Journal archives for May 2017

01 May, 2017

Port Aransas Big Sit 2017-04-30

Yesterday I participated in the Big Sit division of the Great Texas Birding Classic in my hometown Port Aransas, Texas. The Port Aransas Spoonbills' team site is the observation tower at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center. We had good luck with the weather -- after days of strong south winds, the night before our Big Sit the wind turned around and blew from the north all day long.

Watching a day go by from a single spot is an amazing experience that I didn't know about before participatingin a Big Sit. It's surprising how many species of birds you see. (Almost every year we see over 100.) We were treated to multiple waves of north-bound migrating birds flying over our brackish marsh site. Franklin's Gulls, Baltimore Orioles, and five kinds of swallows were the most numerous. But there were also kingbirds, buntings, Chimney Swifts, and many small songbirds we couldn't identify as they whizzed by on their way to their breeding grounds.

Here's one of the groups of Franklin's Gulls that we got to see go by. This was the only group that actually came down for a drink, and the only group that I noticed had their pinkish breeding color.
Franklin's Gulls - 2

Here are more photos on Flickr:

And attached are the same photos as observations.

Posted on 01 May, 2017 23:54 by mikaelb mikaelb | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

06 May, 2017

Baker Sanctuary 2017-05-06

This morning I spent over 3 hours covering about 2.5 miles of trails on the south half of Travis Audubon's Baker Sanctuary in northwest Austin. It was a beautiful cool and clear morning, and when I arrived at about 8:30 the birding was great! Many birds were singing including Painted Buntings, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Northern Cardinals, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos.

I followed a trail I hadn't been on before that paralleled Lime Creek Road and enjoyed lots of bird activity. A few spring migrants I found were Magnolia Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The grosbeak was especially fun to find because I heard its loud squeak call first, and thought it might be a rock squirrel before I saw the bird.

Most exciting was hearing some fast high chipping, and then finding a couple fledgling Golden-cheeked Warblers. Here's one of them:

Golden-cheeked Warbler Fledgling - 2

As I watched it through my camera, a male adult came in and fed it! I got this single photo showing them both:

Golden-cheeked Warbler Fledgling and Parent

Golden-cheeked Warblers is one of the main reasons the Baker Sanctuary exists, and I felt especially fortunate to be able to observe this species successfully reproducing here.

By about 10:00 AM the bird activity had slowed, and I walked a trail going down to Baker Creek. I found a few odonates including tantalizing looks at a dark dragonfly over my head that never landed. I think it was some kind of darner I've never seen before. By the creek this Great Spreadwing was fun to find:

Great Spreadwing

A few butterflies were about as well, and I was able to photograph a Monarch and this small sparkly Juniper Hairstreak:

Juniper Hairstreak

Here's my complete bird list:

And here are my photos on Flickr:

What a fun morning! I need to spend more time here!

Posted on 06 May, 2017 20:22 by mikaelb mikaelb | 13 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

21 May, 2017

Nalle Bunny Run 2017-05-20

After early morning storms, only 4 people out of 12 who registered braved the risk of rain on Saturday morning and joined me for the monthly group bird and nature walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve. We spent about 1.5 hours walking on the preserve and looking for birds while I carefully watched the weather radar. We returned to the gate just as the rain started, and despite cutting the walk short, we found 29 species of birds.

Birding after a storm this time of year can be especially exciting because just-passing-through migrating birds might stop in patches of good habitat. We saw this effect on Saturday morning, especially in one spot on the west side of the preserve. While stopping to look at a couple summer-resident White-eyed Vireos, we stayed put as three species of migrants joined them: Black-throated Green Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and 2 Wilson's Warblers. A little further down the trail we found an Eastern Wood-Pewee. But my favorite moment was when someone noticed circling gulls rising above the trees. They were about 50 Franklin's Gulls gaining altitude before they flew off to the north, on their way from the west coast of South America up to their breeding grounds in Canada.

Newly returned summer residents also made a good showing. We got to see and hear Summer Tanagers at close range, and we saw at least 3 different male Painted Buntings. White-eyed Vireos and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were heard during the entire walk, and we got to hear one Red-eyed Vireo. (The male Yellow-throated Warbler was conspicuously absent from the cypress trees by the lake.)

Since my camera isn't waterproof, I left it in the car. So the only photo I took was with my iPhone of this native species of milkweed we found called Pearl Milkweed. See the iNaturalist observation attached below.

Here's our complete bird list:

Posted on 21 May, 2017 20:28 by mikaelb mikaelb | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

28 May, 2017

Charlie's Pasture North 2017-05-27

Saturday morning starting at around 8:30 I spent about 3.5 hours birding the north section of the Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie's Pasture. I started at the pavilion and walked the trail and boardwalk south, down to Salt Island and back. This time of year there are still some birds migrating north, and the Texas coast is famous for the number of north-bound migrating birds that can be seen here in May. But now, late in May, our year-round and summer resident birds have started nesting. And the change in behavior and sometimes appearance I got to observe in these birds this morning was dramatic!

Many of the birds that use this preserve for breeding desperately need its protection because they nest on the ground. Nesting on the ground has become harder and harder for these birds as human development and recreational land use continues to expand into new areas. Even just walking off-trail here negatively affects their nesting success.

A few of our year-round resident Black-necked Stilts and Willets must have selected nest sites close to the northern part of the boardwalk, because as I walked through this area they made constant alarm calls and flights. The Black-necked Stilts were even flying up to chase and scold other birds that flew by too closely, including the huge Magnificent Frigatebirds! Here are a couple shots I got:

Black-necked Stilt chasing Magnificent Frigatebird - 2

Above, you can see the frigatebird looking to its left at the approaching stilt. And below you can see them closer together.

Black-necked Stilt chasing Magnificent Frigatebird - 1

I've seen Black-necked Stilts nest by the boardwalk at the Turnbull Birding Center, and they didn't mind people nearby at all. Maybe the number of people at Charlie's Pasture is low enough that the stilts over here haven't gotten used to them yet.

After having reached the observation tower on Salt Island and starting to head back, a pair of summer-resident Least Terns scolded me and made a few close fly-bys, including diving at me a couple times. Here's the only photo I got:

Least Tern

Later I saw a different pair of Least Terns in their courtship phase on the ground. Surrounded by dried out algal mats, the male offers a fish to the female:

Least Terns

A little further up the boardwalk I got to see an interaction between two of our year-round resident small plovers. I started to hear the low purring calls of a Snowy Plover and looked off to the right to see two small birds chasing each other. A Snowy Plover was charging and chasing a substantially bigger Wilson's Plover, which showed no signs of fighting back. Here are some shots of the action:

Snowy Plover Chasing Wilson's Plover - 2

Snowy Plover Chasing Wilson's Plover - 5

Snowy Plover Chasing Wilson's Plover - 6

Snowy Plover Chasing Wilson's Plover - 1

Snowy Plovers seem so quiet and meek when I see them wintering on the beach. It was so interesting to see this aggressive behavior from one.

Back near the north end of the boardwalk, the Black-necked Stilts were quiet, but the pair of Willets was even louder and more aggressive than before. They repeatedly called and approached me on the ground and in the air! I am used to seeing these birds in their dull gray and white winter plumage, so it was a treat to see them covered in the warm brown streaks and speckles of their breeding plumage:

Willet Scolding - 1

Willet Scolding - 1

Some of the north-bound migrants still coming through included Wilson's Phalarope, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Stilt Sandpiper, and Ruddy Turnstone. It was nice to hear and then see a singing Painted Bunting, a species usually associated with spring migration that also breeds here on the preserve.

Some cool insect observations included many Seaside Dragonlets, a small species of dragonfly that can breed in brackish water. The females are dramatically patterned with black and orange:

Seaside Dragonlet

And I found two species of Tiger Beetles, a fast moving predatory beetle that likes bare sandy areas. Here's a White-cloaked Tiger Beetle:

White-cloaked Tiger Beetle (Cicindela togata) - 3

And I don't know what this one is yet:

Tiger Beetle

Here's my complete eBird list:

And a few more photos on Flickr:

Posted on 28 May, 2017 20:26 by mikaelb mikaelb | 22 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

29 May, 2017

Two Turtles in Port Aransas 2017-05-29

Late afternoon on this Memorial Day I wasn't expecting to observe two turtles in my parents' backyard in Port Aransas! At around 4:30 while reading a book on the back porch I saw something moving in the grass about the size of a gopher or rat. Through my binoculars I could see that it was a turtle, and I got very interested when I could see that it was not a Red-eared Slider.

I walked over to it and took a few photos. My favorite is this one when it was extending its neck to see over the grass around it:

Yellow Mud Turtle (Kinosternon flavescens) - 1

I'm pretty sure it's a Yellow Mud Turtle. Last night we got lots of rain, and a low spot that is sometimes a pond had water in it through he morning. I wonder if this turtle had been underground, and came out after the rain to find a new place to live.

Later at around 5:30 my mom spotted a turtle at the edge of the backyard from her kitchen window. I wondered if it might be the same one, but when I saw it I saw that it had the shape of a box turtle. I walked over to it to take some iPhone photos. As I got close I could hear some crunching, and I saw that it was eating the yellow fruits of a plant. Can anyone identify the plant?

Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) - 1

The turtle is an Ornate Box Turtle. It's only the second time I've seen one here, and the first was just the remains of a presumably road-killed one. I was happy this one was doing fine!

Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) - 4

Posted on 29 May, 2017 23:24 by mikaelb mikaelb | 3 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment