Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Baytown Nature Center

On Sunday morning I decided to do a drive around the Baytown area, hoping to see a variety of Grebes and perhaps a Bald Eagle.

Arriving at the Baytown Nature Center, I stopped to watch a group of Mallards paddling around one of the ponds. 

The same pond had several Gadwall, a species that seems to be present at every pond or lake that I have visited this winter.

A solitary Lesser Scaup was hanging out nearby.

At first glance I assumed that this bird was a Double-crested Cormorant. However, it had a whitish "V" at the base of its beak, one of the distinguishing marks of the Neotropic Cormorant.

I spent a couple of minutes watching a Great Egret as it moved in virtual slow motion through the water, looking for prey.

The bay itself was quiet for birds, except for perahps 40 Ruddy Ducks and an Eared Grebe that were too far away for photos. There was no sign of either the Western Grebe or the Horned Grebe that have been seen here almost daily. 

A few Brown Pelicans flew over the water as I scanned it for Grebes.

The butterfly garden had only a few White-crowned Sparrows and a male Great-tailed Grackle.
I tried to make the latter into a Boat-tailed Grackle but the shape of its tail and the way it held its wings down while displaying clearly indicated it was a Great-tailed.

I couldn't resist parking by the bay to watch a Snowy Egret on my way out of the center. Much smaller than Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets are also distinguished by their black beak and bright yellow feet. 

My visit to the Baytown Nature Center had produced only one of the grebes I had been looking for. I left hoping that I would be more successful at the next site, Thompson's Bait Camp, a place I had never visited previously but where other birders had been seeing Western Grebes as well as hundreds of Red-breasted Mergansers.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A New State Bird

Last week I grabbed a little time away from work to rush over to Bear Creek Park to see the male Western Tanager which had been there for several days.

With the help of Stephan Lorenz I was able to locate and photograph the bird.

I used to see Western Tanagers frequently in California but this is the first one I've seen in Texas.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

El Franco Lee

Last Saturday morning I left home early to get down to El Franco Lee Park, where I was hoping to see a range of wading birds and ducks and perhaps a Bald Eagle.

As soon as I arrived, I ran into a group of 80+ White Ibis grazing near the parking area.

There were more White Ibis perched in several nearby trees.

A walk along part of Nature Trail 2 gave me good views of the water but all I saw were a few Northern Shovelers and a lot of American Coots (below).

The inland side of the trail had only a few common birds, such as Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Back at the gazebo, scores of White Ibis were wading next to numerous Great and Snowy Egrets.

A solitary Laughing Gull seemed rather out-of-place.

A walk to the other side of the lake produced little except three Loggerhead Shrikes.

However, it did allow me to get a photo of a Northern Harrier.

At the gazebo again, several American Crows were perched on lampposts.

Before leaving I spent a while looking for the Say’s Phoebe that has been hanging out there for some weeks. It didn’t take long to find the bird, and I was pleasantly surprised when it let me take photos from only 30 feet away.

My trip hadn’t yielded as many species as I had hoped but even just getting to watch the Phoebe made the visit worthwhile.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

CyFair Campus Waxwings

We usually have a huge flock of 300-600 Cedar Waxwings on the CyFair campus in the winter. This year I have seen very few.

One day last week, before work, I spotted a group of about 30 near the start of the nature trail.

 Most of them were just soaking in the early morning sun.

But a few of them were getting down to the serious business of eating breakfast.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Backyard Bird Count

On Sunday I decided to spend the whole morning in our yards, tallying bird species and numbers for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). I didn’t participate in the GBBC for the past two years and so I thought I’d put extra effort into it this year.

Our feeders were busy with at least two Red-breasted and two Brown-headed Nuthatches.


Our loyal Ruby-crowned Kinglet turned up every 15 minutes or so and we had all three species of winter warblers: Orange-crowned (below), Yellow-rumped and Pine (below).


We had only a single Chipping Sparrow. 

A male and female House Finch appeared.

A Tufted Titmouse was a nice surprise, as we’ve rarely seen them in our yards these past few years.

I was very pleased to see a male Eastern Bluebird. A pair was checking our birdhouses last week and we’re hoping they will decide to nest. It seems unlikely, though, since our yard does not offer the kind of habitat that Bluebirds usually prefer.

I was hoping to see a Bald Eagle fly over but I had to settle for a Cooper’s Hawk and a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks (below) instead.

Cedar Waxwings didn't turn up in the morning but a group flew over just after we got home in the afternoon.

The biggest disappointment was the absence of Northern Cardinals. A pair normally visits every day but neither of them appeared on Sunday.

I easily beat my previous best 1-day backyard total (23 species) by recording 31 species this time.

Part of the reason for the higher total is that we currently have some winter visitors that we don’t usually get: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pine Siskin. However, I think the main reason is that on Sunday I spent most of my time standing or sitting where I could see the sky as well as our feeders. As a result, I noted more flyovers than in earlier years.

Here is the full list, in the order that I spotted each species.
Carolina Wren 2
Great Blue Heron 4 (flyovers)
Northern Mockingbird 2
Blue Jay 3
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
White-winged Dove 11
Black-bellied Whistling Duck 3 (flyovers)
American Robin (flyover)
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Double-crested Cormorant 3 (flyovers)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Orange-crowned Warbler 2
House Finch 2
Brown-headed Nuthatch 2
Carolina Chickadee 2
Pine Warbler
Cooper's Hawk (flyover)
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Rufous Hummingbird
House Sparrow 4
Chipping Sparrow
Eastern Bluebird
Turkey Vulture (flyover)
Downy Woodpecker 2
Tufted Titmouse
Black Vulture 3 (flyover)
American Goldfinch 4
Pine Siskin
Red-shouldered Hawk 2 (flyovers)
Cedar Waxwing 10 (flyovers)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Success at Last!

On Friday I used my lunch-break to drive over to Paul Rushing Park to try once more for the Great Kiskadee that is wintering there.

As I turned onto the road to the detention center, a Black Vulture was perched on a utility pole.

Great-tailed Grackles and a young White-faced Ibis flew over.

I chatted with a young birder who had parked nearby. When he told me I had just missed three Kiskadees, I was sure that this visit was going to be as unsuccessful as all my previous ones. However, he played Kiskadee calls on his phone and three birds responded immediately. We rushed over to the source of one of the replies, only to find that it was being made by a Northern Mockingbird.

Then we saw movement in the trees further back and two Great Kiskadees appeared.

A minute later, one of them flew into a tree near the road and I was able to get a couple of reasonable photos.

So my search for the Paul Rushing Kiskadee was finally over! Of course, I still wouldn't have seen the birds if my young companion hadn't called them up for me.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Looking for an Elusive Bird

Last week I used one of my lunchtimes to drive onto the Katy Prairie, hoping to see the Great Kiskadee that has been wintering at Paul Rushing Park. I missed the same bird when it was at the park last winter and, so far, it had eluded me this winter.

I parked near where the bird had been most often seen and began walking up and down, scanning the trees and fields.

An Eastern Phoebe was busy flycatching from a tree.

A single White-crowned Sparrow watched as I passed by.

A small group of Savannah Sparrows was less tolerant of my presence, although one of them was slower to fly off than the others.

After 20 minutes I had to give up in order to get back to work. So I got in the car and started driving off. I hadn't gone more than 30 yards when I noticed a patch of bright yellow in one of the trees. At last the Kiskadee!

When I looked more carefully, I realized I was wrong and it wasn't the Kiskadee. 

It was a Couch's Kingbird, another bird that is comparatively rare in our area in the winter. 

While it was not the bird I was looking, the Couch's was a beautiful bird and certainly one that was worth seeing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Many of my colleagues think that it is very strange that I take a camera to work and carry it whenever I walk from one college building to another. However, I've learned from experience that interesting birds can appear at any time on our campus. So when an Osprey flew over the other morning as I was walking from my car to my offiice, I was able to grab a couple of photos.