Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Birds Busy at CyFair

I just had time for a quick walk around the soccer fields at the CyFair campus this morning but was rewarded with lots of birds. The soccer fields had 30+ Vesper Sparrows and 20+ American Pipits, as well as several Brown-headed Cowbirds and the usual crowd of Killdeer.

The nature trail had a nice mix of birds, from American Robins and more than a dozen Northern Cardinals through a Downy Woodpecker and an Eastern Phoebe to Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers.

There were flyovers by a dozen Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and 60 Snow Geese, the first geese I have seen this fall. A little later in the morning there was a flyover by a skein of 200+ Snow Geese.

Total number of species: 25.

At Home and at Work

I was feeling aggrieved yesterday: People from all over our area had been reporting American Goldfinches but I hadn't spotted any, even though I'd been out and about quite a lot. Well, I'm feeling better now because I've finally seen my FOS American Goldfinch. I glanced out of our front window at lunchtime yesterday and there it was, feeding on our thistle sock feeder.

The Goldfinch wasn't the only bird in our yard at lunchtime. Dee and I had great views of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet that hovered around and finally settled on one of our suet feeders. It's probably the longest view we've ever had of a Ruby-crowned, which are normally very fidgety birds.

The most numerous yard visitors today were our usual 6-7 House Finches and a dozen or so White-winged Doves, which jostled constantly for position on our lawn and on the birdbath. Other birds that were around at the same time were a Blue Jay, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Downy Woodpecker and a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

CyFair College
I've started carrying my camera and binoculars whenever I walk around the campus - and it has already paid results. Walking between buildings yesterday afternoon, I had good views of a Cooper's Hawk and then a Laughing Gull.

I also caught glimpses of my FOS White-throated Sparrow!

White-throated Sparrow

As I'd spotted an American Pipit on the campus in the morning, that made three FOS birds in one day.

American Pipit


I won't be posting again until next week, because Dee and I are driving to New Orleans later today to spend Thanksgiving with some old friends. Unfortunately, our friends are not birders and so I don't expect to be able to fit in any birding while we're in Louisiana.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Nice Morning at Sheldon Lake

Deanne and I had a nice morning's birding yesterday at Sheldon Lake, starting with good views of an adult Bald Eagle over the environmental center.
The area around the ponds was very busy with Chipping Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Eastern Phoebes.
Chipping Sparrow

Wading birds were few and far between: We saw only one three Little Blue Herons and one each of White Ibis, Great Egret and Tricolored Heron.

Young Little Blue Heron

Water birds were scarce, at least in the easily visible areas, probably partly because so much of the water is covered with water hyacinth. However, there were hundreds of American Coots, several Pied-billed Grebes and Common Moorhens. Carpenter's Bayou had only a few Ring-necked Ducks and a solitary Wood Duck.

Water Hyacinth on Carpenter's Bayou

At the (closed) parking lot on Garrett Road an Anhinga was drying its wings in the sun. When I approached, it kept lowering its head and neck, puffing up its orange throat pouch and croaking like a frog. I've never seen this curious behavior from an Anhinga before although I've read about it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ID Quiz Time

I haven't included a bird quiz for quite a while, so I've put together the one shown below. All the photos are of species that are in our area right now, and all but one are of species that I've seen in the past couple of weeks.

See how many of the birds you can ID. Some should be easy but some might be tricky!

(The answers are in the post immediately below this one.)












ID Quiz Answers

Next to each photo I've put a comment or two about distinctive ID features of the bird.

1. Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow rump and yellow patches on sides of streaky breast.
2. Chipping Sparrow
Plain breast. Reddish crown, Dark eye-line with white/whiteish stripe above it.
3. American Goldfinch
Gray front with white under the tail. Two white/whiteish wing bars. Males have yellower head.
Note: In the breeding season (March-October), the birds are much yellower.
4. Sedge Wren
Streaky crown and strongly streaked back. Short tail often cocked.
5. Wilson's Warbler
Olive back, yellow front and distinctive yellow eye ring. Black cap on male.
6. Pine Warbler
Yellow front, usually with olive streaks. Two white wing bars. White lower belly and undertail coverts (not visible in this photo).
7. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Tiny (4.25"), with oval eye ring and white wing bar.
8. Orange-crowned Warbler
Grayish back and paler front, sometimes lightly streaked. Dark eye-line breaks eye ring. The yellow under the tail is distinctive.

9. Eastern Phoebe
Large, dark flycatcher head. Yellow belly.
10. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Big white wing bar. White barring on black or brown back. Adults have a red crown.
11. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Small (4.5"), bright blue-gray bird with white eye ring. Black tail with white edges is often cocked.
12. Savannah Sparrow
Streaky breast and white belly. Dark eye-line. Yellow on face above beak is distinctive.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Birding Tomball

This morning I drove up to Tomball to see if more fall/winter migrants had arrived with the latest cold front.

My first stop was at the Theis Attaway Nature Center, a small park on Theis road just off Highway 249. It can be a good birding site in late winter but it certainly wasn't good yesterday. In a 15-minute walk I didn't see or hear a single bird. Not one!

Part of the reason may be that the park was badly affected by Hurricane Ike. Many of the larger trees had fallen, including a beautiful heritage tree that used to stand proudly near the back of the site.

After this disappointing start, I went on to spend a short time in Spring Cypress Park, off Brown Road. The area around the Confederate powder mill site was fairly busy with common birds: Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpecker, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Crows.
The only vaguely unusual bird was a Wilson's Warbler, which hesitated just long enough for me to get a blurry photo.

So no new arrivals this weekend. Ah, well, maybe this next week will be more productive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Home Ground

As the last two days were too wet for birding at the college, I thought I'd go back and post about what I saw in our yards on Saturday.

We've had a lot of butterflies lately, including various sulphurs.

Our Downy Woodpeckers were around as usual, although for once the female came to the suet feeder more often than the male. Unlike her partner, the female doesn't have a red patch on the back of her head.

There were also pairs of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. The male Red-bellied has red feathers right down the back of his neck, as you can from this photo of him at our birdbath.

Rare but always welcome visitors were two Tufted Titmice. Once common in our yards, we've only had fleeting visits a handful of times over the past three years. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of them or of other brief visitors: a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and an Orange-crowned Warbler. I also missed getting a shot of a Red-tailed Hawk zooming along our street in pursuit of a White-winged Dove.

Blue Jays came several times, as did a Northern Mockingbird, while Turkey Vultures occasionally circled lazily overhead.

House Finches maintained their ranking as one of our most reliable species, and this male allowed me to get close enough to show the red on his head and breast.

Squirrels were busy in the yard all morning and they are always happy to pose for photos.

Sometimes their poses are less than elegant.


And sometimes they have to confront the cats that also hang out in our yards.

The squirrels love to taunt the cats. I've even seen one take evasive action that involved jumping onto and then off behind the back of a charging cat. The cat was so humiliated that he immediately gave up the chase and pretended to be interested in some nearby ferns.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Early Birds?

I'm always reading in birding magazines and books that getting up and about early is the key to successful birding. However, I've never found this to be the case in the USA. In California, most birds didn't seem to get up until perhaps 8:30 a.m. I thought this was because west coast birds were particularly laid back but I find Texas birds often/usually stay in bed quite late also.
Sunday was a case in point. I arrived at CyFair at 7:15 and spent over an hour seeing nothing much except for Northern Mockingbirds and Cardinals.
One of many Northern Mockingbirds
At 8:30 I was ready to leave - and then the birds appeared! Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were busy foraging through trees and bushes, while Savannah, Vesper and Song Sparrows turned up all over the place.
Savannah Sparrows are a favorite of mine because their reaction to being disturbed is to fly to the top of a bush and sit there for a time. So they're easy to ID and not too hard to photograph. The one below stayed visible long enough for me to take several photos.
We still have a few shorebirds, including a Greater Yellowlegs that has been on the campus for weeks now.
A pleasant surprise was a Nashville Warbler that appeared in my camera viewfinder when I was trying to take a photo of a Pine Warbler.

Nashville Warbler

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Quick Shot

Yesterday morning I was berating myself for not always having a camera at hand to capture unexpected bird photos. As I drove out of the college in the afternoon, I had my camera ready on the front passenger seat. That's how I got this picture of a Red-tailed Hawk launching itself into the air from the top of a lamp standard.