Friday, February 27, 2015

Cedar Waxwing Invasion

This morning we had an invasion of Cedar Waxwings in the yard. I estimated a flock of several hundred had gathered in various trees. In the tree next to the bird bath waves of 50 or more would alight and then groups of them would swarm down onto the tiny bird bath taking drinks and relieving themselves. Yes, all of the spots on the concrete are droppings.





Saturday, February 21, 2015

Yet Another Rusty Day

This morning, I attended a workshop on Bluebirds put on by the Travis Audubon Society. The workshop was very interesting but our attempt to put up a bird house may wait until we reconcile ourselves with what to do with the local house sparrows.

Since the workshop was held at Hornsby Bend, I took the opportunity afterwards to haul the camera equipment down to Pond 3 and sat for three hours looking at the Rusty Blackbirds, hoping for some better shots and observing.



I have learned recently that the Rusty Blackbird has suffer inexplicable and perilous decline in numbers, losing 95% of the population in 50 years.

Below is a slideshow of the some of the shots (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't) The one image with a very striped bird is a female or juvenile Red-winged Blackbird for comparison.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Adult Rufous Hummingbird in Yard

Back in November, we began seeing some Rufous Hummingbirds at our feeder. These were either juveniles or females.  Today, I saw an adult male rufous at the feeder. Danielle had previously seen it several times this week. All of the plumage except for a bit on the crown and wing coverts and a white bib was a rich rusty color. The throat feathers, viewed from the side, were olive brown. I suspect if I had been able to get a flash on them, they would have shown red iridescence. The scruffy brown feathers make the bird look like a Steiff bear to me.

Canon 7DII, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS - 250mm, f/5, 1/500 sec, ISO-400

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Yellow Rumped Plumage Change

Today at the bird feeder I am noticing Yellow-Rumped Warblers beginning to get plumage more resembling breeding pattern.  There are more patches of black along the outer breast, the auriculars are darkening, a yellow crown is present, and overall less of the mousy brown color as black feathers are replacing the brown feathers on the head and back. These are both of the Myrtle sub-species.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS, ISO-800, 400mm, f/8, 1/500 sec, Flash
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS, ISO-800, 400mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, Flash

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Rusty Blackbirds at Hornsby Bend

This afternoon, our "urban birding" adventure with Ross continued. After successfully finding Monk Parakeets in the morning, we went to Hornsby Bend to try again for the Rusty Blackbirds ... after all, who wouldn't want to entertain friends and family at the local sewage treatment plant? At least the picnic lunch option was voted down.

We had looked for the RUBL here earlier in January, but had not been able to identify them conclusively. This time, we saw eight birds (two males and six females) in the boggy area just west of the greenhouse and had enough observation time to be sure of our identification.

The first shot shows the boggy area that the birds forage in, with a few birds pecking at the water's surface. I am not sure if they are after insects or vegetation. This boggy, flooded-woods habitat is certainly correct for this species and helps distinguish the birds from the somewhat similar Brewer's Blackbird which would be found in open fields.



The next two shots show detail on the male and female respectively. The rusty-trimmed feathers and mottled chest are characteristic of the male plumage before breeding season when the rusty edges wear off.  The female shows a gray rump, rusty back, pale iris and bright supercilium.




This is another new confirmed bird for our list.

On leaving the park, we saw a half dozen Eastern Bluebirds near the guard station displaying funny antics on the barbed wire fence.


Finally Found Monk Parakeets

This Sunday, Danielle's brother Ross visited us for the day and we took him "urban birding." In the morning, we went in search of Monk Parakeets. We had previously tried several locations in Austin with no luck. At some locations, we think the city had torn down the colonies. At others, the colony nests were empty. Of course, it's possible that in freezing weather the birds simply holed up and refused to come out of their warm nests. Smart birds!

Our first stop this trip was the prairie restoration pond at Austin Mueller, a planned community on the site of the old city airport. We saw a total of six birds there, including this pair which had settled for a snack at a resident's bird feeder.


We also saw several Canvasback in the pond, another new bird, as well as Coots, Scaups, Grebes, and a Great Blue Heron.

On our way to lunch, we tried our luck at the UT Intramural Fields at the corner of Guadalupe and 51st ... and hit the jackpot. In the light fixtures above a game of "Quidditch" in progress, we found several active colonies and saw at least 50 birds, many working on nest building. This species builds large "condo" complexes with multiple entrances for different bird pairs.




In the nearby trees, we found parakeets breaking off long twigs and flying them back to the colony.


We also saw a number on the power lines, grouped in social pairs.




Saturday, January 31, 2015

Striped Sparrow Mania

Early this month, on January 11, Rich Kostecke discovered a Striped Sparrow along County Road 428 in eastern Williamson County. This is an incredible find as the species is native to Mexico and lives a sedentary life. There is some question as to how this rarity got to the United States and whether it will be "countable" by American Birding Association rules, but that doesn't matter to us. We just appreciate any excuse to go birding! Apparently we're not the only ones who feel that way, as over 120 birders have driven out to that remote spot in eastern Williamson County to date, even coming from as far away as Colorado just to see it. There is now a eBird "hotspot" dedicated to this single bird.

The sparrow has been spotted every few days this month, foraging at the same location along the road side. Local birders apparently are putting out seed for it. We have been to the site twice and saw it both times. On our first visit on Jan 18, we were in the company of 20 or so other birders. Despite the blind curve on a narrow county road (on which the locals drive pretty fast), many had their tripods set up in the middle of the road. A local we talked to on our second visit, January 24, mentioned seeing lawn chairs stationed across the road. I am sure the local residents are pretty perplexed by the crazy birders who have invaded.

In addition to the Striped Sparrow, we also saw several additional species of sparrow: Harris, White-Crowned, White-Throated, Lincoln, Swamp, Song, and Chipping. A rare Red-Headed Woodpecker has also been spotted repeatedly at the site. We, unfortunately, missed it both times, but we heard the Pileated Woodpecker that has also been seen, and we also saw Red-Bellied, Ladder-backed, and Downy Woodpeckers nearby.

Our pictures are of low resolution due the distance from which they were taken but clearly show the field marks on this small sparrow.