Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Migrants - At Last!

The CyFair campus saw a lot of bird activity last week. Unfortunately, though, much of it was during periods of bad weather, which made photography difficult.

I had brief glimpses of a Swainson's Thrush.

Three Western Kingbirds appeared. These should be the first of many, since several pairs nest on the campus every year.

I saw my first Chuck-will's-widow of the year and then the first of the several Common Nighthawks that usually spend the summer on the campus. 

Six species of migrants turned up on what was a dark, miserable day: an Eastern Wood-pewee, a Tennessee Warbler, a stunning male Blackburnian Warbler, a male Painted Bunting, two Baltimore Orioles and three Orchard Orioles. I could have gotten some good shots of the Orioles if one of our flocks of Cedar Waxwings hadn't kept flying in and scaring them off!

I consoled myself by taking a picture of a flock of American White Pelicans that flew over.

In anticipation of more Orioles arriving, I hung orange halves on various bushes along the nature trail boardwalk.

When I checked the trail in mid-morning, Orioles had been chomping away at the oranges.

It turned out to be quite a day. 
At various times I saw up to nine Baltimore Orioles. They were very skittish, however, and I managed only a couple of photos.

I managed to get just a single photo of one of all the other birds that turned up: a Black-and-white Warbler (below), a White-eyed Vireo, a Gray Catbird, a Common Yellowthroat, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, a Golden-winged Warbler, a Yellow-breasted Chat, two Summer Tanagers, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and seven Indigo Buntings.  

As soon as the rain stopped, I found three birds skulking in the thicket off the nature trail: Gray Catbird, Swainson's Thrush and Wood Thrush. No photos. Then a Black-and-White Warbler and a Common Yellowthroat in mesquite trees outside the library. Again no photos.

I thought about going home but decided to sit for a while on one of the outdoor classroom benches. I'm glad I did. Almost immediately a Black-throated Green Warbler appeared, soon followed by a Northern Parula. Both birds stayed in the area for well over 30 minutes and so I was finally able to get some photos!

Black-throated Green Warbler

Northern Parula


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bolivar Peninsula

On Sunday we reached Rollover Pass at about noon. Some of the sandbars were crowded with gulls and terns but they were too far away for photos. While White Pelicans stayed put out of range, a few Brown Pelicans flew over the beach.

The edge of the beach, usually crowded with shorebirds, had a few Sanderlings.

There was a solitary Ruddy Turnstone ...

... and one Willet.

Driving further west along the peninsula, we stopped on Yacht Basin Road. Two weeks earlier we had seen three Whimbrels here and I was hoping they might still be around. I have seen very few Whimbrels and I have never managed to get a photo of one.

I thought I'd spotted a Whimbrel right away but it was only a Willet, washing the dirt of something it had caught. 

A couple of minutes later a Whimbrel appeared and was just within camera range.

In the next ten minutes we saw three more Whimbrels.

As we'd heard there were long waits for the Galveston ferry, we decided to skip the Audubon sanctuary and to go straight to the terminal. 

On the ferry ride I kept an eye out for Magnificent Frigatebirds but saw only Laughing Gulls and terns.

One of the Laughing Gulls caught a fish and was frantically trying to eat it as it flew alongside the boat. 

Oddly enough, it had never occurred to me before that gulls and terns probably do most of their eating on the wing.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Back to Anahuac

Sunday morning we headed back to our favorite wildlife site in southeast Texas, Anahuac NWR. The water level was high in Shoveler Pond again and most birds were far away from the road.

We caught glimpses of two Purple Gallinules and had distant views of Common Gallinules, Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebes, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and several Fulvous Whistling Ducks. 

An American Coot near the boardwalk seemed unconcerned by our presence.

A Snowy Egret, too, let me take photos as it hunted.

Eastern Kingbirds were everywhere.

Red-winged Blackbirds were even more ubiquitous.

Orchard Orioles popped up in a few places.

The Neotropic Cormorants at Anahuac seem to love perching on the road signs.

This makes it possible to get good looks at their rather pretty eyes.

White Ibises were unexpectedly absent but there were a handful of White-faced Ibis.

Killdeer love to nest on the gravel edges of the auto-loop road.

Alligators appear to be becoming more common in the refuge. A few years ago we would think ourselves lucky if we saw two or three. We saw ten on a visit earlier this year and twelve during this visit.

After a pleasant hour or so at Anahuac, we headed down to the coast. I wanted to check out Rollover Pass and other Bolivar sites for terns and shorebirds.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Good Weather for Birds but Bad for Us

Saturday at High Island was incredibly frustrating for both Dee and myself. The problem was not a lack of birds. On the contrary, there were birds everywhere. Twenty-eight species of warblers were in the woods. The parking lot had tanagers, orioles and grosbeaks. The front yard of the Houston Audubon house opposite the entrance to Boy Scout Woods was hosting warblers, vireos, buntings and orioles. Unfortunately, Dee and I wear glasses and this is a problem when you try to use binoculars on a humid day. Whenever we raised our binoculars to watch a bird, we would have only 3-4 seconds of clear vision before our glasses fogged up! 

The fact it was a dark and gloomy day didn't help either, since my cameras aren't good enough to handle low-light photography. Of the eleven warbler species that I saw, I only managed (poor) photos of three: Prothonotary, Tennessee and Blackburnian.

 I had the same problem with the larger birds that I came across in the morning and on the afternoon bird-walk: Common Nighthawk, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles; Scarlet and Summer Tanagers; Indigo and Painted Buntings; Rose-breasted Grosbeaks; Wood and Swainson's Thrushes; and White-eyed, Warbling and Yellow-throated Vireos.

In the early afternoon we abandoned High Island and drove up to Anahuac NWR, where we did a quick tour of Shovelers Pond. We were hoping to see our first Purple Gallinule of the year and we were thrilled to see no fewer than seven of these beautiful birds.

We were also delighted to spot a Tricolored Heron looking magnificent in its breeding plumage.

On our last visit to Anahuac, I had been upset to see that the staff had put up strips of metal spikes to prevent swallows from nesting in the roof of the old visitor center. So on this visit I was delighted to see that a pair of Barn Swallows had outsmarted the staff by building a nest on one of the inside walls of the building. I hope other swallows follow their example! 

After leaving Anahuac, we headed back east along FM 1985. The trip took longer than expected because three cowboys were driving a herd of cattle along the road. Watching them keep the cattle moving made a nice change from birding.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Coastal Trip 5: Galveston

The ferry ride from Bolivar to Galveston was fun, as always. I kept looking for Magnificent Frigatebirds but saw nothing except Brown (and White) Pelicans and Laughing Gulls.

Well, that's not quite true. There were Great-tailed Grackles, too, including some males displaying.

Sporstmen's Road was much quieter for wading birds than usual. Apart from Willets, the only wader we saw was this Reddish Egret.

The jetties back from the road had lots of Dowitchers and Ruddy Turnstones, all too far away to photograph. An Osprey came a little closer as it flew across the road, carrying its lunch.

The ponds and wetland areas at Lafitte's Cove were extremely quiet. The drips were a little busier, although warblers were noticeably absent. Orchard Orioles, a Blue-headed Vireo and a Scarlet Tanager were lurking near one drip. A Blue Grosbeak was lurking in the trees also.

I missed a quick visit to the drip by a Northern Parula but got a snap of a Summer Tanager.

As the birding was fairly slow, we decided to head home. However, all being well, we'll do the Anahuac - High Island - Bolivar - Galveston loop again on April 18-19.