Friday, November 23, 2012

Find That Bird!

Okay folks, I've got a game for you!  I'm already wearing my super flattering carnie costume, complete with bright yellow suspenders, a bedazzled vest, and years of regret and shame etched into the deepening cracks around my eyes.  So load up on funnel cake, 64 oz. sodas, and bad decisions, because here we go!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls!  Step right up and play Find That Bird!

I swear to you, there is a bird in here.

Same bird, different location.
Alright folks, did you find it?  Now, for those overachiever birders out there, prove yourselves by naming that bird!  I'll even give you a hint: ¡Hello!

(Fuck me, I can barely see it here.  Better zoom in!)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Houston...part 2

Continuing from the previous post about last weekend, I hit some spots in the Houston area while visiting for my niece's birthday.  Bear Creek Park has been harboring a Greater Pewee, a bird which I was unable to find, but was probably within 20 yards of me at some points, hidden in the tops of the trees.  Sneaky fucker.  The usual suspects were all around though; Red-headed and Downy Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pine and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Brown Creepers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and quite a few Red-breasted Nuthatches.  No complaints.  

Immature Red-headed Woodpecker

2012 Irruptive species champion - Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pine Warbler actin' a damn fool
Pine Warblers are like Republicans; a bit hard to come by in Austin, all over the fucking place in Houston

Brown Creeper

Another Brown Creeper, inconspicuously working its way up a tree

The ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warbler

Downy Woodpecker - notice the dark bars on the outer tail feathers, a diagnostic feature that separates them from Hairy Woodpeckers.  
I watched a Red-tailed Hawk in my sisters backyard for a bit as it caught a mouse, ate that shit to pieces, and then got harassed by a Northern Mockingbird.  Always fun to watch, and something that you don't have to leave the house for.

Nom nom nom nom nom... 
Fucker's still got blood on his bill.  How metal is that shit?

The standoff
On my way out of town, I stopped by Longenbaugh Rd. where people had been seeing Ferruginous Hawk and Ladder-backed Woodpecker.  The hawk was in flight when I arrived and I got decent, diagnostic looks until it flew back further and perched.  I saw the Ladder-backed Woodpecker as I was fixing to drive off; not a crazy bird for me, as they're all over western Travis Co., but the Harris Co. birders were pretty stoked to see it.

I swear that's a Ferruginous Hawk

Lots of Red-tailed Hawks on the drive home

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Big Surprise at Attwater

Alright, big weekend, which I'll have to break into two posts because I'm dragging ass right now and I have to x-ray a bunch of kids in the morning.  So, I went to the Houston area this weekend for my niece's birthday.  She's awesome.  We're best friends.  I'll dive into all that jazz later.  Just let it be known.

Sunup @ APCNWR

Anyways, I took Friday off of work and started the long weekend at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge.  My buddy Jake had suggested the refuge last weekend, and my ears perked up when he mentioned Ferruginous Hawk, Sprague's Pipit, and ammodramus sparrows.  So, I woke my happy ass up at 4 am Friday morning and hit the road, hopping up on coffee and nostalgically jamming Social Distortion as I cruised the 2 plus hours to Attwater.

SAVS #67,554

I got to the refuge right around sunup, parked, and started walking around "Pipit Trail."  I saw 4 or 5 Sprague's Pipits, which is super cool, but the name of the trail gave me visions of toads falling from the sky like that weird scene in Magnolia, and I kind of figured the pipits would be landing on my shoulder or something like that.  Quick looks at the birds were still pretty exciting.  The trail also gave me a Sedge Wren, a male and female Northern Harrier, Crested Caracaras, and about 5 large, mixed flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese and Snow Geese.  Theoretically, there could've been some Ross's Geese mixed in, but I was never able to pick one out.  Oh yeah, and there were about 80,000 Savannah Sparrows.

Can YOU pick out a Ross's Goose?  I sure as hell couldn't.
They just kept coming.  Tora! Tora! Tora!
After "Pipit Trail," I took the auto loop around the refuge, seeing another 80,000 Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Phoebes, Red-tailed Hawks, and those kind of things you'd expect.  Near the end of the auto loop, I caught up with a car which had been trudging along about 250 yards in front of me.  This dude's car was parked in the middle of the single-lane dirt road with the driver side door standing wide open.  I figured that anybody at the refuge this early in the morning is most likely either a serious birder or someone dumping a body.  Hoping against the latter, I parked and walked up to the guy who nonchalantly pointed ahead of him and said, "Mountain Bluebird."   What? Bullshit.  But no lie, there was a Mountain Fucking Bluebird hanging out on the side of the road.  

Pardon me, but what in fuck's sake are you doing here?
Look at that tail!
This pretentious little bird knows it's gorgeous.
That is the luckiest bird I've ever seen.  What are the odds that some random dude is going to find a bird like that at 8:30 on a Friday morning, AND that I'm just going to pull up behind him at some middle of nowhere wildlife refuge, some 2 1/2 hours from my house?  It turns out that the guy is Joe, and I've seen his name a bunch of times on TexBirds.  We watched the bird for a bit, flying a couple of times up to a tree and back down again, before we headed out.  The guy was super nice, and I tagged along with him further down the road as we looked for ammodramus sp.  After a bit of pishing, a Le Conte's Sparrow popped up and let us look at it for a short bit.

Le Conte's Sparrow.  I never thought they'd actually look as beautiful as they do in the field guides.
"We come on the Sloop John B..."
I love that spiky tail.
I know this is a lot of LCSP pictures, but seriously, how often do you get the chance to shoot a photo of one?
I left the refuge and headed towards Houston, which I'll get to later.  Seriously though, what I really loved about this trip was: A. Being on the road before sunup.  Yes, it's true.  I'm an unabashed morning person.  B. Looking at birds all by myself in the middle of nowhere.  It's the most peaceful thing I do.

Northern Harrier welcomes me to morning.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

things with wings...part 2

Did a couple of trips this weekend, checking out Pedernales Falls Saturday, and Commons Ford this morning. The most most amazing site at Pedernales Falls was a shitload of butterflies in the garden near the bird blind.  Completely fucking amazing; mostly Queens, with Monarchs, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Tawny Emperors, and Pipevine Swallowtails mixed in.  There were also quite a few sulphurs around, but I'm not going to demonstrate my Lepidopteric shortcomings by hazarding a guess.
Aforementioned "shitload" of butterflies
Painted Lady
Gulf Fritillary
Birdwise, things were good everywhere.  At Pedernales Falls, I had a Canyon Wren hanging out at the bird blind, darting in and out of some logs for a quick drink.  I also had some nice mixed flocks of Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers, lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and the obligatory single Golden-crowned Kinglet.
Canyon Wren, finally sitting still after about the 40th shot
Some kind of Kinglet, but fuck if I know what species.  Get it?!?!?!
Commons Ford was great.  I met up with my buddy Jake and his three year old daughter, who is ridiculously adorable, and who saved my ass by finding the lens cap that fell off of my binoculars.  10 points for the kiddo.  We bushwhacked for some ammodramus sparrows, seeing quite a few dart up, but unable to get diagnostic looks.  We also had a Common Raven, which always gets me excited, and good looks at the Merlin that's been hanging around.  


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wilco - American Bittern Foxtrot

Quick post.  I spent the better part of 10 hours yesterday at Fun Fun Fun Fest, singing, dancing, drinking, and getting my lungs and nose filled with dust and some sort of terrorist pollen that wouldn't let me sleep last night.  It was worth it.  Good friends, good jams, and good booze.  I tell you this not because I want you all to know how badass I am (most of you who know me realize that I carry a Catholic level of guilt around my neck at all times), but because I had made a conscience decision to recover this morning and to not go birding. knows where this is leading.

Around 9:30 or so, a text came through the Travis RBA message service from Mikael B., most likely the nicest birder in central Texas, the leader of two great monthly bird walks at Nalle Bunny Run and Lake Creek Trail, and the author of a blog that has been responsible for encouraging an entire neighborhood to notice birds.  Mikael and his group had found an American Bittern in Williamson County.  I haven't spent too much time birding WilCo, but the bird was only a half hour away, and I wasn't going to pass it up.  I ran into Mikael and his group, who graciously directed me to the bird, which was feeding in the open, offering ridiculous views.

Look at that stretched out neck!
Disproportionately, horrifyingly large feet.
Munching on an odonate, which it grabbed out of the air.
This thing is giving me the "Ojo."  Makes me wonder if this was its' first stop in Tejas.
Mikael told me that they had seen the bird eat at least 5 or 6 crawfish in their time watching it, and I saw it eat several more as well as at least one odonate.  I would assume that the bird most likely showed up early this morning after a long migratory trip last night and couldn't be bothered with the screaming Red-shouldered Hawks as it voraciously filled its stomach.  

Red-shouldered Hawks
I heard a negative report from later in the afternoon, so I'm glad I dragged my lazy ass out of bed to get a look.  Good times, indeed.