Sunday, October 5, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

This morning 12 folks participated in this month's group bird walk. We started at the Braes Valley parking lot and spent about 2.5 hours finding 31 species of birds. The previous day's north winds supported an amazing flight of hawks over the neighborhood. (Here are some photos.) But this morning's winds were back to the usual southeast with overcast skies. We didn't see any migrating hawks, and things started out quite slow. But we ended up making a few exciting observations.

For the first half hour or so the birds were quiet. I was desperate to have something interesting to show the group when I spotted this Praying Mantis hanging upside-down on a ragweed plant:

Praying Mantis

Things finally started picking up as we approached the footbridge.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

House Wren

Just a quick note. Here's a House Wren I found on Lake Creek Trail this morning. House Wrens are winter residents of our neighborhood, and this was the first one I've seen this season. It could be on its way further south or it could be here to stay until the spring. First I heard it scolding, and I flushed it out of some tall grass into a dense thicket of poison ivy and grape vine. Then I coaxed it to the edge of the thicket to have another look at me by playing recorded House Wren scold notes on my iPhone.

House Wren

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Great Fall Migration Showing

Steven McDonald and I both coincidentally arrived at the Braes Valley parking lot of Lake Creek Trail at about 9:00 this morning. We then spent over three hours on the trail and enjoyed a cool overcast morning full of fall migrating birds. Baltimore Orioles were nearly ubiquitous between the parking lot and the footbridge. We estimated there were at least 50 of these black and orange birds in the woods along the trail. We found 5 species of flycatchers, including brief appearances by both a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Olive-sided Flycatcher. Vireos included White-eyed, Bell's, my first Blue-headed of the season, and this Warbling Vireo:

Warbling Vireo

Other south-bound songbirds we found included Yellow Warblers, Wilson's Warblers, a single Black-throated Green Warbler, and at least one Blue Grosbeak. Tightly grouped starlings helped me notice a juvenile Cooper's Hawk perched on a light post in the Town and Country playing fields. And a migrating Northern Harrier flew over the footbridge while we made our way back to the trail head. Here's our complete bird list. What a morning!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

This morning's group walk was the best in years! The weather was cool, overcast, and breezy, and south-bound migrating birds were out in force. Fourteen people enjoyed over three hours on the trail and we totaled up 44 species of birds, including a couple unexpected rarities. We met at the Parmer Village pond, and just as we were starting this juvenile Little Blue Heron flew in and started hunting on our edge of the pond:

Little Blue Heron

We made our way upstream by the creek bed and things were pretty quiet until we got close to the last dam. Further down the trail I started seeing Baltimore Orioles flying out of the woods, and we stopped to watch them.

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.