Journal archives for December 2015

08 December, 2015

Bird Language Observations 2015-12-08

I spent 40 minutes observing birds in my backyard this morning from 7:23 to 8:03. It was very quiet. I didn't notice any obvious break from baseline during the whole observation. Here are some reflections that may or may not be Bird Language related.

eBird Checklist:
Weather: clear and cool, 46 degrees when I started, little or no wind
Where: backyard

Some small winter-resident or year-round-resident songbirds I often see flying over the trees in groups, obviously just getting from point A to point B. These include American Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings, House Finches, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. (The groups of Yellow-rumped Warblers are always small. Sometimes just single birds and sometimes as many as 7 or 8.) Other small songbirds I never see flying over the trees in traveling groups like this: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Carolina Chickadee, Black-crested titmouse. I only see them moving from tree to tree as they forage, or foraging in the same tree.

European Starlings were gathering in small groups at the tops of trees and calmly vocalizing. A couple times I seemed to notice one group responding to another. This is very common behavior I've seen on all my morning observations. Are these small family groups? Are they waiting for the sun to get higher and the temperature to warm up before they start foraging?

Late in the observation at 7:56, only once and pretty quietly, I heard the Blue Jay imitating a Cooper's Hawk from the same northwest corner of my yard where I usually hear it. I've never heard this from another direction.

I finally heard a single Carolina Wren shortly after. I noticed that the sun was just starting to reach the tops of the fences. Was this ground-liking bird waiting for the sun to reach it before it got its day started?

Here's my eBird checklist:

Posted on 08 December, 2015 14:20 by mikaelb mikaelb | 2 comments | Leave a comment

13 December, 2015

Banded Plovers on Mustang Island 2015-11-29

On the morning of 11/29/2015 I spent about 3 hours birding-by-car about 7 miles of beach on Mustang Island starting at Access Road 1 and ending at Access Road 2. Here's my eBird list:

Highlights included a Lesser Black-backed Gull that has been wintering on this beach for several years now, and two adult-plumaged Aplomado Falcons, probably from the release program at Mustang Island State Park.

I'm using this journal post to document banded wintering plovers that I photographed on that morning. I recorded 67 Piping Plovers and 28 Snowy Plovers. Of those, 21 Piping Plovers and 1 Snowy Plover were banded. Tony Amos has been surveying this stretch of beach for decades and has extensive records of these banded birds. One is this Piping Plover:

Banded Piping Plover

Tony first observed this bird in 2003 and has documented it returning every winter to the same 100m of beach since then! I was with him a couple of those times, once in 2012:

Banded Piping Plover - 1

and once again in 2014:
Piping Plover 19 - 1

Attached are observations for this bird and all the other banded plovers I photographed that morning. It's especially interesting when you switch to Map View. What an important place the Texas beach is to these birds! Soon I'll figure out how to report them to the banders.

Posted on 13 December, 2015 19:28 by mikaelb mikaelb | 21 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

16 December, 2015

Port Aransas Christmas Bird Count 2015

Yesterday I participated in the Port Aransas, Texas Christmas Bird Count, a CBC I've done for many years now. I covered my usual section, the Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie's Pasture with Warren Pulich Jr, who founded this count back in the 1970s. We spent most of the day on the preserve and then spent about an hour at the end of the day on the South Jetty. Warren and I found 94 species of birds and here are some highlights.

On the Nature Preserve in the morning the most interesting bird was a Cassin's Sparrow, a species that used to be much more common in the area but is now rarely observed. Warren and I both got the impression of a Field Sparrow without a pink bill. Unfortunately it was a brief view and I wasn't able to photograph it. Another exciting observation was two Peregrine Falcons fighting in the sky over the mud flats. We could hear them vocalize as they dove at each other, but they were too distant for my camera.

It's a good year for Pyrrhuloxia! We counted at least 5 in the Nature Preserve and several other groups on the count observed this species as well. Here's one of the five:


Despite its name, this Common Ground-Dove is an increasingly unusual bird for Port Aransas, and we were excited to get a pretty good look at this one:

Common Ground Dove

It's always a treat to see the thousands of ducks, mostly Redheads and Northern Pintails, that winter in this area. Here's a shot of a few hundred in the sky on the other side of the ship channel. You have to look closely in the sky to see the flocks:

Duck Flocks

In the early afternoon we saw a single small wild pig trotting across the flats. Warren remarked that it was dangerous for this small pig to be by itself out in the open, and we wondered what it was doing out there:
Feral Pig

A few minutes later Warren spotted a coyote casually following the pig, and even nipping at it a couple times. I guess the pig was just a little too big for a single coyote to take on, and the pig eventually disappeared into the brush and the coyote didn't follow. Here's the only photo I got of the two animals interacting, a distant shot with my iPhone through my spotting scope:

Coyote and Feral Pig - 1

The hour we spent on the South Jetty in the afternoon was uneventful, but we enjoyed seeing the common birds in the beautiful late afternoon light. I was happy to get this photo of a flying Brown Pelican:

Brown Pelican

It was a fun day in just about perfect clear weather. The temperature ranged from the upper 40s to the low 70s, and wind was light. What a great day to be outdoors counting birds! When we met with the other groups our unofficial total for the whole count was 174 species.

UPDATE: Co-compiler Joan Holt posted that the official total for the Port Aransas CBC is 182 species!

Posted on 16 December, 2015 01:40 by mikaelb mikaelb | 18 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

20 December, 2015

eBird Checklist Entry Shortcuts.

For various reasons, I've been keeping my Christmas Bird Count checklists on paper in the field and entering them into eBird later. This can be much less time-consuming thanks to some clever shortcuts and hotkeys that eBird has built into their user interface for entering data. This article is definitely worth a read if you enter eBird data using their web site:

When transferring a paper bird list to eBird, you can go down the bird species on your paper list in the order you wrote them down without ever taking your hands off the keyboard!

Posted on 20 December, 2015 16:50 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Guadalupe Delta Christmas Bird Count 2015-2016

On Thursday, December 17 I participated in the Guadalupe River Delta Christmas Bird Count. The count circle includes the small town of Tivoli in its southern edge and covers the Womack Ranch and over 10 miles of the Guadalupe River. Brent Ortego with Texas Parks and Wildlife organizes this count and the more famous Mad Island Marsh count (on Matagorda Island) which are usually the second and first highest-species counts in the nation. On the evening of count day with about half the teams reporting, the tally just broke 200 species. I'm waiting to hear what the final species count is.

This year I was assigned to the the Guadalupe River itself. I got to ride on a flat-bottomed boat generously provided by the Womack Ranch and driven by a the ranch foreman. We spent all day covering about 10 miles of the river. Here's the sunrise as I drove the dirt road to the ranch headquarters.

Sunrise headed towards the Womack Ranch

And here's my first view of the water, crossing a small man-made lake before we got onto the river itself:

Sunrise on Guadalupe River

As the photos suggest, the weather was gorgeous: partly cloudy skies, little or no wind, and temperatures ranging from low 40s in the morning to high 60s by mid-afternoon. It was a joy to be out on the river finding birds. This is in stark contrast to some past count days of cold wet misery I remember too well!

I birded from the boat (mostly by ear) and got out several times to make short forays into the woods. The habitat, of course, was dense riparian forest with scattered patches of palmetto. The water was high -- just below the top edge of the banks in most places and about even with the banks in others. Yellow-rumped Warblers and Eastern Phoebes were ubiquitous along the banks everywhere we went. I counted 280 warblers and 46 phoebes, all in ones and twos, throughout the day. Other numerous species seemingly evenly spread out along the river were Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, White-winged Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Early on we encountered a bright male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that I thought was a Red-naped until I examined my photos that night. (See my photos in the attached observations below.)

I was most excited to find two Green Kingfishers on the river. This species has expanded its range north into Austin, but they are very hard to detect because they like to stay in dense brush at the edge of rivers and creeks. They are much easier to find when birding on the water than when birding on land. We found the first one in the morning. Can you find it in this photo?

Hidden Green Kingfisher

Here it is out in the open as we passed it by:
Green Kingfisher - 1

And here's the second bird we found in the afternoon:
Green Kingfisher - 3

Other highlights included Anhingas, Great Kiskadees, Pileated Woodpeckers, Couch's Kingbirds, Pine Warblers, hybrid titmice, and two lingering neotropical migrants: a female Black-and-white Warbler and this Least Flycatcher:
Least Flycatcher - 2

(This count is known for finding lingering neotropical migrants, and the above two species were actually expected finds.)

Here's my eBird checklist for the day.

Here are some additional photos.

And attached are all my iNaturalist observations. What a fun day!

Posted on 20 December, 2015 21:34 by mikaelb mikaelb | 15 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

24 December, 2015

Corpus Christi CBC 2015-2016

I participated in the Corpus Christi Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 19. I birded by myself all day on the Nueces River Delta Preserve. The weather was near perfect: low 40s in the morning and high 60s in the afternoon with partly cloudy skies and a southeast breeze that finally picked up to about 15 mph by late afternoon. I've had great luck with weather for my CBCs this year! I didn't realize until the end of the day that the preserve only offers public access through scheduled guided events, so being able to tromp around on the place by myself was a real privilege. I spent the day driving about 5 miles of truck trail through the grasslands and wetlands, spending most of my time on foot on short excursions from my SUV.

Truck Trail and Truck

This preserve is great for wildlife tracking! All the exposed sandy soil was covered with tracks, mostly from coyotes and White-tailed Deer. I also found tracks from raccoons, jackrabbits, cottontails, and even a few bobcats. Here's one of the bobcat tracks I was excited to find:

Birding highlights included large numbers of Sandhill Cranes and geese. There was another team strategically placed on the preserve to count geese, ducks, and cranes in flight until 9:00 AM, so my eBird list did not include these birds in flight before then. But it sure was fun seeing and hearing them! Here's a large group of Sandhills that I did count, which flew in late afternoon:

Sandhill Cranes

Other favorite birding moments included a hovering White-tailed Kite, finding a Cassin's Sparrow, watching a group of 8 or 9 Hooded Mergansers feeding, and seeing a Long-billed Thrasher. Here the images I captured:

White-tailed Kite Hovering - 3

Cassin's Sparrow - 2

Hooded Mergansers

Long-billed Thrasher - 2

I found two of these Horse Crippler cacti (Echinocactus texensis), one by stepping on it. I was wearing heavy rubber boots and a little later I started feeling something under my heel. One of the spines from the cactus I stepped on had worked its way through heel of my boot. I hope it's still waterproof! Here's the one I didn't step on:

Horse Crippler Cactus (Echinocactus texensis) - 2

Just as much fun as the birding was experiencing the landscape:

My Start of the Corpus CBC

Lake Pano

Washed Out Trail

Wind Generators and Birds

On the north edge of my area I reached a quite definite end of the road here, where oil workers were digging a trench:

The End of the Road

Here's my complete eBird checklist.

Here are most of these photos and a few more on Flickr.

And attached are all my iNaturalist observations which have a few more things.

Posted on 24 December, 2015 22:13 by mikaelb mikaelb | 20 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

27 December, 2015

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge CBC 2015-2016

On December 22 I participated in my fourth and probably last Christmas Bird Count of the season, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge count. I was part of a large team of 8-10 people. We piled into a refuge van and for most of the day a refuge staff member drove us down truck trails through the grasslands and oak mottes of the Black Jack Peninsula. We did most of our birding on foot, stopping at all the crossroads and splitting up into usually four groups for about an hour.

The morning was active, with the dense oak mottes full of bird sounds. But the birds rarely showed themselves and most of the morning birding was by ear. The mottes were full of Hermit Thrushes, Northern Cardinals, House Wrens, Gray Catbirds, and Northern Mockingbirds. The mockingbird was the most visible and seemed to be the dominant species. There was one perched on top of most oak mottes, and it would chase away any other bird that popped up. The grasslands were full of American Kestrels, Loggerhead Shrikes, Sedge Wrens, Savannah Sparrows, Lincoln's Sparrows, and a few Grasshopper Sparrows and Le Conte's Sparrows. Here's one of the Grasshopper Sparrows my group found:

Grasshopper Sparrow - 1

This refuge is famous for hosting the remaining wild Whooping Crane flock in the winter, and the morning was also full of Whooping Crane song! Every few minutes we would hear a family group vocalizing, sometimes followed by a response from another group nearby. I did not get to see any, but it sure was fun hearing them.

The most exciting bird for me was a beautiful male Pyrrhuloxia. We were standing in a truck trail and I was pishing and counting Lincoln's Sparrows that responded on one side of the trail. Then I turned around and saw this Pyrrhuloxia which had also responded:


This species has been common on the coast and in central Texas this winter, and many were found on this count. But it's a bird I don't get to see very often, so I was happy to find it.

Besides the kestrels, we did not see many birds of prey. We missed some of the specialty species for this area like White-tailed Kite and Aplomado Falcon. But in the afternoon we finally got a couple good looks at Merlins and White-tailed Hawks. Here are a couple photos:

Merlin - 2

White-tailed Hawk

I don't have our team's complete bird list, but here are the separate eBird lists I kept each time we split up from the main group. They're a good reflection of my experience in the morning and early afternoon:

Here are the photos I took, which include a few more than I embedded above:

Attached are the iNaturalist observations I made.

Posted on 27 December, 2015 18:28 by mikaelb mikaelb | 11 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment