Monday, April 7, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Five folks braved the cold and wet weather yesterday morning for the monthly bird walk. We started at the Braes Valley parking lot at 8:00 and spent two hours on the trail. During April and May, birding can be extra good right after a front comes through with some rain because birds on their way north will stop at available patches of habitat to wait for more favorable conditions. We got to see this phenomenon yesterday. Songbird migrants we found in the woods along the trail included Nashville Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Lincoln's Sparrows, a Great Crested Flycatcher, many Cedar Waxwings, and the first Eastern Wood-Pewees I've seen this year. It was too wet to risk taking my camera with me, so here's a Nashville Warbler I photographed in the neighborhood back in 2009:

Nashville Warbler

Some returning summer residents we found were Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, many Barn Swallows and a single Cliff Swallow, White-eyed Vireos, and a single male Bronzed Cowbird.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wind and Sun and Gnatcatchers

I spent a very enjoyable couple hours on Lake Creek Trail this morning. I got a late start (almost 10:00 AM) but ended up finding 44 species of birds including a few early spring migrants. At 11:00, I was pleased to see the sun emerge as the layer of clouds was blown away by the north wind:

Sun Emerging

One of the early migrating species I observed was Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. There were two individuals in the woods near the footbridge. These are a common north-bound migrating songbird in our neighborhood in the spring. Listen for their quiet, raspy call, and look for a tiny gray bird with a long tail with white outer tail feathers. Here's a photo of one I took on the trail about the same time of year back in 2009:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I was excited to find a pair of Cooper's Hawks in the woods between Braes Valley and the footbridge. It looked like the same larger pale female and smaller male that nested here last summer. I don't think their nest was successful last year, so I hope they try again!

Here's my complete list of birds. Despite the wind it was a beautiful day out there!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

14 folks participated in this month's group walk. We met at the Parmer Village pond at 8:00 AM and spent about 2 hours birding Lake Creek Trail. What started as a mild, humid, overcast morning near 70 degrees, ended in the mid-40s with a bracing north wind. After the front hit (at exactly 8:43 AM) about half the group turned back and went home. The rest of us toughed it out and made it back to our cars at about 9:45, just before the rain started.

On Friday, Sue and Steve Whitmer saw a female Vermilion Flycatcher by the Parmer Village pond. This morning we couldn't find this locally rare bird. but we did see some other cool stuff. Near the last dam on the creek, just above the treetops, we saw two Barn Swallows heading north. These birds are summer residents in central Texas and most of north America, and they were the first Barn Swallows I've seen this year. Shortly afterwards we saw a group of three Great Blue Herons flying in the distance. In central Texas we have Great Blue Herons that are here all year long. But this species is also migratory. This time of year we always see increased numbers of these large birds on our creek because there are birds here from further south that on their way further north. Later we saw a group of five of these herons, and I got this photo of two of them:

Migrating Great Blue Herons

The creek had lots of ducks on it, which are also on their way north. We saw larger-than-average numbers of Gadwalls and American Wigeon, and I saw the first Blue-winged Teal that I've seen on the creek this winter. Other duck species included Northern Shovelers and Green-winged Teal. And several large Double-crested Cormorants flew over us while we were out. Despite cold and wet weather, we found 43 species of birds. Here's our complete list.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Six hardy folks joined me on this cold, wet, and windy morning for the monthly group walk. We started at the Braes Valley parking lot at 8:00 and spent a relatively short hour and forty five minutes on the trail. Temperatures started in the low 40s and actually descended into the mid 30s while we were out. Despite the weather and a low level of bird activity, we managed to make a few neat observations. Not too far down the trail we found a single male Downy Woodpecker at the top of a bare tree. With the overcast conditions, my photos of it came out very dark. So I decided to make a stark black-and-white silhouette out of one. I like the way it came out!

Downy Woodpecker Silhouette

Before we got to the footbridge we got good looks at a Red-shouldered Hawk across the creek and a Song Sparrow in the creek bed. Beyond the bridge we found Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, and nine Greater Yellowlegs in the creek. I always enjoy finding these shorebirds on our neighborhood creek because when I first started birding I was very surprised that birds like this could be found away from the coast. I'm especially excited to find such a large group of Greater Yellowlegs. For the last few years, during a few construction projects along the creek like Parmer Village, I stopped seeing these winter-resident birds in groups this large. I was lucky to see one flying up or down the creek during my walks. It's great to see that things have settled down enough for them to return in numbers I'd see six or seven years ago. Here's a photo showing seven of the nine Greater Yellowlegs:

Greater Yellowlegs Flock

Greater Yellowlegs can be distinguished from the very similar Lesser Yellowlegs by its relatively long bill. That bill is also sometimes slightly upturned, which you can see in the photo below. Lesser Yellowlegs has a shorter and very straight bill.

Greater Yellowlegs

Here's our complete bird list from the morning.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Storks? No, Pelicans!

Earlier this week I received a couple interesting reports about "storks" on the Parmer Village pond. Many people refer to the herons and egrets that are usually there as storks, so at first I assumed that's what was being seen. The only true stork in Texas, the Wood Stork, would be an outside possibility but very unlikely. And it didn't fit the description one observer gave me of the birds having a long yellow bill and a "pouch". Intriguing!

On Thursday evening (January 16), the mystery was solved. Parmer Village resident James Boroff emailed me photos of large white birds on the pond that his wife Seena Mathew had taken. James and Seena correctly identified these birds as American White Pelicans. Wow! I would never have expected pelicans to be using this small pond. I wonder what they're eating, since I doubt there are fish in there. (There are lots of fish in the nearby creek, but I don't think the pond is connected to the creek.) American White Pelicans are winter residents in Texas, mostly on the coast. But you can also find them in the Austin area during the winter, usually on much larger bodies of water. They are huge birds, with a nine-foot wingspan! My only other record of this species in our neighborhood was in April, 2008 when there was a spectacular fly-over during my monthly group walk. Here's my blog entry.

Here are Seena's Pelican photos:

American White Pelicans on Parmer Village Pond - 1

American White Pelicans on Parmer Village Pond - 2

American White Pelicans on Parmer Village Pond - 3

As many as three have been seen on the pond since Tuesday (January 14)!

Monday, January 13, 2014

My eBird Data

During my time off one of my goals is to rekindle some enthusiasm for software by experimenting with some new (to me) technologies. I decided that playing with my eBird data would be a good start. I've been recording my bird observations in eBird since 2003, and the eBird web site provides some neat summary information. But they also let you download all of your data in one huge file to do with what you please. After some research and experimentation over a couple days, I was able to import this downloaded data into a relational database. Here are a few interesting results.

Since 2003 I have spent a grand total of 2918 hours birding everywhere and 1400 of those hours birding in this neighborhood. How do those 1400 hours break down by year? Here's a graph:

Isn't this interesting! You can see how my neighborhood birding peaked in 2008 and has gradually dropped off since then. (Since 2014 just started, the total is currently very low.) In 2008, I spent 293 hours birding in the neighborhood -- that's an average of 5.6 hours per week! Back then Lake Creek Trail had not yet been constructed and there weren't many other folks birding this neighborhood. Now seeing someone wearing binoculars on the trail is common, and many of those birders also enter their data into eBird.

I've submitted 789 individual checklists of neighborhood birds to eBird since 2005 and below is a table showing the most numerous birds of those checklists in descending order.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Audubon's Warbler

I took advantage of my current unemployment this morning and spent about 2.5 hours birding the neighborhood. This morning was very cold, but very clear without much wind. I didn't start until 10:00 AM but I don't think I missed much early morning bird activity because of the temperature. The most interesting bird I found was this Audubon's Warbler:

Audubon's Warbler (Yellow-rumped Warbler subspecies) - 1

Audubon's Warbler is a subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler, the most common kind of warbler in central Texas during the winter. Audubon's is a western subspecies that usually does not occur east of the trans-pecos region. The much more common subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler in Austin (and most of Texas) is Myrtle Warbler. The most obvious difference between Myrtle and Audubon's is the color of the throat. Myrtle has a white throat and Audubon's has a yellow throat. My photo shows a couple additional differences:

  1. The auricular region is much less distinct from the rest of the face. Myrtle Warblers have a clear border between the darker auricular region and the lighter throat that extents to the edge of the nape. (Click on the photo above and see the note I added to the photo on Flickr that marks the auricular region of the face.) 
  2. Myrtle warblers have a pale supercilium and more distinct dark horizontal line through their eye.
Many birders get tired of seeing Yellow-rumped Warblers in the winter because they are so common. We yearn to find something else. But it's always worth closely inspecting even the common birds. The better you learn them, the more obvious subtle differences will be to you!