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RGV Birding Festival Hobnobbing

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lest you get the idea that our trip to Harlingen was one big photosafari, well, it was, but we were working too, leading field trips and giving talks. I gave a keynote about The Bluebird Effect, and Laguna Atascosa's nature shop sold out of my books. That was nice.  Very cool perfectly exposed photo by my friend, superphotog Debbie Barnes.

Got to meet some really cool people, too. This is a Zick sandwich made of Charles Alexander and Bill Thompson III. BT3 needs no introduction here, but Charles is a most excellent writer and painter of wildlife. A native Texan, he has a zookeeper background, a smashing accent, a bad case of wanderlust and a sensitive, thoughtful take on the animals he studies and paints. He connects deeply with animals he studies on an individual basis. Needless to say, the message in The Bluebird Effect hit him like a ton of (good, nice) bricks.  It was a big thrill to meet him in person at last. And I liked being the chicken salad in the man sammich. Who wouldn't?

You can see Charles Alexander's amazing work on Facebook where he also posts intriguing writings and historical snippets about animals. He's a voracious reader and deep thinker and I'm thoroughly enjoying getting to know him better. One of those people you wish you'd known for years.

Birdchick had the honor of escorting actress Lili Taylor around the festival area. Little did I know, but the Lili Taylor who pre-ordered The Bluebird Effect in January was THAT Lili Taylor, who I've loved in every film she's graced. Mystic Pizza, Say Anything, High Fidelity, to name just three, not to mention HBO's Six Feet Under. Whoa. She's a birder. And for me, that only adds to her already sky-high coolness quotient. Plus, she and Birdchick make me look...sort of...tall... which is nice for a pygmy Science Chimp who gets towered over by two of the four members of her family. About to be three.

I tried not to geek out too much but Lili was just so cool and delicate and lovely, like a fairy. I would not have been surprised to see a pair of dragonfly wings folded up in back of her shirt. And she came to my talk. Thanks to Amy Hooper for taking these photos. It's nice to connect with someone whose work  you admire.

We met up with our Ohio friends Julie Davis, Kathi Hutton, Margaret Bowman, and Jason Larson on the boardwalk.  What a treat it was to experience these outrageous Texas birds with other similarly gobsmacked Ohioans.

We decided that the little blue heron wasn't much like a reddish egret after all. For one thing, you'd never catch a reddish egret wading through marsh vegetation, seemingly slowly looking for his lost contact lens. Reddish egrets are birds of salt flats, birds of extreme and fancy fast fishing action. And they have wild spiky hairdos.

Ohio has largely escaped the Eurasian collared-dove invasion. I got Ohio's first of state record from our tower. Just too bad our rare records committee needed a photograph instead of Zick sketches and a painting. Not bitter, nope, not at all. That same fall a mourning dove hunter shot one. We've got 'em. And that carcass served to confirm my sighting. 

This Eurasian collared-dove is drinking in typical dove fashion, sucking water rather than dipping and let it trickle down its throat. I had thought this marsh was salt, but it's apparently brackish. Wonder if EUCD's develop salt processing glands in coastal areas? Wonder if they eat collards down south?

I always get a kick out of egrets. They are so decorative, and we have so few of them here at home.

It was blowing a gale, probably 35 mph sustained winds, lifting even the short feathers on his sleek neck.

This is a behavior well known in herons and raptors, aptly called "foot staring." Nobody really knows why they do it; they seem to stare at their feet when in some kind of transition or conflict between behaviors. Should I stay or should I go? Or maybe he has an ingrown toenail. Or is wondering why he doesn't have golden slippers like the snowy egret. Who can say. He's staring at his foot. We all do that from time to time.

We enjoyed watching the least bittern turn from a football to a javelin at the flash of a shiner.

When Phoebe spotted him, Bill took off for the distant part of the boardwalk where the other Ohioans were birding, netting Kathi and Margaret a hugely satisfying look at a life bird!

Wow. That's a lotta neck all scrunched into an S-shape under those long feathers. 

The Life Bird Wiggle, as executed by Jason Larson and Kathi Hutton. Bill demands it and is rarely refused. Kathi cleaned up on this trip. 43 lifers!! I got some life butterflies. Note Phoebs taking five behind the So. Padre Convention Center. Terrific view of marshes and flats there. And of happy Ohioans.

In case you're wondering what my rig looks like, here 'tis. This is the Canon L-series image-stabilized 70-300 telephoto lens.  mounted on a Canon 7D body. The black part is a lens shade, so the lens itself is extremely compact. As you can see the lens barrel fits nicely in my hand. Compact, reasonably light yet nimble and powerful, and death on flying birds, as you've seen. I do love it. So much. It rocks. So hard. I've linked right to Midwest Photo Exchange's page for each component, just to help Santa along. My strap is the Blackrapid RS-W1 sling camera strap, designed for women. One attachment point, with a screw, on the bottom of the camera. Padded and curve-friendly, very comfy. Don't worry, they work for men, too. Worn bandolier style over the far shoulder, so the camera hangs nicely at the hip and swings up for action.  I lurve it. Just check that attachment screw (by the hook at the bottom of the camera below) each time you don the rig. Make sure it's tight and you're good to go. Otherwise your rig might fall into fine loose silty dust on El Costero Ranch and you might let loose a string of very bad words.

photo by Bill Thompson III. Hair by Windy. I don't have a combover, yet.


foot staring sounds like an Onion riff, like the president of N Korea believing that he is the sexiest man in the world. xom.

Julie, I've just discovered The Bluebird Effect and have been captivated by your lovely words and images. Just a little note to say thank you. (We also are Boston Terrier lovers too and the antics of Sir Chet featured here made me laugh so hard. Delightful. We have a little girl named Lucy Mae who is like in many ways.)

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I am in awe of that bittern.

And that camera ...

I could think of worse places to drop a camera, but let's not go there.

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