Journal archives for December 2013

07 December, 2013

Group Walk Report for December 7, 2013

By central Texas standards, it was a cold morning for the monthly group bird walk. Few people registered this month and even fewer people showed up. It ended up being only HCC staff member Laura Maddox and I that toured the property in temperatures that never got out of the mid-twenties. But at least it wasn't raining. And even though the birding was uneventful most of the morning, we made two exciting observations late in the hike that made the whole effort worthwhile.

In the northeast corner of the property Laura noticed ice at the base of almost all of the Frostweed plants. It was cold enough that the Frostweed had demonstrated how it got its common name! During the first hard freeze of the season, water will exude from the stem of this plant and freeze into amazing delicate patterns as it does. Here's a better description of this phenomenon with references to web sites with more information than you'd ever want to know:

Here are a couple of the more dramatic ice formations we saw:

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) with Ice Crystals - 5

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) with Ice Crystals - 8

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) with Ice Crystals - 9

Here's the observation we made, including several photos of different plants' ice crystal formations:

I announced that this was definitely the coolest observation of the morning. But about five minutes later while we were watching Song Sparrows and an Eastern Phoebe at the edge of a nearby pond, a dramatically colored black and white and reddish-brown bird flew into view. I thought it was a Spotted Towhee, an expected winter bird in central Texas. But I got a closer look and realized it was the eastern counterpart to this species -- an Eastern Towhee. This is a rare bird in the Austin area, and was my first for the Bunny Run and central Texas! It was a brilliant male that was initially chased away from the pond by a mockingbird. But it flew into some nearby brush and I was able to coax it out into the open with some pishing. Here's the observation with some photos:

And here are a couple photos of the Eastern Towhee:

Eastern Towhee (Male) - 2

Eastern Towhee (Male) - 3

Eastern Towhee is species #162 I've observed on the Nalle Bunny Run. It was a complete surprise to me. Which was a cooler observation, the Frostweed or the Eastern Towhee? I don't know!

Here's our complete bird list:

Posted on 07 December, 2013 21:56 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

16 December, 2013

Austin Christmas Bird Count

As usual, I participated in the Austin Christmas Bird Count this year on Saturday, December 14, on the Hornsby Bend team. All day long we found 102 species at Hornsby Bend. I led a morning group on my monthly survey route, from the birding shelter upriver to the "old crossing" on the Platt property. My morning group found 68 species. Here's my morning eBird list:

And here's a list from the afternoon covering the SE corner of the property:

And attached are iNat observations made during the day. Highlights included Rusty Blackbirds, Ringed Kingfisher, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Least Grebes.

Posted on 16 December, 2013 04:55 by mikaelb mikaelb | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

18 December, 2013

Port Aransas Christmas Bird Count

I was born in the small coastal town of Port Aransas, Texas. (Well, I was actually born in Corpus Christi, where the nearest hospital is.) So I have strong ties there, and I try to support the Port Aransas birding community by volunteering my time whenever I can. One way I do is by participating in their Christmas Bird Count. This year it was on Monday, December 16. I spent the morning birding with Clay Taylor out in the gulf on one of UTMSI's boats piloted by Frank Ernst. I spent the afternoon in the Nature Preserve at Charlie's Pasture with Warren Pulich Jr. and Beau Hardegree. Here are some highlights:

  • finding a Le Conte's Sparrow behind my parents' house just before sunrise
  • chasing a Northern Gannet that we thought might be a booby on the open Gulf at 37 knots and watching the bird stay easily ahead of us
  • getting "pulled over" by a Border Patrol speedboat so they could ask what we were doing
  • seeing Peregrine Falcons on abandoned oil rig platforms
  • finding Nelson's Sparrows on the mud flats in Charlie's Pasture
  • enjoying the company of Port Aransas birders

The unofficial species total for the day was 180. Attached are my iNat observations. Most of the same photos and a few more are on Flickr here:

Can't wait until next year!

Posted on 18 December, 2013 21:56 by mikaelb mikaelb | 10 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

21 December, 2013

Guadalupe Delta Christmas Bird Count

I participated in the Guadalupe Delta Christmast Bird Count yesterday. It's one of the logistically more difficult CBCs, since much of it is on private ranch land that is not near a major city. For most participants (including myself) long pre-dawn drives are necessary to reach our assigned areas by sunrise. I covered an area of private ranch land I estimate is about 100 acres. About a third is riparian woods and the rest is open grassland with a bit of marshy habitat.

It was well worth the effort to get there before dawn. I heard Barred Owls, Barn Owls, and Pileated Woodpeckers. I first heard, then saw and photographed part of a group of wild turkeys roosting up in the trees. I spent the first two hours of daylight walking along a berm next to some marshy habitat and enjoyed lots of bird activity. Swamp Sparrows, Marsh Wrens, and Sedge Wrens were numerous. And I heard a few Soras and two Virginia Rails. Here's my eBird list for this area:

After the active early morning, I walked a 2.5 mile circuit through dense riparian woods with a neat mixture of trees and Dwarf Palmettos. Unfortunately the birding was extremely slow. I did find some neat Pileated Woodpecker holes. (See attached observation.) Here is my eBird list for this area:

I spent the afternoon driving truck trails on the south two-thirds of the area, stopping periodically to try and find birds. But the bird activity was still slow, and it remained slow for the rest of the day. Here is my eBird list for this area:

All day I only ran into one other person, one of the ranch hands. Even though only the first two hours of the day had lots of bird activity, it was still a blast to hike and drive around the place by myself all day long. I look forward to next year!

Here are my photos on Flickr:

Posted on 21 December, 2013 02:36 by mikaelb mikaelb | 16 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment