Well, winter is slowly heading into spring, and it feels like we haven’t done much of anything around here. No camping weekends, no fun little trips, playing it close to home for the most part, and my itch to get out there and see the world is still needing to be scratched. However, looking at my birding journal, I see that the month of January was busier than it felt.
I don’t have any huge stories for you, my friend, but I have little snippets of what it was like over in our world over the past four weeks since the last big trip into the “wilderness” (aka camping trip).
Late afternoon on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago, my middle son and I were briefly exploring Cullinan Park as we bid our time before a party started. Because I am nosy, I sidled up to a couple that appeared to have something interesting in their sights on the pier. “Do you see the Ahinga?” the man asked me. Not yet, but he had me intrigued, because I hadn’t seen one since I started counting my bird sightings in earnest. “Over there by the Least Grebe”. Sure enough, it poked its head up out of the water. “They sometimes call them water turkeys,” he said as it swam underwater, a brown bulb with a thin graceful neck speeding through the water. I asked him about the Grebe, since I had assumed that this one before us was also a Pied-Billed like the one I had spotted near the observation deck, and he explained the differences to me. I walked away happy about learning something new in the short time we had been at the park. Plus, we had added another “smiley” to our list by finding a geocache in the park before entering the pier area.
A small flock of Eastern Meadowlarks light down on a field of lavender flowers somewhere out on the Katy Prairie. Hawks check over their range from power pole vantage spots. We stop to watch about a dozen Sandhill Cranes lower their huge bodies like parachutists, slowing landing with long legs into a field where they join about a hundred others of their kind. Their rattling calls rumble across the field, clearly audible to us standing on the dirt gravel road outside the field. A pond in the middle of a cow field has me scrambling through the bird guide to ID the big variety of ducks I see out there, some possibly still a mystery to me. I think about asking the birders we pass looking out at the same pond as we drive past them on the way back, but we are not wanting to wake the baby up.
The next weekend, I come back out this way to spend some time at Paul Rushing Park with the kids. I point out a Lesser Yellow Legs doing a funny little walk through the marsh grass on the side of the trail, and of course the nine year old has to stalk and then give chase, a bit like our kitty cat. We are shocked at the size of the Nutria on the islands out in the middle of the park. The baby falls asleep in the stroller as we walk around the ponds, I marveling at the variety of birds out here as the nine year old alternates between whining about how long we have been gone, helping me find geocaches, and telling me about Minecraft.
The baby and I have an afternoon at Fiorenza Park on a day he was still recovering from a two week GI illness. He smiles a timid smile at me and tries to wrestle the binoculars out of my hand. No birds, mama, just me, he is saying, so I stop and settle instead to write down what I managed to see in fifteen minutes of so of walking by the back pond, and marvel at the list for the Ebird report filed by the local Audubon member sent out (and her picture that she attached of a Bald Eagle photobombing the typical pod of White Pelicans and swim of Cormorants that usually can be seen at this park in the winter. On her report, she lists 767 Cormorants seen on one day!)
The dogs walk, sometimes with the kids and often next to the stroller, with me as I make the circuit around our duck ponds in the neighborhood, sometimes venturing a couple of neighborhoods over to Cross Creek Ranch to visit Polishing Pond and count what is living there lately. Winter ducks usually include coots, shovelers, and occasionally Gadwall. We’ve put in many miles of walking this month around the neighborhood, local bayous, and ponds (and local school tracks, but don’t tell the dogs, because they aren’t allowed).
Our whole family walking along the seawall in Galveston a couple of weeks back with Hike It Baby, and my eye catches the flash of Ruddy Turnstones flying above the rocks along the shore and Sanderlings at the waters edge. With all the birds recorded along our ventures to all the above places, the monthly total is at 55 species, six more than at this time last year, and some new to the list. Other than Galveston, all the places above are less than a half hours drive from the house. I am hoping the next few months are a lot more exciting, as we might be able to venture out further.