Saturday, January 06, 2007

More Birding, January 5-6

Michelle got me out of bed on Friday morning to see a Swamp Rabbit out the kitchen window. Aside from the squirrels we rarely see any wild mammal in our yard - too many dogs roaming the neighborhood for that. I think the last time I saw a bunny here was back before I knew Michelle.

On Friday morning I also took a series of photos of an Archilochus hummngbird that has been frequenting our feeders. I've got it pegged as a Ruby-throated, based on coloration, bill length, and its sharply pointed 10th primary. Still have some nagging doubts. Today I again saw an Archilochus hummingbird at our feeders, but this time the bill appeared to be longer and slightly decurved. That and the constant tail-pumping seemed to point toward Black-chinned. So we might have a second wintering Archilochus (or my identification of the Ruby-throated is incorrect), but I'll need more photos for confirmation of the "two bird theory."

Friday afternoon I did the long walk around Cattail Marsh in Beaumont. An adult Bald Eagle and a Palm Warbler were the highlights. Savannah Sparrows were annoyingly abundant along the levees. Saw fewer ducks (and less variety of species) than were present in early January of 2006. Lower numbers of waterfowl in Southeast Texas this winter could be due to mild weather up north.

After Cattail Marsh I walked around the Beaumont Botanical Gardens. The last time I was there was a few months after Hurricane Rita, and the gardens had been utterly devastated. Looks much better now. The bayou at the back is a good place for watersnakes when it's warm. Didn't see any this time, but did get Eastern Bluebird, Brown Creeper, and Common Grackle for my new year list.

I still had a couple of hours of daylight, so I drove to Pleasure Island (City of Port Arthur) to see what I could see. Pleasure Island is a strip of land between the Intercoastal Waterway and Sabine Lake. It was created by the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers when they dredged the waterway. The geography is a bit puzzling to me - turn left when you come off the bridge and you might somehow wind up in Louisiana. Best find was a couple of Common Loons in a little channel. Also got Osprey and Bufflehead for my year list.

At about 2am last night, while sitting at the computer, I thought I heard a Barred Owl calling outside. Opened the back door to listen, and sure enough, there was a Barred Owl hooting out in the rainy darkness. Sounded like it was near the end of our backyard.

Saturday afternoon I drove to Anahuac NWR. Hoping for Sprague's Pipit I stopped to scan pastures along FM 1985. No luck. It's all privately owned ranchland, so I had to confine my search to scoping from the roadway. In the Skillern Tract I had a male Vermilion Flycatcher along the bayou at the end of the road, same place where one was present last winter. Tried to kick up some sparrows in the marsh there, and got a few Swamp Sparrows and a Lincoln's for my trouble. Also spooked an American Bittern.

Along the main entrance to the refuge I again had a Merlin, probably the same bird Michelle and I saw on the 1st. Near the refuge headquarters I had a very pale Krider's-type Red-tailed Hawk (see photo below), and further on a Crested Caracara. The flooded basin just past the buildings was good for ducks, waders, and shorebirds, which included flocks of Long-billed Dowitchers, a few Lesser Yellowlegs and a couple of Stilt Sandpipers.I love Anahuac in winter! It's one of those places where you not only see a lot of birds, but you see a lot of birds really well. Of course they aren't all so accommodating. Some of the sparrows are difficult little skulkers, and Sedge Wrens are complete bastards. My advice to you if you want a good look at a Sedge Wren - don't even bother. Enjoy the nice field guide illustrations. Just accept that in life they can only be viewed from behind, in flight, just as they disappear into the grass.


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