Friday, December 24, 2004

A White Christmas In Southeast Texas!

On Thursday I took part in the Bolivar Peninsula Christmas Bird Count. Coinciding with this event was the arrival of a major cold front, so it was freezing when I met the rest of our little group near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge at 7am. We spent the better part of the morning sloshing through soggy woods and fields. As the day wore on it didn't get any warmer, just colder. We spent most of the afternoon birding from inside a heated car. Nobody really wanted to get out and walk around in that arctic wind. Well at least it wasn't raining...

We didn't find any remarkable rarities, and most of the species that we counted wouldn't be unusual on a California CBC. Much of the time we could just as well have been birding near Los Banos or somewhere in the Sacramento Valley - we even had Ross's Geese among the Snow Geese flying over us. But this is Texas, so there were a few birds that you wouldn't be likely to find on a California CBC, like Crested Caracara and Northern Bobwhite.

After our group disbanded I did some last minute birding on my own along FM 1985. I didn't make any great finds, although I was later surprised when the few Cattle Egrets I saw at the very end of the day turned out to be the only ones found on the count!

The countdown was held at Al T's Cajun Restaurant in Winnie. After reviewing the list the final tally was 180 species. And we had gumbo. It was great.

The frigid weather continues. As I left the house at 1pm today I noticed my birdbath was iced over, and it was actually snowing as I drove through Beaumont on my way to work. That's right - it was snowing in Southeast Texas on Christmas Eve. I call that a Christmas miracle.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

New Yard Birds!

These days it's unusual that I get to add a new species to my yard list, rarer still when I add two new species simultaneously! While checking out the birds at my feeders today I noticed a small streaky bird with a hint of yellow in the wings - Pine Siskin! This winter there have been numerous reports of siskins across Texas, and it appears that a major incursion is occurring, so seeing one at my feeder wasn't such a surprise. I've been watching for them lately.

But while watching the siskin I spotted a bright yellow bird bopping around down low in the bushes lining my driveway. From the brief look I got my impression was of a probable Wilson's Warbler. But it's winter, and Wilson's Warbler is at best a scarce migrant through just wasn't very likely. A few minutes later I refound the bird foraging in the shady thicket near my car. Definite WILSON'S WARBLER! Had some nice prolonged views. According to the TOS Handbook of Texas Birds this species winters uncommonly north to the Balcones Escarpment and Matagorda Bay, both a long way from here. Elsewhere in the state it winters rarely or very rarely - so a good find! I'm afraid the siskin immediately lost its celebrity status.

It's been raining hard today, with a major cold front expected tomorrow...just in time for the Bolivar Peninsula Christmas Bird Count, which I will be participating in. Temperatures are expected to plunge to the low 30s. Wouldn't you know.