Bayou Birds

More bird action from Houston’s bayous and parks. (21 photos) Houston Heights Bird Sanctuary, Woodland Park Bird Sanctuary, Buffalo Bayou, Brays Bayou, and White Oak Bayou.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Buffalo Bayou is home to a large bat colony at the Waugh Street bridge and I got to watch a Red-shouldered Hawk trying repeatedly to snatch a bat from under there. It would swoop up to one of the narrow crevices where they nest, and then rebound as there is no perch. The hawk posed for me in a nearby tree in between attempts. It left empty-taloned as far as I could tell. I see red-shoulders here most every visit and believe this to be home territory for at least two.

Downy Woodpecker
Continue reading “Bayou Birds”

Nutmeg Mannikin (Spice Finch)

Nutmeg Mannikin

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.

Nutmeg Mannikin

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.

American Robin

Also seen there, a large flock of American Robin, a strikingly beautiful bird seen up close in detail.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

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.

Least Grebe

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.

Red-tailed Hawk

Caught this red-tail picking at the body of some little critter just off the busy path at the Eastern Glades, Memorial Park, Houston, TX.

Chipping Sparrow in a small flock at Houston Arboretum, early the same day.

Snowy Egret at Brays Bayou, Houston.

Buffalo Bayou offers some nice wooded walkways right in the heart of the metropolitan bustle.

Some Houston Birds

The Brown Thrasher was having a dust bath on the trail at Houston Arboretum, the rest were found at the bayous around town. Never caught such a low angle on a Great Blue Heron before.

A Scattering of Light

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-Bird                         
by 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.

Intensive Care

Plain-bellied Water Snake, non-venomous denizen of the Southeastern US.
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
Gulf Fritillary
Monarch

The Houston Arboretum at Memorial Park, Houston, Texas.