Sunday, December 14, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

A week ago today (Sunday), six folks met me at the Braes Valley trail head for the monthly group bird walk. We spent about two hours on a cold and overcast morning finding 35 species of birds. Highlights started near the trail head when we heard a small group of Blue Jays suddenly start their alarm calls and then saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk fly past through the canopy. Later on a couple of us got a close look at a perched Cooper's Hawk (a very similar bird) in the Town and Country parking lot. And nearby we saw possibly the same Sharp-shinned Hawk soaring overhead. I got this poor photo of the soaring Sharp-shinned. From this angle two things that help distinguish it from a Cooper's are the small head and the more squared-off tail.

Sharp-shinned Hawk


Through the whole walk we distantly heard and then finally saw a female Belted Kingfisher perched on a wire over the creek.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Birds of Prey

After a dark and rainy day yesterday, I was excited to spend some time on Lake Creek Trail in the sun this morning. I spent about two and a half hours on the trail between the Braes Valley parking lot and the playing fields just beyond the footbridge. The most interesting observations I made were related to birds of prey. Near the second bench on the trail I was standing still, watching and listening. (Lately I've been getting interested in bird alarm calls and how they relate to different disturbances the birds experience, like people walking by or the presence of a predator.) Very close by, I heard the distinctive call of a Cooper's Hawk in the narrow and dense strip of trees between the trail and the creek. I looked for the hawk but couldn't find it. All I could find was a Blue Jay. Then I realized it was the Blue Jay making the call, imitating a Cooper's Hawk. I've heard Blue Jays imitating Red-shouldered Hawks, but never a Cooper's Hawk. There has been a resident pair of Cooper's Hawks in this area for a couple years now, so I'm sure it had plenty opportunity to learn the call. I'll have to research why.

Later on the other side of the footbridge I was watching Song Sparrows, Lincoln's Sparrows, and House Sparrows all in the same binocular view in the creek bed when another bird flew into the view. The sparrows all dove for cover as I saw the grey back of a Sharp-shinned Hawk dive at the bush they were in. The hawk continued up the tributary branch of the creek and flew out of view over the woods. A few minutes later I saw probably the same bird that had circled around and was approaching from the same direction. Watching it fly towards me with my binoculars, I saw another bird below it flying in the same direction. The second bird had pointier wings and I realized it was a falcon. It flew almost right over me and from its streaked breast I recognized it as a Merlin. It dove at one of about 40 Great Tailed Grackles that were in the field beside the trail, missed it, and continued out of view.

All three of these birds of prey specialize in hunting other birds. Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks have round wings and a long tail for chasing birds through the woods and brush. Merlins have narrow pointed wings and tail for fast flight in the open sky. I had seen a Sharp-shinned Hawk dive at birds in a bush on one side of the trail, then a Merlin dive at a bird in an open field on the other side of the trail, in the space of 10 minutes! Merlins and Sharp-shinned Hawks are winter residents here. A few Cooper's Hawks are here year-round, but more are here in the winter. So in central Texas, winter is a dangerous time for songbirds!

As I returned across the footbridge, this Red-tailed Hawk soared over me, looking for a much wider range of prey in the creek bed.

Red-tailed Hawk


Here's my complete bird list. What a fun morning!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Last weekend on Sunday morning was the monthly group bird walk. We had a large turnout of 17 people who met at the Parmer Village pond. Here's a brief rundown of a few highlights.

There was a single waterfowl in the pond, this American Coot. You can see its red eye in this photo:

American Coot


Near the last dam on the creek we were treated to a group of at least 6 Northern Flickers. I've never seen this many together before, and I suspect it was a small group migrating south together. Soon afterwards Barry Noret took this photo of the group that I couldn't resist including. I'm the one in the middle bending over the spotting scope:

Bird Walk Group


In the woods by the last dam we encountered a fun mixed-species foraging flock of birds that included winter-resident species Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Orange-crowned Warbler. We were also able to coax out a few White-throated Sparrows by playing a recording of their song.

All in all we spent over two hours on the trail and found 35 species of birds. Here's our complete list.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ibis

I spent most of this morning birding the eastern part of Lake Creek Trail, starting at the Parmer Village pond and working my way upstream. Near the last dam I was excited to find a dark ibis. It was far away and I couldn't see much detail, but I think it's a juvenile White-faced Ibis which is the more common dark ibis here. It can be found in central Texas in small numbers most of the year, but is more common during spring and fall migration. It flew further upstream and almost out of sight before I could get any photos of it. It flapped periodically as it foraged, which I could still see in the distance.

Later I was able to find the bird again and approach it much closer. It was still flapping periodically and now I could see why. This bird was missing most of its right lower leg. Every time it started to take a step with its right leg it would flap its wings and hop on its left leg instead. A few inches of bare bone protruded below the swollen knee. This must have been a dramatic injury! Here is a reminder of what tough lives wild animals lead. Who knows what kind of situation caused this injury and how the bird escaped it. And there is no way for the bird to tell its story. It goes on with the priorities of life because it still can. And as long as it can still fly and the injury isn't infected, it has a good chance of surviving for many years. I hope this bird's remaining years are easier than its first!

White-faced Ibis - 1

White-faced Ibis - 5

Great Egret and White-faced Ibis

A few more photos are available here.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

This morning 12 folks participated in this month's group bird walk. We started at the Braes Valley parking lot and spent about 2.5 hours finding 31 species of birds. The previous day's north winds supported an amazing flight of hawks over the neighborhood. (Here are some photos.) But this morning's winds were back to the usual southeast with overcast skies. We didn't see any migrating hawks, and things started out quite slow. But we ended up making a few exciting observations.

For the first half hour or so the birds were quiet. I was desperate to have something interesting to show the group when I spotted this Praying Mantis hanging upside-down on a ragweed plant:

Praying Mantis

Things finally started picking up as we approached the footbridge.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

House Wren

Just a quick note. Here's a House Wren I found on Lake Creek Trail this morning. House Wrens are winter residents of our neighborhood, and this was the first one I've seen this season. It could be on its way further south or it could be here to stay until the spring. First I heard it scolding, and I flushed it out of some tall grass into a dense thicket of poison ivy and grape vine. Then I coaxed it to the edge of the thicket to have another look at me by playing recorded House Wren scold notes on my iPhone.

House Wren

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Great Fall Migration Showing

Steven McDonald and I both coincidentally arrived at the Braes Valley parking lot of Lake Creek Trail at about 9:00 this morning. We then spent over three hours on the trail and enjoyed a cool overcast morning full of fall migrating birds. Baltimore Orioles were nearly ubiquitous between the parking lot and the footbridge. We estimated there were at least 50 of these black and orange birds in the woods along the trail. We found 5 species of flycatchers, including brief appearances by both a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Olive-sided Flycatcher. Vireos included White-eyed, Bell's, my first Blue-headed of the season, and this Warbling Vireo:

Warbling Vireo


Other south-bound songbirds we found included Yellow Warblers, Wilson's Warblers, a single Black-throated Green Warbler, and at least one Blue Grosbeak. Tightly grouped starlings helped me notice a juvenile Cooper's Hawk perched on a light post in the Town and Country playing fields. And a migrating Northern Harrier flew over the footbridge while we made our way back to the trail head. Here's our complete bird list. What a morning!