Friday, January 29, 2016

Sheldon Lake

On Saturday morning we made our first visit for months to Sheldon Lake. 

A walk along the boardwalk turned up only a few Swamp Sparrows, all too quickly gone to photograph. As compensation, the garden near the first pond had a very obliging Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, which let me walk along beside it for several yards.


It turned out to be just the first of eight Gnatcatchers that we came across that morning.

The ponds on the south side were empty of birds except for a Tricolored Heron and a juvenile Little Blue Heron.

The trees along the trail had several small flocks of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings. The Waxwigs were feasting on berries.

There was only one bird in the north ponds but it was a good one: an American Bittern. It took me a while to notice it among the reeds.

Unfortunately, it stayed too far away for good photos.

On our way out of the park we came across our first Cattle Egret of the year.

Before heading home we drove down to the boat launch at the south end of Pineland Road, where I did a quick walk along the bank in search of Anhingas. There was one but it was too far away for photos. Luckily, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet was much closer and paused its flitting long enough for me to get a decent picture.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Lots of Residents!

While much of our attention over the past weeks has been focused on our winter visitors, we certainly haven't ignored our year-round residents. The colder weather this month has brought them to our feeders several times a day every day in January.

Among our favorites are a group of House Finches. One of the females has a growth on the top of her bill but seems otherwise to be healthy.

This male certainly seems to be in good condition.

As usual, our Carolina Wrens divide their time between eating at our feeders and rummaging through our plant containers.

This female Northern Cardinal has been visiting our backyard very frequently, sometimes alone and sometimes with her mate.

I've never seen the female make use of our birdbath but her mate regularly comes down to bathe in it.

While House Sparrows have been a little less of a nuisance lately, they still tend to show up en masse every now and then, scaring away some of our other birds and emptying our seed feeders.

So far this year White-winged Doves have been visiting only in ones and twos, as opposed to descending in their usual hordes. 

A Red-bellied Woodpecker occasionally turns up in our trees and at our feeders but rarely stays long. Our Downy Woodpeckers (below) visit much more often and hang around longer.

Blue Jays disappeared from our yards for several months last year. Luckily, they reappeared in the fall and several now pop in frequently to take peanuts and to drink from the birdbath.

Northern Mockingbirds used to be daily visitors to our yards. Then, like the Blue Jays, they vanished for months.So we are very pleased that two Mockingbirds are now regularly flying in to eat from our suet feeders. 

Apart from the birds above, our most reliable visitors are Carolina Chickadees. Unfortunately, I haven't managed to get any photos of these delightful birds so far this year.Nor have I managed to get a recent picture of the Cooper's Hawk that lives on our block and sometimes flies down to perch on our fences.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Other Winter Birds in Our Yards

In my previous post, I looked at the warblers and kinglets that are currently visiting our yards in Cypress, Texas. In this post I want to show you some of the other winter residents that we get.

Our area gets a large number of different sparrow species each winter. Unfortunately, though, there is only one sparrow species that normally turns up in our yards and that is the Chipping Sparrow. 


Chipping Sparrows are very small, with a proportionally longish tail. In winter plumage they have a brown crown below which is a gray supercilium. In breeding plumage the crown becomes rufous and the supercilium turns white.

Another small bird that we're seeing at our feeders is the American Goldfinch. It seems that every time I look out of our windows, there is at least one American Goldfinch in sight.

Most of our Goldfinches look rather drab because they are in their winter plumage. However, at least one bird is already starting to molt into its breeding plumage.

Significantly larger than either Chipping Sparrows or American Goldfinches are Tufted Titmice.

These lovely birds are year-round residents in our area of Texas but they only ever turn up in our yards during the winter.  Their normal modus operandi is to swoop onto our feeders, grab a seed and fly off into the trees with it.

Sometimes, though, they pose on our fence or visit our birdbath. 

Our final winter resident is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. This medium-sized woodpecker never visits our feeders but it turns up now and then in the oak tree in our front yard or on one of our neighbors' trees.

The white stripe on the wing edge is very distinctive and makes the bird easy to spot from the side. However, when viewed from the back, the bird is superbly well camouflaged.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Winter Residents: Warblers & Kinglets

Our yards are very busy with birds at present. Apart from our year-round residents, our feeders and birdbath attract a number of birds to spend each winter with us.

Of the three types of warbler which show up each fall, the one that we see least often is the Pine Warbler. Members of this species just pop in occasionally to snack from one of our seed feeders.

Yellow-rumped Warblers visit our yards more often but they never come to our feeders. 

Instead, they hunt bugs in our trees and also pop down to drink from our birdbath.

By far the most frequent visitors of the three warbler species are Orange-crowned Warblers. You never have to watch one of our suet feeders for long before you see one of these delightful little birds fly in.

We're not sure how many individuals we have of this species because they all look so similar.

Next to the Orange-crowned Warblers, the most frequent visitor to our suet feeders is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

While Kinglets are tiny, they all seem to have a lot of personality and they are certainly among our favorite birds.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Baytown and Highlnd Shores

Sunday morning I was up and out early, heading for Baytown Nature Center.

Perhaps because it was very cold, there were fewer birds up and about when I reached Baytown. Burnet Bay was empty except for a distant Belted Kingfisher and Brown Pelicans. 

The Egret Tidal Flats pond had only Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron (below).

A drive out to San Jacinto Point gave me good looks at an Osprey catching the early sunlight.

I checked out the spot where I usually find a Spotted Sandpiper but all I found there was a Killdeer.

Crystal Bay had a single Horned Grebe, too far away for photos.

A walk to Wooster Point gave me quick looks at Cedar Waxwings, American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds, plus distant views of Pied-billed Grebes and Hooded and Red-breasted Mergansers. 

Turtle Pond still had its Least Grebe, as well as three Black-crowned Night Herons (below).

Towards the end of the loop trail I came across several Roseate Spoonbills.

Snowy Egrets were fishing nearby.

Back in the car, I drove past Crystal Bay, which now had a Red-breasted Merganser.

At the Egret Tidal Flats pond I stopped to photograph a pair of Hooded Mergansers.


On my way back home I spent a little time on Highland Shores Drive, where there were lots of Laughing Gulls, Great Egrets (below), Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons. 


The roadside vegetation had Swamp and Chipping Sparrows, Carolina Chickadees, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Phoebes, Northern Cardinals and Northern Mockingbirds (below).

A Hermit Thrush was clucking away in the bushes and eventually popped into sight.

My final sighting was of an Osprey finishing off its fish breakfast...


... and then pooping.

All in all, it had been a fairly quiet morning's birding with no really exciting finds. However, I had seen quite a nice range of birds and had added 16 species to my 2016 Harris County list, taking it to 96 species.