Almost everywhere we go in Houston, particularly when near Buffalo Bayou, we can hear the raucus cry of the blue jay. Occasionally you get to see these beautiful birds and that brilliant flash of blue. But they do seem to be camera shy. What a nice surprise when this one posed on a car park near the bayou.
Being not far from the sea, this is probably the ‘coastal’ variant mentioned by Wikipedia, as opposed to the ‘interior’ or ‘northern’ variants.
Still sorting through my photographs from Houston, I was trying to identify these birds that were feeding on the grass at Paul D Rushing Nature Reserve. Of course, they kept such a distance that a decent photograph was difficult, although you can see the key features from these.
To European eyes it looked like some sort of bunting or sparrow. Consulting Wikipedia, it seems that American Sparrows are not quite what I had thought.
Although they share the name sparrow, American sparrows are more closely related to Old World buntings than they are to the Old World sparrows (family Passeridae). American sparrows are also similar in both appearance and habit to finches, with which they sometimes used to be classified.
So it’s some sort of American Sparrow, of which there is a huge proliferation, according to Wiki. A song sparrow is a likely possibility, as these certainly over-winter in Texas (it was March).
We often see a song thrush in the back garden, but never with camera handy. Of course, they don’t stay long enough for me to go and get it, wisely with cats around.
This one appeared high on a hedge on a sunny afternoon walk in the Wirral, just asking to be photographed.
I only managed 3 shots at maximum zoom before he flew off. Only this one was in reasonable focus. The lesson is maybe to leave burst mode set, but then of course you finish up with so many frames to sort out!
There seem to have been quite a lot of orange tip butterflies around the last few weeks, some looking really fresh like this one. Unusually, it paused awhile in the sun with wings open, allowing a few quick shots before normal fluttering was resumed.
According to Wikipedia, orange tips are appearing earlier in the spring, and this must be a male, as “the more reclusive female… lacks the orange and is often mistaken for other species of butterfly”.
Strangely, the usually infallible autofocus on my Panasonic TZ200 does not appear to have got anything completely sharp, and that’s the same on several shots, so is probably not due to hand movement. Maybe there was just too much detail at different distances and differing illuminations in the strong sunlight (featured image shows how much was in shot).
The story of life. The glory of the flowering cherry petals in Knutsford every April. They used to come around May Day for the annual May Day Parade, but now they start more like mid April – the season is getting earlier. Perhaps they are out for a week…
Then, a good burst of rain and wind, just what our dry gardens need, but the end for the cherry petals, now a beautiful pink snow on the pavements, clogging shoes as we unavoidably walk through them. (Featured image.)
A white dog runs out into the Dee estuary from the beach at Thursaston in the Wirral. The owner calls it back, and there emerges a white dog with brown legs. The estuary is actually very muddy, beyond the thin strip of sandy beach at the edge. Viewed from the low cliffs, mud, sand, river and tides combine together in wondrous picturesque swirls and patterns. Add to that the Sun descending slowly in the western sky. This combination never fails to lift the spirit.
The northern cardinal is very common in Houston and other parts of Texas we’ve visited. You can often hear it singing, see a flash of red go by, or see it perched on a high telephone wire (too far away for a good picture). It may be closer, on tree branch, but get the camera out, and it immediately hides behind the nearest twigs. They KNOW.
So it was a pleasant surprise to see this one at the magnificent Brazos Bend State Park, singing away in a tree and not rushing off. It had clearly seen us, but carried on regardless.
Yellowlegs are part of the Tringa genus of waders that includes sandpipers, redshanks and willets. These are shore birds and their breeding grounds are in Canada and Alaska, so this pair would have been either still overwintering or in the process of migrating north.
I suddenly noticed an unfamiliar bird in one of the few bushes at Paul D Rushing Park in Katy. It turned out to be a scissor-tailed flycatcher, unmistakable with that long tail, patch of rust at the shoulder, grey head, and light front with salmony plumage on the flanks. When it eventually flew off, the tail separated to clearly exhibit the scissor-characteristic.
According to Wikipedia, the habitat was just right: “open shrubby country with scattered trees in the south-central states”. This bird is also appropriately known as the “Texas Bird of Paradise”, although it is actually the state bird of Oklahoma.
Leave Interstate I10 at Katy and go up the long straight Katy Hockley Road for nearly 10 miles, past lines of new housing developments mixed with the usual (for Houston) random industrial and commercial units, and eventually you arrive at Paul D Rushing Park. Amazingly, you are still in Katy (yes, the greater Houston area is just that big). We’d ‘discovered’ this park from the website of Houston Audubon, giving suitable places for birders.
Suspicions arose when there were zero cars in the car park. At first sight this looked like a sports facility with ball courts. But there must be birds somewhere! Past the ball courts and toilets there were several lakes, apparently surrounded by little vegetation other than grass. A few odd ducks were immediately apparent, but the area looked otherwise barren.
Well, we’d come to walk, so walk we did. There were lots of viewing platforms, blinds and walkways over the lake, but not a lot to view. Soon we saw a coypu in the water, then an amazing scissortailed flycatcher rested in one of the few bushes, then egrets on the boardwalk hand rails (featured image), chicks in the water, a black stilt in the distance, a little brown job – some sort of sparrow, then a yellowlegs wader, turtles,… So actually there was quite a lot going on in a park that at first looked so unpromising. But it still looked strangely lacking in vegetation to European eyes!
This little wren was hopping about among the branches of a bush by the visitor centre at the Edith L. Moore Houston Audubon sanctuary. Typically wrens are very wary, so not usually so accommodating to being photographed.
A passing ranger identified this as a Carolina Wren, which is the state bird of South Carolina. The bird was probably on its annual migration northwards.
Well I think this is a Louisiana Waterthrush due to the pinkish legs, but it could be a Northern Waterthrush, which is very similar. These migratory birds spend the winter in Central America or West Indies, so we were lucky to catch this one on on his way through Houston at the Edith L. Moore sanctuary (Houston Audubon). Also lucky that this rather elusive bird was pointed out by a regular birder.
Although its breast looks very much like that of a thrush, this is not actually a thrush, but a warbler.
This was taken at a fair distance from the opposite side of the creek, so the result is not bad at maximum stretch on my travel zoom Panasonix TZ200.
This clouded yellow butterfly kindly stopped by for a photograph as we were exploring an old film set at Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas. These are of the genus colias, of which there are many variants. They are apparently called ‘sulphurs’ in North America.
You can see the apparent shading on the wings, where the strong dark outer colouring on the top of the wings shows through. A web search shows that these butterflies are not often caught with their wings open to reveal the upper side. Here’s an example male (upper) and female from Wikipedia. We can infer that mine is a male.
There seem to be a fair number of Monarch butterflies in Houston, probably on their way elsewhere in their annual migration. These are large butterflies with a wonderfully graceful flight.
The featured image shows one settled amid Texan blue bonnet flowers. The other below is settled on the ground, a somewhat faded specimen compared to the vibrancy of some, suggesting one that has survived the winter.
Llano is a good place to stop on the way to somewhere else in Texas. This small town was founded as a frontier trading centre on the Llano River in 1856. The river and the ‘old’ town provide the main focus of interest, plus one of the best BBQ restaurants around (delicious).
The bridge is rather functional and not particularly attractive, so I was quite surprised that my Panasonic ZX200 made it look quite attractive after nightfall (featured image).
More spectacular was the view of the evening sky from the bridge, over the weir.
The osprey is quite rare in the UK, so it was great to see one of these great birds of prey at Archbishop Fiorenza Park, just by a tollway and major road junction within half an hour of Houston centre. Signs by the lake implied that it contains quite large catfish, which was confirmed as the osprey flew overhead with a huge catfish in its talons. Even better, it then settled on a nearby telegraph pole to take a few bites. The only problem for photographs was that he was between the sun and us, so detail in the images is not great. But the silhouettes are impressive and really show the size of the fish taken by this huge bird.
Sometimes you get lucky. In the unseasonably warm February afternoon on Tatton Park’s lake, we suddenly spotted two great crested grebes courting. What an amazing dance they performed. The light was still good, so some sort of reasonable pictures were possible with my Panasonic Lumix TZ200 on maximum zoom, although the show only lasted a minute or two. Here’s a selection:
Just how beautiful can the oak tree be in winter! The head of this oak shows superb fractal patterns, reflected in the parallel picture of the whole tree.
This is one of many oaks in the National Trust’s Attingham Park, near Shrewsbury. Also there in the deer park is the wonderful 650-year-old Repton Oak (below), without the vigour of the younger tree, but nevertheless of remarkable longevity.
Will today’s young oaks grow to such an age in a time of climate change? It would be a great shame if not.