Safety first

P1060936Not a warning sign you’d ever see in the UK, but in Big Bend National Park in Texas, yes you would.

This was on display near the main visitor centre, and looked new. It was different and more detailed than the warning sign I’d seen about Mountain Lions when I visited the park 10 years ago. This was an update, and it included Black Bears. I had no idea they were in the park.

We didn’t see bears or lions. The nearest we got to a lion encounter was from the safety of our air b’n’b accommodation just outside the park. You can read about it here.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed as there seemed to be less wildlife about on this trip. Yes, there were birds – mainly hawks soaring overhead, and the ever-present turkey vultures. There were small birds too, in the scrubby bushy areas of the desert, which sent me scrabbling for my Birds of Big Bend laminated fold out to ID them, The best and closest sightings were of road runners – appearing too quickly to whip out the camera, and one anxiously rushing past 2 or 3 feet away. It was good to get a close look and see the colours on the head of this eccentric-looking bird.

This trip excelled in the desert flora, with magnificent views of the mountains just about everywhere.

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Flowering Ocotillo and the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend

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.

 

Parenting is hard work

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I took this shot a while back of a blue tit in our garden gathering my dog’s hair, following a grooming session, to use in making a home in the nesting box we put up.

Since then there’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with both parents busily entering and leaving the nest box, bringing food for the babies. No idea how many – we don’t have a camera in there –  but we get good views from the kitchen window of all the activity. Recently, it’s been ramping up. I guess the little ones are getting quite demanding.

I’ve noticed that one of the parents looks quite bedraggled. Now that could be something to do with heavy rain we had earlier in the week, or it could be because that little bird is working so hard to feed the young, and the constant search for food is taking its toll. Yesterday I managed to get a shot of one of the parents at the entrance.

He or she looks scruffy and overworked. I could just see a small shape inside, waiting for the next beakful of food, so maybe these babies will be fledging soon. I’ll be watching!

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Dog helps Blue Tits build nest

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There’s a bit of tabloid headline poetic licence in the title as there was some human intervention here. Mine.

We have a young Norfolk Terrier, a hairy beast, not unlike a teddy bear in appearance and very friendly and cuddly with it. His coat has to be hand stripped, and I’m gradually learning how to do this. My L-plates are still on but I’m slowly getting the hang of it and I regularly “roll” his coat to keep it tidy and in good shape.

P1070250Clearing up the tufts and clumps of loose hair I’d removed I wedged them into the bird feeder in the garden. There is a pair Blue Tits in a nesting box and there’s currently a lot of coming and going through the entrance – a bird arrives with moss and loose foliage in its beak, pops inside, disappears for a bit them emerges to search for more nesting material.

It didn’t take long for them to find the recently removed dog hair and flit off back to the nesting box with it. Grabbing my camera I managed to get a couple of shots of the tits at work.

Now that’s what I call recycling – from dog to birds to nest in a matter of minutes!

Roseate Spoonbill

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That flash of pink in the treetops…..what was it?

We’d just embarked on the walk along by Forty Acre Lake at Brazos Bend State Park, when a ruffling kerfuffle of pink erupted in the mid-distance treetops.

My brain said “Flamingoes? Here?” My binoculars said “Roseate Spoonbills – 4 of them!”

This was a first ever sighting of these rather weird large waders, with their prehistoric-looking spoon-shaped bills. What a treat! A trip to Brazos Bend is always rewarding, but the spoonbills made this trip even more so.

These birds were heavily persecuted in the late 1800s when feathered hats were in vogue and they all but died out, thanks to vain fashion and plume hunters. Thankfully they have made a recovery but the message is clear: persecute and destruction and/or extinction will follow.

What a treat it was to see these birds. The photo isn’t great – I was lucky to get it – but you’ll get the overall impact of this stunning, peculiar, wonderful bird.

Muscovy Duck

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These are weird, unusual birds, but there are usually several hanging around near one of the artificially created ponds in Terry Hershey park in Houston. They are found across North America and we do have them in the UK too.

I watched a family of them, parents sitting down doing nothing much, while their smaller, younger offspring pottered around on a nearby bank of the bayou.

This one let me get close; they’re used to humans hanging around. Now why do I want to call him or her Warty McWartface?

 

Osprey

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In the UK, birders would travel miles – maybe to Rutland Water in the Midlands or maybe to Aviemore in Scotland –  to see ospreys, amazingly powerful and graceful birds who fish from lakes, catching large fish in their powerful talons.

In Houston, Texas, it’s not unusual or remarkable at all to find  an osprey flying low over a local reservoir which is part of a country park. This one was out in broad daylight, flying overhead and calling as it clutched its large catch. All this against the distant backdrop and roar of a busy tollway.

We watched it – no binoculars were needed as it was so close – as it sought and found a perch on a nearby telegraph pole and proceeded to tuck into it with that powerful beak.

What a treat for the eyes to see it. The photo’s not perfect as it was taken against the light, but it conveys the size of both bird and fish.