Monday, May 07, 2012

Deer Fly Apocalypse & More Shorebirding

Made an abortive trip to Sabine Woods on Sunday.  Noticed when I arrived that there were only a few cars parked there, and I soon found out why.  Deer flies.  Met a couple of birders at the covered picnic area who were wearing towels around their heads.  They described the situation as "horrific," and said that the deer flies were the worst that they had ever seen in all their years of birding there.  I made a brief foray into the woods to see just how bad it was.  Sure enough, it was miserable.  As soon as I got into the woods they started to swarm around me, and not being one to suffer needlessly, I turned and beat a hasty retreat back to the car.  Met the same couple of birders on my way out, and they told me I hadn't even been in the bad part of the woods. I can handle clouds of mosquitoes, but deer flies have no respect for insect repellent, and their bites hurt.  Guess I won't be going back there this spring.  I gave up on Sabine Woods and headed for High Island.

Stopped to check the flooded fields along Highway 73, about 4 miles east of Winnie.  There were still lots of shorebirds there, including 1 Hudsonian Godwit, 60+ Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and over 100 Whimbrel.  At one point a Peregrine Falcon came cruising by, causing every bird smaller than a night-heron to take flight.

It was late in the afternoon when I arrived at Smith Oaks.  Fortunately there weren't many biting bugs, but then there weren't many birds either.  Did a lot of walking  and staring into trees, but the rewards were meager (8 Yellow, 1-2 Tennessee, 1 Black-and-white, 2 Blackburnian, and 2-3 Black-throated Green Warblers; 1 Ovenbird, 1 American Redstart, a few Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, and an occasional Rose-breasted Grosbeak).  Activity was more intense at the rookery, where I took these photos of Snowy Egrets.  Note the bubblegum-pink facial skin; this is only seen for a brief period during courtship.

Made a detour on my way home to check flooded fields along Pear Orchard Road near SR 1985.  Shorebirds there included Spotted, Least, Semipalmated, Pectoral, White-rumped, Buff-breasted, and Stilt Sandpipers; Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrel, Black-bellied Plover, and Wilson's Phalarope.  Tried, but couldn't turn any of them into Upland Sandpipers.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

April in the Rear View Mirror

April came and went.  For me it began with a trip out to California for my father's funeral, and ended with my 50th birthday (suddenly I feel very old).  It was good to go back to California and see people, places, and yes, birds, that I hadn't seen in years.  I had almost forgotten how beautiful it is there at this time of year. 
View of Mt. Umunhum from the Stile Ranch Trail

Waddell Creek at Rancho del Oso

Monterey Harbor

Brandt's Cormorants nesting at Monterey

Now back to Southeast Texas, where the big news in April was the discovery of a Tropical Mockingbird at Sabine Woods.  If accepted by the Texas Bird Records Committee it would be a first record for Texas and for the ABA Area.  I saw it on April 21, and again on April 28.  Both times it was in the company of a Northern Mockingbird, with which it is apparently nesting.  At this point I don't think there's any doubt as to its identity, but there may be some contention regarding its origin - some would argue that the ragged ends of its tail feathers hint at cage wear.  Personally I think it's probably a natural vagrant, considering the location and how rare the species must be in captivity this far from it's normal range.  On April 21 I also saw the Black-whiskered Vireo at Sabine Woods, and got this crummy photo to prove it.  At least the main diagnostic feature is visible:
April 28 was about as good as it gets.  No fallout or anything dramatic like that, but with migration at its peak there were plenty of birds to see.  Started the day along Pilot Station Road near Sabine Pass, where I photographed singing Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows and Seaside Sparrows.  Might be the first time I've ever heard a sharp-tailed sing, and it wasn't much of a song - just a whispery buzz.  Here's one of my better shots:
Failed to get a Sedge Wren to respond to playback of it's song (probably too late in the season), but was surprised at the reaction it drew from the Seaside Sparrows.  This one flew in and started singing within a few yards of where I was standing, allowing me to get some nice photos. 
Blackpoll Warbler in the roadside shrubbery became bird #300 for my year list, and by the end of the day I had reached #308 (a Black-billed Cuckoo at Smith Oaks).  Other goodies seen that day included  Hudsonian Godwits and Buff-breasted Sandpipers along Highway 73, a Golden-winged Warbler at Smith Oaks, and this Western Kingbird near Sea Rim State Park:
Came home that evening to a find Troy and Elizabeth there for a surprise birthday party that Michelle had prepared.  Good birding, good food, and good company - it doesn't get better than that.

Last year a pair of Mississippi Kites nested in a pine across the street from our house.  They returned on April 27.  Today I saw one perched in an oak in our front yard, and suspect they may be building a new nest somewhere in the vicinity.  Stay tuned...