Sunday, August 7, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

This morning five folks joined me at the Parmer Village pond at 7:30, and we spent about 2.5 hours finding 38 species of birds. We had an almost constant breeze and most of the walk was comfortable, but with a lack of cloud cover the last half hour got pretty warm! Here are some highlights.

We flushed a Great Blue Heron from the creek bed and it landed in some treetops nearby. I took this photo which turned out a little better than I expected:

Great Blue Heron

This time of year a few fall migrants are already starting to head south and we observed just a few. Near the heron we heard at least one Orchard Oriole but never got a good look at it. By the last dam we spotted a couple mature male Painted Buntings which I think were on their way south. This was the most exciting bird observation of the morning, but it was brief and I wasn't able to photograph them.

The most numerous migrating bird we observed was an estimated 11 Dickcissels. Dickcissels are a grassland bird and a common fall migrant here, but they are easily missed. Their loud distinct flight call is easy to recognize once you've heard it a few times, but seeing the birds is difficult. They often stay hidden in the tall grass or dense tree tops. They are also easily overlooked in groups of House Finches or House Sparrows. At our turnaround point at the downstream creek crossing in the playing fields, we finally got this distant look at a female high in a tree:

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Despite being one week late, this morning 5 folks joined me for the monthly group walk. We met at the Braes Valley parking lot of Lake Creek Trail and unexpectedly spent over 3 hours on the trail and ultimately finding 34 species of birds. We enjoyed overcast skies and a slight breeze which was quite comfortable. Here are some highlights.

While waiting for the group in the parking lot I kept hearing squeaky calls coming from the line of willow trees at the creek's edge. We discovered they were a pair of juvenile Cooper's Hawks, probably recently fledged from a nearby nest. Through the first half of our walk we kept seeing these hawks, usually being chased by smaller birds. (Cooper's Hawks specialize in hunting other birds, so they usually get harassed by them when seen.) Here's the only photo I got of one of them:

Cooper's Hawk Juvenile

In the Town and Country playing fields near the second creek crossing we saw a Snowy Egret feeding in the creek bed. This particular bird has been in this area of the creek for months. We recognized it by the bare area of its throat, probably from a past injury.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Last Sunday morning seven folks joined me for the monthly group walk. We met at the Parmer Village end of Lake Creek Trail at 7:30 and enjoyed about 3 hours covering 1 mile of the trail in sunny but surprisingly comfortable breezy weather. We found 35 species of birds and at least 10 species of dragonflies and damselflies (collectively called Odonates). Here are some highlights.

Starting out by the pond we got to see a large cloud of mayflies flying their up-and-down pattern over the water. I got this photo:


From the creek bed I was hearing a distant singing Painted Bunting. And after we entered the creek bed I decided to try and coax it closer by playing a recorded Painted Bunting song on my iPhone. It worked much better than I expected and everyone got good looks at this first-year male bird. (The first year males are all green.)

Painted Bunting

As previously mentioned, we saw Odonates! I was excited to see and the show the whole group the smallest damselfly in North America. This is a Citrine Forktail, about 1 inch long:

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

About 20 people joined me this Mother's Day morning for the monthly group bird walk on Lake Creek Trail. We started at the Braes Valley end of the trail at 7:30 and spent about two hours covering not even a mile of trail. The group was larger than usual probably because this is an exciting time to be birding in central Texas. Late April and early May is the peak of spring migration, so many species of birds are passing through the area that we only get to see now and in the fall. But the weather was against us. Most migrating birds have been taking advantage of the steady south winds to keep moving north, so not as many have been stopping to rest in patches of habitat like Lake Creek Trail. Still, we managed to find 39 species of birds and had a couple fun encounters.

Our best bird of the morning was one of the few migrants we saw -- an Olive-sided Flycatcher that posed for us on some wires over the creek near the footbridge. Everyone got good looks at this bird which is very similar to our year-round resident Eastern Phoebe. Two key differences Olive-sided Flycatcher has are a shorter tail that it doesn't pump, and distinct dark sides on its breast and belly which make it look like it's wearing a vest. My camera lens has been sent to Panasonic for repairs, so I couldn't take any photos, but here's an old photo of this species from Fall 2012, from almost the same spot. (Who knows, maybe it's the same bird!)

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Nearby on the footbridge we saw some fledgling Eastern Phoebes, so it was a great opportunity to compare.

A few other migrants we found were briefly seen Yellow Warblers, a heard-only Nashville Warbler, a high flying Great Blue Heron, and a heard-only Yellow-breasted Chat. The chat was in a dense patch of trees and brush near the footbridge. We enjoyed hearing it's song made of strange very different little phrases as it emanated from the bushes. I tried playing a recording back to it but it wouldn't come out to investigate. In the creek bed we enjoyed watching a hunting Snowy Egret. Unlike Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets which hunt while still or very slowly walking, Snowy Egrets actively walk and run chasing their prey. Sometimes it would use one of its feet to stir up the water and mud in front of it and watch for small animals that might emerge.

Despite the birds being slow it was a fun and pleasant morning. We won't have many more mornings this cool and comfortable before the summer! Here's our complete bird list.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

As I finally sit down to write this on Tuesday evening, I just heard a Broad-winged Hawk calling. This species is a newly returning summer resident in our neighborhood. Their distinctive Killdeer-like call is pretty easy to learn. And this species was one we were thrilled to see on the monthly group walk last Sunday morning. Sixteen people joined me at the Parmer Village end of the trail and we ended up recording 47 species of birds. Here are some highlights.

Barn Swallows were present over the pond and along the creek. We watched a few chase a hawk downstream when we first arrived at the last dam. One of them actually struck the hawk a couple times, something I've never seen before. (I've seen Barn Swallows chase hawks before, but never actually hit one.) At first we thought the hawk was a Cooper's Hawk, but later when we saw it again we realized it was a newly returned Broad-winged Hawk. Here are two photos of it from later in the morning, the first with a Barn Swallow in pursuit, and the second of it soaring alone.

Broad-winged Hawk and Barn Swallow

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Night-Heron and Merlin

Lake Creek Trail keeps surprising me. Yesterday morning I had two memorable experiences, one with a newly returning summer species and one with a soon-to-leave winter species.

I started at the Braes Valley trail head and when I finally made it to the footbridge I ran into three fellow local birders and Travis Audubon members, Stan VanSandt, George Kerr, and Virginia Rose. As we birded from the bridge two Yellow-crowned Night-Herons landed on some of the power lines the cross the creek. As we watched, one of them performed a breeding display for the other. These amazing birds nest in our neighborhood during the summer, and the males' breeding display is something that you'd expect to see only in a tropical jungle! I've never been able to photograph it before, so I was excited to get these so-so shots:

Displaying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

16 folks met me this morning for the monthly group walk on Lake Creek Trail. It was cool and overcast when we met at 7:30 at the end of Braes Valley. By the time we finished two and a half hours later, the sun was peeking out and it was beautiful. Changing seasons were evident in bird behavior. Many more birds were singing, including two winter resident species that we rarely get to hear before they leave Texas for northern breeding grounds. Before everyone arrived a Spotted Towhee was singing from just east of the parking lot. (We later got to see probably this same bird from the side trail that goes to Briar Hollow Drive.) The other winter resident we got to hear was a Song Sparrow, singing from the creek bed a little further up the trail. Other species we got to hear singing were Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Cardinal, Bewick's Wren, Carolina Wren, and Carolina Chickadee. I briefly saw my first north-bound migrating bird of the season -- a fast flying Barn Swallow that was headed upstream over the creek bed.

Yellow-rumped Warblers and Cedar Waxwings were plentiful. I think waxwing numbers have been augmented by birds that wintered further south starting to head north. I estimated we saw at least 350 waxwings this morning.

We got to see two species of hawks this morning. Near the trailhead we saw one of the nesting Red-shouldered Hawks and its nest in the willow trees right by the creek. This pair has nested here for the past few summers. We saw another Red-shouldered Hawk by the footbridge. It was a juvenile hunting from one of the wires over the creek bed. We got to see it fly down and come up with what I guessed was a mouse in its claws. here's a distant photo of it perched:

Red-shouldered Hawk

The other species of hawk we got to see was Sharp-shinned Hawk that was hunting on the Town and Country playing fields. It briefly perched near the top of the cottonwood next to the Meadowheath parking lot before continuing its low hunting flight that scared up many grackles and starlings and doves in its path.

Other highlights included close looks at an Eastern Phoebe from the footbridge, a beautiful Great Egret and several Killdeers both in the creek bed, and two female Ladder-backed Woodpeckers chasing each other right in front of us. Here are a few more photos: