Monday, May 17, 2010

Neighborhood Rarities

Although it's fun and rewarding to keep records of all our resident neighborhood bird species, it's also exciting to see something unexpected here. That's one of the things that makes spring birding so much fun -- you can see new birds without traveling anywhere. They come to you! On Sunday I had a bit of this excitement. I spent about 3 hours birding Lake Creek Trail starting at Parmer Village. I ended up finding 51 species including a couple I only ever see once or twice per year in the neighborhood.

When I started at almost 9:30 I heard a bird singing that sounded too low to be a Painted Bunting and not quite right for a House Finch. It was in the willow trees by the marshy area near the Parmer bridge, so I walked over there and got pretty close but never got a good look at it. I saw it fly upstream and land in a small tree by the last dam on the creek. I could still hear it singing, but it was too far off to identify by sight. By the time I made it over there the bird was gone.

Further upstream at the edge of the playing fields I found 3 Eastern Kingbirds in one of the dead willow trees. This is a common summer-resident species in many parts of Texas, but in the neighborhood I usually only see 1 or 2 per year. As they caught insects I got this photo of 2 of them. You can see the white trailing edge of their tails.

In the middle of the playing fields I found a small group of shorebirds in the creek bed and was excited to see 6 White-rumped Sandpipers! This is another species that I only see once or twice per year in the neighborhood. They are just passing through on a very long migration from their wintering grounds in southern South America to their breeding grounds in the Canadian arctic. It's so neat that a few of these sandpipers can use our creek to rest and recharge. I got these photos.

I kept thinking about the bird I heard but never saw well enough to identify. I listened to a few songs on my iPhone and made an intriguing discovery. Besides our common year-round resident House Finch, the song I heard also sounded similar to a Varied Bunting, a bird of Mexico and the extreme southwest. (The last time I saw one was in Big Bend National Park.) I played the song as I walked back to my car, hoping it was still around. But I never saw or heard it again. It was most likely a House Finch, but many migratory western species have been seen east of their range this spring, so I can't help but wonder!

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