Monday, August 31, 2009

Waiting for Shorebirds

I went over to Paul Rushing Park on Sunday morning in hopes of seeing shorebirds, which are currently migrating south. As usual, there was a good variety of larger wading birds - including five Roseate Spoonbills - but only a few shorebirds: Dowitchers, Yellowlegs, Sanderlings, Black-necked Stilts and Willets.

The most numerous birds were Killdeer, of which there must have been 60+. The sports fields had Horned Larks but they again proved impossible to photograph.

I drove home via Kleb Woods, passing half-a-dozen perched Red-tailed Hawks along the way. I was hoping to see hummingbirds at Kleb but I didn't see any! There were plenty in our yards when I got home, though.

Most of our hummers were having to make do with the backyard feeder because the one in the front yard had been taken over by some of our many House Finches. They really love that sugarwater!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Not looking their best

It was cool (for August in Texas) yesterday morning and I was able to enjoy sitting in our front yard for while.

Our feeders were drawing in quite a few Northern Cardinals, including juveniles and females. There were several males, too. The latter are molting at present and so they're not looking their best.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds repeatedly tried to reach the feeder only to be chased away by a very territorial male. He lurks up in our mulberry tree and then swoops down to chase away intruders.

In the afternoon, as the temperatures again reached 98F/37C, most of the hummingbird activity moved to our back yard. All the rushing around in the heat clearly got too much for one female, who had to rest on our fence to catch her breath and cool down a little.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Not Hummingbirds

I've been trying without success to get better photos of the hummingbirds that are currently busy fighting over our feeders. One problem I'm having is that our House Finches keep taking over the hummingbird
feeders. I guess they love that sugar water, too.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Test Your Bird ID Skills

If you live in southeast Texas, you should be able to identify the birds in this quiz. If you live elsewhere, here's your chance to learn about some of our most common yardbirds.

The video window below contains 10 clips of 8 bird species which visit our feeders. Watch the clips and see how many of these 8 common yard birds you can identify.

Before you check your answers, here's a question: Bearing in mind where we live, which one of the species is different from the others and why?

The answers are given below.



The species that is different is the American Goldfinch. All the other species are resident here; the Goldfinch visits only in the winter.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Morning in our Yards

I spent yesterday morning in our yards
and there was a lot going on there.

In the back yard, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird was determinedly defending the feeder - and a nearby Turk's Cap plant - from several three females. He would lurk in the tree above the feeder and swoop down aggressively every time a female moved in to feed. The only time any of the females managed to feed was when he was occupied chasing another female away.

This female almost got to drink

This female snuck in to feed on the Turk's Cap

Meanwhile, the rest of the yard was busy with bugs. Bumblebees were constantly visiting flowers while digger bees were making nest holes in the dirt. Gulf Fritillary butterflies were laying eggs on one of our Passion Fruit vines, too.

The front yard was attracting plenty of birds. The suet fe
eder was largely monopolised by a Downy Woodpecker and a Northern Mockingbird, although a young female Northern Cardinal also managed to eat from it occasionally. The seed feeders drew in a constant succession of adult and young House Finches and Northern Cardinals. Several White-winged Doves tried to cope with the feeders but eventually settled for eating the seeds that had fallen onto the lawn.

The most active bird was a Carolina Wren. I just love the way they rummage all around the yard looking for bugs and seeds. If I didn't know better, I could think they were the inspiration for Shakespeare's line about "a snapper up of unconsidered trifles."

One of our Carolina Wrens

Yesterday's Wren started by exploring one of the flower beds, before rummaging through the leaves of our photinia. Then it started on the feeders. The suet feeder was occupied by a Downy Woodpecker but the Wren squeezed onto the feeder and had a few bites of suet alongside the Woodpecker. Then it flew down to work through the ferns at the foot of our oak before going back to check out more leaves in the photinia. After this, it was up to the round cage feeder. The latter was already occupied by a Northern Cardinal and two young House Finches but the Wren managed to muscle its way in, too. A few bites later and it was back to the photinia and then up to check out the eaves of the house before moving on to explore the hanging baskets, fence and Passion Fruit vine in our back yard. What an amazingly busy and curious little bird!

The hummingbird feeder in the front yard was quieter than the one in the back but still drew in a male and a couple of female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. These were really jumpy but I did eventually get one
almost-in-focus photo of a female.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hummers are here

We have several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in our yards at present, on their way south to Mexico. For some reason, I'm finding it really hard to photograph them. The shot below is the best I've managed so far.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Computer Problems

Boy, have I had a bad few days!

My computer was running slow, so I bought "Fix-it Utilities 9" to clean up my hard disk. Instead of solving the problem, the utilities program made everything worse and I had to go to recovery mode. This meant I had to reinstall all the software I'd added since I bought the computer. I also lost all the document and photo files from my hard drive. (I keep back-ups on a separate hard drive but I hadn't backed up anything onto this since November and I lost a lot of stuff.)

Then, in the process of reinstalling software, I picked up a virus and my computer totally crashed.

I spent last evening installing some Norton security software and finally got things working again. But I'll still have to spend hours reinstalling lost programs.

Two important lessons from this whole episode:
1. Back up files every day or at least every week
2. Keep internet security software up-to-date.

Hopefully things will be back to normal soon and there'll be some of the weekend left over for watching birds!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Galveston and Brazoria

On Saturday I got up ealy and birded the Sportsman's Road area again. The section at the end of 8 Mile Road was busy with fishermen and the only birds were a couple of Great Egrets.

Sportsman's Road had a good selection of waders and many Cliff Swallows.

Tricolored Heron

Cliff Swallow

The utlity poles along the road also had this White Ibis.

The pond at Settegast Road had dried up since my last visit (two weeks ago) and the only bird I saw there was an Eastern Meadowlark.

Laftitte's Cove was still dry and almost equally quiet. However, flowers were everywhere and were attracting lots of butterflies.

Just as I was leaving, I got a glimpse of a Great Horned Owl.

Later in the morning we met up with our friends, Carlos and Macarena Aguilar, and visited Galveston Island State Park.

Galveston Island State Park

Common Buckeye

Most of the park was empty of birds except for a few wading birds here and there.

We went up to Sportsman's Road, which was not as busy as earlier but had a few big wading birds plus a group of Marbled Godwit.

Marbled Godwits

We had lunch at Brazoria NWR, which is really suffering from the drought. The pond near the Visitor Center had almost completely dried up.

The other ponds were also almost totally dry, too. The few remaining patches of water had only a handful of Black-necked Stilts and Sanderlings, while elsewhere we saw only a couple of Eastern Meadowlarks.

One of the Black-necked Stilts

The Salt Lake was little better but I did spot a Seaside Sparrow. (Bird #262 on my year list.)

It's certainly going to take time, and a lot of rain, to bring the refuge back to anything like its normal state.

Back at home
We arrived home to find a young House Finch sitting on our bookshelves, no doubt brought in by our younger cat, Tiger. I managed to catch the bird and released it outside, where I hope it will survive. We thought we'd weaned Tiger off hunting birds but obviously we haven't been totally successful. We would keep her indoors but she really hates being inside. We found her as an abandoned kitten from a bayou six years ago and she's very much an outdoor animal.

BTW, our back yard had four Ruby-throated Hummingbirds yesterday: three females and a male. I hope a lot more will be migrating through over the coming weeks.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Back to Galveston Island

Dee and I usually only visit Galveston a couple of times a year but we were back there on Friday-Saturday just two weeks after our last visit.
Friday afternoon we drove to the end of 8 Mile Road and had nice views of Ruddy Turnstones, Great and Snowy Egrets, Reddish Egret, Great Blue Heron and Willets.

Ruddy Turnstone

We then went slowly along Sportsmen's Road, an area that we've never birded before. Many of the houses on the north side of the road had been destroyed by Hurricane Ike but the wetlands on the south were thriving and were full of birds. Great and Reddish Egrets were matched in numbers by White Ibis, Tricolored Herons, Roseate Spoonbills and other large wading birds.

Reddish Egret

We ended the day with a quick look-in at East Beach, another site we've never visited before. I was hoping for shorebirds but the beach had mainly Laughing Gulls and Terns. However, there were also some Sanderlings and Willets, and a single Red Knot. (Bird #261 on my year list.)

Three Sanderlings in Different Plumage

And, as normal on Galveston, there were constant flyovers by Brown Pelicans.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sunday, August 02, 2009

As it is currently so hot and humid in our area, I decided to bird the prairie this weekend. It's just as hot (35-37C/95-98F) but much less humid.

Friday morning I spent a pleasant 90 minutes at Paul D Rushing Chain-of-Lakes Park. As usual, there was a nice range of wading birds, including Green, Great Blue, Little Blue and Yellow-crowned Night Herons.

Young Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Killdeer and Black-necked Stilts were everywhere but other shorebirds were limited to a Spotted Sandpiper and a Solitary Sandpiper. (The latter took my 2009 list to 259 species.)

The Katy Hockley Cut Off Road and Longenbaugh Road were fairly quiet except for several Red-tailed Hawks and Crested Caracaras.
. Crested Caracara on Longenbaugh
Saturday morning Dee and I went over to the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge. We usually visit in early July, when the refuge is a mass of wildflowers and busy with butterflies and birds. Yesterday was very different, perhaps partly because there has been so little rain this year.

One of about 40 bison at Attwater

One of the few wet areas at Attwater
We saw very few flowers and only a handful of butterflies. By contrast, the ground and the air were full of crickets and cicadas: We had to stop several times to clear them out of the car!
Birds were few and far between, too. I was hoping for flycatchers but we saw just one, a young Scissor-tailed.

The only significant sightings were five Crested Caracaras and a family of Northern Bobwhites. (The latter were another new species for my year list.)