Welcome to my world!

Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Another Spring...a new platform.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Spring comes early in the Rio Grande Valley.  Proof is in the blossoms of a tree that came up voluntarily in my bird garden.  I think it's a peach tree, maybe a pear.  I know most of the names of the native trees, shrubs, and flowers that spring up around the yard, planted by birds or wind or by catching a ride on animals or on my pants' legs, but some of them are not native and I'll need to ask a neighbor who probably has the parent plant to help with its identification.  This one is a beauty, soft pink and certainly as beloved by the butterflies as if it were native.

The photo of spring was taken before I came to NYC where I am now.  Here it's definitely winter.  This view from a window is  quite different from the view of my arroyo yard.  (But lovely in its own frigid way.)  I'm babysitting a granddaughter who is in a Broadway show.  So far the only birding I've done is accidental and uninspiring. 

(Does finding a pigeon in Times Square count as birding?) 

Looking through photos that might be interesting for my February blog (notice I am no longer pretending to post weekly), I found another shot of Queen butterflies on mistflower at home, taken in the first week of February. If you look kind of upside down and a little sideways, you might see a heart, appropriate for today, Valentine's Day.
In fact, hearts are everywhere in nature.  I'll post a few in honor of this day.

The ruffled feathers of an Eastern Screech-Owl show at least one heart. Can you find it?

Barn Owls are known for a heart-shaped face.  This one was among several captive rehabilitated birds that cannot be released to the wild, but are used for education. I photographed it  at the Rio Grande birding festival.  I often see Barn Owls at night flying over the river and during the day in their excavated holes in the banks a few miles upriver.   Look here for photos of some fuzzy babies.  The photos were taken from long range, as we floated quietly by as we fished upriver. The owls peeked out at us but never flew or acted disturbed. 
I love plants with  heart-shaped leaves, even the pesky twiny vine that grabs hold of everything. 
The low-growing Heart-leafed Hibiscus,   in a photo from the Native Plant Society website, is one of my  favorite native flowers. (I have them in my yard, but can't find a photo I have taken myself.)
A cactus, damaged by the freeze two years ago, shows some ugly spots,  but if you look close a valentine emerges from the yuckiness.
A Great Blue Heron says Happy Valentines Day.

Inca Doves have a sweet-looking, loving nature.  Or at least they appear to.  I may be anthropomorphizing, but I love listening to their gentle cooing sound.

The same freeze that created the heart on the cactus two years ago left ice on the hummingbird feeder, but that didn't deter this Rufous Hummingbird that seemed to be sporting a heart in the feathers of the emerging ruby-colored gorget.

We haven't had a freeze in the Rio Grande Valley this year and probably won't, but winter is certainly here in Manhattan.  While Spring waits for me in Texas,  I'm spending Valentine's Day with one of my favorite  girls.

I would have liked to see the countryside, feed birds, and see bird tracks in the snow while I'm in a state that has winter, but  snow angels on the terrace of the apartment more than make up for a birdless snow.

I'll return to the banks of the Arroyo Colorado next week to watch more signs of spring in the Valley, but for now I'm content with snow angels, pigeons, and listening to little girls sing.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Birds of a New Year

Our first bird of 2013 was a Brown Pelican  following a barge going upriver early this morning and diving into its wake for fish (probably menhaden one of its favorite meals). This New Year's bird was of the red-pouched form which I like the best, a form more common in the Pacific west, that  by my observations seems to make up less than 5 percent of our Brown Pelicans here in south Texas. 

A Brown Pelican was also the last bird I saw in 2012, flying downriver last night just before midnight. I quit watching then because I like my last bird and first bird of the transitioning years to be different. But as I walked up the stairs this morning and looked out the back windows at a barge going by, a group of about 15 pelicans were diving into the wake left by the boat. Usually my first bird of the year is on the opposite side of the house, a hummingbird or winter warbler, or a noisy Kiskadee or Altamira Oriole, but these large wonderful diving birds fishing in the Arroyo Colorado were not to be denied, and the Brown Pelican wins both crowns. So congratulations to the Brown Pelican, bird of both 2012 and 2013 in the Baughman back yard!

Last night I tweeted that the pelican's being the last bird of 2012 was especially fitting since 2012 marked the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. That book chronicled the effects of poisonous pesticides on the Brown Pelican.  DDT, by weakening the shells of the eggs of birds, was especially harmful to Brown Pelicans that incubate eggs in an unusual way, often covering them with their feet.   The heaviness of these large birds virtually standing on eggs that were weakened by the overuse of pesticides in agriculture contributed to their demise.  Rachel Carson spoke up against  DDT and for the birds.  Her advocacy caught the attention of lawmakers who banned the pesticide, and the bird is now thriving. It is certainly one of the most common birds in the river behind our house, especially in the winter. (Summer finds them nesting on the islands and spoil banks in the Laguna Madre.)   So  it's not only fitting that the last bird of 2012 commemorates the great Rachel Carson on the 50th anniversary year of her landmark book, but also that the Brown Pelican is the bird of the  New Year -- a symbol for what humans can do that is positive to undo or at least mitigate the destruction already done to our wildlife and environment.

I am reminded of one of my favorite poems, Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur."  It celebrates the grandeur of a God that creates and protects, and of nature that "is never spent," that survives humankind's wastefulness and destruction:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Hauntings

In our neighborhood, Trick or Treaters seldom come knocking on doors or asking for candy.  We live far from town, and the people in the houses that line the river are more oldsters than youngsters.  On Halloween night I miss the little ones, dressed  up as ghouls or princesses, traipsing down the street amid giggles and choruses of "Trick or Treat! Close inspection of the backyard, however, reveals a host of natural tricksters.

A couple of years ago, I posted some pictures to prove that Nature itself had done a pretty good job of celebrating Halloween. Here are a few spooky characters from around the yard, an encore of Nature's trick or treaters.  

Can you tell what's making this scary face?

 It's a pomegranate hanging from a bush in the yard! (I flipped the photo upside down so that you can appreciate the Halloween mask. )

 Cactus blooms can also make faces worthy of Halloween! That blood-red mouth is downright gruesome!

 A hoary Fungus Face hides on an old tree stump, waiting for the Halloween party to begin.  

 Talk about disguises: the Walking Sticks in the photo below came to the party dressed as, well...walking sticks!

What's a Halloween party without a few well-dressed spiders?

and night-black snakes,

and black birds with devilish eyes.

A Silver Argiope spins her web. That little guy  above her is her mate, and possibly a Halloween treat.

A flash from the camera lights up this Wolf Spider's creepy eyes.

What's in the web-below--is it spider or prey? 

No matter, the web is a masterpiece, a fine Halloween decoration!)

 Click to enlarge the photo above: you'll see the hundreds of baby spiders creepy-crawling out of their pod, headed for the Trick or Treat party.

Other guests at the Halloween costume ball: a butterfly dressed in ghostly garb,

and an appropriately-named  Funereal Duskywing, just perfect for Halloween haunting,

 One little goblin (bee or butterfly?) dressed up in the Flower costume,above. (Look close! Can you see it?)

 A Black Witch Moth (yes, that's really its name) flew with five-inch wingspan into our house and spent the night on the curtains.

 Last, but never least, a night-time owl prowled the neighborhood on Halloween night:

Screeches, hoots, trembling trills---an Eastern Screech-owl sings to the Halloween moon!

Happy Halloween from the creatures of the Arroyo Colorado--human or non-, imaginary or not!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Riverblog Resumes

I started blogging a couple of years ago as a way of keeping up with what was going on in our yard.  I'm not keeping up.

The blog seemed like a good idea.  A lazy birder, I seldom wandered out of the yard, but I spent a lot of time wandering around in it. And wondering.  I wondered what birds were nesting here and when they were nesting.  I wondered if the birds that showed up this year kept to last year's schedule or if they were weeks early or late.

  I wondered what butterflies flittered through and if the number of bird species in this Rio Grande Valley yard  was actually greater than I knew--if I could just start keeping a list in one findable location, I could answer those questions.

So I bought a relatively simple automatic camera with a built-in zoom lens, found out how to stumble through the mechanics of posting to Blogger--and the Arroyo Colorado River Blog was born.

At first I kept up pretty well, posting at least every week, then every two, then once a month (usually on the last day of the month). Now three months have passed by without a word from me. Three months--that's a whole season of yard happenings. (If posts appear below for late winter and spring migration, it's because I plan to cheat and post-date them if that's possible. I have a couple of drafts that I will finish up and slip into the spots I would have posted them if I had been posting.  My last update was actually just before February's Great Backyard Bird Count and it was little more than a photo of a huddled clump of Inca Doves. I had planned posts about January hummers and even a couple of birding trips away from the yard--but was already getting recalcitrant and lazy. Not blogger's block exactly but just resistance to the computer. At night I'd rather sleep or take in the night view from the windows; during the day I'd rather sit out in the yard. ) 

Looking at photographs from the last three or four months, I can recreate details from my lost blog. 

Hordes of Red-winged Blackbirds that crowded feeders and baths all winter and into the spring have come and gone. (Individuals stay, of course, especially in the sorghum fields across the road, but the invading army has retreated -- or rather advanced.)

Common year-round residents  such as this Curve-billed Thrasher and Green Jay that hung around winter feeders now just grab quick bits of seed  as they go about their primary Spring business of tending to nestlings and fledglings. (I'm waiting for this year's crop of new fledged Green Jays to show up with their parents).

Kiskadees built their  messy nest again in the Ebony tree and are now catching lizards and insects for hungry nestlings.  

Eastern Screech-owls decided against last year's nest box beside the sandy driveway and opted instead for an old woodpecker hole in the dead cottonwood. I'm glad our former neighbors left that 15-foot stump between our houses. When the tree (once the tallest in the neighborhood) died, we lost a convenient look-out for Great Horned Owls who who-who-whooed from the branches, but after a busy few years of excavating by Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, the branchless trunk has plenty of cavities for titmice, starlings, wrens and woodpeckers (the latter have thankfully left the eaves of the house alone since they found such a perfect place to construct their condos). I wouldn't have thought the hole in the picture above was large enough for a screech-owl, but the little guy seems satisfied.  That disgruntled look (Angry Bird) is probably due to my taking a photo from the bedroom window a few feet away rather than its being unhappy with the nest. The young are not yet fledged but we expect them any day. Clumsy baby Great Horned Owls fledged a couple of months ago from their nest three yards upriver.  Their awkward flight and voice has entertained us already.

(The lovely ripening berries in the owl photo are on an Anacua tree that has grown up around the old cottonwood.)

Chestnut-sided Warbler

 April brought warblers that stopped by for rest and water when north winds or quick rains caused "drop days." Writing about these guys last year and posting photos of their brief visits helped me remember just which one is which.  I didn't even have to remind myself this year that the bather above is a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Or the one at the top of this post is the lovely Mourning Warbler, so much brighter in spring than fall, its exquisite  black bib setting off the yellow breast and blue-gray back to perfection.

Canada Warbler

Though we did not host nearly as many species of warblers this spring as we did last year, it was still exciting to see such colorful species as Canada Warblers,  Yellow Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, American Redstarts, Swainson's Warblers, Prothonatory Warblers, Ovenbirds, and Worm-eating Warblers, among others. (I'll update my side-bar species list and get it posted soon.)

Yellow Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler
The photo of the acrobatic Prothonotary Warbler was taken at the South Padre Island Convention Center rather than our yard.  I know many people  are thrilled to be at the warbler lots on SPI on a fallout day, but I just feel uncomfortable in the crowds and always wish I were in my own yard.  When  we got home the same birds we saw there were here.  If it weren't for being able to eat at Blackbeard's where British Burgers and onion rings make up my favorite meal, I'd probably always stay home.

(A day of watching so many birders crowd around a small water feature  is anything but relaxing -- but it is entertaining. And there are days that I like the excitement and social aspect of that kind of birding.)

I like these two shots of Yellow and Prothonatary Warblers.  They show that any side of a spring warbler is a good view.

Nothing beats the view of nature we have here on the Arroyo Colorado. When I stepped outside with the dogs this morning, I heard young coyotes and chachalacas across the river and the whistling of Whistling Ducks above me.  Perfect sound track for a perfect view.

So that's the news from the Baughman Yard.  Lots of details are left out of my account, but at least I'm back to the Riverblog.  Life of the yard goes on even if blogging doesn't.