First bird outing of the year was not bad at all. Encountered a small flock of these little seed-eaters at White Oak Bayou and was confounded as to what they were. Similar looking to female Indigo Bunting, but the bill size and shape eliminated that, plus there’s these scale-patterned black and white feathers popping out on the breast. Turns out to be the last featured bird in Sibley 2nd, the Nutmeg Mannikin or Spice Finch, another Houston area import/escapee from Asia. These are immature, as the adults have a scaled breast.
You can see on the right-hand specimen the lack of wing bar markings, good tell that these are not one of our grosbeaks. Without these photos to study I’d have never figured it out, I think. Always a thrill to find a bird that sends you into research mode.
Also seen there, a large flock of American Robin, a strikingly beautiful bird seen up close in detail.
And the Red-bellied Woodpecker, same time and place. A fast moving flock of Cedar Waxwing also came through. Only the second time I’d seen these, and the experience was the same: good sized flock appears out of nowhere, and disappears soon thereafter. Later at Buffalo Bayou I spend some time with a pair of Blue-headed Vireo and was unable to claim a satisfying photo.
Moving on later that morning to the Houston Arboretum I saw only a single Eastern Phoebe and a Yellow-rumped Warbler, then headed to the Eastern Glades at Memorial Park to acquire another life-bird, the Least Grebe shown above. These range down through Central America with parts of Texas being the north-most boundary of its range.
Clouds break up the monotonous blue expanse above and the light, illuminating it all down to the last wispy puff, has yet to deal with the billions of serrated leaf edges awaiting its arrival down here in the thick of nature, whose every quality owes much to humanity’s rare neglect.
Did not see many birds on my walk yesterday. Ruby-crowned Kinglets are here for the winter and I caught sight of a Tennessee Warbler. Early morning light makes the myriad details of a Texas prairie erupt in a festival for the eyes. I walked the trails in silence, slipping my mask back up over my nose when I encountered other people.
I did see and photograph a mute Mockingbird contemplating something relating to life as birds would have it. She sat still for it, which is the only way I can grab a bird portrait at distance. (Idea for a camera feature: button that emits a silent signal heard only by wildlife that says, “stay still for a moment, it’s important.”)
Mocking-Birdby Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Then from a neighboring thicket
the mocking-bird, wildest of singers,
Swinging aloft on a willow spray
that hung o’er the water,
Shook from his little throat
such floods of delirious music,
That the whole air and the woods
and the waves seemed silent to listen.
Plaintive at first were the tones
and sad: then soaring to madness
Seemed they to follow or guide
the revel of frenzied Bacchantes.
Single notes were then heard,
in sorrowful, low lamentation;
Till, having gathered them all,
he flung them abroad in derision,
As when, after a storm, a gust of wind
through the tree-tops
Shakes down the rattling rain
in a crystal shower on the branches.
Bothered a little by some lower back pain, I cut my walk short and was soon racing along on Houston’s 610 Loop, in sync with the speeding hordes, light scattering off of pavement and chrome bumpers, and nature somehow accommodating it all. I feel like a voyeur, sneaking peeks at the beauty of the world from a little hiding spot not quite in it.
I walk in these woods
nestled deep within a
tangle of highways
The hum of traffic
beyond the treeline elaborates
what a calm clouded day
could have settled completely
without raising its voice
Fire and storm, unrest
flood and calamity, all at some
distance now, a stunning calm
as I rest on a bench
Cooper's Hawk swoops
low through the canopy
and finds a perch nearby
A female Common Yellowthroat
works a boggy shallow near the parking lot
as young mothers stroll
with infants in carriages
Snakes uncoil in the
tan water by the boardwalk
in the heart of this sprawling city
and in the pit of my stomach
Restaurants and business offices
and butterflies, the damp
forest floor, tree shade, the air
I surrender myself to the sum of it
to the expert nursing staff
here in intensive care
The Houston Arboretum at Memorial Park, Houston, Texas.