Monday, October 30, 2006

Home Invasion

The inevitable finally occurred. Carolina Wrens are very inquisitive. When they see an opening they must explore. On Sunday I left the front door open a little too long, and one dashed into the house. Pursued it to a back bedroom, and eventually cornered it in the bathroom, where it took refuge in Michelle's bathrobe. Opened a window and it took the hint.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Usual Bird Stuff, the Bayou Is Flooding, and Other News

Yesterday I saw a female/imm. male Selasphorus hummingbird along the side of our house, same place where one spent the last winter. Could it be the same bird, I wonder? Its behavior was definitely defensive, returning repeatedly to the same commanding perch and jealously guarding its airspace. Another hummingbird has staked out a territory around the feeder on the other side of the house. It appears to be a female Ruby-throated (female-type hummingbirds can be very hard to ID!). Most of our other neotropical migrants have departed, but there are still stragglers. While walking around the yard yesterday I heard White-eyed Vireo and Summer Tanager.

Last night we received several hours of torrential rain, complete with dramatic sound and lighting effects. Another series of rainstorms recently caused some flooding along Pine Island Bayou, which is very close - and getting ominously closer - to our home. The rising waters covered feeder roads along the highway and flooded neighborhoods on lower ground just down the street from us.

When last night's storm arrived the earlier flooding still hadn't fully subsided, and the bayou was already overflowing. Fortunately our house is on high ground - also we recently bought flood insurance, which went into effect just a few days ago (good timing!). Just went outside to have a look around. No storm, no rain. Sky is blue with scarcely a cloud. House Wren was seen again, this time on a stump in the backyard. I expected water to pool and cover the lower end of our property, but I guess our drainage is better than that. A neighbor's yard is half flooded, and the pond has risen considerably. Hopefully we'll get a few dry days before the next round of storms hits us.

In other news, our bathroom remodeling should be finished in just a few days, and it appears that Michelle and I are going to have a baby! Thought I'd just sneak that in at the end.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Commonplace Rarities

One of the things I like most about backyard birding - aside from the obvious savings in gasoline - is that it turns otherwise mundane birds into exciting discoveries. Every addition to the yard list, however humble, is still a prize to be treasured. It may not have the prestige of finding a North American first on Attu, but for me the thrill is about the same.

Great-tailed Grackles are considered trash birds here in Texas, one of those species that you tend to ignore because there are bunches of them everywhere. Well, everywhere except my backyard. In the four years since I moved here only once have I seen one from my yard, and that was a brief view of a distant bird in flight. This is sort of odd, considering that they are dirt common less than a mile from my home. I guess suburban habitat isn't much to their liking. They seem to prefer gas stations and mall parking lots.

Cattle Egret is another ubiquitous roadside bird that I rarely see from my yard (two sightings in the last four years). Northern Flicker is a common winter visitor to Southeast Texas, but I've only seen flickers in our neighborhood twice, most recently earlier this week (Oct. 23rd). Sharp-shinned Hawk, Hermit Thrush, and Dark-eyed Junco are a few of the other "common" species that I've only had here on one or two occasions. Cooper's Hawk and Eurasian Collared-Dove are common enough nearby that I expect to get them eventually. Both are long overdue.

This afternoon I again wasted some time searching the yard for neotropical migrants. At least one Ruby-throated Hummingbird was still present, but returning winter birds have become more prominent lately. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Eastern Phoebes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Yellow-rumped Warblers are back in good numbers, and the sparrows can't be far behind.

Later I was in the kitchen with Michelle when she looked out the window and noticed a small brown bird hopping around in the bushes and grass. She asked me what it was, and I went to look, fully expecting it to be just another Carolina Wren. Was quite shocked when it turned out to be a House Wren, #120 for our yard list! Funny how my earlier searching produced nada, and Michelle just looks out the window and gets a new bird for the yard. Good spotting Michelle!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Serpent in the Garden

While moving piles of dirt around the yard on Saturday I was surprised by the sudden appearance of a rather large snake. It quickly slithered under the shrubbery by our front gate, but I was able to peer through the branches and get a decent look. Its color was bluish-gray with some lighter speckling and a pale belly. Although definitely of the non-venemous type, it was clearly agitated, and shook the tip of its tail in warning. I've seen Gopher Snakes engage in this sort of mimicry before. I tried to prod it out into the open to get a picture, but it darted between my feet and away across the driveway at high speed.

Consulted the literature, and based on coloration, shape, and behavior I've identified it as a Buttermilk Racer, Coluber constrictor anthicus. So I get another addition to my herps list, and a cool new species for the yard. Too bad the neighbors kill every snake they encounter - if they weren't so keen on exterminating them I'd probably see more around here.