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:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

First Birding on Broadmeade Group Pond Watch

This morning eight folks joined me for the first Birding on Broadmeade group Pond Watch. Pond Watch is a citizen science project to monitor migratory dragonflies. I've been participating in this project by myself on the last dam of Lake Creek sporadically for a couple years, but like many citizen science projects, the more people participate the better. The main barrier to participating in Pond Watch is learning how to identify the five species of migratory dragonflies that it tracks. Everything else is pretty darn easy. So I decided to start a new monthly group walk that concentrates on teaching people how to identify these fives species of dragonflies. The five species are:

  • Black Saddlebags
  • Wandering Glider
  • Spot-winged Glider
  • Common Green Darner
  • Variegated Meadowhawk

Recognizing them is tricky.

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: