Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Twelve people joined me this morning at 7:30 at the Braes Valley end of Lake Creek Trail for the monthly group walk. Before we got started the wind was calm and the sun briefly broke through the clouds, promising a warming trend. But the cloud cover sustained through the morning and the north wind picked up, keeping us a bit cold until the walk ended at about about 10:00 AM. We ended up finding 36 species of birds and here are some highlights.

The presence of hawks was directly and indirectly. We heard Blue Jays imitating both Red-shouldered Hawks and Cooper's Hawks before we saw either species. And distant mobbing calls from crows and then Blue Jays preceded our first sighting of a Red-shouldered Hawk that flew over the trail chased by a couple jays. Later we saw another Red-shouldered Hawk by the footbridge and a third in the Town and Country playing fields carrying a big rat it had just caught. Here's the hawk by the footbridge, accompanied by a disapproving Northern Mockingbird:

Red-shouldered Hawk and Northern Mockingbird

From the footbridge we heard many songbirds vocalizing and we saw House Finches, a closeup Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a couple Lincoln's Sparrows. A Cooper's Hawk flew by and all the other birds went silent until a few minutes later, closely attuned to the arrival of this songbird predator!

Birds were a little easier to see when we east of the bridge along the creek bed between the playing fields. There was a large flock of House Finches feeding on the giant ragweed and flying back and forth overhead. We also glimpsed Lincoln's Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, and House Wrens. After finally turning around at the last low water crossing, we got a few better looks at birds on our way back. We saw a few Eastern Bluebirds, and this flock of about 10 Chipping Sparrows:

Monday, October 21, 2019

Big Sit 2019

On Saturday, October 12, I met Helen Mastrangelo and Steven McDonald at 6:30 AM (about 1 hour before sunrise) at a special spot on Lake Creek Trail to begin The Big Sit. Bird Watcher's Digest magazine organizes this yearly birding game. You pick a single spot (defined by a 17 foot diameter circle) and you see how many species of birds you can identify from that one spot in one day. We've done the Big Sit on Lake Creek Trail at this same spot twice before, but it had been a long time. The first Big Sit we did was in 2009 and we observed 45 species. The second (and last) was in 2010 and we recorded 50 species. This time we lucked out. A cold front the day before made Saturday ideal for raptor migration, with a north wind blowing most of the day. This helped us hear and see 61 species of birds by the time we stopped over 12 hours later!

We arrived before sunrise hoping to hear an owl or two. If any were around, they were quiet so we didn't get any owls on our list. But our first bird was dramatic! At about 6:45 we heard a loud croak and a Great Blue Heron flew over the trees across the pond and headed right towards us! It veered off to the side when it realized we were there and found a spot on the creek to start its hunting. Afterwards while it was still almost too dark to see, we identified Killdeer, Northern Mockingbird, Carolina Wren, and Northern Cardinal by sound. Before sunrise we had 5 birds on our list!

Just before 7:30 AM there was finally enough light to take a photo and I took this one of Steven and Helen under a dramatic overcast sky:

Early Morning Sky

Shortly after this photo was taken, we got our biggest surprise of the day. A single Anhinga flew over us on its way south. This was the first Anhinga I've ever seen on the trail. A little later we were joined by Craig Browning and Matt Denton, and the five of us were the main observers for the rest of the day.

A little after 8:30 raptor migration started kicking in. For the rest of the day, sometimes mixed in with groups of Turkey Vultures that must've totaled over 1000 by the end of the day, and sometimes by themselves we spotted these hawks and falcons flying over us, usually headed south:

  • Swainson's Hawk
  • Cooper's Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Peregrine Falcon (a species I've only seen once before on Lake Creek Trail)
  • Merlin
  • American Kestrel
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Osprey

The only falcon we didn't see all day was the one that's most likely, a Crested Caracara. (And the very next morning as I jogged by our circle, one flew right over my head.)

Migrating songbirds were few and far between, but we did manage to find an early Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-headed Vireo, and White-throated Sparrow. Others included Common Yellowthroat, Nashville Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and almost our very last bird, a young White-eyed Vireo.

At about 10:15 AM we heard a very strange drawn-out bird call from some very dense nearby bushes. None of us could identify it. (Matt tentatively said, "Towhee?") Very soon after we heard it other birds started gathering around and calling in very clear alarm behavior. Several species of songbirds were in the same small area but the brush was so dense we could never see what they were clustered around. My guess is that we had heard the death cry of a bird (probably a Northern Cardinal) that had been grabbed and eaten by a snake! Other predator types would have left the area after capturing the bird, but snakes really can't do that. And the alarm behavior of the other birds matched what we've seen them do around snakes before.

It was a great way to spend a day, and here are a few photos of birds and other wildlife we got to see:

The Peregrine Falcon that was so high in the overcast sky it was just a silhouette:

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

This morning at 8:00 16 people joined me on the Parmer Village end of Lake Creek Trail for the monthly group bird walk. It was clear and sunny, and it was just a little bit cooler. Many fall migrant birds have been moving through the area lately and just a few winter residents have been appearing, so I was excited to see what we could find.

We spent some time in the tall grass by the creek bed and watched a few Yellow Warblers and Wilson's Warblers in the willow trees and ash trees around us. Two highlights were a fly-over American Kestrel, my first observation of this winter-resident falcon, and a first-year Blue Grosbeak that was almost cinnamon brown that spent some time at the top of an ash tree for us. Here's the grosbeak:

Blue Grosbeak

Making our way upstream we found a few more Wilson's Warblers and heard a couple Common Yellowthroats in the creek bed. When we made it up to the last dam, we spent some time there and got to see two Belted Kingfishers, both a male and female. Here's a distant photo of the female:

Monday, September 2, 2019

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

Despite the hot weather, about 15 people joined me this morning at 7:30 for the monthly group walk. And half of them were already there by 7:00! This month's group included mostly experienced birders, so the few beginners had plenty of help finding and identifying birds. As we gathered we enjoyed seeing this rainbow, created by a small rainstorm just west of us:


Despite a small flurry of activity at about 7:15 when I arrived (which included several Dickcissels calling on their way south), overall it was a quiet and still morning. South-bound migrants were moving through the area, but getting more than quick glimpses of them was difficult. Here's one of three or four Great Crested Flycatchers we saw, the only one that presented a photo opportunity:

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

About ten of us met this morning at 7:30 at the Braes Valley trailhead of Lake Creek Trail to see what  birds and other wildlife we could find. We ended up finding 42 species of birds plus some cool dragonflies. The most exciting bird was a Roseate Spoonbill! Yesterday Helen Mastrangelo told me she found a Roseate Spoonbill on the creek and saw it fly upstream towards the Broadmeade bridge. This is a coastal species, but every summer some first-year birds wander inland. (The same thing happens with Tricolored Herons.) Last year we had a first-year Roseate Spoonbill spend most of the summer on Lake Creek, but today's bird is not the same individual. Today's bird is also first-year and after their first year these birds seem to figure out that they are best suited to coastal wetlands.

Shortly after we crossed the footbridge and entered the Town and Country playing fields, Michael Pfeil spotted the spoonbill foraging in the creek bed. Here are a few photos. The pale pink color and lack of dark feathers around the face are diagnostic of this being a first-year bird. Mature birds have much more vivid pink plumage:

Roseate Spoonbill - 1 - 2

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

About 10 folks joined me Sunday morning for the monthly group walk. We enjoyed a surprisingly comfortable cloudy morning with a slight breeze. Starting at 7:30 we spent about two hours on Lake Creek Trail finding 31 species of birds. But birds weren't the only nature observations we made. It has been a wet summer and as the group walked upstream by the creek bed I couldn't believe how thick the wildflowers were!

Wildflowers in Creek Bed

And scattered in the flowers and grasses were dragonflies, now present in greater numbers than just a couple weeks ago. The most numerous species was Widow Skimmer, but I also spotted my first tiny Eastern Amberwing of the season, and this Halloween Pennant, maybe the most photogenic species of dragonfly in central Texas:

Friday, May 10, 2019

Birding on Broadmeade Walk

The first few days in May are usually the peak of spring songbird migration through the Austin area, so I always have high hopes for our May group walk to see species of birds we won't see at any other time of year. To see the most migrants the weather has to cooperate too. Storms force the north-bound birds to stop traveling and wait for better weather in patches of good habitat. Last week we had storms late in the week, and between rains birders were reporting amazing varieties of birds. Saturday and Sunday were clear, but there were still migrating birds around and we had a fun Sunday morning finding them on Lake Creek Trail. Here was the view near the trail head on Braes Valley:

Sun through Trees

The birding was tough. We could see small birds moving through the tree canopy but we got only brief glimpses of them in the dense leaves. The first cooperative migrating bird for a photo we found was this brilliant male Summer Tanager: