Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Sprague's Curse Lifted

Today I took part in the Bolivar Peninsula CBC. Each year our party starts the day by walking along a wooded bayou near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. This morning the woods were full of birds - highlights included a Common Ground-Dove, a bright red Eastern Screech-Owl, a Wilson's Warbler, and a small flock of Vesper Sparrows.

After birding the bayou we walk back to our cars through an adjacent pasture. There always seems to be at least one Sprague's Pipit in this pasture, and every year I lug my scope out there hoping to get a decent look at it. Invariably we flush one, only to watch it fly off into the distance, never to return. Year after year my hopes have been cruelly dashed, and today, as usual, when we finally scared up a pipit it did just as expected. Flew right over us making its stupid squee squee call, and just kept going. And going. And going.

But this year would be different. This year there would be a second Sprague's, and this one wouldn't fly away. In fact we couldn't make it fly. It was first spotted walking in the grass a short distance ahead of us. After some very satisfing views we got closer to try and get pictures. It allowed us to approach to within fifteen feet, and then walked with us most of the way back to our cars! Initially we considered that it could be injured, but we did see it take a couple of short flights. The light was poor, but I got one decent photo:
Other good birds seen today included a Least Flycatcher, 2 Palm Warblers, and best of all, an immature Golden Eagle (apparently a first for the count!). We birded until after sunset, ending the day with Short-eared Owl and dinner at Al-Ts in Winnie.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Weirder and Weirder...

You just couldn't make this stuff up. Jim Stevenson, Galveston's unofficial animal control officer, is in the news again. This time someone might be trying to shoot him! Check out this article in the Houston Chronicle.

A dead cat, shots in the dark, and a birder on the lamb!

Cowbird Nation

This is part of a huge icterid flock that I encountered last Sunday in the boggy grasslands of western Jefferson County. It might have been the largest such flock I've ever seen. Over 90% of them were Brown-headed Cowbirds, which will not come as good news to America's cup-nesting songbirds.

When they are packed like that how do they fly without colliding?

In other news - as if it could be called news - we had an immature male Rufous Hummingbird at our feeders on the 15th (it had enough red splotches on its back to rule out Allen's). On the 17th I saw a big dark raptorish bird flying over I-10 in Beaumont. It was probably a first year Bald Eagle, but I was in a traffic situation and will have to leave that one a tentative maybe.

Tomorrow is the Bolivar Peninsula Christmas Bird Count. On last year's count we had Ross's Goose, White-tailed Hawk, Sandhill Crane, Short-eared Owl, Sprague's Pipit, 6 species of warblers, and LeConte's Sparrow. Can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring!


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Pipit By Any Other Name...

Today I heard a familiar sound as I was leaving work - the shrill seep-seeps of pipits somewhere high overhead. Once upon a time they were called Water Pipits, but then there was a split, and our Water Pipits became American Pipits - as distinguished from the Asiatic form known by its Asiatic name, Japanese Pipit (also sometimes referred to as Siberian Pipit). But according to Wikipedia both the American and Japanese/Siberian Pipits are merely subspecies of the Buff-bellied Pipit. Buff-bellied Pipit? Holy Jeebus! This is getting way too complicated.

Anyway, I heard Water/American/Buff-bellied Pipits flying at a safe altitude away from Riverfront Park, just as any sensible bird would be doing. I don't really have any other noteworthy bird sightings...come to think of it, even my pipits don't constitute a sighting. It's more of a hearing. I just don't do much birding anymore, aside from the backyard and feeder-watching sort - another consequence of becoming a responsible adult. Born Again Birdwatcher has something to say about this in his recent blog. Kids. Gotta love 'em. Cuz if we didn't, well, we'd all be off doing something else.

Monday, December 03, 2007

December in the Garden

Amazing. It's December and we still have flowers in our yard. Salvia, shrimp plant, turk's cap, roses, and camelias are all very much in bloom. How long it will last I don't know - the temperature is expected to dip tonight. Along with the flowers we have a few lingering hummingbirds, including a Selasporus type (probably Rufous) at our feeders yesterday, and an Archilochus type (probably Ruby-throated) there today. Incidentally, the genus Archilochus takes its name from an ancient Greek poet who was known for his satirical verse. Personally I don't see the connection.

I'm still occasionally hearing Red-breasted Nuthatch in and around our yard. White-throated Sparrows have finally returned, and a White-eyed Vireo was along our driveway on November 25th.

I may have been a bit hasty is my negative assessment of Riverfront Park. When trains aren't clanking through, which is almost always, it's possible to find a few birds there. Rock Pigeons and Great-tailed Grackles for the most part, but on my breaks I've also seen Downy Woodpecker, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Chipping Sparrows.