Friday, April 28, 2006

SCOTS Doublewide & Live in Houston, Some Suburban Birding

That's my Michelle up on stage at the Continental Club in Houston, shakin' her groove thang with Southern Culture on the Skids. On the right, with the big hair, is bassist Mary Huff.

Troy and Elizabeth took us to the show last night. We had trouble finding the venue, but as it turned out we arrived a little too early (about 8pm), and walked in on the band performing a soundcheck. Killed some time and parted with some cash in a record store down the block. Then we went back and sat through an opening act called Clouseaux that at first perplexed and ultimately just irritated us (imagine instrumental surf music meets Henry Mancini, accompanied by non-verbal yelling, wailing, and scat singing).

SCOTS didn't actually start until about 11:30pm, so it would be a late night for us. A fight erupted at one point, and during the melee some a**hole splashed beer on Elizabeth before being ejected from the club. At least nobody got hurt and Troy's car didn't get keyed this time. Other than that it was a pleasant evening, and aside from a few miscreants, and a guy seated in front of us whose date stood him up, everyone seemed to have a good time. Here's another shot of Michelle on stage, this time with SCOTS frontman Rick Miller and the chick from the Land O'Lakes Butter label on the left.The show ended at about 1am, and Troy and Elizabeth let us crash at their home in Spring. They have feeders in their yard, and two male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks visited them today. When we got home this afternoon it was windy with ominous gray clouds, and since yucky weather often brings interesting birds I did some looking around the yard. At the pond I had a Northern Waterthrush (new for my yard list), and found Yellow, Tennessee, and Black-and-white Warblers flitting through a neighbor's live oak. Then a Baltimore Oriole made a brief appearance. Clearly there was a small fallout occurring!

Considering how good the birding was in suburbia I'm guessing that it was probably even better on the coast today. Before going back inside I also saw a couple of Cattle Egrets fly by - a common roadside bird that I rarely see from our yard.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Finally Some Birds!

Awoke yesterday morning feeling ill, and immediately started throwing up. I was scheduled to work in the afternoon, but the headache and nausea continued and I spent the rest of the day in bed (except for occasional trips to the bathroom). I'm still feeling some achiness, but not enough to keep me from driving to Houston to see Southern Culture on the Skids tonight. I think I'm feeling well enough, but I'm gonna take it easy - which means no heavy drinking at the show. I also have a job interview this afternoon (fingers crossed!).

Spring migration has generally been dissapointing this year. I haven't heard of any major fallouts, and my trips to Sabine Woods and High Island have yielded very few neotropical migrants. Since the presence or absence of large numbers of birds at coastal locations is largely weather related, and large-scale groundings only occur when storms and north winds halt migration, our nice weather is probably to blame. Under pleasant conditions most birds probably overshoot the coast, and fly well inland before taking cover. This is good for the birds, but makes for dull birding.

On Tuesday I went back to High Island. Thunderstorms had been predicted, and some grounding of birds was likely to occur. This time I wasn't dissapointed. When I arrived at the Boy Scout Woods it didn't look too promising, but it was early, and migrants departing from the Yucatan usually arrive in the late afternoon. So I killed some time there, and as the day progressed more birds began to appear. Highlights were a Kentucky Warbler and a male Painted Bunting.

Swamp Rabbit at the Boy Scout Woods. Cute, huh?
From there I went to Smith Woods, where the situation at 4pm was very different - birds everywhere! The trees were full of kingbirds, catbirds, cuckoos, tanagers, orioles, grosbeaks, buntings, etc. Around fruiting mullberries the numbers were almost overwhelming. Trying to find vireos and warblers was more difficult because the larger species were making so much commotion. Baltimore Orioles were particularly abundant. Here's a male I photographed near the parking area.This Yellow-billed Cuckoo posed for me just long enough to get this picture.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Weekend Birding

I had the weekend off. Originally I had requested to have the weekend off so I could attend a meeting for participants in a Texas Ivory-bill search organized by the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory (not that I think that any are likely to be found, but hope springs eternal). On Friday I found out the meeting had been postponed, so Michelle and I went to High Island instead.

There were plenty of birders at the Boy Scout Woods, but not so many birds. Near the "review stand" we saw a few catbirds, tanagers, and orioles. A plant sale was going on and we bought more Abutilon (also known as "flowering maple") for our yard. The birding was better at Smith Oaks. Near the picnic tables by the parking area we saw a Palm Warbler, which is a bit unusual (first time I've seen one in Texas). At the rookery we observed big alligators and nesting Great Egrets. Some of the egret nests contained eggs and baby birds.After that we walked trails through the woods looking for passerine migrants, the best of which was a Golden-winged Warbler (we missed a Black-billed Cuckoo observed earlier and a Black-whiskered Vireo found later in the day). Michelle is developing good birding skills, and her sharp eyes spotted many of the birds we saw.

Male Summer Tanager at Smith Oaks.Not much change here at home. I continue to see Summer Tanagers and Orchard Orioles around our yard, and a Gray Catbird was singing along the driveway on Monday.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher @ Sabine Woods

Yesterday I visited Sabine Woods. It was a good day for mosqitoes, but not so great for neotropical migrants. Warblers were particularly scarce - during several hours of searching I saw only 2 Tennessee Warblers, a Northern Parula, a Blackpoll Warbler, 1-2 Ovenbirds, a few Common Yellowthroats, a Northern Waterthrush, and a Yellow-breasted Chat. There were a few other migrants present in low numbers, such as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Gray Catbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Baltimore Oriole. Didn't see a single thrush or tanager.

Numbers and variety of birds were low, but there was one truly exceptional find, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (rare in the US outside of its normal range in southern Arizona). Apparently it was easily observed in the morning prior to my arrival, but then became more elusive. I located the bird at about 12:30pm, and got a few brief glimpses of it before it disappeared again. Most of the birders who came later in the day were not so lucky. A couple of birders did manage to find it again, but most of those who searched in the afternoon were disappointed.

Texas in springtime is a major birding destination. In April birders from all over North American and Europe converge on the more famous sites, like High Island and Sabine Woods. It's not unusual to run into someone you know. Yesterday Jon Dunn was leading a tour group at Sabine Woods. I was surprised that he still recognized me, since we haven't seen each other in years. He asked if I had seen any bears, so apparently he also remembers a little incident involving me, another tour group, and a grizzly.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Weather & Birds

On Monday I did some digging and planting. Despite near-drought conditions the lawn and shrubbery look great. Our yard is again green and lush with new foliage. If the dry weather continues I'll have to start watering regularly. Weather is still comfortable but starting to warm up, and I got a little sunburn today. Quite a contrast with the present situation in California, where torrential rains have been causing mudslides and road closures.

Spring migration remains relatively uneventful - at least I haven't seen much action here. Monday birds included Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Chimney Swifts, Purple Martins, a couple of Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrasher, Summer Tanager, and Pine Warbler. Nothing unusual. I heard a Pileated Woodpecker for the first time in quite a while. Woodpeckers in general seem to be a bit scarce around here lately, and I suspect that they may have dispersed to take advantage of the abundance of fallen timber caused by Hurricane Rita (our neighborhood had its share of downed trees, but most have since been hauled away or burned). From reports I've read it looks like migrants are starting to appear in modest numbers at coastal locations. Local highlight yesterday was a Hermit Warbler found at Sea Rim State Park.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Summer Tanager at the Drip, No More Hurricanes Please!

Just looked out the window behind me and saw a male Summer Tanager enjoying the birdbath with its new drip.

Finally burned the last of the big logs that were piled in the backyard, remnants of pines and cedars that uprooted during the hurricane. Noticed the neighbors are also burning debris today. I've filled the troughs and holes in our lawn made by heavy equipment and fallen trees, and it looks like we might get our fences repaired soon. A guy from Allstate was here yesterday, and asked if we were ready for the next hurricane. Yes, we're ready ...ready to leave Southeast Texas if we get another devastating storm this year. I've heard others express the same sentiments. We know that there will be hurricanes in the future, but we aren't prepared to deal with the the hard work and stress of cleanup and rebuilding a second time - not when we are still recovering from Rita. Hopefully it will be a long time before another hurricane lands here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More Spring Arrivals

On April 5th, while watching the sky over my backyard, I saw a few Broad-winged Hawks pass over and heard a Common Nighthawk for the first time this spring.

Spent the better part of yesterday working and birding in my yard. In the morning Broad-winged Hawks were migrating, and I also spotted a distant Mississippi Kite. Saw a Gray Catbird fly into a neighbor's yard, and had my first Orchard Oriole of the season singing atop our tall pecan tree. A Yellow-throated Vireo was singing in the oaks by our back fence, and didn't even pause its song while it was busy throttling a large worm! Now that's multi-tasking. Then in the late afternoon a male Summer Tanager started calling. Since I hadn't heard it earlier in the day I figure it must have just arrived, fresh from the tropics.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tuesday With Troy

Weather was really nice today, and Troy came over in the dune buggy. Ahead of his arrival I did a little backyard birding, and added a new species (Osprey!) to my yard list. Also spotted a couple of high-flying Anhingas, a White-eyed Vireo, and my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the season.

Michelle got off work early so she could go to the movies with us. It was not a day for chick flicks - our original plan was to see two horror films back-to-back, but in the end we decided to forego the remake of The Hills Have Eyes in favor of Slither, an above average sci-fi comedy about alien slugs that turn their victims into zombies.

Troy's mechanical apptitude is much higher than mine, and he's been very generous in offering us assistance with home repairs and improvements. Today he helped put together a swing that has been sitting unassembled in our garage since last spring. He also fixed the brakes on my riding mower, and made adjustments so it would cut the grass more evenly (last summer the mower blade and its housing got jacked up when I plowed into a tree root, and it hasn't worked right since then). I recently mowed our backyard for the first time since the hurricane, and when Michelle saw how the mower had gouged our lawn she said it looked like I was trying to create crop circles.

Troy and I share an appreciation for rockabilly music, and as I sit here I'm listening to Rockabilly Showdown, a compilation album that Troy downloaded to my computer today. It's a pretty good collection of songs, although I don't recognize any of the bands - all new talent. Speaking of rockabilly, later this month we look forward to seeing Southern Culture on the Skids perform at the Continental Club in Houston. Michelle and I are also planning a trip to California in June.

Yet another sign of spring - the bats have returned.

Sabine Woods, Post-Rita

On Monday I visited Sabine Woods for the first time since Hurricane Rita. As expected there was substantial loss of foliage, with the larger trees suffering the heaviest damage. The tall mulberries (which when fruiting can be full of migratory birds) were practically denuded. But the trails were well maintained, the boardwalk was in good condition, and contrary to what I'd been told there was water present, with a drip running to attract birds. Not that there were many birds to attract - the woods seemed almost empty of birdlife. I did see a Brown Thrasher, a White-eyed Vireo, a Northern Parula, and a few sparrows (Lincoln's, Swamp, White-throated), but not much else. Birders were even scarcer than birds, and the whole time that I was there I had the place entirely to myself.

Near Sea Rim State Park (which is still closed due to Hurricane Rita) I spotted my first Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the season sitting on a wire. Later in the afternoon, while working in my yard, I saw a couple of Broad-winged Hawks, one of which was whistling loudly from a perch in our pecan tree. A party of Chimney Swifts flying over at evening were my first for this spring.