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Monday, April 27, 2009

I finally shot the heron! (photographically)


The rains we've had (hail storms included) have done wonders for the grass and plants around the neighborhood. I set off Saturday afternoon, camera in hand, to search for the heron that I've seen many times before.




The wildflowers were shooting up wherever the grass had not been cut. This particular flower I had not seen before. I had seen coneflowers with dark red petals (I think they're called sepals, but that's a whole other conversation) but not with yellow. It looked like it was struggling to grow faster than the grass around it.


I have passed this tree many times on walks, but I had never seen the "squirrel" in the tree till this time. I was watching along the canal on my left, and heard a noise on my right. When I turned, there it was! Interesting that if I moved a few steps either way, the illusion was gone. If you look carefully you can make yourself believe that you can see his ears.


As I crossed the bridge over the canal, I heard a loud noise and there was the heron! I must have startled it, but it flew back and returned to hunting for dinner. I zoomed in to the maximum, and tried to hold the camera still enough to get a good shot, but realized that I'd have to walk along the retaining wall in order to get a good one. I stalked him as carefully as I could, but this was as close as I could get. Suddenly, he took off!


My disapointment was great until I saw where he landed. In the branches of the tree on the other side of the waterway were two herons. The sunlight was bathing the one, and the other was in shadow. This is my favorite photo of the elusive herons.
I have looked on several bird identification sites, and cannot find a photo that looks exactly like these. The closest I have come is a Tri-colored heron, but I am not sure. I will keep looking and will update when I get better information.
Thanks for stopping by!
Mike Z
UPDATE 4/27: John Malloy of the Surfbirds Backyard Bird Identification website says this is a Yellow Crowned Night Heron. He has a wonderful close-up of the bird's head and beak here. The photo is almost at the bottom of the page. Research pays off!
UPDATE 4/28: Mary Ann was kind enough to write and confirm that they are in fact Yellow Crowned Night Herons. She sent me to Cornell's web page. Thanks, Mary Ann!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

March 25 Hail Storm in Austin TX

As I drove north on I-35 and reached Buda, I noticed that the weather in Austin was looking worse and worse. When I got to south Austin, Jan called me and told me that there was a huge hail storm happening right at that moment at our house. She said the hail was so thick on the street, it looked like snow!

I could hear the sounds of the hail hitting the roof and patio, and asked Jan to run get the camera and take some photos. She was a little intimidated by the rig, but I told her to set it to auto, turn it on, point and shoot.

I think she did a pretty great job of capturing the moment! She scooped up some of the larger hailstones and put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer for me to see. Some were half-dollar size in diameter. Pretty impressive.

That night on the news, KXAN I believe it was, the meteorologist told about the "strange coincidence" of hail storms on March 25th. He said that in the years 1993 and in 2001, similar large hailstorms had hit Austin, and caused large amounts of damage to autos and roof shingles each time. He showed videos of previous hail storms and hailstones from the video archives. Pretty cool, I thought.

More later, thanks for stopping by.

Mike Z

PS - in searching around Google and Yahoo! I found this post by Treye Rice with a great shot of the hailstones around the tree in his front yard. He also has some great photos of the same sunsets I tried to capture on another post.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bluebonnet time in Central Texas

Man, it has sure been a long time since I have posted to the 'blog. I have been so busy that March went by in a flash! I have several posts to do this weekend to catch up, so I'll try to get them done over this weekend.

These photos were taken on one of my usual trips to Houston from Austin on Hwy 290. Even though the weather has been exceptionally dry, the wildflowers were blooming in pretty good numbers near Brenham. There were so many families along the side of the road taking photos of the kids in bluebonnets that I wondered if I could find a spot that hadn't been trampled or squashed to get this year's bluebonnet photos for the weblog.

This year there is lots of Indian Paintbrush among the bluebonnets. It really adds to the color of the roadside, and is one of my favorite wildflowers this time of year.

The sun was setting fast as I took the photos.

It was hard to pick the "best bunch" of bluebonnets for these photos. I did my best.

The next photos are of Coreopsis, I believe. I spent some time on the Wild About Texas Wildflowers website looking at each yellow variety, and Coreopsis looks closest to these flowers.

They really looked great among the bluebonnets.

The last photo is an attempt at an "arty" photo of the sunset with wildflowers.

Hope you like them. I will be posting our March 25th hailstorm pictures, and some photos of the Zilker Garden Festival soon. Till then, enjoy!

All the best,
Mike Z