Friday, February 28, 2014

Bathing Beauties

One thing that I always enjoy is watching birds bathe. They always seem to take such delight in splashing around in water.

This was certainly true of a Green Jay that I saw last year in the Rio Grande Valley.

It was true, too, of some Painted Buntings and Northern Cardinals that I watched at South Llano River State Park.

It is equally true of most of our resident birds in Cypress, such as House Finches and White-winged Doves.

It is also the case with some of the winter visitor to our yards, like this Orange-crowned Warbler.

However, as I mentioned a few postings ago, one bird that I never see bathing is the Carolina Wren. Do they really never bathe? Or could it be that they are exceptionally modest and wait until nobody is looking?

I discovered the answer the other day when both our resident Carolina Wrens turned up together at the birdbath outside our living-room window. Both birds did bathe - but they spent only a second or two in the water. Whereas other birds splash around for sometimes several minutes, our Wrens were in and out of the water in a flash. They were so quick that, even though they both entered the bath several times, I never managed to get a photo of either of them actually in the water. All I got were photos of them considering taking the plunge ...

... and then drying off.

Given how little time the birds spent in the water, it was amazing how long they then spent drying off and preening.

Getting their wings back into shape is pretty easy ...

... but getting the tail sorted takes a lot more effort.

In the end, the only way to get that tail right is to give it a really good shake.



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Incredible Numbers!

A month ago I was bemoaning the fact that only a handful of Cedar Waxwings had shown up on the CyFair campus. The previous January we had several hundred of these beautiful birds and by the end of last winter we had a flock of over 1100.

I needn't have worried, because more Waxwings began arriving in early February and the flock's numbers have steadily grown. They make a stunning sight as they perch in trees and warm up in the morning sunlight. 

Monday morning the birds all settled down in one row of trees so that I was able to photograph them. I then sat down and counted the birds in the photos. The total? Over 1300! This is a staggering number, especially given that most people in our area are finding this is a poor year for Waxwings. 

Waxwings normally stay on the campus until early May and so I'm now wondering if the flock will increase still further. I'm also wondering - just dreaming, probably - if one of these days I might find a Bohemian Waxwing hidden away among all those Cedar Waxwings. That really would be an exciting development. Unfortunately, the only sure way to do it is to keep photographing the flock and then to examine every bird in every photo.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Back to Baytown

Although yesterday morning was very foggy, we drove over to the Baytown Nature Center for a relaxed couple of hours of birding. I knew we were too late to see the White-winged Scoters that had hung out there for a while, but I was hoping we might still see some of the Hooded Mergansers that had been reported.

The pilings along the shoreline were hosting dozens of Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants as well as Laughing Gulls (below) and Brown Pelicans (below).

As usual, there were plenty of Great and Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons (below).

Mudflats and other wetland areas did not have the variety of shorebirds I expected but they were busy with Least Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs and, of course, Killdeer.

Spotted Sandpipers were exploring the mud and rocks at several places.

The bay and the ponds had a score or more Gadwall in addition to a handful of other ducks: Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup and Mottled Duck. A small group of Hooded Mergansers was present but wouldn't come close enough for clear photos.

Raptors included Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk and Northern Harrier. 

Passerines were comparatively scarce, with the exception of Red-winged Blackbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Mockingbirds and Northern Cardinals. However, I did see my first Barn Swallow of 2014.

As we were leaving, we stopped near the entrance to check out the Great Horned Owl nest. There were two owlets hunkered down in the nest.

Occasionally, one of the birds would raise its head a little further, letting us see that even very young owls have fearsome beaks.

Our day list was 42 species, which wasn't too bad for two hours of birding on a very gloomy day. The Hooded Mergansers and Barn Swallow took my year list to 137 species.

Friday, February 21, 2014

An Elusive Bird

I went over to Bear Creek Park again last weekend, once more looking for the Greater Pewee which is wintering there. The same bird spent last winter in the park and was easy to spot.

For some reason the Pewee is proving to be a lot more elusive this year and I still wasn't able to find it. However, there were enough other birds around to make my visit enjoyable.

As usual in the park, American Crows were everywhere.

Bear Creek is always good for woodpeckers and I saw several species. Two Downy Woodpeckers and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker never came close enough to photograph but some Red-bellied Woodpeckers were within reach.

A Pileated Woodpecker led me on a chase from tree to tree for ten minutes before I finally got a clear look.

The trees were busy with the usual collection of small birds: Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Pine Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers. There were also lots of Eastern Bluebirds.

I walked over to the wet area near the junction of Golbow and Fox in hopes of seeing the Rusty Blackbirds that were hanging out there earlier in the month. Although the blackbirds had gone, a Great Egret and several White Ibis were lurking in the mini-wetland area.


When Ibis are hunting they always remind me of those cartoons of burglars sneaking around.

Just before I left the park, I saw my first Merlin of the year. It was circling too high for a photograph and so I had to make do with taking a picture of a nearby Red-tailed Hawk instead.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

I can never get enough of photographing Ospreys. So here are some more pictures of the one I saw at CyFair last Friday.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Bird Counts

On Friday morning it was very foggy when I arrived on the CyFair campus. Luckily, the fog burned off within a few minutes, allowing me to take some photos of our resident Osprey.

A couple of hours later it was time for our Great Backyard Bird Count event. Over fifty people turned up to take part in the count but unfortunately it had turned very windy and so we didn't see as many birds as we had hoped for. 

On Saturday morning I did a brief count at the Longwood retention pond on Huffmeister. Let me just mention a few of the birds I saw.

One of the adult Bald Eagles was sitting on the nest, while the other kept appearing and disappearing in the distance.

As usual, a Great Egret and a Little Blue Heron (below) were busy feeding.

Out on the water eight Pied-billed Grebes were swimming around in the company of two Northern Shovelers.

I was hoping for some shorebirds and, sure enough, there were about thirty Least Sandpipers and a Lesser Yellowlegs (below). 

I wasn't surprised to see Killdeer but I was surprised to see no fewer than 42 of them.

While I was counting the Killdeer, I noticed that they were accompanied by several Wilson's Snipes.

I counted seven Snipes before starting to move closer to get some better photos. I moved in quietly enough not to startle the Killdeer but apparently not quietly enough for the Snipes. When I looked up, they had hunkered down and all I could see were their backs.