Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bird Bookends

Wednesday was a pleasant day at the college. 

As I drove across the campus, I spotted an Osprey grooming on top of a utility pylon.

We used to see Ospreys here only in the winter but now we have one who is a year-round resident. It spends part of the time on the campus and part in the Precinct 3 park on the other side of Barker Cypress Road.

Later in the day I was walking to the college cafeteria when a Blue-headed Vireo flew into a tree right beside me. It was a new year bird for me but unfortunately I wasn't carrying a camera.

At lunchtime I had a very quick walk around the nature trail boardwalk. All I could see and hear were House Wrens and Yellow-rumped Warblers - and, of course, Northern Mockingbirds (below).

Then I heard a mewing sound and up popped a Gray Catbird in the middle of a bush. I couldn't photograph this bird either because my camera wouldn't focus on it.

At the end of the day I drove across the parking lots and noticed a white blob on a lamppost. A Great Egret. Although I see at least one Great Egret at work virtually every day, I couldn't resist stopping to take a photo.

Any work day that starts with an Osprey and ends with a Great Egret can't be bad!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Weekend

I spent some time on the weekend watching out for birds in our yards. Unfortunately, we still aren't seeing many residents or visitors. Carolina Wrens and Carolina Chickadees are still present most days, and House Sparrows (below) flock to our feeders and birdbath.

The birdbath also attracts the occasional Yellow-rumped Warbler.

I took a quick drive up to the Longwood retention pond to see if the Bald Eagles were around. There was no sign of activity at the next but one of the pair of Eagles was perched nearby.

I also took a much longer drive, this time up to Lakeside Park in The Woodlands. I was hoping to see the juvenile Trumpeter Swan that had been hanging out there. It didn't take long to find the bird. It was a misty morning and the bird was at quite a distance from the bank, so I only managed to get a couple of record photos. Still, it was a great bird to see in our area!

Dee and I had only seen one Trumpeter Swan before, and that was back in the 1990s in British Columbia.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Early Morning Birding

Sunday morning I was up and out of the house well before dawn, heading for the Katy Prairie. I had four specific objectives:
1. Look for Short-eared Owls off Porter Road
2. See if Harris's Sparrows were back on Longenbaugh
3. Try to find an Inca Dove on Longenbaugh
4. Check out Meadowlarks at Warren Ranch Lake to see if any were the Western species.

As it happened, I had picked a bad morning for birding because the weather was cold and drizzly. I scanned the fields on both sides of Porter Road for 30 minutes but saw no sign of any owls.

I was luckier on Longenbaugh. As soon as I arrived at the Bear Creek bridge, I spotted four Harris's Sparrows hanging out with some White-crowned Sparrows around the north side of the bridge. (In my experience, this is the most reliable place to find Harris's in our area.)

I scanned the backs of the creek for Inca Doves for a while but had no luck. So I decided to move on. However, I'd only driven a few yards when I noticed a bird on the road ahead. My first Inca Dove in Harris County in 2014! 

By the time I got to Warren Ranch Lake the weather was slightly better and I had good views of a variety of ducks and 100+ American White Pelicans.

There were 7-8 Meadowlarks also. I examined and photographed all of them very carefully. Unfortunately, all of them turned out to be Eastern Meadowlarks.

On my way home I drove back along Longenbaugh and found that half-a-dozen Harris's Sparrows were busy feeding in a small tree several hundred yards east of the creek. Although the weather was still poor, it had improved enough for slightly better photos than the ones I had taken earlier.

So I had struck out on the owls and Western Meadowlarks but I had achieved my other two goals. 

BTW, for the past three years my Harris County list has topped 200 species each year. Sunday's Inca Dove took my 2014 county list to 196 species, which is not bad considering how little birding I've done this year. However, I'll certainly be trying to add at least another four species in the next three weeks. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Campus Birding

After months of almost no birds on the CyFair campus, a few are starting to show up. Yesterday the trees had lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, some White-throated Sparrows and a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and an Eastern Phoebe. There was a flyover by a Northern Flicker, the second one I've seen in the past few weeks.

A small flock of American Robins flew in and argued with our resident Northern Mockingbirds over who had perching rights to which trees.

 A little pishing stirred up a pair of House Wrens, one of which stayed up just long enough for me to grab a photo.

The campus lakes haven't attracted any ducks or other water birds yet this year. I suspect that any birds that do fly over our area will now ignore our lakes in favor of the larger lake in the new Precinct 3 park just across Barker Cypress Road from the college. That lake continues to attract a nice range of water birds: Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, Green-winged Teal etc. It also attracts Laughing Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls (below).

The other day the grass around the lake had a small flock of American Pipits, the first Pipits I've seen since last winter.


Friday, December 05, 2014

Here and Gone

The last week has twice seen my hopes for winter arrival birds raised only to be dashed.

The day after Thanksgiving, Dee and I looked out of our living-room window to see two Chipping Sparrows (below) on the back fence. They then moved down to the birdbath, where they were joined by two Yellow-rumped Warblers.

At last the rest of our winter residents seemed to be arriving to join the Orange-crowned Warbler (below) that has been in our backyard for weeks. 

But then the Chipping Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers flew off - and we haven't seen them again since.

A similar thing happened at work. I checked out the college nature trail at 7:15 on Monday morning and it was hopping. Three American Robins and an Eastern Phoebe were at the entrance, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere. Several White-throated Sparrows and a Song Sparrow flew off as I walked the trail. Within 5 minutes I'd also come across a Northern Cardinal, a Blue Jay, two White-winged Doves, several Northern Mockingbirds and 8 European Starlings. Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me. I was better prepared on Tuesday, when I again got to the nature trail at 7:15. I needn't have bothered. There wasn't a single bird in view, not even a Mockingbird!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Snowy Egrets

I have to admit that I love all four species of Egrets that we get in our area: Great, Snowy, Cattle and Reddish. However, the one I most enjoy watching is the Snowy Egret.

While not as large as Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets seem to be fairly substantial birds - until they turn to face you and you see how thin their bodies and necks really are.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of a Snowy Egrets is its bright yellow feet. The color is utilitarian rather than decorative, and it is an essential element in the bird's hunting process: Snowy Egrets hunt by walking through water, where their yellow feet scare up fish and other prey.

 Many years ago, Dee and I watched a Snowy Egret hunting in this way in Bolinas Lagoon, California. We were amazed to see that it was accompanied by three small sharks, which kept swimming around the bird and even between its legs. Presumably the sharks realized that they could grab small fish and other creatures that would be stirred up by the bird's feet.

Here are some photos I recently took of a Snowy Egret in hunting mode at Baytown.

Unfortunately, this bird didn't manage to catch anything, at least during the time when I was watching it.