Saturday, July 30, 2011

Peanuts Again

.Over the past couple of days I've kept putting out peanuts on our fence and the Blue Jays and other birds that have continued to come in to eat them have been keeping us entertained.

Young Northern Cardinals have been the most frequent visitors ...

but a couple of their parents have also dropped by.

A Carolina Wren has taken to checking out the situation and usually goes off with the biggest nut it can find. 

Although I didn't manage to get photos, the nuts have also attracted at least a few House Sparrows, House Finches and even a White-winged Dove.

I was pleased to see that some Carolina Chickadees finally managed to get a look in. One spent a while holding down chunks of nut with its feet while it picked at them.

Then  it seemed to decide that it was missing out by focusing only on pieces of broken peanuts and so flew away with a much bigger prize.

All the activity on the fence has attracted Northern Mockingbird. One juvenile was content to watch intently from the nearby shed roof. A younger Mockingbird was bolder and flew down to the fence. Unable to work out how to deal with the nuts itself, it tried begging food from one of its parents.

Unfortunately, the "parent" was actually an older sibling, who looked surprised and perhaps even a little indignant at being mistaken for a parent.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Foto


Our yard birds are still struggling with the heat.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Very Busy in Our Yards

.Our yards are so busy with birds this summer that our normal feeders (four with seed and two with suet) can't keep up with the demand. So we have started putting peanuts along one of the horizontal beams on our fence.

The peanuts are particularly popular with our Blue Jays. Adults fly in  for them regularly and, as you can see from the photos below, juveniles like them, too.

The peanuts also attract our several families of Northern Cardinals.

All the action around the peanuts has inevitably attracted the attention of our resident Carolina Chickadees. Until now, though, we haven't seen the Chickadees actually take any of the peanuts.

Perhaps whole peanuts are just too big for Chickadees to deal with. So I've now started spreading some peanut chips along the fence and I'll watch to see how the Chickadees react to these.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It's Really Dry Out There

.Sunday morning I took a quick drive down to El Franco Lee Park, just south of Belway 8 between 288 and I-45. There had been reports that a Least Grebe was hanging out in the extensive wetlands there.

When I arrive, I couldn't believe my eyes. The short boardwalk normally juts out into what is essentially a large lake but this time there was no water anywhere near it.

I took nature trail #2 and eventually found some water. However, there wasn't much of it and it was surrounded by sea of mud.

Families of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were wandering around on the mud, looking rather forlorn.

In the distance, the small remaining stretch of water had a good number of birds - Roseate Spoonbills, Great and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Blue-winged Teal and some shorebirds. Unfortunately, there was no Least Grebe.

I left feeling depressed. Not because of missing out on the Grebe. But because of what the drought has done to what is normally a very vibrant wetlands.

On my way out of the park a solitary Laughing Gull looked totally out-of-place as it stood on a utility pole. 


Monday, July 25, 2011

Welcome and Less So

.Our yards have been extremely busy with birds these past few weeks. One reason is that so many of our resident birds have produced chicks.  Another is that the drought has made our birdbaths even more attractice than usual.

Most of the visitors are very welcome. This is certainly the case with this young Northern Mockingbird, who is now a  constant visitor.

Other visitors include families of Northern Cardinals and a large extended family of House Finches. These species are particularly welcome because they generally seem to get along with each other.

Much less welcome are several House Sparrows which have started visiting our feeders and birdbaths on a regular basis.

And yesterday I was dismayed to see a couple of European Starlings grazing on our front lawn.

Don't get me wrong - I like House Sparrows and I think Starlings are beautiful birds. However, I much prefer to see they where they belong - in Europe - rather than here, where their presence is threatening the existence of native American species.

I just hope the House Sparrows and Starlings don't decide to take up residence in our yards. If they do, I'm afraid I'll have to take steps to discourage them!

CyFair Campus
Last time I checked on the Purple Martins on the CyFair Campus, there were well over 30 birds on and around their house. So it seems that they had a very successful breeding season. They should be leaving us any time now if, in fact, they haven't already migrated. Hopefully they'll be back next year. 


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Black Skimmers

.I will never forget the first time I saw Black Skimmers. It was seven years ago at Galveston State Park. Two of them were fishing and they repeatedly flew just inches above the water with their large lower mandibles cutting through its surface.

I was amazed by the surgical precision of their fishing technique and I watched them for ages. Since then I have seen Skimmers on many of our visits to the Texas coast. They still fascinate me although oddly enough I am very rarely lucky enough to see them fishing. Most often they are standing around on the sand - sometimes just a handful of them and sometimes hundreds.

This makes it easy to see the large lower mandible that makes it possible for them to fish they way they do.

They don't always stand on the sand. They often lie down on it, too, like the one in the foreground of this photo.

Sometimes they paddle around in the shallows.

Last week at Bolivar I watched some flying up and down the water's edge but unfortunately I never got to see them fishing.

However, two of them put on an impressive display of synchronised flying as they wheeled and soared overhead.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Our Finches Are Sick

.We're really worried about the fifteen or so House Finches that regularly visit our feeders. A couple of weeks ago, one had growths on its eyes and legs, the hallmarks of avian pox. It isn't a directly life-threatening disease but birds that can't see well can easily fall prey to cats and other predators. We've tried to make an extra effort to keep our feeders and birdbaths clean in order to limit the spread of the disease, but now a second Finch has caught it.

The first bird no longer has growths on its legs but its eyes are still a mess - and it has lost its tail, probably to a cat.

The second bird is a youngster and its eyes are a terrible mess.

We might empty our feeders for a while to stop the birds congregating here but, given the heat, I don't think we can stop supplying water for our bird visitors. And if the birdbaths are full, I suspect the Finches will just keep on turning up in their usual numbers.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Quick Return To Anahuac

 We arranged to meet friends at Baytown Nature Center on Saturday morning but it was raining hard on that side of town and so we met up at the new Anahuac NWR headquarters instead. The HQ is on FM 563 a few miles south of I-10 and we thought it would be a good place to explore while we waited for the rain to stop.

We spent an enjoyable 40 minutes looking at displays and watching a movie about the local refuges. Then we walked along the trail that leads from the HQ buildings through the woods to the edge of Anahuac Lake. We didn't see or hear a single bird but we were entertained by the dozens of spiders building webs across and near the boardwalk. 

We'll try the trail again later in the year, when there is likely to be more bird activity. It certainly looked like it could be a good site to visit during fall or spring migration.
When the rain stopped, we decided to head over to the main Anahuac refuge. There we had our picnic lunch in what used to be the visitor center, surrounded by Barn Swallows, a few of which were still sitting in nests.

Our lunch was interrupted when a dozen or so large birds appeared and kept circling very high in the sky above us. They turned out to be Wood Storks.

The garden was empty of birds but had lots of dragonflies.

A slow drive around Shovelers' Pond turned up Black-necked Stilts, Great Egrets and a couple of Willets.
Then two Clapper/King Rails put in a brief appearance.

I was so busy watching for birds in the ditch around the pond that Dee had to point out a Least Bittern perched high in the reeds on the other side of the road. I find Least Bitterns fascinating birds and I loved the way this one was clinging to the reeds.

As we were leaving Shovelers' I noticed a bird in the reeds. It had fluff on its head and so was clearly a youngster.

At first I wasn't at all sure what I was looking at. Then I noticed an adult bird standing nearby and keeping an eye on the youngster. Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

We didn't see a great number or variety of birds at Anahuac and we didn't see a single alligator. However, the visit was worthwhile if only for the Wood Storks, Rails, the Least Bittern and the Yellow-crowned Night Herons - and, of course, the magnificent marshland scenery.