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:

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Vermilion Flycatcher

I got a late start and it was almost 10:00 AM when I returned to Lake Creek trail this morning to see if the Great Kiskadee was still there. I ran into Stephen McDonald again along with some other birders who were looking for the kiskadee as well. They found it a little further downstream, and as an added bonus they found another rare bird, a Vermilion Flycatcher!

Vermilion Flycatchers are a southwestern species that rarely makes an appearance in the Austin area. There are usually a couple sightings on Lake Creek Trail per year, and often they are first-year birds. This was a first-year female (only the males are vermilion), with a yellow wash to its belly and vent area. Next year the yellow will turn to pink. I got this photo of it hunting insects from one of the baseball field fences in Town and Country:

Vermilion Flycatcher

After I photographed the Vermilion Flycatcher, I waited around for the Great Kiskadee. I heard it and briefly saw it twice as it flew to a different tree. The second time it flew back towards the footbridge. I  followed it and was lucky to see it come out and perch on the wires over the creek. I got this poor photo:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Species 226: Great Kiskadee!

I spent this morning birding Lake Creek Trail starting at the Braes Valley parking lot. I was hoping to find some newly returned winter species and maybe some southbound migrants. Things started pretty quiet, but I appreciated hearing and briefly seeing a House Wren, and then just briefly hearing a Brown Thrasher, both returning winter species. As I was almost within sight of the footbridge I was very surprised to start hearing the loud squeeze-toy-like call of a Great Kiskadee. This is a large dramatically colored member of the flycatcher family, and normally Austin is north of its mostly tropical range. A few have appeared around Austin over the years but I've never seen one on the trail, so I was excited at this possibility. But there were many Blue Jays in the area, and I had to be sure a Blue Jay wasn't making this sound.

I played some Great Kiskadee calls on my phone, and maybe reacting to this, the bird finally came closer and then flew over the trail briefly into view. I got this photo:

Great Kiskadee

These birds are larger than Blue Jays and their bills are huge. In addition to insects, they catch and eat anything small enough for them to subdue, including small reptiles and amphibians, and rarely other small birds!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Yesterday 18 people joined me for the monthly group walk on Lake Creek Trail. We met at the Braes Valley parking lot at 7:30 AM and spent over two and a half hours looking for birds on just the first half mile of trail. We ended up finding 39 species of birds. One of my goals was to find some fall migrants and we got a promising start by finding a female Wilson's Warbler foraging in the tall ragweed in the northwest corner of the parking lot. Most of us got good looks at this cooperative little yellow bird.

After the Wilson's Warbler, fall migrants were few and far between. We heard a few Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Dickcissels, and we briefly heard and saw a Baltimore Oriole. In the playing fields at the first creek crossing, 9 Least Sandpipers flew in from downstream and landed in a soccer field on the north side of the creek. We crossed the creek and walked up the north bank just enough to watch the sandpipers at eye-level as they foraged for insects in the mowed grass. Some Least Sandpipers are winter residents here on our creek, so these particular birds might be here all winter or they might be just passing through on their way further south.

Least Sandpiper

Our most exciting observation of the morning was unexpectedly emotional as well. Before the Least Sandpipers flew in we were on the south side of the creek and spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the dense brush of the creek bed. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are declining in number because of habitat loss, and I see and hear fewer of them than I used to years ago. So I was very happy that we found this one. I got this poor photo showing its yellow bill and reddish-brown wing patches:

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

About a dozen people joined me this morning for the group walk. We met at 7:30 at the Parmer Village end of the trail, and we were very lucky to enjoy overcast skies and a nice breeze for the entire walk. After covering about a mile of trail in a little under 3 hours, we found 41 species of birds. The most unexpected and fun bird observation we made was this family of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks which was in the pond formed by the penultimate dam on the creek. This is the first time I've seen any evidence of any duck species breeding on Lake Creek Trail. Most of the wild ducks we see here are only here in the Winter. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are one of the few year-round resident ducks in central Texas.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Family - 1

Monday, July 3, 2017

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Six people joined me yesterday morning for the monthly group bird walk on Lake Creek Trail. We met at the Braes Valley parking lot and spent almost 3 hours covering just about half a mile of trail. (I often joke that birding is not good exercise!) Often we kept seeing birds just standing in one place. Right where the power lines cross the creek we stopped to look at dragonflies in the tall grass. I was excited to find this female Gray-waisted Skimmer, a species near the northern edge of its range here in Austin, and one I've only seen once before on Lake Creek Trail:

Gray-waisted Skimmer Female - 2

While we were looking at this dragonfly and a Spot-winged Glider dragonfly, the birds seemed like they were taking turns to fly up and perch on the wire above the creek for us to see them.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

On Sunday morning about a dozen people joined me at the Parmer Village end of Lake Creek Trail for the monthly group bird walk. We got started at 7:30 and spent about 3 hours finding 40 species of birds. Spring migration is winding down and the birds have changed their priorities to reproduction. We saw lots of evidence of this on our walk. The most exciting for me was hearing and then seeing a singing male Painted Bunting! As we walked upstream in the creek bed beside the trail we started hearing a Painted Bunting song ahead of us. It continued from the same area near the last dam on the creek. And when we reached the dam we were rewarded with great looks at this small colorful bird singing. I've never had a group get such good looks at this species on Lake Creek Trail. Here's a photo I got:

Painted Bunting

On last year's June walk we also heard and saw a singing Painted Bunting, but it was a first-year male that was all green. (The males don't get their multi-colored plumage until their second year.) Who knows, maybe this was the same bird!

Some young birds we saw included juvenile Northern Mockingbirds and Northern Cardinals.