Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Orange Warbler, Red Snake

I'm a little late posting again. Sunday morning I spent about 4 hours birding the neighborhood, starting from my house and covering most of the Lake Creek Trail and some streets in between. The persistent south winds for the past week or so have made it hard to find north-bound migrating birds. It's great for the birds -- they have a tailwind on their journey -- but they stop less frequently so it makes it harder for us birders to see them. So I was thrilled when I found this singing male Blackburnian Warbler on the trail just upstream of the footbridge. I didn't even have to leave the sidewalk. There are certain brilliantly colored birds that can make a normal person into a birder with just one look, and this one of them. (The first time I saw one I thought of the orange crayon in the old fluorescent set that Crayola used to make.) I missed seeing one last year, so I was so very happy to find this one on Sunday. It made my week. This species winters in northern South America and breeds in Canada and the Appalachians. They prefer the upper tree canopy and forest interiors, so the widespread fragmentation of forests is not good for them. And much is left to be discovered about the details of their lives.

As I was watching the Blackburnian, a different warbler that prefers the understory made a brief appearance: a male Mourning Warbler. This species is one of the later migrating songbirds through our area, and thus is a reminder that spring migration will be over by the end of the month.

Further downstream on the trail, as I walked up to the last dam on the creek, I saw this tiny black and red snake lunge out from the bank. It stayed on the algae of the shallow water and I got this picture. When I got back home I identified it as a Redstripe Ribbon Snake, and I was very interested to learn that it only occurs in central Texas, along creeks and streams. It mostly eats cricket frogs which our creek is full of.

In fact, the snake had lunged after this little guy, a Blanchard's Cricket Frog, which escaped the snake after my appearance on the scene. These frogs make a loud clicking sound, like pebbles struck together, that you can often hear by our creek any time of the day.

On my walk home I went down Sherbourne, a new favorite street of mine for finding birds. I was not disappointed. In a Live Oak in someone's front yard I saw a blob along a horizontal branch that looked like a bird. Sure enough, when I got my binoculars on it I saw a sleeping Common Nighthawk. This is a summer resident species all over north America, and has recently returned to our neighborhood. Despite the name, they are not hawks -- they're related to Whip-poor-wills. They fly around all night catching bugs out of the air. You can often hear them in parking lots and catch glimpses of their long striped wings as they fly past streetlights.


Susan Andres said...

Way to go finding that Common Nighthawk. To find one just perched motionless in a tree is a feat I have yet to accomplish.

Mikael Behrens said...

Thanks! This one was in a sparser area of the tree, so it appeared a little more obvious. They don't always perch in the sneakiest places. Once I even saw one on a wire.