Sunday, December 27, 2015

Looking for Cranes

The weekend before Christmas we headed down to the Rockport area in hopes of seeing and photographing Whooping Cranes, the tallest birds in North America. These amazing birds almost became extinct last century, with their number falling to fewer than 20 individuals in the 1940s. However, a concerted push to save the species has succeeded and the population is now over 600 birds.

We had seen Whooping Cranes several years earlier on a visit to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge but on that occasion we saw only a couple of birds and they were too far away to photograph.

On this trip we arrived at Aransas NWR after midday on Saturday and decided to try the Heron Flats Trail, as a few Whooping Cranes had been seen in that area the previous day.

After passing an alligator sunbathing at the edge of a pond, we came across several Pied-billed Grebes. Nice birds, but not what we were looking for.

Next up were several white morph Little Blue Herons, some Great and Snowy Egrets, and a Reddish Egret. Then a Great Blue Heron struggling to eat a large snake it had caught.

Then we spotted a group of large birds much farther out near the sea. Cranes! But as we got within binocular range, we saw these were not the Cranes we were looking for but instead were Sandhill Cranes, a little smaller and much grayer than Whoopers. Still, very beautiful birds in their own right.

Dee drew my attention to two white birds in the distance. Yes! Whooping Cranes! Unfortunately, there was no way for us to get nearer to them and the birds gradually wandered off. 

We spent the next couple of hours driving the refuge's auto-loop, where we saw several hundred ducks - Scaups and Redheads - and a group of Roseate Spoonbills.

We also saw another couple of Whooping Cranes, but these were even further away than the ones we had seen earlier.

After a picnic lunch we left Aransas and drove down to Rockport, where we were had reserved a motel room for the night. 

Our final bird sighting of the day was of American White Pelicans, Neotropic Cormorants and Caspian Terns on a fishing jetty in front of the motel. 

My plan for the following day was to do an early morning tour of some local birding sites and then to head over to Lamar, where a group of Whooping Cranes had been hanging out for several days. Surely there I would finally get some decent photos!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Not to Mention ...


As I focused on winter visitors in my last post, it's only fair that I mention our resident birds this time.

Our Northern Cardinals are thriving and the male is looking particularly beautiful at present.

House Finches seem to come and go throughout the year but we appear to have acquired a resident pair over the past couple of months. The female sits on our feeders often and for long periods.

The male comes to join her but never stays as long.

This year's crop of Blue Jays can be heard throughout the day somewhere on our block and often in our front yard. However, they come to our backyard only occasionally, too see if we've put peanuts out.

Carolina Chickadees are constant visitors to our feeders and to our birdbath.

Our Carolina Wrens spend parts of each day at our feeders or searching for tidbits in and around our plant containers.

We don't see our Downy Woodpeckers much these days because they feed off suet in our front yard whereas our living-room windows look out over our backyard. Luckily, though, our Red-bellied Woodpeckers have found our backyard peanut feeder.

White-winged Doves haven't been visiting in numbers lately, which is a blessing for the other birds. However, the feeders get regularly raided by a flock of 20+ House Sparrows. 

BTW, we aren't the only ones who watch birds in our backyard. At least one of our many squirrels sometimes kicks back on the shed roof and watches the comings and goings at our birdfeeders.

Of course, what's he's really doing is probably trying to find a way to reach the feeders.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Meanwhile, Back at Home

Even though we haven't experienced cold temperatures yet this winter, our backyard feeders have been attracting plenty of birds. These have included several of those that migrate to spend the winter in our area.

The first of these birds to arrive in our yards in the fall, an Orange-crowned Warbler visits our feeders several times each day. 

Next to arrive is always a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, one of our favorites. It's very small but what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in personality.

It's one of the birds that seems totally unconcerned when I'm standing just a couple of feet away from it, on the other side of our living-room window.

Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker have occasionally popped into the trees in our front yard but they haven't yet discovered our backyard feeders or birdbath. Luckily, several Tufted Titmice have discovered these and they are a delight to watch.

Like Chickadees, the Titmice normally don't stay on our seed-feeders long - they fly in, grab a seed or nut, and fly off into the trees with their prize. Occasionally, though, they misjudge the operation.

Then they hang around a little longer while they find a more suitable morsel.

When the feeder is empty, they look to see if we're going to be refilling it soon.

While watching the Titmice on Monday, I was pleased to see an American Goldfinch fly down to the birdbath for a drink. While I've been seeing Goldfinch at work for a couple of weeks, this was the first one to grace our yards with its presence so far this winter.

No doubt more Goldfinch will eventually make their way to our yards. If we're lucky, they may be accompanied by some Pine Siskins, since quite a few of the latter have been appearing in local parks this month.

Friday, December 11, 2015

This Week at Work

Yay! The CyFair campus is finally starting to get birdy again.

For a couple of weeks now Yellow-rumped Warblers have been everywhere I go at the college.

Last Friday I thought I saw a Baltimore Oriole. As that would be a very surprising sighting so late in the year, I wondered if I'd been mistaken. However, on Monday the bird popped up again in the same place. I was able to get only a very quick and very poor photo but it is clear enough to confirm the ID.

Monday was December 7, traditionally the day that Cedar Waxwings turn up on the campus. When I got to work, I spent a few minutes searching but couldn't see any Waxwings. Disappointing! They didn't let me down in the end, though. I made a quick trip to the nature trail area later in the morning and there was our first Waxwing of the winter. No doubt lots more will arrive soon.

Also on Monday, I was leaving work when I noticed an Osprey eating a fish on top of a utility pylon across the north flood ditch. Naturally I pulled over and hopped out to get a photo. Even though I was 50 yards away and it was 120 up in the air, the bird seemed to think I was coming to steal its fish and so flew off. Those Ospreys certainly are paranoid!

I didn't have any time for birding on Tuesday but I got lucky when I came out of the building where I work to see a Great Egret perched right in front of me.

I got to work very early on Wednesday to check for more Waxwings. Unfortunately, it was really foggy.

So when 60 Waxwings appeared, this is the best photo I could get of any of them.

While I was looking for the Waxwings, I came across one of the innumerable Northern Mockingbirds that are resident on the campus. I took a quick picture, mainly to see how my new camera would handle fill-in flash. In spite of the fog, the photo came out reasonably well.

The fog started to burn off before it was time for me to start work and so I walked around the nature trail boardwalk. As I did this, I heard an odd clucking sound, rather like that made by a chicken. I'm terrible with IDing bird calls and I couldn't remember what bird it was. A minute later the bird popped out into the open and revealed itself to be a Hermit Thrush. Doh!

Further along the trail I heard one of the few bird calls I can ID: Carolina Wren. No big deal, you might think, but until a couple of weeks ago I hadn't seen or heard a Carolina Wren on campus for over five years. I'm glad that at least one now seems to have moved in.  Perhaps I'll manage to see it one of these days.

One unusual (for the campus) bird that I did get to see on Wednesday was a female Downy Woodpecker. This and other woodpecker species are very common in our general area but this was only the second Downy sighting (and fifth woodpecker sighting) I'd made on the campus in 11 years. 

While I'm mentioning which common birds do or do not regularly appear at CyFair, I should mention Blue Jays. I never saw or heard one here in my first eight years on campus. Then, as the area around the college was developed, a couple of Blue Jays turned up. We now have at least half-a-dozen. One of them was around on Wednesday morning.

I didn't have time to look for birds on Thursday but I got to work early today, Friday, and was greeted by eight Great Egrets perched along the railings of the bridge on the north edge of the campus. Naturally, they flew off while I was still trying to get my camera out of its bag.

A few minutes later, I was pleased to find a Spotted Sandpiper by the artificial river. (We rarely get shorebirds on the campus.) I was much less pleased when I realized that the poor thing had only one leg. It seemed to be coping well with it's disability, though, and so perhaps it will survive. I hope so.



Monday, December 07, 2015

Medical Center Birding

Our doctor's office is in the North Cypress Medical Center complex at Huffmeister and 290. As luck would have it, behind the buildings there are two beautifully landscaped ponds, which attract quite a variety of birds. Since the birds are used to people, they are much less skittish than they would be in a less urban environment.

We were at the center on Friday and it was a good opportunity for me to try out the new camera that is my Christmas present this year, a Nikon D3200 with a 55-300mm lens.

A Great Blue Heron posed nicely.

A Great Egret was less cooperated but eventually allowed a couple of photos.


While the ponds are stocked with numerous exotic ducks and geese, they also attract lots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. 

Six ducks lined up neatly in a row. Then, of course, one just had to turn to spoil the photo.

American Coots are often present in or around the ponds.

There are usually a couple of Neotropic Cormorants also. On this visit there were half-a-dozen. I always enjoy watching them as they dry their wings.

I was surprised to see that they were catching lots of fish.

Their necks look quite odd as they swallow their catch.

We were there in the morning, when the light produces some rather nice reflections on the water.


The new camera and lens combo seems to work well, although it's going to take me a while to learn how to use it really effectively. However, as the holiday season is approaching, I should have more time for birding and to practice my photography fairly soon.