Monday, January 31, 2011

Our Yards

At home the birds are continuing to empty our feeders as soon as I fill them.

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler concentrate on the suet.

Orange-crowned Warbler

A Pine Warbler turns up occasionally at the suet or on the ground.

The American Goldfinch are eating niger seed like there's no tomorrow. 

They compete with our House Finches at the sunflower seed feeders, too.

For the first time, I spotted two Pine Siskins joining the Goldfinch. Here's the new arrival.

Seeds that fall onto the ground keep on attracting White-winged Doves but we're also seeing the occasional - and very welcome - Mourning Dove.

Our Red-bellied Woodpeckers pop in from time to time. However, our Downy Woodpeckers are much more regular visitors.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Texas City Bay Park

Leaving the dike, we drove along the top of the levee to reach Texas City Bay Park. The strip of water between the levee and park was busy with wading birds: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbills.

Just before reaching the park, we passed a Belted Kingfisher and then disturbed a Red-tailed Hawk. 

We picnicked on a bench, surrounded by huge totem poles (carved by Boy Scouts) and looking over the lagoon that runs along one edge of the park.

One of the trees nearby had a fine Red-shouldered Hawk.


Other trees had Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Phoebe and a pair of Eurasian Collared Doves.


Most of the birds, however, were in and around the lagoon.

The water's edge had Savannah Sparrows as well as Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.


A Spotted Sandpiper flew off as I approached but a Snowy Egret was less skittish.

The most common birds on the lagoon were American Coots, Northern Shovelers, Mallards, Pied-billed Grebes, Gadwalls and Lesser Scaup.

 Northern Shoveler

There were also other types of duck present. Although I didn't have a scope with me, I was able to pick out Ruddy Ducks, American Wigeons, Blue-winged Teal and Green-winged Teal. 
 Green-winged Teal

When I totaled the birds that we had seen along the dike and in the park, I was surprised to find that we'd seen 45 species in less than two hours. So apart from the area being much more attractive than we had expected, it was also very productive for birding. We'll certainly be heading down there again before too long.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A New Site

Dee and decided to take advantage of the good weather to drive over to a site we've never visited before, the Texas City Dike. It would also be a good opportunity to try out my new zoom lens.

When we arrived in Texas City, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the area was not the mass of oil refineries and other industrial buildings that we were expecting. In fact the road to the dike went through some attractive farmland. The view at the dike itself was also much better than we expected, although part of the shoreline was taken up with refinery buildings.

Both sides of the 5 mile-long dike had Double-crested Cormorants, Forster's Terns and three types of Gulls: Laughing, Ring-billed and Herring.

There were also plenty of both Brown and White Pelicans, always fun to watch. 

The right hand side had the first Buffleheads and Common Goldeneyes that we've seen for a while.

It also had half-a-dozen Common Loons.

The only songbird we noticed was a solitary Savannah Sparrow, seeming oddly out-of-place two miles from the shore.

Just before the end of our visit, we pulled into a parking area to watch a Snowy Egret and a Great Blue Heron and wound up watching a pair of American Oystercatchers instead.

There was a coldish wind blowing across the water, so we decided to drive along the levee to have our picnic lunch in the Texas City Bay Park, only a little north of the dike entrance. As you'll see from my next post, the park was certainly worth visiting.    

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Around Cypress

Yesterday dawned dry and clear for a change. As if to celebrate the return of good weather, a Bald Eagle flew over as I was on my way to work. That was species #122 on my year list.

At the college, the nature trail area was too muddy to allow me to get close to most of the birds that were around. A flock of Cedar Waxwings stayed out of camera distance, as did the Pine Warblers which have been appearing in good numbers for the past few days. Only one of the many Yellow-rumped Warblers came close enough for a photo, showing the yellow that decorates both its rump and the breast just below the wings.

At home our yards continued to be very busy as dozens of American Goldfinch shared the feeders and the birdbath with Blue Jays, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, Hoiuse Finches, House Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Pine Warbler, Downy Woodpeckers and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Dee spotted a Tufted Titmouse, a bird we very rarely see at home. I missed out on the Titmouse but I did see a Chipping Sparrow appear only to be chased away by the Yellow-rumped Warbler that has been trying to dominate our front yard. We have had many fewer visits by Chipping Sparrows this winter but perhaps this is because the Yellow-rumped has been keeping them away.

I keep watching the Goldfinches in hopes of seeing a Pine Siskin mixed in with them and one has been turning up occasionally.

BTW, I've been waiting for weeks for stores to restock the lens I wanted to replace my barely functioning zoom. Then at the end of last week I gave up and ordered a similar but probably inferior lens. It arrived yesterday and I'll try to give it a field test later today. Fingers crossed!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The House Finch

Of all the birds that regularly use our feeders, none are more welcome than House Finches. Dee and I loved them when they used to come to our deck in California. And we love them now that they visit our yards in Texas.

However, there haven't always been House Finches in Texas. The species was originally limited in range to Mexico and the southwestern USA. Then, in the 1940s, people started to sell captive House Finches in New York City, where the birds were renamed "Hollywood Finches" in order to boost sales. When people realized that such trading in native birds was illegal, they started releasing the captive birds into the wild. And the finches bred and spread until they have now colonized the whole of the USA and even parts of Canada.

One reason why the House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) has been so successful is that it is one of the few birds that is aggressive enough to defend itself and its nesting sites from the invasive House Sparrow.

Female House Finches have brown backs and streaked fronts.

By contrast, most adult males have bright red on heads, necks and shoulders. 

However, not all adult males are red. Depending on their diet, some males may be different colors. In California we often saw orange variants. Here in Texas, the variants we see are usually yellow or gold.

Other Finches
There are two other species in the genus Carpodacus but one of them - Cassin's Finch (Carpodacus cassinii) - never visits southeast Texas.  The other species is the Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus), which often visits our area in the winter.  If you want to see Purple Finches, you should head down to Bear Creek Park in Houston, because several males and females have been living in the park for the past couple of months.  The best place to look is at the junction of Sullins Way and Brandt.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Week at CyFair

I only managed a couple of short walks along the nature trail this week.

The Cedar Waxwings and American Robins that were present in large numbers seemed to have disappeared by week's end, leaving the larger trees to our resident Northern Mockingbirds and White-winged Doves.


Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were still present but they had been joined by lots of Pine Warblers.

We used to get large flocks of Savannah Sparrows, with the occasional Field Sparrow tagging along. However, since the soccer fields were turned into parking lots, I have seen only a few Savannahs and no Field Sparrows.

 Savannah Sparrow

So I was delighted on Thursday to run across a flock of half-a-dozen Field Sparrows.

Thursday also produced a flyover by a Crested Caracara, always a beautiful sight.

Behind the college, the same day was notable for the presence of a huge flock of Red-winged Blackbirds.

When I looked more closely, I realized that the flock included a large number of Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Nearby, dozens of Mourning Doves were clustered in the trees and on the utility lines.

Now that another cold front is pushing through our area, I'm hoping that we'll get an influx of new visitors when I get back to the campus on Monday.