Friday, April 18, 2014

A Good Day at High Island

I managed to squeeze in a morning's birding at High Island and was lucky enough to see quite a range of birds.

At 7:00 a.m. the trees on the southern edge of Boy Scout Woods were crowded with Orchard Orioles. There must have been a couple of hundred or more.

An hour later, a patch of trees and bushes were hopping with action: Eastern Wood-Pewee, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Three Indigo Buntings were popular with the watchers.

So, too, were two Painted Buntings, even if they stayed more hidden.

After that, Boy Scout Woods quietened down, although I did run across a couple of Summer Tanagers, three more species of Vireo, and several Gray Catbirds (below).

With some friends I headed up to Smith Oaks to see if things were better there. The woods were quiet there also, although a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (below) gave us good looks while a Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the same tree was more difficult to see.

Back in the parking lot, I noticed a flash of orange in a tree right next to my car: Baltimore Oriole. A small crowd of birders gathered to watch as the Oriole flitted from branch to branch.

We were all so busy admiring the Oriole that it took us a while to notice that a Rose-breasted Grosbeak was hopping around just feet from the Oriole. 

Both birds stayed in the same tree for well over ten minutes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

Birding the East Side

Sunday morning I set off early and in gloomy weather to visit a couple of sites of the east side of Houston.

I started off at the Kathryn J. Whitmore Preserve. As I couldn't see any trails into the preserve, I just stayed for a while and birded from the road. Lincoln's Sparrows were foraging along the verge, Blue-winged Teal were paddling around and a Belted Kingfisher was fishing from a utility wire. Male Red-winged Blackbirds (below) were singing and displaying.

A Little Blue Heron was posing by the edge of the water.

My next stop was Sheldon Lake Environmental Center, always a pleasant site to walk around. 

Perhaps because of the weather, birds were fairly scarce except for Yellow-crowned Night Herons.

I'm not sure how many I saw - at least 15 and maybe more. Unfortunately, most of them were standing in places where they were partially obscured by branches.

While I was photographing the Heron above, I noticed an alligator was keeping a close eye on me.

A Giant Swallowtail was a pleasant surprise, even if it was looking rather the worse for wear.

I looked carefully around all the ponds and on several trails but I wasn't able to find a single Black-crowned Night Heron. However, just as I was leaving, I finally got a clear shot of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

This Week at LSC-CyFair

Although spring migration is now well underway, I've seen few signs of it on the CyFair campus. I did hear and even get a glimpse of a Chuck-will's-widow early in the week but I was too slow to get a photo of it. There are signs of spring all over, however. 

Rabbits are everywhere.

Male Northern Mockingbirds are singing and displaying desperately to attract mates.

Our Purple Martin apartment complex is fully occupied.

When we think of Purple Martins, we tend to picture the handsome males.

However, the females are also handsome-looking birds.

Handsome is not a word I've ever heard applied to Black Vultures. I mention Black Vultures because a student showed me where one has laid two eggs deep in the undergrowth by the nature trail.

We didn't go near the eggs but, even so, the mother emerged to keep an eye on us.

I've asked the student not to back to the eggs, in case the mother abandons them. Luckily, they are are well off the beaten track and should be safe until they hatch.

I keep noticing Black-bellied Whistling Ducks by the campus detention ponds. This is something I haven't seen for two years; in fact, since they did a lot of work reshaping the edges of the ponds in 2011. I'm hoping it means that adults will bring their ducklings to the ponds later in the year, something that I used to enjoy watching every summer. In the meantime I'll settle for watching two Whistling Ducks which have taken to grazing on a small patch of grass between the library and the technology building. 

They don't seem to mind that, every hour, hundreds of students and staff walk by just a few yards away.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Things Have Changed

Now that spring is here, the bird population in our yards has changed. Our winter visitors have left, with the exception of an Orange-crowned Warbler (below) and a few Chipping Sparrows.

Of course, this doesn't mean that our yards are lacking in bird activity. Far from it!

Several pairs of Northern Cardinals pop in most days. I'm happy to say these include the one-footed male who we've been watching for months and who now seems to have found a mate.

Our resident Carolina Wrens pay regular visits to our feeders and they check out the rest of our yards while they're here.

At least two Northern Mockingbirds come to our suet feeders several times a day. I'm not sure if they're siblings or partners.

Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice (below) snack on our birdseed throughout the day.

The Chickadees take sunflower seeds away to branches, where they peck them open. The Titmice prefer to take seeds and nuts to the fence for opening or breaking up.

Deanne has been putting peanuts out for a while now and these have proved to be very popular with Blue Jays. The latter turn up several times a day to check on the nut situation. If there are no nuts left, they scream for more.

For my part, I've been putting out orange halves, in hopes of attracting migrating Orioles. I've had no luck so far but then migration is still in its early stages.

Other frequent visitors to our yards are Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, American Robins, White-winged Doves and the inevitable House Sparrows. An Eastern Phoebe moved into our neighborhood a few weeks ago. I haven't seen it lately but I sometimes hear it calling in the mornings when I'm in the front yard.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Down by the Riverside

An artificial river runs across part of our campus. At one point, the river runs down a series of cobbled steps, and these are popular with Great-tailed Grackles looking for places to bathe.

Here's a female Grackle enjoying the steps.


Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Rest of Sunday

After Anahuac we drove down to High Island, just in time to join the noon birdwalk led by the great guides from Tropical Birding. Well, it wasn't really a "walk" - we drove down to two sites on Bolivar and did some stationary birdwatching at each one.

First up was Rollover Pass. As usual, the sandbars and shallows had thousands of birds ranging from Brown Pelicans to Western Sandpipers, and including six Tern and four Plover species. This particular day wasn't ideal for photography because many of the birds were at a distance and the wind was too strong to allow telephoto shots without a tripod. Another problem was that many of the birds were sleeping, with their heads tucked back into their feathers.

Luckily, some birds were awake, like these Royal Terns.

And these American Avocets (the lefthand one in breeding plumage) and Black Skimmer.

A few birds even wandered along the edge of the beach, like this American Avocet (unfortunately not in breeding plumage) and Marbled Godwit.

Another Marbled Godwit was managing to explore the beach in spite of having a broken leg.

From Rollover Pass we drove a few miles to Barbados Drive, where we got distance looks at a Long-billed Curlew, some American Golden Plovers and two Upland Sandpipers.

Then it was back to Boy Scout Woods for lunch. There were a few migrants: Blue-headed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula and Hooded Warbler. However, only a Louisiana at Purkey's Pond stayed in view long enough for a recognizable photo.

Rather disappointed by the lack of warblers, we went up to look at the rookery in Smith Oaks. As should be clear from the photos I've already posted, the rookery was very busy with Great Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills. Although it is still early in the nesting season, a couple of Great Egret nests contained eggs.

Walking back past Smith Pond, I noticed that Roseate Spoonbills, Black-necked Stilts and Blue-winged Teal were feeding dangerously near a couple of alligators.

Just as we were ready to leave High Island, I decided to have a quick last look at Purkey's Pond, just in case. I'm really glad I did!

Almost immediately after I got there, a White-eyed Vireo popped up in a bush only a few yards away.

Then I got one of those sightings that happen only very rarely.

Two beautiful Prothonotary Warblers appeared. One stayed well back from the path but was still clearly visible.

The other came nearer. 

And nearer.

And nearer.

It ended up wandering around on the ground less than ten feet from where half-a-dozen of us were standing spellbound. What a sight! 

BTW, I was surprised to see that this bird had a patch of red feathers on its forehead, as this is a feature that I have never seen mentioned in book or website descriptions of male Prothonotary Warblers. I assume the patch represented staining from some kind of fruit.

Although this trip wasn't as productive as some previous spring visits to Anahuac, High Island and Bolivar, four hours of birding added 20 species to my 2014 list. Besides, I'd have happily driven there and back just to see that Prothonotary Warbler.