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.)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

American Goldfinches in the Cedar Elms

I took a leisurely stroll on the streets of our neighborhood this morning and enjoyed a few very active mixed-species foraging flocks of birds like Black-crested Titmouse, Yellow-rumed Warbler, Downy Woodpecker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a few others. The most numerous species, sometimes appearing in these groups and sometimes in groups of its own, was American Goldfinch. This is a winter resident species that usually occurs in groups and feeds mostly on seeds.

I also noticed now and then small bits of debris drifting down from some of the trees. It reminded me of wind-dispersed Cottonwood seeds. I realized that when I saw this debris in the air I was standing near a Cedar Elm tree, and that tree had American Goldfinches in it. One of the pieces drifted down and landed on me and I recognized it as an empty Cedar Elm seed packet. There was a hole right in the center. I looked more closely at the Goldfinches and saw that this was their doing. They'd pull a seed packet off the tree, eat the seed out of it, and discard it. There were enough birds doing this to create the drifting debris of empty seed packets in the air.

Here's a photo of the seed packet that landed on me.

Cedar Elm Seed Packet

And here's an American Goldfinch I photographed last year in my backyard. Coincidentally, it's in a Cedar Elm tree and you can see a blurry seed packet that it just discarded.

American Goldfinch

Here's my complete bird list.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Last Sunday morning, 11 folks met me at the Braes Valley parking lot of Lake Creek Trail for my monthly neighborhood bird walk. We enjoyed an absolutely beautiful morning on the trail and found over 30 species of birds. The most numerous songbirds were Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Northern Cardinals. Here are a female Yellow-rumped Warbler and a female Northern Cardinal, both photographed by the footbridge with the amazing morning light behind us:

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Northern Cardinal

On our way back from the footbridge someone pointed out the opaque berries of Chinaberry tree on the trail and remarked that berries from the exotic Chinaberry tree are opaque, but similar berries from the native Soapberry tree are partially translucent. I realized there were some Soapberry trees nearby and so  I took these photos to compare them.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eurasian Wigeon

Last weekend I spent Sunday morning birding Lake Creek Trail. I ran into Barry Noret and we had a banner morning totaling 61 species of birds! The most exciting by far was a new bird for Lake Creek Trail, Williamson County, and a lifer (a species we've never seen before) for us both. At about 11:30 we were scanning the creek upstream from the last dam when I saw a duck with a red head. Initially I thought it was a Redhead, a common winter-resident duck on the Texas coast and a little less common inland. But as it turned towards me I could see that its forehead and crown were bright light yellow, like an American Wigeon's white forehead and crown. I also saw that the tail and feathers in front of the tail were black, followed by white a little further up the body, exactly like an American Wigeon. Barry looked it up and realized it was a Eurasian Wigeon! This is the American Wigeon's counterpart in the other hemisphere. They show up occasionally on the east and west coasts of the Americas, but they show up in Texas much less often. I got this distant photo, and we decided to refrain from getting closer and risk scaring the bird away.

Eurasian Wigeon - 3

So far, this bird has not been seen again since early afternoon on that same day. But it certainly could still show up on the creek again. Here it is in front of a Northern Pintail:

Eurasian Wigeon - 2

This was species number 223 on my neighborhood list. Back in 2006 when I started keeping bird records in this neighborhood, I never imagined I'd reach 200. But Lake Creek Trail keeps surprising me. In fact, we found species 222 a little earlier that morning.