Sunday, April 27, 2008

High Times at High Island

Bryce finally came home from the hospital on Saturday, and except for a big bandage on his belly he's the same as ever - still playful and full of smiles. No more trips to the emergency room, please. We've had quite enough. Little fellow gave us quite a scare this time.

With large numbers of migrants reported on Saturday, and signs and portents of an impending fallout on the coast, Michelle granted me leave to go birding. It was very kind of her to stay with the kids and let me disappear for a few hours.

As soon as I got out of the car at High Island I began to notice little chippy sounds, an indication that it was going to be a good day. I wouldn't describe the situation as a fallout, but there were plenty of birds to be seen. Of course I heard the inevitable lament, you should have been here yesterday. And naturally a real fallout is predicted for tomorrow, when I will be at work. See - you just can't win.The weather was dismal and drippy at times, and poor lighting made photography difficult. Not that the rain seemed to hamper bird activity at all. Tennessee Warblers were most abundant at the Boy Scout Woods, but once again most of the warblers were at Smith Oaks, probably because there are simply more trees left standing there. Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, Magnolia, and Blackburnian Warblers were present in fair numbers. Luck was with me, and along the trails at Smith Oaks I also had a Black-billed Cuckoo (always a treat), a Philadelphia Vireo, and yet another Cerulean Warbler. Wherever there were fruiting mulberries there were lots of catbirds, grosbeaks, tanagers, and orioles. Vireos, on the other hand, were unusually scarce, and flycatchers were virtually absent.

Below is the Philadelphia Vireo at Smith Oaks. It was sharing a little stand of willows with an assortment of warblers, which included Yellow, Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white, Bay-breasted, and Blackburnian. Not too shabby.My year list now stands at 203 species, which seems somewhat less than impressive, particularly when you consider that on April 19th a party of birders managed to get 260 species in Texas in a single day, setting a new national big day record. Now that's birding!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bryce in the Hospital

Bryce has been in the hospital the last two days. What started as a boil on his belly turned into a serious staph infection. On Tuesday night Michelle took his temperature and he had a fever of 105. She rushed him to the hospital while I stayed with Lucy, and the next morning he went in for surgery to remove the infection. He's been a brave little fellow and is back in his usual good spirits, as you can see in the photo below. He should be coming home tomorrow.Nice fauxhawk there, Bryce.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Weekend Birding on the UTC

Spring migration is at its peak, so there are bound to be a few birds worth mentioning. On Saturday I had a Red-headed Woodpecker fly over our yard and become bird #177 for the year list. More surprising (at least to me) was a Red-breasted Nuthatch by the pond that same day. Hadn't seen or heard one here since January, and I figured they'd already headed north. Does seem a bit late. Of course it's quite possible that this bird was just a transient and didn't winter in our neighborhood. If it had been here undetected since January I must either be totally oblivious or busy parenting twins.

I have noticed more breeding activity. On Saturday a Gray Catbird was spotted carrying nesting material, and Eastern Bluebirds had a brood of newly fledged bluebirdlings down by the pond (some of our neighbors have put up nestboxes, and they didn't use ours this time). Carolina Wrens recently built a nest in a little wagon we have parked on our front porch, but abandoned it after depositing a few eggs. My guess is they changed their mind about the location because of all the human and dog traffic around the nest.

On Sunday I got to go to High Island and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. En route, somewhere between Beaumont and Winnie, I finally got Scissor-tailed Flycatcher for the year list (bird #178).

The birding wasn't great at High Island but didn't suck either. It's sad to see the Boy Scout Woods reduced to a patch of shrubs, and with the loss of so many trees the number of birds has greatly declined there. It will be many years (and only if we get a reprieve from hurricanes) before the woods there return to some semblance of their former glory. In the meantime we still have Smith Oaks, which also lost many trees but had more to spare.

At Boy Scout Woods I did get a few year birds (Gray-cheeked Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Painted Bunting). All the warbler action was at Smith Oaks, where I added Golden-winged, Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Yellow-throated, and Blackpoll Warblers to the year list. Also saw 2 Cerulean Warblers, and as uncommon as they are I seem to see more of them than of some of the more "common" species (for example, I've yet to see even one Yellow Warbler this spring). Here's my embarrassingly bad photo of a camera-shy Chestnut-sided Warbler. At least you can see the actual chestnut bit.Arrived at Anahuac NWR late in the day. Missed the Hudsonian Godwits seen earlier by Cin-Ty Lee and his group, but had many Fulvous Whistling-Ducks and a good mix of shorebirds near the entrance station. A King Rail along the Shoveler Pond loop was nice. Ended the day with a lone Black-bellied Whistling-Duck flying over FM 1985 (bird #194 for the year).

At home we've reached another milestone. On Monday Lucy crawled for the first time. She's also started developing a hairstyle based on the Long-eared Owl look, as you can see in this recent photo.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sabine Woods, Etc.

Ok, a quick summation of what's happened since I blogged last. Ugly contact dermatitis on my hands resulting in trip to Minor Care resulting in discovery that my blood pressure was dangerously high, resulting in increased pill consumption and an uncomfortable degree of perspective on the brevity of life. Bryce has been crawling and getting into things. Lucy still doesn't have any interest in crawling, and has instead concentrated on developing her vocal talents (she's learned to hit and sustain those eardrum damaging high notes). Michelle and I had a sitter for the babies on Friday, so we went out to dinner, but settled for swill (we should have known better - the name of the restaurant rhymes with dead mobster). A couple of Baltimore Orioles were by the pond that evening - the only passerine migrants I've seen around here lately. Still no Orchard Orioles in our neighborhood, but Summer Tanagers are back, and Northern Cardinals are again nesting in the honeysuckle behind the house, apparently rebuilding the same nest they used last year.

Saturday I went to Sabine Woods, and the birding didn't suck. There were at least 21 species of warblers there, of which I had 18 (Blue-winged, Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Palm, Cerulean, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Worm-eating, Kentucky, Hooded, Ovenbird, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, and Yellow-breasted Chat). Missed Swainson's, but other birders reported seeing a couple.

Other year birds I added on Saturday included Warbling and Yellow-throated Vireos, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Swainson's and Wood Thrushes, Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks, and Indigo Bunting. Can't believe I still don't have Scissor-tailed Flycatcher for the year. Or Crested Caracara. My year list stands at a paltry 176 species. To think there was a time when I might have gotten that many in a weekend. Oh how the mighty have fallen.This is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker photographed at Sabine Woods on Saturday. Funny that with so many neotropical migrants around the only bird I manage a decent picture of is a common "winter" species.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Pit Bullied...Again

Happened again. This time the dog came at Michelle in our driveway as she was unloading the kids. Again she called the sheriff, and again we had an officer visit us and tell us there was nothing he could do except talk to the owner and try to persuade him to control his animal. This evening we went to a sporting goods store and got cans of pepper spray for next time (as the sheriff had advised us to do).

Today's inclement weather appeared to coincide with the arrival of some neotropical migrants. This afternoon I heard Great Crested Flycatcher and Summer Tanager in our yard for the first time this spring. Got the impression that a small fallout might be occurring in our neighborhood, but because of the usual dog issues and baby needs I didn't have time to look around.