Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cullinan Park

At 7:45 on Sunday morning I headed over to Cullinan Park to see if I could move my Fort Bend county list to 100 species. (I want to do this as part of the Century Club program organized by the Texas Ornithological Society. If you are interested in the program, see the P.S. to this post.)

When I stepped out of my car at Cullinan, I couldn't believe how birdy the parking lot was and I spent the next 30 minutes checking out the birds in the trees bordering the lot. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees accounted for most of the activity but the trees also had Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Phoebes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue Jays and Orange-crowned Warblers. I got good views of a Western Kingbird, too.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Eastern Phoebe

Next I birded the lake from the boardwalk and the observation tower. 

Large waders were few: just a Great Blue Heron, a Great Egret and half-a-dozen Snowy Egrets. There were scores of American Coots and a sprinkling of Common Moorhens, as well as good numbers pf Pied-billed Grebes.
Common Moorhen and American Coot
American Coots

Snowy Egret

Further out in the lake there was a nice variety of ducks: lots of Gadwalls and Blue-winged Teal but also several Wood Ducks, Green-winged Teal and Ring-necked Ducks, as well as a couple of Northern Shovelers.
Blue-winged Teal

After that I spent a pleasant hour birding the trees and bushes on the north side of the entrance road. There were many of the same birds that I'd seen earlier, plus lots of Northern Cardinals, Mourning Doves and White-winged Doves. However, there were also White-crowned Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows.

Mourning Dove
Northern Cardinal
Orange-crowned Warbler

I really enjoyed the two hours I spent in the park - and I moved my Ft. Bend county list from 97 to 102 species.    

The aim of the Century Club program (www.texascenturyclub.org) is to encourage people to bird more frequently and to bird in a range of different areas, which will increase the available data on bird populations in those areas. The aim of the participants is to see 100 (or more) species in each of as many Texas counties as possible. 

I know I'm not a dedicated enough birder to reach 100 species in anything like 100 counties! I've now hit 100 in just 5 counties. If I try really hard, I should be able to reach the 100 mark in another 5 counties over the next couple of years. That's the target I'm setting myself anyway: 100 species in 10 counties by the end of 2012. If nothing else, this will get me out birding on some of those days when I'd really rather veg out on the couch. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Final Arrivals

On Saturday I mentioned that I was still waiting for the arrival of the last two of our normal winter yard residents: Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Pine Warbler. Well, I didn't have to wait long. Saturday afternoon I was taking photos of a Carolina Chickadee just outside our livingroom window. 

Suddenly two birds flew onto the feeders two feet away from me: Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Pine Warbler! I was so surprised  that I didn't even think about getting a photo.

The Ruby-crowned was a male and his crest was very prominent. Which makes me think he's the same bird that spent last winter in our yards. Which makes me marvel at the navigational ability of birds, an ability that we tend to take for granted. I struggle to find our house on a Google Earth satellite photo of our street black but this tiny bird (just over 4" long) again managed to fly here from his summer residence in Canada or Alaska and to locate our small yard. Truly amazing!

On Sunday morning I drove down to Cullinan Park, Sugarland, which I've only visited twice before. I went there in hopes of improving my Fort Bend county list from 97 to 100 species. I'll report tomorrow on what I saw there. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Local Patch

On Thanksgiving morning I took a walk around the patch of riverine woodland that abuts our subdivision. 

Part of My Local Patch

When we first moved here, six years ago, I regularly saw 30 or more species on winter walks through these woods. However, the surrounding area is more built-up now and the numbers and diversity of birds have definitely declined. In an hour I saw only Black and Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, American Crows, Great Egrets, Snowy Egret, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jays, Chipping Sparrow, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, White-winged Doves and Pine Warbler.
Black Vulture

Our Yards
After returning from Bear Creek on Friday morning, I spent some time watching our front yard, hoping that the cold front passing through would bring in some new winter residents. At first, all I saw were our normal visitors: White-winged Doves, Northern Mockingbird, Red-bellied and Downy Woodpecker, House Sparrow and House Finches. 

Downy Woodpecker
They were joined by the Chipping Sparrows that arrived a few days ago.

Then our first American Goldfinches of the season put in an appearance, soon followed by my first-of-season Orange-crowned Warbler.

Later in the day, we walked out to go to the store and I heard a familiar chipping call: a Yellow-rumped Warbler was flitting around in our elm tree.

So most of our regular winter resident species have started arriving. The only ones that haven't turned up yet are Pine Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. 

We had a beautiful male Roby-crowned visiting our feeders all day every day last winter and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he'll be back again soon. Maybe by the time he returns I'll have got my regular camera back from the repairer. In the meantime here's a photo of him from earlier this year.


Cold, Wet and Windy

At 8:30 a.m. Friday Dee was snug in bed at home. I was trying to bird in Bear Creek Park. I say "trying". There were plenty of birds around but it was so cold that I couldn't hold my binoculars steady enough to ID them. Plus a steady light rain made both my binoculars and my glasses difficult to see through. It was miserable! I don't know how people manage to bird in places like the UK where this kind of weather is more common than not.

After an hour, the only birds I had managed to ID were a Northern Flicker, a Red-shouldered Hawk, Black and Turkey Vultures and American Goldfinches. 

Northern Flicker
The rain eased up a little and I was able to add several more species: Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler,. Ruby-crownd Kinglet and Carolina Chickadee. However, there was no sign of the three species I was looking for and which everyone had recently been seeing in the park : Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper and Pine Siskin.

At 10:00 I decided to give up and head home. Then three things happened at once. I stopped to admire a fly-over by a Crested Caracara. The rain stopped. I spotted Jim Hinson parking his car ahead of me on Sullins Way. Jim's a great local birder and so I parked, too, and walked over to chat.
He wanted to know what I'd been seeing. I told him what I hadn't been seeing: Pine Siskin, Golden-crowned KInlet and Brown Creeper. He was incredulous that I had managed to miss out on these species. "Come on and I'll show you them," he said. 

We walked a few yards and looked for Pine Siskins among a flock of dozens of American Goldfinches. It took 15 minutes of waiting and playing recorded calls but, sure enough, a couple of Pine Siskins joined the finches.

"Now let's go see the others," Jim said, and we walked over to what he thought looked like a good spot. He play a Brown Creeper call and a couple of minutes later a Creeper appeared and wandered up a nearby tree trunk. What beautiful little birds they are!

We stayed put and Jim played Golden-crowned Kinglet calls. Within seconds a Kinglet flew in above our heads. Then another joined it.

So within 30 minutes Jim had shown me my three target species.

It was time for me to head home. I thanked Jim and left him scouring the undergrowth for Eastern Towhee. The latter would be a very unusual bird for the area but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he found one. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bear Creek Park

Dee and I headed across to Bear Creek Park on Sunday in hopes of seeing Golden-crowned Kinglet. Unfortunately, we got a late start and so we arrived to find that most birds seemed to be enjoying an early siesta.

20+ minutes around Sullins Way didn't turn up a single bird. Literally not one! So we moved over to the area around restroom 10 on Golbow, often a productive spot. First up was an Eastern Phoebe.
I think I've seen more of these this month than in any previous month that I've birded. They are everywhere.

Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice mingled in the trees with Yellow-rumped Warblers. Then I saw my first-of-season Pine Warblers.

As always at Bear Creek, Eastern Bluebirds were busy commuting between the trees and the grass.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker fussed noisily around in a tall tree while a Turkey Vulture perched silently nearby.

Our final sighting was of two flocks of White-faced Ibis, totaling some 60 birds.

So, not good birding but that wasn't surprising, given our late arrival at the park.

Thanksgiving Weekend

People have been reporting some good birds from Baytown Nature Center and a cold front forecast for Friday may bring in even more species. So perhaps we'll head over there during the 4-day holiday. Or perhaps we'll head down to the Brazos Bend area instead, to see if I can raise my Fort Bend county list to 100+ before the end of the year. Or we could check out Attwater NWR to look for Burrowing Owls. Choices, choices, choices!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Week at Work

New birds kept turning up on the CyFair campus throughout the week.

On Monday I was surprised to see a Great Horned Owl on the nature trail. Too surprised to get a photo, in fact! Underneath where it had been perched I found the feathers of the White-winged Dove that it had been snacking on. Further down the trail I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk. I'm hoping it was one of the pair that lived on the campus for years until a few months ago but then disappeared. If so, perhaps the pair will move back to the college.

Friday morning was very birdy. I was too slow to ID a couple of sparrows on the trail but I did better with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and then a bunch of Yellow-rumped Warblers feeding on the Chinese Tallows.

I wasn't surprised to find a few American Goldfinch among the Warblers, as I'd seen some earlier in the week.

I was surprised, though, to find an Eastern Phoebe perched among all the Warblers and Goldfinches, calmly snacking on a dragonfly.

Away from the trail and behind the modular buildings, I again got looks at the Swamp Sparrows which have been hanging out there for weeks.

I also finally got a photo - though not a good one - of the Sedge Wren that I see or hear every time I pass the area.

The artificial river had attracted a Great Egret. These birds usually avoid people but this one was standing within yards of a path that was very busy with students and staff.

Great-tailed Grackles are never shy and this one hardy blinked when I leaned over the railings to take its picture from a few feet away.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Mitchell Lake

We arrived at Mitchell Lake at 9:00 a.m. Sunday, intending to spend an hour or so there before heading home. However, we enjoyed the site so much that we ended up spending over three hours there!

We started at the visitor center, which is surrounded by a really beautiful garden.

The staff were excited because an Audubon's Oriole had been seen nearby. We walked around the garden but saw only White-crowned Sparrows and White-winged Doves.

Out on the auto trail, we stopped at the first pond and were treated to some excellent birding, even though many of the birds were too far away for photos. The water had American Coots, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup and a solitary American Wigeon.

American Coot

We were hoping for Least and Eared Grebes and we saw several of both species, as well as lots of Ruddy Ducks.

Female Ruddy Duck
The edges of the lake had Double-crested Cormorants, Eastern Phoebes, Spotted Sandpiper and Vermilion Flycatchers. There was a Belted Kingfisher as well as both Great and Snowy Egrets. Killdeer wandered by the trail, too. 

Great Egret

Further along the trail we parked the car and walked up between two more large ponds. We again enjoyed seeing Eastern Phoebes and Vermilion Flycatchers but the main attraction here was a group of White Pelicans. We watched for a while as they fished. Their technique is very different from that of Brown Pelicans. The latter fish by diving into the water from the air. White Pelicans are much more sedate. They float along and fish by ducking their bills into the water. They often work as a group, forming a ring around a shoal of fish.


Several patches of trees had Savannah Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers, while American Pipits were grazing on the path itself.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Back at the car, we saw more Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and then a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

We'll certainly return to Mitchell Lake in the winter, when more ducks and sparrows shoud have arrived.
Our weekend trip hadn't been quite as productive for new year species as I had hoped but it raised my US total to 273 and my Texas year list to 235 species.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Utopia and Uvalde

Saturday morning I was up bright and early to explore the 10 acres of woodland around the B&B. I was too early for the birds, in fact, and didn't see anything except deer for the first hour. So I went in for breakfast - and, of course, that was when the birds started appearing.

First up were Black-crested Titmice, birds we had seen only once before and that very briefly. Unfortunately, the light was still poor for photos. 

As the light improved, I walked back down through the huge Bald Cypress trees behind the house.

An Ash-throated Flycatcher was too quick to photograph but Eastern Phoebes were more obliging.

Several Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are very vocal but very hard to see.

After breakfast we drove back over to Cook's Slough, to be greeted by more Vermilion Flycatchers and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

An hour's walk around the main pond turned up more Vermilion Flycatchers and Eastern Phoebes. Then we came upon a mixed flock of House Finches and White-crowned Sparrows. The sparrows perched for photos.

The pond itself was quiet except for a few very skittish Blue-winged Teal and Gadwall. However, we were both thrilled to get a distant view of a Black Phoebe, a favorite bird from our days in California.

We spent another hour walking the paths of the refuge, seeing little except Northern Cardinals.

In spite of the lack of birds, we enjoyed the walk. 

At one point we came across a large rat-like animal swimming along a water channel. I assume it was a nutria.

It was now time to start heading to San Antonio,where we were going to spend the night. As we walked to the car, we had good views of a Great Kiskadee having a late breakfast. A nice sight with which to end a pleasant but rather unbirdy morning.

As always, San Antonio was busy with visitors, especially around the Alamo.

We had lunch in a restaurant on the Riverwalk.

We shared our food with several Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows which seemed adept at sneaking in around the tables in their hunt for scraps.  It's amazing just how bold and adaptable these birds are!

Then it was off to the motel for night's sleep before heading back to Houston on Sunday. On the way, we were planning to visit the Audubon center at Mitchell Lake. I'll report tomorrow on our time there.