Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Two Ice Observations

Friday and Saturday nights were two of our rare Austin area hard freezes, with the temperature getting down into the low 20s. (As I write this on Wednesday evening it's already back up in the 70s!) On Sunday morning I birded the east half of Lake Creek Trail and made a couple fun observations involving ice.

By the pond formed by the last dam on Lake Creek I ran into Steven McDonald and we remarked on a very thin layer of ice covering over half of the water's surface. Steven spotted a Yellow-rumped Warbler hopping (and occasionally sliding) around on it, very actively foraging. Later we spotted another, along with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Common Yellowthroat, all hopping around on the ice. I've never seen this before and really enjoyed watching them. I'm guessing these birds were foraging for insects, although I wish I knew for sure since it seems like it would be too cold to find any. All of these birds weigh about half an ounce, light enough for this very thin layer of ice to support them. Here are a few photos I got of the original Yellow-rumped Warbler on the ice:

Yellow-rumped Warbler on Ice - 2

Yellow-rumped Warbler on Ice - 1

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

The first Sunday of the month turned out to be the first day of 2017, and I was pleased that 14 people got up early on New Year's Morning to meet at the Braes Valley parking lot of Lake Creek Trail and join me for the monthly group walk. It turned out to be an absolutely beautiful morning with the sun mostly out and lots of bird activity. It was so pleasant and so much fun we spent over 3 hours on the trail and found 46 species of birds.

We found one rarity, a wintering Gray Catbird spotted by Barry Noret in the dense brush between the side trail that goes to Holbrook Street and the parking lot. Only a few of us got a brief look at this skulking species and no one got photos. This is a common wintering bird on the Texas coast but not many winter in Austin. They look like a smaller and darker version of a mockingbird without the white patches, and they like to stay hidden.

Otherwise, this month's walk featured some great close looks at some common winter songbird species. Near the footbridge we found an Orange-crowned Warbler, and then two Ruby-crowned Kinglets. One of the kinglets foraged especially close to us, and we got to see its ruby crown a few times.

We saw so many birds flycatching this morning! While not obvious at first, there were many insects in the air, especially over the creek. Most of them were small mayflies, flying in an up-and-down pattern. Warblers, kinglets, phoebes, and most dramatically I thought, Cedar Waxwings were catching them out of the air, sometimes changing direction 180 degrees in their flights. After we crossed the footbridge we had an amazing encounter with 30 to 40 Cedar Waxwings in the ash trees along the creek's bank that landed right above and around us. A few times we watched groups of them make flycatching forays out to the middle of the creek and then come back, flashing their yellow tail tips in beautiful morning light. Here are a couple, the first showing their red wing feathers that give them their "waxwing" name:

Cedar Waxwing - 2

Monday, December 12, 2016

Golden-crowned Kinglet

At about 10:00 on this beautiful clear and cool morning, I spent a little over an hour birding our streets. You'd think that you would always find more birds on Lake Creek Trail than on our streets. But in Forest North Estates we have so many mature native trees, that there are a few species of birds that are more easily found in the tree canopy between and sometimes over our houses. In fact in the winter, often you can find wonderful mixed-species foraging flocks of songbirds all foraging for insects in slightly different ways. I was pleased to find one of these flocks this morning near Cedarhurst and Broadmeade.

The flock had year-round residents Carolina Chickadees, Black-crested Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Downy Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. It also had winter residents Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and a single Golden-crowned Kinglet. I've heard a few Golden-crowned Kinglets on my morning jogs during the past few weeks, but this is the first good look I've gotten of one this season. I got these two so-so photos:

Golden-crowned Kinglet - 1

Golden-crowned Kinglet - 2

Here's my complete bird list.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Only two intrepid birders joined me on this cold and wet morning to see what birds we could find on the east half of Lake Creek Trail. We met at 8:00 AM by the Parmer Village pond. Despite the weather predictions, I didn't cancel this morning's monthly group walk and I'm glad I didn't, since rain stayed south of us until we got back to the cars at around 10:00. While I waited and wondered if anyone would show up this morning, I watched a Great Egret in the pond and this Red-tailed Hawk up on a cell phone tower:

Red-tailed Hawk on cell tower

Before we left the pond we saw the first wild ducks I've seen in the neighborhood this season. A couple small groups of Gadwall and then a larger group of Northern Shovelers flew over. Some of them landed in the pond for a brief stay. They took flight again before we started walking. On our way up the creek bed to the last dam, we heard and saw House Wrens, Song Sparrows, Lincoln's Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and an Orange-crowned Warbler, all recently returned winter residents.

The highlight of the morning was birding the patch of woods just north of the last dam.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Ten folks joined me this morning for what turned out to be a beautiful and fun morning finding 38 species of birds and one snake. The winter songbirds have returned in force, and we enjoyed seeing and hearing Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, House Wrens, and Song Sparrows in addition to our year-round residents like Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren.

Down a side trail we found a nice mixed-flock of songbirds and watched Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets foraging in dense brush, often in poison ivy, like this Yellow-rumped Warbler. (The berries are poison ivy.)

Yellow-rumped Warbler and Poison Ivy - 2

Back on the trail we found a tiny snake, which I think was a young Texas Brown Snake, with a unique pattern of dark markings on its head:

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: