Journal archives for December 2018

21 December, 2018

Corpus Christi CBC 2018-12-15

My first Christmas Bird Count this season was the Corpus Christi count. Like last year I was fortunate to spend it on the Angelita Ranch in the northwest part of the count circle. This year Joan and Scott covered roughly the south part of the ranch and I and Mel Cooksey covered the north part. I've never spent much time birding with Mel and it was a real treat to be around such an experienced birder.

The ranch let us use a Polaris UTV to drive the truck trails and we mostly birded dense patches of low trees and brush both upland and along the Nueces River. We'd periodically stop the UTV and play an Eastern Screech-Owl recording to see what birds responded. And it was a big treat for me to hear and sometimes see south-Texas specialties and southwestern birds that responded, like Long-billed Thrashers, Verdin, and Green Jays. We were lucky to hear and then briefly see a pair of Audubon's Orioles at one stop. Here's a poor photo I got of one of them:

Audubon's Orioles - 1

By the river the composition of birds we attracted with the screech-owl recording changed a bit, and started to include a few Carolina Wrens, Pine Warblers, and even a couple Nashville Warblers. The bird of the day was this striking warbler which Mel spotted and first identified as a Northern Parula:

Northern Parula - 1

After some analysis of the photos and research by Mel, we first thought it was a hybrid Northern/Tropical Parula, but now we think that despite its eye-arcs this is a Tropical Parula. Consensus here on iNaturalist agrees. (See the attached observation.) What an interesting bird!

Other birds it was especially fun to see included Anhingas, Couch's Kingbirds, lots of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Sandhill Cranes. Sometimes we could only hear the cranes in the distance, sometimes they were flying overhead, and once we got close enough to a group on the ground to get this shot:

Sandhill Cranes on Ground

I don't have our official tally, but Mel and I spent most of a fun day finding over 60 species of birds. Here we are in the UTV:

Me and Mel in Polaris

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Posted on 21 December, 2018 21:39 by mikaelb mikaelb | 19 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

23 December, 2018

Port Aransas Christmas Bird Count 2018-12-17

Once again I got to participate in my original hometown's Christmas Bird Count this year, the Port Aransas CBC on December 17. This was its 42nd year! This year I counted birds in Aransas Pass, the town on the mainland just west of Mustang Island. The count circle was created to include Aransas pass so we could get species that don't occur on the island, like most woodpeckers, Black Vulture, and many songbird species like Black-crested Titmouse and Carolina Wren.

I've never birded Aransas Pass, and the folks who used to cover this area were not available to share their experience. Aransas Pass has lots of good dense oak woods habitat, but it's almost all private property. I ended up relying on my iPhone to plan and perform the count. Before count day I drove around Aransas Pass and recorded possible good birding spots as GPS waypoints in my Gaia GPS app. On count day I drove to most of these points and at each one got out and counted birds. (I wore a reflective safety vest to look a little more official, and to be more visible to cars.)

Many points were just on roads in neighborhoods near dense woods. At each point I made a separate eBird location and checklist using the mobile eBird app. I used David Sibley's field guide app to play an Eastern Screech-Owl recording to attract songbirds at most points. Throughout the day I kept a paper list of birds I saw between points, and at the end of the day I put these birds on a new incidental eBird checklist. Then at the end of the day, using the Trips feature of the eBird iPhone app, I had my complete bird list. (Unfortunately at this time, the Android version of the eBird app does not have the Trips feature.)

To record effort, at the beginning of the day I started recording my path in the Gaia GPS app and reset my car's trip odometer. At the end of the day I had my car miles on the car's odometer, and got my foot miles by subtracting the car miles from the total miles on my phone's GPS path distance. Hours in car and on foot were estimated.

So how was the birding? It was pretty good for my first time in this area! I found 85 species and here are some highlights. The Don-Ell RV park was one of my first stops and it turned out to be great. In their pond were a pair of Mottled Ducks, Least Grebes, and this Anhinga:

Anhinga - 1

The dense woods and brush around their pond had lots of invasive Brazilian Pepper bushes and Chinese Tallow trees, but it also had lots of Gray Catbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Hermit Thrushes, and this first-winter Black-throated Green Warbler:

Black-throated Green Warbler - 1

At the neighborhood points I found lots of Eastern Phoebes, House Wrens, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Cardinals, a few Carolina Wrens, Black-crested Titmice, and White-eyed Vireos, a Pine Warbler, a Blue-headed Vireo, a Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and even had a flock of Snow Geese fly over me:

Snow Goose Flock - 1

The area around the Prairie View Cemetery was a good spot. I found a Loggerhead Shrike, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, three Vermilion Flycatchers, and my only Yellow-bellied Sapsucker of the day, eating Chinese Tallow Tree berries:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 1

Colleen Simpson (@colleenm) had previously created a Google Map of the Port Aransas count circle with all the separate areas marked. The day after the count I figured out how to add my Aransas Pass waypoints to it as a separate layer. Each has some notes about the spot. Hopefully we can build on Colleen's map to help us plan and improve the count in the future. Here were my Aransas Pass areas and waypoints:

Screen Shot 2018-12-23 at 1.28.44 PM

Here are a few more photos on Flickr. And see attached observations below.

Posted on 23 December, 2018 20:59 by mikaelb mikaelb | 21 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

26 December, 2018

White-cloaked Tiger Beetle in Texas

While I was participating in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Christmas Bird Count, I found this tiger beetle on the mud flats by St. Charles Bay:

White-cloaked Tiger Beetle (Eunota togata) - 1

A couple days later I uploaded it as an observation and identified it as a White-cloaked Tiger Beetle. I've seen this species a few times before on the Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie's Pasture. Later I noticed that the observation had automatically been added to the iNat project Texas Invertebrate Species of Conservation Need. This project tracks observations of invertebrates that are listed on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) list. Very interesting! And on this list this species is listed as occurring in the Chihuahuan Deserts ecoregion out in west Texas. But none of the Texas observations in iNaturalist are in this region. They are mostly along the coast in the Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes ecoregion.

Here are all the Texas observations.
(All Texas image records in are also from this ecoregion.)

So what's the story here? Did the Texas SGCN list mis-categorize this species? Is it only of conservation need within the Chihuahuan Deserts ecoregion? I don't know. But world-wide, there are currently only 36 observations in iNaturalist of this species, so I think it's probably of concern everywhere. I'll certainly keep my eyes out for it in the future, and I'd love to know more about its status.

I'm happy that this little investigation got me to read more about the Texas SGCN list, and about the Texas Conservation Action Plan it's a part of. I was impressed by how readable and accessible the list and the action plan are on TPWD's web site. I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about the big picture of conservation in Texas (and how you can be a part of it) to read at least the action plan overview document.

Also, I'm impressed with Tiger Beetles. They're a diverse, colorful, active, interesting, and accessible group of animals to observe.

Posted on 26 December, 2018 15:58 by mikaelb mikaelb | 1 observation | 5 comments | Leave a comment