Sunday, March 13, 2011

Evening Birding (and Frogging!)

I arrived at the Parmer Village model homes Saturday evening to meet some Capital Area Master Naturalists (CAMN) who have started to monitor frogs on Lake Creek. (CAMN is a local chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist Program.) I got there a little early to enjoy the sunset and see what birds were around. The grass around the drainage pond was full of Savannah Sparrows and Vesper Sparrows, both winter resident grassland birds that can be challenging to identify. I had my spotting scope with me and got this photo of one of the Vesper Sparrows with my iPhone by holding it up to the eye-piece of the scope (a practice known as digi-scoping). With the setting sun behind me, I think the photo came out pretty good! You can see 2 of the field marks I use to identify this species -- a bright white eye-ring, and a white crescent under the cheek.

Vesper Sparrow

As the CAMN folks arrived we noticed a large group of Cave Swallows flying over the creek near the Parmer Lane bridge. I estimated about 60 birds, about three times as many as we've seen in the past few months. My guess is that the roughly 20 Cave Swallows that have spent the winter roosting in their old mud nests under this bridge have recently been joined by north-bound migrating birds. It was fun to see them swirl around in the air closer and closer to the bridge until they all swooped underneath it and disappeared.

We walked to the last dam of the creek to listen for frogs. Just as it was getting dark I was delighted to see a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron fly over the creek, the first I've seen this year. These exotic-looking migratory herons can be found on our creek all summer long, hunting for crawfish. They also nest in the trees among our houses. A little later we heard and saw a pair of Great Horned Owls calling to each other in the patch of woods by the dam. We heard frogs too! The clicking of Blanchard's Cricket Frogs was plentiful and we heard the gurgly croaks of at least 2 Rio Grande Leopard Frogs. It was a great way to spend the early evening.

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