Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Better and Better

I knew it was going to be a good morning for birding as soon as I started along the nature trail at CyFair college. How did I know? I immediately had good views of a Yellow-breasted Chat wandering around in a bush. While other people often see chats here, I hear but never see them. So this was clearly a very good omen.

To the left I had a quick glimpse of a Sedge Wren, perhaps the same one I photographed the other day. We seem to have a lot of Sedge and House Wrens at present, although our Carolina Wrens appear to have disappeared.

Ten yards further along, I stopped to look through a gap in the bushes and come face to face with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A second one joined it and they spent the next minute following each other around from branch to branch only feet in front of me.

Fifteen more yards down the trail I turned onto a small side track and immediately saw two Pine Warblers. Above them, several Yellow-rumped Warblers hurried through the tree tops. Then a different bird appeared: a FOS Orange-crowned Warbler.

Something brown moved on the ground ahead and hopped into the undergrowth as I crept closer. It came back into view as I focused my binoculars: a Lincoln's Sparrow. Between me and the sparrow, another Ruby-crowned Kinglet perched for a moment on a branch six feet away. It turned its head and its ruby crown flashed in the sunlight. That crown is something you rarely get to see!

Higher up, I noticed something climbing up the trunk of a tree. A male Downy Woodpecker. This is the first wodpecker I've ever seen on the campus.

On my right, two more kinglets hopped through the bushes. But these had striped heads with yellow tops. They were Golden-crowned Kinglets. Another FOS bird. As I watched, a third crossed the trail just ahead of me.

By now it was almost time for class and so I walked back towards my classroom. Coming off the trail, I noticed a movement on top of a utility pylon. One of our Red-tailed Hawks? No, too small. A look through the binoculars confirmed it was an American Kestrel, the first I'd seen in months.

I just had time for a quick peek behind the mobile classroom where I teach. An Eastern Phoebe was looking good in the morning sun and half-a-dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers were hopping around in a nearby tree. I made a few pishing and clicking noises to attract them but they moved away. However, a Song Sparrow popped up to see what was happening. Then another sparrow made a dash for safety from the small bush near my feet where he'd been hiding. My FOS White-crowned Sparrow.

All in all, a great hour's birding!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Arrivals

Yesterday morning at the CyFair campus, I noticed several small birds behind the mobile classroom where I teach. They weren't near enough for me to recognize by sight but their "chip" call made me think they might be Yellow-rumped Warblers. So I raced over to my car, grabbed the binoculars I always carry in the trunk and hurried back to the classroom. As soon as I focused on one of the birds, it turned around and the lower section of its back flashed bright yellow: Yellow-rumped Warbler! So another of our winter residents is now back in our area.

Driving out of the campus, I noticed some black dots on the southern retention pond. As there were no other cars around, I had time to stop and do a quick sweep with the binoculars I had carelessly left on the front passenger seat. Three Pied-billed Grebes and four American Coots were sharing the water with a pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and four first year ducklings.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Robins Return

When I last visited Bear Creek Park, three weeks ago, there were downed trees and branches everywhere. Most of the site was covered in mud, and large pools of standing water were hosting scores of wading birds.

Yesterday morning I returned to the park and found that the site's physical condition had changed very little. However, the wading birds had disappeared - I saw one Great Blue Heron and five White Ibis - and the park was generally quiet for birds.

White Ibis

When I say "quiet," I am not referring to noise: I don't think there as a minute that wasn't punctuated by the calls of American Crows, Blue Jays, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Mockingbirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Red-headed Woodpeckers.

The number of birds that I actually saw would have fairly low, except for one factor: migrating American Robins have arrived en masse. One section of the park had scores, if not hundreds, of Robins chasing each other through the trees, feeding in ditches or scavenging around picnic tables.

American Robin

At the head of the equestrian trail I spotted three deer, and elsewhere the mud was covered with the tracks of birds and mammals.

Deer Tracks
Raccoon Tracks

At the end of my trip, I went along Golf Course Road, hoping to see the Vermilion Flycatcher that Jim Hinson says has returned for the sixth consecutive year. I didn't spot the Flycatcher but I did see a dozen Killdeer, a beautiful male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Eurasian Collared Dove.
Back Home
Back in our yards, a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker turned up to join the male that appeared a few days ago.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Much more surprising, I'm 99% sure that I saw a Red-breasted Nuthatch. These birds are not common in our area but a lot turned up last winter, when we had at least two in our yards for months. As I'm not 100% certain, I'll wait to see if it turns up again before I report my sighting on e-Bird.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Barker Cypress with a Camera

I birded the CyFair campus for an hour again yesterday morning, this time with a camera. Because of the recent rain, I spent much of the hour sloshing around in ankle deep water - and keeping one eye out for Cottonmouths.

There were many of the same birds as on previous days, although this time the only warbler was a solitary Pine. I saw at least three Eastern Phoebes.

Eastern Phoebe

New birds for the week included a Song Sparrow, and a flyover by Rock Doves. Our resident Red-tailed Hawks were back and hunting but they never came close enough to photograph.

Sedge Wrens clicked at me everywhere I went and I finally got a couple of pictures. They're not good photos but they're the first I've ever gotten of this species.

Sedge Wren

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were also much in evidence. No photos, though. They move about too quickly to catch easily with my digital camera, which has a 1+ second delay between pressing the shutter and taking a picture. (So I have lots of pictures of branches where Gnatcatchers had been only a second earlier!)

Flowers abound at present and therefore there are lots of butterflies also, including Monarch, Common Buckeye and Gulf Fritillary. Again, the shutter delay on my camera makes it hard to get good photos: You have to press the shutter before the wings open in order to get a reasonable picture.



Gulf Fritillary

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Let the Good Times Roll

The CyFair college campus on Barker Cypress Road has been quiet for birds for several months but the arrival of fall has certainly changed that. Yesterday morning I spent just over an hour birding the campus and I listed 25 species.

The retention ponds had Great and Snowy Egrets. The parking lots had Common and Great-tailed Grackles. The soccer fields had Killdeer (12 of them), Mourning Doves, Loggerhead Shrike and European Starlings, while the standing water behind them had more Killdeer, a Lesser Yellowlegs, three Least Sandpipers, and a Solitary Sandpiper (my first of 2008). Everywhere had N. Mockingbirds.

The area near the mobile buildings had Sedge and House Wrens, plus a FOS Lincoln's Sparrow.The nature trail had Red-winged Blackbirds, a Brown-headed Cowbird, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, a Blue Jay, an Eastern Phoebe and two Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. Flyovers included 6 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and 4 White Ibis.

The bird of the day was a Nashville Warbler, my first of 2008, near the nature trail. There were at least two other warblers in the area but I didn't have enough time to wait to ID them. I do hate how work interferes with birding!

This morning, I saw a pair of Pine Warblers near the college nature trail.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spring Cypress Park in Tomball

Yesterday was my birthday, and Dee and I had coffee in Spring Cypress Park to celebrate. Although we didn't arrive there until almost noon and stayed only an hour, the birding didn't disappoint us.
As we sat at a picnic table, we spotted two Red-bellied Woodpeckers sparring on the ground and then chasing each other through the trees. A minute later, we were treated to a good view of a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers. The same area had several Mourning Doves, Carolina Chickadees, Blue Jays, a Northern Cardinal and a couple of Northern Parula. The latter were particularly welcome sightings because the Parula is a bird I saw for the very first time earlier this year, in this same park.

The distinctive silhouette of a Pileated Woodpecker

The park didn't seem to have suffered too badly from Hurricane Ike, although several trees had fallen or had lost their tops.

As I walked down to the part of the creek near the site of the old Confederate powder mill, ten Black Vultures circled overhead, to be joined by a solitary Turkey Vulture.

The large tree next to the mill monument had been destroyed by Ike and an Eastern Phoebe was flycatching from its shattered trunk.

This area is always good for birds and I soon saw a male Downy Woodpecker, a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Then I was thrilled to see my FOS (First of Season) Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This tiny bird never keeps still and is a real challenge to photograph with a small digital camera. The only photo I managed to get is very poor but at least it shows the bird's trademark eye ring and wing bars.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Little Cypress Creek

Last Sunday morning I spent 90 minutes exploring Little Cypress Creek Preserve. This is a nature preserve at the junction of Telge Road and Spring Cypress Road. Because it has only been open a couple of years, the facilities are primitive - well, there aren't any, except for a couple of trails and the occasional bench. However, it's a pretty area and the bird list already runs to 125 species.

On this visit, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the trails were dry and the preserve was largely mosquito-free.

Unfortunately, I had stupidly left my binoculars at home. (Call myself a birder?) So I had to ID birds largely by their behavior and their calls/songs. I did have my camera, though, and this enabled me to check my IDs when I got home. It was heartening to find that I hadn't made any mistakes.

Eastern Phoebe

Judging from the calls, the most common birds were certainly Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Mockingbirds and Blue Jays. (The latter seem to be unusually common this fall.) But there were also lots of wrens: Wherever I walked, I got scolded by wrens; from the calls and the occasional glimpses I got, most of them appeared to be Sedge Wrens. I also got a really severe telling-off from a Belted Kingfisher.

Other birds that I noted were Great Egret, Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Phoebe, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Bluebirds and Turkey Vultures.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Another Early Bird

Last week Chipping Sparrows returned to our yards, a month weeks earlier than last year. At the same time, Birdwoman reported that her yard in Tomball had its FOS (First of the Season) Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Today we had another FOS arrival: a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Last year, the first Sapsucker didn't turn up until November 1. So it seems like our winter residents are arriving very early this year. I can't wait for our FOS Yellow-rumped Warbler and Pine Warbler!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Bear Creek after Ike

Yesterday morning, I returned to Bear Creek Park for the first time since Hurricane Ike. Signs of the storm's passage were everywhere. There were innumerable fallen branches and scores, perhaps hundreds, of fallen trees. Some roads and trails were still blocked by high water or debris.

Picnic tables were covered with or surrounded by branches and mud. The whole northern section of the park was slick with a layer of mud. It's certainly going to be a while before the park is back to normal.

While I didn't see any unusual species, the birding was good. I knew it was going to be good when my first sighting was that of a Merlin being chased all over the sky by two American crows.

Both sides of the road at Golbow and Dopslauf were busy with numerous American Crows, Red-headed and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Eastern Bluebirds, plus a few Carolina Chickadees,Blue Jays and Tufted Titmice.

Red-headed Woodpecker

However, the real treat lay further ahead. The area behind Restroom 9 was still largely flooded and was a mass of wading birds. One pool had over 100 White Ibis.

Another had 9 Little Blue Herons, a young Yellow-crowned Night Heron and several Lesser Yellowlegs. In yet another, White Ibis were joined by 20 Great Egrets, a dozen Snowy Egrets and even a couple of Roseate Spoonbills. Meanwhile, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, American Crows and Blue Jays kept up s steady chorus of calls.

At the Equestrian Trail meeting area I was roundly scolded by a Red-shouldered Hawk. The only other birds here were several Northern Mockingbirds and a group of six male Northern Cardinals.

Red-shouldered Hawk

The other entrance to the trail had Killdeer and Eastern Bluebirds. Walking the first section of the trail, I was treated to a chorus of Blue Jays and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, while I saw the only Carolina Wren and Downy Woodpecker of the morning. Unfortunately, a fallen tree and oceans of mud blocked the trail after only 100 yards.

As I drove out of the park via Golbow, I was circled by two Turkey Vultures.

Yard Note:

On Friday we had several Chipping Sparrows in our backyard. This is a full month earlier than last year. On Saturday our front yard had half-a-dozen Common Grackles, birds that usually visit our yards only in late winter or early spring.