Thursday, September 28, 2006

Here We Go Again...

Lately the blogoshere has been all a-twitter with hints and rumors of a new Ivory-billed Woodpecker discovery. Some of the true believers smugly opined that the impending announcement would finally prove the skeptics wrong, and the eating of crow would soon commence. Mary Scott's web site went so far as to proclaim that as many as NINE pairs of IBWOs had been found at some undisclosed location!

Well the wait is over. This week it was announced that a group from Auburn University had found Ivory-billed Woodpeckers along the Choctawhatchee River in the Florida Panhandle (quick, get out your maps!). Details can be viewed here and here.

So are the skeptics enjoying their meal of crow? Not quite...

Apparently the prediction of nine pairs was based on rumor or speculation (Mary Scott has since removed that claim from her web site). The evidence presented so far is tantalizing but less than totally convincing. At least that's how a naying naysayer such as myself would describe it.

Once again we have auditory and physical evidence that is suggestive, but does not rise to the level of proof. To their credit the Auburn team admits this. As with the Arkansas disappointment all of the reported observations were brief and involved birds in flight, many viewed without the aid of binoculars. I find this troubling. Of the 14 sightings that they documented not once was the bird seen perched or at rest?! Of course this raises the possibility that some or all of the sightings were erroneous. On the positive side they have some intriguing field notes and sketches, numerous recordings of double knocks and kent calls, and an abundance of physical evidence in the form of peculiar bark scaling and extra-large tree cavities. Now if they can just get one good photo...

It's too bad that neither the Cornell or Auburn teams recorded and quantifed their misidentifications, if any. It would be interesting to know how often (if ever) Pileated Woodpeckers were initially identified as IBWOs.

Yesterday morning I saw a few mildly interesting birds while walking around my yard - neotropical migrants included White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos, a Northern Parula, and Summer Tanager. Heard a Pileated Woodpecker. No raptor migration was detected, although conditions appeared to be right for that sort of thing.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Katrina, One Year Later

Michelle and I just got back from a long weekend in southeastern Louisiana. Saturday was spent with family, but Sunday morning I was able to sneak off and do some birding in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area - that is until I got rained out.

I'd been there before. I first visited the Pearl River WMA back in the 1980s, and it was there that I had some of my first experiences with southern swamp forest. That was before David Kulivan reported an encounter with a pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers there, back when I was just trying to find the usual eastern birds - warblers and such. I wasn't disappointed. The Pearl River WMA is a great place in which to see typical swampland birds and other wildlife.

This time I was looking for IBWOs, inasmuch as I was aware of the possibility and interested in whatever birds were around, which could conceivably include IBWOs. Noticed plenty of woodpecker activity, but only saw the usual suspects - Downy, Red-bellied, Pileated. Looked for signs of IBWO bark stripping, but only found obvious Pileated workings. It was a good opportunity to survey the damage wrought by Katrina, which created openings in the forest canopy. Broken and downed trees were everywhere. The terrain was drier than I had expected - on my earlier visits most of the forest had been flooded.This is not a remote wilderness area. I was birding along well-travelled roads, always within earshot of highway traffic and the constant gunfire from a nearby shooting range.

Before the heavy rain started I found a large mixed species association moving through the woods along the entry road. Among the neotropical migrants that I observed in this "flock" were several species of warblers (best of all an adult male Canada Warbler). White-eyed Vireos were singing throughout the woods, which was a little surprising considering the lateness of the season. A Barred Owl caused a small disturbance and gave me a brief photo opportunity.Sunday afternoon we drove into New Orleans and toured some of the Katrina devastation. Over a year later much of the city is still a ghost town with empty streets, abandoned buildings, and unpopulated neighborhoods. We spent the evening walking through the French Quarter, where the retailers are selling Katrina the same way they sell debauchery and voodoo. The Quarter is still a lively place, and the Superdome is reopening, but the rest of the city is on life support. Casi muerto. Zombified.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Good Weather For Ducks

Typical Texas weather - last night Michelle and I drove back from Houston with the top down and a sky full of stars overhead. By the time we got home it was turning chilly. This morning the dark clouds moved in, and we took a drenching. Now the clouds are gone and it's humid as hell.

Between sprinkles I did some backyard birding today. At noon I wasted at least an hour staring idiotically at the sky. There was no air traffic. Weather probably kept the raptors grounded. Seemed like all the birds were somewhere else.

Then as I walked up the driveway I had a Red-eyed Vireo. Then another. Then a tree full of them. Don't think I've ever had so many here, not all at once. Must have been 10-20 moving through the trees. And they were part of a larger mixed species association (I think flock would be the wrong word) that included a Yellow-throated Vireo, Carolina Chickadees, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds, Summer Tanagers, a Baltimore Oriole, and a warbler or two. Not bad. We rarely get large waves of passerine migrants in our neighborhood...for a while it reminded me of a good day at High Island. Then the rain came and brought a sudden end to my fun.

The sky cleared, and at about 2pm I took another look around the yard. First bird I saw was a male Wood Duck resting on a log at the back of the pond - the first duck I've ever seen there (that's strange, a pond without ducks). Since I moved here I've had a few unidentified fly-by ducks, but finally I get one for the yard list! I even got a few decent photos. Note that the bird is banded on its right leg.And as if that wasn't good enough, at about 6pm I checked the pond again, and this time found a pair of Eastern Kingbirds - another long awaited addition to the yard list. Yeeeeee-haw!!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Got the Blues, Also A Bad Bitey Dog

This morning I looked out the bedroom window and saw what appeared to be a smallish egret fly across the pond and disappear from view. We often see a Great Egret there, but this was something else, possibly a Snowy Egret. I went to investigate. As I approached the pond I flushed a Great Blue Heron. Then I saw the bird that I suspected to be a Snowy Egret. It was an immature Little Blue Heron. I've often seen Little Blues flying over my yard, but this is the first time I've seen one at the pond.

Pipa, my diminutive quadrupedal friend, has been very bad. Pipa is a Lhasa Apso, which is a particularly temperamental breed of lapdog. Lately he has been a bit bitey, and today he actually bit Michelle. The little bastard always growls at me, but not Michelle - absolutely loves her. Which makes this shocking act of senseless violence all the more shocking and senseless. Pipa has been punished and is now under house arrest. Hopefully he will see the error of his vicious ways.Here he is. Evil incarnate.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

New Yard Bird! And It's a Big One!

Yesterday evening I spent some time watching the sky over my backyard. Lately I've been preoccupied with work on the house, and this is the first time I've lifted binoculars in quite a while. The reward was a flock of 4 White Ibis, a species I seldom see here. Sunset is a good time to watch for wading birds flying to roost. I've noticed that most are travelling from west to east. Also saw a Northern Parula in a neighbor's yard and heard a Common Nighthawk at dusk.

This morning I was scanning for raptors and had a brief tantalizing view of 2-3 large birds soaring above the trees to the north of the pond. They were probably Wood Storks, but I couldn't be certain. I continued scanning the horizon, hoping they would reappear. Then at about 10:30am I had an unmistakable pair of Wood Storks flying east right over my backyard! Too cool! A few minutes later I again saw a trio of them soaring in the distance. Went back inside, but was outside again at about 11:15am, just in time to catch the showstopper - a flock of 70+ Wood Storks moving westward amid a steady stream of Broad-winged Hawks!

Wood Stork is uncommon in Southeast Texas and a welcome addition to the yard list. Other birds seen here this morning included Black and Turkey Vultures, a Red-shouldered Hawk (among the Broad-wings), and an Eastern Wood-Pewee. Our flowers and feeders have been attracting swarms of butterflies and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. All that hard work in the garden finally paying off...