Thursday, March 29, 2007

Long-tailed Jaeger in Texas

(Bird ID is corrected in It is a Parasitic Jaeger on Nov 30, 2007)

I, along with my husband, was one of the passengers (lucky) onboard the Skimmer with Captain Tom Moore for a Whooping Crane Tour on Monday, March 26, 2007. We had just reached the man-made breakwaters of Aransas NWR. The Captain was calling out the various bird species that were there when he yelled "What is THAT bird?" A brown and white bird had just flown over the bow of the boat. No one answered him and he yelled (whooped) it again. He was serious! One passenger suggested a Long-tailed Jaeger and the research (and doubts) with many different field guides began.

First, we needed another look at the bird and, luckily, it had settled on the breakwater perpendicular to ours. The captain maneuvered the boat towards the bird and I started photographing. This is the first photo taken at 8:40AM.

Photo taken at Aransas NWR, TX on 3/26/2007

As we got closer to the bird, various details were discuss but I concentrated on taking as many pictures as I could because it was very windy and the boat was rocking. This is the closest photo.

Photo taken at Aransas NWR, TX on 3/26/2007
Laughing Gulls soon settled on the breakwater beside the bird disturbing it and it decided to leave.

Photo taken at Aransas NWR, TX on 3/26/2007
As the bird flew away, a fellow passenger, Chuck Mills (I think that's his name), noted the dark under wings and that fact confirmed for him that the bird was a Long-tailed Jaeger.

Photo taken at Aransas NWR, TX on 3/26/2007
Doubting passengers remained until someone noted that the size of the Laughing Gulls was similar to this brown and white bird. It was a Long-tailed Jaeger, a life bird for many of the passengers. What a lucky find!

Later, one passenger remained unconvinced until he visited me at my campsite and saw my next photo of the Long-tailed Jaeger with a partial Laughing Gull and he could see the similarity in body size. After checking with The SIBLEY Guide to Birds, Sibley states that Laughing Gull's average body weight is 320 grams and that a Long-tailed Jaeger's weight is about 300 grams. The two other jaegers have average weights of 470 and 700 grams, too large for this bird.

Photo taken at Aransas NWR, TX on 3/26/2007
This really was our lucky day because the Long-tailed Jaeger (now most of us are convinced, including the Captain) flew only a short distance away to the breakwater that was on our course for the Whooping Crane tour. (and we were all whooping about our good fortunes and had not even seen one whooper!)

Photo taken at Aransas NWR, TX on 3/26/2007I took 59 photos in the wind on a rocking boat and after throwing away all out-of-focus images, I still have about 15. We resumed our tour fifteen minutes later. It felt much longer and the excitement will stay forever, especially when I look at my pictures again.

Stay tuned for more pictures soon.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Oranges and Orange

I started birding and sight-seeing in south Texas. I see my first roadside citrus stand (ORANGES for sale!) outside Laredo and stop for a 10lb bag of oranges. A daily dose of 2 fresh squeezed oranges (tree ripened orange color not dyed) is one reason why I go south to Texas.

As I move south along the Rio Grande valley, I am amazed at the blooming shrub with light orange-yellow flower stems and learn that this is Black brush or Catclaw, an acacia shrub.

Photo taken at Zapata, TX on 3/11/2007

It's everywhere, in full bloom, at Falcon State Park.

Photo taken at Falcon SP, TX on 3/13/2007 The first evening at the park I see an Altamira Oriole at another camper's site. So, I sacrifice one of my precious oranges to attract the oriole to my campsite. (sacrifice = fortfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value.)

I was rewarded with visits.

Photo taken at Falcon SP, TX on 3/13/2007An Altamira Oriole found my orange in the early morning gray mist.

Photo taken at Falcon SP, TX on 3/13/2007The Altamira Oriole came back in the late afternoon sunlight and he (yes, this is a male) is so orange.

Photo taken at Hwy 86, AZ on 3/29/2005Also a visit by a pair of Hooded Orioles. The male (no photo, sorry) was even a deeper orange color than the Altamira male.

Photo taken at Falcon SP, TX on 3/13/2007A flock of Cedar Waxwings look orange late in the setting sun. I am glad Texas offers many kinds of doses of orange.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

On The Road

I am on the road again, heading south as fast as my old RV will go. Even though I have travelled some of these interstates many times, there is always something different or new to see. I like best to watch for birds and make a list for each state through which I travel. (yes, I am a lister)

Birds are hard to identify while traveling at 60 miles per hour. Rest areas and re-fueling stops (food or gas) are the hot birding spots but surprises do happen.

Just a few miles from home at a gas stop, some Horned Larks searched the snow covered field for food. I checked The SIBLEY Guide to Birds and saw that the larks are at their northern edge of their winter range.

Photo taken at San Rafael Valley, AZ on 3/19/2004

(Photo by John of a lark without snow)

My second surprise was a Red-shouldered Hawk at a rest stop in northern Indiana. This bird, too, is at the northern edge of its winter range. (I have learned a new birding detail)

Photo taken at Woodward Reservoir, CA on 10/23/2004

As I travelled south, I can't wait for signs of spring. Sure enough, at my first rest area in Illinois (there are so many), there was a flock of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings eating crabapples, probably not their favorite fruit but good in late winter.

Photo taken at Murray Lake, MI on 5/26/2002

Photo taken at Murray Lake, MI on 6/30/2002

Its good to be on the road again and birding along the way.