Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Back at 2009

I did a lot of birding in 2009 and this benefited my various bird lists. My USA/Canada year list was 271 species; this compared with my 2008 total of 245, which was far higher than any previous year. My Texas year list was 203 species, also much higher than in earlier years. My life list for the USA/Canada moved up from 421 to 443 species.

In November a 10-day family holiday with my daughter in Barcelona and the Ebro Delta was a little disappointing as regards birds but there was nothing disappointing about seeing a thousand or more of Greater Flamingos in the Ebro Delta.
A short business trip to San Jose, Costa Rica, produced some exotic birds but the best sightings of the trip were that of Poison Dart Frogs and an anteater in the rainforest.

I saw several new species during short trips to San Francisco and Phoenix in February, Salt Lake City in May, and New York City in July. Salt Lake produced my first sighting of a Yellow-headed Blackbird while Phoenix had my first-ever Long-eared Owl.

New species for the year included Whooping Cranes at Aransas and Cerulean, Blackpoll and Swainson's Warblers at High Island.
Trips to Brazoria NWR, Galveston, Bolivar Peninsula and Anahuac NWR turned up lots of good birds such as Magnificent Frigate Birds and Black Skimmers. However, it was very sad to see the damage caused by Hurricane Ike at Anahuan NWR and other sites.
Anahuac NWR after Ike
CyFair College produced lots of good birds this year, including my first view of a Chuck-will's-widow. However, what I enjoyed most was watching a pair of Western Kingbirds raising a family in June ...
and watching families of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in June and July.

The Katy Prairie produced some great sightings, too. While Longenbaugh Road was quiet this year, Paul Rushing Park had lots of interesting birds, including Wilson's Snipes in the winter and Common Nighthawks in the summer.

A trip to Austin in September turned up very little except the very unusual sight of a Red Phalarope in Texas.
A visit to Brazos Bend State Park later in September was notable for great views of a family of Least Grebes, another very unusual bird in our area.

An October visit to Bear Creek Park in Houston turned out very well when I finally saw the male Vermilion Flycatcher that regularly winters there. Just as exciting, I also saw six species of woodpeckers in an hour : Pileated Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

The yards at home were quieter than usual but still provided lots of good birding opportunities. The saddest sight was that of a male House Finch trying unsuccessfully to keep alive a chick with a deformed beak.
The year ended on a happier note when I got a new camera, a Sony A230 with a Tamron 70-300mm zoom lens. This allowed me to get better photo of many of our yard birds, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler.
The camera also let me get a record of a quick visit by a new yardbird (#56), a House Wren.


So out of all the wildlife sightings I've had this year, which was the most exciting? For me it was the Yellow-headed Blackbird I saw in Utah in May. It may not be the rarest or most spectacular bird but it's one that I'd been hoping to see for well over 10 years.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Baytown Nature Center

Yesterday I dropped in for an hour at Baytown Nature Center on a very gray and cold morning.

Surrounded as it is by chemical and oil plants, Baytown is not the most beautiful site in our area but it can have some good birds.

The visit started well with several birds on or around the very first pond that I reached. A Great Egret and a Snowy Egret were happily fishing the water's edge together, while another Great Egret looked on and a Great Blue Heron was crisscrossing the water further out in the pond.

A Belted Kingfisher was busy in the same area but, in typical Kingfisher fashion, it protested loudly and flew further away every time I approached.

The most exciting birds on the pond were a group of Hooded Mergansers. If there is a more spectacular duck, I don't know what it is!

The group was accompanied by a solit
ary Bufflehead, looking very unremarkable next to the Mergansers.

As I watched, a Northern Harrier swooped across the pond and I managed to get a quick photo as it flew off, its white rump distinctive even in the poor light.

As I walked the main trail out to Wooster's Point, surprisingly few birds were in evidence, except for more Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers.

I came across a Red-shouldered Hawk and an Osprey but both birds flew off before I could photograph them. Several spotted Sandpipers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet were equally skittish. In the end, the only other birds I managed to photograph was a Savannah Sparrow and some Double-crested Cormorants.

So not a great morning's birding but certainly made worthwhile by the appearance of the Hooded Mergansers.

Back Home
Later in the day, I drove down our street in the rain to find that the trees were absolutely packed with birds: Hundreds of White-winged Doves and scores of Cedar Waxwings.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Yesterday Dee and I spent four hours at San Bernard NWR on a perfect winter day. There were fewer birds than I had hoped for but we still saw 41 species.

The entrance road was lined with Loggerhead Shrikes and American Kestrels.

American Kestrel

Although the Moccasin Loop was quiet for water- and wading birds, we saw enough to keep us occupied.

Eastern Phoebe

Great Blue Heron

White Ibis

Ruddy Duck

Pied-billed Grebe

American Alligator

Bobcat Woods was very busy with common birds.

Bobcat Woods

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Common Yellowthroat

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

The highlights of the day, though, were all the great views we had of raptors: Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Merlin and Crested

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I've spent most of the last week trying to get really sharp photos of birds with my new camera. However, sharpness isn't everything. The two photos below aren't at all sharp and yet I really like them. They both show birds coming in to our feeders. The top one is a Chipping Sparrow while the bottom one is a Carolina Chickadee.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A New Bird

At lunchtime today I noticed a wren on our back fence. No big surprise, since we have a resident family of Carolina Wrens. But then the bird started calling and it sounded totally different from the "tea kettle tea kettle" call that Carolina Wrens make. In fact, it was the chattering call of a House Wren. I rushed outside and managed to get one quick photo before the bird moved to our neighbors' yard.

So that's species #56 for our yards: House Wren.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I spent part of yesterday trying to get more familiar with my new camera by taking lots of shots of the birds at the feeder outside our livingroom window.

Yesterday this feeder was very busy with Chipping Sparrows. Several would crowd onto it while others lined up and waited on nearby perches - a fence, a wooden windchime, a hanging basket and the branches of a wisteria. Some would give up and settle for scavenging for seeds on the ground below the feeder.

Given the number of birds involved, there was inevitably a lot of squabbling and jockeying for position.

After a while, the birds were so used to me that they let me approach within about 3 feet, which allowed me to appreciate just how beautiful they are - and to take some close-up portraits.

All the activity at the feeder caught the attention of other birds, including this House Sparrow, a bird that visits our yards only a couple of times a year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tomball and Cypress

Yesterday Dee and I spent a couple of h
ours in Spring Creek Park in Tomball.

As soon as we stepped out of the
car, we were surrounded by bird activity. The cloudy, gray morning was brightened up by the calls of Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadees and Blue Jays. The pine trees around us had several flocks of small birds: Pine Warblers, Carolina Chickadees, Chipping Sparrows and American Goldfinch.

Dee spotted a Brown Creeper, a bird that I rarely see anywhere except Spring Creek Park. Unfortunately, it an
d most of the other birds were too high in the trees for clear photos, although I did get one recognizable shot of a Tufted Titmouse.

The next few minutes turned up several other species, including a Northern Flicker, an Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. A group of 11 Turkey Vultures passed slowly overhead, soon followed by four Black Vultures.

We spent an hour walking through the woods, only to find the latter were virtually empty of bird activity. All we saw was a flock of 20-30 Cedar Waxwings and a flight of nine American Crows. So a rather disappointing end to a morning that had started out very promisingly.

Back at home our yards were hosting most of the usual suspects, including White-winged Doves, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House Finches and Carolina Chickadees.

Carolina Chickadee

The platform feeder, lawn and flower beds in the front yard were being worked over by some 30 Chipping Sparrows. Our female Downy Woodpecker was on the suet feeder.

As she's usually very aggressive towards competitors, I was surprised to see that she was willing to let one of the Chipping Sparrows share the feeder.