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:

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: