about the obvious threats to habitat and the exceptional beauty and biodiversity of the place, the plans continue.
I suspect that it would be useless to enumerate the types of specific threats to particular animal species–from hindering migration for purposes of finding mates and food to loss of availability of escape routes during floods–that the wall poses. The weird populist political support this boondoggle enjoys is quite beyond the bounds of reason. The work (and destruction) will continue until Trump is out of office–but then the damage will have been done. The wall will (obviously) be incomplete, and Santa Ana will be scarred.
In contemplation of the border wall, I am reminded of the history of palaces in Western Europe. Reaching back into antiquity one finds that the early residences of the nobility were fortresses. Often the power these men and women exerted over their subjects was enforced at sword-point, and rivals often staged armed insurrections. Power and influence were tenuous. However, as the power of the state increased into the early Modern Era, a curious thing happened. Kings and queens no longer lived behind moats and fortifications: They lived in palaces. The Versailles of Louis XIV was not a fortress. Nor was the Buckingham Palace of George III. Security, yes–moats, ramparts, massive walls, no. Power was exercised with the stroke of a pen, orders dispatched from an office, not a turret.
Those advocating the building of the border wall must agree that if the United States requires a physical wall, a fortification, to contain illegal immigration, then our government no longer enjoys a rule of law capacious enough or one even worthy of a Modern civilization. Rather, we must consider ourselves Medievals cowering behind stone walls and iron gates.
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, oh oh oh–Marvin Gaye, What’s going on?
Regular readers of Two Shutterbirds may be wondering what’s going on: Our posts have become sporadic, our commentary, elliptical . . . .
In a nutshell, we’ve been making the big push to get over Harvey. Both our our destroyed house and our new house are under contract.
The whole have-your-house-destroyed, sell it, and buy another one has not been the worst experience of my life, but it is on the list.
I have bought two houses before, but as those who have purchased/sold real estate since the housing crisis of 2008/2009 can tell you, it is a different world out there. It seems not to matter if you have money or a perfect credit rating or not: You are in for a [expletive deleted] nightmare. The amount of red tape has generated some real frustration. Luckily, Elisa has been a trooper and kept me in the game when I was about to give up–on repeated occasions.
So, for a while longer, all we’ll be able to do is peruse the archives, revel in the birding joys of the past, and dream of even greater birding adventures in the future . . . Stay tuned.