Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Commuter Birding

One of the things I love about living and working where I do is that I only have to extend my commute a little to cut across part of the Katy Prairie. I did this on my way home yesterday, because I wanted to see if Scissor-tailed Flycatchers had returned.

I stopped in for a few minutes at Paul Rushing Park in hopes of getting a photo of one of the American Golden Plovers that have been hanging out there. They're very skittish birds but I did manage a couple of so-so photos.

While I was in the park, I checked out the Dowitchers again. This time I heard their call and it settled the ID issue I had the other day: They are Short-billed Dowitchers.

There were plenty of other birds on the grassy areas of the park: Wilson's Snipes, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, a Willet, Spotted Sandpipers, Blue-winged Teal, Savannah Sparrows, American Pipits and Horned Larks. I was surprised when I checked out a flock of 150 European Starlings and discovered they were actually Brown-headed Cowbirds. That's a bird I don't see very often, although I had noticed a single male on the CyFair campus earlier in the day.

Back on the road home, I noticed that Red-tailed Hawks are now lower in numbers than they were all winter. I saw only three.

Becker Road just south of 290 is usually a reliable place for spotting Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and it turned up trumps again yesterday. Three of the birds were sitting
on utility wires. The only photos I was able to take were rather murky ones through the windshield.

Here's a much better picture that I took at Sheldon Lake last May.

I love Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. I still remember the thrill I got from seeing one for the very first time on my very first day in Texas 8 years ago.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring Migrants Are Arriving

Late Saturday morning we went to the Edith L Moore Nature Sanctuary in west Houston. On a good spring day - which Saturday was - there is no prettier place to visit. Plu
s there is the added bonus of an opportunity to see spring migrant songbirds. At the pond near the cabin, we had very good views of a Green Heron, standing absolutely motionless in the water.

The pond had Red-eared Sliders, too. These tend to be very skittish critters but the ones at Edith Moore are so used to people that they let you get very close.

Until the last few minutes of our walk, we saw very few birds: a dozen Cedar Waxwings, some Ruby-crowned Kinglets, several Yellow-rumped Warblers and a single White-eyed Vireo. (The latter was year bird #144 for me.) However, we did see our first Monarch butterfly of 2010.

Then we came across a small pond in a clearing that was hopping with birds. First up was a Black-and-white Warbler that was scuttling around in the leaves by the water's edge.

Then we were lucky enough to spend 10 minutes watching a pair of Hooded Warblers bathing in a tiny puddle among the leaves. The lighting was terrible but I managed to get a recognizable shot of one of the bathers.

A couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers tried to get in on the sene and the activity also brought in a Northern Parula. Like the Hooded Warblers, this was another new year bird. Back at the cabin, the feeders were drawing in common yardbirds, including a striking orange-variant male House Finch. The final treat was watching a Tufted Titmouse feeding a youngster.

Weekly Birdwalks
If you live in Houston, you should really try to get over to Edith Moore during the next few weeks. A good time to go would be for one of the weekly birdwalks (Wednesdays at 8:30 from April 7th) which Jim Hinson leads every spring.


Saturday, March 27, 2010


In my last post, I commented that I still have problems with identifying shorebirds. This became
clear again on Thursday, when I popped in at Paul Rushing Chain-of-Lakes Park on the Katy prairie on my way to work.

The first shorebirds I spotted were American Golden Plovers, too far away for photos but easy to ID through binoculars.

The next birds up were even easier to identify: Nothing else looks even vaguely like a Black-necked Stilt!

I felt fairly secure, too, in identifying these birds as Greater Yellowlegs.

Then the problems started. I spotted a host of Long-billed Dowitchers. Or were they Short-billed Dowitchers? They were quiet when feeding, which Sibley says is a feature of Short-billed Dowitchers. On the other hand, these birds were on grass and Sibley says Short-billed favor beaches rather than grassy areas. Also, the secondary wing feathers looked too dark to be Short-billed. So they must be Long-billed, right? But the tail on these birds looked too pale for Long-billed.

As I often do when stumped by birds, I've now posted photos on Birdforum and asked for help. I'll let you know what people think.
Most people on BirdForum seemed to think the Dowitchers were Short-billed. However, some people weren't so sure!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

In Our Own Backyard

Keeping Warm

We've done quite a few birding trips lately and so it was a nice change to spend the weekend watching birds in our own yards.

On Saturday I wasn't surprised to see several House Finches at our feeders. Nor, given the miserable weather, was I surprised to see that they were puffing up their feathers to keep out the cold.

However, I was surprised to find that some of our winter residents were still hanging around. I thought they had all left for the north but on Saturday our feeders had visits from two Ruby-crowned Kinglets, two Yellow-rumped Warblers and eleven Chipping Sparrows. Normally among the most slim and elegant of our birds, Chipping Sparrows were taking a leaf out of the House Finches' book and puffing up their feathers to stay warm.

Strange Choices

Apart from suet, the only food we currently provide for birds are sunflower seeds. The latter are a firm favorite with most of our visitors, including our Carolina Chickadees.

However, in an attempt to keep squirrels away from the feeders, we sometimes put corn on the ground nearby. Today I was amused to see one of our squirrels pointedly ignoring the corn in favor of some sunflower seeds that had fallen from the feeders.

I was even more amused a few minutes later when a pair of White-winged Doves returned the favor by ignoring the sunflower seeds and snacking instead on corn kernels.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Back to Brazos Bend

On Wednesday Dee and I drove down to Brazos Bend State Park on a perfect spring morning, hoping to see alligators.

We saw plenty! Our previous day record there was 19; t
his time I saw 50. They were everywhere, including on the paths around 40 Acre Lake and Elm Lake. We both came close to accidentally stepping on one a couple of times, which probably would be a bad idea. A Tricolored Heron almost made this mistake but realized just in time and fluttered away in a hurry.

Unfortunately, none of them were bellowing this time. They were just lazing in the sunshine.

This let us admire them at close range and to see details we don't usually notice - like their amazing feet.

Red-eared Sliders were also enjoying the sun.

The lakes were busy with American Coots, Common Moorhens, Blue-winged Teal and Pied-billed Grebes.

Common Moorhen

Pied-billed Grebe

Double-crested Cormorants were looking particularly pretty in their breeding outfits.

Little Blue Herons struck up one elegant pose after another as they fished.

The lighting made the landscape around the lakes even more striking than usual.

It certainly brought out the color of this Ibis's bill and legs.

I'd never noticed before that you can see the wing bones of Ibises when the flying birds are backlit.

This Tufted Titmouse was so busy trying to collect nest material that it let me approach very close to take a series of photos.

I also got very close to an American Kestrel. This didn't require any fieldcraft, though; the bird was a captive one, sitting on a ranger's glove.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Bear Creek Park

I dropped in at Bear Creek Park for half-an-hour at lunchtime on Wednesday. As it was around noon, there weren't many birds.

Tufted Titmice were busily exploring the oaks, as were Yellow-rumpedWarblers. I don't think
I've ever seen as many Yellow-rumps in Texas as I have this winter. They have been everywhere, and in numbers.

I spent several minutes circling a tree trying to get a photo of a Red-headed Woodpecker. Every time I moved to one side of the tree, he moved to the other. Eventually I
gave up and aimed for some photos of Eastern Bluebirds instead. This one was too busy grooming to pay much attention to me.

This one kept a wary eye on me but let me get quite close.

While watching the Bluebirds, I kept seeing out of the corner of my eye a larger bird flying in and out of a nearby tree. When I finally managed to focus on it, I realized it was a Wood Duck. That's year bird #140.