Sunday, January 29, 2012

Purple Finch, 1/29/12

After all these years of feeder watching, I finally get a Purple finch!
Not only is it a new bird for the yard list, but for my Texas list as well!
A couple of Rufous Hummingbirds are also still hanging around.

Drove down to Pleasure Island this afternoon.  This is one of several Common Loons I saw along the shoreline:

One more Pleasure Island snapshot.  Love those yellow slippers!

Friday, January 27, 2012

More Birding on the UTC, 21-22 January

Last Saturday I went on a Golden Triangle Audubon Society field trip that started at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and ended at Cattail Marsh in Beaumont.  Due to road work, the Shoveler Pond loop and Skillern Tract were closed, so our access to the refuge was limited.  We spent most of our time near the new visitor center (still under construction).  Best bird there was an unexpected Grasshopper Sparrow.  Mosquitoes were thick, birds were thin.

If you visited the refuge before Hurricane Ike, you probably remember the patch of willows along the road to Shoveler Pond.  It was a nice little migrant trap.  The boardwalk has been reconstructed, but the willows are gone, killed by the storm surge.  Same goes for the row of tall willows that used to be between the Moist Soil Units.

From there we continued birding along FM 1985 and Pear Orchard Road.  Highlights included an immature Bald Eagle and Merlin along Pear Orchard Road, and I had a couple of Vesper Sparrows along FM 1985.  Mosquitoes were swarming at every stop.

We regrouped at Cattail Marsh.  While walking a wet gully near the Cattail Marsh parking area, Harlan Stewart and I saw a male Baltimore Oriole, and refound the recently reported Harris's Hawk.  Later, thanks to John Haynes, I got to see a Green-tailed Towhee hopping around at the edge of the parking area (at least two have been present in this area).

Cattail Marsh continues to hold large numbers of waterfowl, wading birds, and raptors (had 6 Red-tailed Hawks simultaneously in view!).  A Least Grebe was still on the pond right by the entrance gate (as many as 10 have been counted in the marsh since my initial report).  Also saw  a couple of Cinnamon Teal there, and a very distant Bald Eagle.  A Bald Eagle nest was recently discovered in a pine on the far side of the marsh, and we walked over there to have a look. Added Sharp-shinned Hawk and Little Blue Heron to my year list, and briefly glimpsed a Virginia Rail slinking through the reeds, but didn't see any activity at the eagle nest. 

Weather was warm and spring-like.  Strangely - and pleasantly - there were practically no mosquitoes.  But reptiles were active, and we saw alligators out basking in the sun.  Spooked a big one (and he in turn spooked us!) along a levee.  None of us noticed he was there until he suddenly dashed off the embankment only a few yards away from us.  That sucker was flying when he hit the water!

On Sunday I took Bryce and Lucy to Galveston.  At East Beach I scanned the loafing flocks of gulls, terns, and skimmers while the kids played in the sand.  Best find was this adult Lesser Black-backed Gull:
This was a new state bird for me - one I was overdue for.  Lesser Black-backed Gull is not such a rare bird in Texas anymore.  Multiples are found each winter.  In fact, on the same day, Stephen Lorenz reported to Texbirds an amazing 35-40 between Quintana and San Luis Pass!

We didn't have time to go to Lafitte's Cove, but on the drive home I took a short detour along Rettilon Road.  On the west side of the road there's a nest box up on a pole, and sometimes you can see a Barn Owl at the entrance. No luck this time, but a little further on I found this Peregrine Falcon (year bird #144) on a roadside fencepost.  It allowed me to park and take pictures within 20 feet of it's perch. That never happens with a Peregrine!
The kids had a good time, and, as usual, we got to see Bottlenosed Dolphins from the ferry.  Since I hardly ever post pictures of the kids, here are a couple more photos from our trip to Galveston:    
God made dirt and dirt don't hurt!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

First Blog Entry of 2012

OK, so this is the way it works: about once a month I post something on this blog, usually just a few birding highlights since my last blog entry, accompanied by some examples of my mediocre digital photography.  Then I tell myself that from now on I'm going to start posting more frequently, and sure enough, about a month later I finally get around to posting again.
Well 2012 is off to a good start.  I'm always anxious to see what the first bird of the year will be - hoping that at least it will be one of the indigenous species and not a goddamn House Sparrow.  Fortunately my first bird of 2012 was Rufous Hummingbird - we've had a couple of immature males at our feeders this winter (both have mostly red backs, so I feel safe in identifying them as Rufous).  We also have one of those problematic Rufous/Allen's types with a solidly green back.  At least three other local birders have reported having Calliope Hummingbirds at their feeders this winter!  Where's my Calliope?  I want one too.

On the home front, other noteworthy birds include a Brown Creeper in our backyard on Jan. 1, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet along our driveway on Jan. 2. Weather has been mild, which is a mixed blessing: we still have flowers blooming, but we also still have mosquitoes, and without the freezing cold we don't see much activity at our seed feeders.

On Jan. 2 I went to look for the longspurs reported by Cin-Ty Lee near Highlands Reservoir in eastern Harris County.  I was lucky to arrive when I did, because several birders were there ahead of me, and they already had the birds staked out.  When I reached the group I was told that the birds were within 15 feet of us.  Even at such close range they could be frustratingly hard to find!  Some anxious moments passed, but I finally managed to see and photograph several Smith's Longspurs (all of the longspurs seen were Smith's, and I counted a total of 9 when they later took flight).  They really blended in well with the dry grass and dirt clods, and tended to hunker down and sit motionless.  There are two birds in the lower photo, although it may be hard to tell:

After seeing the longspurs I walked back to Highlands Reservoir, where I saw an adult Bald Eagle, a large flock of Snow Geese, and 4 Cackling Geese (seen side-by-side with the larger Snow Geese, for convenient size comparison).  My next stop was El Franco Lee Park in Houston, where I finally succeeded in getting Rusty Blackbird for Texas.  Found a flock of 6-8 along the nature trail on the edge of the wetlands - I think the last time I saw a Rusty Blackbird was back in 1985!  Here's my best photo: 
Other birds seen in the park included another adult Bald Eagle, a female Vermilion Flycatcher, a Palm Warbler, a Wilson's Warbler, and a small flock of Orange-cheeked Waxbills that must have escaped from somebody's aviary.

On Jan. 7 I took Bryce "birding" for the first time.  Anyway, I was birding, and Bryce was with me.  We went to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, where he got to play in the mud, and then went to Rollover Pass, where he got to play in the sand.  The birds didn't seem to make much of an impression on him.  Even a Merlin eating a songbird right beside our car failed to capture his interest:
Other birds seen that day included 2 immature Bald Eagles and a Crested Carcara along S. Pear Orchard Road, and a male Vermilion Flycatcher in the Skillern Tract.  Bryce was nonplussed.

Hadn't heard any reports from Cattail Marsh in quite a while, so on Jan. 8 I went to have a look for myself.  As soon as I walked in, right by the pedestrian gate, I found this pair of Least Grebes!
Later I was studying a Glossy Ibis that I'd spotted in a flock of White-faced Ibises, when I heard the unmistakable call of a Bald Eagle, and looked up to see 3 flying overhead!  Walking along the levee on the south side of the northernmost pond I flushed out this pretty little LeConte's Sparrow, which sat still long enough for me to snap some pictures:
On the northernmost pond there were over 1000 Ring-necked Ducks, none of which turned out to be a Tufted Duck (good luck has its limits).  I had made a phone call to report the Least Grebes, and by the time I got back to the entrance there was a group of birders assembled there.  They saw the grebes, and also pointed out to me a nice male Cinnamon Teal that I had missed earlier. 

Yesterday (Jan. 16) I was off work, so I went to Sabine Pass, and tried my luck along Pilot Station Road.  I was hoping to find rails and sparrows, but the marsh seemed almost devoid of bird life, and the only bird I found in the salt cedars was a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  Gave up and went to Sabine Woods, where the mosquitoes were ferocious.  Along the back edge of the woods I saw a small flock of Field Sparrows, and behind the covered picnic area I had a Least Flycatcher, almost certainly the same one found earlier this month on the Sea Rim Christmas Bird Count. 

At present my year list stands at 130 species.