Thursday, November 27, 2014

Magnolia Beach

The last stop on this weekend birding trip was Magnolia Beach.  It served as my dinner break on the way home.  Although, there were picnic tables available, it was very windy, so I simply parked on the beach and ate in my car while watching the sea birds.

Royal Tern

After eating my sandwich, I got out and explored the grassy area where I found the Royal Tern and Brown Pelicans.

Laughing Gull

I returned to my car and drove along the hard-packed, gravelly beach where I found gulls, turnstones, and sanderlings.  The beach is very drivable in any car.  I found no soft sand anywhere.    

Boat-tailed Grackle 

On the narrow strip of land between the beach on one side of the road and the rice fields on the other, I found grackles and shrikes.  The rounder head and darker eye of the Boat-tailed Grackle is an easier distinguishing field mark from the Great-tailed than the longer tail feathers.  Unless they are standing side by side, it's not that obvious a difference to me.

Loggerhead Shrike

The Loggerhead Shrike sometimes tricks me in flight.  He's got white on his wings very similar to a mockingbird.  I'm wondering how many I misidentified in the beginning of my birding days.      

Just as I was starting to find some interesting birds in the rice fields, my camera battery died.  It was almost time to go anyway, so I watched the sun set and then headed home.

I have since obtained two extra batteries to bring along.

Linking with Wild Bird Wednesday

Date of visit:  10/19/2014
80's, partly cloudy, windy
Species identified (11):  Royal Tern, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Boat-tailed Grackle, Great Egret, Loggerhead Shrike, Mourning Dove, Black-crowned Night Heron, Franklin's Gull

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Texas State Aquarium

I touched a shark and I liked one of the touch tanks at Texas State Aquarium, that is.  I'd always heard they had rough, sandpaper-like skin, but not this one.  He was about a foot long with soft, smooth skin that he seemed to enjoy having rubbed because he kept swimming past for more.  When the sharks tired of our attention, they simply retreated to areas of the tank that were out of reach.  

I have mixed feelings about animals held in captivity.  The aquarium does seem to have a focus on education, conservation and rescue of injured animals, but it saddens me to see them in cages, so I'm only posting one pic of a captive animal.  Yes, I think he might be missing a limb.  

The House Sparrows thought the outdoor displays were created as birdbaths just for them.

In addition to the aquarium, the birding trail map gives directions to the Nueces Bay Causeway.  That is where I found the Herring Gull.  His size makes him unmistakable.  He dwarfs the Laughing Gull.

It wasn't until I uploaded the photos of the Willet that I noticed he tossed a shell.  To help crack it open?

Is that the creature he pulled from the shell?

I'm linking up this week with Camera Critters.

Midday, 80's, Partly Cloudy
Species Identified (11):  House Sparrow, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Forster's Tern, Great-tailed Grackle, Herring Gull, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, Rock Pigeon, Snowy Egret, Great Egret  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Blucher Park

Since I didn't make it to the valley on Saturday, I decided to explore some birding trail sites in Corpus Christi on Sunday.  A drive down to Mission, TX, my original plan, and then back to Houston the same day would have meant a whole lot of driving and not much birding.    

I'd heard a lot about Blucher Park, so I started there.  I've seen posts advising rarities located here many times, and several birders recommended visiting.   The  driving directions on the trail maps are sometimes pretty useless, as was the case this time.  I saw a sign with a book, indicating a library was nearby, and followed it since it was mentioned that Blucher Park was near the library.    

No rarities this time, but I did find a lifer.  The Gray Catbird and I had a bit of a "conversation" before he finally came out and had a drink from the stream.

A couple of Southern Leopard Frogs were near the bridge.  I know frogs sing love songs to each other after heavy rains, but isn't it a bit late in the year for this?

The park has a nice butterfly garden, in which I spent quite a bit of time.  I made use of my recently acquired field guide to identify the White Checkered-Skipper.  Skippers have "distinctive flight and large bodies" I learned from my guide.  I'm not sure I recognized anything special about his flight, but the large body is obvious.

Gossamerwings are the very small, delicate butterflies.  Some are about the size of a thumb nail and never impressed me until I took a closer look.  This beautiful little Ceraunus Blue actually cooperated while I placed my camera lens very close for a true macro shot.  I'm linking him up with Macro Monday 2.

Morning, 70's, Partly cloudy
Species Identified (9):  Northern Cardinal, White-winged Dove, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Inca Dove, Northern Mockingbird, Gray Catbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Couch's Kingbird

Also butterflies:  Bordered Patch, White-checkered Skipper, and Ceraunus Blue


Friday, November 7, 2014

Swantner Park

Trip Date:  10/18/2014

My regular readers may recall that I went to Corpus Christi in search of the Bar-tailed Godwit, but couldn't find him.  He was relocated in a small bayfront park along Ocean Drive, so I headed back again for another try.  According to my field guide, this is a common bird in Alaska, who normally flies nonstop in fall to southwest Pacific wintering grounds.  Texas is far from Alaska or the Pacific, but he found his way here.

This is my entry for Skywatch Friday.  Those clouds dumped quite a bit of rain on the city that weekend.  Visibility was so bad that highway traffic was moving only 20 mph at times.  I crossed the causeway without realizing I'd even reached the bridge, so intent was my concentration on the road so I wouldn't end up in deep water or the back seat of the car ahead.  The original plan was to continue south to the Lower Rio Grande Valley if I found my bird quickly.  Flood warnings changed my mind.  

Long-billed Curlew

The Bar-tailed Godwit was reported to be hanging out with a mixed flock of Marbled Godwits and Long-billed Curlews.  The curlews were visible from the road as soon as I reached the park.  I pulled into the parking lot, grabbed my binoculars, and scanned the nearby godwits to find the one that was not like the others.      

Marbled (left, darker) and Bar-tailed Godwit

There he is, grooming in the rain like God turned on the shower just for him.  He has an incredibly bendy neck.  

I took a few photos, then got back in my car to find a nearby hotel room where I could wait out the storm.

Franklin's Gulls

There were still a couple of hours of daylight left after the rain stopped, so I headed back out to see what else was hanging out at Swantner Park.  I asked another birder and he said, "Lots of Franklin's Gulls."

What?  I assumed I was looking at Laughing Gulls.  I should have paid more attention.  The Franklin has a half hood, whereas the Laughing only has earmuffs.  The wing pattern of his buddy confirms the ID.  

Sanderling (front, lighter) and Ruddy Turnstones

Approaching the bay, I noticed there were steps leading down to the water, similar to those found on the seawall, but not as tall.  There I found waders and shorebirds such as these Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderling.  

This is not a numbered birding trail site, though it is found along the Central Texas Coast section of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.
Early Afternoon
Species Identified (15):  Marbled Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, Killdeer, American White Pelican, Franklin's Gull, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Willet, Laughing Gull, Great-tailed Grackle, Rock Pigeon

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lion's / Shelley Park (Refugio)

My last stop on this 3-day birding trip was a dinner break on my way home.  The small town park had a nice little nature trail on which to stretch my legs.  All of these beautiful trees must contain birds, but they weren't very active.  There was only a Turkey Vulture flying overhead and the occasional small flock too distant to identify as the birds crossed the sky.

I found a Red-eared Slider enjoying the river.

I ate my dinner in the shady picnic area.

I didn't want to leave without a picture of something feathered, so I took another lap around the nature trail.

Finally!  I found a Ladder-backed Woodpecker willing to be photographed.  Another lifer.  I believe I live just outside their range.

I watched for a little while, took some photos, and then drove another several hours home.

I'm linking with Outdoor Wednesday.

Outdoor Wednesday: Click on the picture below to learn more...

Sunny, Clear, 80's
Species Identified (2):  Turkey Vulture, Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP / World Birding Center HQ

After finding the redstart, I still had the whole weekend before I needed to be back home, so I headed further south to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.  I asked the ranger on duty at the office where to find the birds in the midday and they said, "Right here by the headquarters.  We're not feeding them at the stations yet."       

She was right.  I found more birds at the entrance than I did anywhere else, including the Curve-billed Thrasher...

...Black Phoebe...

...and Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

Cars are not allowed to travel throughout the park.  Visitors explore by foot, on bicycles, or via the free tram that was running once an hour.  Schedules do change by the season, so check ahead.    
I plan to bring my bicycle next time I visit, but they do have some to rent if you don't own your own.

I took a ride on the tram to get acquainted with the layout of the park and learned from the driver that I arrived a few days too early to see the birds at feeders.  He said once the natural food sources become scarce, they get quite a few feathered visitors throughout the park.

"And we're doing  hawk watch tomorrow morning if you can come back."

Well, of course I can.

None of the hawks came close enough to the tower for a good photo.   I did get a shot of the Couch's Kingbird that sat atop a tree, watching us watch the hawks.

The next morning was cool with no breeze, not a good day to see the huge numbers of hawks often observed during the height of migration.  The hawks wait for the air to warm and then ride the thermals upward.  "They are in unfamiliar territory and don't know when or where they will find their next meal.  You won't often see them wasting calories flapping," said the man leading the watch.  I should have taken pen and paper to take notes.  He was full of information that he was happy to share and I know I can't remember it all.

I asked questions like "how do you know you're not counting the same birds multiple times?"  Because they count each kettle and then wait for them to clear out before counting the next group, and they only count the ones headed south.  "Do you estimate, or count 1, 2, 3, 4?"  Sometimes they have to estimate, but if the birds are streaming they pick a landmark and count them as they pass it.  Or they can hold binoculars steady and count as the birds pass through their field of view.        

There was a family with three children that joined the watch, as well.  All were better birders than I.  The boy had a pen and paper, and he wrote down the lifers he helped me to identify, some by their calls alone.  Seven!  I think he was more excited than I was each time we found a new one, racing back to his notebook.  

My timing was off, but it's hard to call a day with seven lifers anything but a good day of birding.

I'm linking up with the Bird D'pot.

10/4/2014 Midday Clear, Sunny  Low 90's
and 10/5/2014 Morning - Overcast, Cool(ish), No wind
Species Identified (20): Great-tailed Grackle, Curve-billed Thrasher, Black Phoebe, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Northern Cardinal, Turkey Vulture, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Couch's Kingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Plain Chachalaca, Northern Harrier, Altamira Oriole, Swainson's Hawk, White-eyed Vireo, Cooper's Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, American Kestrel