Sunday, August 9, 2009

Flycatchers, Hawks, Herons

I spent about 3 and a half hours birding the neighborhood this morning. Despite the hot weather there were some interesting birds around. I found 50 species, including a good variety of flycatchers, hawks and herons. At several spots on the hike-and-bike trail I heard the "whit" call note of empidonax flycatchers. These are small gray birds that are moving south through the Austin area right now. This group of flycatchers is infamous for being difficult to identify except by their songs. I was able to identify 2 Least Flycatchers by sight, and I was excited to finally hear the "fitz-bew" song of at least 2 Willow Flycatchers. Nearby I also found a single Eastern Wood-Pewee, another sounth-bound migrant flycatcher.

At one point I heard what I thought was the call of a Killdeer, but it wasn't quite right. I looked up and saw 2 hawks soaring, and then I realized what I heard might have been a Broad-winged Hawk. When I got my binoculars on the soaring hawks I found I was right -- they were Broad-wings. As I watched them a third hawk flew into view and I recognized the light-body-and-dark-flight-feather pattern of a Swainson's Hawk. What a treat! Near the footbridge I found one of our year-round resident Red-shouldered Hawks perched on a wire over the creek. This is a pretty common sight -- these hawks like to perch on the wires and look for snakes and other prey in the creek bed. But it was sharing the wires with dozens of European Starlings, and none of the birds seemed to mind. I have never seen these birds sharing a space so peacefully before.

From there I walked downstream across the T&C playing fields to check a spot on the creek that has some good shorebird habitat. I did not find the variety of shorebirds I was hoping for, but I did find several herons and egrets. There were about a dozen Snowy Egrets hunting in the shallow water, along with just 1 juvenile Little Blue Heron. I got this picture of the Little Blue panting to cool itself in front of 3 Snowy Egrets. You can see that the bird hasn't quite molted into its complete blue-gray adult plumage yet.

In the same spot I was pleased to also find 2 juvenile Tricolored Herons with the Snowy Egrets. I assume these are the same birds we found on my monthly bird walk last weekend. I got this picture showing both, with one out in front actively hunting.

While I was out this morning, some gray clouds moved by overhead, but all they provided was occasional shade. Later this afternoon there was a light light rain that ended all too prematurely. I hope we get some relief from the drought and the heat soon!


Aaron DaMommio said...

Wow, 50 species. That's fantastic.

So, those egrets and the herons...are they what eats a lot of the tiny fish in the ponds? Have you gotten to see them catch stuff?

Mikael Behrens said...

Hi Aaron! Herons, egrets, small snakes, and larger fishes are probably the main predators of the small fish in the creek. They all catch and eat frogs, aquatic insects, and crawfish too. I often see the herons and egrets catch stuff. If you watch them for a few minutes on our creek you can usually see one pull something small and wriggly out of the water, and then gulp it down.