Sunday, August 26, 2012

August Birding

I haven't had an opportunity to do too much birding in the last few weeks.  August in Texas is, well, August in Texas.  There are definitely good birds to be found, but the motivation required to get out and find them in 100 degree heat has been lacking for me lately.  That said, I have made a few outings and seen some nice things.

A quick trip to Hornsby Bend failed to turn up a Tricolored Heron; I think I may be the only birder in Travis county without that bird on their list this year.  I've looked for them numerous times at Roy Guerrero Park and Hornsby, but have come up blank each time.  Hornsby did offer some decent shorebirding, with good looks at Baird's, Pectoral, and the ubiquitous Least Sandpipers.  The Purple Martin fledglings were perched on the wires, somehow surviving the heat of the day.

Purple Martin

I spent the better part of 7 hours on a Saturday with a good friend, trudging up the roads of eastern Travis county.  We dipped on our goal birds of Roseate Spoonbill, Long-billed Curlew, and Wood Stork.  We had also hoped to turn up Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrasher, but we knew that all of those birds were a long shot at best.  We thought we might have had a LBCU, but it was flying away from us at a distance, and although I hauled ass after it on the county roads, it never turned its head to give us a view of the bill.  As a consolation, we were offered great looks at a Crested Caracara and we had Upland Sandpipers scattered throughout the day, most impressively 8 of them in someone's front yard.

Crested Caracara

Upland Sandpiper

Last weekend, I joined Mikael B. at his Nalle Bunny walk.  The birds were good; we had Yellow-throated Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, 2 Great Horned Owls, and a vocalizing Red-tailed Hawk.  Yesterday, I joined a friend for a survey at Travis Audubon's Blair Woods Preserve.  Birds of note were a Cooper's Hawk, an Indigo Bunting, four Inca Doves, and two Baltimore Orioles.  We also came across a very small Green Tree Frog.

Green Tree Frog

Inca Dove
I made a quick stop at Colorado River Wildlife preserve afterwards, still hoping for a Tricolored Heron.  Alas, the heron was not there, but there were some decent birds and the odonates were all around.  The next few weeks should begin to get interesting, as early migrants are beginning to make there way down south.  In the last week, Austin has seen Prairie, Cerulean, and Worm-eating Warblers.

Common Whitetail

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Triangle Pond Breeders

I had about an hour to kill this morning before meeting up with some friends, so I took the opportunity to check out what was going on at Triangle Pond.  I hadn't birded there before, but I know that some decent things have shown up in the past, including Purple Gallinule and breeding Least Grebes.  There wasn't too much diversity, but it was nice to see two species of ducks, Black-bellied Whistlers, and Wood Ducks, tending to their young.

Wood Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
In addition to the ducks, I found a Red-eared Slider camouflaging itself in the algae, a pair of Monk Parakeets raising hell, several Cliff Swallows dipping in on the pond, and a couple of Green Herons.

Red-eared Slider

Female Wood Duck with chick
I left the pond to meet up with some friends at Dart Bowl.  The bowling never actually happened, but I was able to get a good look at some Barn Swallows who had built nests under the entrance.

Barn Swallow fledgling

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Valley

Ok, so here's the thing about the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  It's kind of like stepping off of a plane into a different country.  Now it's actually only about six hours from my house, but in that six hours, both the flora and fauna change into something tropical.  The Valley is the only place in the states to reliably see several species of birds.  And seriously, these birds are some of the most beautiful ones you can see in the country.  To borrow a word from a friend, birding in the Valley is like birding in "technicolor."  Don't believe me?  Check out this live feeder cam from the first park I visited.

Plain Chachalaca

So, my first stop was Sabal Palm Sanctuary, one of the last remaining Sabal Palm forests in the country.  Before I even made it to the visitors office, I spotted an Olive Sparrow and heard several Couch's Kingbirds making their noisy PREEEEER call.  Once I got my bearings, I headed out on several trails.  A family of Groove-billed Anis were noisily making their way through some trees.  I worked my way down to the pond, spotting several Long-billed Thrashers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and White-tipped Doves along the way.  At the pond, I was happy to see several Great Kiskadees flying in and out among the Least Grebes, Common Gallinules, and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

Groove-billed Ani

After Sabal Palm, I quickly checked into my hotel before heading out near dusk to Resaca de la Palma State Park.  My goal here was to find a Common Pauraque.  I checked out the park for a good bit as the sun started to drop and the Common Nighthawks became active.  As I worked my way to the parking lot where most of the nightjar activity was centered, I kept my ears open for the call of the Pauraque.  Spoiler alert - I didn't find the bird.  What I did see was more unexpected and ended up being the highlight of the day.  As the Common Nighthawks weren't in full voice yet, I was paying close attention to the look of the birds as they whizzed around.  After about fifteen minutes of this, one bird flew past that stood out.  It was a wee bit smaller than the surrounding Common Nighthawks, but much buffier under the wings with a much more distal under wing bar.  It was a Lesser Nighthawk!  I had thought that I might run into this bird at some point on the trip, but I definitely hadn't considered it a sure bet.  Satisfied with those looks, I headed back to the hotel for a good rest before another day of birding.

Couch's Kingbird

The following morning, I was up at the crack of dawn and on my way to Santa Ana NWR.  I spent a couple of hours at the refuge, some of the time being spent with a really nice dude from Oklahoma.  We had good looks at Green Jays, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Plain Chachalacas, and a Clay-colored Thrush tending to its nest.  After Santa Ana, I headed to Estero Llano Grande State Park.  This place was great.  There were some nice mudflats with just enough water to house several shorebirds.  Black-necked Stilts, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Stilt Sandpipers were some of the shorebird highlights.  I had heard that Estero was my best bet to see a day roosting Common Pauraque.  Nightjars tend to be active at night and spend the days sleeping on the ground.  Because of this, they are very well camouflaged and difficult to see.  The park staff offered me several ideas of where to search for the bird, and I diligently set about looking near Alligator Pond.  As I was scanning the ground under some trees, something caught my eye.  I leaned in a little closer and, sure enough, the Pauraque flushed up and back about ten feet before settling down again.  I was through the roof with excitement and was able to study the bird for about twenty minutes.

Common Pauraque

I headed back to the hotel a bit early, so I would be prepared for the pelagic the next day.  As I was sitting in my room, kicking myself about the birds I wasn't seeing, I heard a distinctive call outside the window.  I grabbed my binoculars and rushed out to my balcony just in time to see small flock of Green Parakeets flying across the highway.  Not only did I luck into the 'keets from my balcony, I also noticed a Harris's Hawk perched on a pole.  Two great birds from my hotel balcony were more than enough to keep me satisfied until the pelagic left the next morning.

Great Kiskadee

Ok, so we already talked about the pelagic.  Good times.  One thing I didn't want to miss out on during my trip was the Red-crowned Parrot roost near my hotel.  I headed that way after the pelagic, racing through the streets of Brownsville, where apparently, you are supposed to subtract ten miles per hour off of the speed limit.  Despite the pandemonium of driving 25 mph, I made it to the park in time to check out the parrots.  These things are beautiful.  Loud as hell, but beautiful.  The Red-crowned Parrots and the Green Parakeets are, at least to some extent, likely to be Mexican originated birds, displaced by habitat loss.  Regardless of their origin, they are a sight to see, especially in such an urban setting.

Red-crowned Parrots

Long-billed Thrasher

So anyways...if you take anything out of this, it should be that the Valley is badass.  Get on it.  See some birds.  Have good times.