Friday, March 30, 2012

That Time Again

March is drawing to a close. So here we are entering another spring migration period, the time of year that birders in our area most look forward to. For the next several weeks we'll all be making frequent trips down to the coast, hoping to be at High Island and other sites when flocks of northward migrating songbirds drop in for a rest after crossing the Gulf. We'll also be watching out for migrating shorebirds and for other birds that migrate northward along the coast rather than across the Gulf.

Of course, some spring migrants have already passed through. For the past couple of weeks people have spotted handfuls of Hooded Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Blue-headed Vireos etc. in and around Houston.

I myself haven't had many opportunities to see migrants yet. Because of work, most of my recent birding has consisted of quick walks on the LSC-CyFair campus. There the only migrants I have spotted so far have been a Gray Catbird and a White-eyed Vireo (below).

I'm sure I'll be seeing more migrating birds soon, though. Why? Because Dee and I are heading down to the coast for the weekend. We'll bird High Island tomorrow, stay the night in Winnie, and then bird Bolivar on Sunday. Even if songbirds don't turn up at High Island, there is sure to be lots of action to watch and photograph at the rookery there. And Bolivar always produces at least a few interesting birds.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Purple Martins

For the past few years the Purple Martin houses on the CyFair campus have attracted a lot of spring visitors and this year is no exception. Already about twenty Martins have returned to the houses.

The males look particularly beautiful in their dark, glossy plumage.

The females, less dramatically colored, are easy to tell from the males.

Both sexes are incredible fliers. I love watching them as they circle and swoop overhead, looking for bugs.

They look pretty dramatic as they fly back to land on the houses, too.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

CyFair Campus

The nature trail on the campus has been very quiet this past week but the retention ponds have continued to have plenty of activity.

While I don't see our resident Snowy Egret every day, our Great Egret is always around.

The number of Ring-billed Ducks and American Coots has dropped to maybe a dozen of each species but the number of Redheads seems to have increased to eight.

The ducks and coots share the water with quite a few Red-eared Sliders.

Away from the ponds, one of our several Loggerhead Shrikes has taken to hanging out in a parking lot.

Away from the ponds Northern Mockingbirds are a common sight.

The males sometimes choose the oddest spots from which to sing for mates.

Our male Great-tailed Grackles are clearly also on the lookout for mates.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Home Sweet Home

.Since getting back from the hill country, we've spent quite a bit of time in our yards, doing weeding and other jobs we felt we needed to get done before the full arrival of spring.

A couple of years ago the oak in our front yard absolutely covered the lawn and flower beds with acorns. We picked up thousands but many more got buried. So I'm always watching for and pulling up the ones that have started to sprout. Luckily I'm now getting help from the many squirrels that live in our neighborhood. Several squirrels spend virtually all day every day digging up and eating buried acorns.

Lately Blue Jays have been turning up and joining in.

The male Red-bellied Woodpecker that started making occasional visits to our suet feeders has turned into a regular visitor.

I'm glad the Blue Jays and Red-bellied seem to be settling back into our yards because almost all our winter visitors have now left. The only ones remaining are Chipping Sparrows, and I don't expect them to be around much longer. We'll certainly miss them when they leave!

Working in the yards has given me more opportunities to watch the sky over our house. So I finally got to see the Cooper's Hawk that has been terrorizing the birds in our neighborhood for weeks.

I've had good looks at a Red-tailed Hawk, too.

It's rare to look up for more than a few minutes without being able to see Turkey and/or Black Vultures circling above. However, on Tuesday I was surprised when two Black Vultures strolled down the street and past the front of our yard.

BTW, there is plenty of other activity in our yards. All kinds of bugs are active and several types of butterflies drift through each day. While we hear tree frogs constantly but never see any, male anoles have been displaying all over our fences and walls. I just love watching how they pump up the pink sac at their throat.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Hill Country Trip: Part 5

.Our final bird at Neal's Lodges was a Curve-billed Thrasher, spotted as we left the dining room.

From Concan we drove to Utopia, where we were to stay the night at the lovely Utopia on the River B & B. 

Shortly after we arrived, we were entertained by two male and two female Black-chinned Hummingbirds arguing over feeder rights.

Nearby, Black-crested Titmice were busy exploring the trees.

There were several Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers (below) as well.

Oddly enough, the most abundant species seemed to be Eastern Phoebe. I lost count of how many I saw or heard.

Flora and Butterflies

Although our trip did not produce the range of bird species that I had hoped for, any disappointment was more than offset by the abundance of wildflowers, including many roadside swathes of Texas Bluebonnets (below), Black-eyed Susans and Indian Paintbrushes.

Butterflies were abundant everywhere we went, too. Red Admirals were the most common.

However, there were also plenty of Monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, Clouded Sulphurs and Pearl Crescents.

All in all, we both enjoyed the trip a lot - but I'm hoping to persuade Dee to take another trip to Uvalde and Concan in April, when bird numbers should be better!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hill Country Trip: Part 4

Tuesday morning I got up before (a very foggy) dawn, bought a bag of birdseed at HEB in Uvalde and drove the 20 miles up toNeal's Lodges. I spread some of the seed around the feeders near Cabin 56 and then headed back to Uvalde to collect Dee. My hope was that the fog would have lifted and birds would have discovered the seed by the time we returned.

As it turned out, it was still foggy when Dee and I reached Neal's Lodges, and so it was difficult to get photos. However, the seed had certainly attracted plenty of birds!

First up was a Spotted Towhee, always a pleasure to see. This particular bird kept returning to feed every few minutes over the hour we watched.

Next up were a couple of Black-throated Sparrows, to my mind the most beautiful of all the sparrows.

A dozen or more Chipping Sparrows constantly searched for seeds on the ground while male and female Lesser Goldfinches checked out the feeders or perched on branches above them.

A pair of Pyrrhuloxias would creep up, take a few seeds and then disappear back into the bushes.

Black-crested Titmice were among the most common visitors. Sometimes they came for water.

Sometimes they came for seed.

There were other, more common birds also, of course. Several Northern Cardinals hovered around, occasionally popping in for a snack, as did some Carolina Chickadees and House Finches.

So, although the fog had made photography difficult, our second visit to Neal's Lodges had turned out to be much more successful than our first one and that one bag of seed from HEB had certainly more than repaid its cost.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hill Country Trip: Part 3


There is a nice birding trail, with two observation decks, around one of the ponds at the National Fish Hatchery in Uvalde.

Unfortunately, we arrived just 20 minutes before the Hatchery closes to the public at 3:30 and so we just had time for a quick look at the main birding pond. Several Gadwall were present but immediately flew off, as did four Cinnamon Teals.

An adult Black-crowned Night Heron got away before I could get a photo but a juvenile was a little slower off the mark.

While a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Pyyrhuloxia and two Wilson's Snipes stayed well out of photo range, a couple of Harris's Sparrows came a little closer.

When the site closed, we headed over to Cook's Slough.

Once again there were scores of Black Vultures.

Some at least of the vultures were apparently attracted by a dead Great Blue Heron.

One of the few ponds we could reach easily had a Solitary Sandpiper, a species I'd seen only a couple of times before.

We weren't surprised to see a Great Egret.

An Anhinga flying overhead was more unexpected.

As we were both getting tired, we decided to head back to the motel. My plan was to be up early the next day to drive up to Neal's Lodges, this time with a bag of seed with which to lure in more birds.