Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bluewater Highway

Leaving San Luis Pass, I drove the Bluewater Highway to Surfside. It was very windy and the birds flighty.  I tried to get photos of the birds I saw on the lines, but as soon as I slowed the car they flew off.  Even the European Starlings were difficult to photograph.  I barely snapped one picture before they scattered.    

I thought I saw a falcon, but it disappeared before I could make an id.

European Starling
In a little pond beside the road, I spotted a small group of Lesser Scaup.  A lifer!  They took to the air very quickly, but I managed one photograph again.

Lesser Scaup

Along the road, there are various places to pull off:  a nature trail, beach access points, a bayside kayak access point, and a crabbing pier.  I saw a sign at one of the beach access points advising that this area is essential to a threatened species and providing information on how to help protect them. My field guide actually lists them as endangered.

There were a few fishermen that caused the birds to move down the beach, but not deliberately.  I followed and was able to get within 20 feet of plovers, sandpipers, and sanderlings without alarming them.    

Snowy Plover

At first glance, it looks like I found one of the Piping Plovers.  After studying my photographs and referring to my field guides, I determined this is actually a Snowy Plover, which is also listed as threatened and is another lifer.  A Piping Plover would have had orange legs.    

White Ibis and Tri-colored Heron

At the crabbing pier, I found a pair of interesting birds.  A White Ibis and Tri-colored Heron were following each other around.  Wherever one went, the other followed.  When I passed by later in the day, they were still there and still together.  How's that for an odd couple?  

On a day that wasn't particularly birdy I identified a total of 16 species, two of them lifers.  Not too bad.

Linking with The Bird D'Pot.

Midday - Late afternoon
70 deg F, windy, clear
Species identified (16):  Great Blue Heron, White Ibis, Great Egret, Brown Pelican, Great-tailed Grackle, Eastern Phoebe, Willet, Lesser Scaup, European Starling, Herring Gull, Laughing Gull, Semipalmated Plover, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Snowy Plover, Tricolored Heron  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

San Luis Pass County Park

Date of visit:  11/23/2014

Someone posted they had seen a Lesser Black-backed Gull in Surfside.  The Bluewater Loop of the GTCBT leads there, so I made another day trip to the coast.  From Galveston Island I headed south, crossed the San Luis Pass on the toll bridge, and took the first right to the first stop of the day, San Luis Pass County Park.        

Neotropic Cormorant
I found a Neotropic Cormorant swimming in the little lagoon area between the cabins and the RV campground.

Herring Gull
A Herring Gull was fishing in the marshy area next to the beach.  This is the first time I've ever seen any gull actually catching his own fish.  He stood very still, much like a heron, staring at the water.  I saw him with at least two different catches.  He tried to pick this one up and march off, but he didn't get very far before dropping it and having to pick it back up.  Good thing he'd already made sure it couldn't swim away.  

Loggerhead Shrike
The Loggerhead Shrike likes thorny bushes.  I didn't see any impaled creatures this time, but he makes use of those spikes.

Monarch Butterfly
I have heard that Monarch Butterflies are declining in numbers, but I've been seeing more and more of them.  It's very possibly because I've just been paying more attention.

I saw something small and furry near the laundry room.  He was thin and there was something missing in his eyes.  It looked like he needed someone to take him home and love him.  He ran away and hid, so it couldn't be me.  Poor little tabby.

Linking with Saturday's Critters.

70 deg F, windy, clear
Bird Species Identified (11):  Willet, Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, White Pelican, Great Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Ring-billed Gull, Loggerhead Shrike, Herring Gull, Mourning Dove, Ruddy Turnstone

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Frenchtown Road

Date of visit:  11/18/2014

An Acorn Woodpecker was spotted in Port Bolivar.  I haven't seen any of those this year, so even though there was only one sighting on one day, I thought I might get lucky.  I read American Oystercatchers could be found on Frenchtown Road.  I've never seen one of those.  Since this site is on the way to Port Bolivar, it was my chosen destination for a weekend day trip.

On the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail Map, the directions for this site end with a ferry ride.  I live much closer to Galveston than Bolivar, so my trip began with the ferry ride.  From the boat, I saw gulls, pelicans, cormorants, and dolphins.  It used to be I was lucky to see one or two dolphins every once in a while.  Lately, I've seen dolphins every time.  On this trip, there were two different groups of four or five hanging out near the landings on each side.

Once on the Bolivar side, I parked and walked out onto the jetty for a closer look at the birds and the dolphins, which swam very close.

No, don't get up.  I just want a quick photograph and then I'll be on my way.  No need to wake your friends.  

The Snowy Egret was fishing beside the loading ramp.

There weren't huge numbers of birds on Frenchtown Road, but I did find one or two individuals of at least ten different species.  This is one of those sites that can be birded without ever leaving the car.  I took the photo of the sleeping Least Sandpipers through an open window.

"What's with all the sleeping birds?  Wake up.  I want a photo."

I must have actually spoken out loud this time because they opened their eyes.  Oops.  They don't look too concerned, though.            

The Mottled Duck was a bit more wary.  He didn't fly away, but he swam toward the vegetation to obscure my view.

Yes!  I located and photographed an American Oystercatcher!  He's a lifer.

I checked every dead oak tree I could find in Port Bolivar and paid special attention to the ones near the restaurant where the woodpecker was seen.  No luck.  I'll be keeping my eyes open whenever I'm in the area - just in case.

Linking with Wild Bird Wednesday.

50's, breezy, partly cloudy
Species identified (17):  Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican, Rock Pigeon, Double-Crested Cormorant, Snowy Egret, Great-Tailed Grackle, Red-Winged Blackbird, Mottled Duck, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Great Blue Heron, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Forster's Tern, Reddish Egret, Loggerhead Shrike    

Monday, December 8, 2014

8-Mile Road and Sportsmen's Road

Date of visit:  11/9/2014

There seems to be a constant stream of rare birds this year.  Unfortunately, I have not the time, money, or energy to chase them all.  Fortunately, there are plenty of birds and birding trail sites near home to visit.  Someone posted online that the loons had returned to Galveston.  I had never seen one and decided the island would be a good destination for the day.  

Great Southern White 

The driving directions for this site take you first to Moody Gardens, where I started in the butterfly gardens.  Here, among the many flowers and herbs, are plaques providing interesting facts such as Texas has approximately 400 butterfly species, more than any other state.  Wow!  Someday, maybe I'll do a butterfly big year...after my birding big year...after I'm done with this project...I'm going to need a lot of years to accomplish all these things.

I saw several butterflies, including the Great Southern White with it's turquoise blue antennal clubs.          

Unknown bird inside the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid.

Moody Gardens has many exhibits that are viewable for a fee, including an aquarium, rainforest, IMAX, man-made beach, etc.  Tickets are available on an a la carte basis, or daily passes and memberships may be purchased.  The butterfly gardens and the walking paths are accessible free of charge.

I couldn't resist a visit inside the Rainforest Pyramid.  Birds flew free, landing in a tree branch beside me or on the path just steps ahead.  A monkey suddenly appeared on the railing beside me.  A sloth is also free to roam around, but mostly sleeps in the canopy at his favorite spot.  If I had to be a captive animal, I'd want to be in a place such as this.  

I used to bring my daughter here when she was little, so it was a bit of a sentimental journey.  I miss those days terribly sometimes, and then I witness a toddler throwing a temper tantrum and remember I don't miss everything about those days.  

I'm not sure what the bird in the photograph is called, but I love his beautiful blue eye.  If anybody can identify it, please do so in the comments.

Common Loon

I found one!  The Common Loon was swimming in Offatt Bayou, which is viewable from the walking paths behind the pyramids.    

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelicans were swimming, diving, and perching on the pilings past the Palm Beach area, near the end of the walkway.  I think this is the bluest I've seen the water anywhere in Galveston.  Except for a little cropping, these photos are straight out of the camera.  I didn't alter the color at all.

Neotropic Cormorant

The Neotropic Cormorant was feeding near the marina.

I followed the directions on the map from Moody Gardens to 8-Mile and Sportsmen's Road.  I did find some birds, but I got my best photos in and around the pyramids and Offatt Bayou.  

Did you notice a lot of blue in these photos?  I did, so I'm linking to Blue Monday.

High 70 deg F
Sunny, mild breeze
Birds identified (23):  European Starling, Great-tailed Grackle, House Sparrow, Common Loon, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Neotropic Cormorant, Snowy Egret, Least Sandpiper, White Ibis, Northern Mockingbird, Western Sandpiper, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Killdeer, Dunlin, Great Egret, Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Ring-billed Gull, Osprey, Great Blue Heron, Mottled Duck

Butterflies: Monarch, Cloudless Sulphur, Gulf Fritillary, Great Southern White, Queen

Saturday, December 6, 2014

LBJ State Park and Historic Site

There's a lot of LBJ related stuff in and around Johnson City.  I guess they are very proud of their hometown boy, as they should be.

LBJ Statue

What's President Johnson pointing at?  The Pedernales River is what the sign says.  He grew up in, on, and around the river, and he seems to have had a great fondness for it.  He was known to drive visiting dignitaries across a low-water crossing, creating a dramatic entrance to the LBJ Ranch, aka The Texas White House.

I arrived before the park had officially opened.  The lady in the gift shop told me I could walk around the exhibits and nature trail without a permit, which kept me busy until noon.      

Eastern Phoebe

Close to the headquarters, I found the Eastern Phoebe.  There may have been more than one because I had several sightings.  He was very busy, landing on tree branches, roofs, poles, and even the handicap plaque next to the ladies' room door.  There must have been a lot of bugs to chase.

American Robin

The nature trail was quiet for awhile, until the midpoint where a sudden flurry of bird activity gave my camera a workout.  I wasn't sure about these birds at first, because they weren't hopping around on a lawn.  They were skulking about in the trees, even though there was quite a bit of open field and lawn for them to visit.

Fallow Deer

While I was watching the American Robins, I was myself being watched.  He/she came closer even, to get a better look.  Normally, I only catch a fleeting glimpse of the tail and hear the sounds of a large animal crashing through the underbrush as the deer run away.  On this day, I heard something that made me ask myself, "What kind of huge bird is making that noise?"  It was the deer, talking to each other, very close to the trail.

Carolina Wren

The wren also tried to trick me with it's strange behavior, moving head-first down the branches.  I thought it might be some sort of nuthatch.  Nope, it was a Carolina Wren.  That's ok, though, because this was the first time I managed to get a decent photo of one.

The nature trail also passes through the Sauer-Beckmann living history farm, where historical buildings and farm animals are on display.  Signs describe what visitors might be able to witness the farmer, in period costume using period methods, doing.  Evidently not on a Sunday morning because I saw no one.

Linking with The Bird D'Pot.

Date of Visit:  11/2/2014
Early morning to midday
60's, 70's, overcast
Species identified (8):  Carolina Chickadee, Black-crested Titmouse, Eastern Phoebe, White-winged Dove, American Robin, Carolina Wren, House Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Johnson Settlement at Lyndon B Johnson National Historic Park

Date of visit:  11/1/2014

After finding the Dusky-capped Flycatcher at Pedernales SP, I had time to explore a couple more sites along the Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail - East, beginning with the Johnson Settlement.  Here, where our former president's grandparents settled in the 1860's, homes, barns, a windmill, and fences have been restored to the way they would have appeared at that time.    

The Johnson's established a cattle-droving headquarters in the area, and Texas Longhorns are on display.    

The "dogtrot" cabin in which LBJ's grandparents lived is pictured above.  I'd never heard of these until my visit, even though they were apparently very common in those days.  The cabin on the left was used for sleeping quarters.  The cabin on the right contained the kitchen and dining area.  The breezeway, or dog trot, in the middle was an outdoor room in the hot summers and used for storage during the winter.  Both cabins shared a common roof as well as porches on the front and back.

This is the first time I've seen black squirrels.  I finally obtained a Mammals of Texas field guide so I could identify them.  They are actually a black morph of the Eastern Gray Squirrel.  I sat on a bench on the back porch of the cabin to watch and photograph them.

This one played peek-a-boo beside a corner post.  Turns out he was a decoy.  While he distracted me, the others snuck closer.  I turned my head to find four of his buddies within two feet of my bench. They instantly scattered once noticed.  Those sneaky little buggers!  They may have just been curious, but I suspect they hoped I might have a snack they could steal.  

Near the windmill, I heard a repeated knocking which I first attributed to the rotation of the antique blades.  Nope, the source was actually a nearby Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Linking with Good Fences.

Late afternoon - evening
Clear, 66 F
Species Identified (5):  Northern Mockingbird, Turkey Vulture, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, White-winged Dove, Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pedernales Falls State Park

Date of visit:  10/31 - 11/01/2014

In October of this year, a Dusky-capped Flycatcher was spotted at Pedernales Falls State Park.  I haven't spent much time in the Hill Country this year, so I picked him as my next chase bird.  It's the first official record in this part of Texas, so he was rare indeed.

I arrived late Friday, and thought I saw him almost immediately, but he wasn't calling.  His unique call was what I was depending upon for a positive id and I had been listening to a recording on the way.  I also didn't get any photos.

Campsites had been booked since spring per the park headquarters, so I headed into town and found a room with plans of returning in the morning.

Lesser Goldfinches

I spent several hours the next morning in and around the bird blinds.  I have great difficulty distinguishing the American Goldfinch from the Lesser Goldfinch.  A fellow birder helped with the id. The back is a little different and they don't have the white undertail coverts of the American, I can see after studying the pictures and my field guides.

Western Scrub Jay
Unlike the Blue Jays I'm used to seeing, which are bold enough to steal food right off your picnic table if you're not paying attention, the Western Scrub Jay is very shy and difficult to photograph even in the bird blind.

We had heard the Dusky-capped Flycatcher calling and he made a few brief appearances, but I still didn't have a photograph.  I left the area for awhile to see some of the rest of the park.  There wasn't much water in the falls.  It was just a trickle that looked like a wet spot on the rocks in my photographs. The view downstream made a better picture.

I did some hiking on and around the river, but didn't find any birds away from the blinds except by the headquarters.  The feeders there were attracting Cardinals and Titmice.  

Pipevine Swallowtail

I returned to the blinds and watched the butterflies in the garden.  The other birders could identify all of them, as well.  "If we can't find birds, we do butterflies," they said.  Sounds a lot like me.  I'm considering starting a life list for them.  

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

I went back inside one of the blinds and was informed he was in a tree in the center.  "He is?  Then what am I looking at over here?"  

"Oh, that's him," and they all rushed over to take pictures through the photography window.  Normally, you expect to have your turn at the window without everyone else crowding in.  I happily made an exception in this circumstance.  We all finally got our photographs.

Linking with Saturday's Critters.

10/31 Evening and 11/1 Morning-Noon
Low 47, High 66
Clear and Sunny
Species identified (13):  Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, White-winged Dove, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Mockingbird, Black-crested Titmouse, Western Scrub Jay, Turkey Vulture, Lesser Goldfinch, House Finch

Also Butterflies:  Monarch, Queen, Gulf Frittillary, Pipevine Swallowtail
Mammals:  Eastern Fox Squirrel, Hispid Cotton Rat