Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Confirmation of Spring

March is a funny month in Houston. One day it can be 85F and feel very like summer, the next it can be cold and gray. So it's difficult to decide when spring has really begun. Personally, I don't go by dates or even by the weather. I go by the arrival of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers: The first day of spring is the day when I see my first Scissor-tailed of the year. So this year's spring started this morning, March 30. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of today's bird but here's one from a while back.

Interestingly, I see from my blog archives that I saw my first Scissor-tailed last year on - March 30.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In Our Yards

At home our yards have been pretty busy with our resident birds. Carolina Chickadees, House Finches and Northern Cardinals all visit the seed feeders regularly throughout the day.

White-winged Doves graze under the feeders, looking for dropped seeds.

The Finches and the Doves drink at the birdbath, too.  

Until a couple of years ago, Blue Jays used to hang out in our yards. These days they simply pop in on short visits, to grab a mouthful of sunflower seeds or to get a quick drink.

One of our most dependable visitors is a Northern Mockingbird. He (?) flies in several times most days to snack on one of the suet feeders.

Our Downy Woodpeckers have always been regular patrons.


We have Red-bellied Woodpeckers as well but they are much less frequent visitors. 

Being much smaller, the Downys usually beat a quick retreat from the feeders when the Red-bellied Woodpeckers arrive. However, the other day I was impressed to see the female Downy attack and drive off the male Red-bellied. The tables were turned the following day, when the female Red-bellied chased away the male Downy. Win some, lose some, I suppose.

I had thought that all our winter residents except a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers had left our yards and headed north. But I was wrong. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet and an Orange-crowned Warbler (below) both pop in for suet now and then.

Two Chipping Sparrows also keep turning up. They're hard to get photos of because they hang out in the deep shade.


Monday, March 28, 2011

The Red Bird

Like most birders, I spend a lot of time looking for, watching and blogging about "interesting" birds; in other words, birds that we don't see often in our area and that I have to make a special effort to find.  When it comes to our everyday birds, I often don't mention them unless I see them doing something "interesting," such as mating.  This is a pity because some of our most common birds are always worthy of attention.

The Northern Cardinal - or "Red Bird" as people here call it - is a case in point. There are surely few birds anywhere that can match the male Cardinal for sheer beauty of plumage and yet I rarely bother to . Here are a few shots of one of our resident male Cardinals.


The Weekend

I didn't have time for much birding on the weekend but during lunch outdoors with friends in Cypress I had a sighting of a Swainson's Hawk. That's year bird #189.

I've been seeing a lot of butterflies lately, including lots of Swallowtails passing through our yards.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Week at CyFair

Although our Ring-necked Ducks have all left the campus, some other winter residents are still hanging around, including Lincoln's and Savannah Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers (below). 

Pairs of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks have been flying around. If all goes well, several will again decide to nest by the retention ponds and I'll get to watch their families paddling around over the summer.  

All winter I was disappointed that there were fewer than usual Cedar Waxwings on the campus. Until last week, I'd only seem flocks of 50-60. Well, I'm no longer disappointed, because I've seen a flock of 300-400 Waxwings several times since the weekend.

It's still too early for most migrants but several more Purple Martins have arrived, including some females.

The only new bird was a White-eyed Vireo on the nature trail. It kept singing out but wouldn't come into the open. So I  started whistling its song back at the bird. It kept on singing and I kept on whistling back. This went on for quite a while before the bird finally popped up to check me out.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Has Arrived

Spring has arrived in our yards! There are signs of it everywhere.

Plants are sprouting and blossoming. Our azalea is attracting a constant stream of visitors: ladybugs, wasps, hornets and bees.

A pair of White-winged Doves has started building a nest in our mulberry.

The other day I noticed that our female Downy Woodpecker was acting much less standoffish than usual towards our male. As I watched, she seemed to be flirting with him.

And, this being spring, one thing naturally led to another.

On Tuesday we were sitting in our front yard when our first migrant Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year turned up. I was too slow to get a photo but the next day I put up a hummingbird feeder. It took less than five minutes for it to attract its first visitor. It wasn't a hummer, though, but rather one of our male House Finches. Our finches really love those hummingbird feeders!

Unfortunately, yesterday we also had a less welcome visitor: our first mosquito of the year. I had thought it was too dry and too early for mosquitoes but I was obviously wrong. Oh, well, I guess we have to hunt out our cans of bug spray.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Flying Home

Even if you've only been away on a short trip, it's always great to be flying home.



And to know that someone will be waiting there to welcome you. 


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A New Area

As we had never been to Port Arthur before, we woke up on Friday morning excited to see what the area had to offer. Our targets for the day were two well-known birding sites, Sea Rim State Park and Sabine Woods Bird Sanctuary. 

The drive south took us through a very ugly industrial area but the landscape improved when we turned west on highway 87 and traveled parallel to the coast. It wasn't long before the only sign of civilization was the occasional holiday home on the left and the odd ranch on the right.

The main park area at Sea Rim hasn't been restored since it was devastated by Hurricane Ike and so we went straight through it to the beach. There were a few vehicles and visitors at the entrance to the beach but otherwise the beach was wonderfully empty of people. There were plenty of birds, though, even if most of them stayed too far away from us for good photos.

Crowds of gulls and terns milled around at the edge of the sea.

Between us and the sea there were ponds where Long-billed Curlews, Marbled Godwits, Black-bellied Plovers, Willets and other shorebirds were busy hunting for breakfast.

There were other kinds of life on the beach, too.

After half-an-hour on the beach we parked the car and walked onto the Gambusia Boardwalk. Destroyed by Ike, the 1.5 mile boardwalk has now been fully restored and offers visitors an easy way to explore an extensive area of marshland and to see the many birds that the marsh attracts.

American Coots, Mottled Duck and Blue-winged Teal cruised the waters while Tricolored Herons, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willets and Black-necked Stilts paddled around looking for prey.

Hundreds of Dowitchers huddled together only yards away from the boardwalk.

A closer look showed that many Dunlin were mixed in with the Dowitchers.

White Ibis, Red-winged Blackbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles perched by the trail.

Great and Snowy Egrets kept their distance but a group of Roseate Spoonbills were easily visible as they grazed.  

We could have spent all day on the boardwalk but we needed to get a move on if we were to have time to visit Sabine Woods before starting our drive back home. 

As it turned out, Sabine Woods were fairly quiet, because warbler migration is only just getting underway in mid-March. However, we spent an enjoyable 30-40 minutes walking the trails there and we saw enough birds to keep us occupied - Eastern Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Red-tailed Hawk, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Parula and Black-and-white Warbler. 

Our morning visit was much too short to do justice to the Sea Rim / Sabine Woods area but we saw enough to convince us that we should return for a longer visit later in the spring.

Monday, March 21, 2011

High Island

It was 3:30 by the time we reached High Island. As I usually get lost going to the Smith Oaks site, we stopped off at Boy Scout Woods to pick up a trail map. While doing this, I had a quick look at a pair of Inca Doves wandering along the road.

The woods at Smith Oak were quiet as we walked through them but the rookery lake had hundreds of large wading birds, many of them already standing on partially or fully completed nests.  Unfortunately, almost all of the Roseate Spoonbills (and some Little Blue Herons) were clustered on the far side of the lake and so the only birds we could watch close-up were Double-crested Cormorants and Great Egrets.

The Great Egrets were in full breeding plumage with long lacy feathers streaming behind them. (A hundred years ago these feathers were such a prized addition to ladies' hats that the birds were hunted almost to extinction.) That it was breeding season was also clear from the fact that they all had green lores (the area between the eye and the base of the bill).


We spent a while watching Great Egrets displaying ...

and occasionally mating.

Meanwhile a dozen or so alligators were lazing at the water's edge below the nesting birds. They're getting ready for next month, when they'll enjoy a diet of baby birds that will fall from the nests.

Then, when I was explaining to our friends that we'd have to come back another time to get good views of Spoonbills, a crowd of the latter starting flying into the trees in front of us. What a sight!

At the end of the afternoon, Carlos and Macarena headed back to their hotel on Galveston while Dee and I decided to look for a motel somewhere in Port Arthur. We'd never been to that area before and I thought this would be a good chance to check out some birding sites over there.