Thursday, August 31, 2017

Corpus Christi beach before Hurricane Harvey

We spent 5 days on North Padre Island, just outside Corpus Christi, Texas, with our daughter, her husband and their two daughters. We departed on August 20, less than a week before Hurricane Harvey made a direct strike. Our condominium was located on the beachfront, third floor. Our bed was situated right next to a glass wall which overlooked the beach and the expanse of the Gulf of Mexico:

Gulfstream Condominiums 20170817

These are views which greeted us at sunrise:

Sunrise 01-20170817

Sunrise 05-20170817

Sunrise 01-20170818

Mary Lou and I walked the beach early each morning. Our companions along the way were friendly humans...

Sunrise 04-20170817

...and a few feathered critters. Sanderlings scurried back and forth as the surf rolled in and receded:

Sandpiper 02-20170817

Sandpiper 01-20170817

Sanderling 02-20170818

Laughing Gulls were numerous. They exchange their black heads for "earmuffs" at the end of breeding season:

Laughing Gull 01-20170817

This adult Herring Gull has a yellow bill and develops a few dark head streaks as winter approaches.

Gull 01-20170817

A Royal Tern flew overhead:

Royal Tern 20170818

The Willet is a large sandpiper with a substantial straight bill. It flashes white wing patches in flight and loudly calls out its name: 

Willet 01-20170818

Willet 03-20170818

Ruddy Turnstones were quite numerous:

Ruddy Turnstone 05-20170818

A special treat was this tiny Piping Plover, a threatened species (and endangered in the Great Lakes area) with a yellow-orange flag and a blue-green band respectively on its left and right upper legs. The colors indicate it came from the northern Great Plains states. The light was poor and I could not read the number on the flag, and it flew off before I could draw nearer:

Piping Plover 04-20170817

Piping Plover 02-20170817

The younger family members went fishing from a pier at night, and I joined them. I tried out the low-light performance of my new mirrorless camera. These images were hand-held and brightened in post-processing but no filters were applied:

Fishing Pier 06-20170817

Fishing Pier 02-20170817

I assume that the green lights under the pier are intended to attract fish:

Causeway 02-20170816

At Port Aransas, we took a successful dolphin-watching boat tour, but I got no decent photos because of my poor reflexes and the annoying shutter lag with my new camera. 

This is a view of the harbor over the "fence" on the stern of the boat. I did not realize how drastically this scene would change only a few days later:

Port Aransas 05-20170818

The boat captain pointed out a flock of Roseate Spoonbills, which he called "Texas Flamingos:"

Roseate Spoonbills 20170818

The Lydia Ann Lighthouse, placed into service in 1857, guards the passage between the Gulf and the bay. Hurricanes destroyed the outbuildings several times, the worst in 1916 and 1919. It was deactivated in 1952 and is now under private ownership. The light was restored and returned to service in 1988 as a private aid to navigation:

Lighthouse 01-20170818

On my 82nd birthday, just a week after I took these photos, the eye of Hurricane Harvey had already passed directly over Port Aransas and was then producing massive devastation in Houston, Texas.  My birthday occurs at the height of hurricane season. In recent years, four Atlantic and Gulf hurricanes made landfall on August 29: Katrina (2005) Gustav (2008) and Isaac (2012). 

At this point I have not heard how the lighthouse fared. I was reminded of how I spent my birthday when we lived New Orleans in 1969. I was in a school which served as a hurricane shelter, providing medical care to hundreds of evacuees after Camille struck on August 17. At that time it was the worst hurricane to ever strike the US mainland. See: Remembering Hurricane Camille

An excerpt: Remarkably, these words were written in 1999: “For many, Camille is a distant memory, an historical footnote from a time long gone. But Camille is also a harbinger of disasters to come. Another storm of Camille’s intensity will strike the United States, the only question is when. When this future storm strikes, it will make landfall over conditions drastically different from those in 1969. The hurricane-prone regions of the United States have developed dramatically as people have moved to the coast and the nation’s wealth has grown. Estimates of potential losses from a single hurricane approach $100 billion.”
[Thirty Years After Hurricane Camille: Lessons Learned, Lessons Lost, by Roger A. Pielke, Jr., Chantal Simonpietri, and Jennifer Oxelson ,12 July 1999]

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Crops & Clips:Texas Panhandle birds

These natural rock formations in Palo Duro Canyon resemble ancient edifices:

Palo Duro Canyon 05-20170814

I have supplemented my heavy Canon 80D DSLR and its 420 mm lens system (300mm L/4 with 1.4x extender) with a mirrorless Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II and an Olympic M.ZUIKO MSC ED-M 75-300mm II (f/ 4.8-6.7) zoom lens. It weighs only 2.05 pounds (0.97 Kg) compared to the  5.16 pounds (2.34 Kg) of my big rig. After experimenting with the rather complicated settings, I felt confident enough to leave the DSLR behind for a 10-day trip to Texas.

Here is a comparison of the two cameras, with lens hoods extended and then stowed:

Comparison of DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras (with lens hoods)

Comparison of DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras

For landscapes I switched to a tiny electronic zoom Olympus M.ZUKIO ED 14-42mm (f/3.5-5.6) EZ lens:

Palo Duro Canyon 06-20170814

This was not a wildlife expedition. Indeed it was a wonderful family affair on the occasion of the marriage of our youngest grandson. The wedding took place in the Texas Panhandle south of Amarillo. They left the serious photography to a professional photographer, though I did take several hundred photos of the pre-wedding shower as well as the rehearsal and wedding ceremony.

Rachel Glen 06-20170811

The chapel at West Texas A&M  University:

WTAMU Chapel 04-20170811

The groom with his bride, his parents and four siblings:

Schneider family 20170812

The reception was held at a good old country restaurant:

Rachel Glen 20170812

During the 5 days surrounding the wedding we went sightseeing in the nearby and very impressive Palo Duro Canyon. Flash floods the night before (when 15 members of our family attended the famous open-air Texas Musical which is held in the depths of the Canyon) caused all the trails to be closed. Even the paved road had to detour around an area of deep mud. We were rained out only about 10 minutes into the show and returned home soaked to the skin!

At the visitor center we saw this lizard:

Lizard 20170814

Barn Swallows nested under the porch roof:

Barn Swallow at nest 03-20170814

It was sunny and very hot. Photographic conditions were not favorable because of the glare and deep shadows. A wildlife blind was located near bird feeders and a small water source.  House Finches outnumbered the other avian visitors. This male appears to have an eye infection:

House Finch 02-20170814

Golden-fronted Woodpecker:

Golden-fronted Woodpecker 01-20170814

Watching a Lark Sparrow as it fed a fledgling was a treat:

Lark Sparrow 01-20170814

Lark Sparrow feeding fledgling 02-20170814

Later in the day we moved on to Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge. We have visited this refuge many times over more than twenty years that our son has worked as a meteorologist in Amarillo. 

The lake has gradually dried up because of the combined effects of prolonged drought and the dramatic drop of the water table due to greatly increased agricultural demand. The last time I saw significant water  was around 1998. Waterfowl and migratory wading birds abounded, and during the winter Bald Eagles gathered there to fish. In 2008 it was nearly dry but a small section recovered a bit in 2009. Now the entire lake is bone dry. 

A small herd of "buffaloes" (American Bison) wallowed in the mud in a pasture near the entrance to the refuge:

Bison 01-20170814

Bison 02-20170814

I enjoy photographing small birds, so they were a test for my new camera. Given the conditions, the images were fairly good. This is a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher which is growing a new tail after molting:

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher adult molting 01-20170814

Against the bright sky, this photo required a full stop of exposure compensation:

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher adult molting 02-20170814

Even at some distance, the camera obtained fairly decent resolution of this back-lit immature Red-headed Woodpecker:

Red-headed Woodpecker immature 20170814

A female oriole posed nicely. I believe it is an Orchard Oriole:

Orchard Oriole female 20170814

A Swainson's Hawk wheeled overhead. Because of shutter lag I only had one opportunity to capture this image. I still need to learn more about how to obtain rapid bursts:

Swainson's Hawk 20170814

As I write this, a storm with the potential to bring heavy rains and possible hurricane-force winds is bearing down on Corpus Christi, where we vacationed until just four days ago. More about this in a future post, but here is a sunrise on our first morning on the beach at North Padre Island:

Sunrise at North Padre Island 20170818

Back home in Florida the rain has kept us inside, but this photo of a back yard Tricolored Heron satisfied my desire to include a reflection of a neighbor's fence:

Tricolored Heron 01-20170823

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,


Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Crops & Clips: It's only a sparrow

Out on a trail which traverses the north prairie of Nelson Lake (Dick Young/Nelson Lake Marsh Forest Preserve) in Batavia, Illinois, a passerby stopped to watch me as I was intently focusing my camera into the high grass. I turned to say hello and he asked me what I was seeing. "A Henslow's Sparrow," I replied. His response was "Oh, only a sparrow," and he moved on his way.

A dramatic sky over the southwest prairie at Nelson Lake preserve:

Nelson Lake SW prairie looking south HDR 20130502

True, most sparrows are unobtrusive LBJ's (Little Brown Jobs). They can sometimes be difficult to identify or even find as they move around near the ground or perch on a distant shrub. Yet they are an interesting lot and, on closer inspection, quite varied and beautiful.

The most common sparrows of my childhood were called "Chippies" by my grandmother, who fed them bread scraps in the back yard we shared. Only after I found them pictured in my first bird book did I realize their proper name was English Sparrow, and that it was introduced from Europe. Later I learned that they were the only "true sparrows" I was ever likely to see in the US.

Renamed "House Sparrow," they populate most of the urban areas of North America including Mexico but not the high mountains or northern Canada. Although they are present in shopping centers less than a mile from our south Florida home, I have never seen one in our back yard or the wetlands near our home.This male is enjoying a meal in our daughter's feeder in Batavia:

 House Sparrow male 2-20130115

Closely related to weaver finches, the Old World "True" Sparrows (Family Passeridae) deserved naming rights before the LBJ's of the USA were ever discovered. I have yet to see a European Tree Sparrow, the other immigrant from this family, although it is quite common in St. Louis, Missouri and is also seen southwestern Illinois. The native sparrows in the Americas belong to a distinct family, Emberizidae, related to the Old World buntings.

Probably the best known representative of the American sparrow family is the Song Sparrow, which breeds all across the northern USA, up the Pacific Coast into southern Alaska and in much of the southern 2/3 of Canada. It migrates into all of the lower 48 States but does not reach southern Florida. It is appropriately named for its exhuberant melodic song (Nelson Lake, June 5, 2016) :

Song Sparrow HDR 20160605

The Savannah Sparrow resembles it but is smaller, with a proportionately shorter tail. It may have yellow "eyebrows" which vary in intensity among its several subspecies:

Savannah Sparrow 06-20170723

During the winter, White-crowned Sparrows invade the lower half of the 48 States after breeding in northern Canada and the Rocky Mountains. They are large and quite handsome birds. This one was in our daughter's back yard:

White-crowned Sparrow 05-20141010

White-crowned Sparrow on our daughter's fence:

White-crowned Sparrow 5-20130505

The immature White-crowned Sparrow has dull brown stripes on its crown before they are replaced by white:

White-crowned Sparrow portrait 01-20161014

Somewhat similar but more compact is the White-throated Sparrow, another winter visitor to the lower forty-eight:

White-throated Sparrow HDR 3-20161020

The Swamp Sparrow also has a white throat but its back is rufous and its head and breast are grayish. It breeds in wetlands of Canada and the north central and northeast portions of the US, migrating into the southeastern states and Mexico. We often see them in south Florida during winter:

Swamp Sparrow 03-20161007

I could go on, but my archives include over 1600 photos of most of the 37-40 species of sparrows (and related towhees and juncos) which I have seen.  Here is a scattering of favorite sightings.

Henslow's Sparrow is threatened by loss of habitat. It is a tiny reclusive and quite rare breeder at Nelson Lake:

Henslow's Sparrow 06-20170727

Vesper Sparrow, known for its beautiful evening song. One sang on the roof of our Illinois condo until the entire surrounding area was developed:

Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus) 3- 20100410

Field Sparrow, a persistent singer on the open prairie and wooded edges. Its pink bill and clear breast are distinctive:

 Field Sparrow 2-20110707

Fox Sparrow, quite a large sparrow, which breeds in the northwestern US and into northern Canada, is a common winter visitor to the woodlands of NE Illinois:

Fox Sparrow 2-20101017

American Tree Sparrow, another visitor from the north, at our daughter's feeder:

American Tree Sparrow 2-20130227

Grasshopper Sparrow, fairly common breeder near our Illinois home, which even visited our south Florida neighborhood one winter (Illinois, July 24, 2017):

Grasshopper Sparrow 02-20170724

Grasshopper Sparrow (SE Florida, February 1, 2011):

Grasshopper Sparrow 3-20110201

Finally, a rare find in a vacant lot near our home were 2 or 3 pairs of Lark Sparrows, at least one of which raised a family. They persisted from mid-May through late July, 2017. There were very few historic records of them breeding in our county:

Lark Sparrow 002-20170524

Lark Sparrow feeding fledgling (July 2, 2017):

Lark Sparrow adult feeding fledgling HD 02-20170702

When you read this I should be nearing the conclusion of several weeks of travel between Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin, the Texas Panhandle and the Gulf Coast off Corpus Christi, Texas. Therefore I prepared this post in advance. This has limited my computer face time and I have had to depend upon my iPhone. I will try to catch up upon my return home to Florida before going  back to Illinois.

Here is a view of sunrise from our south Florida back patio to satisfy my urge to publish some nice reflections:

Sunrise SOOC 2-20091122

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

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