Thursday, January 31, 2013

Where Are They?

Early in December every year I start watching out for the arrival of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins. They usually start showing up by the score in our neighborhood and in flocks of hundreds elsewhere in our area. For example, on the CyFair campus we normally see flocks of 100+ Robins and much larger flocks of Cedar Waxwings - often as large as 300-600 birds.

So far, this winter has produced comparatively few sightings of either species, and the sightings that have been reported have generally been of flocks of no more than 20-30 birds. This is no doubt because milder weather further north has meant the birds haven't needed to migrate as far south as usual.

This January I had seen a dozen or so Waxwings on the campus a couple of times before yesterday and only a solitary Robin on one occasion. So I was pleased when I took a quick walk down to the Nature Trail in the afternoon and had a quick glimpse of three Robins.

I was even more pleased when a couple of Cedar Waxwings flew in to a nearby tree.

I'm now hoping that the cold front approaching southeast Texas will push more of these beautiful birds into our area.

BTW, I'm sorry the photos aren't better but the birds were at quite a distance and the wind was whipping the trees around. If you want to see better much pictures of Waxwings at the college, just type "Waxwings" into the Search box at the top left of this page and then look at the first two posts that appear.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Red-tailed Hawk

On my Monday lunch break I was driving near the college when I noticed a Red-tailed Hawk flying over a field beside the road. I pulled over and took a few photos as the hawk crisscrossed the field in windy conditions.

I expected the bird to move off but instead it started "kiting" - using the wind to allow it to hang almost motionless in one spot. This allowed me to take more photos.

This reminded me of a morning many years ago when Dee and I noticed a bunch of of hawks behind our apartment in Pittsburg, CA. We walked over and spent half-an-hour watching absolutely transfixed as 20+ juvenile Red-tailed Hawks kited above a small hillside, swooping down to catch several snakes, which they then passed and repassed to each other. Magical!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Kleb Woods

Saturday morning I went up to Kleb Woods Nature Center to do some solitary birding - only to find that the Center was hosting a birdwalk for 20+ members of the Houston Audubon Society. As I don't really enjoy birding with lots of people, I spent a short while with the group. During this time I added a Blue-headed Vireo to my year list.

Then I indulged in one of my favorite winter birding activities - I spent 30 minutes siiting by the rosebush at the parking lot entrance and watching birds come to the seed that the Center's staff had scattered under the bush.

House Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows (below) were the most common visitors.

However, there was also a Lincoln's Sparrow.

Three Field Sparrows joined in.

It wasn't just sparrows that were attracted by the seed. Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, American Goldfinch and Tufted Titmice (below) turned up, too.

My final sighting was of a Red-tailed Hawk that swooped low over the parking lot, causing panic among the birds around the rosebush.

Before going home, I drove over to Stone Lake because Canada Geese had been seen there several times this month. Sure enough, as soon as I reached the lake, I spotted 8 Canada Geese resting on the grass.

My day's birding didn't end when I arrived home, because the feeders in our yards were unbelievably busy with birds. But that's a story for another day!

Saturday, January 26, 2013


While we were at Baytown Nature Center on Saturday, we saw several Ospreys. Unfortunately, all were too far away for clear photographs. Then, just as we were leaving, we came across an Osprey perching in a tree and eating a fish that it held down with its talons.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter Weekend Birding

Saturday morning I spent an hour at our nearest birding site, Little Cypress Creek Preserve. It was busy with common birds but not much else. However, I did see my first Golden-crowned Kinglet of the year as well as a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks.

On Sunday we drove down to the San Jacinto Monument in hopes of seeing the Long-tailed Duck that has been hanging out there for several weeks. It would be a life bird for me. From the parking lot and the boardwalk I spotted a flock of scores of American White Pelicans (below) plus several new year birds - Vermilion Flycatcher, Brown Thrasher, Roseate Spoonbills, Green-winged Teal and Mottled Duck.

From the end of  a park road I walked out to where two other birders were scoping the bay. One of the birders, Paul Sellin, had the Long-tailed Duck in his scope and let me view the bird. Unfortunately, the duck was too far away for a photo, which was also true of other new year birds I could see - American Avocets and Long-billed Dowitchers.

We drove on to take the Lynchburg Ferry across to Baytown. The beach near the ferry landing had many Laughing Gulls and several more new year birds - Sanderlings, Herring Gulls, Forster's Terns and Royal Terns.

Just after disembarking from the ferry, we had a good if brief luck at a coyote trotting across a grassy area.

Baytown Nature Center was fairly quiet when we arrived and so we had a picnic lunch in the hilltop pavilion. In the distance an Osprey was standing on a partially completed nest while closer to hand a Loggerhead Shrike was hunting.

A Great Egret walked slowly through the water on one side of the hill.

We watched a Brown Pelican fishing on the other side of the hill.

After lunch we strolled along the bayside trail looking for the Eared and Horned Grebes that have been seen many times over recent weeks. We had no luck with the Grebes but I added to my year list with distant views of a Tricolored Heron and a pair of Hooded Mergansers (below).

The walk also produced flyovers by Great Blue Herons and distant looks at some Northern Pintails.

We saw what at first glance looked like a two-headed Red-eared Slider!


We did a quick drive out to the furthest jetty but  saw only Great-tailed Grackles.

On our way out of the park we stopped to admire a distant Belted Kingfisher (below) and an Osprey lunching on a fish.

Nearby a Snowy Egret was resting by the edge of a pond while another Snowy was rushing about trying to scare up fish.

Our final sighting was of a Killdeer and a Spotted Sandpiper (below).

All in all, it wasn't a great day's birding. However, we had seen some interesting birds, including one lifer (Long-tailed Duck) and 13 other year birds, taking my 2013 total to 108 species.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pleasant Days (and Birds) Return

After a week of cold, wet and windy days, better weather returned to our area on Wednesday. It has still been cold but it has been dry and we have had blue skies. In other words, it has been the kind of weather that brings birds to feeders.

The Brown-headed Nuthatch that surprised us when it arrived last week has been turning up again - and I still get excited whenever it swoops in to grab a seed.

Its Red-breasted cousins are even more regular visitors to our feeders. We have at least two of these Nuthatches and I suspect we actually have more.

Pine Warblers haven't reappeared yet but Yellow-rumped Warblers come every afternoon. Orange-crowned Warblers (below) fly in to our suet feeders first thing every morning and keep visiting until dusk each day.

Our one Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a frequent visitor, too. He seems to have gotten used to our presence but usually waits until there are no other birds around before he comes to get some suet.

On most days we see one or two Chipping Sparrows, and the male Rufous Hummingbird that I featured in my Wednesday posting turns up sporadically throughout the day.

American Goldfinches are rarely absent from our seed feeders. Sometimes they come in flocks and sometimes in smaller groups of 2-4 birds.

The Goldfinches are sometimes accompanied by a Pine Siskin or two.

Our year-round residents have been comparatively infrequent visitors to our yards, perhaps because they are discouraged by the presence of so many migrants. Carolina Chickadees are an exception, though. 

So, too, are Carolina Wrens and, of course, House Sparrows.

Our Downy Woodpeckers are also an exception, The female tends to hunt for food in our mulberry tree while the male (identifiable by the red dot on the back of the head) prefers to spend large parts of each day munching on suet. 

One species that has been noticeably - and regrettably! - absent from our neighborhood so far this winter has been Cedar Waxwings. I'm hoping some appear soon. I'm also hoping that Waxwings will move onto the CyFair campus. This year I have seen only a handful there, whereas in other winters we have always had flocks of 300-600 of these beautiful birds.