Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sabine Woods, Sunday, 9/19/10

Last Sunday (9/19/10) I went back to Sabine Woods.  There were still plenty of flycatchers and warblers, but this time, no deer flies!  I can handle the mosquitoes, but the flies are not deterred by repellant, and can make birding miserable.  It was nice to be able to observe birds without being under constant attack.
I had a total of 18 warbler species - Tennessee, Nashville, Northern Parula, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Yellow-throated, Black-and-white, American Redstart, Prothonotary (see dazzling golden male above), Northern Waterthrush, Mourning, Hooded, Wilson's, Canada, and Yellow-breasted Chat. I managed to get this decent (only partially obstructed) photo of a chat, which is always difficult because of their shyness and skulking habits:
While walking through the woods I repeatedly flushed Chuck-will's-Widows, and a couple of times they flew only short distances and perched within view.  I figure I probably scared up 3-5.  Other goodies included an Olive-sided Flycatcher, Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo and Painted Buntings, Dickcissel, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Baltimore and Orchard Orioles

Empids are frustrating, and identifications are often uncertain to say the least.  Speaking of which, based on calls, plumage, and structure, these were identified as Least Flycatchers:  

This Eastern Wood-Pewee was also very cooperative:

Just as life re-emerged from the ashes of Krakatoa or Mt. St. Helens, Sabine Woods has been recovering from the devestation wrought by Hurricane Ike.  During the storm the woods and surrounding marshes were deluged with saltwater, and I would assume most of the terrestrial wildlife to have been killed by the storm surge.  So it's encouraging to see the return of some of those creatures, such as the Armadillos foraging in the leaf litter, and the swarms of tiny Gulf Coast Toads on the margins of the ponds:

Back at home that afternoon I saw a flock of White Ibis fly over our backyard, got warbler species #19 for the day (Pine Warbler), and had a brief glimpse of a waterthrush at the pond. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Tale of Two Snakes

I find more reptiles and amphibians within a few yards of our front door than anywhere else.  Sometimes I suspect that someone is leaving them there.  It was like that on Friday, when I came home to discover not one but TWO snakes on our front porch.  As I approached the house I saw this big gray serpent, at least three feet in length, dash into the shrubbery.  It was an adult Yellow-bellied Water Snake that had wandered away from its usual aquatic habitat.  I took this photo of it coiled beneath a cast iron plant:
While I was looking at the water snake I noticed this little Brown Snake at my feet:
I often encounter Brown Snakes around our yard, but it's unusual that I find a snake on our porch, let alone two snakes of different species.  I'm thinking this might not be purely coincidental.  The Brown Snake could have been the intended prey of the water snake.  In this scenario, the water snake came up onto our porch in pursuit of the smaller snake, and my arrival may have interrupted an impending act of predation  (snakes do prey upon other snakes; back in California I once came across a California Kingsnake in the process of devouring a Western Rattlesnake).  A Brown Snake would be a tempting morsel for a big water snake.  Then again, maybe the snake delivery man had just been by.

As usual, no snakes were harmed, which is as it should be.  These are harmless creatures, and they were allowed to slither away peacefully.  Unfortunately the attitude that "the only good snake is a dead snake" is far too common around here.

Michelle and I recently took the kids on a wagon ride down to Pine Island Bayou, which is just down the road from our home.  This Southern Leopard Frog was photographed on that trip:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Flycatcher Photos

Here are a few snapshots of flycatchers taken over Labor Day weekend at Sabine Woods, Jefferson Co., TX.

Eastern Wood-Pewee:

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher:

Alder/Willow ("Traill's") Flycatcher:

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Labor Day Weekend at Sabine Woods

Saturday I spent a few hours at Sabine Woods and found it to be jumping with migrants.  In terms of numbers it was comparable to a good day in April, but the species composition is quite different in fall.  Flycatchers were particularly abundant, with numerous empids (including LeastYellow-bellied, and many "Traill's" types), Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Great Crested Flycatchers.  Warblers were also plentiful - my list for the day included Yellow (several), Black-and-white (3-4), Prairie (1), Prothonotary (1), Mourning (2; 1 adult male and 1 female/immature), Canada (3-6!), Wilson's (1), Blackburnian (1), Hooded (1), American Redstart (1), Ovenbird (1), Northern Waterthrush (3-4), and Yellow-breasted Chat (2).  John Wittle also reported a Louisiana Waterthrush at the pond.

Other migrants were also well represented, and included Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Red-eyed Vireos, a Veery (the only thrush I encountered), Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Summer Tanager (1-2), and lots of greeny Painted Buntings.  Unfortunately there were also swarms of mosquitoes and annoying deer flies, and I spent more time swatting flies than looking at birds.  How do deer flies know to attack your face at the exact moment that a new bird appears?

One of the many greeny Painted Buntings:

I revisited Sabine Woods on Sunday, and again spent a few hours wandering around, mainly trying to sort out and photograph the empidonaxes. I managed to get a better look at Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, a new species for my Texas list that had given me trouble on Saturday.  While walking through the woods I also flushed a Chuck-wills-widow, which briefly perched on a horizontal branch allowing me a decent view.  In general the number of migrants seemed to have decreased, but there was still ample activity, and I got the impression that many of the birds from the previous day were still hanging around.

Warblers included most of the same species seen on Saturday, with the addition of Chestnut-sided, Northern Parula, and Common Yellowthroat.   A Blue-winged Warbler was also reported to be present in the morning, and I later learned that the total warbler list for the day was about 20 species.

Chestnut-sided Warbler, being typically camera shy:

As I was leaving I thought I smelled smoke, but I figured it was either from a controlled burn or mower trouble (the trails were heavily overgrown, and a push mower was being used to cut weeds).  Later I received an email from Jana Whittle that a fire had been set, and had encroached upon the woods.  From the pictures she sent it looks like some trees on the periphery of the preserve were burned.   Had I known I certainly would have stayed to help put out the flames.  Fortunately it rained the next day, so any smouldering remnants of the blaze have since been doused. 

Back at home on Sunday I had a few more migrants: 1 Red-eyed Vireo, 1 Northern Waterthrush, and at evening a large disorganized flock of southbound Eastern Kingbirds passed over our yard.  I've seen foraging flocks down in Costa Rica, but this is the first time I've seen a big flock "on the move."  I thought they were swallows until I recognized their flight calls.