Journal archives for July 2020

09 July, 2020

Walburg BBS 2020-06-07

Among many other much greater disappointments and concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the USGS Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) was officially cancelled for 2020. At the time (April 10), USGS staff could not enter their offices and most of the country was shut down. But by late May the world had learned a little more about the virus, and we all had learned more about how to do things safely. I started thinking about running my BBS route anyway. This would be the fourth time running this route, which is northeast of Austin on 25 miles of back roads south of Granger Lake.

On May 30 Joanna Rabiger and I scouted the route, and on June 7 I did the survey according to protocol. (The protocol is to drive the 25 mile route and stop at 50 specific points. At each point record all the birds you see or hear for 3 minutes.) Here are some highlights from the survey, starting with this moonlit agricultural field at the first point just before 6 AM. The lights of Weir, TX are in the background. (Where? Weir!)

Moon from Survey Point 1

For the fourth year in a row, at point 3 a local guineafowl confronted me and expressed its disapproval. This time I captured it on video. Click to watch:

Guinea Fowl at Point 3

Here are some species that I don't usually see in my neighborhood in Austin, but that breed out here in the more open habitat. Most are in decline, especially Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Meadowlark, and Loggerhead Shrike. I included how many points I detected at least one:

Northern Bobwhite: 1 (at point 11)
Horned Lark: 1
Eastern Meadowlark: 3
Dickcissel: 14
Lark Sparrow: 7
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: 9
Painted Bunting: 13
Loggerhead Shrike: 2

The bobwhite, Horned Lark, and meadowlarks were heard-only during the survey. But a week earlier Joanna and I were treated to this view of a Horned Lark. Maybe it was the same one I heard on the survey!

Horned Lark - 1 - 3

For each point, there's a box you can check on the survey form if some kind of "excessive noise" affected your ability to hear birds. I had to check this box for point 36 because this contraption was circling above me:

Helicopter at Point 36 - 1 - 2

A few points later I parked on the shoulder of the road in tall grass, which is often necessary during this survey. When I drove back onto the road, I heard a rubbing sound and felt resistance. When I got out of the car to inspect, I saw a partially folded tire sticking out of my right front wheel well. I briefly panicked thinking it was a catastrophic flat tire! But when I looked closer I realized that my tire was still on the rim and just fine. I had driven over an abandoned tire hidden in the tall grass, and it had rotated up into the top of the wheel well where it was crammed between the top of my tire and the fender. It was stuck in there good, but I tried slowly backing up, and the old tire came right back out the way it had gone in. I briefly thought about tossing it back in the tall grass, but I threw it into the back of my Subaru instead. I didn't know how I was going to dispose of it yet but I'd figure something out.

The rest of the survey was uneventful. I finished point 50 at about 11:30 and had a picnic lunch on the side of the gravel road. I took this selfie:

Survey Point 50 Selfie

On my way home I stopped at a big tire store on the highway and they accepted the old tire I'd found to dispose of it properly.

I don't know if the USGS will accept my data this year, but it's here if they want it. I could also enter it into eBird if I feel ambitious enough to create 50 eBird locations. Regardless, I considered it a morning well-spent. The beautiful views, the ritual of the survey protocol, and the nature connection temporarily overcame my pandemic worry.

Attached are observations from both the scouting day and the survey day.

Posted on 09 July, 2020 23:05 by mikaelb mikaelb | 13 observations | 4 comments | Leave a comment

13 July, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-07-12

Hill Country Conservancy staffers Sarah Dean and Carolyn Stephens met me on their Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve Sunday morning to record our fifth virtual tour of the property. Here are some highlights from this very warm and humid morning. (I'll update this post when the video is posted.)

Near the gate we heard a Painted Bunting singing. We waited a bit and the bird flew into view, and then a second Painted Bunting joined it. This was surprising because both were mature males, who normally would be chasing each other off each other's territories. But they seemed to coexist just find and even flew away still loosely associated and going in the same direction. Maybe it's late enough in the season that they've stopped being territorial until next year? Here's one of them:

Painted Bunting - 1 - 2

On the sandy prairie near the northeast corner of the preserve, we had just finished photographing a Neon Skimmer dragonfly when another large insect flew in and landed on a grape vine. While it flew we were stunned by its metallic green and blue colors. After it landed we saw it also had orange legs and incredibly long antennae. It looked like a member of the Long-horned Beetle family (Cerambycidae) but I had never seen one like this! It turned out to be a Bumelia Borer and I can't wait to learn more about this dazzling animal. Here's one of my photos:

Bumelia Borer - 1 - 4

One of the prevalent plants on the sandy prairie area is croton, and it was in bloom and being pollinated by a variety of insects including bees, flies, and wasps. Many people don't realize that many wasps feed on nectar and pollen as adults, and thus are important pollinators. Here's one I photographed that the iNaturalist community has tentatively identified as a Five-banded Thynnid Wasp:

Wasp on Croton - 2

The most exciting part of the morning came on the west side of the preserve in the deciduous woods habitat area. Carolyn and I were looking at an empty cicada shell when Sarah spotted a large bird flying through the woods. I was too late to see it but then we all saw a second bird fly in the same direction. It was a juvenile Great Horned Owl. We went into the woods to see if we could find these birds and we were lucky to find one, awkwardly perched on a tree trunk and nervously watching us. In the middle of the photo, you can just barely see one of its massive talons!

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls are amazingly adaptable birds of prey that can live in urban and suburban habitats as well as more natural areas. Juvenile birds are seen more often because they haven't learned how to be as sneaky and wary of people yet.

In addition to the owls, I ended up recording 27 species of birds.
Here's our complete list on eBird.

Here are these photos and more from the morning posted on Flickr.

And attached are most of these same photos as iNaturalist observations.

Update 2020/07/17: Here's the video:

Posted on 13 July, 2020 20:27 by mikaelb mikaelb | 18 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment