Birders Are Great, So Are Birds

Today it was certainly warmer here in Hilton Head than it was back at the Hermits’ Rest. Please be thinking of my friends, family, and animals tonight. I never like it when there’s a winter storm warning, but I know the animals are all protected!

Stormy weather approaches.

I enjoyed looking at large groups of ducks out in the ocean, which to me looked like hooded mergansers. They were so far out, though, that I couldn’t quite tell what they were. It was frustrating, but they and the dolphins were fun to watch. More on the ducks later.

My best photo of the ducks. What quality!

After work, Lee and I went to what passes for a town center here, and I got a couple of hats, including one that makes me look a lot like I live on Gilligan’s island. But the pink lining is oh-so-flattering.

We had an early supper at our favorite Greek restaurant, It’s Greek to Me. I had absolutely fantastic Mediterranean style cod and Lee had lamb, which he didn’t like at first, but warmed up to. I sure like the quality of food at this place!

When we got back, I headed out for a sunset beach walk, which is my favorite activity here. It was cloudy, but there was a beautiful pink and pale blue light that turned the water the color usually called seafoam green.

I even found some actual seafoam, and interesting patterns of what appears to be pollen deposited at the highest point of the tide. Elm trees are already in bloom here, so my guess is they have something to do with the formations.

I enjoyed watching seagulls at the water’s edge. They would go to the wettest part of the sand and stomp their little feet, stirring up whatever little creatures they wanted to eat. I eventually took a little movie of them. Even lowly seagulls can be fun to watch!

Dance of the Gulls

On my way back I kept stopping to look at the ducks. I saw a man with a big camera up by the dunes. Eventually he walked over and asked me if I thought those were hooded mergansers. I said I saw white on them and they had what appeared to be large heads.

The man then shared with me that they are often spotted here in big groups (rafts), but that there are other birds that they could be. He asked what else I saw, which was great, because he said that the osprey I saw is “the” osprey of this beach, and that the yellow-rumped warblers are everywhere right now, so it’s no wonder I kept seeing them.

Soon a young-ish woman (younger than the man and me) came up and asked about the ducks. We embarked on a wonderful conversation about what birds we’d seen, what apps we use, and what we’d like to see here (the man lives here, lucky dude). The woman suggested the birds might be scaups (there are two kinds here). At last, the man picked up the fancy camera and took a few pictures, after which his battery died, but not before we got to see an image. They were scaups! The white I saw was the body of these lovely water birds, which do have large heads. I should have guessed the birds were scaups, because I could tell they sit lower in the water than ducks.

photo by taarnersuaq on iNaturalist. The top bird is not a scaup. It’s a coot. A cute coot.

Just as we finished talking about terns and I was about to leave, a large bird swooped by right above the water. I said, whoa, that thing could be a skimmer! The man said it was! Lucky for us, it came back, and I got to see this fascinating bird up close. They are relatives of gulls that feed by flying barely above the water with their mouths open and the bottom jaw in the water. I got a great view of it, then got a not-so-great photo next time it considerately passed.

You can almost see its mouth.
Charles J. Sharp took this picture on Wikipedia. What a cool bird!

Wow. That’s enough birding for one day! I just enjoyed the heck out of all the birds I saw and felt so lucky to run into such generous fellow birders. I love how much information bird lovers share with each other. They are the kind of people who restore my faith in humanity.

Grassy-Ass, Sorta

That’s thank you in grass language. I’ve been laughing my ass off this afternoon for a couple of reasons. First, I spent my lunch hour resting my eyes by seeing what new blossoms we have. I also was marveling at how many varieties of grass we have in the front field and how beautiful they looked waving in the breeze.

So pretty. I think it’s Dallis grass. I’m bad at grass ID.

I carefully took pictures of all the rye, oats, barley (it’s beginning to sound like bread, isn’t it?), and other grass varieties. I was looking forward to seeing what else came up.

No sooner had I gone in to get lunch than I heard the Kubota tractor start up. I quickly realized it was going back and forth across the field. I had damn good timing! The field was getting shredded (mowed in ranch talk). There go those waving seed heads! I got a good laugh out of that. There’s still plenty of other grass and flowers out there…at least for now.

This one was hopefully too low for the shredder.

I did find lots of new flowers, though, and most were on the roadside. We finally have Indian blankets blooming, though I’d seen them lots of other places already. And bindweed is blooming its tiny mini-morning glories. I’m very happy to see the Engelmann daisies are kicking into high gear, ready to take over where the bluebonnets (going to seed now) leave off. Here’s some of what I saw:

I enjoyed my break, and I enjoyed working with Drew this afternoon. He’s back to paying attention. Kathleen’s horses had opinions of me not working with them, though. I think they flipped me off in horse language.

Well, grassy-ass, to you guys!

Bonus Birds

Hey! Some of those quiet gulls just flew over and I managed to get photos! Distant, but there they are. Zoom in!

A Rare Sighting of Wonder

Yesterday, my friend Mandi dropped by to pick up the baby blanket I finished recently, so her imminent little boy will have a nice warm blanket, perfect for Texas summers. Ha. Well, it will be perfect for cold air-conditioned rooms and draughts. Drafts. Whichever.

We spent most of our time over by the horses, because she needed some horse time and I had to feed the equines. I showed her the new and improved tack room, into which I am slowly moving my things.

Vlassic is fond of the chair, which Mandi shared she had tried to give away or throw away multiple times, but must have been waiting to serve as the tack room chair all along.

She also got to enjoy watching me work with Drew briefly. He acted like a doofus at first and was running off to eat grass with no regard to me, but once I got him into the round pen, he remembered what he was supposed to be doing and was just fine. I didn’t want to work with him too much, since he’d had so much time off and had been sick, but at least he got a few jumps and circles in to remember his job.

You starve me, human (he now is on the other pasture with more grass).

When we were done, we walked over to the hen house to gather the day’s production (they are in extra-productive mode right now, with 6-7 eggs a day, which is not bad for just eight hens).

I saw something in the corner of my eye and looked up. There, whirring and spiraling, was a flock of birds. They weren’t geese, since they were the wrong shape and there was a noticeable lack of honking. The birds were not in any particular formation, either, which also ruled out cranes or ducks. They really weren’t making much noise at all.

This is pretty much exactly what we saw, only from someone else near Dallas a few weeks ago. Image © Russ Hoverman Creative Commons.

Of course, I didn’t have any binoculars. I even had left my phone elsewhere! That’s not like me! So, I memorized what they looked like. To me they looked like seagulls, not something you see often here, due to a lack of sea. I took note of the black wing stripes.

An idea of what the formation looked like. Image © Russ Hoverman Creative Commons.

After that, we just watched them fly. They sparkled in the sun as they turned and spun. We were in awe. There must have been a hundred or so, shiny, white and swirling. We watched until they flew out of sight, heading northward.

Screenshot of Merlin Bird ID

When I got back to my phone, I immediately pulled up one of the most helpful bird-watching apps I’ve found, Merlin Bird ID from Cornell Labs (an institution I happily give my charitable donations to). This app has you input a few facts about the bird you saw, then gives you a list of possible birds it could have been. What’s really GREAT about the app is that it knows exactly where you are and has a huge database of past bird sightings for different times of year to draw from.

And that was the key to my bird identification. The app knew what tends to migrate at this time of year in the center of the United States. We were witnessing the migration of Franklin’s gulls (Leucophaeus pipixcan) from South America as they head up to the Great Lakes and marshes in the center of North America. How lucky we were to be outside and looking up in time to see that!

This is the kind of thing that makes life worth living for a naturalist. I’ll remember the sight for the rest of my life.

As it is, life goes on. The gutters are functional now and they got a little test yesterday when we got actual normal rain without any tornadic events.

They go into the ground now. Fancy.

In more Hermits’ Rest news, today the guys are building an entry deck for the pool house. That is going to make bringing things in and out much easier than trying to step on a couple of cement blocks, from which Lee almost fell yesterday, anyway.

Deck in progress. Getting it level was not easy.

It’s currently hard to work, because cattle in the next field are having some sort of moo-off. They can be impressively loud when they are in a cow-tizzy. The dogs are doggedly protecting us from these invisible monsters.

Shut up, cows.

And just for laughs, yesterday I put my new pool float in the hot tub. It was mighty comfortable. I was told it looked like I was on a tiny version of the Lazy River ride in Schlitterbahn (a water resort in Texas), where you get in an inner tube and float around and around in a circle of river water. I don’t care. It was fun (yes, this was also the image from yesterday’s little bitty blog post).

Have a great Friday Eve.

Solace at the Sea, and Travel Planning

Even though I had meetings that went until almost 6 pm yesterday, Lee and I vowed to have at least a little fun at the beach. And the late afternoon is a wonderful time to go out and enjoy the water. We even went in! I had on a hat and t-shirt, so I didn’t go deep, but I got soothed by the salt water, anyway.

This is an unusual place to wade, thanks to the weird currents that keep the red flag flying at the lifeguard station. It alternates between being very shallow, then there’s a trench a foot deeper. If you successfully negotiate the trenches, you can get pretty far out and not even be waist high.

You can see how far out the people behind Lee are.

We had a wonderful stroll down the beach, where I had a good time looking for little beach fish (the water was crystal clear today, not all churning with stirred up sand and shells like it was earlier). It was fun watching the patterns of water as they flowed from low areas.

I think there are people prints, bird prints, and dog prints here by the outflow area.

As always, the gulls were entertaining. They seem unafraid of people, but not as obnoxious as some of the ones I remember in Fort Lauderdale. They enjoyed the little pools, too.

They flew all around Lee, too, which made him laugh a lot. We’ve been laughing a lot this week. This time alone together without the stresses of day-to-day chores has been really great.

That’s our building reflected in the shiny Sea Glass building.

After our nice, long walk we managed to get to the pool bar just before it closed, where I got a hard-earned beverage with dark rum and ginger beer, and Lee got two Cuba Libres. Well, we don’t have any Coke in the room, now that we’re trying to use up everything, and what we had was Coke Zero (my vice). So, to get two drinks, he had to buy them both. He got some funny looks in the elevator.

This should get me through the elevator ride; it’s a long way up!

We enjoyed our final relaxing evening at the condo, and I made the most of the chaise-lounge (however you spell that) part of the couch, and cozily knitted away at the Lines and Lines shawl. I got through my fourth pattern repeat, and now that I see how it works, it’s a very relaxing and satisfying project.

I can’t stretch it out any more than this, but you can sure see the lines!

I have a good amount of yarn left on my first skein, so I’m sure I can get at least one more repeat before switching to the border that makes up the second half of the shawl.

We Have a Plan

I was sitting around last night, thinking about going home and not looking forward to the same interstate highway scenery, when I got to wondering how much longer it would take if we went on state and local roads? I plugged it into the Maps app and here’s what I discovered:

Two travel options

We were going to take three days, anyway, so this adds less than two hours to each day of travel. We will get to see Montgomery and Selma in Alabama, which are historically interesting, plus we go through the center of Louisiana, where I’ve never spent much time. I brought the idea up to Lee, and he was sold immediately. We both LOVE looking at small towns.

By taking this alternate route, we will have a fun weekend of driving, and I won’t have to do too much work tomorrow, since I got so much of my writing stuff done already. I’m looking forward to heading back to Texas and seeing new things. Then I’ll be home and get to see both familiar and new things. Hooray for the weary travelers.

Thanks for reading, and for those of you who give it a try, thanks for listening to the podcast version.

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