Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More Texas birding, part 3 updated!

After birding around San Antonio for a couple of days, Mary, the parents, my nieces, and I drove south last Thursday night to visit my brother Ricardo and do some birding in my old college stomping grounds, Kingsville, home to the former Texas A&I University (I come from a family of University of Texas Longhorns, so I won't mention the new name of the school). I hadn't been back to town in about 15 years, and wouldn't you know I forgot to go and check out the college campus? I was just too wrapped up in birds and family, not to mention getting back to San Antonio in plenty of time for my Saturday flight back home.

Still, I got quite a few birds including some more lifers! We birded in Ricardo's neighborhood first, where we saw three Harris' Hawks riding the strong Gulf Coast winds above an empty field as well as this Tropical Kingbird:I got a new book about photographing birds, so I'm trying new things like catching birds in motion instead of just while perching. This photo won't win any contests, but I'm happy with the composition of it all the same.

I don't want to sound snooty, but get a load of Ricardo's neighbor's idea of hardscaping:Yup, those are bowling balls around each and every plant in the yard. Curb Appeal, where are you?

We also caught this beautiful little Gray Hairstreak (thanks, Hap, for the ID) in his backyard:Ricardo's an avid butterfly buff, and he has lots of beautiful butterflies pinned (yeah, kinda cruel but still beautiful--even if I wouldn't do it myself) and displayed around his home.

After a delicious dinner (my brother is THE grill master) and a good night's sleep, reveille sounded at 5:45 and we were off to Kaufer-Hubert Memorial Park on an inlet of Baffin Bay:We searched long and hard for the elusive (to me, anyway) Painting Bunting, but alas the PABU won again. Still, even Ricardo was in on the hunt for a while after seeing photos of the beautiful "Monet Bird." He couldn't believe it was a real native bird in his area. I'd seen an eBird report of PABU sightings as recently as last weekend in this very park, so I figured I'd HAVE to see one, right? Wrong. But like I said, we got some great birds.

Check out this beautiful Curve-billed Thrasher, the first lifer of the day:
I fought off some pretty serious backlighting here.

Early-morning birding = low light conditions!Check out that eerie orange eye!

For an East Coast birder like me, birding in a place like South Texas means that lifers can be found just hanging around on power lines:
An Ash-throated Flycatcher, as opposed to the similar-looking Brown-crested Flycatcher -- the most obvious (to me) difference is the placement and paleness of the yellow wash on the underparts. This guy's yellow was quite pale and covered only his belly, not bright yellow and starting at his breast and extending down.

Texas provides an embarrassment of riches along the coastal waterways. Get a load of this:Bucketfuls of Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Neotropic Cormorants, and other shore beauties. It was impossible to get very close, hence the super-zoom, but holy moly, the Gulf Coast is amazing. It makes me sick to think about the states east of Texas, those affected by the BP oil spill; it also makes me so thankful that at least Gulf Coast waters remain (as yet) pristine and teeming with birdlife.

Yes, that's (from left to right) two Black-necked Stilts, a Neotropic Cormorant, a Tri-colored Heron (thanks, Hap!), an American White Pelican, and another Neotropic Cormorant, all in the same shot.

Continuing my quest for action shots, here's a Laughing Gull scratching his cheek:

Another far-away shot of Roseate Spoonbills and Snowy Egrets (thanks, Hap--who noted the black beaks that equal Snowy, not Great, Egrets), as well as the elusive Green-Plastic-Chair Bird:Grrrrrr, pollution makes me angry.

Next installment: even more birds, butterflies, and an age-old story about the one that got away.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

San Antonio birding, day 1, part 2

In addition to being confused by swallows, flirted with by night-herons, and confused by mutt ducks, we also saw a lot of cool butterflies and wildflowers. Here's a little photo album, with IDs where I could figure them out:
some kind of sulphur? John and Hap say Checkered White. Sounds good.

cute little purple flower

Swamp Rose Mallow

blue horse-nettle

pretty purple flower

Mexican Hat

Mexican Poppy

unknown pretty flower

Common Checkered-Skipper (thanks, Hap)


unidentified butterfly

I couldn't figure this one out; shaped like a Mourning Cloak but colored differently. It was just plain gray on the outer wing-sides and this vibrant orange-copper on the inside. John and Hap say Goatweed Leafwing -- sounds good!

An American Lotus among the lilypads

a more battered Checkered White.

tiny little toad in my niece Lilia's hand

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

San Antonio birding, day 1, part 1--updated!

It was an overcast morning yesterday, threatening rain and then later delivering; still, sister Mary and I got up before the sun and hit the birding trail. Also along was our niece Olivia, her first time birding. She was skeptical, but you know how it goes: first they mock, rolling their eyes dramatically, saying, "yeah, I GUESS I'll come along." Then they yawn and say, "this is gonna be soooo booorrrring!" Then you get to your destination, and they see their first non-House Sparrow. In our case, Olivia's first bird was a Yellow-crowned Night Heron who was VERY used to human presence. That was it; she was hooked. We watched its movements, laughed at its brazen disregard for our presence.

Now she wants her own binocs. SNAP!

Our first stop was a new location for us, Live Oak City Park, on the northeastern side of San Antonio. It's a great park, with huge grassy expanses, a nice-sized "lake," and good trails. We all got soaked and mosquito-bitten, but we had a great time with the birds, toads, grasshoppers, butterflies, and moths. Our list for this location:

Muscovy Duck
Mallard, 5--One mallard was VERY blond; photos to follow
Blue-winged Teal, 2
duck sp., 2--One had a bluish bill but no stiff tail like a Ruddy, also had a whitish stripe down his forehead. Photos to follow.
Great Blue Heron, 1
Great Egret, 3--these birds were also used to humans all around
Little Blue Heron, 2-- one molting juvenile, white with a few blue streaks along his back. Photos below. The adult was all blue, no reddish neck or cresty feathers evident at all. However, the adult was on a small snag, watching the juvenile feed in the shallows.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 1--Olivia's spark bird
Black Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk, 2--The first was being harassed in-flight by a Great-tailed Grackle, the second by a Northern Mockingbird. Poor raptors!
White-winged Dove
Inca Dove, 2--Pair attempting cloacal kiss on the road just at the entrance to the park! We all respectfully averted our eyes.
Chimney Swift, 5
hummingbird sp., 2--mystery species. VERY buffy, no evident green or red coloring at all. Birds were together, feeding and buzzing around. Juveniles?
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Couch's Kingbird, 1--ID'd by his call; photo below. LIFER!
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, 3--it's ridiculous how common these guys are.
Blue Jay
American Crow
Purple Martin--nice!
Barn Swallow (thanks, Hap!)
Mexican Cliff Swallow (thanks, Hap and Curlygirl!)
Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Dickcissel, 1--LIFER! Singing in a treetop just for me. Photo to follow.
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle
House Sparrow
Sparrow spp.--too many to even ID. It was all I could do to handle the rest of the birds. Most looked like house sparrows, but I'd be willing to bet there were some others mixed in. Still, I just didn't have my sparrow-fu working yesterday.

Okay, now for the photos!

In the rear is the Muscovy Duck which I've decided, owing to the not-so-secretive behavior and his bright red knobby facial area, is probably just a domestic Muscovy, which means no lifer. Dangit. Apparently, the true "wild" Muscovy's knob would be "blackish to dark reddish;" it's "usually brighter red in domestic male"). So much for that. I guess I should've known a true wild Muscovy wouldn't be found at a city park in San Antonio, right? My field guide says that a "nest box program in northeastern Mexico helped spread of wild Muscovies to Rio Grande area..." (info courtesy of my National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America). Oh well. One of these days, I'll go birding in the Mexican jungles and see one of these guys for real.

Continuing with this same photograph, what do you think of the brownish duck in front? Note the white on the face and on the neck. For a second, I thought I had a female Wood Duck, but I quickly dismissed that notion based on the lack of prominence of that white ring around the eye. I'm guessing this duck is a mutt; no ducks in my guide have those white markings. What do you think?

Here's the brave little Yellow-crowned Night Heron, who came within ten feet of where I was standing and looking at swallows.

I finally saw a Dicksissel!

This was the only photo I got of the two buff-colored hummingbirds I saw:Juveniles? Lesbians?

Ah, the swallows. They were abundant and confusing! I think many of them were quite young, and I have no experience really studying or IDing them other than easy Tree and Barn Swallows, so I took about a million photos. The best shots I got were of these fellows and ladies sitting on a fence, being cool.I thought some of them were Cliff Swallows, some might be Cave Swallows.... uh.... UPDATE: Per Hap's and Curlygirl's comments, I checked out some more info on Cliff or Mexican Cliff Swallows, and I agree with them that the different-looking guy to the right of the post is a juvenile (Mexican) Cliff Swallow and the rest of these guys are just plain old Barn Swallows (though I didn't check their immigration status). So I don't think I got any lifers here.

Here's one in flight--I was lucky to get a camera on him at all. What the heck is this? I didn't see any banded tails in my field guide!

Here's one in isolation. Note the whitish on his back--young bird?

The whole gang, looking tough.

Just half of them, including one who is obviously aware of my presence.

The other half. Is that evidence of a gape I see on the the two on the right? And whitish. Like I said, juveniles, I suspect.

After a while, I think they got sick of me taking their picture:Do you mind????

Moving on:The girls.

Couch's Kingbird, ID'd based on its call. Lifer!

Blue-winged Teal male

The blond Mallard with his friend? Mate? Brother?

A juvie Little Blue Heron. His mom/dad was also around, but she flew before I got a pic.

Seriously. Cut it out.

So that was two lifers. I took tons of other photos of butterflies, etc., but this post is already straining at its seams.

I mean it. Beat it! Tell your story walkin'! OUT!

Monday, June 07, 2010

New Paltz birding

The weekend in New Paltz, NY, was nice! It was really hot and humid, but we had a good time. I finally got to meet AB's parents and her sister CB and CB's hubby SB, which was really fun. Her mom and I immediately began nerding-out over wildflowers, sharing photos and stories of Pink Lady's Slippers. We celebrated AB's birdday too, with a delicious orange-chocolate cake that AB's mom made. Lots of good food, great conversation, and family love made the weekend pretty spectacular.

I took a few photos too, though not many bird photos came out. Still, my list was decent for the Wallkill Rail Trail:
Canada Goose X
Mourning Dove X
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
American Crow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Robin X
Gray Catbird X
Northern Mockingbird 1
European Starling X
Cedar Waxwing 2
Yellow Warbler 3
Common Yellowthroat 1
Chipping Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
House Finch X
American Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow X

as well as for the yard at the rental home we stayed in:
Canada Goose 35
Mute Swan 1
Mallard 1
Turkey Vulture 2
Rock Pigeon 10
Mourning Dove 8
Eastern Wood-Pewee 2
Least Flycatcher 1
Eastern Phoebe 3
Red-eyed Vireo 1
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 2
Barn Swallow 1
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Carolina Wren 1
American Robin X
Gray Catbird X
Northern Mockingbird 3
European Starling X
Cedar Waxwing 2
Yellow Warbler 1
Chipping Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 3
Northern Cardinal 2
Indigo Bunting 2
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
House Finch 2
House Sparrow X

I FINALLY saw my FOY Indigo Bunting, one of my favorite birds.

Now I'm in my old bedroom in Texas at my parents' house. I'm planning to do as much birding as possible down here, but as I pored over my field guide on the plane I noted that there aren't as many great birds here in the summer as there are in winter! Still, I'm planning to bird City Park and perhaps the Botanical Gardens here in San Antonio, then MAYBE a trip to Hornsby Bend near Austin, and then a swing south to Kingsville and the coast (Kaufer-Hubert Memorial Park, on Baffin Bay) to see my brother Ricardo.

Chances are good that I'll see at least some of these potential lifers:
Painted Bunting! Finally! I hope!
Northern Bobwhite
Neotropic Cormorant
King Rail (maybe--rails are tough)
Clapper Rail (maybe)
Wilson's Plover
Sandwich Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Least Tern
Sooty Tern (maybe!)
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (if we go into the King Ranch near Kingsville)
Lesser Nighthawk
Green Violet-Ear (hummingbird--I pray!)
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Bank Swallow
Cave Swallow
Summer Tanager
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow
Pyrrhuloxia (maybe)

I've been checking the local eBird reports, Rare Bird Alerts, etc., to get an idea of what's being seen out there. If I see half of these guys, I'll be happy. I'll really be flirting with the magical 300 lifebirds if I see them all, but I'm trying to be more realistic (not my strong suit, as you know).

So I'll be updating you all week from here in the Lone Star State. And ohmigod, it is even hotter here than I was afraid it would be.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Holiday weekend recap

Had a great Memorial Day weekend, birding and looking for wildflowers in the Toftrees State Gamelands and Black Moshannon State Park.

Black Mo has some of the oldest growth forest land in Pennsylvania, and it's located on the Allegheny Front, fabled western gate to the Appalachians. As such, it's normally cooler than the rest of the area (I recall a camping trip one August with Kat and Em wherein we FROZE... in August.), but this weekend we had record high temperatures and humidity, so it was pretty rough going. Still, I saw my first ever Pink Lady's Slipper!We saw four of them, including one that someone had PICKED and put into the crook of a tree trunk, presumably for later. Aren't they protected from picking?

We saw a lot of great sights. Do you see what I see here?Here they are again:Aren't they the cutest!?

After that, it was all wildflowers a-go-go!
English Plantain

Blurrifically terrible photo of Butter-and-eggs

whoops--now how did this shot get in there? That's Owen, being a sweet brother and grooming his sister Maya!

a baby trillium of some sort--can't wait to see!


Indian Cucumber-root, which is really delicate and beautiful, no?


our state flower, the Mountain Laurel

Orange Hawkweed, or Devil's Paintbrush

Partridge-berry and a white Canada Mayflower


White Baneberry, and here's the beautiful little flower bunch:Pretty sure on this ID based on leaves and flowers, but I'm always open to smarter and more experienced flower minds!

Yellow Pond Lily, right?

I still haven't seen Dutchman's Breeches and it's kinda late in the season for them now, so I'm bummed about that. But I've seen and ID'd a lot of flowers! It's cool to photograph flowers: they don't move, but it's always tough to focus on the flowers themselves rather than the background or foreground.

So that was Sunday. Then on Monday, I went with some local Bird Club members to a place I've walked around but never birded seriously, the state gamelands in Toftrees (a ritzier part of town). Saw some great birds, though no lifers. Still, the birds are in full breeding plumage and brighter than ever!

A Great-crested Flycatcher:Their heads are so funky-shaped.

Here's another flycatcher: This Eastern Kingbird was hanging out about ten feet below the oriole above:You can't see his funky-shaped flycatcher head, but it's there.

The Baltimore Orioles were almost on fire with their bright orange feathers:We saw a few orioles, all of them this absolutely knock-out glowing orange. Awesome!

Also saw some good flowers:Smartweed

POISON HEMLOCK! I always see this stuff and figure it's young Queen Anne's Lace, but it's not. It's all poisonous, the entire flower and plant. Look out.

Kinda cliche, no? Sadly, I couldn't get some direct sunlight glinting on the drops though; otherwise, it'd be a Hallmark card or something.

Barren Strawberries in their not-so-tasty-fruit stage:

An Eastern Painted Turtle:Check out that attitude!

We saw a lot of fouled nests, some with still-soft raw yolks and stuff in the broken eggs:I think all of these were probably disasters rather than hatches, sadly.

So that was the trip. AB was sweet and came along, but a group walk without binocs can be tough--and boring. As her birdday is coming up (Monday), I'm getting her some bins! She says she's excited, and I think it's gonna be so fun really birding with her!