Monday, May 30, 2011

High Island Rookery

Late on Saturday morning the rookery at Smith Oaks was in full swing.

As always, adult Great Egrets looked magnificent as they flew past the observation platforms.

Some of the Great Egrets had nested late and still had very young chicks to care for.

However, most of the Great Egret chicks were already big enough to groom themselves ...

often with surprisingly good results.

Most of the color at the rookery is added by the Roseate Spoonbills.

Our main reason for visiting the rookery was to see if the Spoonbill chicks had hatched. Many of them had, even if the baby birds were only just visible through the greenery.


Some of the chicks were much more advanced and were already venturing alone down to the water's edge. 

Like all parents, some the adult Spoonbills waited anxiously for their young to return.

This adult Spoonbill seemed to be running a little late, since it was still collecting sticks for nest building.

Snowy and Cattle Egrets and Tricolored Herons had also nested successfully but it was impossible to see into their nests. However, we could see that the Double-crested Cormorants were busy raising broods that were now almost too big for their nests.

Since they were much smaller than the other nesting birds, it was easy to overlook the Common Moorhens, some of whose chicks were also exploring the water's edge.

As usual, all the birds had to keep an eye out for alligators lying in wait in the water and on the island.


Our final sighting was of a very different kind of bird. I would have missed this Yellow-billed Cuckoo - one of my target birds for the weekend - if another birder hadn't spotted it in the bushes below one of the platforms.

Although Dee and I were planning to return to the rookery at sunset, we set of to have lunch at Anahuac NWR. On our most recent visit, three weeks earlier, the refuge had produced an array of interesting birds, including Clapper/King Rails, Soras and Least Bitterns. So we were hoping that this visit would be equally productive.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On the Road Again

Later this morning we're off on a weekend birding trip and so I won't be blogging again until Monday morning. 

We're meeting up with friends at High Island to see whether the Roseate Spoonbills chicks have hatched. While we're there, I'll be hoping to add another bird or two to my 2011 list. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo would be a nice addition.

We'll have a picnic lunch at Anahuac NWR. Rails will be our main target here but there's always the possibility of seeing a new year bird such as a Swallow-tailed Kite.

We may try to get back to High Island to watch the sunset fly-in at the rookery before we spend the night in Winnie. They say it's quite a show!

Sunday morning I'll be at Anahuac early while Dee is getting up and organized. Then we'll drive along Bolivar to the ferry, stopping at Rollover Pass and the Audubon beach sanctuary. I'll be looking for White-tailed Kites by the roadside and Gull-billed Terns wherever we stop.

 Gull-billed Tern

We'll take the ferry to Galveston - hoping for a Magnificent Frigatebird during the crossing - and will have lunch at Mario's on the Seawall before heading home. 

See you Monday!

Friday, May 27, 2011

CyFair Campus Quiz

The Quiz

Here are twelve birds that I've seen on the CyFair campus in the past year.

See how many you can identify.

(The answers are given further down the page.)













The Answers

Snowy Egret
Those yellow feet are usually easy to spot.

Purple Martin
No other swallow-type bird is bluish black all over.

Northern Mockingbird
This should need no explanation or clarification.

Western Kingbird
We're right on the edge of their range. Pairs have
been nesting on the campus for several years.

Indigo Bunting
The name says it all.

White-eyed Vireo
The white eye and yellow "spectacles" distinguish this from other Vireos.

Eastern Phoebe
If you're not sure of a bird that looks like a Phoebe,
just listen. Before long it will say its name
quite distinctly.

The bold rings on the neck and upper chest
are difficult to miss.

Hermit Thrush
If you see a thrush around Houston in the winter,
it will be a Hermit Thrush.

Savannah Sparrow
Our most common winter sparrow, it usually
has a yellow patch just above its beak.

Loggerhead Shrike
The thick black eye stripe makes this bird easy to distinguish from e.g., a Northern Mockingbird.

Red-shouldered Hawk
This is a permanent resident of our area.

How Did You Do?
10-12 Excellent

7-9 Very Good

5-6 Fair

0-4 Oh, dear!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Young Finches

We always enjoy watching the House Finches that visit our yards. We currently have rather more than usual because several of the adult pairs now have fledglings with them. 

Most of the fledglings have worked out that the sunflower seeds in our feeders are the things to go for. However, a few are still having problems working out what is food and what isn't. So yesterday a couple of them seemed to be determined to eat our bamboo fence.

Unfortunately, one of the young birds has developed avian pox, a disease that causes wart-like growths near the eyes. This bird had such growths on both sides of its head.

Avian pox isn't directly life-threatening but it can cause death by restricting the birds' range of vision and so making them less aware of predators. I'm afraid that was probably the case with this particular bird, because I last saw it being carried off in the mouth of a neighbor's cat.

The pox is common among House Finches, mainly because they tend to move and feed in fairly dense flocks and so to pass the disease to each other. I will move our feeders further apart to see if that helps to avoid more birds becoming infected. It will probably help, too, if I clean our feeders more frequently, using a 10% bleach solution.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Ponds at CyFair

Yesterday morning I decided to take a quick walk around the two large retention ponds at the Barker Cypress Road entrance to the campus. I hadn't visited the ponds for weeks and I was curious as to what birds might be hanging out there.

A pair of Green Herons normally spends the summer at the ponds and so I wasn't surprised to see one of the herons fishing on the waterfall.

Nor was I surprised to see another at the edge of the northern pond. 

However, I wasn't expecting to see a third fly in from the north ...

or a fourth patrolling the water's edge.

Our resident Great Egret, Snowy Egret and Great Blue Heron were absent, replaced by a solitary Cattle Egret, a bird that we rarely see on the campus. 


The Egret left when it saw me but a lone American Coot just paddled off into the middle of the pond.

The trees around the ponds had several Northern Mockingbirds and a couple of male Red-winged Blackbirds. This male was busy calling for a mate but there didn't seem to be any females around.

Male and female Great-tailed Grackles were drinking at one of the ponds but most of them panicked at my approach and noisily flew up into the trees.

The noise attracted the attention of a Loggerhead Shrike, which flew in to check out what was happening.   

This was the cue for me to leave the birds and get back to work.