Sunday, January 13, 2013

Winter Birding Down South

Before the semester fully revs up and things got too busy, Ben and I decided to take a short half-day trip down to Quintana and Surfside, hoping to see a Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow, which neither of had seen yet.  Since they winter in saltmarsh down on the Texas coast, we had a good chance.  And indeed we did see not one, but several!  We stopped along Crab Road in Surfside, where they had been reported.  While looking at reddish egrets, tricolored herons, a bubblegum-colored spoonbill, and great egrets, we kept hearing this one-note metallic clink-chip.  We didn't even think it was a bird at first, because it sounded kind of weird.  The sounds were everywhere around us.  Then all of a sudden we looked into the marsh and there was a Nelson's sparrow sitting in the reeds staring straight at us!  Encounters with Ammodrammus sparrows tend to be of this startling, "whoa moment" nature.  I think it's because the birds have such striking faces, yet they remain so still and quiet and hidden.
Can you find the sparrows here?

Surfside town viewed from Crab Road

Winter colors at the Quintana bird sanctuary

Great egret in winter saltmarsh.  A year ago, I took a very similar picture 

Forster's tern.  Around this time last year I also photographed one at Lynchburg Ferry.

Mist shrouds the empty, palm-lined street.
Some leaves holding onto their summer colors

Milkweed in various states (buds, flowers).

An Eastern phoebe.

Orchard oriole nest.

Reddish egret.
Turnstones on the Quintana jetty.


When you look up close, even the great-tailed grackle, one of the most common birds around here, looks striking.

Winter Birding up North: Long Island

Winter is definitely something I miss living down here in Texas.  Perhaps it's because I was born in the winter that I have always felt like it was "my season."  But as a kid, I didn't always appreciate winter.  I had what one would describe as a "love-hate" relationship with it.  While the quiet of snow-laden meadows, icicles dripping from boughs, the dark skeletons of black trees against gray skies were all beautiful things to behold, there was also the reality of shoveling snow, driving on icy roads, sunset at 4 pm, and the cold.  Down here in Texas, though, winter is more like an extended autumn.  Temperatures rarely drop below 50 F.  Strange as it may sound, I sometimes miss the bite of the northern wind, and whenever a wind like that blows down here from up north, I relish it and try to imagine the scent of pine terpenes blowing in too.  The Texan winter leaves something missing - perhaps the anticipation of spring is diminished, because the days, being so mild, lack a stark enough contrast to make one long for warmth and green things.

But in terms of birding, the mild Texas winter means much more bird life compared to the Northeast.  Even in January, flowers are blooming and there are even butterflies and dragonflies.  The wetlands don't freeze, so herons, egrets, spoonbills and lots of other wading birds are still around.  But up North you get a different sort of winter birding.  Over New Years, Ben and I drove out to Jones Beach on Long Island.  The West End was a particularly good spot for birds.  We got red crossbills there - but the best part was walking right into a winter flock of nuthatches, chickadees, a downy woodpecker, and a hermit thrush stalking around on the ground.  There are small groves of pine trees at the West End which provide shelter out of the wind and cold, and here the birds were feeding like crazy.  The nuthatches were so loud, it sounded like several tiny car horns honking up in the trees.  The chickadees almost got stepped on by us, they were probably so hungry and cold and dazed by the sea wind all they cared about was food.  When you walk into a flock of birds like that, it's just such a cool experience - it's like being one of them almost (or at least seeing what they're doing from up close).

 View of Jones Beach - West End.

Red-breasted nuthatch

 From left to bottom:
A tiny windblown red-breasted nuthatch.
A chickadee foraging on the ground.
A grove of pines - perfect nuthatch habitat.
A downy woodpecker.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wintery Ohio

Some photos I took on various walks in central Ohio over the winter break.

A hike in a beautiful mossy place called Conkle's Hollow in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Left: Fungi on tree
Right: Cup lichen and reindeer moss
Freshly sprouted fungi glowing orange.

Walking through Prairie Oaks Metro Park

Left: Pistia (?) water lettuce amidst dry snags
Right: Can you find the Carolina wren in this scene?
Prairie Oaks

Darby Creek
Ben birding in a field in Hocking Hills