Llano, Texas

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.

llano sunset

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Osprey and Catfish

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.

 

Dancing Grebes

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:

Click on individual images for more detail.

Oak

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.

repton oak

Will today’s young oaks grow to such an age in a time of climate change? It would be a great shame if not.

Redshank

It took a while to identify these waders, a fair number of which were rummaging about the beach at Rhyl. Then sudden inspiration from she who knows more than I do about birds – redshank. Slowly the light dawned – orangey legs, a color once known as red – and parts of legs known as shanks. The name was pretty obvious really.

Of course, they were too nervous to let me get close enough for a really sharp photo with my travel zoom.

Beach scene

You wouldn’t think that shooting almost directly into the afternoon sun about an hour before sunset would produce good results. This shot was taken pointing just below the sun. The effect reminds me of a Roerich painting.

mountains from rhyl beach

Taken from the beach at Rhyl, North Wales, with the Snowdonia mountains in the background.

European Robin

One of Britain’s most common birds is the robin, also known as the European Robin to distinguish it from other so-called robins that I have photographed: American Robin, Clay Colored Robin, which are really thrushes. There’s usually one turns up when I’m gardening, seeking out the worms and bugs that get disturbed in the process.

The robin is so common in the UK that I never get around to taking a photograph. Luckily this one obligingly sat on a post at Brereton Country Park when I had camera in pocket, and stayed just long enough for a couple of photos. In the featured one above he is looking straight at me, a second later he was off. The earlier photo below catches a glint in his eye.

Interestingly, Wikipedia reports that

The distinctive orange breast of both sexes contributed to the European robin’s original name of redbreast (orange as the name of a colour was unknown in English until the sixteenth century, by which time the fruit of that name had been introduced).

 

Old Man’s Beard

Another feature of the otherwise dead early February vegetation in Anderton Country Park is the opportunity given for these fluffy balls of nothing to show themselves off. My companion knew from childhood that this was ‘old man’s beard’, otherwise known as ‘traveller’s joy’ or clematis vitalba.

old mans beard.jpg

Of course, clematis is a climber and can be quite vigorous, as I know from having similar variants growing in the garden – all the better for disseminating seeds in the wind.

Catkins

There’s not much apparently going on in the vegetation of the English countryside early February. Most of it is pretty dormant, apart from the odd flowering gorse and some early bulbs coming up. But we did come across these beautiful catkins in full glory in Anderton Country Park.

catkins

Catkins are actually flowers, with inconspicuous or no petals. They occur on a number of different tree types. This BBC Earth post suggests that these photographed are probably of the hazel tree, which has catkins late autumn, which then lengthen and turn golden with pollen towards the end of January.

Here they are close up.

catkins close

Fieldfare

Several of these thrush-like birds were running around and foraging on the grass in the afternoon sun at Brereton Country Park, Cheshire. They are fieldfare, almost certainly winter visitors to the UK.

fieldfare

The similar redwing would have red flanks, and the fieldfare does have a characteristic black tail. I didn’t have a long telephoto lens, but this is adequate for identification purposes with maximum zoom on my Panasonic TZ200 (360mm equivalent) – cropped.

Helmeted Hornbill

This photograph of the helmeted hornbill comes from this item by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. What an incredible bird, and what a sad story.

These birds have been hunted almost to extinction because of that ivory-like horn, but conservation efforts are hoping to save them.

Do read the incredible story at the above link, of the search for survivors, of the female shutting herself up inside a tree with her young while it develops, relying entirely on the male to feed them, presumably to keep predators at bay. And the photography is superb.

This and many other species depend for a future on a new generation of people coming through that will not tolerate either poaching or habitat destruction.

Exotic Woodpeckers

Costa Rica has a number of woodpeckers that are unfamiliar to European eyes. I’ve recently managed to identify these two from my archive of photographs from our 2017 trip: Hoffmann’s woodpecker and the lineated woodpecker. Both were in Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge.

Pecking upside down in a mass of vegetation, the rather large lineated woodpecker was hard to distinguish as a woodpecker, although its bright red head stood out.

There must have been some luck involved here to get half-decent shots with my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom. In my experience woodpeckers do not often stay still long enough to be photographed.

Hoffmann’s is named after the German naturalist Karl Hoffmann.

Chiloé Wigeon

An interesting contrast from my previous post on European wigeons are these Chiloé Wigeons, or southern wigeons, from South America, photographed in the spring at WWT Slimbridge. The similarities are evident, and yet they are rather different.

chiloe wigeons 1chiloe wigeons 2

Of course, these photographs were much easier to take as these birds are residents, presumably with clipped wings. It’s a strange facet of the modern world that it can be easier to photograph birds from the other side of the world than their local equivalents!