Journal archives for November 2015

15 November, 2015

Bird Language Observations 2015-11-15

I've been interested in Bird Language for the past year or so. As a learning aid for me and an easy way to share some concepts, I might try making journal posts here that are associated with eBird checklists, but reflect on Bird Language observations made while keeping the checklist.

eBird Checklist:
Weather: overcast and cool, in the mid-fifties, light wind
Where: backyard

As I started the checklist I heard a Cooper's Hawk call in the northwest corner of my backyard. I have often heard this call from that corner and I've never been sure if it's an actual Cooper's Hawk or a Blue Jay imitating one. (They often do.) I heard a second Cooper's Hawk call nearby from the north. (Neither was far away, just on the adjacent properties.) I could hear Carolina Chickadees and Black-crested Titmice calling to each other in a mixed-species flock nearby to the west. This sounded like base-line contact calling to me -- no urgency about it. So it would support the Cooper's Hawk calls being Blue Jays instead of a real threat to the chickadees and titmice. I walked over to my north fence line and was able to see Blue Jays in the areas the Cooper's Hawk calls came from. I didn't actually see the Blue Jays make the calls, but I was convinced it was them.

Blue Jays make noise all the time. It's hard to determine if they're actually alarming about something, trying to make other birds feel alarmed, or just in a baseline state. In fact, the Bird Language material says corvids are not good examples to learn from. But I can't resist watching them and listening to them anyway, and thinking about it. Later, over my south fence line a Blue Jay was casually calling (the jeer call) at a slow rate without a pattern. Across the street to the east another Blue Jay started jeer calling in a much more regular and slightly faster pattern. Immediately the first bird jeered a couple times in a much more frantic sounding tone and flew towards the second bird. I walked over to investigate and by that time all the Blue Jays were quiet but active in the tree tops, seemingly foraging and in baseline. Was this an actual short alarm? I don't know. But it makes me think that the subtleties to their jeer calls are very significant. A recent thought I've had is that often these casual-sounding jeer calls are long-distance contact calls, much louder than the soft contact calls small songbirds make to each other in foraging flocks.

Posted on 15 November, 2015 18:01 by mikaelb mikaelb | 3 comments | Leave a comment

22 November, 2015

CAMN Class 2015-11-21

Saturday was the first day of instruction for the 2016 Capital Area Master Naturalist class which I'm excited to be a part of. It was at the Austin Nature Center. Attached are a few observations made during our photography break.

Posted on 22 November, 2015 20:29 by mikaelb mikaelb | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Nalle Bunny Run Group Walk 2015-11-22

Only five folks joined me for this month's group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. It was a cold and clear morning: 36 degrees when I arrived at about 8:15 AM, and it only reached about 50 when we finished at 11:30. The lack of wind and the warm sunlight made it comfortable. We found 29 species of birds and here are some highlights.

We walked the west loop trail first, because I hoped there would be more bird activity in this more open habitat-type earlier in the morning. This turned out to be a good move. We got close to a mixed species foraging flock of songbirds, and some pishing brought it closer to us. The flock included kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, a Bewick's Wren, a small group of Chipping Sparrows, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. A couple more times in this area we heard other foraging flocks calling in the distance. It was good exposure to what winter central Texas bird life is like in the woods.

Brief looks at uncommon species included a Pine Warbler and Spotted Towhee on the west trail, a pair of Wood Ducks in the pond, and a Ringed Kingfisher on the cypress trees by the lake.

On the sandy prairie area we got good but distant looks at an American Kestrel and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker. And we got to watch an Osprey hunting over the lake. We even got to see it dive into the water after a fish! Here's the only photo I took. It's of one of two Golden-fronted Woodpeckers we found:

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Here's our complete bird list:

What a fun morning!

Posted on 22 November, 2015 21:08 by mikaelb mikaelb | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

28 November, 2015

Charlie's Pasture 2015-11-27

In what has become a Thanksgiving tradition for me, I spent yesterday morning birding the long (over one mile) boardwalk of the Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie's Pasture. For the past several years I've always enjoyed taking a break from the holiday to experience the wide open tidal flats here. And I think it's an important place to record complete eBird checklists from time to time. So many birds use this preserve, including declining species like Reddish Egret, Piping Plover, and Snowy Plover. And in late November it has always been a thrill to experience the thousands of ducks flying over, sometimes in flocks so large they look like smoke in the distance.

Yesterday there were far fewer ducks than in previous years. I recorded about 2000 total, compared to 5000 to 8000 in the past. I did not observe any small plovers (Piping, Semipalmated, Snowy) probably because there was much more water on the flats compared to previous years. So there wasn't as much drier habitat that the small plovers like. Despite these reductions, there were higher-than-normal counts of a few other species which was interesting.

Where the boardwalk starts its first long run over the tidal flats I encountered an extremely active feeding group of about 20 Greater Yellowlegs. I don't think I saw any Greater Yellowlegs outside of this group, only scattered Lessers on the rest of my walk. Here's a photo of most of the group with a Snowy Egret towering over them:

Snowy Egret with Greater Yellowlegs

I recorded 76 Reddish Egrets which eBird flagged as unusually high. Once I got about two thirds down the boardwalk, these birds just kept adding up as I scanned southwest with my scope. And I added over half of this count scanning southwest from the covered bench on Salt Island. I saw both color morphs and didn't record how many of each, but I think there were more white morph birds. Here are photos of each:

Reddish Egret - 1

Reddish Egret - 2

eBird also flagged my count of 50 Tricolored Herons as unusually high. 42 of these birds were all in a single group -- the largest feeding flock of these birds I've ever seen. I observed this group from the observation tower on Salt Island, looking southeast at the far edge of the pond it overlooks. These birds were extremely active, constantly walking or running or even flying short distances as they foraged. The group included a few Little Blue Herons and two Roseate Spoonbills. Here are two poor photos I took with my iPhone through my spotting scope. You can see the density of these birds!

Tricolored Heron Feeding Flock - 1

Tricolored Heron Feeding Flock - 2

For the past couple years I've gotten interested in dragonflies, but winter is not a good time of year to find them. The only two I saw were a Variegated Meadowhawk and a Common Green Darner. (See the attached observation of the meadowhawk.)

I cover this preserve for the Port Aransas Christmas Bird Count (which will be December 14 this year). So this walk also serves as a good scouting trip. If you visit Port Aransas, check this preserve out! But be sure to allocate enough time to walk the boardwalk. If you're a birder, be sure to bring your spotting scope. And bring along some mosquito repellant!

Attached are my iNat observations, and here is my complete eBird checklist:

Posted on 28 November, 2015 23:41 by mikaelb mikaelb | 17 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment