The first Sunday of the month turned out to be the first day of 2017, and I was pleased that 14 people got up early on New Year's Morning to meet at the Braes Valley parking lot of Lake Creek Trail and join me for the monthly group walk. It turned out to be an absolutely beautiful morning with the sun mostly out and lots of bird activity. It was so pleasant and so much fun we spent over 3 hours on the trail and found 46 species of birds.
We found one rarity, a wintering Gray Catbird spotted by Barry Noret in the dense brush between the side trail that goes to Holbrook Street and the parking lot. Only a few of us got a brief look at this skulking species and no one got photos. This is a common wintering bird on the Texas coast but not many winter in Austin. They look like a smaller and darker version of a mockingbird without the white patches, and they like to stay hidden.
Otherwise, this month's walk featured some great close looks at some common winter songbird species. Near the footbridge we found an Orange-crowned Warbler, and then two Ruby-crowned Kinglets. One of the kinglets foraged especially close to us, and we got to see its ruby crown a few times.
We saw so many birds flycatching this morning! While not obvious at first, there were many insects in the air, especially over the creek. Most of them were small mayflies, flying in an up-and-down pattern. Warblers, kinglets, phoebes, and most dramatically I thought, Cedar Waxwings were catching them out of the air, sometimes changing direction 180 degrees in their flights. After we crossed the footbridge we had an amazing encounter with 30 to 40 Cedar Waxwings in the ash trees along the creek's bank that landed right above and around us. A few times we watched groups of them make flycatching forays out to the middle of the creek and then come back, flashing their yellow tail tips in beautiful morning light. Here are a couple, the first showing their red wing feathers that give them their "waxwing" name:
Water birds we found in the creek bed included Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, Great Egrets, and a few American Pipits. On one of the low water crossings we got a great look at a Lincoln's Sparrow. And on our way back after crossing the footbridge we got to see a couple Lesser Goldfinches munching on seeds in the grass. I got this photo of one of them:
Other fun observations included a Northern Flicker, a couple Eastern Bluebirds, a first-year Cooper's Hawk that flew right over our heads and perched for a minute across the creek, a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks, and an American Crow dunking what looked like a piece of bread it was eating in the creek water to soften it.
Here are a few more photos on Flickr.
And here's our complete bird list.
I can't think of a better way to bring in the new year. What a fun morning!