Thursday, June 09, 2011

Prairie Park

About once a month I take a slightly extended lunch break so that I can pay a quick visit to Paul Rushing Park on the Katy prairie. The park is at its best in the winter and spring, when it can be busy with a range of ducks and/or shorebirds. It is much quieter for birds in the summer but even then it usually produces something worth looking at.

When I arrived there on a very hot day last week, the park was as quiet as I had ever seen it. The sports fields that normally yield Horned Larks were deserted. 

However, the first boardwalk had an Eastern Meadowlark that was singing its heart out.

Then I disturbed a Black-necked Stilt, which complained loudly as it circled me before moving off.

A dozen or so swallows were swooping and soaring around the boardwalk, sometimes flying over it and sometimes diving to fly under it. 

I managed to hold some of the sparrows in my binoculars long enough to see that they were either Cliff or Cave. The former are much more common in our area but there had been reports of Cave Swallows nesting in the park and I hadn't yet seen a Cave Swallow this year. 

Unfortunately, the two species are very similar in size, shape and coloring. Cliff Swallows have a small white patch on their forehead and have dark rusty red throat but I always find it hard to pick out such details on birds that are in constant swift motion and today was no exception.

So I decided the best way to ID the birds would be to photograph them. Easier said than done! Time after time I took a picture of one of the swallows as it zoomed by, only to find either that I had missed the bird completely or that the image I had captured was so blurred as to be unrecognizable.

In the end, though, I managed to anticipate their flight well enough to produce a couple of fairly clear photos.


There was no white on their foreheads and their throats and upper beasts were beige rather than dark rusty red. Cave Swallows! 

The Cave Swallows take my Texas year list up to 257 species, only 6 species fewer than I saw in the state in the whole of 2010. And there are still seven months of the year left!

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