Sunday, January 7, 2018

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

11 folks joined me for the monthly group walk this morning. We met at the Parmer Village end of Lake Creek Trail in a cool southeast wind and under an overcast sky. We met at 8:00 AM and spent about 2 hours on the trail. We found 39 species of birds.

Everyone was interested in seeing the female Rusty Blackbird that Steven McDonald found on New Year morning. So instead of following our usual pattern, we walked directly do the east-most low water crossing in the Town and Country playing fields where the blackbird has been seen ever since Seven found it. On the way we found a mixed group of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings land in the top of a tree and I got this poor photo:

American Robin and Cedar Waxwings

When we got to the Rusty Blackbird spot initially I didn't find the bird, but while scanning with my spotting scope I found a single Wilson's Snipe foraging along the edge of the creek bed near a group of about a dozen Least Sandpipers. Most of the group at least got glimpses of the snipe through my spotting scope which was fun. Wilson's Snipe can be a hard bird to see because they like to stay hidden in marshy or creek-side vegetation. And I haven't seen many on the trail in the last few years.

Finally someone in the group spotted the Rusty Blackbird a little further downstream. Everyone got great looks at it through my spotting scope, but it was a bit too far away for good photos. Here's one of my photos from Jan 1:

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Rusty Blackbird and Frostweed

On New Year Eve we had a hard freeze, so I had already planned to be out on Lake Creek Trail to look for Frostweed (Verbena virginica) ice ribbons on New Year morning. I told my neighborhood Facebook group I'd be out by the last dam on the creek at 9:30 for anyone else who was interested in seeing this remarkable natural ice phenomenon and maybe seeing some birds too. So at around 9:15 I was parking next to the Parmer Village pond to walk down there when I got a text from neighbor and fellow dedicated Lake Creek Trail birder, Steven McDonald. He had found a Rusty Blackbird!

Rusty Blackbird is a rare winter resident in central Texas, and don't think anyone has ever seen one on Lake Creek Trail. So I postponed my Frostweed plans and briskly walked directly to where Steven had found the bird. (It was in the creek bed just downstream of the east-most low water crossing in the playing fields.) He was still there but the bird was not. So we waited around a bit and then decided to walk back down the trail downstream to the last dam to look for ducks and to see if anyone had come out to see the Frostweed with me.

No one was there, which did not surprise me because of how bitterly cold it was. It was so cold I had to budget the time my hands were out of my pockets because they'd soon start to ache! We saw Gadwall, Northern Shovelers, and American Wigeon on the creek, and then we walked upstream through the woods birding and enjoying the Frostweed ice ribbons. We made our way back to the Rusty Blackbird spot and after a bit of searching we found the bird! Here are a couple photos. It's the 227th species of birds I've found on Lake Creek Trail.

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

And here are a few of the Frostweed ice formations we found:

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Cold Kinglets

I spent a little less than an hour birding our streets this morning, despite cold and damp conditions. I've remarked before about the great mixed-species foraging flocks of songbirds we get here in the winter, and I was hoping to find a couple particular species I haven't seen yet this season. One was Golden-crowned Kinglet and I was lucky to find a couple of these about a block from my house. I was at Broadmeade and Chester Forest trying to decide which road to take when I faintly heard a Black-crested Titmouse further down Broadmeade. So I walked towards it and eventually started hearing the faint high contact calls of this species near Broadmeade and Shady Oaks.

Black-crested Titmouse and Carolina Chickadee are two closely related year-round resident species here. They are both very vocal and often for the basis for mixed-species foraging flocks in the winter. When I got next to the trees the titmouse was in I saw it and a few more birds hopping around up in the canopy. Here was a mixed flock! I made a few "pish" sounds and immediately two titmice and two chickadees responded, flying right over my head and vocalizing. As I continued they were joined by Orange-crowned Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets. a Downy Woodpecker, a Blue-headed Vireo, and finally at least two Golden-crowned Kinglets!

Golden-crowned Kinglets and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are closely related very similar little drab green birds we have here in the winter. Ruby-crowned is by far more common, and some winters Golden-crowned are seemingly absent. But just about every winter I've been able to find Golden-crowned Kinglets in our neighborhood. Interestingly, they are much more common in all of our great trees among our houses than they are along Lake Creek Trail. And they are almost always part of these mixed flocks moving around the canopy. The two I found this morning sure did brighten my cold gray morning!

Here are a couple photos of one I took back in February 2013, near Stillforest and Meadowheath. (This morning I didn't take my camera with me since it sometimes arouses suspicion among neighbors.)

Golden-crowned Kinglet - 2

Golden-crowned Kinglet - 1

Here's my complete eBird list from this short fun walk.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A few Ducks and Songbirds

I spent a couple hours on Lake Creek Trail this morning, starting from the Parmer Village end. It was a beautiful cold and clear morning! By the last dam on the creek I was happy to find the first wild ducks I've seen this season. Most species of wild ducks in central Texas are just here in the winter, and we get some absolutely beautiful ones on our creek. Here are two male American Wigeon that were there:

American Wigeon

There were three wigeons and four Gadwalls. Here's one of the male Gadwalls. At a distance they just look brown, but look at the detail up close!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Yesterday about 15 people joined me on an extremely foggy morning for the monthly group walk. We met at the Braes Valley parking lot and spent a couple hours covering about 3/4 of a mile of Lake Creek Trail. Bird activity was a bit slow, but we ended up finding 35 species. The most interesting thing about the morning was the fog and what it did to sound. I think because of the increased amount of water in the air, sounds were traveling farther and maybe faster. We could hear birds' wings cutting through the air as they flew over. A group of joggers talking to each other seemed loud when they were still a couple blocks away. And the soccer field crowds sounded like they were right across the creek even though they were over a mile away.

Foggy Trail

Our birding highlights were at the farthest extent of our walk. In the creek bed between the baseball fields we found a group of 8 American Pipits foraging, a winter resident species of songbird that is often associated with water. And perched on one of the playing field light posts we found a few Monk Parakeets. We heard their raucous calls when some of them flew away.

Monk Parakeets

Here's our complete bird list.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

About 12 people joined me this morning at the Parmer Village end of Lake Creek Trail. The morning started heavily overcast with a slightly cool breeze out of the south, temperature in the low 70s; and it stayed almost exactly the same all morning. Periodically there was just a tiny bit of rain in the air. We spent 3 hours covering about a mile of the trail, and we found 44 species of birds. Here are a few highlights.

The rarest bird we found was a single Sedge Wren that made a brief appearance near the Roosevelt Weed downstream of the last dam. Unfortunately I was the only one who saw it before it disappeared in the brush. We couldn't coax it out with a recording.

From the last dam we saw 2 male Belted Kingfishers.

At the small bridge just east of the playing fields we got to hear and briefly see a singing House Wren. These small brown birds have surprisingly fast and complex songs. We don't get to hear these songs very often since House Wrens are just in central Texas during the winter.

Most fun for me was what we found in the single large baseball field in Town and Country. Surrounded by soccer fields, mostly in use, this baseball field was full of Killdeer, nearly 100 of them. And mixed in were 3 Least Sandpipers and 6 American Pipits. All these birds were resting, or actively foraging for insects in the short grass. In addition there were 2 Eastern Bluebirds and maybe a dozen House Finches on the fence. What a great baseball field!

The pipits are winter residents and these were the first I've seen this season. They are small, sparrow-like songbirds that are often found near water. They walk like a chicken and often bob their tail up and down as they forage. Here's a poor photo of one of them:

American Pipit

Here's our complete bird list on eBird.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hawks and Batting Cage

Lake Creek Trail goes through the middle of the Town and Country playing fields. Near the east edge of Town and Country they have a couple batting practice cages, surrounded by black webbing. As I approached these two batting cages on the trail late this morning, I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk at the outside corner of one. It looked like it had a foot caught in the webbing because it would periodically try to fly away but one foot would pull on the webbing and bring it back down. But as I got closer I saw that it was sometimes walking around and both feet were free. Then I saw it was picking at something in the webbing with its bill, and grabbing it with its feet. I realized there was something in the webbing that it wanted to take away and eat.

Batting Cage Story

The Red-shouldered Hawk vocalized, seemingly in frustration that it couldn't carry away whatever was in the webbing. As I watched it pulled a piece off and swallowed it. You can see in the photo that it's the leg and foot of another bird: