Texas: Estero to Bentsen

The next morning Jen and I left the cabins at 3am because that’s normal. Actually it’s the opposite of normal, but it’s an excellent way to make good time driving when you aren’t distracted by birds along the way. We had to drive 6 hours south to pick up the rest of the spring-break birding crew from the Brownsville airport.

So efficient. Until daylight broke and we immediately pulled over by the first Scissor-tailed Flycatcher! This one’s named Rudolph.

We arrived in Brownsville with enough time to make a quick stop near the airport at Dean Porter Park. Here we saw Neotropic Cormorants (that look similar to Double-crested Cormorants), Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, lifer after lifer after lifer.

We also saw some familiar faces.

Black-necked Stilt

White Ibis

“You can’t see me” -Muscovy Duck

And I had way to much fun entertained by Great-tailed Grackles.

And Laughing Gulls. I’m especially fond of gulls that are easy to ID.

No question you are hilarious.

We made it to the airport in time to pick up Sarah, Max and Eric. They’d flown in on a red-eye and we’d been up since 3am. We were all ready to bird. A quick stop at the Airbnb to drop off luggage and we arrived at Estero Llano Grande State Park to meet up with Jen’s Texas buddy, Nate and his friend from Austin, AJ.

Compared to PacNW parks, the “World Birding Centers” of Texas are a bit different. They are more maintained, usually have feeders, operation hours, and moderate entry fees. It’s all worth it. Upon entry we were immediately overwhelmed at the feeders when Eric got his lifer Northern Cardinal.

Then I got my lifer Curve-billed Thrasher.

Then we all (minus the Texans) got lifer Chachalacas!

These dinosaur-like birds are Plain Chachalacas (Cha-cha-la-cas). Fun to say and fun to watch. They are “the only member of the family of guans, currasows, and chachalacas to reach the United States.” They are big and loud.

Then before you know it, they melt into the forest and disappear.

Bye-bye Cha-chas. Hello Buff-bellied Hummingbird!

We then scanned the pond area and found Little Blue Heron, White-faced Ibis, Stilt Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-winged, Cinnamon, and Green Teal (teal trifecta).

Watch where you’re pointing that thing

At another pond we met the Least Grebe.

That eye.

Then Nate led us to another part of the park to see a Common Pauraque.

Or not see it. Where bird?

Best camo ever.

This place was ridiculous.

AYFKM?

Just as we left Estero, my lifer Long-billed Thrasher bid us farewell. Lifers around every corner.

We filled up on tacos at Nana’s Taqueria before heading to our final destination of the day, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Rumor was there was a possible Elf Owl nesting site there. We arrived just before sundown.

Just in time to squeeze in a Ringed Kingfisher sighting.

Before gathering with 18 other hopeful birders to stare at a hole in a telephone pole.

Cheap seats

Just after dark to everyone’s glee a tiny owl popped out from the forest and perched on a nearby wire. Not long after a second owl appeared and then they both disappeared in darkness. Some imagination needed to see this one:

Maybe not the most glamorous sighting, but nevertheless it was a suberb way to end the day. Walking back to the car we watched bats and fireflies and listened to Common Paraque zip around in the sky catching bugs calling “purr-WEEE-eer.”

Only in Texas.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey

Bird Murals of Portland

One thing I really appreciate about Portland is the love of art. It’s hard to turn a street corner without bumping into a sculpture, installation, yarn bomb, or mural. It sparks conversation and brightens up this notoriously rainy town.

On my walk to work. (NE Regents/Ridgewood, Artist: Sharyn Smith)

I’m especially delighted to see so many birds in the designs. It shows just how integrated they are in our culture and lives.

On way to happy hour at NEPO42 (NE 42nd/Emerson, Artist: L.P. and/or J.R.)

Even at the schools. On my bus route home I was surprised to see a Belted Kingfisher among the critter paintings outside Access Academy at NE 57th/Thompson.

And this gem is located on the rec field at Buckman Elementary School in SE Portland.

My elementary school was not nearly that rad.

The artists are George Hambov aka Apeseven, based in Sydney Australia and “Klutch,” a Portland based artist. Some of my favorite bird murals in Portland are collaboration pieces by these two accomplished artists. A couple more:

Carpark of Anatomy Tattoo in Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhood

At a printshop in N Portland, St Johns Neighborhood

I want this painted on all of my doors.

It’s stunning and hard to pick a favorite. A portion of another goodie by Apeseven and Jeremy Nichols aka PlasticBirdie:

If I’m going to live in a concrete jungle of a city surrounded by buildings, I want those buildings covered in street art.

Here’s a Bald Eagle piece by Native American artist Yatika Fields.

SE 3rd/Morrison

This mural at SE Stark/28th on Bonfire Lounge first caught my eye because of the dove.

The image has a much deeper meaning. Releasing the ivory dove, a symbol of love, peace, and messengers, is Michael Brown, the unarmed African American teen who was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, that sparked riots and protest against violence and systemic racism toward black people.

Painted by Portland local, Ashley Montague, the mural also sparked controversy from some in the Portland community with concerns of a portrayal of violence. The original work (that included SWAT police pointing guns at Brown) has been censored, as seen in my photo, and the entire mural will eventually be completely covered according to the building owner. 

Ashley Montague is also responsible for painting an incredibly stunning mural on the side of Lowbrow Lounge in downtown Portland.

It’s hard to capture in a photo how awesome it is. A close-up of the owl.

With that backdrop of warm, rich fall colors? Wonderful.

This also reminds me of the connection between birds and bars in this town. White Owl Social Club, The Raven, Swift Lounge, Perch Tavern, White Eagle Saloon, Migration Brewing. But birds and bars is an entirely different post.

Swift Lounge mural by Ashley Montague

There are many more. I bump into new ones almost every day. Like this adorable “Fight For Your Dreams” piece painted by Maryanna Hoggott aka Leetlewolf.

A look at the brave bird in daylight.

And here’s another great one I discovered at The Lumberyard painted by Mr. Never Satisfied and PlasticBirdie.

I can also appreciate the native bird murals. Like this one on PDX Automotive painted by Kenny Spurlock (who sadly died August of 2014). The mural even includes a Wilson’s Warbler, a nice detail.

And this wouldn’t be a bird mural post without the Portland Memorial Mausoleum Mural at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. It is one of the largest hand-painted murals in the nation designed by Dan Cohen of ArtFX Murals and Shane Bennett (who died in a snowmobile accident Mar 2009). His contributions will forever be cherished by the community.

The details of the mural stand out when hiking the Oaks Bottom Loop Trail. In one shady nook I spotted a Great Horned Owl.

And who could miss the 70-ft Great Blue Heron.

On a clear day Mt St. Helens peeks out just past the mural as seen from the upper Bluff Trail. This painting transformed the once dull building into a much more appealing landscape.

One final piece I’d like to mention is a downtown mural, “Out of the Shade.”

Painted by local artists Rather Severe (Jon Stommel & Travis Czekalski) and Blaine Fontana, this thoughtful work is part of a Find Your Words project by Kaiser Permanente to fight depression stigma.

If you’re feeling down look around and maybe some work of art will lift you up. All these murals make me happy and smile as I pass them by providing much needed uplift in these trying times. They brighten my days.

Portland is very lucky. Many thanks to the Portland Street Art Alliance, Forest For The Trees, and especially the many talented artists. Your work does not go by unnoticed.

N Albina/Blandena, Artist: Ashley Montague

For the love of art.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

All of my mural photos can be found in my Flickr album.

[It is of the utmost importance to give credit where credit is due. Notice something I missed? don’t hesitate to contact. Thanks.]

Oahu Part 3 – Waimea Valley

I had an endemic reason to visit Waimea Valley. A “species and subspecies that evolved in Hawaii and are found nowhere else in the world.” The prize lay conveniently just beyond the ticket booth.

The Hawaiian Gallinule (also called Hawaiian Moorhen, Common Hawaiian Gallinule, Common Hawaiian Moorhen) is a subspecies of the Common Gallinule. A rail of many names, the best I’ve seen is the Hawaiian `Alae `ula which means “burnt forehead.”

I tried but couldn’t get a peek of any burnt foreheads in the pond without paying the $16/each entrance fee. Determined to see my first endemic subspecies, I ponied up and in we went.

Achievement unlocked! Endemic birds!

That is a big foot. We watched them preen, bathe, and walk along the lily pads while they clucked and cackled. Worth every penny and more. And we’d only stepped five feet into the park. We figured we might as well continue along the paved trail toward the waterfall. Bonus birds along the way:

Red-Crested Bulbul

Red-vented Bulbul

Common Waxbill

White-rumped Shama (!)

Scaly-breasted Munia

Zebra Dove

Northern Cardinal (female)

I saw one Common Waxbill that I thought either had strange parasites on its bill or some bad-ass piercings.

After a bit of research, I learned this is the normal fleshy gape of the juvenile Common Waxbill. Most young birds have gape flange, and this is one of the odder-looking examples. I was relieved to know it’s normal and not a sick bird.

Then, about halfway through the hike something flew down in front of me on the path and I froze.

It looked at me. I looked back. It was Pacific Golden-Plover love at first sight. Not caring about anything else, I plopped down on the ground and watched.

The Pacific Golden-Plover runs in short bursts, run, run, run, stop. Run, run, run, stop. Look for a worm.

Run, run, run, stop. Ignore White-rumped Shama.

Run, run, run, stop. Find and attack worm.

Run, run, run, stop. Repeat. They breed in arctic tundras of Alaska and Siberia and regularly winter in the Hawaiian Islands. This was one of those priceless birding moments and a lovely first encounter.

The waterfall was nice, though packed with tourists, and not as beautiful as the Indian Peafowl’s feathers.

I’m a spoiled Oregonian when it comes to waterfalls.

Before returning to Honolulu, we made a quick stop at Waimea Bay Beach Park where I noticed a pretty little yellow bird in a not so pretty place. Native to South America and introduced to Hawaii in the 1960s, here was a Saffron Finch introduced to his reflection in the parking lot.

Here’s one in a more natural setting.

Tomas and I stuck our toes in the sand and called it a day.

It was a birdy good day indeed.

Mahalo,

Audrey