Monday, September 28, 2015

Our Yards Have Been Humming

During the latter part of August and most of September our yards have been busy with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. These tiny birds fly through our area on their migration south, a migration that includes a 500-mile flight over the Gulf of Mexico.

Several of our migrants were adult males, distinguished by their beautiful ruby-colored gorgets (throats).

Some of the males would stay for a few days and would expend a huge amount of energy defending one of our hummingbird feeders from other migrants.

This particular male set up a guardpost on a grapevine twig, from which he would zoom over to drive away any other hummers trying to reach "his" feeder.

Females and sub-adult males would try to sneak in to feed while the defending male was busy chasing other intruders away. In the meantime they would perch under our deck roof. This bird seemed to prefer perching on a strand of Xmas lights.

This one's favorite perch was a mobile with glass fish.

Some of the hummingbirds would choose to feed from our flowering plants, which were also attracting lots of dragonflies.

At the time of writing, the bulk of hummingbird migration appears to be over. However, the milkweed plants are now attracting Monarch butterflies to our yards. Judging by the number of eggs already laid by these, we may have a good crop of Monarch caterpillars in October. 


Monday, September 21, 2015

Lazy Weekend

In advance I was determined to fit in some serious birding on the weekend. In the event, I decided to stay home and do some gardening. As it happened, though, this led to my seeing quite a few birds.

On Saturday, we were getting ready to go shopping when we noticed through the window a yellowish bird near the hummingbird feeder in our front yard. I grabbed a camera and managed to get one shot before the bird flew. It was a young male Baltimore Oriole, only the second Oriole we've seen in our yards in the ten years we've lived in Cypress.

The hummer feeders in both of our yards have been the scene of intense activity, with a couple of male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds trying to defend them and some flowering plants from numerous other males and females.

Some of our squirrels seem to enjoy the hummingbird wars.

All of our normal resident birds (except Northern Mockingbirds) have been visiting our feeders regularly. I was particularly pleased to see female and male (below) Downy Woodpeckers coming to our suet feeders again after somewhat of an absence.

While I was less pleased to see how many House Sparrows our feeders now attract, I did quite enjoy watching up to six of them at a time squeezing into our birdbath.

On Saturday I noticed that a Pileated Woodpecker was fussing around in a neighbor's yard. The next day I managed to get a quick photo of it in another neighbor's tree. What imposing-looking birds they are!

The weekend was also good for small migrating birds, as we spent a while watching a Black-and-white Warbler and a couple of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers in one of our neighbors' tree. (The same tree also had a Yellow Warbler and a Red-eyed Vireo.) We were thrilled when the Black-and-white flew across into our yard.

No doubt I would have seen more migrants if I had done a birding trip. However, I don't regret staying home because there's something really enjoyable about seeing birds in and around your own yards.

Friday, September 18, 2015

I Just Love Those Ducks

Yesterday I had to take Dee for tests at our local medical center. I never mind going there because it's the best place I know for watching Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. 

At present the ponds behind the medical center buildings have 60-70 Whistling Ducks. Most of them hang out in family groups.

Many of the juveniles spend their time just chilling by the water's edge.

By this time of the year the young birds' crests have almost reached all the way to their bills and the latter are becoming quite orange.

While some of the ducks were paddling about or were busy preening, others were trying to fit in an afternoon nap.

However, even the most tired of the juveniles seemed to find it hard to nap with so much happening all around them.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Junction, Texas

Sunday afternoon I went over the the Junction city park, which is usually a good place for birding. We had checked it out the previous day but had found the park packed with people attending a fair. This time it was much quieter.

A Turkey Vulture was enjoying what looked like a piece of left-over b-b-qed chicken.

A couple of Eastern Phoebes were flitting about nearby.

One of them decided that this would be a good time for some preening.

A pair of Vermilion Flycatchers moved off as soon as I approached them, so I photographed a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher instead.

Shortly after this, the male Vermilion agreed to pose.

While I was photographing the Vermilion, he flew up into a tree. I walked towards the tree and, just at that moment, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flew onto a branch. It was my first Cuckoo of the year. Although I had seen many others over the years, this was the first time I'd noticed what a pronounced yellow eye-ring this species has.

Since the park was otherwise quiet for birds, I drove up to the city's water treatment (ie., sewage) plant, hoping for shorebirds. The entrance area utility lines had Cattle Egrets as well as Barn and Cave Swallows (below).


I was disappointed to see that all the ponds were full of water and therefore shorebirds were absent except for a Solitary Sandpiper and five American Avocets (below).

On Monday morning I fitted it a very quick visit to the city park, where I hope to get photos of more Vermilion Flycatchers.

A Great Blue Heron was standing at the foot of the spillway.

Shortly after I arrived, it flew away.

The trees were full of roosting Black and (mainly) Turkey Vultures.

The adult Vermilions were nowhere to be seen but an immature male let me grab a quick picture.

A male House Finch was greeting the dawn from its perch on a chain-link fence.

The top of the same fence held a molting Indigo Bunting and a couple of Eastern Bluebirds (below).

My final sighting was of a bird we had missed seeing at South Llano River State Park: a Golden-fronted Woodpecker.

So if Junction hadn't produced as many birds as usual, it had at least produced a few nice ones.

Friday, September 11, 2015

South Llano River State Park: Day 2

Sunday dawn revealed clear blue skies, which made photography at the park blinds a little easier than on Saturday. We again spent much of the morning and early afternoon at the blind near the Buck Lake trail.

Many of the same species turned up once more. 

The House Finches weren't looking their best, because some were young birds while others were adults but still molting.

We were very excited to see our first Bunting. However, it was an Indigo rather than a Painted - and, like the Finches, it was looking far from its best.


Black-chinned Hummingbirds were extremely busy, with one male continuing to dominate the only feeder.

Black-crested Titmice are delightful little birds but I never find it easy to them because they seem to be constantly on the move in unpredictable directions.

Luckily, on this occasion one decided to spend a while bathing.

Our final minutes at the blind were enlivened by the arrival of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, which unfortunately never ventured down from the tree tops.

We moved over to the Juniper Blind, which was quiet except for Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Black-chinned Hummingbirds and a Black-throated Sparrow (below). 

Things improved when a couple of juvenile Western Scrub-Jays appeared.

One seemed to think that the answer to the heat was to puff up its feathers.

On our way out of the park, we stopped to look for the male Vermilion Flycatcher that someone had told us was hanging out near the RV dump station. It didn't take long to locate the bird, although it absolutely refused to come completely out of the shade.

 The splash of color provided by the male Vermilion at least partly made up for the absence of the brightly-colored male Painted Buntings.

So far our trip hadn't produced the number or variety of birds that I'd been hoping for. (Of course, Dee would say that none of our trips ever live up to my expectations.) However, I would still have Sunday afternoon and a little time on Monday morning to bird a couple of other sites in the area. One was the local sewage plant and the other was Junction City Park. With any luck both sites would produce some different and interesting birds.