Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ducks Again

The other day I had to drive my wife over to the North Cypress Medical Center at Huffmeister and 290. While she was inside, I took the opportunity to go and check out the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (BBWD) on the two ponds behind the Medical Center. At this time of the year, there are roughly 50 BBWDs on and around the ponds.

Most of the ducks are juveniles and they tend to hang out with their siblings.

The adults have a dark brown crown of feathers extending from the back of their neck all the way to their bill.

On the juveniles the brown crown ends well before reaching the bill.

When the ducklings are very young, their parents usually keep a close eye on them. However, as the ducklings get older, the parents are less vigilant.

Apart from the BBWDs and several species of exotic ducks, the ponds have a couple of resident pairs of  Mallards. I couldn't resist taking a photo of this striking female Mallard.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Baytown Nature Center (contd.)

Most of the usually wet areas alongside the trail toWooster Point were totally dry and the trees held just a handful of common birds, like these White Ibis.

One of the few remaining ponds had the only shorebirds we saw all morning, some Black-necked Stilts.

A solitary Killdeer was keeping the Stilts company.

The bay at Wooster Point was empty of birds, except for Forster's Terns, Laughing Gulls and the odd Brown Pelican (below).

So we walked on to the new wetland area being created on the edge of Scott Bay.

The area is currently rather trashy and the vista isn't improved by the refineries and/or chemical plants across the bay, but it should be a prime site for shorebirds over the coming weeks.

I scanned the waters of the bay for the Common Loon that had recently been reported there but didn't see the bird. However, the wetland was attracting a selection of large waders, including Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron and Roseate Spoonbill (below).

Spoonbills are two a penny in our area but I still have to stop and wonder every time I see these strange-looking birds.  

It wasn't until we were leaving that I realized that one aspect of our visit had been truly remarkable: We had not encountered a single mosquito. That has to be a first for what is habitually the most mosquito-infected area west of High Island.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Birding Trip - Finally!

Sunday morning we finally managed to put other things aside long enough for us to get out and do some birding. As time was still rather limited, we decided to drive over to Baytown Nature Center, which is only an hour away from our house.

Driving along the entrance road, we stopped to check out a group of birds at the edge of Burnet Bay: Brown Pelicans, Neotropic Cormorant and Great Blue Heron.

One of the Pelicans was yawning and grooming.

The Great Blue Heron was grooming, too.

A Little Blue Heron was hanging out nearby, while a Great-tailed Grackle provided a soundtrack.

The pond on the other side of the road had two more herons - a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and a Tricolored Heron.

A few yards further along, a new wetland area is being created on the right side of the road. When we arrived, it was hosting another Tricolored Heron ...

... and several Snowy Egrets.

A Roseate Spoonbill was wandering around, closely followed by a Laughing Gull.

Another Great Blue Heron was standing motionless among the reeds and grasses.

Baytown has always been a good place to see the large wading birds, and the new wetland area will make it even easier to get close-up views of these birds.

Meanwhile, we drove on to park near the gazebo and set off to walk the loop trail that gives views over Crystal Bay and Scott Bay.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Thursday afternoon I had a half-hour to kill at the Cypress Medical Center at Huffmeister and 290. I spent it walking around the two beautiful ponds located behind the main building. There is almost always something worth looking at on or near the ponds.

As usual, there were Eurasian-collared Doves, Red-winged Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackles, plus a Great Egret.

A male Mallard was busy swimming about and searching for food.

I don't usually bother to look at the various exotic ducks that have been introduced to the ponds but this time I couldn't help noticing that one such duck was accompanied by no fewer than 15 ducklings. That's quite a family to raise!


As always, the biggest attraction for me was the presence of several Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. The Medical Center is the closest place to my house where I can be sure of seeing BBWDs in most months of the year.

I was lucky enough to catch one BBWD just as it decided to spend several minutes grooming. The grooming process was long and complex.

It also involved frequent dips.

Just when all the feathers had been perfectly arranged, the bird found a spot that absolutely had to be scratched.

Then one final dip and the bird was good to go.

BTW, I've been watching Black-bellied Whistling Ducks for years but I'd never before noticed that their bright orange bill has a gray-colored tip. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Red-tailed Hawks

The other day someone asked me which bird is my favorite. Tough question because there are so many amazing species! However, if I really had to pick one, it would be the Red-tailed Hawk. Luckily, RTHAs are extremely common here in the winter and can also be seen regularly throughout the rest of the year.

One problem with RTHAs is that they aren't always easy to identify: Sometimes their tails aren't red and sometimes the birds are positioned so you can't even see their tail. So you need to look for other distinctive features. 

When trying to identify a RTHA that's flying overhead, look for dark marks on the leading edge of its wings. You can see the marks clearly in this photo.

If an adult bird is perched and facing you, the best ID mark will normally be its streaked belly band.

Many birds are difficult to ID when they are perched with their backs to you. As it happens, this is one problem you don't normally have with Red-tailed Hawks: Their backs typically have a very distinctive pale V-shaped marking. BTW, the younger the bird, the more prominent this marking usually is.