Friday, May 30, 2008

Bird Update

On Monday (5/26) I did some quick birding along Gore Store Road and Firetower Road north of Silsbee. At my first stop along Gore Store Road I heard a Prairie Warbler singing (bird #215 for the year list), and in a trashed-out clearcut along Firetower Road I had a Greater Roadrunner (#216). The last time I saw a roadrunner in Southeast Texas was in this same area back in the 1980s. Yellow-breasted Chats were abundant as usual in the yaupon thickets along Gore Store Road, which may be the easiest place in the world to find this shy species. Other birds seen there included Cooper's Hawk, Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting. Golden Triangle Audubon has a field trip going there this weekend, but I'll be in Louisiana with Michelle and the babies for their first birthday bash.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Extreme Bugginess

The weather has turned hot and humid, and when that happens things tend to get buggy. Wasps, horseflies, and other bitey types are flourishing. This morning I photographed this assasin bug that was climbing a banana leaf in our yard. They are reputed to have a nasty painful bite, and in appearance this one reminds me of the vicious alien invaders in Starship Troopers. This is the black phase of the eastern lubber grasshopper. Lubber nymphs are black and orange, but most adults are yellow with black markings (a few retain their youthful appearance into adulthood). This morning Troy came over and we went to Orange to see the newly reopened Shangri La Botanical Gardens. I didn't bring binoculars, but still managed to see a few birds, including a Swallow-tailed Kite (bird #214 for the year list), a Red-headed Woodpecker, and nesting Great Egrets and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. While touring the grounds we made the acquaintance of this Barred Owl that had been brought in for rehabilitation.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Now That's Gay

This colorful fellow was at our feeders yesterday and today. A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak comes as a nice late season surprise, considering how few neotropical migrants have graced our yard this spring. Aside from the grosbeak the only other migrant seen here in recent days was a Yellow Warbler in our pecan tree on the 15th.

On the 14th I saw a Pileated Woodpecker fly from that same pecan tree (bird #213 for the year list). That day I also had a Common Yellowthroat singing in the shrubs around the Burger King on Eastex Freeway in Beaumont. A mall parking lot is not the sort of place where you would expect to find one on territory, but during migration birds sometimes appear in odd places. I also once had a yellowthroat in the garden dept. at Lowes.

What are these strange contraptions, you might wonder? If you live in this part of the world you should already know. If not you may indeed be wondering. Enlarge the photo and you'll see that they carry the name "All Seasons Feeder." Yup, they are big grain feeders, like the ones we have in our yard to attract birds like grosbeaks. But these put out corn to attract deer.

How do you take the hunting out of hunting? Well for starts you set up a feeding station so the animals habitually return to the same site. Then one morning you hide in a tree overlooking your feeder and wait until your new pets come in for breakfast.

This is how most (if not all) of the so-called deer hunters in Southeast Texas get their venison. When I described this Texas tradition to some real deer hunters a while ago they expressed utter disbelief. Now I'm not against hunting, and I don't object on ethical grounds - by all means, blow bambi away. I know he tastes good and fewer deer means we're all safer on the road. But this is totally gay. It's the laziness that bothers me. It's hunting for people who don't have the time, energy, or skill for real hunting. There's more sport in playing video games, which is how these "hunters" probably spend their time when they aren't sitting in a tree "hunting." The part I haven't figured out is how they get their lazy asses up in the tree to begin with - I mean that would involve effort and even a little exertion. Then again, considering that nationally one out of every three hunting injuries involves a tree stand I guess they aren't all so adept at climbing either (not all of those injuries involve climbing accidents, some result from falling asleep in the tree stand).

Local hunters have told me they do it because they just love that venison. Look at the price tag on that feeder - $249. After you pay for that, and the cost of the deer lease, and all that corn, and the motion activated camera to see if any deer are eating that corn, and the tree stand and ammo and all the other equipment, and gas to drive the truck out there and back...hey, why not just buy some goddamn venison? But then you wouldn't be a "hunter," would you? Well you might as well save some money and buy your venison at a market, because THAT AIN'T HUNTING. If I shot the doves that come to my seed feeders I wouldn't be a hunter, I'd just be an asshole.

Most of the time when I'm birding I'm actively searching for birds. Sometimes it's just a waiting game, but it can also mean hiking, climbing mountains, canoeing, etc. It may only result in a sighting or a photo, but birding by almost any definition bears more resemblance to the sport of hunting than deer baiting does.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Silent Spring?

Friday there was a fire at City Hall and we had to evacuate the building. The fire was on the roof and the damage was minimal, but the air inside was full of lingering fumes from burning insulation, so we were told to take the rest of the day off. This gave me a couple of hours of freedom from the job and Michelle and the babies, and I took the opportunity to get some tasks done at home. The prospect of doing laundry and yard work without interruption made me almost giddy with joy. I actually find myself looking forward to those rare moments when I can do chores in peace. F**king sad, that is.

Saturday I added a new bird to the yard list: Common Yellowthroat. A dingy female, but a yellowthroat nonetheless. It was overdue. I've allowed a thicket of cattails and honeysuckle and Chinese tallow and other invasive shrubs to engulf the edge of the pond, expecting that sooner or later I'd find a yellowthroat there. Earlier this year I did hack down a bunch of pine and tallow sapplings, and as fast as the stuff grows I'll have to remove more eventually.

It's been an uneventful season for neotropical migrants in our neighborhood. With all the emergent vegetation around the pond I figured I'd see more action. The habitat has definitely improved, so where are all the birds? Some species that I've come to expect are strangely absent. No Orchard Orioles in our yard this spring - that's a first. Others have commented on Texbirds about unusually low numbers of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and other species. Based on my limited (and purely annecdotal) observations it does seem that cuckoos have been scarcer than usual.

On Sunday I had a small flock of Barn and Cliff Swallows over the pond. I only mention it because it's unusual that I see Cliff Swallows here, despite the existence of a small colony less than a mile away. Other birds observed in and around our yard in recent days include Green Heron, Broad-winged Hawk, and Summer Tanager.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Shorebirding on the UTC

Yesterday I had another opportunity to do some coastal birding, and this time I decided to concentrate on wetland birds. My first stop was Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Orchard Orioles were coming to flowering shrubs by the entrance station, and by stationing myself nearby I was able to get a few decent photos.While waiting for this oriole to pose for me I noticed a pair of Swainson's Hawks soaring up in the clouds (new one for the year list).

Driving and stopping at points around the Wet Soil Unit I had a Glossy Ibis mingling with a small flock of White-faced Ibis, Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, and distant views of Hudsonian Godwits. Did the Shoveler Pond Loop, but didn't see much aside from the usual alligators and my first Purple Gallinule of the season. There were a few migrants in the willows, including a Black-and-white Warbler and a Northern Waterthrush.

Later Cin-Ty Lee found me back at the entrance station still trying to photograph orioles. He wanted to try and get a decent photo of a Hudsonian Godwit, so we went back to the Wet Soil Unit for a closer look at the shorebirds there, which included 20-30 Hudsonian Godwits, a couple of Whimbrels, Black-necked Stilts, Wilson's Phalaropes, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Least, Western, Semipalmated, Stilt, Pectoral, and White-rumped Sandpipers. Here's my digitally zoomed photo of a very distant Hudsonian Godwit. That's a phalarope making a cameo appearance in the foreground.Cin-Ty told me he'd seen Buff-breasted Sandpipers in a flooded field along FM 1985, so I left him out there still in pursuit of the elusive godwit photo, and went off to look for the buffies. Sure enough I had 4 Buff-breasted Sandpipers right where he said they'd be, also more Whimbrels and a flock of Ruddy Turnstones.

Next stop was Rollover Pass. The tide had come in, and the only shorebirds were a few Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones wandering aimlessly around the parking lot. This photo of a turnstone was taken from the car window.Tried for Sharp-tailed Sparrow along Yacht Basin Road, and met another birder there looking for the same. Neither of us had found the sparrow by the time I left (probably getting too late in the season), but I did add Gull-billed Tern to my year list, and scared up a couple of Common Nighthawks. Also had some nice opportunities to photograph Eastern Willets like this one.Maybe this Willet was too busy contemplating its taxonomic status to notice me sneaking in for a picture. Wish they would just split them and get it over with.

Made a last stop at the Boy Scout Woods on my way home. Good timing too - the Yucatan Express arrived just as I did. Where Hurricane Humberto had done some of its worst damage I found plenty of passerine migrants (Red-eyed Vireos, Magnolia and Bay-breasted Warblers, etc.). Made a good end to the day.