Neo-tropic Migrants, State Testing, and Camp Banshees

State Testing and the On-Line School

Still being in public school means that all grades get to participate in STAAR testing with the State of Texas. Many parents I know who host a more traditional home school chose their curricula to avoid the obligatory testing. I’m pretty much split down the middle (on whether I prefer it or not), but I certainly don’t feel it is all that intrusive.

And hey. At least my curricula is funded by the state, not my budget.

I continue to wonder how ‘teaching to the test’ might actually be helping students to both learn and master material. Nevertheless, there may be an advantage to becoming a skilled test-taker. After all, it is the way of college, and in the undergraduate world (which is all I know), the dreaded multiple-choice bubble-in was the favored exam of many professors. It’s good to develop a strategy for stress-free testing early on in the school careers, and my students at least are getting bonus tutelage to that end.

With March testing now come and gone, there still remain three sessions at the end of this month. Students are all tested off-site, proctored in a conference center a half-an-hour away by teachers and staff for several hours each day. They all thought they did well, they told me, and even my child with special accommodations used his strategies often and well, I was told by a teacher.

To kill time while they tested, I ran errands in the area and also enjoyed a bit of quiet birding and nature-hiking nearby until I was called to pick them up. The park had a small lake and jogging trails with layered growth at the edges of the field habitat. It was at the water’s edge I spied a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes doing the nasty. Voyeuristic by nature (and I have a camera!), I began snapping a series of photos of what looked to be a rough ordeal for the lady on the bottom. She emerged, wet, shook herself off, and they both flew off to the tree where her nest was. A couple of curious park-walkers asked me what I was shooting.

“Bird sex,” I answered flatly with a smile. Their resulting expressions were worthy of photos themselves.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike, the dry male

Scissortail Flycatcher

Scissortail Flycatcher

The Best Weather in Texas for Camping

There are not many things that thrill me with my home-state these days. The influx of economic migrants and a shortage of housing means that more and more swaths of land are being cleared for development in our rapidly growing area of Houston. Rather than being sad about the destruction of big, old trees nearby and the resulting displacement of wildlife in the area, I choose instead to retreat to my ‘bubble’ and soak in what I can of the remaining nature that is the confines of my yard.

When the weather gets nice, the tent goes up. The last time we camped was kicking off Thanksgiving and Black Friday, which incidentally, was the last time we had great weather. Sleeping outdoors is not for everyone, but it is so very ‘normal’ for us. Surrounded by the sounds of the frogs, birds, coyotes, ignoring the traffic noise nearby is manageable. Whatever is so important at 3:30a for others to have to rush off to, thankfully we do not engage. My neighborhood, it seems, never sleeps.

Except maybe this guy. During the day.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Backyard Canopy

Camping in the yard is made better by the fact that nothing gets packed into a car, hauled off, re-packed and hauled off again. Every person with arms carries something out and back in again, and modern comforts are only a short walk from the creek (think toilet, fridge, internet).

Okay, so maybe it isn’t really camping.

Camp DirtNKids

It was a treat this outing to have our first overnight guests camping with us. The girls’ best friends shared the ‘girl tent’ while the rest of us occupied the family one. Breaking the din of the croaking bull frogs in the creek as well as our deep slumber, we were joined by three pairs of Barred Owls and their raucous territorial calls — straight over our heads. I could see one couple clearly in the moonlight through the screen window. Breathtaking.

Fortunately, my girls know these calls as they are regulars in our yard. Their friends, however, were not so aware. I was as if banshees had come in the night to carry them off. Have a listen and you’ll see why.

We made it to the morning all a little damp with dew and a little sleep-deprived, but otherwise no worse for the wear. We finished a perfect first camping weekend of the year taking turns in the creek with a borrowed canoe and nom-nomming down homemade griddle cakes for breakfast inside.

Slow and Easy

Bunny Train, Inside

Turtle Train, Outside

Spring Migration Early, But Underway

Ever since our most fabulous migrating warbler excursion of last year, we have been counting down the days until the neo-tropic birds begin their annual migration north for the summer. Though it was still a bit early for too many birds, the weather was just too perfect to not go to the beach and check out our favorite warbler spot — LaFitte’s Cove.  When birding is the outing, parents need to dangle the sand-and-surf promise to keep antsy kids quiet and patient. So, begin with birding, follow with bitching, end with beach-ing — exactly in that order.

The woods weren’t yet bristling with activity, but there were a few birds flitting in the underbrush for those who were looking. We added the Hooded Warbler to and Black-throated Green Warbler to our list, in addition to the cuties below, and though the Black-and-White Warbler was already on our list from earlier, I finally got a photo of him. We are eager to pad our list with more wood-warbler migrants on our next outing this month.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

White-Eyed Vireo

White-Eyed Vireo

After an hour or so, we hit the beach at San Luis Pass (as promised) and followed the dunes romp with wave jumping at Surfside Beach. While the kids frolicked and played, Mom and Dad enjoyed the wildlife and the sand in our toes.

Rainbow Beach Houses



Man Your Posts!

Man Your Posts!
Herring and Laughing Gulls

Kids Run at San Luis Pass

Tidal Pools = No Dangerous Rip Currents



Diving Forster's Tern

The Big Dive
Forster’s Tern

Sand Dunes Under the Highway

Braving the (Cold) Waves
Gulf of Mexico

11 thoughts on “Neo-tropic Migrants, State Testing, and Camp Banshees

  1. Love your pictures – they’re so vivid I can practically feel the bird-droppings on my head.

    I got the video in today’s mail – yeah! Thank you so much. I’ll report back once I am able to watch it.


    1. Hey Uncle Guac! Happy Easter. Glad you enjoyed the post. I’m thinking about posting the picture of the waterlogged attached couple, but wonder if it would ruin my blog’s G-rating.

      I’m long overdue for a blog read. Perhaps some time this week I’ll play a little catch-up and — like the last time I did it — your stats will soar upward. Cheers!


Say something. You know ya wanna.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s