Monday, June 29, 2015

Snakes Catching Fishes

I spent yesterday morning observing dragonflies on the Parmer Village end of Lake Creek Trail. Starting at the Parmer Village pond I eventually worked my way to the last dam on the creek. With recent rains, the creek was high enough that water was spilling over the dam. Our creek is loaded with water snakes in the Nerodia genus, mostly Blotched Water Snakes. (These are all non-venomous. I have yet to find a venomous snake anywhere in our neighborhood.) As I scanned the shallow water pouring over the dam, I saw this Blotched Water Snake maneuvering around the base of the dam, right where the slope stops:

Fishing Blotched Water Snakes - 1

It came to a rest with only its head extending above the bottom of the slope:

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Two Cooper's Hawk Observations

I realized a few months ago that in central Texas, during the summer there are far fewer birds that specialize in hunting other birds than in the winter. In the winter we have Eastern Screech-Owls, Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks in the woods, and Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and American Kestrels in more open areas. (We might even have a few Prairie Falcons.) In the summer the only expected species out of all of these are Eastern Screech-Owl and Cooper's Hawk, and there are far fewer Cooper's Hawks. So there is much less danger from the air for our songbirds during the summer.

Despite being much less common in the summer, a pair of Cooper's Hawks has nested in the woods along Lake Creek Trail for at least two years now, and I made a couple interesting observations of them this morning. I heard a vocalization that I didn't recognize. My guesses were Cooper's Hawk or Blue Jay. Its tone was like the "cak cak cak" call of a Cooper's Hawk, but it was longer and slower. It wasn't unlike some sounds I've heard Blue Jays make. And Blue Jays often imitate Cooper's Hawks. I follows the call for 20-30 minutes and finally got a glimpse of the bird. It was a Cooper's Hawk. Here's a recording of this new-to-me call I made with my iPhone:



While I was following the call I found a bunch of scattered feathers on the ground. They looked like secondary flight feathers from a hawk or owl. I arranged a few and photographed them. At home I looked them up and they turned out to be Cooper's Hawk feathers. Usually when I find scattered feathers like this they are from a smaller bird that has been preyed on, like a White-winged Dove. I wonder what happened to this Cooper's Hawk. It might've just lost a bunch of flight feathers in some kind of conflict with another hawk or an owl. Who knows!

Cooper's Hawk Feathers

Monday, June 8, 2015

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Eight folks joined me yesterday morning for the monthly group bird walk. We started on the Parmer Village end of the trail, and it sure did feel like summer as we waited for everyone to arrive by the pond, feeling both the direct sun and the reflection of its heat off the water. As we waited we watched male Red-winged Blackbirds vigorously defending their nesting territories in the tall grass around the pond. And shortly after we started this juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron flew in and landed on a dead cypress tree:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Juvenile


We ended up finding 36 species of birds, with two soaring Broad-winged Hawks being highlights. But I was surprised and delighted by the numbers and diversity of dragonflies we saw. Here's an incomplete list of species I'm remembering off the top of my head:
  • Blue Dasher
  • Eastern Pondhawk
  • Roseate Skimmer
  • Neon Skimmer
  • Widow Skimmer
  • Comanche Skimmer
  • Common Whitetail
  • Black Saddlebags
  • Red Saddlebags
  • Checkered Setwing
  • Halloween Pennant
  • Four-spotted Pennant
And here are a few of my favorite photos:

Halloween Pennant


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Fifteen folks showed up for this morning's group bird walk. Usually, the May walk yields some exciting observations of migrating songbirds, since the first few days in May are the peak of spring migration in Austin. But since there haven't been any very recent storms, the north-bound birds have not bunched up in patches of habitat waiting for better weather. There were a few migrating birds here and there but it was a pretty quiet morning.

While we waited for everyone to arrive a few of us got brief and distant looks at a singing first-year male Painted Bunting (an all-green bird). Many Cliff Swallows and Chimney Swifts were also in the sky above us. When we started the walk we checked out the Red-shouldered Hawk nest near the parking lot. There were at least three nestlings in the nest and they were all getting their flight feathers in. I bet they'll be out of the nest in a couple weeks! Here's a photo of two of them:

Red-shouldered Hawk Nestlings


Nearby we watched male and female Downy Woodpeckers going in and out of a nesting cavity. A little further down the trail some of us got looks at a Least Flycatcher, one of the few actual migrating songbirds we saw. Shortly afterwards we were treated to a migrating Mississippi Kite flying over. It circled over us a few times before heading north and I got this poor photo of that very graceful hawk:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Red-shouldered Hawk Nestlings

For the past couple months, I've known of a Red-shouldered Hawk nest near the Braes Valley parking lot of Lake Creek Trail. I've checked it whenever I've been out birding and usually have seen a bird on it. Once I was lucky enough to see the two parents trade off incubating the eggs. The smaller male flew in with a big rat, and the larger female left the nest and approached him. He gave her the rat which she took to another perch and started eating. He then got on the nest.

With last night's storm, I wondered if the nest was still there. I know there was hail in central Austin last night but I don't think we got any up here. Still, heavy rain and strong winds can destroy a hawk's nest. When arrived at the Braes Vally parking lot at about 9:00 this morning I didn't see any bird on the nest, but when I returned over two hours later I was pleased to find two white fuzzy nestlings! Only one was visible when I pointed my camera at them, and here are my photos:

Red-shouldered Hawk Nestling - 1


Red-shouldered Hawk Nestling - 2


The nestling was panting, with its tongue stuck out. If this bird thinks it's hot now, he or she is in for a long summer!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Despite it being Easter Sunday and despite imminent rain, nine folks joined me this morning for the monthly group bird walk. We started at the Braes Valley parking lot and spent two hours finding about 40 species of birds. The overcast cool damp weather seemed to subdue the birds and make them harder than usual to observe. So it was mostly a quiet morning, but are some highlights.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Singing Spotted Towhee

This morning on Lake Creek Trail I was excited to encounter a singing male Spotted Towhee not too far from the Braes Valley parking lot. I have never heard one sing before. Spotted Towhee is an unusually colorful member of the sparrow family, and like most sparrows it only lives in central Texas during the winter. In the winter, most birds don't sing. Singing is associated with breeding activities, and winter isn't breeding season. So to sing in the winter is a waste of energy.

But in the spring there is a window, right now, when we central Texans sometimes get to hear winter birds like Spotted Towhees singing. The birds start to exhibit some breeding-related behaviors (like singing) before they leave for their northern breeding grounds.

Here's the Spotted Towhee I got to hear singing:

Spotted Towhee


You can listen to it's song isolated from others here:


And here's the recording I made with my iPhone of the bird this morning. (It's mixed with several other bird songs and calls.)