Monday, March 02, 2015

Winter Birds Still Here

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Other commitments and bad weather stopped us from going out to do any birding over the weekend. However, spending more time at home meant I had a chance to see what winter birds are still around our yards.

The number of American Goldfinches is well down now, with only the occasional visitor. The few birds that do show up are now starting to show brighter plumage.


We continue to have a couple of Orange-crowned Warblers. The first of our winter visitors to show up, they are usually among the last to leave.


Now that the number of birds at our feeders has started to drop, we're seeing more of our Ruby-crowned Kinglet. He generally avoids coming when there are lots of other birds about, and if he shows up when the Orange-crowned Warbler is present, the latter usually chases him off.


There has been a small flock of Cedar Waxwings in our area for weeks, although they rarely come to our yard. However, some 80 settled in our oak tree on Friday along with a few American Robins. I wasn't able to get a photo of the Waxwings but one of the Robins flew down to the roof of our shed for a while.


The most numerous of our winter residents are Chipping Sparrows.


 At least a few of these charming little birds come to our feeders every day, and every so often a flock of a dozen or more turns up.


While we've been disappointed not to see any Brown-headed Nuthatches,  Tufted Titmice of Rufous Hummingbirds at our feeders this year, we have been pleased to see that an Eastern Phoebe has moved onto our street and makes occasional visits to our yards.

We've also been pleased to see that most of our year-round residents are visiting regularly again. But let me leave them until my next post.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

By the Water

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I had to go to the North Cypress Medical Center on Huffmeister the other day. As usual, there were plenty of ducks and geese on the ponds. Most of them were not wild birds but I couldn't resist taking a couple of pictures of them.

I was impressed by how well these ones swam in line.



This one caught my attention because it seemed to really enjoying splashing about, much to the discomfort of other ducks nearby. 



The previous week I had felt bad for the solitary Black-bellied Whistling Duck who had been left behind when the rest of the flock moved on. So this time I was pleased to see that it was no longer alone.


Back at work, the ditch along the north side of the CyFair campus has finally starting hosting a few birds again.

These White Ibis were new additions to my 2015 Harris County list.



I see plenty of Mallards but I thought these two females were just too photogenic to ignore. As it turns out, I was right not to ignore them because they were actually a pair of Mottled Ducks.


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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Past Week

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Last Friday was the Great Backyard Bird Count day on the CyFair campus. Unfortunately, it wasn't a very productive day for birds. We counted fewer than 100 individual birds of just 18 species.

You never know where you will see birds on the campus, though. There is an ornamental pond just behind the building where I work. It doesn't usually attract birds but lately it has become a favored fishing spot for a Great Egret and a Neotropic Cormorant (below).



The cormorant is now so used to people that it happily stands and dries its wings while students and staff walk past just a few feet away.



The Great Egret is a little less brave. When too many people are around, it flies up and stands on the roof of a nearby building.


I couldn't work out why a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds has started hanging out by the faculty/staff parking lot. Then I realized that the birds have discovered the seed that I sometimes spread around there to attract sparrows. Here is one of the female Blackbirds.


On Saturday I spent an hour at Little Cypress Creek Preserve, hoping to add a couple of species to my 2015 Harris County list. As it turned out, the only new bird was a Pileated Woodpecker.



On another tree, mating Red-bellied Woodpeckers were engaged in a noisy argument. 



I checked different parts of the preserve for sparrows but the only ones I saw were several White-throated Sparrows.



The Bald Eagles at the Longwood retention pond on Huffmeister Road are busy at their nest. 



Like last year, the pair is raising two juveniles. The youngsters haven't fledged yet but one of them is already occasionally flexing its wings, so it won't be long before they start venturing out of the nest.



While the juveniles stay in the nest, one of their parents always stands guard nearby.



I'm looking forward to watching the young birds over the coming weeks as they grow, strengthen their wings and learn to fly.
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Monday, February 16, 2015

Beaumont

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After checking in at our motel - an excellent Day's Inn - we headed over to Cattail Marsh, a natural water treatment facility. 



The ponds were busy with a range of birds, with groups of American White Pelicans resting on islands and surrounded by numerous Black-necked Stilts, Dowitchers, American Coots and Green-winged Teal.





Swamp Sparrows popped up at several places along the trail.



Unfortunately, the light was bad when we arrived and it got even worse as the afternoon ended. While this didn't stop us from seeing 43 species of birds, it did mean that most of my photos were grainy and blurred, like this one of a flock of 100+ Cattle Egrets.



I managed to save just one of several pictures that I took of nutrias that we came across along the trail.





I returned for an hour early the next morning, just in time for sunrise.



I saw mainly the same birds as the previous day, although this time they were bathed in golden light.



Even the Great-tailed Grackles looked spectacular in the dawn light.


Before heading back to Houston, we paid a visit to Village Creek State Park, which is part of what used to be the massive Big Thicket forest. 

We enjoyed a very pleasant walk along a woodland trail by the creek.






Birds were very few and far between: we saw or heard only half-a-dozen species. The only bird that appeared close and long enough for a photo was a Red-headed Woodpecker.



Our visit to Beaumont hadn't produced as many new birds as I had hoped for but the 45 species we saw at Cattail Marsh made the trip worthwhile.
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Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Weekend Away

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Late last week Dee and I decided to do a weekend trip to Beaumont, east of Houston and close to the Louisiana border. We'd never been there before and we'd heard the town had a good birding site called Cattail Marsh.

We set off on Saturday morning and made a brief stop at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, a place we never tire of visiting. A main reason for visiting this time was to check if there were any geese on the refuge.

We drove slowly around the Shoveler's Pond loop and were surprised to see that the water level was very high and that birds were comparatively scarce.

One of the few busy spots was a berm where dozens of Black-necked Stilts were hanging out with a variety of ducks and egrets.


The pond had Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall and Northern Shovelers but all were far from the road. Roseate Spoonbills and White and White-faced Ibis kept their distance, too. A number of Pied-billed Grebes, Common Gallinules and American Coots (below) were a little closer.



When we reached the west side of the loop, we were pleased to see that the fields away from the pond were crowded with hundreds - perhaps thousands - of geese. 



Most were Snow Geese but there were also some small groups of Greater White-fronted Geese.



When a couple of sub-adult Bald Eagles made a pass over the fields, the geese took flight and filled the sky above us.



On the rest of our drive around Shoveler's Pond we saw very few birds - and no alligators. So we decided to leave Anahuac and make a quick diversion down to Rollover Pass on the Bolivar peninsula.

When the tide is right, the beach at Rollover can be packed with thousands of gulls, terns and shorebirds. Unfortunately, when we got there this time, the tide wasn't right. There were thousands of birds but they were on sandbars so far away that the only birds we could ID among them were Black Skimmers.

The beach itself had Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls (below).



Shorebirds were largely absent except for a couple of Black-belled Plovers, three Willets and a Greater Yellowlegs.









A small flock of American Avocets flew in. Some birds stayed in the water while others patrolled the beach.






What elegant birds they are!

Then a Marbled Godwit turned up and wandered along the beach, eating a worm.



A few moments later it discovered another worm. It took ages for the Godwit to pull the worm out of the sand.



Once the worm was free, the Godwit quickly gobbled it down.



By now it was well after noon and so we said goodbye to Bolivar and drove back up to I-10 and then east to Beaumont, where we had arranged to spend the night.
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Monday, February 09, 2015

An Odd Birding Site

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You wouldn't expect to see many birds around the medical complex at the junction of Hufmeister and 290. However, there are two nicely landscaped ponds behind the main building and these often attract attract a range of birds.

When I walked around the ponds on Friday, several Neotropic Cormorants were hanging there.




As always, the ponds were hosting a lot of American Coots.


I was expecting to see the usual large flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks but I only spotted a single individual. I wonder why this one didn't leave when the others flew off.


Egrets are already starting to come into their breeding plumage, as you can see from this Snowy Egret grooming at one of the ponds.




Nearby a Great Egret looked equally impressive as it preened.







Just as I was leaving, I noticed that two Inca Doves were snuggled down among the branches.


While Inca Doves aren't rare in our area, they aren't exactly common either. I'll have to watch to see whether these two were just passing through or whether they might be going to nest here.
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