Friday, April 17, 2015

Coastal Trip 5: Galveston

The ferry ride from Bolivar to Galveston was fun, as always. I kept looking for Magnificent Frigatebirds but saw nothing except Brown (and White) Pelicans and Laughing Gulls.

Well, that's not quite true. There were Great-tailed Grackles, too, including some males displaying.

Sporstmen's Road was much quieter for wading birds than usual. Apart from Willets, the only wader we saw was this Reddish Egret.

The jetties back from the road had lots of Dowitchers and Ruddy Turnstones, all too far away to photograph. An Osprey came a little closer as it flew across the road, carrying its lunch.

The ponds and wetland areas at Lafitte's Cove were extremely quiet. The drips were a little busier, although warblers were noticeably absent. Orchard Orioles, a Blue-headed Vireo and a Scarlet Tanager were lurking near one drip. A Blue Grosbeak was lurking in the trees also.

I missed a quick visit to the drip by a Northern Parula but got a snap of a Summer Tanager.

As the birding was fairly slow, we decided to head home. However, all being well, we'll do the Anahuac - High Island - Bolivar - Galveston loop again on April 18-19.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Coastal Trip 4: Avocets and Rails

We visited Rollover Pass again on Sunday morning and it was much busier with birds than it had been the previous day. Most of the birds were still pretty far from the beach but we were lucky enough to have a flock of American Avocets feeding close to the water's edge.

Avocets are always striking birds with their upturned bills and black-and-white wings.

However, they look even better in their breeding plumage.

On Sunday we were able to admire the full range of their plumage.

It was great fun to watch the flock stalking through the water ...

... and then dipping down to catch their prey.

After Rollover Pass, we drove west along Bolivar and turned down Yacht Basin Road, where we had heard several Clapper Rails (and briefly seen one) the day before. I was hoping that, if we sat quietly in the car for a few minutes, we might get better views.

Sure enough, within two or three minutes a Clapper Rail popped into sight and stayed in the open for a minute or more. 

Once the Rail had disappeared, we headed to the Galveston ferry.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Coastal Trip 3: More Rookery Birds

If Great Egrets were the most numerous birds at the Smith Oaks rookery, they were by no means the only ones there.

Scattered throughout the island opposite the observation decks were Snowy Egrets, distinguished by their smaller size, their black bills and their yellow feet.

Scores of Neotropic Cormorants were also present. Some were perched in the trees while others were bringing in nesting materials.

As always at the rookery, Roseate Spoonbills put on quite a show.

They often seem ungainly as they try to settle or stand on branches.

However, there is certainly nothing ungainly about them once they take to the air!


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Coastal Trip 2: Great Egrets

     After a late picnic lunch in Boy Scout Woods, I took a walk around the trails. The area was disappointingly quiet and the only bird I saw was a Great-crested Flycatcher, although I did hear several White-eyed Vireos.
     Given the lack of migrants, we scrapped our plan to join the afternoon bird-walk and instead headed up to the Smith Oaks rookery.
     There was plenty of water in Claybottom Pond and the rookery was packed with birds.

One reason I love visiting the rookery is that it gives wonderful opportunities for photographing Great Egrets, one of my favorite birds. Just stand on one of the observation decks for a few minutes and you are sure to see numerous Great Egrets fly overhead, their white plumage positively glowing against the blue sky.

However, no matter how much you like watching Great Egrets flying, your eyes (and lens) will soon be drawn to the birds on the rookery islands. There are few sights in nature more impressive than a Great Egret in full breeding plumage. It is hard to believe that any female could resist a display like the one below.

Of course, keeping those beautiful feathers in tiptop shape requires a lot of preening.

Most of the Great Egrets had already built their nests, and some birds appeared to have started sitting on eggs.

Others were still busy flying off to collect nesting material. 

This bird brought back only a very small twig.

The bird below, by contrast, had brought in a long stick and was proudly passing it over to its mate.

The image that will linger with me from Saturday's visit is of a Great Egret launching itself into the air. 

If I had to give this picture a title, I think I'd call it "Jumping for Joy".

Monday, April 06, 2015

Coastal Trip (1)

On Saturday morning we drove down to High Island, stopping on the way to do a very brief and not very rewarding drive around Shoveler Pond at Anahuac NWR.

We got to High Island just in time to join the guided tour to some sites on the Bolivar Peninsula. The most productive stop on the tour was at the beach immediately south of High Island itself. We drove just a few hundred feet east along the beach and were lucky enough to come across a flock of several hundred terns and gulls standing near the water's edge.

The photo below shows three tern species. From smallest to largest there are: Common Terns (red bill and legs), Sandwich Terns (yellow tip on black bill) and Royal Terns (big, orange bills).

One group of Royal Terns looked quite imposing as they swaggered through the water.

Two other Royal Terns were mating.

Most of the gulls were Laughing Gulls, the most common species in our area. The photo below has two at the top left and one at the top center. However, there were also a handful of Bonaparte's Gulls, a species I'd never before seen on my birding trips in Texas. In the photo below it is the bird at the top right.

After this stop the tour moved on to Rollover Pass and two other sites on Bolivar. Unfortunately, it was extremely windy and most birds kept their distance, making both birding and photography very difficult. So rather than spend the rest of the afternoon at the beach, we decided to visit the rookery in Smith Oaks, where the nesting birds always put on a great show.