Cinco Ranch Nature Trail #4 – The Darn Dog

birds 1“Daddy, did you hear that dog?” said the little girl who had just passed us on her bike to her father next to her.  “Yes, I did,” he said.

I was not surprised.  I bet everyone at the lake last night heard my dog.  The little girl was referring to the whining he was doing when they passed us, similar to the whining he did every time we switched directions, stopped for a second, saw another dog, got passed by a jogger.  Somebody needs to either get out more, get more exercise, get his nuts removed, get a shock collar, or be worked with more on calming the eff down.  He was driving me crazy, and not contributing to my goal of simmering down from the work week and releasing the stress headache I had going on.

Also, he does not make a good birding companion.  When I stopped to look with the binoculars at the rich bird life I was seeing along the way, he would whine and tug on the leash, like “let’s go already!”.  When I sat down on the grassy creekside to watch the ducks in the special duck place, he could not stand it, fretting and whining and trying to break his down-stay.

In the end, though, he and I (and Breeze, who was a very good girl) got about an hour of exercise, and I ended up being very happy with the walk overall.  I discovered that the secret place of ducky delight is even better than I thought.  There were all kinds of interesting birds there last night.

Even better than a little cove full of black bellied whistling ducks is a cove full of blue-winged teal.  Sure, there were a few whistling ducks there, and probably at night, they do own the place, but this late evening, it was the blue winged teal that had taken over.  The whistling ducks look absolutely gigantic next to these smaller, more delicate ducks.  My cell phone camera is not great, but you can see the much smaller ducks in the background and the whistling ducks in front.

birds 3Also, there were a few more unique birds, like a couple of black necked stilts.  A handful of what I believe to be dowitchers fed nearby.  There were also a few herons (great blue, little blue, perhaps some unidentified) here and there.  Further down the path, by the side of the big lake, I saw a black crowned night heron sitting there unperturbed by my dog’s whining.  I also spied a loggerhead shrike perching on a branch, which is the third time this past week that I had a possible shrike in my viewer, so I am counting it.  A small bird with a medium bill flitted about on the rocks feeding from the edge of the lake, which I am thinking was a western sandpiper.  Red winged blackbirds sang chirpy songs at each other from little trees on the sides of the creek.

My favorite part of last night, though, were the barn swallows.  Dozens of them were swooping up and down above the creek that leads to the cove, going back and forth between there and the tunnels that make up the nature trail.  Golden bellies flowed below blue wings in a graceful arch up and down that was soothing to watch, but impossible to capture by photograph.  Some things you just have to commit to your memory instead.

Earlier this week, I was captivated by some scissor tailed flycatchers who were arguing in and out of a tree at the soccer fields.    This is also something I will have to commit to mental memory.  I only barely got a good look with the binoculars.  That brings my bird total up to 83 for the year.

I am loving the CRNT more and more every time I go to it.  I can’t believe I have lived here over three years and am just now discovering it.  I am glad I am finally getting over being sick, because it was a bummer to be missing some migration action.  Good thing I caught those blue wings now, because they will be gone in a couple of weeks.  I am hoping my ankle will start feeling better soon (it’s been giving me some trouble for a few weeks) and we can get back to our bike rides and seeing more birds.

cinco ranch 3

Spring Creek Nature Center Goings-On

wildlife list There are so many reasons to love the Spring Creek Nature Center.  Inside the center, displays dazzle young children with live and preserved specimens, coloring areas, quizzes, fun worksheets and nature journals.

Outside, there is the forest, which is practically enchanted; filled with lichens, mosses, big trees and little trees.  Mud sucked at our shoes at some parts of the trail, while monarch butterflies fed at flowers at other parts.  Birds trill and flit from branch to branch.  Could have spent hours identifying species but only had a few minutes in between geocaching, hanging out with friends, having a picnic lunch, and learning in the center.  Belted kingfisher was the new species of the day (#75 for the year).  Eastern bluebird flitted from a feeder as we walked up.  A ladder-backed woodpecker showed us his hidey-hole.  lichen prehistoric treeThe best part of the day we could have spent hours on, but had other commitments – Merriwether, a research chemist who spends his weekends exploring Houston’s edible plants, was teaching a (free!) class today on foraging edibles.  We were able to stay for about an hour but could have listened all day.  There were just too many things pulling at us – our friends who were going to meet us at the playground, the other friends we have promised to drop a kid off after, a child’s hunger for his sandwich, and a soccer game in the afternoon that all needed to be fit in there somewhere.

This was my third visit here this year, and still so much more I feel I want to see.  Every second Saturday, there is a bird walk from 7:30-9.  There will be another foraging class in the fall.  And, there are always more caches to find and more birds to see.

Cinco Ranch Nature Trail #3

Last night, I found out where the good ducks go when the sun goes down.

duck pond 2It was late, almost time for bed, when we got on the bikes and made for mysterious tunnels, winding moonlit trails tracing the creeks, and wide, never-ending circles around the lake.

We got lost a few times, but we eventually figured our way home after more than ten miles and and an hour had gone.

About twenty minutes into it, we found the secret sacred spot of ducky delight.  There were over a hundred or so dark shapes moving around, the pitch of their voice suggesting black bellied whistling ducks.  A few larger pale shapes wandered around near the middle of them by the edge of an isle, and I rather think these might have been my roseatte spoonbills from earlier in the week.  This spot was not too far from the other, if you are the flying type.

duck pond 1Phone camera is not great for this sort of moonlight meeting, gonna try to find this spot again during the daylight armed with a decent camera and see what turns up.

Cinco Ranch Nature Trail #2

the_roseate_spoonbill-wideLast week, our bike ride in which I was observing the birds took place, in part, along the Cinco Ranch Nature Trail.  I have decided this is my new favorite place, and was excited about going there with my son and the dogs the other day.

It was not quite as restorative as I hoped, because apparently I am not the only person who has the bright idea to walk their dogs along there on a weekday evening.  My dogs were annoying me, because they were getting overly excited about seeing their brethren out on the trail.  Then, one of them (Breeze) took a bad tumble when missing the jump back into the truck.  Also, on the way home, my son and I had a disagreement over his misbehavior and so therefore I was not in a great mood when I came home.  He had to apologize to me later for us to make up.

But, a wonderful thing happened out there as well.  I saw my first Roseatte Spoonbills of the year!  This is my favorite bird of all.  There were a pair of them feeding along the shoreline of the wetlands below the main trail on the way to the lake.  I just love the way they feed.  It is one of the reasons I like them so much, because it just makes me laugh when they scoop their heads side to side in the water so swiftly.  On the way back, they were gone, but then I saw a lone one flying across the sky on the way home.

We also sat for a little bit on a bench near the big lake and talked about the goings-on of the water birds.  My son got to ride his bike around and he was happy.  I feel like we are going to spend a lot more time here in the coming months.

I have been really bad about not bringing the binoculars or slowing down to identify species lately, but that makes 74 for the year.  Hoping to see some more birds Saturday at the Spring Creek Nature Center or on a return trip to the Arboretum.

Houston Arboretum Hike

HA.1Sunday morning, we joined some geocaching friends at the Houston Arboretum for a little hike and social opportunity.  I thought maybe we would see some birds and take some pictures, but we did little of those things.  I saw a hawk which I actually think was a Broad-winged Hawk in retrospect.  There was a little cluster of birds in a tree that I suspected were Cedar waxwings, because they had the little crown going, but their breasts were a golden color from underneath.  I had a little discussion with amberita13 about whether or not that was an accurate ID, because she thought they would be gone by now.  I did see some birding reports over the past week of people who were still seeing them, and fendmar seemed to agree that the atypical weather patterns this year might have kept them around longer than usual.
HA.2 There were actually a lot of cool little spots along the trails to spend some quiet time observing nature, like the slick backed turtles sunning themselves on logs on the pond, or the multitude of butterflies that floated around us as we walked.  ha.3 We walked for about an hour and a half.  We kind of had the place to ourselves, because technically the Arboretum was reserved for a private event, but they allowed us to come in from nine to eleven.  We found a few caches as a group.  It was fun how we all went together at first, but then there was a debate on whether to pursue a high terrain cache or a low one, so our group split.  We went to the high terrain one.  After this, we happened to find our group again at the next cache, even though the groups went different directions on the trail.  Lucky for them, because they were stuck not finding the cache, but then our group made the save.  We all took some group photos and everyone was just really enjoying each other, the weather, and the location.   I want to say we walked along all except the orange outer loop on this map.  The Discovery Room and other facets inside the building look like they will be very appealing to the children, on a day when the arboretum is truly open.  Maybe next weekend?  There was also a patch of wildflowers near Memorial Park that I want to get pictures of the kids in.  I picked up a schedule of events, and posted many of them over to the left here in the side column.  I want to go back and spend more time there with the kids.  It was truly an awesome place where wilderness meets civilization.  ha.5

Bikes, Birds, and Behavior Obs

Lately I’ve been reading about hunting, to explore this new interest my son has.  Something struck me that I never really thought about before; just like how in birding it is not enough to just know how to identify your species but one should also know its habits, hunting is more than just aiming a weapon at an animal and taking it down.  I was aware that stalking and hiding was important in the hunting paradigm, but it is the observation of the relationship between the animal and its environment that is critical in being efficient in the hunt.  You have to know where and when that animal might head to water, or what and when it eats, how it spends its day, what its mating rituals are like.   Knowing these things about deer, for instance, might reduce the amount of time a hunter has to sit in a stand waiting for that big buck to stroll along.

This thought process helped me realize that although I might be an animal behaviorist by trade, many people are animal behaviorists in their own right.  If we just counted just the hunters and birders, that would be about 60 million people in the US, according to the USFWS National Survey.  That many people become special experts in the wild animals they are trying to track down, observe, and capture with a camera or a gun.

I was curious about the migratory habits and changes in animal population from season to season and year to year around my own little area.  I decided to do a little behavior observation via bicycle and make some notes that I will then compare season to season or year to year.  Like a hunter who goes to visit his deer lease ahead of hunting season to get a feel for how the animals utilize their land, I wanted to see if I could get a feel for what the habits were of the wild birds here near Seven Meadows and Cinco Ranch.

This is what we observed at our different stops along a nine mile local bike route:

  • Seventh Heaven Duck Pond:     Lesser Yellow Legs 1, Muscovy Ducks 7, Grackel 2, Mourning Dove 2.  Usually there are about 32 Muscovies in this pond, so this observation confirmed my hypothesis that the ducks had been wandering away.  I think the reason why has to do with food resources, but I am not sure it doesn’t have to do with mating as well.  I am fairly certain it has nothing to do with migration, since I am assuming this is a year round non-migratory domestic species.  I have never seen the Lesser Yellow Legs there, so I am thinking this is a temporary migrant.
  • Little Bridge/Pocket Park:  Little Blue Heron 1, Muscovy 5.  Two of the Muscovies were mating, which seemed like a traumatic process for the female.  The male was biting her neck and pushing her under water for a considerable amount of time.  When they were finished, she got out and shook the water out of her feathers, and later we saw them foraging together, so I guess it wasn’t too terrible for her.  “That’s just nature!”, we said before we took off.mating muscovies
  • Oasis:  this is the pocket park in my neighborhood where I described seeing the flock of Cedar Waxwings earlier this year.  Today, all we saw were two blue jays.
  • “A” Bridge:  we thought we would see a lot of action here, but it was surprisingly devoid of birds.  We heard, but didn’t see at first, a couple of grackels, doves, and mockingbirds.  As we watched, a blue jay appeared, and then we spied three grackels across the water.  An unidentified bird flew off with something in its mouth.  There was a nice patch of bluebonnets here.  As we passed them, we approached a larger part of the pond that appeared to have three new kinds of ducks in it, so I got excited for a minute and realized these were the three that I have seen driving by before and have been wanting to identify.  Then J pointed out that they sat really still for ducks, and when we looked with the binoculars, we were able to confirm that his suspicion was correct – they were only decoys!  Why, I wondered, and he thought it was to attract other birds/ducks to the pond.
  • Cinco Park Nature Trail Big Pond (or Little Lake):  there was a lot of activity here.  There is an island in the middle (where a cache is – we have taken the canoe out to it before) where 2, then one more so 3, Great Blue Herons stood.  In front of them, a group of four ducks were swimming leisurely.  One was an American Coot, but the other three were too far away for us to firmly identify.  We think they were Gadwalls.  Three White Ibis hunted the opposite shoreline for food, and a Great Egret stood nearby them.  Another of these large Egrets stood at the shoreline on the same side as us.  Four Muscovies also hunted for food close to the shore near us, near a tiny cove area sheltered by a small tree.  Four cormorants dove for fish to the left of us in the water, and two vultures circled the sky closer and closer to us, until we finally decided maybe they thought we were standing still long enough to be dying animals, so we biked off.cinco lake

The other night, we were watching Cosmos and Neil deGrasse Tyson was talking about early humans, how they learned to match the weather and star patterns to the migratory patterns of animals to help them be more successful in the hunt.  That is what I am trying to do, only the intention of my hunt is simple knowledge.

All The Things We Didn’t Do

It was one of those moments that is so typical of us, and yet so frustrating.  He was on his tiptoes, and I was leaning over from a picnic bench, trying to make sure I didn’t fall down.  We were peering into the windows of an empty cabin.  A curtain fluttered from the breeze of the fan, a breeze that could have come from our sighs.  These were sighs of regret over the choices not taken.

This should have been our weekend.  This should have been our spot.  BuescherStateParkCabin

We imagined the kind of fun we would have had, walking out from the cabin in an early morning to see if we would get a bite on a line from the stocked lake.  Pictured the kind of peace we would have had, chilling on the porch.  Thought about all the dollars we would have saved, if we had just done the things we wanted to do.

We made our reservations for Buescher State Park back in December.  I should have called it in, but I was confused about the difference between the cabins and premium screened shelters, and how each one is reserved in the system.  We had known since two years ago, when we came up here to hike one day, that we wanted to come back and reserve Cabin #3, but instead I had reserved us a premium screened shelter, which looks like this below:

mini-cabinThis weekend, the weekend of the Texas Challenge in Bastrop, we came up to the park, claimed our campsite, got our keys, and then never came back, until this minute, the minute of regret, as we were leaving town two days later.  We had coughed up our $62 (after coupons) that we ended up spending on the reservation as a “donation” to the state parks.  We had also managed to spend another $225 we didn’t intend to on two nights at a hotel.

Why, you ask?  Because, this is what we do.  Most of the time, we are really great for each other, but sometimes we do these things; I overplan, he procrastinates, we forget to communicate, we let timelines slide, we go with the flow so much that we end up missing out on things we meant to do.  We ended up doing so many things this weekend that we never did the things we meant to do, like set up our campsite, relax in nature, look at the birds, drop a line in the lake, take a hike on the trail. We would have loved to take a bike ride from Fishermans to Ferry Park in downtown Bastrop.  All weekend we drove back and forth in front of The Roadhouse cafe near Bastrop State Park, and never once did we sit down in there and have some hot sandwiches, fried pickles, and iced tea.  I would have liked to get some pictures of those gorgeous wildflowers blooming all along HIghway 71, maybe stick the kids in there and be like a real Texan.

What we did instead is spend an ungodly amount of hours sitting at MayFair Park in Bastrop, in between going to geocaching event after geocaching event.  Four events in twenty four hours.  We spent hours planning, scheming and texting our team.  We talked to lots of friends and teammates, exchanged travel bugs, spent too much money at Buccees, too much time at La Hacienda.  We (or rather he) gave a water-bottle bath in the parking lot to one dirty little boy, who spent most of an afternoon rolling around in a dirtpile.  We drove around to seven different locations to grab codes off doors to log the Lab Caches specifically put out for this event.  We bought some more rocks for son and I’s rock collection, spent too much money again buying pecan treats and gifts at the Berdoll Pecan Company, checked out some bronze statues at a foundry, took a tour of a facility that bottles rain water and turns it into drinking water (and then tasted it – quite good!).  We spit off a bridge and got a certificate for being an official SOB (member of the Society of Bridge Spitters).  He taught the boys how to play shuffleboard.  We bought a couple more bottles of mead and one bottle of a sweet table wine being offered as a sample at Cripple Creek wines.

Through all of this, we were just too tired each night to set up camp in the dark.  If we had the cabin, it would have been all right – we could have just thrown our sleeping bags over the bunk bed style cots that are already set up in there.

We had no idea what the screened shelter we had rented even looked like until Sunday afternoon, when we stopped by to return the keys to it.  The rangers had already called us, wondering what the heck ever happened.  We peeked inside it, then inside the cabins.  It turns out the floor was so neat and spotless that we probably could have just thrown the sleeping bags down on it and been all right, saved ourselves a few hundred bucks.  It would only have taken us mere minutes to set up, yet we were too busy to ever even stop to look.

It reminded me of other times, like when we arrived midday at the campsite we had rented for the night before and never claimed in the Redwood Forest, only to discover it was the best campsite ever, and really not that much farther down the road than the place we ended up sleeping at.  So much for all my planning and dreaming.

For now, all we can do is sigh, shrug, and commit ourselves to coming back another day; another day to do all the things we didn’t do.

I am going to make it April, before those wildflowers have all hidden their heads for the summer.  This time, I am calling the reservation line, and nailing down that Cabin #3.  I hope you are reading a completely different blog entry this time next month.

Paul D. Rushing Park

This morning, we contemplated the choices for adventure for the day, and chose to take the new bikes out to a local park to do some geocaching and look for more birds.  Originally I thought to try to get back out to WG Jones and finish the Presidential Series before it is all archived (one last back piece to go), but there was a threat of rain and J didn’t relish the thought of the long drive out there.

Paul Rushing Park is only about 20-30 minutes away, and has had significant improvements since the last time I was there (back in like 2008  - a whole lifetime ago).  This park boasts 232 acres, with cricket fields and softball fields.  There is also a dog park, with sections for large and small dogs.  The most exciting improvement has been a hike-and-bike path that goes around a little chain of lakes, encompassing 100 acres of the park.  This path has multiple overlooks with bird blinds and benches to while away time looking at the multitude of ducks that flock to this park.

paul rushing parkEarly last summer, chefkimmo and TXSunflower hid about fifty caches in and around the park, and we decided we would find some of these today.  J and I have been riding our new bikes around the neighborhood at night, but this is the first time we have taken the youngest out on a group biking adventure since he started riding without training wheels last year.

My son really wasn’t too crazy about riding in the grass, preferring to stay on the path and getting a little bit nervous about us not being on it. J let him find a cache on his own with the GPS and that seemed to keep him interested for a while.  Although he was a good helper with geocaching, he lost interest after a while and started to ask to go home. Plus, we were getting hungry.  Therefore, we ended up just finding the caches on the eastern-most side of the park, saving the rest for another day.

We were out there for about two or three hours, and saw several interesting birds.  There were also many more birds I failed to identify, in the interest of time.  Some of the caches were really hard to find, and required me to participate equally in the search.

Likewise, some of the birds were really hard to identify.  I think I am getting better but I have a long way to go before I could call myself a birder.  After some research, I determined that the ducks that I saw out on the water today included American Coots and a few Gadwall, Wigeon, and possibly a Blue Winged Teal pair.  The birding checklist for the park suggests Pied Billed Grebes should have been more abundant than the coots, so maybe I was also seeing those, although I didn’t specifically notice them, so I am not counting that species.  I am going to have to go back.  I did see some white geese, which from the list I would have to say were the Great White-Fronted Geese.  The most exciting bird find was in the smaller pond by the back left corner – a Long-Billed Dowitcher.  We also saw a group of nutria back there, most likely a mom and her babies.

As we made our way through the chain of lakes, past the softball fields and dog park, down the road again, and back to the first parking area near the cricket fields to find the caches in that first section before heading out, I saw a flock of birds feeding in the field that included Brewer’s Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds.  I think I saw one Red Winged Blackbird in that group, too, which was a little odd.

We also flushed a lot of sparrows out of the grass as we rode, most likely Savannah and Field Sparrows (already counted for this year), and most likely meadowlarks as well, although I didn’t specifically see them.  Those are commonly reported for this time of year there.

On the way home, we stopped at the Katy Rock Shop, which was a really nice little shop, and a fun place for the little one and I to find some treasures for our collection.  Our rock collection drives J nuts, but it is something the little one is interested in.  His dad lives near a place where there is a lot of natural rocks that are great for collecting, and we came home with many of these during our visits up there and have them in a little decorative basket.  Today, he helped me chose a purple agate from Brazil for my collection, and he chose a pyrite cube from Spain, as well as polished stones of golddust, amethyst, and opalite.  Then we went out for burgers and shakes at our favorite “greasy spoon”, Sam’s Deli Diner.

On the way home, we spied what initially appeared to be vultures up on some bare branches, but something seemed different and J turned around for us to get a better look.  Sure enough, they were different…not actually vultures at all but a pair of Crested CaraCaras.

This reminded me of a story from last week, when I was in South Florida.   There was this professor I was really interested in talking to, and my friend thought she was doing me a favor by pointing out to him that I was also interested in birds.  I knew from his conversation earlier that he was an ACTUAL birder, and not a novice like me, so I had not wanted to bring up this point of confluence, because I felt I would just embarrass myself.  He asked me if I had seen the CaraCara earlier that day on the drive in, and he was so excited about it.  It was a huge deal, and I had learned that week that it was also a huge deal to this guy from Missouri.  I didn’t know how to say, without seeming like a braggart, that oh, we see those all the time around where I live!  Not really ALL the time, but they are pretty common birds and I really just did not understand why these guys were freaking out about them until later, when I looked at their range in the bird book.  Here, and there  - that is pretty much it!  See the map:

crested-caracara-range-map-summer

We also stopped at a light long enough for me to observe that the doves in the trees were not the white-winged and mourning doves that are so common in our neighborhood, but were in fact the eurasian collared doves.  That brings our identified species up to 73 for the year, about 11% of Texas’s reported 638 total species.  Long way to go, but it has been winter and we haven’t necessarily gone out of our way to find birds.  Plus, we aren’t that good at it yet.  The good news is that spring migration is coming, and so we should be seeing more birds very soon.

Paul Rushing Park is located at 9114 Katy Hockley Rd, Katy, TX

South Florida

FloridaOn the road between Naples and Immokalee, somewhere near the Big Cypress National Preserve, the egrets reign supreme.  Both the Great and the Snowy are seen flying unperturbed, perching in the trees along the roadside, or walking stilt-legged in the canals looking for food.  They are often joined by the herons, both Great and Little Blue, who fish alongside them or join the egrets in dotting the sky. Tri-colored Herons and juvenile ibis in white and brown coloration also were spotted, along with several adult White Ibis.  Other ducks cruised along the canal waters, irregardless of the fact that gators also shared this space.  A Northern Plover female waddles out of the canal, while coots and moorhens glide gently inside of it.  Double breasted cormorants dive for fish along the edges of the wetlands, while the hawks patrol from above.

In a trip into Everglade City, brown pelicans were seen landing on the front of air boats taking tourists out to look for manatee and see the glassy water of the “Everglades”.  The pelicans were begging for food, although not all the boat operators believed in feeding them from the front of the boats.  I thought it was a unique adaptation to life with humans.  An osprey was seen caring for her young in a gigantic nest along a power box.  Mottled ducks trolled around in quiet waters back in the mangroves, while ibis and egrets showed brilliant white plumage contrasts to the green of the trees.South Florida is actually known as a birder’s paradise, and I didn’t even think about that when I packed for a five day trip there, leaving behind the bird book and binoculars.  Granted, I was working most of those days and really was not going to have time to look for birds.  You really didn’t have to go looking for them, though – they were kind of right there.

Around the grounds of where I spent most of my days,  a group of white ibis patrolled, somewhat close to a canal where alligators were seen gliding about.  A red bellied woodpecker worked on a tree nearby, and a nuthatch climbed along a post (most likely a Brown Headed, based on range information).  Wild turkeys strutted about in green fields ripe for cattle.   A few pairs of Sandhill Cranes stopped their migration routes in order to just hang out here, with the back of one looking like a small emu in the distance.  Rounding a corner where hedges came up along fencelines at the waters edge, a few red winged blackbirds flew about, and an Eastern Meadowlark flapped its wings, showing off a yellow breast under a white and black striped body. A Gray Kingbird flew from fence to power lines, seeming to taunt the other birds over his control of the field.  Coopers Hawks perched vigilantly along power lines and “hawk poles” – large  wooden posts hung at intervals to entice the hawks to patrol the grounds for vermin.  Brown-headed cowbirds flocked with grackles near entrances to cow pastures, where cattle egrets greedily followed behind bovine herds.  Bear scat was seen on a forest walk, and panthers were rumored to be spotted in early hours.

There was a running joke among our group about the validity of a photo one of the girls had gotten of two black animals near a rock at the front of our hotel in the wee hours of the morning.  This area was a “panther crossing”, although the noise of the nearby freeway and closeness to human activity had many doubting whether this blurry picture was, in fact, a photo of two panthers.  On the last night of our five days, in the field near the hotel as we pulled back in from dinner, we saw black animals with the long panther-length tails stalking about in the grass, and then saw their owner following behind them, and we all had a laugh as we realized that her two black panthers were probably these two dogs who just happened to have  tails that kind of resembled the cat in question’s.

Someday I am going to come back to this area, and when I do, I am bringing the bird book.  I am not going to book any business from sun up to sun down, like we were doing these days, but spend my time traipsing along the Florida Birding Trail, walk up and down the dirt roads near the center we were training at, stalking birds in the riparian zone in between the canals and the farmland.  Even though I saw fifteen new species for the year there, (bringing the year total up to 66), I could have seen so much more if I had the ability to look more closely.  There are even some blurry camera photos I took that have species in there that I don’t think I named or identified yet, so the birds that I saw were much, much greater than those I named.  My experience with the nature world there sums up my feelings on the training I got – it was interesting, but there was so much more I wanted to get out of it that I feel like I have to go back sometime for a deeper look.immokalee

Unexpected

In August of 2006, a party was held at a house in Webster.  It was this day that the two of us could look back on and say definitively that we were at the same place for the first time, although it is possible not at the same time.  There could have been times in our youth that our paths criss-crossed, like maybe when he was a courier and sometimes drove out near Tomball, but our social groups, split by geographic distance, never would have mixed.

That day, that party eight years ago, I had left for an hour or two, during the part where most disperse from geocaching events to go find some local caches.  I had ended up in Sylvan Rodriquez Park, pushing the stroller and fussing with my six year old who did not want to have any part of geocaching.  Such was my lot back then.  I remember doing a couple and then just being frustrated, and since then, that park has been staring at me from the map, reminding me of my inability to get caches crossed off the list.

So, eight years later, we find ourselves together at this park unexpectedly, after a snafu at another geocaching event nearby, and had a chance to rectify some of those caching misadventures.  By this time, we were married and together for nearly four years.  Here is a picture of the megaliths at the park (a special theme there) that also includes our special travel bug that we created to celebrate our union:bride and groom TB at SRP

 We still had some fussing with the older child who wanted no part of the geocaching, but now he was old enough to be left sunning himself on a park bench, listening to music from his smartphone.  We grabbed those caches that had alluded me back then, and more.  We also identified some new birds for our list:  the Neotropic Cormorant and Lesser Yellowlegs.  The first species was actually in and around the lake, diving for food, and the second was skirting the marshy areas nearby.  We also watched and listened to a hawk and several other small birds as we walked (mostly yellow rumped warblers), and then on the way out, I was surprised by a large vireo who flew down into a tree near us.  He really looked like  Gray Vireo,  but those aren’t supposed to be local to here, so I am going to have to call him a Blue-headed Vireo.

The day before, there were also some unexpected adventures, mostly regarded birds (of course, since this blog has accidentally become like a one trick pony).  The kids and I were joining friends at the zoo, and walked over to the lake over there at Hermann Park while we waited.  There was a large flock of ducks in the water that included American Coots, which we have been seeing a lot of, but also Ring Necked Ducks, a species we haven’t encountered before.  My youngest laughed with delight and surprise when a huge flock of pigeons fluttered their wings around us, attracted by the seed that a couple of little girls brought.  Their feathers tickled our faces and their coos made our hearts race as they rose up around us any time they were slightly spooked.

pigeonsAs we were walking through the zoo, I noticed that I was observing the birds within and around the exhibits more than I used to.  We had to wait at the Duck Pond by the refreshment stand for a while for my friend, and there I pointed out the Brown Pelicans and then the rare pair of Hooded Mergansers that were in the pond, in addition to some of the usual suspects.  The mergansers are highly sought out by the birding types on a forum I get emails from, which is understandably because they are quite flashy.

hooded merganserThere was another brightly colored duck in one of the exhibits that I was trying to get a picture of, and never got one decent enough to put on here.  However, I was trying to identify the duck species later.  I thought it was a Woodduck, but its markings were different.  I finally figured out the reason why I was having  a hard time identifying it is because it was not a local species, but an imported one – the Mandarin Duck, which actually is related to the Woodduck (so I was on the right path).  I am not going to count this one in our species count because it is not a native species, so that brings our species count to 50.

Edit:  No, wait, 51.  I forgot about another unexpected event.  It was a cold evening last Tuesday (37 degrees) but I had to find a cache to fill in my dates calendar.  So there I was, by a duck pond, signing a log, and I called out to my feathered friends, “hey ducks!”  I almost shrieked with surprise when like fifty ducks started making a fast beeline towards me.  I was not expecting them to be so hungry, and I had nothing on me to feed them, so I had to make a quick getaway.  Not before noticing, though, that most of them were Mallards, a species I didn’t already have checked off this year.

We had a nice hike yesterday on the Lone Star Trail, and although I heard lots of birds, the only ones I really saw were the Red-Bellied Woodpecker and the Northern Cardinal.  There have been some interesting peeps and tweets outside drawing me to nature, so I am sure I will be finding some new birds soon.