Friday, November 11, 2011

Birdwatching, Nature Study and Photo Tours in 2012

Panama--Birds and Photography Along the Isthmian Route March 9-16, 2012
Journey with me and my wife Kathy to Panama. We'll stand atop a canopy tower to see birds and wildlife that live high in the tree tops. Walk the Achiote Road and Pipeline Road to search for birds. Visit the Cerro Azul Foothills and San Lorenzo Park for feeding stations and a chance to study and photograph bird at close range. Limited to 12 participants.

Close-up views of wildlife including three-toed sloth, white-necked jacobin, speckled tanager, blue cotinga, and slaty-tailed trogon make this an must journey for photographers, birdwatchers, and nature lovers. Native guide with us throughout the trip.

$3195 includes lodges, ground transportation, and some meals. Air to Panama is extra. Request a brochure or Strabo Tours for details.

Tanzania, Africa May 19-June 3, 2012

Intensive game viewing wiht only 5 people per vehicle. Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire, and Lake Manyara National Park.

Ideal for photographers, birdwatchers, and nature loving traveling companions.

$7895 lodges, ground transportation covered plus most meals. Airfare extra.
Request a brochure

Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands July 16-26, 2012

10-day land and cruise program with Gary and Kathy to the Galapagos Islands, including one day in the lowlands of Ecuador. Price includes Quito/Galapagos Islands airfare, Galapagos National Park fees, and tourist card. 7-nights aboard the 16-passenger motor yacht Daphne. Limited to 14 participants.

Close-up views of wildlife including red-footed booby, great frigatebird, waved albatross, and Galapagos tortoise make this an amazing journey for photographers, birdwatchers, and naturalists. Native guide with us throughout the trip.

Optional day with me to hunt for the Andean Condor and highland birds in Antisana

$4995 includes lodges, boat, ground transportation, airfare from Quito to Galapagos, tourist card, park fees and some meals. Air to Ecuador is extra. Request a brochure or Strabo Tours for details.

Peru Photography: Machu Picchu and Amazon Wildlife October 4-14, 2012
Explore two diverse parts of Peru with Kathy Adams Clark and your camera. Visit the Manu area of the Amazonian lowlands for scarlet macaw, parrots, monkeys, 110-foot canopy tower, tapir look-out blind, and canoeing for marsh birds.

Then fly to Cusco for the Sacred Valley, markets, and Machu Picchu. We'll get two days in Machu Picchu so we can photograph this amazing site in different light and weather. Limited to 12 participants.

Photographers of all skill levels are welcome. Great trip for non-photographing spouse, friends or companions. Native guide with us throughout the trip.

$5195 includes lodges, transportation to Manu, and some meals. Air to Peru is extra. Request a brochure or Strabo Tours for details.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Where have our house finches gone? Mockingbird is gone too.

House Finches are rather odd in how they move from place to place throughout the year. We don't fully understand their shifting populations (they're not migrating, just shifting locations back and forth.)

Not sure why you'd didn't get hummingbirds. They were certainly abundant this year, but as always, they show up in some places and not in others.

I'd be surprised if you didn't get a mockingbird back before spring.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bird Study Workshop Oct 7-9

Join me for a Bird Study Workshop at Block Creek Ranch in the beautiful Texas hill country. We'll observe birds in the field, learn about them in classroom sessions, spend time in quiet observation, and work on journaling.

Those who use a camera to help them identify birds in the field are welcome to bring that along. You'll enjoy the fabulous photo blinds.

Oct 7-9, 2011. $950 covers lodging, meals, and instruction.

Email me for more information and to reserve your spot. Workshop limited to 5 people.

Resident birds:

Green Kingfisher, Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Bluebird, Lesser Goldfinch, House Finch, Eastern Phoebe, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Canyon Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, Black-crested Titmouse, various Sparrows including Lark and Chipping, Inca Dove, Mourning Dove, White-winged Dove.

Possible winter birds: Winter Wren, House Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Spotted Towhee, Pine Siskin, various Sparrows including White-crowned, Song, Savannah, Lincoln’s, Fox and Field. Various raptors and owls. Waterfowl might be visiting ponds.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Purple Martin Roost

I got word from a reader that the big roost of purple martins in Houston is still active.

The martins gather around sunset at The Fountains shopping center. That's off US 59 in Stafford. There are large power lines behind the shopping center and a pond. The birds gather on the lines and drop over the pond to drink before they gather in the shopping center trees at nightfall.

Take your children and family. Thousands of purple martins gathering at sunset is a sight to see.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Feeding Hummingbird

Reader Question: Should we use hot water to mix the sugar when we make hummingbird solution? You didn't mention it in a recent article. What about adding red food coloring?

We boil the water before adding sugar because it more completely dissolves the sugar and helps keep bacteria from growing in the mixture. Not necessary to boil the water, but we do it. I've mentioned boiling the water in previous articles, but just did not have enough space in the recent story.

Adding food coloring is rather controversial, but here's where I stand.
The red dye (food coloring) is totally useless because the hummers are
attracted to the red ornaments on the feeding portals rather than to the red liquid. Natural (flower) nectar is a clear liquid, not red, and
flower petals that contain the clear nectar are red, yellow or some other bright color. Some people suggest that the red food coloring may cause intestinal harm because it is not digested or absorbed as a nutrient. The jury is still out on that issue, but my thought is why take the chance? The food coloring certainly offers no benefit at best, and if it may harm the birds, I won't chance it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

House Finches

A reader asked: Could we have a house finch that is orange?

My answer: House Finches do vary greatly in the spectrum of red-orange tones, as you have noticed. We don't know as much as we'd like to know about why that happens, except that it has something to do with diet. Anyway, I trust some Ph.D. student will someday make that topic his/her dissertation.

This finch was photographed in southern Arizona last spring.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Barred Owl: Questions from a reader

Your Barred Owls are behaving in classic fashion. They'll roost and nest in close proximity to people. Cherish them. They'll keep your rat population down.

1) is it normal for them to hang together like this during the day?—Yes. Mating pairs roost together.

2) how big is their territory (and is it just one pair to an area)?---Hard to say as evidence varies. Some estimates go to about 200 hectares per breeding pair, but the owls have a great deal of overlapping territories. The reason they call to each other is to declare their territory.

3) do they leave the area at all during the winter (we only heard one hooting during the winter while now they usually answer each other)?---Some disperse, but most stay within the breeding territory, although they're not as defensive as during nesting season.

4) if the female is going to nest, when will she start and will her first choice be the place she nested last year?---Barred Owls in Southeast Texas can begin nesting in December, although most will probably nest in March. Most males begin staking out territories in January. Many breeding pairs show fidelity to original nest site for several years in a row.

5) how far away will their offspring go when grown (and do they establish their own territory)?---Yes, they'll establish their own breeding territory. Some first year non-breeding birds may remain near their parents.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Twitchy Warbler

Question:I have a twitchy warbler that is light green in color. Can this be the pine warbler you were writing bout today a harbinger of spring?

Answer: Probably an Orange-crowned Warbler. Broken yellow eye-ring, diffuse streaking on the breast, yellow under the base of the tail (crissum), and lack of wingbars are indicative of Orange-crowned. Many of these warblers spend the winter here, so this is not likely a migrant. Its song is similar to the Pine Warbler, but the song is a steady trill that doesn't vary much in rhythm or pitch unlike the noticeably descending trill of a Pine Warbler.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spring Nature Festivals in Texas

Lots of good nature festivals in Texas this spring.

What: NatureFest

When: March 5; 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Where: Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, 20634 Kenswick Dr. in Humble

Activities: Family event with nature walks, exhibits, and workshops.

Fees: Free, but register. I'll lead a beginning bird walk.

Information:; phone 281-446-8588.

What: Texas Wildlife and Woodland Expo

When: March 26; 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Where: Lone Star College – Montgomery, 3200 College Park Drive in Conroe.3200

Activities: Family educational event with bird walks, exhibits, and workshops.

Fees: Free, but register. I'll lead a bird walk around the campus.

Information: or phone 936-273-2261

What: Galveston FeatherFest,

When: April 7-10.

Where: Old Galveston Square Building, 2221 The Strand in Galveston.

Activities: Birding, exhibits, and workshops.

Fees: Various fees---register. My wife, Kathy, will lead several photo workshops.

Information:, phone 888-425-4753

What: Migration Celebration

When: April 15-17

Where: San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, near Lake Jackson.

Activities: Family event with birding tours, exhibits, and workshops.

Fees: Free

Information:, phone 866-403-5829.

What: Wings Over the Hills Nature Festival

When: April 29 - May 1

Where: Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, Fredericksburg, Texas.

Activities: Family event with birding tours, exhibits, and workshops.

Fees: Various fees---register.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Goldfinches at thistle feeder

Question from reader: I thoroughly enjoy your column in the SA Express/News. I have 5 nyjer tube seed feeders (with fresh seed) in my yard and not one Goldfinch! I even put a small bit of yellow ribbon on the branches as decoys. Two years ago, I had flocks, but now cannot attract one! A friend several blocks away is swamped with Goldfinches! I have plenty of birds coming to mysunflower seed feeder, but no Goldfinches. Any ideas? Thanks!

Answer: We had the same problem about three years ago. So, we took down our nyjer feeder and put out extra shelled sunflower seed in the regular feeders. We then got swamped with goldfinches. Don't know if that will work for you, but it's worth a try.

I have mixed feelings about nyjer seed. On the one hand, it does resemble thistle seed goldfinches eat on breeding grounds. On the other hand, it's not really thistle seed. I sometimes think goldfinches know that. Ha! Also, nyjer seed goes rancid very, very quickly, and if it comes from a warehouse store like Walmart, it could be rancid to start with. If you use nyjer seed, buy it from a reputable feed store or bird supply store. If you buy good nyjer seed, buy enough to replace it three to four times a week and soon after it gets wet in a rain storm. Store it in a cool, dry place.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Why can't I get an American Woodcock???

Seems all my friends are seeing woodcocks this year, but I can't find one for love nor money. Well, I haven't tried money. Maybe that's the problem. A friend today had one that crashed into her friend's window and was stunned. Kathy and I rushed over to see it, but alas, it recovered and flew away.

I know the bird's habitat and it's behavior, but that knowledge is doing me no good this winter. I've trounced through forest bottomlands, stared at blankets of dead leaves covering the forest floor, and just can't scare up a woodcock. And I get home to find that readers of my column have seen and photographed a woodcock in their backyards.

In the birding world, we call this a jinx bird. For me, it's a classic jinx bird.


I'm an avid Texas birder and naturalist who writes the weekly nature column for the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News. Follow me as I share my musings about birds and other critters.