Friday, August 28, 2015

Let Us Now Praise Common Birds

Like most birders, when on birding trips, I tend to focus on the most beautiful and/or least common birds and I often ignore our common birds. This is a great mistake because some of our most common birds are actually both beautiful and interesting. The Great-tailed Grackle is a case in point. I see so many of them virtually every day that I forget what wonderful birds they are. So here is a hymn of praise to this under-appreciated species!

The male Great-tailed Grackle in full, glossy plumage is a truly spectacular bird.

However, during the summer molting season, it looks much less spectacular!

The female is a little less spectacular but still quite a striking bird.

Young Grackles are rather similar but have speckled breasts - and, of course, they are constantly begging for food

When it comes to food, adult Great-tailed Grackles are great generalists. In the wild they prey on lizards, small mammals and bugs.

In more urban settings they are equally happy with whatever food items people provide.

A common sight is that of several males trying to outdo each other with their mating displays.

Grackles love bathing and I often see them splashing around in ponds and puddles.

Every time I take the ferry from Galveston to Bolivar, I notice that several Grackles hitch a ride on the boat. 

Very gregarious birds, Grackles can often be seen roosting in their thousands on the utility wires by the roadside or in the parking lots of supermarkets.

So next time you see some large, dark-colored birds hanging out at your local Kroger or HEB, stop and look at them. You'll almost certainly find that the birds are Great-tailed Grackles.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Last Week

The only birding trip we managed last week was 30 minutes watching hummingbirds at the Kleb Woods visitor center. I didn't manage a photo of any of the Rufous Hummingbirds we saw but some Ruby-throated birds were less skittish.

Later in the week I got to check out the ponds behind the medical center at Huffmeister and 290.I was hoping for baby Black-bellied Whistling Ducks but all the BBWDs I saw were either adults or juveniles.

At one point while I was photographing the ducks, I looked up to find that a Great Blue Heron had appeared out of nowhere.

I turned away to look at another duck and, when I turned back, the Heron had disappeared. How do they do that?

I didn't do any birding walks on the CyFair campus. However, I had a couple of nice sightings while walking from my office to other buildings. On one day, the artificial river was being fished by a Snowy Egret.

The next day it was a Green Heron that was fishing there.

The Heron seemed to be having more success.

 Our resident Mallards have been raising four ducklings this summer and I have gotten used to seeing the whole family together. Last week, though, I kept seeing just the female with two of the ducklings.

I hope nothing has happened to the other half of the family!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Beach Birding

Sunday morning we drove over to spend an hour in Quintana. The bird sanctuary there was completely dead but a small wetland area by the road had a nice group of birds: Great and Snowy Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis and White-faced Ibis.

Some of the Spoonbills clearly had not yet gotten their deep pink plumage.

One of the Ibises seemed to have a very dark eye and turned out to be a Glossy Ibis. 

It's always fun to watch Snowy Egrets, whether they are just hanging out or actively looking for prey.

The edges of the pond had several Black-necked Stilts.

Given my earlier success in watching a Black Skimmer fishing at Brazoria, I was surprised to see another here.

The jetty area was crowded but we had the beach almost completely to ourselves.

At first glance, the only birds seemed to be Laughing Gulls and terns.

The latter included several Sandwich Terns, easily distinguished by the yellow tip on their black bill.

Royal Terns were more numerous and they included some hungry immature birds.

The small size, yellow beak and white forehead of this bird identified it as an adult Least Tern.

Nearby were a few juvenile Least Terns.

We spent a few minutes admiring Royal Terns as they flew around.

After a while I noticed the terns and gulls had been joined by a solitary Willet.

I'm not good at IDing shorebirds but this one's greenish-yellow legs seem to make it a Least Sandpiper.

An adult Semipalmated Plover was the next bird to appear.

The long, thick beak of another bird marked it as being a Wilson's Plover.

I scanned the sky over the sea for passing Magnificent Frigatebirds but the only birds I spotted were Brown Pelicans. 

Although our brief visit to Quintana Beach hadn't been as productive as we had hoped, we both enjoyed it and at least we had seen a few birds there.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Brazoria Again

When I returned to Brazoria on Saturday afternoon, the ponds were still busy with Great and Snowy Egrets and White Ibis.

It wasn't long, though, before I spotted the bird I was hoping for: a Wood Stork.

Unfortunately, I saw only one Stork and it never came close enough for really good photos. Also, there was no sign of the other species I was looking for, Black Skimmer. So I would have to return early the next day.

Sunday morning the visitor center pond was deserted except for an alligator.

Out at Olney Pond the islands were hosting Great Egrets.

Further back, Roseate Spoonbills added a nice touch of color to the bird scene.

However, the younger Spoonbills were as white as the White Ibis.

As I was watching the Spoonbills, a Black Skimmer flew by holding a fish.

I settled down to wait until the Skimmer started fishing the water on my side of the pond. It took a while but the bird eventually got nearer.

Getting really sharp photos of a fast-moving bird isn't possible with my camera equipment but I managed a few reasonably clear images. 

After that, I turned my attention to herons. Only one Great Blue came close enough for a photo.

The roadside ditch held both Green and Tricolored Herons. I never managed t6o get a shot of the Green but one of the Tricoloreds was more cooperative.

There were several more Tricolored Herons out on Olney Pond.

However, the Tricoloreds were greatly outnumbered by Yellow-crowned Night Herons. I counted over 60 of these birds in one area alone. Some were adults or close to adults.

Most, though, were younger birds.

Many of the younger birds were standing with their wings partly open and facing the sun.  

By now it was time for me to go back to the motel to pick up Dee. Our plan was to drive over to Quintana to look for shorebirds and then to head to Galveston for lunch.