Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Cool Birds, Etc.

It's been a very good week for backyard birding here in the swamp...

When I got up this morning I looked out my front door, and the first bird I saw was a male Indigo Bunting. It's blue plumage almost glowed. Later I saw both a male and female in my yard, and then I spotted an odd little bird foraging at ground level in my garden. It was greenish above and yellowish below, so at first I thought it was some kind of warbler, but then I saw the conical bill and realized I was looking at a bunting...a female Painted Bunting! This is another new bird for my yard list, #99! I suppose if I counted an unidentified duck I recently saw I could claim it for my 100th yard bird. I was hoping for a multicolored male, but you take what you can get.

On Monday, April 26th, I added Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Blue Grosbeak to my yard list (the Blue Grosbeaks, a female and molting male, were actually observed from the pond loop). Other highlights included a pair of Anhingas soaring over the pond, a Little Blue Heron, 2 Mississippi Kites, a Red-headed Woodpecker, a Pileated Woodpecker, a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers, a Black-throated Green Warbler, a Yellow-throated Warbler (in pines near the pond), Summer Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, and Orchard Oriole.

Yesterday (April 27th), at about 8:50am, I was again thrilled to see an AMERICAN SWALLOW-TAILED KITE circling over the pond! What a graceful bird. It's been about a month since my two previous sightings. Later I also observed a Mississippi Kite over the pond, followed by 3 more soaring up high. The only other raptor seen was a Red-shouldered Hawk that flew by carrying nesting material (with a very upset Common Grackle in close pursuit). An Anhinga and a pair of Inca Doves made brief appearances. The 3 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks seen in the morning included a brightly colored male perched in the tall tree behind my bedroom. Later I saw a male Baltimore Oriole in the same tree. Once again the resident Yellow-throated Warbler was heard singing from tall pines around the pond. Earlier in the morning I found a large dragonfly resting motionless in a bush waiting for the heat to rise. It had three brown spots on each wing, and a long thin abdomen that forked at the end. After close study I identified it as a Prince Baskettail, another new species for my growing dragonfly list.

Yesterday I also spent a few hours birding at Sabine Woods. Highlights included 4 species of thrushes (had a Veery practically land at our feet!), 19 species of warblers (including Canada, Blackburnian, and Bay-breasted), Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, and flocks of Indigo Buntings. Not bad.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Catbird Invasion

This morning, after working a graveyard shift in Port Arthur, I went to Sabine Woods to do a little birding ahead of the rain. Never seen so many Gray Catbirds, the woods were full of them. A catbird here, a catbird there. Catbirds everywhere. Lots of birders there too. And mosquitoes.

In addition to the inexplicable plethora of catbirds, I saw 19 species of warblers today, highlighted by male Black-throated Blue and Cerulean Warblers at Sabine Woods, and a Cape May Warbler in roadside mulberries at Sea Rim State Park. Other goodies included Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Philadelphia Vireos, a Gray-cheeked Thrush, a Veery, bunches of Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. What a day. Now I'm home, it's pouring rain, and it's I'm headed for bed and then another long night in Port Arthur.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Afternoon Update To This Morning's Extraordinarily Long Blog Entry

Just an update to my earlier blog entry...there's always something happening here...

After lunch this afternoon I went down to the pond to study dragonflies. Most were Blue Dashers, but I saw at least one Black Saddlebags and a few Common Whitetails (a large dragonfly with a fat white abdomen and broad black bands across its wings...the pattern and size makes them sort of conspicuous). While I was walking along the edge of the pond I suddenly noticed a shorebird at the water's edge ahead of me - a Solitary Sandpiper! Apropo of its name, it was alone. It flew back and forth across the pond a few times before settling down so I could view it thru my scope. This is the first shorebird for my backyard list, and not unexpected, since it is the species most likely to be found in a wooded area.

Not much else to report, except that American Goldfinches are still visiting my feeders and I again saw a Wood Thrush singing along the driveway this afternoon.

Spring 2004 Recap (LONG!!!)

Interesting weather happens here all the I started to write this I heard the wind suddenly intensify and the rain begin to pelt down...

I've been a bit remiss in not maintaining my blog, so I have a gargantuan backlog of birding news to report. Life in the swamp has been pretty good, with pleasant weather and new birds arriving daily. I've been doing more traveling and exploring this spring, but my own backyard still offers up little surprises, and I still spend a lot of time there. Here are some recent highlights from my little backwater:

March 27-28 - AMERICAN SWALLOW-TAILED KITE!!! One was seen near the pond both mornings. BEST BACKYARD BIRD EVER.

April 1 - First Yellow-throated Vireo of the season.

April 2 - First Great Crested Flycatcher of the season briefly visited my backyard.

April 7 - From my front door I watched a female Hooded Warbler working its way along the edge of my driveway (another first for the yard list). A Worm-eating Warbler was seen in trees across the road (yet another first). White-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Red-eyed Vireos were also in the neighborhood, and an Inca Dove was at my feeder.

April 8 - First Summer Tanager of the season.

April 9 - There was definitely some Raptor migration going on. I counted about 10 Mississippi Kites (new for the yard list) and 20+ Broad-winged Hawks, most moving in a northeasterly direction. Also saw a pair of high flying Anhingas, and closer to the ground I had 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers, a female Hooded Warbler at the pond, and Orchard Oriole (first of the season).

April 13 - Male Baltimore Oriole in my front yard, and 2 Green Herons at the pond.

April 18 - Today the big news was mostly about wading birds, with a record 6 species! I don't see many herons and egrets at the pond - most of the ones I get here are just commuters. But at dawn this morning there was a Great Blue Heron prowling the water's edge. After it flew off I spent some time watching the sky for fly-overs, and saw another Great Blue, a Great Egret, a Little Blue Heron, 4+ Tricolored Herons (new for the yard list!), and a flock of 8 White Ibises. Later I found a Green Heron loitering down at the pond. Followed a different warbler song from the far end of the pond to pines across the road, and it turned out to be a Yellow-throated Warbler (!!!), another first for the yard list. Nesting activities have commenced...Eastern Bluebirds are using a nest box behind the house, and starlings have claimed the martin house again (so far I haven't seen any martins check it out this spring).

April 19 - A fly-over Cattle Egret was another first for the yard list, and a Wood Thrush singing along the driveway was the first one I've actually seen IN my yard (later joined by a second bird).

On April 3 I took my new friend Hillary up to Newton County to hike the "Wild Azalea Canyons." Both the wild azaleas and the so-called canyons were a bit underwhelming. But the drive was beautiful (ironically we saw more blooming azaleas along the roads going there than we did on our hike) and we did see some returning migrants (Hooded and Worm-eating Warblers).

Bad weather on April 11 produced a strong fallout of migrants at Sabine Woods Sanctuary. I was getting off a graveyard shift that morning, and seeing swallows struggling against a north wind I decided to go check it out (Sabine Woods is only about 30 minutes from where I work!). Impressive numbers of Orchard Orioles were dropping into the trees as I arrived. Other birds seen included Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, and the usual early migrating warblers. While walking through the woods I ran into a couple of students from my first birding class, Cindy Cummings and Eileen Halvey, who were looking for Swainson's Warbler (one had been seen here in recent days). We lucked out! Thanks to an unidentified British birder who found the bird and kept it in sight, we all managed to get excellent looks at it as it worked its way through the leaf litter. It was a lifer for Cindy and Eileen and the first Swainson's Warbler I had seen in many years. Very cool!

On April 16 I returned to Sabine Woods Sanctuary, but the action had slowed considerably. A personal highlight was seeing a Cottonmouth slithering along the edge of a muddy pool in the woods. A Solitary Sandpiper at this same pool seemed unusual because of the location, (within a thicket). Even with migration in a definite slump I managed to get about a hundred species during the course of the day, with many new year birds. At Sabine Woods these included Northern Waterthrush, male & female Scarlet Tanagers, and female Blue & Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Later in the day, on the beach at Sea Rim State Park, I saw Wilson's Plovers and Royal, Sandwich, Common, Forster's, Black, and Least Terns. Along the Willow Pond Birding Trail I had a stunning look at a male Painted Bunting, and along the Gambusia Nature Trail I twice flushed a Least Bittern.

Yesterday (April 20) I visited Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. A strong south wind was blowing, and landbird migrants were scarce (most overshoot the coast under such favorable migratory conditions). Instead of wasting my time at High Island I decided to focus on shorebirds. Along the Shoveler Pond loop I saw Fulvous Whistling Ducks, a Purple Gallinule, and LOTS of alligators. On my way out I stopped to check out a Rough Green Snake in the road (a new reptile, yee-haw!). The shallow wetlands just south of the entrance kiosk at the refuge held a good variety of shorebirds - Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, and Western, Semipalmated, Least, Stilt, Pectoral, Baird's, and White-rumped Sandpipers. Ran into a group of Brits who were especially keen on seeing the White-rumped, and eventually did, but the wind wasn't helping. Elsewhere on the refuge I saw several Solitary Sandpipers and an American Golden-Plover.

Tonight I start work again after having seven wonderful days off. I still have a few hours of daylight to enjoy before the nocturnal life resumes...