Friday, May 28, 2010

Watching Hawks

Thursday afternoon I was back at the Red-shouldered Hawks' nest on Louetta.

When I arrived, the mother was in the nest with the two chicks but she soon left to perch on a branch some 8 feet away.

This really agitated the chicks.

The mother was umoved by their cries. Perhaps she just needed a break from the chicks' constant cries for food.Or was she perhaps trying to encourage the chicks to be more adventurous? If the latter, she succeeded, because one of the chicks soon stretched its wings and struggled up towards her.

It managed to get part way towards the adult.

But then it decided it had gone far enough ...

and hopped back down onto the nest.

When I left, the parent was still perched on the branch and the two chicks were again crying out for food.

It's certainly tough being a parent.

Talking about life being tough for parents, I just read that a Long-tailed Tit mother in England has no fewer than eleven chicks to feed. Now that's really tough!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

More Hawk Action

After work on Tuesday I returned to the Red-shoul
dered Hawks' nest on Louetta Road and I was rewarded with lots of action.

At first, both chicks were hidden from view. Then one stood up and moved to the edge of the nest.

It didn't take long to find out why.

When one of the parents flew over, both chicks got very excited.

The adult did a couple of low swoops over nearby trees and flew back with a small bird in its talons.

Rather than taking the prey to the nest, the adult carried it over to another tree. Through binoculars the dead bird looked like a young Red-bellied Woodpecker.

The adult then disappeared, presumably to eat its catch in peace.

Ten minutes later, the chicks got excited a
gain when one of the parents landed on the nest.

Unfortunately, it was a false alarm as the adult hadn't brought any food.

After a couple of minutes, the adult lifted off and circled the nest and the surrounding trees.

Once more the hunt didn't take long and this time the adult brought its prey, another small bird, to the nest.

From what I could see, it seemed that the parent t
ore open the prey and started feeding pieces to one of the chicks while the other chick - presumably the more precocious one - was left to fend for itself. It managed quite well.

Its paternal duties fulfilled, the adult flew off to rest in another tree, much to the concern of a pair of Blue Jays. The Jays harassed the hawk for several minutes, constantly flying onto nearby branches and squawking loudly at it.

The hawk seemed unperturbed and was still sitting in the tree when I left.

For a species that is said to prey mainly on small mammals and reptiles, these hawks were clearly no slouches at hunting birds: Two kills in less than ten minutes is remarkably proficient hunting by any standard.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hawk Watching Again

Yesterday afternoon I went back to the Red- shouldered Hawk nest on Louetta.

The two young hawks were clearly visible - and audible - on the nest.

I sat down and waited, hoping that I w
ould get to see a parent return to feed the young birds.

One of the youngsters spent most of its time hunkered down in the nest while the other stood and looked out.

After a while, it started practicing stretching its wings.

Wing exercises over, the bird backed carefully up to the edge of the nest and pooped over the side.

It wasn't long before the second bird decided to show that it, too, was potty trained.

Then it looked over the side as if it was checking to see it had performed the maneuver correctly.

Suddenly, before I had time to react, one of the parents flew in and perched on the nest.

The young hawks were very excited - until they found out that the parent had not brought in any food.

After a couple of minutes, the adult flew off, circling the nest several times before disappearing into the distance.

What beautiful birds they are!

BTW, keeping a constant eye on the nest wasn't as easy as I expected. It was clearly visible but there were plenty of distractions around. Purple Martins and Great Egrets kept crisscrossing the sky above the nest. The small tree that I was sheltering form the sun under was visited by a succession of Cardinals and Chickadees. Off to my right, a line of trees was busy with several Red-headed Woo

I would have thought that birds living next to a hawks' nest would be much more careful about making themselves too visible, but maybe birds are not on the menu for Red-shouldered Hawks.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Nesting Red-shouldered Hawks

Back in early March I blogged about spotting a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks nesting in a tall tree on Louetta Road just a few hundred yards from our house. Unfortunately, wit
hin a couple of weeks the foliage had largely obscured the nest. So I more or less forgot about it. Until yesterday, when Dee mentioned she had seen the nest again while out walking.

I went over to Louetta on my way to work, taking my old camera with me just in case. Sure enough, the nest was clearly visible.
I watched as a parent kept ripping bloody pieces of flesh off some dead prey in the bottom of the nest and feeding them to a large young hawk.

For a while I thought there was only one youngster on the nest but then I caught a glimpse of a second.

If I'm lucky, I will get more opportunities to watch the youngsters before they leave the nest. And in future I'll take along my better camera.


A Quick Visit to Sheldon Lake

On Saturday Dee and I had to go to northeast Houston and so we decided to extend our drive a little and pop in to Sheldon Lake.

By the time we arrived at the Environmental Center, in late morning, it was already very hot and there was very little songbird activity: a couple of Northern Cardinals and Mockingbirds and a Red-winged Blackbird.

By contrast, dragonflies were everywhere.

Four types of Herons were fishing in the ponds: Green, Tricolored, Yellow-crowned Night and Black-crowned Night.

The rookery that spreads over two of the Center's ponds had several nests but was certainly much smaller than last year.

An adult Little Blue Heron was watching over a juvenile which was exploring nearby trees.

An adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron was guarding a nest that held three youngsters that were panting constantly in the heat.

Other nests were busy, too, but we weren't sure which species they held.

Some of the babies were clearly impatient for their parents to return with food.

After leaving the Center, we stopped off at a fishing pier along Fauna / Pineland Road. The trees opposite the pier held another rookery, this time of Great Egrets, Anhingas and Roseate Spoonbills.

Although the rookery was too far away for good viewing, we had excellent looks at adult birds flying to and fro
m their nests.


Roseate Spoonbill

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Birding Day

It really annoys me how so many wildlife sites have fanciful and misleading names: "Bobcat Woods," "Alligator Nest Pond," "Armadillo Trail," "Warbler Walk," etc. Just about the only thing you can be sure of in these places is that you won't see any of the animals mentioned in the sites' names. It's rather like the way many housing subdivisions have names that are either totally inappropriate (e.g., "Rocky Glen Drive" in totally flat Cypress) or that describe landscape features (e.g., "Oak Lane"or "Prairie Way") which were probably destroyed to make way for the subdivisions.

I mention this to explain the frame of mind I was in the other morning when I parked outside Bobcat Woods on the San Bernard NWR.

I got out of the car and walked towards the woods. A cat crossed the trail ahead and slipped under a fence rail. A domestic cat, of course. Or was it? I walked over to the fence and looked down. Five feet away, a bobcat looked up at me. We stared at each other for several seconds. Then I broke the spell by reaching for my camera, and the bobcat trotted off through the vegetation.

I will never complain about misleading signs at San Bernard again - even though I didn't see a single Water Moccasin at Moccasin Pond or a single Rail at Rail Pond!

San Bernard NWR
San Bernard was my first stop on a long birding drive I was doing and it was not at all productive in terms of birds.

The entrance road had a Loggerhead Shrike and a pair of Turkey Vultures.

Otherwise, all I saw were a couple of wading birds and a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackles.

After 45 minutes, I decided to press on to my second destination.

Brazoria NWR
Brazoria is one of my favorite sites but on this particular day it, too, was extremely quiet. A couple of alligators were lazing in the water.

The largest concentration of birds I saw was a group of twenty White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbills.

Disappointed by the lack of birds at the two marshland refuges, I decided to try a very different type of site: the beach at Surfside.

Unlike the other two sites, this one was very busy. Unfortunately, though, the busyness was due to people and cars rather than birds. A brief drive along the beach revealed only Willets, Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones and so I left the coast and headed north.

Brazos Bend SP

I didn't reach Brazos Bend State Park u
ntil early afternoon, the very worst time for wildlife viewing. However, as always at this great site, there was still plenty to see.

Yellow-crowned Night Herons were everywhere, some with impressively long plumes on their heads.

Anhingas and Common Moorhens were very much in evidence, too.

This Purple Gallinule was one of four I saw in about as many minutes at 40-Acre Lake.

Given that I'd started the day with seeing a bobcat, it seemed appropriate that my final sighting should be of another mammal: a raccoon exploring the edge of Elm Lake.

Year List
The Purple Gallinules took my year list to 207 species.