Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Weekend Birding

I spent about three hours on Lake Creek Trail on Sunday morning, hoping to see some birds heading south. Starting at the Braes Valley parking lot, I was a little surprised that the woods between there and the footbridge were pretty quiet. I made my way to the eastern most low water crossing on the creek bed before turning around. On my way I noted higher numbers of Killdeer (our year-round residents are joined by south-bound migrants right now) and a few Least Sandpipers in the creek bed.

I was hanging around a little downstream of the last low water crossing when I spotted a few Mississippi Kites in the sky. These migratory hawks are extremely elegant fliers with long pointed wings and long tails. They often catch dragonflies out of the sky, and when they migrate it is often in large groups. The group I was watching turned out to have 36 birds, and here are 14 of them:

Mississippi Kites


It turns out that two other Austin-area birders saw larger groups of Mississippi Kites on the same morning. Weather conditions must have been good for them to travel!

On my way back I found a few more cool migrating birds in the creek bed.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Eight folks got up early and enjoyed an unseasonably cool morning with me on Lake Creek Trail. Things started a bit slow but we observed 36 species during the almost three hours we spent on the trail.  August is an interesting time to look for birds. Many birds are molting and can have unusual appearances, south-bound migration has started, and even non-migratory species can be wandering outside of their usual ranges. We found examples of all three of these phenomena this morning. An early highlight was briefly hearing a an Upland Sandpiper fly overhead, a southbound migrating shorebird that uses grassland habitat. This time of year they can be heard flying over in the mornings and evenings if you know what to listen for.

From the footbridge we got to see a male Northern Cardinal that had molted all but one of its crest feathers. Despite its weird appearance, it sang from an obvious perch as usual. Here's a photo:

Northern Cardinal


Molting is a major yearly event that birds usually experience after breeding in late summer. Northern Cardinal is the only species I know of that often loses all of its head feathers at once during its molt.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Least Sandpipers

I spent some time on Lake Creek Trail yesterday early afternoon counting dragonflies, and hoping to see a Couch's Kingbird that Barry Noret found there that morning. I missed the kingbird but enjoyed finding 18 species of dragonflies. (I posted a few photos here.) Dragonflies are a new interest of mine, and I've been enjoying learning how to identify them and being able to contribute to the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership's Pond Watch citizen science project. Despite primarily observing dragonflies, I kept a bird list too which ended up with 27 species.

I was most excited to find a group of 32 Least Sandpipers on the creek in the middle of Town and Country playing fields. These tiny migratory shorebirds breed in Alaska and northern Canada, but they can be found in the Austin area during every month of the year! Why is that? The northern edge of their winter range includes most of Texas, so many make the Austin area (including our little creek) their winter home. And the population is so wide-ranging that shortly after the last spring migrants move through central Texas in mid-June, early south-bound migrants begin to appear in early July. The birds I saw yesterday were some of these early south-bound migrants. Here are a few of them:

Least Sandpipers


In my early days of birding I was amazed that sandpipers could be found in Austin. It continues to amaze me that our neighborhood creek is so important to many of them as a winter home and a migration rest-stop.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Eight folks joined me this morning for the monthly group walk. We met in front of the Parmer Village pond and I photographed this Scissor-tailed Flycatcher while I waited for people to arrive.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

It was a fun morning! We ended up spending two and a half hours on the trail and recorded 35 species of birds. By the creek bed near the pond we enjoyed watching Western Kingbirds and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers chasing insects and themselves. As we made our way upstream we heard a Red-shouldered Hawk vocalizing but only got brief looks at it as it flew over the treetops. We also saw four American Crows react to its calls and briefly chase the hawk. As usual, when we reached the last dam on the creek we waited there awhile to see what might show up.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bird-A-Thon!

I led a short version of a Bird-A-Thon this morning on Lake Creek Trail for our local Travis Audubon Society. Six of us met at 7:30 AM at the west end of the trail and we spent the entire morning walking its 2.4 miles and seeing how many species of birds we could observe. We recorded 59 species! Here are some highlights.

We got to briefly see and hear a singing Brown Thrasher (probably the same bird observed on the last group bird walk). A Bronzed Cowbird made a brief appearance just beyond the footbridge. While we stood next to the creek bed we got great close looks at a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and two similar migrating shorebird species: Solitary Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs. Here are the shorebirds, both only seen here during migration. First the Solitary Sandpiper:

Solitary Sandpiper


Then the Lesser Yellowlegs (one of the four that flew in while we stood there):

Monday, April 7, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Five folks braved the cold and wet weather yesterday morning for the monthly bird walk. We started at the Braes Valley parking lot at 8:00 and spent two hours on the trail. During April and May, birding can be extra good right after a front comes through with some rain because birds on their way north will stop at available patches of habitat to wait for more favorable conditions. We got to see this phenomenon yesterday. Songbird migrants we found in the woods along the trail included Nashville Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Lincoln's Sparrows, a Great Crested Flycatcher, many Cedar Waxwings, and the first Eastern Wood-Pewees I've seen this year. It was too wet to risk taking my camera with me, so here's a Nashville Warbler I photographed in the neighborhood back in 2009:

Nashville Warbler

Some returning summer residents we found were Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, many Barn Swallows and a single Cliff Swallow, White-eyed Vireos, and a single male Bronzed Cowbird.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wind and Sun and Gnatcatchers

I spent a very enjoyable couple hours on Lake Creek Trail this morning. I got a late start (almost 10:00 AM) but ended up finding 44 species of birds including a few early spring migrants. At 11:00, I was pleased to see the sun emerge as the layer of clouds was blown away by the north wind:

Sun Emerging


One of the early migrating species I observed was Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. There were two individuals in the woods near the footbridge. These are a common north-bound migrating songbird in our neighborhood in the spring. Listen for their quiet, raspy call, and look for a tiny gray bird with a long tail with white outer tail feathers. Here's a photo of one I took on the trail about the same time of year back in 2009:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher


I was excited to find a pair of Cooper's Hawks in the woods between Braes Valley and the footbridge. It looked like the same larger pale female and smaller male that nested here last summer. I don't think their nest was successful last year, so I hope they try again!

Here's my complete list of birds. Despite the wind it was a beautiful day out there!