A day of birds and beasts

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Wetlands and Spanish Moss on trees, Brazos Bend State Park

Following our truncated stay and hasty departure from our visit to family in Houston ( to get back before all planes stopped flying, no other reason!) I’ve finally got around to looking at the photos I took there. So distracting and disorientating is this period of lockdown (what day is it…?) I’d forgotten about our family day out at Brazos Bend State Park and what we’d seen there.

It’s one of our “must go to” places when in Houston, so before our departure we had a family day together and enjoyed a walk around these wetlands. They are alligator- inhabited, a bit of a birder’s paradise, and they always delight us. We’ve seen roseate spoonbills, ibis, blue herons, bitterns catching fish just feet away from us, red-winged blackbirds and alligators basking on the banks.

Trees are festooned with Spanish Moss, noisy American coots hoot and squawk, anhingas (cormorant-like) sit with wings spread in the sunshine and large dark blue butterflies make their presence felt as their wings brush by.

P1080543There’s always something new to see, and this time it was the large brown furry creature in the marshy area, which some of our party thought was a beaver, some thought was a coypu, and some some just didn’t know. It’s taken me a while to get round to the ID job, and I had to check it out and do a spot of research too. It’s a nutria, which I’d not heard of before, but they’re quite common, are similar to beavers and are related to coypu, which are found in Europe. It’s the size and tail which give the answer – large body, rat-like tail. Beaver tails are flattened.

One down, one to go. What was that unusual bird with an orange and black head I saw lurking in the undergrowth? I took a few shots very quickly and managed to get enough for an ID. But what was it? I’d seen something like it before but couldn’t remember where.

P1080546Lockdown days offer more time to browse photographs. This bird looked vaguely familiar, so I tried a long shot and looked at photos I’d taken in Costa Rica, and there it was – a Crested Caracara. I’d seen one there. They’re listed as being seen in Texas, and specifically at Brazos Bend. It was quite¬† thrill to see this large bird – and not only that, on the way to Brazos by I spotted a male Hen Harrier (called a Northern Harrier in the US) flying low over a field.

This was probably the most significant sighting of the day for me. Hen Harriers are persecuted and endangered in the UK, and although I’ve been fortunate enough to see both male and female of this species on the wing in the UK, they still give me goosebumps on my neck when I do.

Down by the bayou

This great blue heron was hanging around Buffalo Bayou in Houston as we walked along the path used by walkers and cyclists. First seen on a treetop heronry, where there were a few nests, then a little later in the water under a flyover, foot  poised.

The shots are not perfect, with background distraction in the one with water, and taken against a grey sky background with the treetop one, but I liked the visible tongue in the tree, and the foot raised from the rock in the water.

Jay

Jays are colourful crows, often shy and only glimpsed in our garden very briefly. They either briefly sit on the fence then fly away, or hop into the old apple tree and hang around in the branches for a while before heading back to the deeper cover of nearby woodland trees.

It was quite a suprise to look up from my desk and see one hopping about and searching for food at the front of the house, which faces the usually quiet cul-de-sac we live in. Taking its time, it scavenged along the dried and wintry vegetation, hopped into the branches of a very bare tree and was joined by a blue tit.

With my camera handy, and taking shots through the window, it was a welcome distraction as well as a welcome visitor.

December dawn: and a new decade

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Drawing back the curtains this morning, this is what I saw. The pink of the rising sun set against the the pale blue promise of clear skies to come, with the silhouettes of nearby trees standing dark and proud in contrast. A touch of soft grey mist hovered gently in the middle distance.

Another day was dawning, and soon it will be another decade.

That we are moving from the 20-teens to the 20-twenties in a few day’s time has only recently registered with me; I’d only got as far as musing on the past year, let alone the past decade.

With my professional astrology hat on, I could expand on the current on-going rubbing of the shoulders of the planets Saturn and Pluto. I’m not going to do that, apart from saying that Saturn, as I see it, symbolises dyed-in-the-wool traditions and Pluto is the force that seeks to break down and throw out what is no longer of use and move on. Read into and interpret that as you will, there’s enough evidence of this taking effect on a global scale.

Going back to the photo, what I’m struck by is how strong, upright and present that tree is in this scene. It’s a tree I see daily, and perhaps don’t take that much notice of, although I do enjoy getting out my binoculars to ID whichever bird happens to be perching at the top. Sometimes it’s a magpie, sometimes a blackbird singing its heart out, and sometimes it’s a woodpecker. All have to be viewed against the light, hence the need for the binoculars to get more detail.

Could the shape and silhouette of that tree be a metaphor for the year/decade ahead? It’s suggesting to me the need to stand strong and proud, to be unashamed, to be present, to have a straight back like its trunk, to reach high like its crown where the birds perch, and to have open, welcoming arms which reach upwards, like its branches.

Colours in the garden

Things are fair bursting out on our patch right now. The pond has active newts and there are damsel flies about, hovering over the water.

What’s especially pleasing is that there are plenty of bees around in the flowers that are out, and the baby blue tits in the nest box have fledged. Still looking a bit dusty as their full colours haven’t quite come through yet, they’ve been joined by baby great tits, all of them tucking into the sunflower seeds in the feeder.

Meanwhile, a young pigeon has been sitting on the fence, looking a bit miserable on its own in the rain, but nearby one of the parents has been keeping an eye on it, sitting a discreet distance away on another fence.