Sunday, November 8, 2015

Poison Ivy

I spent a couple beautiful cool and clear hours on Lake Creek Trail this morning, leisurely covering the half mile between the Braes Valley parking lot and the footbridge. Winter birds continue to return, with Yellow-rumped Warblers being the most numerous. Some newly returning sparrows were Chipping Sparrows, a Field Sparrow, and an unexpected White-crowned Sparrow.

That half-mile of trail is loaded with Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicals). I often point it out to folks I pass since many people are allergic to it and don't know how to recognize it. (If you are allergic, besides learning how to recognize it I also recommend not petting any dogs you encounter on the trail. I've seen folks let their dogs dive into patches of Poison Ivy with abandon.) But it's also important to recognize that it's a valuable native plant. It's a significant component of the low dense cover which is such important habitat for birds on the trail. And in the winter its berries are an important food source for them. This morning I got these two photos of a Yellow-rumped Warbler eating a Poison Ivy berry:

Yellow-rumped Warbler eating Poison Ivy Berries - 1

Yellow-rumped Warbler eating Poison Ivy Berries - 2

Here are a few more photos from this morning.

And here's my complete bird list.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Twelve folks joined me this morning for the monthly group bird walk. We met at the Braes Valley trail head in very light rain which soon moved off to the east. We spent over two hours on the trail, starting in cloudy and ending in partly cloudy conditions. The temperature was delightfully cool.

The trail was very birdy, with Blue Jays and Yellow-rumped Warblers being the most obvious birds. Last week I did not find any Yellow-rumped Warblers but this morning they were back for the winter in force. I estimated there were 50 along the half mile of trail we covered, and they were almost a constant source of small movements and call notes in the trees. Among them were a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Orange-crowned Warblers, and we found a single Nashville Warbler in the largest group on its way further south.

The most exciting bird observations of the walk were two normally skulking species that I recognized by sound before seeing them. They both responded to played recordings of their calls and came out in the open for great views by all. (Playing recordings to lure birds out of hiding is a waste of energy for the birds, and it puts them in added danger from predators, so I only occasionally do this, and never for endangered or threatened species.) The first was a male Spotted Towhee which I didn't get a good photo of, and the second was a Brown Thrasher which I got this mediocre photo:

Brown Thrasher

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

We had a total of 15 people on this morning's monthly group walk. We spent almost 3 hours finding 39 species of birds on Lake Creek Trail, starting at the Parmer Village pond. Most of the birds we observed were only briefly seen or even heard-only., but an exception was Eastern Phoebe. There were many of these flycatchers up and down the trail, likely because the year-round residents were joined by south-bound migrants. Similarly, many Killdeers were present on the soccer fields.

Some of the briefly seen highlights:
  • a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flying across the trail near the last dam
  • a juvenile Sora briefly emerging from the reeds near the last dam
  • a small group of female Blue-winged Teal and a single Snowy Egret foraging in the shallow water of the creek bed
  • a distant Pied-billed Grebe diving and surfacing in the creek upstream of the second dam
  • several heard-only returning winter resident House Wrens, a few of which briefly flew across the trail in front of us
  • a brown female or juvenile male Indigo Bunting
  • two Cooper's Hawks in flight, one that dove at a perched White-winged Dove
The first songbird we got a good close look at was this female Downy Woodpecker:

Downy Woodpecker

And nearby we found this juvenile Green Heron hunting in the creek bed. Soon this summer-resident species will be gone for the winter.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Birding on Broadmeade Pond Watch

Five folks met me Saturday morning for the monthly Pond Watch migratory dragonfly observation. It was a bit warm, but a little cooler than in previous months. At the meeting spot by the Parmer Village pond there were a few Blue dashers in a tree. Here's one:

Blue Dasher

And in the same tree there were briefly a couple Citrine Forktails, our smallest damselfly. I finally got my camera to focus on this one:

Monday, September 7, 2015

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

About ten folks joined me on Sunday morning for the monthly group walk. We started at the Braes Valley parking lot of Lake Creek Trail and covered about .7 miles in a couple hours. It was a warm but tolerable morning and we found 38 species of birds. I was hoping we'd find a few southbound migrating songbirds and we did! The most dramatic was a pair of Baltimore Orioles near the footbridge. Here's a distant photo I got of the male:

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Orioles pass through our neighborhood every spring and fall, but despite their bright colors they are easily missed. They are sneaky when they pass through and often stay hidden in the leaves of the upper canopy. You can increase your chances of finding one if you learn how to recognize their subtle blackbird-like calls.

Also near the footbridge we found couple female Orchard Orioles. I got this poor photo of one:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Birding on Broadmeade Pond Watch

Yesterday morning nine folks joined me for the second group Pond Watch on Lake Creek Trail. Like last month, we met at the Parmer Village pond and counted dragonflies between there and the last dam on the creek about a half mile away. One of the fun things about being a naturalist is seeing seasonal changes in new ways. And in just two monthly Pond Watch observations, dragonflies are showing the transition from summer to fall. Overall diversity was down; we found 15 species versus last month's 18. And numbers of non-migratory species were down too. This reflects the relatively short lifespan of adult dragonflies. They are mostly creatures of spring and summer.

But numbers of four of the five migratory species that Pond Watch tracks were up. I think this reflects  dragonflies from further north arriving here in central Texas on their way south. These four species (Wandering Glider, Spot-winged Glider, Common Green Darner, and Black Saddlebags) were all constantly flying, and the only one I was able to photograph was this Wandering Glider which hovered in one place long enough for me to get this shot:

Wandering Glider

A non-migratory species that we did not see last month was this dramatically marked Broad-striped Forceptail, a member of the clubtail family:

Monday, August 3, 2015

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Due to schedule conflicts I had to cancel the monthly group walk for July, so I was glad to lead the August walk yesterday morning. Eight of us spent a surprisingly mild couple of hours finding 32 species of birds. We started at the Braes Vally parking lot and enjoyed a distant view of a first-year male Orchard Oriole. A couple of us also briefly spotted a Summer Tanager. Both of these species breed in central Texas, but I only see them in the neighborhood during migration -- these birds were on their way south.

We enjoyed clear morning sunlight on our way up the trail to the footbridge. The birds were pretty quiet, and once again we found some great dragonflies. There were several bright red Neon Skimmers, a few Widow Skimmers, Roseate Skimmers, and Comanche Skimmers, Eastern PondHawks, and this one which I did not recognize:

Gray-waisted Skimmer

When I got home I tentatively identified it as a Gray-waisted Skimmer, an uncommon species for Austin which has been found in nearby Yett Creek Park this summer. I was happy to have my identification verified by several local dragonfly authorities on iNaturalist. It was a lifer for me!

When we arrived at the footbridge we were treated to some cloud cover that made the rest of the walk unseasonably pleasant. What a treat it was to be outside in August and not sweating! We continued downstream through the playing fields. In the creek bed we got to see several American Rubyspot damselflies, one of the larger and more dramatic species. Here's one of them: