Tag Archives: funny signs

Deep in the Heart of Texas

I’m on the road again, this time for my final spring blitz.  My Big Year is officially over in two months and two days, so I’m getting ready for the grand finale.  Spring migration is in full swing, and I am going to follow the birds north from the US/Mexico border all the way  to the Arctic Circle over the next couple of months.  I will also range as far east as Florida, and as far west as Gambell, AK (within sight of Siberia).  It should be crazy, and I hope also great.

Right now I’m deep in the Heart of Texas.  I’ve spent the past few days traveling through the Hill Country on the Edwards Plateau, north and west of San Antonio.

Hill Country

It is a beautiful area, full of spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife.  I travelled out to this remote area to see two endangered species that only breed within a hundred miles or so of this spot: Golden-Cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo.

Hill Country2

My first stop was the Kerr Wildlife Management Area, about an hour west of Kerrville.  I arrived at dawn, only to find that the main road through the refuge was closed because they were holding a spring turkey hunt – for the next three days!  My very carefully laid plans were foiled by a turkey shoot!  There are other places to see these vireos, but this was the best and closest one, and I didn’t have a lot of extra time.  I did discover that one of the side roads on the west edge of the refuge was going to be open, so I decided to give that area a go.  Forty five minutes later, I was watching a male Black-capped Vireo singing away from the top of a small cedar tree.  Success!

Driving on, I discovered another wrinkle in my plan.  The narrow two-lane highway that I intended to take to my next destination was under construction. Seriously under construction.  Like, “follow a pilot car for 15 miles along a dirt road at 10 mph” under construction.

Follow Me

I’m pretty sure my rental contract says I’m not supposed to drive off the pavement, so let’s keep this between you and me, ok?  After a slight delay, I was back on track, and arrived at Lost Maples State Natural Area.

Lost Maples2

This park is absolutely gorgeous – one of my favorite places to visit in Texas.  And it also hosts dozens of endangered Golden-cheeked Warblers, several of which obligingly popped into view during my hike along the East Trail.

Lost Maples

Lost Maples is a stop of the Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail, another example of the birding/nature trails I wrote about during my last visit to Texas.

Heart of Texas

I don’t have any pictures of the warbler or the vireo because they are hard to photograph, and I didn’t want to bother or harass them (they are endangered species, after all!).  But I did manage to snap a quick picture of this cool Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  It’s a little hard to see in the photo, but his tail is longer than his body (it’s right in front of the barbed wire).

Scissor-tail Flycatcher

My last stop in the Hill Country was at Neal’s Lodges in Concan, TX.  The owners have done a terrific job making their property bird and wildlife-friendly.  I was there in the heat of the day, so I didn’t see a ton of different species, but I did find a (previously reported) Tropical Parula, an very rare bird north of Mexico.


Tonight I went owling at Bentsen State Park.  I got a tip from the rangers about the location of an Elf Owl roost.  The owl sleeps inside an old woodpecker hole – the top hole in the middle (broken off) trunk in the picture below.

Elf Owl Tree

Elf Owls are the smallest owls in North America – a mere 5.5 inches long and an ounce and a half in weight.  Three Elf Owls combined weigh less than a single iPhone.  I watched the roost hole from about sunset to dusk (half an hour or so), and finally saw him peeking out to check things out.  He stuck his head out several times, only to disappear again into the hole.  Finally when it was almost dark, he launched himself out into the night.  What a treat.

In my Texas travels, I have found many amazing sights.  But I haven’t found Utopia yet.  I think it might be just up the road, though.



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Texas Wrap-Up and Silly Signs

Little Blue Heron

My February trip to Texas was a success, and I am now enjoying some time at home.  Here is my customary end-of-trip report:

Miles by car: 1799

Miles by foot: 20 (approx)

Total species seen: 169

New Big Year Birds added: 40 (I’m currently at 544 total since I started on June 12, 2012)

Total number of individual birds seen last week (according to my eBird summary): 3560 (approx)

Highlights: Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Audubon’s Oriole, Common Pauraque, Whooping Cranes, Flammulated Owl

Rarest bird: Bronzed Kingfisher (see photo below)

Bronzed Kingfisher

Nosiest Neighbor: The guy who kept peering over the fence the whole time I was at the Valley Nature Center

Nosy Neighbor

Scariest Thing I Saw: Chachalacas racing out of the forest at me, screaming “Chachalaca!”


Scariest Thing I Saw if I Were a Minnow: A flotilla of 80+ Horned Grebes swimming in close formation at the Texas City Dike

Eared Grebe Flotilla

Most Ridiculous Sign: You decide.  Here are some contenders:

Watch for Pelicans

Ok, I’m in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a narrow bridge with a concrete barrier to my left and traffic cones on my right.  How precisely should I react if I see a pelican coming at me at 45 miles an hour?

Pronto Insurance

I’ve never really contemplated the strength of a chorizo stain before…

Chacha Crossing

I know enough to stay out of their way!

Beware Sign

Agapanthus, eh?

Agapanthus sign

And that’s the news for now.  I’ll be mostly around the Pacific Northwest for the next 6 weeks or so, until I begin my Spring of Absolute Craziness: a 10-week period in which I’m traveling to Florida (including the Everglades, Keys, and Dry Tortugas), back to Texas, back to Arizona, back to Texas again (Big Bend!), and wrapping up my Big Year the first week of June in Alaska.  Stay tuned….

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Northeastern Wrap Up

I’ve been back from the Northeast for over a week now, but I haven’t posted my customary wrap up.  So here it is!

This was my fourth major out-of-state trip for the year, and it was a good one.  I was a little worried that this trip might be less productive than the others, but that certainly was not the case.  I dodged major snow and ice storms (not to mention Hurricane Sandy), and had some good luck tracking down unusual birds like this young Iceland Gull found at Plymouth, MA:

Iceland Gull

While Iceland Gull was definitely a good find, it has nothing on three super rarities I saw: Northern Lapwing, Little Egret, and Barnacle Goose.  The American Birding Association (yes, there is such an organization) lists each of these species as Code 4 – literally rarer than Rare (which is Code 3).  You can check out the coding system here, and see the complete ABA checklist (at least last year’s version) here.

Here are some stats from my trip:

Miles by car: 2156

Miles by foot: 30 (approx)

Total species seen: 88

New Year Birds added: 20

Total number of individual birds seen (according to my eBird summary): 4200+ (approx)

Times honked at by NYC drivers: 6

Times honked at by Canada Geese: 589

Cool new ideas I got from my school visits: 18

Crazy signs: 4 (but I only got a picture of one of them)

Thickly settled sign

Ok, maybe if you’re from the Northeast this sign seems perfectly reasonable.  But I busted out laughing the first time I saw one.  Thickly settled?  Jello or chocolate pudding might be thickly settled, or maybe pioneers in a popular valley out on the frontier.  But can a suburban neighborhood be thickly settled?  I’m skeptical.

While I was gone, I did receive some wonderful photos of the Rock Sandpiper I saw on Ediz Hook (WA) from Dow Lambert.  I met Dow at Ediz Hook, and he managed to snap some great pics of the sandpiper like this one:

Rock Sandpiper (c) Dow Lambert

Thanks for emailing me these pictures, Dow!  If you like amazing photos of interesting Washington state birds, you should really check out his website at http://www.mastdog.com/DowMar/Birding/

That’s all for now!  I’m home through the end of the year, and then I’m off for another combined trip to California and Arizona in January, and then to Texas in February.

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Eiderdown! Eider back up!

I spent a couple of days along the northern Massachusetts coast, from Parker River National Wildlife Refuge down to Cape Ann (near Gloucester).  The weather was cold, but I braved the wind whipping in from the Atlantic to watch the sea ducks, alcids, gulls, gannets, and whatever else blew in.

Saturday morning I stopped at Halibut Point State Park.  This area was an active granite quarry from the 1840s until the 1930s, and you can still see the giant quarry pit (now filled with water).

Halibut Point SP

Halibut Point SP Quarry

Taking the trail down to the rocky shore, I positioned myself on a large slab of granite and scanned the waves.

Rocks at Halibut Point

The temperature was 27 F, and tiny icy snow pellets began forming a thin white blanket over my hat, gloves, and spotting scope.  Many of the birds were way out at the edge of my vision.  I thought of my wife, who loves the challenge of “lump identification” – figuring out what those tiny specks on the horizon really are.  Here are some ducks in the distance, as seen through my scope:

Scope view

Some of the same birds shown above were in closer, and I was able to get some decent pictures of Common Eiders, a sea duck that winters in large numbers along the New England coast.

Common Eider

You may be familiar with eiderdown, the soft breast feathers collected from eiders and used historically for pillows and comforters.  Eiderdown has largely been replaced with synthetic fibers, and this eider looks very relieved to hear that.

Common eiders eat a lot of mussels and crabs snatched off the rocky bottom, so they dive actively when feeding.  They will go down, often for 10 seconds or more, before popping back up many yards from where they went under.  Down, up, down, up.  The diving Mallard was pretty amazing, but it had nothing on these true sea ducks.

Common Eider

The two photos above show males.  Female Common Eiders are a rich cinnamon brown with fine black barring.

Female Eider

Most of the birds were jetting by on the stiff breeze, and many too far away for photos.  I saw Northern Gannets plunge-diving from great heights, and hundred of Red-breasted Mergansers streaming by a couple hundred yards offshore.  This Red-throated Loon drifted by close to the rocks, so I snapped his photo, too.

Red-throated Loon

He only has the red throat during the summer breeding season.

The last bird I managed to photograph was a fly-over Blue Goose, the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge system.

Blue goose

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Emu Composting

I am taking full advantage of my sabbatical by spending as much time as possible on the Olympic Peninsula, one of my favorite places in Washington.  I love the wild confluence of the Olympic Mountains, the Hoh Rainforest, and the Salish Sea.  And all just a short ferry ride away from my home in Kirkland.

Near the Dungeness NWR north of Sequim, I ran into two more Tropical Kingbirds.  Are they more lost souls, or the vanguard of a coming Tropical Kingbird invasion force?  I’m betting on the former, although I will check to see if my insurance covers flycatcher damage.  Here’s one of today’s Tropical vagrants:

At Ediz Hook in Port Angeles, I watched shorebirds and seabirds as the sun set behind the mountains a little before 4pm.  Sanderlings (the lighter ones in the picture below) and Dunlin (the darker ones) fed nearby.  They are some of the most common sandpipers in the County in November.

Much more rare in these parts was this Rock Sandpiper that my wife spotted under the Pilot House:

This was a new bird for my Big Year, and one that I thought I’d have to drive back out to Ocean Shores to do some more jetty walking to see.  They had not yet arrived for the Winter when I was last at the Point Brown Jetty.

Finally, adding to my collection of unusual signs, I offer this one – seen near Hansville on the Kitsap Peninsula.  I have composted many things in my life: leaves, sticks, fir needles, vegetable peels, pizza boxes, and moldy jack-o-lanterns.  But I have never had the need to compost 6-foot tall Australian birds.  Now I know where to go when the need arises:

I wonder if they take Ostriches, too?



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Jetty Walking

It’s September, and shorebird migration is in full swing.  Sandpipers, plovers, phalaropes, and godwits are winging their way south.  After spending the breeding season in the high Arctic tundra, these little guys are traveling south, some heading all the way to New Zealand!  If you want to catch them as they whiz by Washington state, the best place to be is the outer coast.  I recently headed west to Grays Harbor County for a couple days to see what I could dig up.

My first stop was the Hoquiam Sewage Treatment Ponds.  Nothing gets your blood pumping like the morning fog burning off above an azure lagoon of poopy water.  Awesome.  I tallied a number of good birds, including a couple of dozen Pectoral Sandpipers (like the one pictured below).

I also tracked down a Ruff, a rare Asian stray that ended up on the wrong side of the Pacific.

I love the sign posted here.  For MOST people, the “no trespassing” part would be completely superfluous, but serious bird watching need that extra encouragement to STAY OUT.

My next stop was Ocean Shores, specifically the Point Brown jetty at the southwest tip of the peninsula.  I timed my visit for the hour before low tide, because I wasn’t just going TO the jetty, I was going out ON the jetty – close to the end.  It was foggy, but I clamored up the rocks and started picking my way out to the tip, several hundred yards distant.

Many birds are habitat specialists.  Pectorals and Ruffs are perfectly content to walk around in shallow water through the mud and sand, but other species of shorebirds prefer the rocky coastline.  These “rockpipers” use their sharp bills to pry mussels, snails, and barnacles off the rocks while dodging the waves crashing around them.  If you want to see rockpipers, you need to visit the rocky shore habitat, and the Point Brown jetty is one of the most accessible areas of such habitat around.  Of course, “most accessible” is a relative term.  You still have to climb over huge boulders through the ocean spray and bird droppings, and make sure you are off the jetty before the tide rises.  At least one unfortunate birder was washed off the top of the jetty when caught unaware of the rising tide.

About halfway out, I began to catch glimpses of my target species through the fog and spray.

A group of Black Turnstones was milling around, catching a bite to eat and resting on the rocks.  Further out, I saw a Wandering Tattler and more Turnstones.

After about an hour, I was near the end of the jetty, surrounded by Turnstones, Tattlers, and the appropriately named Surfbirds, who were dancing in and out of the powerful waves crashing against the rocks.

At this point I decided to head back in, as low tide had passed and the water would begin rising soon.  I hit several other shorebird hotspots in the afternoon, finding a nice array of adult and juvenile sandpipers in all states of molt.  Most birds shed their feathers in the fall, growing new ones which sometimes show different colors and patterns than the ones they wore in the spring and summer.  The molting birds can take on quite interesting appearances.

I headed to bed early, because I knew what was in store for tomorrow: Monte Carlo!


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Funny Signs and Other Silly Stuff

First things first – I’m in Arizona!

I survived the drive over from California, and have been exploring the Tucson area.  Tonight is just a short post since I’m pretty tired.  I’ll tell/show you a few of the crazy signs I’ve seen this week.  I didn’t get a pic, but I saw one last week driving along a state highway through the mountains that said THIS ROAD MAY BE CLOSED AT ANY TIME.  No other context, no other information – just a notification that I may suddenly have to detour 100 miles out of my way without warning.  Sweet!

The one this morning actually cracked me up:

Um, OK.  How exactly am I suppose to alter my driving to take this into account? And why do I need to exercise caution?  In case I accidentally look into the eyepiece and see an extremely distant object?  I can hear the complaints before this sign went up – “Why didn’t you tell me I might see the Omega-Centauri Globular Cluster!  The horror!”

Here’s another one that I should have worked into my last post about the Salton Sea, but I forgot:

Yep, that fabulously unique place that I called the Salton Sea is ACTUALLY the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR.  Yes, THIS Sonny Bono.  I looked for Cher’s National Park, but haven’t seen it yet.

In other news, the prickly pears are ripening nicely.

I can tell you now from personal experience that the fruits are soft and deep purple when ripe, they contain a wonderful smelling juice, and the outside of the fruit is covered with many dozens of tiny, almost-invisible spines that can nevertheless penetrate deeply and painfully into one’s fingers.  Ah, curiosity.

Finally, I will leave you with a bad picture of what Wile E. Coyote sees at the end of every episode:

It’s the blurry backside of a roadrunner zipping away at high speed, never to be seen again.

More later…

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