Tag Archives: texas

Birding with Alligators


I live in the northeast where there are, thankfully, no alligators (NYC sewer gators, notwithstanding) so when I come across them in my travels they always freak me out a little; it’s all that nature programming that shows them running with burst of speed at 30 MPH.  Of course, I have seen them in Florida, but it took me completely by surprise that there are alligators in Texas.  Call me naive.

I was walking along a boardwalk at Brazos Bend State Park when I noticed a cluster of folks blocking the trail.  As I stepped around them, I glanced over to see what the fuss was about and there was an alligator sunning itself on the bank.  gulp.  I hustled along the path.  By the time I had made the turn, I had seen several more in the water.  Interestingly enough, the birds did not care about the them at all.  There were flocks of Black-bellied Ducks standing on the bank, White Ibises picking in the shallows, American Pipits bobbing along the path.  But the gators eat birds, right?

Fed up with the rain, I was heading back to the car along a path between two of the lakes, when I heard a tiger roar.  Seriously.  That is what it sounded like.  A small pesky thought started bouncing around my head that it might be an alligator doing the bellowing.  With adrelinin pumping I started to walk more briskly down the path.  I fumbled in my pocket for the park map; I had noticed alligator etiquette tips on it.  Here they are in case you are somewhere without helpful tips on a map.

  • Do not annoy or feed the alligators
  • Keep pets on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Do not throw objects in the water for your dog to retrieve
  • Keep at least 30 feet from an alligator – do not assume they are slow-moving
  • Do not swim or wade in the water
  • If an alligator goes after a fish you have caught, cut the line and let the alligator have the fish
  • Avoid any alligator sunning itself in the middle of the trail or lake bank
  • Stay clear of grasses, twigs and/or soil near the side of a trail; it may be a nest and the mother alligator is probably close by guarding it.
  • If an alligator opens its mouth and hisses, you have come to close.  Retreat slowly, make no quick moves.  Keep your eyes on the alligator.

Be careful out there.



Filed under Travel

Bird Photography Weekly – Sora


It always feels so special to see a rail.  But unlike many of them, this Sora was totally brazen; walking across open water in full view to get from grassy clump to grassy clump.  When it disappeared into the reeds and did not emerge, I drove on, only to see another one slinking among the grasses close to the bank.  The very first time I saw one it was doing something similar; walking in and out of the reeds in full view at Unit 1 at Salton Sea.  Even though they are wide-spread, I see and hear them less than other rails.    In fact, this is only the third time in 20 years that I have seen one.  Good thing they are so distinctive looking.  Meet life bird 467.


Filed under Travel

Bird Photography Weekly – Least Grebe


Meet Life Bird #612. This is one of the Least Grebes that was hanging around the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.  I saw it on the auto loop around Moccasin Pond. Look at that orange eye.


Filed under Photos, Travel

Bird Photography Weekly

Boat-tailed Grackle

Look at that tail!  Let’s see–at the beach, in Texas, long wonky tail, must be a Boat-tailed Grackle.  I can usually tell the difference between the Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackle not by size, and the tail of a Great-tailed Grackle is a crazy thing to behold, but by voice and habitat.  The Boat-tailed Grackle is a beach-loving surfer dude (Ok, I made up the surfer dude part, but they are coastal).  While the Great-tailed Grackle is more inland.  Their ranges do overlap though.  The real key for me as to which is which, is their voices.  They could not be more different.  The Boat-tailed Grackle has a pretty ringing sort of call (and will always remind me of Florida for some reason)while the Great-tailed Grackle’s voice  is harsh and sounds like for all the world like crumpling a wad of paper.  Seriously.


Filed under Photos

Birding San Bernard NWR

Do you read Birding on the Net regional lists before you travel?  I do.  A few weeks before the trip I started to see reports on TexBirds of a Least Grebe at San Bernard NWR.  Although I had seen this bird in Costa Rica, I did not have it on my North American list.  Since I was still in the planning stages I factored in a trip down there as well as one to Brazos Bend State Park.   Both places were getting a lot of write-ups on the ListServ.

When I got to San Bernard, never having been there and not knowing where to go, nor for that matter where the Grebe was being seen;  I headed straight for the 3 mile auto loop around Moccasin Pond.  The ‘pond’ was full of thousands of ducks,  geese,  shorebirds, in fact it looked like every kind of waterfowl.   

I was marveling at the abundance when a Crested Caracara soared over; I stopped inching the car forward to watch it.  When I turned back to the pond, a Sora stepped out of the reeds to poke among the short grasses.  It scurried into the reeds when a Wilson’s Snipe spooked from the bank and landed where the Sora had just vacated.  Every few feet there was some new and delicisus surprise.  Up ahead a few White Ibis were standing next to the gravel road eyeing me warily.  When I had almost reached them; they took off and something brown and white striped dashed into the cattails.  Hoping it ws an American Bittern, I peered among the reeds.  Sure enough, there it was, trying to be a one with the reeds.  Luckily it was also curious and kept peeking around at the car. 

As I made the turn at the back of the pond, I had almost given up on the Least Grebe.  I didn’t think there was any way I was going to see a Grebe smaller than a Robin in all the mass of avifauna.  Watching a small flock of Black-necked Stilts wing past; I saw the outline of something in a small clump of grasses.   Looking only at the back end, I was trying to figure it out when I occured to me that it had a pillow butt.  That reminded of the the Eared Grebe from a few weeks ago.  When I opened the door to get out fo the car, it dove and reappeared further away in open water.  It was tiny, charcoal gray, with a thin bill and a beady yellow eye.  Wahoo. The Least Grebe.   I could not belive my luck.  Now that I knew where to look,  I saw 2 of them.  So a word to the wise, if you go, and I encourage you to do so, look close to the edge, they like short grasses.    

Here is a complte list of what I saw (not everything that was there mind you, because I didn’t have a scope.)

Snow Goose, Gadwall, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Least Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, DC Cormorant, Anhinga, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Sora, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellow-legs, Long-billed Curlew, Dunlin, Sanderlings, Dowitcher (sp), Wilson’s Snipe, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Phoebe, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren,Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Northern Mockingbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellow-throat, Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Boat-tailed Grackle.

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Filed under Travel

Birding Sam Houston National Forest


Years ago I met some birders at King Ranch who were extending their Texas trip to drive north and try to see the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.  Up to that point, I thought they were over in the Carolinas and other southern states; apparently I had never really studied their distribution map.   However, as soon as I learned I would be going on a business trip to Houston, I started yearning after them.  Not really remembering exactly where to find them, I did the sensible thing and asked my blogging and Twitter buddies.  TexKyle responded right away and was incredibly helpful working his local birding network.  He sent along a map, which was key when planning the trip.  BirdingBetty responded to my many emails with specific directions, suggestions of other birdy locales and hot tips from the local ListServ.   She also recommended Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail which was much better than the 20 year old Texas birding book I had.

So, no doubt you are thinking will you shut-up already and get to the point.

I drove from Houston to Conroe (ugly Rte 45 constuction nightmare, happening for the next 8 months, BTW) stopping to bird WG Jones State Forest.  I saw a Red-cockaded Woodpecker sign and several trees with the white or green painted band around them. I even had a Downy false alarm.  But in the end did not see any there.  So bright and early the next morning, I drove up to Sam Houston Forest.


At the intrepretive sign and pull off, I padded along a pine needle strewn path  into the quiet woods.  Spotting the color-banded trees, I went to stand among them.  I looked up, way up, neck-craningly up.  I saw Pine Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, Carolina Chickadees, had another Downy false alarm and heard a Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpecker.  But it was not until I saw a flake of pine bark float down from a tree that I spotted a woodpecker with a black and white barred back.  Dashing over to the tree I struggled to refind it.  Then I saw 2 of them chasing one another.  After watching another piece of bark float down, I realized that there were many,  I had been hearing them, but didn’t know the call.  (Note to self-will you please do your homework!)  In the end I saw 8.

If you are ever in Houston for a business meeting, try to carve out some time to pop up and see them.  It is totally worth it!


Filed under Travel

Bird Photography Weekly

Brown Pelican

Since I am heading to Houston for a conference in mid-Feb; I’m thinking of going down a few days early to do a little birding.  Do you have a favortite spot on the upper Texas Coast? I have been to Anahuac and plan on going there again.  I might drive down to Attawater although I know I won’t see the Prairie Chickens.  I know there are Red Cockaded Woodpeckers in the north somewhere.  Any idea if they are around in winter and within driving distance of Houston?  Any and all thoughts are welcome.  Ah, warm weather, here I come.

For more Bird Photography Weekly, scoot over to BirdFreak


Filed under Photos, Travel

Thanksgiving Turkey Special

All Turkeys are not the same.  According to Clements Checklist of Birds of the World, there are 6 subspecies of Wild Turkey; 4 of them in the US, the other 2 in Mexico.  I have only seen 3 of the US ones.


Meleagris gallopavo merriami — the Western bird–in this case taken in SE Arizona.  Notice the white tail stripe.

Meleagris gallopavo intermedia from North Texas to e-central Mexico–here’s one at King Ranch


Meleagris gallopavo silvestris is in the Central and Eastern US-my local bird.  Interested in hearing them gobble?  Check this out.

The other one is Meleagris gallopavo osceola an extremely local Florida bird. Huh, I never even knew there were turkeys in Florida.


Today, your turkey, like mine, will no doubt be the oven-roasted domestic variety.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Check out these other Turkey posts from around the blogosphere:

You have to go to Egret’s Nest.  She has great photos and can really talk turkey.  No, really.

Picus Blog has a Turkey pic up today.

BirdGuides Blog’s description of the local UK bird is spot-on and true in many parts of the US too.

Great Turkey pictures and Naked Thanksgiving over at Birdchick.

Musings on Nature did a Turkey program at the park and has pictures.

BirdFreak offers us a turkey photo and a plea for any leftovers.

Thanksgiving wishes from the Birder’s Report along with a shot of a spectacular Tom.

Bill of the Birds has great close-ups of face and feathers.


Filed under Local schmocal, Photos, Travel


I was with friends the other day and we were talking about if you were a bird which one would you be.   There were lots of interesting answers from hawks (of course) to a vulture (you can’t be serious!) to eagles (hmmm, yes but have you heard their call?), and an Anna’s Hummingbird (biggest of the small).  Me?  I want to be a scissor-tailed flycatcher.  I love that tail and their soft demure beauty, but buddy, you had better watch out when they fly.  The underside of those wings are the most amazing shade of salmon pink.

What bird would you be?

Interested in seeing other skies from around the world?  Visit Skywatch

And check out Bird Photography Weekly for some great shots of birds.


Filed under carnival, Photos, Travel

Sabal Palm Sanctuary Needs our Help

Located at the tip of Texas, close to the border with Mexico (and south of Brownsville, believe it or not) the Sabal Palm Sanctuary is owned and maintained by the National Audubon Society. It protects a small relict stand of the palms that once lined the riverbanks. Migratory birds rest and refuel there. Birds that are at the northernmost part of their range occur there. Birds I haven’t seen. I was just talking with a co-worker about Sabal Palm Sanctuary. She has been there. I have not. I really need to go soon. Before the government constructs the border fence and walls it off.

Audubon is asking birders to sign a petition to stop the border fence from cutting off the sanctuary from the rest of the country and putting it in a no-man’s land. I signed it. I hope you will consider signing it too.

*Note to self: plan a trip to Texas in the fall.

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Filed under migration, Travel