Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

On Sunday morning we had a large turn out of about 22 people for the monthly bird walk! At 8:00 AM when we met at the Parmer Village pond it was cool, still, and clear. There was mist on the water and the only bird on the pond was this Great Egret:

Great Egret over Misty Pond

The birds were relatively quiet, but we ended up finding 37 species. Most notable was a brief flyover of a Black-bellied Whistling Duck, only the second time I've ever seen this species in the neighborhood. A few migrants we encountered were a heard-only Common Yellowthroat, and a distant, back-lit view of a Lesser Yellowlegs. My favorite part of the morning was seeing a Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, and Belted Kingfisher all close together upstream of the last dam.

Here are a few more photos.

And here is our complete bird list.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Nine folks joined me early Sunday morning for the monthly group walk on Lake Creek Trail. We met at the Braes Valley parking lot and spent about 2.5 hours covering less than a mile of the trail. The birding was an interesting combination of slow but good. Even though the birds were few and far between, and usually hard to see for more than an instant, we ended up accumulating a great list of 41 species including some migrants and post-breeding wanderers.

Post-breeding wanderers are usually first-year birds that are wandering around outside of their usual range after breeding season. The ones we saw were both brief observations of birds flying over us. They were both first-year wading birds. The first was a juvenile Tricolored Heron and the second was a juvenile White Ibis. Both are coastal birds that often wander inland in the late summer.

Migrant songbirds we eventually found included a Yellow-breasted Chat briefly seen by only a few of the group, a green Painted Bunting, 2 empidonax Flycatchers, 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 2 Yellow Warblers, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 2 Orchard Orioles, and 2 Baltimore Orioles. Most of these were brief or distant looks and I only got a few photos. One was of the cuckoo:

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

And here's one of the Baltimore Orioles, a female:

Bug Night

On Saturday night September 3 Chuck Sexton and I hosted the first ever Bug Night on Lake Creek Trail. With special permission we set up a white sheet on the the side of one of the Town and Country Sports portable buildings, with a mercury vapor lamp and black light hanging in front of it. From about 8:00 PM to 10:30, we attracted hundreds (maybe thousands) of insects of at least 50 different species to the sheet. About 8 people joined us. Before dark Chuck gave us a great introduction to "black lighting" and some of the insect identification resources available.

Bug Night Group

After sundown bugs started coming in to the lights. Most numerous were tiny midges and mayflies that are common around creeks and ponds because their larval forms are aquatic. Other groups of insects that showed up were true bugs (hemipterans), Ichneumon Wasps, moths, beetles, weevils, katydids, and leaf hoppers. Here are a few that I photographed and and posted to iNaturalist. They are gradually being identified by the iNaturalist user community!

And here are a few more photos:

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

This morning five folks joined me at the Parmer Village pond at 7:30, and we spent about 2.5 hours finding 38 species of birds. We had an almost constant breeze and most of the walk was comfortable, but with a lack of cloud cover the last half hour got pretty warm! Here are some highlights.

We flushed a Great Blue Heron from the creek bed and it landed in some treetops nearby. I took this photo which turned out a little better than I expected:

Great Blue Heron

This time of year a few fall migrants are already starting to head south and we observed just a few. Near the heron we heard at least one Orchard Oriole but never got a good look at it. By the last dam we spotted a couple mature male Painted Buntings which I think were on their way south. This was the most exciting bird observation of the morning, but it was brief and I wasn't able to photograph them.

The most numerous migrating bird we observed was an estimated 11 Dickcissels. Dickcissels are a grassland bird and a common fall migrant here, but they are easily missed. Their loud distinct flight call is easy to recognize once you've heard it a few times, but seeing the birds is difficult. They often stay hidden in the tall grass or dense tree tops. They are also easily overlooked in groups of House Finches or House Sparrows. At our turnaround point at the downstream creek crossing in the playing fields, we finally got this distant look at a female high in a tree:

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Despite being one week late, this morning 5 folks joined me for the monthly group walk. We met at the Braes Valley parking lot of Lake Creek Trail and unexpectedly spent over 3 hours on the trail and ultimately finding 34 species of birds. We enjoyed overcast skies and a slight breeze which was quite comfortable. Here are some highlights.

While waiting for the group in the parking lot I kept hearing squeaky calls coming from the line of willow trees at the creek's edge. We discovered they were a pair of juvenile Cooper's Hawks, probably recently fledged from a nearby nest. Through the first half of our walk we kept seeing these hawks, usually being chased by smaller birds. (Cooper's Hawks specialize in hunting other birds, so they usually get harassed by them when seen.) Here's the only photo I got of one of them:

Cooper's Hawk Juvenile

In the Town and Country playing fields near the second creek crossing we saw a Snowy Egret feeding in the creek bed. This particular bird has been in this area of the creek for months. We recognized it by the bare area of its throat, probably from a past injury.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Last Sunday morning seven folks joined me for the monthly group walk. We met at the Parmer Village end of Lake Creek Trail at 7:30 and enjoyed about 3 hours covering 1 mile of the trail in sunny but surprisingly comfortable breezy weather. We found 35 species of birds and at least 10 species of dragonflies and damselflies (collectively called Odonates). Here are some highlights.

Starting out by the pond we got to see a large cloud of mayflies flying their up-and-down pattern over the water. I got this photo:


From the creek bed I was hearing a distant singing Painted Bunting. And after we entered the creek bed I decided to try and coax it closer by playing a recorded Painted Bunting song on my iPhone. It worked much better than I expected and everyone got good looks at this first-year male bird. (The first year males are all green.)

Painted Bunting

As previously mentioned, we saw Odonates! I was excited to see and the show the whole group the smallest damselfly in North America. This is a Citrine Forktail, about 1 inch long:

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

About 20 people joined me this Mother's Day morning for the monthly group bird walk on Lake Creek Trail. We started at the Braes Valley end of the trail at 7:30 and spent about two hours covering not even a mile of trail. The group was larger than usual probably because this is an exciting time to be birding in central Texas. Late April and early May is the peak of spring migration, so many species of birds are passing through the area that we only get to see now and in the fall. But the weather was against us. Most migrating birds have been taking advantage of the steady south winds to keep moving north, so not as many have been stopping to rest in patches of habitat like Lake Creek Trail. Still, we managed to find 39 species of birds and had a couple fun encounters.

Our best bird of the morning was one of the few migrants we saw -- an Olive-sided Flycatcher that posed for us on some wires over the creek near the footbridge. Everyone got good looks at this bird which is very similar to our year-round resident Eastern Phoebe. Two key differences Olive-sided Flycatcher has are a shorter tail that it doesn't pump, and distinct dark sides on its breast and belly which make it look like it's wearing a vest. My camera lens has been sent to Panasonic for repairs, so I couldn't take any photos, but here's an old photo of this species from Fall 2012, from almost the same spot. (Who knows, maybe it's the same bird!)

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Nearby on the footbridge we saw some fledgling Eastern Phoebes, so it was a great opportunity to compare.

A few other migrants we found were briefly seen Yellow Warblers, a heard-only Nashville Warbler, a high flying Great Blue Heron, and a heard-only Yellow-breasted Chat. The chat was in a dense patch of trees and brush near the footbridge. We enjoyed hearing it's song made of strange very different little phrases as it emanated from the bushes. I tried playing a recording back to it but it wouldn't come out to investigate. In the creek bed we enjoyed watching a hunting Snowy Egret. Unlike Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets which hunt while still or very slowly walking, Snowy Egrets actively walk and run chasing their prey. Sometimes it would use one of its feet to stir up the water and mud in front of it and watch for small animals that might emerge.

Despite the birds being slow it was a fun and pleasant morning. We won't have many more mornings this cool and comfortable before the summer! Here's our complete bird list.