Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cutting Class

John Arvin's prediction for a good grounding on the coast was just too tempting. I left work about an hour early and headed home, changed, and grabbed my gear. I was on site at Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary (QNBS) by 5 pm. That gave me about 2 hours of light.

One of many Scarlet Tanagers at
Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary
Almost right away I could see there were a lot of birds here, mostly Gray Catbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and tanagers, mostly Scarlet Tanagers. I made the loop through the sanctuary chatting up everyone gauging what birds where here. I found a few warblers like a showy American Redstart, or as I like to call them, the Halloween Warbler. I found a few Eastern Wood-Pewees and Swainson's Thrushes were abundant.

My intelligence gathering revealed there was a Magnolia Warbler around and I started the search for it. I made a couple of loops and found a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Lots of Warbling Vireos too.

Magnolia Warbler, Year Bird 385
I was chatting with a fellow birder there and a yellow and gray warbler popped out of the salt cedars. Target acquired! Magnolia Warbler was Year Bird 385.  I felt better about making the quick trip too.

I had now seen all of the birds reported there so I decided to head over to the Quintana Xerscape Park a few blocks away and see of anything was happening there. When I was there Sunday it was a soggy mess so I put on my rubber boots so I could cover all of the park. One group of salt cedars was packed in with dozens of Dickcissels and I could see more coming in to join them. All seemed to be calling "dick-cis-sel" over and over. All of a sudden they all got quit. I looked up and a Peregrine Falcon cruised overhead. After the falcon was out of sight they started one by one to call again. In my head I heard the conversation amoung them. "Did you see that!" "Wow that was close!"

A Red-eyed Vireo wouldn't give me a good look at first. I tried very hard but could not make it into a Black-whiskered Vireo.

By now I only had about 30 minutes before I had to head home. I head back over to QNBS to see if anything new had dropped in. I made the loop a few more times and found only a Blue-winged Warbler as a new bird for the day. The Chestnut-sided and a couple of American Redstarts showed off at the drip, really too close to photograph.

Coming up this week is the Texas Ornithological Society's (TOS) meeting in Winnie, Texas. I'll be "Crowd Sourcing" my search for something new. There are several expected birds I need, Bobolink, Canada Warbler, and Marbled Godwit are at the top of my list. If you're going to the TOS meeting I'll see you there.

American Redstart or the "Halloween Warbler"

Swainson's Thrush

Gray Catbird

Red-eyed Vireo

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night

Just glad I have a waterproof scope
We there was no forecast of snow for today, but rain was there for sure and we had plenty of gloom of night planned. We were running our Upper Texas Coast day for the Great Texas Birding Classic. We were planning to run from midnight till we ran out of birds to chase.

During the night conditions were actually pretty good, we had a few drips on us but there was very little wind. Bad for the mosquitoes but really good for listening for birds.

By the time we got into position for dawn chorus in the Boykin's Springs Recreational Area we had 30 species on the list.. Almost as soon as we got out of the car to listen Chuck-wills-widow was calling for Year Bird 368. Soon an Eastern Towhee joined the chorus for Year Bird 369.

We headed to our woodpecker spot and as we got out of the car we could hear the trill of Bachman's Sparrow for Year Bird 370. As I raised my binoculars to a marked tree I saw a Red-cockaded Woodpecker jet out for the day for Year Bird 371. While we all got on the woodpecker a couple of Brown-headed Nuthatches made their squeaky toy noises for Year Bird 372.

As we were heading out of the area to begin the race for east Texas warblers John calls out "Hairy Woodpecker" and I jumped out of the car and hear the sharp "Peek" several times of a Hairy Woodpecker for Year Bird 373.

By now the rain has started in earnest and we had some tense moments negotiating the rutted muddy forest roads. Luck was with us and we were soon back on firm roads. Our next target bird that was a year bird was Prairie Warbler. We checked the first spot we had lined up for them. Nothing. We checked the next spot; nothing! I was getting nervous. At the last spot one called right next to the road nabbing me Prairie Warbler for Year Bird 374.

I felt better and we headed off to our next stop for breeding warblers. Along the way in a wet field we saw a group of shorebirds wheeling about in the pouring rain. Wilson's Phalarope for Year Bird 375.

We're having fun now, scanning for Swallow-tailed Kite in the rain!
Martin Dies State Park was tough in the rain, many birds that are easy there just didn't show up as expected. We did manage most of our targets though, it just took some time (which we didn't have) and patience. No new year birds though.

Busting out of the piney woods and heading for Beaumont I got a message that a friend had a large group of warblers in his backyard. As luck would have it (finally!) his house was the next exit! We pulled in sucked up several needed day birds and I got Blackpoll Warbler for Year Bird 376.

Next we headed to our American Robin spot, and while there we had a pair of Fish Crows croaking for Year Bird 377.

Blasting east out of Beaumont we headed to a spot we had scouted some great ducks. En-route we spotted a large group of shorebirds over a rice field. We pulled over and sure enough our suspicions were correct. Buff-breasted Sandpiper for Year Bird 378. Another flock of shorebirds flew by and it was clear they were White-rumped Sandpipers for Year Bird 379.

Our duck ponds produced some cool stuff like a pair of late Hooded Mergansers. While there a couple of Bank Swallows passed over for Year Bird 380.

Cruising down to Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge we continued to tick of shorebirds in the rice field and lingering ducks in some special ponds we knew about. At the refuge we headed for the Jackson Prairie Woodlot and Marchetti Bird Blind. It was hot (and humid too!) and we ticked off a nice group of migrants. I also added  Year Birds Yellow-bellied Flycatcher for 381 and Bay-breasted Warbler for Year Bird 383. A Traill's Flycatcher was perched in the brush and I was afraid we'd not be able to put a name to him, bit it gave a mellow "whit" and we were able to call it Willow Flycatcher for Year Bird 383

High Island was jammed with birders and birds and we added many species. At Roll Over Pass we broke 200 species with the many shorebirds there that you don't find in the fresh water rice fields. On  Retillion Road heading into the Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary we were able to scope a Barn Owl in the back of a nest box. 

On the Flats proper we quickly found all the ringed plovers we still needed save one, Snowy Plover. While searching for that we found a couple of Red Knots. A Magnificent Frigatebiird was a surprise, only my second ever April one. Snowy Plover eluded us.

After the Flats were were out of light and mostly out of birds to chase. We listened for a while at Frenchtown Road hoping for a migrating Upland Sandpiper and Nelson's Sparrow with no luck. Finally we had to call it a day. We had been on the road for over 24 hours and had been actively birding for 21 hours. I had 2 hours of sleep since Friday at 6 am, 

We did finish with a healthy amount above 200 species for the day. I can't reveal the total so we have some drama at the awards brunch for the Great Texas Birding Classic. I do feel good about it though, its my best Upper Texas Coast day ever! 

I did add 16 Year Birds to my total. Next Week is the TOS meeting and I'm leading field trips for the meeting on my usual patch in Chamber's County. With luck the intense schedule of trips will turn up some rarity. I would sure like to finish next weekend with 400 species, but with 27 to go that seems unlikely, but I'm going to try!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hitting a Milestone

I had to be home by 2 pm on Sunday so I couldn't go back to High Island. Checking out Birdseye on my iPhone I could see a couple of birds I needed still had been seen at Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary in the Brazosport area. That would work nicely and I headed out just before sunrise.

As I was getting close a small raptor soared out of the neighborhood by the road, Unmistakable with its pearly white head and long black forked tail, Swallow-tailed Kite was Year Bird 366!  366 is a major milestone as it is the total I had for last year (2014). Its not my best  year ever but it was one of my best so now I feel like I'm getting there.

Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary from the tower
On to Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary. It was not very active but I joined the zombie-esc march of people walking the loop there. On my second pass a small bird caught my eye by the drip. In a moment it popped into view, Philadelphia Vireo was Year Bird 367.

I tried to make this an Elegant Tern
I joined forces with a friend and drove the beach down to the Brazos River hoping for a Great Black-backed Gull that was reported earlier that week. Lots of good birds, but no luck on the gull. We did find this weird looking tern that I'm guessing is just a Royal, but that bill made me want to make it into an elegant Tern. The bill just looked very long and "droopy" to me.

Next weekend (April 25, 2015) should be a good one, I'm doing the Upper Texas Coast section of the Great Texas Birding Classic with my team. I've been "saving" a lot of birds for this day because I'm confident we'll get them. We're hoping for a 200 plus bird day. That single 24 hour day works out to about 3 days of my usual birding. I think I should be knocking on the door of 400 at the end of the day. Stay tuned,

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Feeling the Pressure

Long-billed Dowitcher taken with spotting
scope and Carson's Hookupz
I was feeling the pressure Saturday to make up some big ground on migrant birds. Friday night I couldn't do much to search online reports because the big storms had my power out at home. I got up about 5 am and after checking the online report I headed out to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Flooded fields on the way in were full of shorebirds. I had some more fun playing with my Carson's Hookupz digiscope adapter for smart phones. The fields were full of hundreds of Long-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, and Dunlin.

Black-throated Green Warbler
First stop was Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Today was all about the neotropical migrants so I headed straight to the Jackson Prairie Woodlot. As I got out of the car an American Bittern circled. At first I was just seeing Indigo Buntings. Some more digging produced Summer Tanager and Black-throated Green Warbler. Finally a bird I was surprised I hadn't seen yet darted by, Rose-breasted Grosbeak Year Bird 354. Another circle of the woodlot and I found a Veery for Year Bird 355.

If this little spot was this good High Island would be even better so headed out. I stopped at another flooded rice field. Results were much like the first field. As I was getting back into the car a Dickcissel called for Year Bird 356.

Blue Grosbeak
I stopped on White's Ranch Road to look for Bobolinks, but no luck, there was a posing Blue Grosbeak though.

On to the main event at High Island. I started at Boy Scout Woods because its a great place to find out what's being seen and where. I wasn't finding much but I did find a calling Swainson's Warbler for Year Bird 357.

All reports sounded like Smith Oaks was the place to be. When I got there I went to the spot a friend told me he had a Cerulean Warbler. About 15 minutes of searching and I got a brief look at one of 5 Cerulean Warbler I had that day for Year Bird 358.

Black-and-white Warbler
Across the parking lot Chestnut-sided Warbler put on a show for Year Bird 359. I moved on back to the area that a Black-billed Cuckoo was reported. A group there got me on a Golden-winged Warbler for Year Bird 360.  In the same area a Gray-cheeked Thrush munched mulberries for Year Bird 361.

I left that area and as I was chatting with a group from Travis Audubon a Black-billed Cuckoo popped in for Year Bird 362. That was a really good one, I don't see a Black-billed every year.

Down the trail a Least Flycatcher became Year Bird 363 and my first empidonax flycatcher of the year. A few minutes late a I found an Acadian Flycatcher for Year Bird 364.

While joining a group looking for a Canada Warbler that has just been seen a Yellow Warbler showed for Year Bird 365.

Molting Summer Tanager
I had a really good day netting 12 new species for the year list,.Tomorrow would be a big milestone, one more species and I equal my total for 2014!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Making Hay

Saturday's reports form High Island and Sabine Woods were the best of the season. I decided I had to work the warblers while I could and headed out at 6:15 am for High Island. The forecast was for rain, but rain is what I need to down the birds! It was time to make hay while the sun wasn't shining.

My first stop was Hooks woods. At first nothing much was moving. Northern Parula and Hooded Warbler were calling though. As it got a little brighter someone pointed out a worm-eating warbler. A black-And white warble called. Circling the trail I saw a warbler hopping on the ground. Kentucky warbler for year bird 340

Another 15 min at Hooks and nothing new was showing and I decided to check out Boy Scout Woods. It was slow at first but soon a Wood Thrush hopped onto view for Year Bird 341

A Summer Tanager contemplates "Why is
he birding in the rain"
At my favorite spot in in Boy Scout Woods things picked up with Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Summer Tanager and Scarlet Tanager.  A Nashville Warbler made an appearance as Year Bird 342.

Another sweep around the board walk produced Black-throated Green Warbler for Year Bird 343, Eastern Wood-Pewee for Year Bird 344, and Warbling Vireo for Year Bird 345.

After checking online reports I decided it would be worth heading over to Sabine Woods. Its about an hour trip and I arrived right at noon. 

With in 5 minutes I was on Yellow-throated Vireo for Year Bird 346. Moments later a Yellow-breasted Chat called for Year Bird 347. Another 100 feet down the trail I found a Northern Waterthrush for Year Bird 348

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Year Bird 349
Back at the pond a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos chased each other for Year Bird 349

Spent a lot of time looking for Cerulean Warble and Swainson's Warbler. I did find Swainson's Thrush for Year Bird 350.

More searching low down turns up an Ovenbird for Year Bird 351. Something larger zipped through the oaks, A Common Nighthawk for Year Bird 352.

This is was my best migrant day so far this spring and I made a up a lot of ground, but there are a bunch to go! Next week is my last weekend of free form birding them its all back to organized birding. Wish me luck.

Odd looking Prothonotary Warbler

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Showing off an Old Friend

Saturday I was leading the Featherfest trip to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is my patch, I have been birding it hard for 20 years. For 19 years I lead the Yellow Rail walks there. My personal list for the refuge is 276 species. I love showing off the refuge to new people, its like introducing and old friend to new friends.

We arrived at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge at about 9 am. Right as we turned in a Crested Caracara gave most of the bus good looks. Northern Harrier also gave us looks on the entrance road. We started on the Willows Trail and were greeted on the trail by a little flock of late White-crowned Sparrows.

A fruiting mulberry tree put on the show with a bunch of Orchard Orioles. A group of them flew to the weeds and helped us to notice a dark blue bird, Blue Grosbeak became Year Bird 337.

The Willows are one of the old time migrant traps that everyone used to check, but most of the trees were killed by Hurricane Ike. For several years the little pond there was so saline that not much was growing. It has finally dropped and the willows themselves are regenerating, some of the cypress are growing and new hackberry and mulberry trees are coming up. If things keep going the way they are I think we can looks forward to many migrants in The Willows in coming years. New for me for Anahuac Wildlife Refuge was am Audubon's subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler.

We next made the three mile loop around Shoveler Pond, getting great looks for all of Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Roseate Spoonbill, and Solitary Sandpiper. The fields on the east side of the loop were absolutely packed with shorebirds, mostly large numbers of Long-billed Dowitchers.

Still one of the birds the loop is famous for had not been seen. Then finally a pair of Purple Gallinules popped out for Year Bird 338.

On to the Jackson Prairie Woodlot the primary migrant trap on the refuge. It wasn't shaping up to be a big migrant day but there were a few things. We found Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, and Northern Parula. Orchard Orioles put on a show. A White-eyed Vireo popped up and gave me his best fierce look. Suddenly there was a flash of bright orange and then it sat in the top of the tree and give good looks, Baltimore Oriole Year Bird 339.

Too soon we had to leave but we tallied 60 species in just 3.5 hours. Our final good bird was a Bronzed Cowbird with the Brown-headed Cowbirds at the feeders.

We saved some time to stop at Rollover Pass. This is just a spectacular spot sometimes and today was good. We tallied 29 species in about 30 minutes. Highlights of our time where are Marbled Godwits, American Oystercatcher, dancing Reddish Egrets and lots of Common Terns.

We rolled into the Featherfest Headquarters right on time and had a great trip with about 90 species.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Put me in Coach

I was contacted by the field trip coordinator for Galveston's Featherfest that who needed someone to fill in for a leader who had to cancel. The trip was with Kevin Karlson birding the Bolivar Peninsula. Let's see working all day or spending the day birding with the co-author of The Shorebird Guide? Are you nuts of course I volunteered!

So 6 am Friday morning had me in Galveston boarding the bus for the Bolivar Ferry. We made it off the ferry and turned on to Frenchtown Road just at first birdable light just before 7 am. I was the first one off the bus and immediately could hear Clapper Rails calling all around me.

We started ticking off species pretty fast. As the light got better we had the smallest of our herons poke his head out of the marsh. Least Bittern for Year Bird 332. We spent about 90 minutes there and tallied 52 species. Other highlight species were a pair of White-tailed Kites, Clapper Rails walking around right in front of us, and a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers flying by.

We moved on to Fort Travis Seashore Park and on the big lawns there we were able to study American Golden Plover and Black-bellied Plover side by side. Kevin Karlson is one of the experts on shorebirds and he is an excellent teacher, I've had the chance to co-lead with him several times and its always a learning experience and a pleasure. If you want to get better with shorebirds I definitely recommend his book, I refer it first when I have a question.

On to Houston Audubon's Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. Bolivar Flats is simply one of the most spectacular spots for shorebirds anywhere. You get there by heading down Rettilon Road (no litter spelled backwards by-the-way) and turning right down the beach. Park at the bollards in the sand.

Immediately we were seeing lots of shorebirds, getting great looks Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Plover, and Piping Plover even before we got to the bollards. Suddenly someone calls outs "Frigatebird!. Overhead a female Magnificent Frigratebird circled lazily overhead for Year Bird 333. I've never seen a Magnificent Frigatebird in mid April before! It's not a bird I was at all expecting yet this year.

Just as we got to the bollard it started to rain on us. We waited for a break in the rain in the bus. We swapped birding stores of getting stuck in the sand and pretended we were waiting patiently. When it stopped a short time latter we piled out of the bus to check out the flats. Really large numbers of the small plovers greeted us. Semipalmated Plovers, Piping Plovers, and Wilson's Plovers swarmed the beach and looked like insects there were so many. I herded the field trip to stay on the sand below high tide line because it looked like the Wilson's where likely nesting. There were also large numbers of Least Sandpipers, a few Western Sandpipers, lots of Dunlin and Short-billed Dowitchers.

After some time we found our final prize, a pair of Snowy Plovers.

Too soon we headed back to Featherfest Headquarters in Galveston. Once we finished the field trip I waited out the rain in the Birders Bazaar at Featherfest. I still had some time and I headed out to Lafitte's Cove hoping for more migrants.

Lafitte's Cove Nature Sanctuary is a small nature sanctuary around a grove of old oak trees on the mostly treeless western side of Galveston Island. Think if it as a mini High Island. When I got there is wasn't raining, but as I getting out of the car it started to rain harder again. Time to get out the Frogg Toggs and hope for the migrants to start dropping in!

I got my Frogg Toggs just as I started my big year and I'm impressed. This new type of rain gear is not expensive (my jacket was less than $30), breathable, washable, and the most rainproof stuff I've ever worn. Today I spent about 90 minutes in rain and to be honest the jacket didn't even look wet the way it repels water. I recommend it without reservations and the rain paints too.

As I was entering the sanctuary I noted 5 Green Herons in a tree and 3 more flying in from the Gulf side. A very good sign indeed. Almost the first passerine I spied was Tennessee Warbler for Year Bird 334.

Another hour of birding turned up a few Indigo Buntings and a White-eyed Vireo, not the fall out I was hoping for. A Featherfest field trip was now on site and I noticed them ogling something and I made my way over and and try as I might I couldn't figure out what they were looking at. Finally I asked and when the leader told me it popped in to view like magic even it though it was there all the time. Scarlet Tanager for Year Bird 335.

I was running out of time, but I made one more sweep of the sanctuary. While admiring a flock of Indigo Buntings I noticed on of them was bright green, a female Painted Bunting was Year Bird 336.

I was out of time and had to head back to Houston. Tomorrow is another day and since I was leading another field trip, it should be a very promising day!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

That's How I Roll

Saturday I had agreed to do a talk on neotropical migrants on the upper Texas coast for Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Its a fun talk because well its really a bunch of pretty pictures. I got to the Texas Chenier Plans Refuge Complex Headquarters about an hour early so I could bird the nature trail there.

Almost right away I found a Broad-winged Hawk soaring above the trail for Year Bird 316. Down by the new bird blind a Great Crested Flycatcher called for year Bird 317. This is a nice start for the day I was thinking.

I completed the trail and again was hoping for Protonotary Warbler in the Cypress Swamp section. Again I strike out on a bird I assumed was going to be easy. Prothonotary Warbler was starting to give me a complex.

The talk went well and we had a nice bird walk afterward. Thanks to Chambers Wild the talk is available online.

I headed on to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. When I got there they were roller chopping the moist soil units. Roller chopping uses a heavy roller with blades on it to crush brush and tear up the roots. Its very effective in opening up overgrown areas to waterfowl and shore birds.

Glossy Ibis, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
The roller chopping had hundreds of dark ibis streaming in. A perfect opportunity to look for a Glossy Ibis! I spent about 30 minutes scanning and after several times talking myself out of a potential I found one in breeding plumage, Glossy Ibis was Year Bird 318.

Checking out the other unit that was just roller chopped I was able to see two more Glossy Ibis, an exceptional count for Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Some more scanning turned up Solitary Sandpiper for Year Bird 319.

The day was getting late and I decided to head home, Tomorrow was promising to be a much better day for migrants too.