Saturday, May 28, 2011

Spring 2011 Wrap-Up

Just a typical scene at Cattail Marsh (the shorebirds in front of the Roseate Spoonbills are White-rumped Sandpipers).
Due to the latest in a seemingly endless series of crises - about which the less said the better - I missed the peak of spring migration (commence sad violin music). Didn't get to do any birding at all in April (insert wailing and gnashing of teeth). In past years our backyard has always produced a few neotropical migrants in spring, but not this year. Didn't get so much as a single warbler! As far as noteworthy visitors go, we've had nada - just the usual Southeast Texas summer birds arriving more or less according to schedule, and even they've been a bit sparse.

Not that there hasn't been some interesting activity. Flocks of White-winged Doves continue to frequent our feeders, and up to 4 Green Herons have been prowling the pond, which is in the process of drying up (in case you haven't heard, Texas is in the midst of a serious drought). Brown Thrashers nested in the honeysuckle behind our house, in exactly the same spot where Northern Cardinals successfully nested in 2007. The thrashers were also successful, as evidenced by subsequent sightings of at least one stubby-tailed fledgling (a sibling was found dead, hanging in the vines beneath the nest). Mississippi Kites have been continuously present around our yard, and I suspect they are also nesting somewhere nearby. A Great Horned Owl heard hooting just before midnight on May 17th represents only the second record for our yard.

After March I didn't get out again until May 7th, when I took the kids to Anahuac N.W.R. for the grand opening of the new visitor center - or so the Beaumont Enterprise would have had us believe. When we got there we found the building still under construction - announcement of the gala was apparently premature. Anyway, the trip wasn't a complete waste. Scanning flooded fields along the entrance road I found a flock of 4 Hudsonian Godwits. The few remaining wet places along the Shoveler Pond loop produced several species of sandpipers (including 1 White-rumped), as well as this King Rail.
On May 15th I was finally able to get away and spend a few hours at Sabine Woods. It was late in the season, but there were still quite a few migrants passing through. Had eight species of warblers (the majority of which were American Redstarts), 2 Philadelphia Vireos, 3 species of thrushes, Indigo and Painted Buntings, etc., etc. Not bad at all, considering the date. A foursome of baby Armadillos rooting around in the undergrowth temporarily distracted me from the birds. They were so oblivious of my presence that I was able to stand right over them taking pictures.
Now for some better news: the new and improved Cattail Marsh really is awesome! Got off work early on May 18th, and decided to go see how the area had changed since its closure for reconstruction. George Newsome was there, and he gave me a tour of the marsh in his truck (a great stroke of luck - to do the same route on foot would have taken all day). The habitat reminds me of Shoveler Pond at Anahuac N.W.R., only bigger and better. Didn't have time to thoroughly survey the area, but did see lots of birds, particularly Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, assorted waders, and more Purple Gallinules than I've ever seen anywhere. Also plenty of alligators.

On 22 May I went back, and spent a few hours covering the area on foot. In addition to the aforementioned whistling-ducks, waders, and gallinules, highlights included 3 Least Bitterns, 2 Soras, a Swainson's Hawk, about 200 White-rumped Sandpipers, lesser numbers of Stilt and Pectoral Sandpipers, several Wilson's Phalaropes, 2 Least Terns, 5 Black Terns, and a male Painted Bunting. Most of the gallinules were shy and flew at my approach, but not this one:
This is what was watching me while I was watching the gallinule:


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