Merry Christmas 2015

Merry Christmas from the B’s!

20151128180513_IMG_0723

The highlight reel of our 2015 is unbelievable. Between the four of us, we’ve hit Europe, South America, Mexico, and the U.S.A. What a crazy year!

David and Joey embarked on a “rite of passage” trip to the United Kingdom in honor of Joey’s 16th birthday. He’s quite the young man: driving, taking college classes, and even teaching. Joey planned the entire UK trip, including Scotland, London, Dover, and sunrise at Stonehenge on the Solstice. It was the trip of a lifetime. We even ended up on Google Street View on Downing Street!

While the older boys were in Europe, Christy and Will took a cruise to Mexico. It was a laid-back trip full of sun, sea, sand, and scrumptious treats. Will planned the excursions and even convinced Christy to let him bring a friend. He’s smart, funny, handsome, persuasive, and compassionate.

David and Christy went to Brazil for the fifth ustime. This was their 5th chapel-build, with plans to return again in 2016. Each trip is a unique and beautiful experience full of miracles and adventure. These trips have been so incredible that in 2016 all four of us are planning to go! We have no idea how the $$$ will work out, but our generous friends, family, and God have always helped get us there.

 

There’s so much more to say… Joey is looking at colleges and dreaming about MIT. Will is falling in love with the art of writing. Christy loves impacting lives as a science teacher. David is attending seminary and was licensed by the church. He even performed a wedding. God continues to prove the depths of His love and His sense of humor!

Our holiday prayer is that your lives are rich with the fullness of life with God.

Stonehenge, sunrise, solstice!

IMG_4879The summer solstice is the biggest day of the year at this ancient “Wonder of the World.” Our colorful tour guide (a whimsical fellow who was a writer and poet when he wasn’t a guide) informed us that more than 40,000 people were expected that day. He had done the coveted “double shift,” leading a tour at sunset late in the evening followed by sunrise on the solstice.IMG_5618

“You can feel the vibes!” the Bard of Bath told us, with a voice equal part reverent whisper and jubilant squeal. He also told us he won the title of “The Bard of Bath” in a writing contest years ago. Personally, I believe him.

Most of our fellow sunrise watchers were definitely feeling the effects of something beyond everyday reality. The atmosphere was vibrant and chaotic.

It was impossible to remain inside the inner circle of stones. Although the sea of humanity was fluid IMG_4886and welcoming, the chaos was virtually impossible to navigate. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t establish a solid claim on any patch of ground in the inner ring. We allowed the tide to wash us just outside the inner ring and stood firm at the base of a gigantic monolith. It was the perfect vantage point to watch the creator paint a masterpiece in the heavens.

The crowd was a strange mix… there were tourists and families just like us. There were a few people dressed in full druid (or wiccan) garb, exuberantly cheering and chanting. Joey snapped a picture of Gandalf. Just after sunrise a middle aged man with a saxophone started playing jazz standards while leaning on a stone. Most people seemed to be there simply for the party. For them it had been a long night, full of thrills and mood altering substances (from beer to Monster to “other things”). They were trying to hang on for the grand finale. Most made it, too. Others slept through sunrise wrapped tightly in a blanket, oblivious to the thousands of pairs of feet trampling by mere inches from their slumbering heads.

The morning forecast called for overcast skies but no rain. The cotton ball clouds stretched all the way to the horizon, but then broke. Right where the sky touched the ground, there was a big enough opening to let the brilliant rays from the rising sun break through and dance off the clouds. For a full hour before sunrise the heavens were full of brilliant oranges, purples, pinks, reds, and yellows. And then…sunrise.

That’s when things got really weird. Someone at Stonehenge on the solstice probably saw a glimpse of the sun. We, however, did not. After the stunning pre-dawn show, as soon as the sun was above the horizon, it was behind the clouds. All the color drained from the sky and the world turned a colorless gray.

We wandered around the post-dawn monochrome field and stones for a few minutes. Maybe we were wondering if the sun would break back through in spectacular fashion. Maybe we realized this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we weren’t quite ready for it to end. Once the crowd began to disperse, the chill really set in. As we made our way back to the bus, the Bard was talking again about vibes and burial mounds. History and harmony. We certainly experienced both. It was unforgettable and unrepeatable.

IMG_4892

 

 

 

Brothers, Bug-bites, and Buntings

Another trip to Texas, another great adventure. I was joined on this adventure by Duke (my dad) and my two boys. Duke took on the role of trail guide and walking bird encyclopedia while I did a lot of spotting and shooting (with my camera). The boys were intrepid and fearless adventures.
At the crack of (vacation) dawn (9ish), we headed to the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area. Duke had already scouted it out, having been here to do some volunteer bird-banding. Along the road we saw swallows, hawks, and quite a few vultures. As we parked, a great egret flew overhead, eager to see if the fishermen on the river below were catching anything interesting.
We headed along the trails and boardwalks, looking for adventure, wildlife, and maybe even a unique bird or two. For some reason, I was expecting a relatively tame terrain. I typically do my birding in my backyard, the local (well-groomed) soccer fields, along the pedestrian path by the local lake, or in the winter when the bugs and branches aren’t abundant. This was not any of that. Jeans and boots would’ve been much more appropriate than my shorts and tennis shoes. Oh, well. Onward!
The trail was easy to follow and not a bad hike at all. As we went deeper, the trail narrowed. Much of the area is marsh…which in Texas means bugs. Bugs mean bites, but it also means birds! We came across some experienced birders that were resting on a boardwalk, listening to a bob-white and watching a couple of eastern phoebes snatch snacks off the surface of the marsh. 
All in all it was a great hike. My GPS said we went a little over 2 miles (we went out and back, not the longer loop). We saw Egrets, Eastern Phoebes, Indigo Buntings, a kingfisher, red tailed hawks, turkey vultures, a red bellied woodpecker, snakes, dragon flies, fire ants, fuzzy caterpillars, and four other birders.
Fuzzy caterpillar on the boardwalk
Oh, but the highlight of the day…  We were walking along the boardwalk when Duke pulled out the Audubon Bird App on his iPhone. He started playing the song of the painted bunting. Very quickly, one flew down and started landing on the branches all around us. It wouldn’t stay in any one place very long, but I was able to snap a few pictures of it. It ended up landing on a branch in very plain view and just called out to the app. I don’t know if it was looking for a friend, a rival, or a mate, but it gave us a lot to listen to and look at! Check out a few of the pictures below.

Definitely worth every bump and itch.

That was WILD!

This past weekend, my amazing birding dad drove up from Dallas for the weekend. We were able to get a lot of good birding time in together, even if the weather wasn’t ideal for photography. It was cold, windy, and overcast most of the weekend. The weather was foul and the fowls were scarce. We had a great time, though. 

As we were wrapping up our morning birding session (about 1PM) I spotted a Great Blue Heron on the lake by my house. We circled the car back around and sat watching this huge bird fishing for a snack. It was walking back and forth just off the shore. We tried to snap some pictures, but the distance was just a little too great and the light just a little too poor.

I had spotted a red shouldered hawk a few days earlier moving from tree to tree around the lake. I saw it on two different occasions and it seemed relatively tolerant to the human activity around the lake. My dad was hoping to get a glimpse at it, too, so we were pretty excited when the hawk flew right in front of us and then up into a tree. The hawk decided it would be fun to watch the heron, too.

Shortly after the hawk arrived, the heron snagged a fish. He made his way up to the shore and dropped it, trying to position it better for immediate consumption. As soon as the fish hit the ground, the hawk swooped in and tried to steal it! The two impressive birds made quite a commotion, flapping their wings and vocalizing. They both wanted that tasty fish! I quickly swung my camera around and got this blurry shot:

It’s not my finest piece, but you can see the “little” hawk flapping at the protective heron! Before we knew it, the melee was over. The hawk retreated back to its tree and the heron settled in for his snack. He had an air about him… he seemed offended.

Here is a shot of the victor with his snack.

Soon after the heron swallowed the fish, he took off and landed in a nearby tree. The hawk swooped down and carefully searched the ground for any remaining tasty morsels. There just aren’t any leftovers when dinner is swallowed whole! The hawk did a funny side-shuffle step as he went back and forth along the shore. It was almost comical.

After scouring the shore for a bit, the hawk flew to a nearby grill. From there it could get a little better perspective of the area. It was intently watching the lake. I’m sure it thought that if that dumb heron could catch something then it should be a piece of cake for a finely tuned, majestic, red-shouldered predator. Alas, it wasn’t to be. We watched him for a few minutes and then he flew to the other side of the lake. Maybe he had better luck on that side.
I wasn’t going to post these pictures because they aren’t very good. The story was just too good not to share, though. That was just one amazing story from a very fun weekend. Hope you enjoyed it!

Girl talk

I bought a ring of seed from my local  Wild Birds Unlimited a couple of weeks ago. I think it was about $4. I didn’t get a fancy feeder for it, I just drove a nail into my deck and threw it on. The response from the backyard birds has been crazy. I’ve had Carolina Chickadees, tufted titmice, downy woodpeckers, and Northern Cardinals flocking to my deck. I’ve also had the usual assortment of sparrows and starlings.

Even though they love the food, they refuse to come eat if I have my back door open. As a result, all my pictures are taken through the glass of my back door. If the light is right, it still makes for some great pictures. At the suggestion of my dad, who was visiting and birding with me this weekend, I call this shot “Girl Talk.”

What do you imagine these ladies are saying to each other?

Welcome to the party!

Last weekend I got to spend a little time birding with my dad. He took me to a park near his house, just north of Dallas. We had a lot of fun hiking around and spotting birds. I snapped about 300 pictures, but for today I’ll just show you this gull joining a gull party. (Based on some other shots, I believe these are Ring-billed gulls)

I like the clarity of the bird that is in motion. That seems to be tough for me to capture, but the day was bright and the sun was in the right place for me. I’d guess this is at about 25x optical zoom.

With large groups of birds like this, I always imagine some kind of crazy society that they have going. They like to congregate, but they spend a lot of time fussing at each other and jockeying for position.

Prodigal Son

My dad is a birder. He was a veterinarian in his first career, so he knows a few things about animals. I remember when I was little he always loved eagles and hawks. He even had a “rehabilitated-but-still-injured-and-unable-to-return-to-the-wild” Red-Tailed Hawk as a pet for years. These days is seems like every bird fascinates him. His knowledge in that area far surpasses anyone else I’ve ever met and anything I could hope to achieve.

Me, not so much. I can probably spot more birds than the average person because of my upbringing, but I’ve always found other things to obsess over. Then I got this camera. When I look at these guys up close through my lens I feel like I need to know more about them. I need to learn their behaviors so I can know when and where to find them, and what they may be doing. I find that with each one I shoot, I really want to know what it is right away. And I’m a little bit surprised at how many birds are out there that I can’t identify. Suddenly I have this strange desire to stand very still for an hour or two in the 20 degree Oklahoma wind just to get a chance to capture one of these crazy little birds.

I suppose I’m a prodigal son of a birder. I’ve wandered for many years, squandering my father’s bird-fortune. Now I feel like I’ve returned.  Let’s party.

My dad told me so
Eastern Bluebird