Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Carolina Wren in the Nestbox

Finally, a real bird nesting in this year's boxes with the new camera system. We have had ants, bees, wasps, and several false nest starts. Ironically, another Carolina Wren. The last wrens that nested in our yard, used a hard hat in the shed after rejecting my bird house. Given that Carolina Wrens may have up to three broods in a season, this may in fact be the same pair.

I had angled the cameras with a bluebird, chickadee or titmouse in mind, trying to get more of a side view. Unfortunately, the nest building style of the wren is to fill the box nearly to the top ... right over the camera. I have had to thin out some of the obscuring twigs a few times. Here, you can see the camera almost on top of the eggs.


Both male and female were actively involved in the nest building. They started on top of a fake nest that was made by wrens a month ago. The female has been incubating the eggs for about a week and sits on them most of the day. The camera is pretty much right in her face. These boxes are much darker than the martin gourd so I never get to see any images in daylight spectrum.


June 29 - Hatching started this evening at about 16:45.

June 30 - Many different food offerings including spiders, katydid, and this small snail which the adult finally had to eat.



Saturday, June 18, 2016

Purple Martin Gourd Camera

Another risky move  for me with the martins. As the the day of hatching approaches, I decided to move one of the cameras to the martin house. Hopefully enabling me to check the nest daily without as much disturbance. I took down one of the spare gourds to experiment and came up with the following design.

I am using Excluder Gourds from PMCA. I first took the access cap off and drilled a 2" hole in the center with a forstner bit.  I also drilled 4 mounting holes for #10 screws.


The next step was to obtain a 4" PVC sewer and drain cap and drilled corresponding holes in it. I put silicone sealant between the two and clamped together with #10-32 screws and nuts.


Next, I got a 4" PVC DWV Cap which I found slips neatly over the drain cap. I drilled a hole in the top of the cap and used a #10-32 3/4" bolt and rubber washer to attach one of my HawkEye HD cameras from Birdhouse Spy Cam to the top of the cap. I played with the orientation of the camera on its mount so that I could tip the camera down slightly and still have the lens roughly centered. Another 3/4" in hole in the side of the cap allows the wires to route out. All of the cable connections are pushed back into the cap.


This the view from inside the gourd with with two pieces slipped together.


The first assembly simply screws back onto the gourd. At the point that it was snug, I marked the lower edge and cut a slot for the wires to pass. It did not need to be this large. I can leave this in place to do a quick visual check.


The camera portion slips over with wires exiting at the bottom.


Because of the way the Excluder Gourd mounts to the rack, it is only free to swing front to back. As such the extra weight of the PVC caps does not change the orientation much. Otherwise, this system would not have worked. I tied the cable along the owl guards and let it drop down parallel to the hoisting cord. 


I modified the snake guard to add an extra pass-through hole.


and ran both cord and cable through the raccoon baffle. 


Finally, here is a full resolution image of the nest in daylight. The field of view nicely spans most of the nest including the entrance porch on the left and the egg cavity on the right.


This is a shot of the female shows the IR LED turned on and casting a greenish illumination in the center and true daylight illumination in the periphery.


This final image at 8:30 is illuminated only by IR LED with negligible daylight left.


Everything was in place just in time for hatching which started early on Sunday evening, June 19.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pebble - Another Epic Fail

I had previously blogged about my issues with Pebble's health data infrastructure. Danielle had an issue this week that has caused us to give up on the company entirely. Unlike me, she didn't use the watch for tracking steps, except casually; she has worn a Fitbit One for several years as her activity tracker and continued to do so while wearing the Pebble. The Pebble Time Round was more useful as a watch and for notifications, which it did fairly well.

Danielle charged her Pebble Time Round every morning on the nightstand next to the bed, a table which stands slightly over two feet high. While disconnecting her watch from the charger on Thursday, the watch slipped from her grasp and fell on the floor. When she picked it up, she discovered that the crystal was shattered. This was very surprising as it was supposed to be Gorilla Glass.


Danielle contacted Pebble Support to find out what her options were. She was hopeful that they would replace the watch, which she was happy with overall.

Pebble's response was not encouraging:
While we can't replace your Pebble under warranty in this circumstance, we would like to offer you a discount on one of our new watches. If you are interested, we will provide you with a limited time link that you can use to receive 15% off. 
Danielle wrote back the following letter:
I do not consider this to be acceptable.  
The Pebble warranty specifically excludes "normal wear and tear and cosmetic damage, including, but not limited to, scratches, dents and broken plastic." I do not consider shattered Gorilla Glass to be "normal wear and tear," nor is it excluded in the list above.  
The warranty also specifically excludes "defects or damage caused by misuse, accident (including, without limitation, collision, fire and the spillage of food or liquid), neglect, abuse, alteration, unusual stress, modification, improper or unauthorized repair, installation, wiring, or testing, improper storage." If Pebble is arguing that no such accident is covered under warranty, then please explain to me the situation described in https://wtvox.com/pebble/pebble-time-round-review/m where the writer states "This is what happened to me at work: I knocked my Pebble Time Round on a corner desk and cracked the screen. The impact was big. It would have shattered to pieces a normal watch, but, in this case, it only cracked the screen. The watch was still fully functional. I rung Pebble, explained that I am retarded, and they kindly offered to send me a new one. For free. How nice is that?" 
I will contrast your refusal to replace my Pebble under warranty with the behavior of two other fitness tracker companies with which I have experience, Fitbit and Garmin. Fitbit replaced one of my devices three times when it was damaged by sweat on three separate occasions, despite the fact that the unit was not advertised as waterproof. Garmin replaced another device due to screen failure with no questions asked. 
The Pebble Time Round is advertised as having a "2.5D gorilla glass display" and "Marine Grade Stainless Steel chassis and bezel." This implied, to my mind, that the unit was fairly rugged. Having owned devices with Gorilla Glass before, I know that it can be scratched and I have even chipped an exposed edge before. For that reason, I purchased a screen protector (that and to conceal the hideous bezel). The people I know who have shattered their displays have generally done something like slam a car door on their phone or drop the phone onto pavement from 5 feet or more. My minor drop onto the floor of my home from a height of 3 feet does not begin to compare. 
Presumably you offered me a 15% discount in an attempt to cultivate customer loyalty. I am not at all sorry to tell you that it has exactly the reverse effect. I see no reason to waste any of my money on a company that will not stand behind its products. If you offer me a replacement under warranty, as you offered the reviewer I quoted above, I will be happy to continue using your product. If I have to spend my own money to replace a unit that is close to being obsolete technologically, I will go elsewhere.  
Sincerely,
Danielle Cunniff Plumer
Pebble's response was a classic blow-off:
Thank you for reaching back out to Pebble. 
I spoke with management on your behalf, they stated that accidental damage is not covered under warranty, as such no replacement will be issued. Sorry for any inconvenience, if you would like the 15% off discount offered to you in my last email please let me know.
So we're done with Pebble. For the price of a new Pebble Time Round, even with the miserly 15% off, Danielle was able to purchase a new Fitbit Alta. It doesn't offer the quality of notifications that the Pebble Time Round did, but its features as an activity tracker are far superior. The movement reminder is far superior than anything we were ever able to jury-rig on Pebble. Battery life and sleep tracking are almost infinitely better. Most importantly, the fitness data ecosystem integration that Fitbit provides is second to none. Finally, Danielle feels confident that if the display does shatter, Fitbit will replace the unit.

I hope that anyone considering a new Pebble, or backing them on Kickstarter, will learn from our mistakes!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

First Martin Visitation

Within the first week of putting up the purple martin house, I trapped and removed three house sparrows from the colony using a spring-loaded trapdoor device. The starlings proved not to be a problem. Unable to enter though the starling-resistant holes, they soon gave up and left. This past week, I have been wrestling with a pair of sparrows that keeps building nests but is aware of and avoids the spring door.

May 26 - This morning, I was excited to see that a pair of adult martins was checking out the gourds. From the picture, I think a ASY-M and SY-F. I went out, lowered the house, and disarmed the trap. When I put the house back up, the martins came right back. However, I was shortly dismayed to see the male house sparrow dive bomb the female martin and harass her towards the ground. I am not sure what my next step is to remove the sparrow which seems to have mentally claimed the whole colony.



May 28 - Looks like this pair did not stay over last night. I have to assume the aggressive neighbors were not to their liking .... Actually, I am not sure what they are doing. No sooner had I posted the update, but the martins came back and hung out in their gourd for an hour. In the evening, I once again did not see them come to roost for the night but did see a number of martins feeding overhead and towards the river.

May 29 - Again, I never saw them return before dark last night. This morning, three visitors. I think it is the original two plus another arrival which I have not been able to see closely enough to determine if it is another female or an SY male. A female went straight for the same gourd as before. No materials brought in yet. Late morning, I spotted the female bringing a green leaf to the nest. All of this activity is in the gourd with the decoy bird above it. Looks like the third bird is a SY male. It has strong blue head and blue breast feathers


All three birds visited the colony periodically during the day. After having been gone for several hours late afternoon, the came back soon after 7pm when my automated "Songbird Magnet" came on to play martin noises. I am fairly sure the dawn song that this device plays in the morning attracted the first set of martins. They only stayed a quarter of an hour before going back out for more feeding. Late in the evening, I saw the pair perched up on our antenna pole. I did not see if they went into the houses after that.

May 30 - Stormy night and rainy morning. Three martins out for dawnsong. Came and went from the colony during the morning. Unlike the two males, the female has some difficulty in exiting the gourd through the Excluder II holes. She has to get some leverage and give several pushes. I saw the female bring in one more green leaf. Again, all were gone most of the heat of the day. The House Sparrow pair, however, diligently works on building the nest all day. I gave up on the trap door. Every time, I placed it in a gourd, they moved to a new one. During the evening, I watch about 8 Purple Martins, 6 Chimney Swifts, and 4 Common Nighthawks foraging in the air overhead, mostly over the river. My pair came in several times to rest on the antenna pole. I saw them circle down, burbling, and land on colony at 8:25pm. As usual, the female lands on the porch and the male on the perch rods above. They stayed for 5 minutes and then entered their gourd together. I did not see the SY male return to the colony.

May 31 - Found pair on antenna perch at 7:30am. Stormy afternoon. Fewer martins and swifts tonight. Nest check at 8pm found another green leaf. Pair landed again in evening at 8:10pm. An SY male (same one?) circled around them attempting to land on antenna. ASY male seemed to chase it off. SY male engaged in some aerial interaction with another martin and the pair drifted off to the south and did not return. Pair entered gourd at 8:30pm.

June 1 - Yay, the Purple Martin pair in the gourd which I have now labelled "A" have produced one egg. Unfortunately, the House Sparrow pair in gourd "B" also laid an egg today. By the way, these gourds are labelled sequentially with "A" facing NNE, "B" facing NE, all the way back around to "L" facing N. I am having a hard time finding labels that stay stuck to the polyethylene gourds. Anyway, not sure if destroying the sparrow nest will trigger a destructive behavior by the male on the martin nest so I am leaving it alone for the moment. During the morning, I saw the male also bring in a green leaf. Looks like they brought a bunch in during the day. Before bed time, we had another group of 3 martins that made close passes to the pair including one that attempted to land with them. None landed on the rack however.


June 2 - And then there were two ... the martin pair produced a second egg as did the sparrows. I tried to addle the sparrow eggs quickly by shaking them. Ended up cracking one of them and discarded it. In the evening, I missed the 8:30 fly-in. However, at 8:55, I did see a pair of screech owls on the power line in front of the house staring at the rack. I had hoped to attract owls in the past but now that I have martins, not so much. We have owl guards above the upper gourds, however screech owls are pretty small and could get past. Forum reading indicates that these may not be a big risk to the martins and the SREH holes should keep them from nesting in the gourds.


June 3 - As I was leaving in the morning, I noticed another SY male on the "E" gourd. Same as I saw one before. From the plumage comparison to the image above, it might very well be the same one but I am not positive. As expected, three eggs now in the nest. The pair did not come back this evening by dark. They hung around at 8pm, but then left as a storm approached.


June 4 - All three martins were active at 9:30 when I went out to check. The SY male was looking into various cavities including the "A" and "B". It got a good thrashing by the male house sparrow. At my 4pm nest check, I found 4 martin eggs in "A" but still two sparrow eggs in "B". I saw several martins high overhead at 7:30pm but was not home for the usual return.


June 5 - They are still laying. This afternoon, I found five eggs. As I worked in the yard, I noticed that the female spent more time in the gourd but often just on the inner porch looking out. I observed two SY males investigating gourds this afternoon.


After seeing some horror pictures of rat snakes that had bypassed the commercial predator guard, I fabricated a variant of the snake guard designed by Chuck Abare. It consists of a skirt of bird netting pinched between two disks of cedar board. The disk is split down the middle and hinged so that it can clamp onto the pole (using two clasps) and can be removed to lower the rack. I did not not need to fasten a worm clamp to the pole to hold up the disk as described by Chuck. The premise is that the snake will attempt to slither through the netting and become entangled in the process.


June 6 - Still only 5 eggs this evening in "A". The martin pair will have started incubating yesterday, consistent with more observations of the female in the nest. Based on average stats, hatching is likely to begin on June 20 and the earliest fledging on July 16. Likely fledging is from July 22 to 26. The sparrow nest in "B" had three eggs and a lot of feathers lining the nest cavity. We pulled them out and coated with vegetable oil as an addling technique and put them back. Did not have time to let them dry first.

June 7 - No change. I did a quick nest check without disturbing the leaf cover over the eggs. Nothing looked disturbed. Female fled as I was bumping around to bring the rack down. Not sure how to let her know a bit more ahead of time.

June 9 - No change on nest check. Saw female watching out the front porch. Also saw a sub-adult male on the "E" gourd in the morning. This evening I was able to speak with the martin landlord a few streets over. He has problems with owls and hawks ripping into his metal house.



June 10 - No change on nest check. Observed once this morning and twice this evening the SY male trying to attract the paired female including waiting on her porch and poking its head into the gourd. These efforts seem to be timed for when the ASY male was away. The younger male actually looks to be a bit bigger.

June 11 - Still incubating. This afternoon I saw three other martins visiting the yard, swooping around the rack and trying to land up on the antenna. The SY male still thinks he can succeed at courting the paired female - very odd. The temperature has risen sharply this week and I decided that I really should have put vents on the gourds earlier, so now is the time before there are nestlings. There are mixed reports about how effective these are but they can't hurt. I brought down the rack and detached one gourd at a time and modified it. I did several other gourds first to practice the technique before I did the one with eggs...yikes. To start, I opened up the hatch and put in a plastic bag to catch shavings. Using a 1" forstner bit, I drilled a hole in the stem of the gourd on the side opposite the entrance. I applied some silicone sealant to the threads of a 3/4" PVC elbow joint that is threaded on one end and slip-fit on the other. I then pressed in and screwed the fitting in snugly, spreading out the sealant.


June 14 - Still incubating. No change to the contents of "A". Female is in the gourd most of the time. For better or worse, today I changed up the sparrow issue. I disposed of the nest and three previously addled eggs from "B". I then set door traps on "B" and the next-door lower gourd "D". I left the upper "E", which the SY male lands on alot fully open. I then put clothespins across all of the other holes to block them. The fear here is the the possible revenge actions. However, I have not seen much action in and out of "B". I think the sparrows know the eggs are not viable. The male has been probing all of the other cavities.

June 18 - Still incubating. No change to the contents of "A".  As described in a separate post, I installed a camera in gourd "A". Hopefully, I will bother the nest less frequently as a result. Both due to some additional heat generated by the camera and due to a mini heat wave we have started feeling, I jury-rigged a sun shade for gourd "A" by zip-tying a piece of aluminized insulation wrap onto the owl guards. In this picture, you can see both the final camera assembly covering the access port and the tent. Late morning, I observed a group of additional martins, possibly all SY males, circling around the colony. Just in case any decided to probe spare holes, I move the clothespins again, covering the traps in "B" and "D" and leaving open several on the top level, "A", "C", "E", "K". The tenacious little house sparrow has not yet found a mate but still centers his attention around "E".




June 19 - This morning I was able to watch the overnight video coverage. The male never came into the gourd during night. I was surprised how much time she spent preening, of the type to remove parasites rather than to straighten feathers.


This evening we had the first two hatchings. One at 18:50, then next right after at 19:10. This animated snippet of the first chick trying to rid itself of its egg shell helmet is priceless. Both happened while the parents were away. When the female came back at about 19:40, she ate the egg shells to recover the calcium.


June 20 - By this morning, a third chick has hatched, though have not found the spot in the video recording where the female eats that shell. The male has no started making appearances in the nest though he still did not spend the night there. Hard to tell due the angle whether he is feeding but he does lie down and cover them. The fourth chick must have hatched just before 09:45 since I saw the female eat another egg shell at that time. By end of day there was still one egg left visible occasionally under the leaves.


Feedings happened continuously, both parents contributing. Often, one parent stands guard on the inner porch waiting for the other to come back. Evening feedings, however seem to be done only by the female. Presumably, the male has gone off to his normal roosting spot.



Final chick hatched at 20:55 this evening. This is only 26 hours after the first hatching so there will not be too much age span between the chicks. After watching the younger Titmice starve last year, that is a bit of relief.

June 21 - Feedings progressing as usual. None of the chicks seem very energetic about mouthing for food. Just young or too hot? Here is the five-some having a nap


Intensive feeding by the female occurs at dusk when I am sitting in the yard watching. She makes runs about every 3-5 minutes, stopping in the nest only long enough to poke some food in a mouth and grab a fecal sac. She leaves the nest in a very low flight path over the carport, east towards the river. She always returns over house and along the courtyard from the northeast, straight into the nest.

June 22 - Everyone is a bit larger today. I noticed on the camera replace some sort of little bugs on the chicks. Are these possibly mites? Not sure if it is too early for a replacement of nesting materials and, during the evening, it is too much in the middle of prime feeding time to interfere. I am surprised how big of a mouthful the chicks can swallow. Today, several occasions of entire dragonflies swallowed.


June 23 - Size progress image shown. No interesting events observed during the day. In the late evening in IR footage I saw several mosquitoes landing on the female and on the chicks... yuck.


June 24 - This morning, I brought the rack down to close off a gourds "E", "K" on the top level where the sparrows were getting too active and reopened "B", "D" containing the traps. I took the opportunity to put and iPhone into the opening of "A" to get a more detailed picture of the nestlings. This both to see more of the incoming feather detail and also to look for parasites.


June 26 - Very hot day today in the high 90's. Feather detail continues to develop and noticeable darkening of the skin color. The largest of the chicks has pin feathers along the primaries and secondaries poking out. In the evening, I tried some flash photos of the adults landing at the gourd but have yet to process them.


June 27 - Looks like the nestlings are going walk-about. One decided it might get better pickings up near the door. That did not seem to pan out for it. Seemed that there was still better luck in the center.



June 29 - This morning, another three SY male floaters circling around the rack. I think they come for visits from the nearby colonies. The chicks not only have pronounce pin-feathers along the wings but are getting them at the tail. They also have their eyes open more consistently. I am still worried about the amount of food the runt gets - never seems to aim his mouth the right way. I think we are at 10 days for the oldest chicks and 9 days for the youngest.


June 30 - One chick seems determined to hang out next the porch and to try to get on. I hope this second to smallest chick, hiding at the far end in this shot, does not turn into a jumper.



Friday, May 20, 2016

Mars Opposition 2016

An opposition of Mars is when the planet is on the opposite side of earth from the sun. This makes the planet shine brighter as we are seeing it fully illuminated. This also coincides with the point of closest approach of Mars to earth, making it appear larger.

Though the true opposition of Mars is supposed to be on Sunday evening, tonight was likely my only chance at a clear night.  I set up a Canon 60Da with a 5x Televue barlow on a TMB-130ss 5 inch refractor for this shot. I had some difficulty getting good seeing due to a combination of the early evening and limited time for the dome to equalize in temperature. I grabbed a few 2 minute movies at 60 fps in the special 640x480 video crop mode offered in the 60Da and selected the best of these. I used Registax v6 to align, stack, and sharpen the movie frames into a single still image. I made additional tweaks to the alignment of color channels, as well as contrast and brightness in Photoshop.

Despite the poor seeing, the image certainly has recognizable features. You can discern Syrtis Major Planum as the dark projection on the west side of the image. The dark region near the north pole is Utopia Planitia. The light patch in the northeast is in the region of Elysium Mons, perhaps due to clouds or a dust storm. Both the north and south polar caps are visible with the southern cap appearing larger to me. This is consistent with the fact that season in the northern hemisphere of Mars is currently late summer.

Now, back to the regularly scheduled El Nino rains and clouds here in Texas.

Vireo Gallery 2016

This spring, Danielle and I made two trips to Port Aransas, TX in order to see migratory warblers. My previous post describes the warblers we saw. In addition, we saw several vireo species including two we had not seen before. At first glance, these vireos can be confused for warblers. However, the thick bill with hooked end, much like a shrike, gives them away. The vireos also forage in a less frenetic manner. There are two groups, one has double wing-bars and eye-rings, the other has unmarked wings and eye-lines. 

Blue-headed Vireo - This striking bird has a green back, dark wings with strong wing bars and white underparts with yellow wash on the sides. The throat is bright white and strongly contrasting with a blue-gray head. The face has a very bold white spectacles, its most distinctive feature. I reported two fleeting views of this species on our May trip but did not manage to get a picture. The image shown is one I took in Central Texas in the fall.
Philadelphia Vireo - This was the smallest of the vireos we saw. A more compact or "chunky" looking bird that the others, this one has plain olive upper parts and pale, yellow-washed underparts. The throat is richer yellow with color concentrated towards the center. This field mark best differentiates it from the similar Warbling Vireo. The eye-line is also tighter than that of the Warbling but much less contrasting than that of the Red-eyed. We only saw these in May - they effectively took over the niche held by the Warbling in April.
Red-eyed Vireo - Compared to the other vireos, this one has a richer green-olive back and more contrasting gray crown. This is the largest of the vireos we observed. The red eye is very distinct but can only been seen close and with adequate lighting - flash brings it out nicely. As with the Warbling, we saw these mostly in April.
Warbling Vireo - Similar to the Philadelphia Vireo but larger and more elongated. The face looks more "open" with a broader eyebrow and paler eye-line. The throat, though often washed in some yellow, is uniform and paler. We saw these primarily in April and one straggler in May.

White-eyed Vireo - This is a bird I am familiar with in Austin during the summer. Two years ago I spent many days trying to track birds I was hearing to see and identify it for the first time. I remember its distinctive call with the mnemonic "quick with the beer check, eh". It has an grayish-brown back, crown, and wings with two distinct wing bars. The nape is a contrasting gray color. The underparts are pale gray with yellow wash on the sides. The face has bright yellow spectacles but not as broad as those of the Blue-headed. In the spring, the iris turns a pale gray and gives the bird a very striking appearance when seen closely. The bird responds to pishing and often landed close by to turn and stare with one of its glowing eyes. Unlike at home, we did not hear it sing in Port Aransas. We only saw these in April, especially early in the trip before having seen any Warbling Vireos.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Warbler Gallery 2016

This spring, Danielle and I made two trips to Port Aransas, TX in order to see migratory warblers. The first was in the middle of April (9-16) and the second during the first week of May (1-6). The hope was to see a mix of species and, with luck, some new warblers. Most of our observing was at two main locations: the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center (the sewage treatment plant) and at Paradise Pond (a small lot-sized preserve). We also observed several times at the copse of trees in front of the Seagull condos which local birders call The Willows as well as making several trips into Corpus Christi to wander the grounds of the Rosehill Cemetery and Bluecher Park.

At the beginning of our May trip, the prevailing winds from the north and a storm system just off the coast our our south drove many birds down onto Mustang Island - something like a mini fallout. May 2 was the peak of this event and waves of warblers passed through the birding center. Not a large number of species, just a large number. By May 4, the winds had shifted and most of the birds had moved on. It was quite a contrast between several dozen warblers in the grove to only a couple.

Below is a gallery of representative images for 26 species we were fortunate enough to photograph. This also includes several species that, although not named "warbler," are commonly listed with them. Description of key field marks helped by our two favorite guides: the Sibley Guide to Birds, D. Sibley and The Warbler Guide, T. Stephenson and S. Whittle.

American Redstart (M) - The adult male in all seasons is identified by the black head and throat, orange sides, and orange patches on the base of the outer tail feathers. Its behavior is also very distinctive. It is very active, landing on a branch, fanning its tail, spinning from side to side and then sallying out to catch a bug. in April, we were thrilled to see one at the Willows and spent an hour trying to get a picture of it. These migrate later in the spring and, in May, we saw many of them, especially around May 2 when they arrived en masse - we were seeing a dozen or more foraging in a single tree. I had seen the female previously but this was my first sighting of the male.

American Redstart (F) - The female has a very similar pattern but with a different color palette. The head is grey and the back and wings are olive-brown. The color patches are yellow or apricot colored. Young males have the same coloration with possible black showing on tail, lores, and throat. The foraging behavior of the female is identical. As with the male, these were so active that it was difficult to catch them stationary to take a picture. Though we did not see any in April, we saw these in equal number to the males in May.

Bay-breasted Warbler (M) - The breeding male plumage is distinctive. It has a black face with chestnut crown, throat and sides. There is a large buffy patch on the side of the neck. The back is gray-black with strong striping. The belly is white. There are two contrasting white wing bars present in all seasons. We saw these foraging methodically both along outer branches and in the grass. The bird in the photo was picking bugs out of a spider web on the fence. We only observed these during the May visit. This was our first observation of the Bay-breasted in any season.

Bay-breasted Warbler (F) - It takes some careful observation to note the similarities between the female (or fall male) and the breeding male. It has buffy undersides and olive head and uppers. The bold wing bars and the broad back striping are similar. This female has a pale chestnut wash on the sides and collar. It also has a similar pale neck patch. It shares the same chunky looks with short tail. Foraging was similar though I more often saw these in the grass than the male. We saw male and female in roughly equal numbers, perhaps a couple per day.

Black-and-white Warbler (M) - Both male and female in all seasons are striped all in black and white. The black and white striping in the crown is diagnostic. The female has white cheeks and the male has gray or black cheek patches. This one is fairly pale. The foraging behavior is very distinctive as it creeps up and down on the trunk of a tree like a nuthatch. We saw these regularly on both trips. We also see these in the Balcones during the spring as they breed in Central Texas.

Blackburnian Warbler (M) - The breeding male, shown here, has a fiery orange throat, face, supercilium, and crown patch. It has a distinctive triangular black cheek patch. The back is black with two white stripes and the underside is white with yellow-orange wash in the belly. The wings have a single broad white patch. The females and fall males have similar patterning but orange is replaced with pale yellow and black with pale gray. Seen foraging along branches and leaves in upper trees and in bushes. We first saw one of these last spring but only got a quick glance. This year, we got a good look at several of them, both male and female. We saw at most two individuals at one time.

Blackpoll (M) - The spring male has a heavy black cap with contrasting white cheeks. It has a distinctive black malar stripe with a white throat. It is boldly striped on the back and sides. The upper sides have brown and olive tones. The bill and legs are orange. The few times I found the male, it was foraging low and under cover near the water. We only saw the Blackpoll on our May trip.

Blackpoll  (F) - The female or fall male lacks the black patterning. At first glance it looks like a female yellow-rumped warbler. The overall color is olive brown. The breast is thinly streaked and back is boldly striped with two strong wing bars. The throat shows a yellow wash and there is a strong eyeline. The feet and legs were orange. That and the breast ticking provided me a quick distinction from the yellow-rumped. We saw about twice as many females at the birding center as males.

Black-throated Green Warbler (M) - The adult male has an olive back and crown with no streaking, a yellow face with olive markings, a black throat and breast, and a white belly and vent with muddled black streaking on the sides. It has two bold white wing bars. The face markings include an eye line and auriculars. At first glance they resemble the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler found in Central Texas but the face pattern is different and the crown is not black. These birds foraged actively, mostly in the low Huisache trees. We found them picking insects out of spiderwebs regularly. We began to see these on April 11. During our May visit they were plentiful, peaking at 20 in one day at the birding center.

Black-throated Green Warbler (F) - The female is very similar to the male but less bold. The throat is yellow or white rather than black and the breast has spottier, paler black markings. We saw approximately 1 female for every two males.

Blue-winged Warbler - The color blue is not the first thing I thought of when I saw this bird. Rather, the coloration was dominated by an olive back, clean yellow underside, and bright yellow-orange on the throat and front half of head. There is also a dark black eye line, strong through the lores and tapering off after the eye. The wings are a low-contrast blue-gray with white wing bars. At the birding center, this bird foraged in the Huisache trees similarly to the Black-throated Green. This species passed through quickly. I saw one of these at the birding center for several days at the beginning of our April visit. I then saw another straggler on April 12 at Bluecher Park. There were none during the May visit. Its place in the Huisache tree was taken over by the Black-throated Green.

Cape-May Warbler (M) - The breeding male shown has bright yellow head, collar, throat, and breast, transitioning to a white vent and tail. The head has a black cap and eye stripe and a chestnut cheek patch. The breast and sides are boldly streaked in black. The uppers are olive with striping. The wings have a large white patch. This species is a rarity in this location as it normally migrates further east. Danielle and I both got a good view of a male as it landed in the boggy area at the end of the boardwalk at Paradise Pond. We did not get a good picture of it so the image shown is of another Cape May that we saw last year at the birding center.

Cerulean Warbler (M) - The adult male is bright in all seasons. It has bright blue crown and back and grey blue uppers and chest band. The underparts are bright white with dark gray stripes on the sides. This bird foraged actively at various heights, both in the mid-range of the trees down into the low bushes. It poked around for insects under leaves. It readily approached humans and was not easily frightened away. This species is also uncommon here and is considered a threatened species. This lone bird drew much attention at the birding center. We saw it each day from April 9 to 13, after which it was not seen again.

Chestnut-sided Warbler (M) - The adult breeding male is shown. In the spring, this plumage is unmistakable. It is bright white below and in the neck and face. It has an olive-brown back and feathers with bold black stripes on the back. It has wide chestnut side stripes, a yellow crown patch, and a thick black malar stripe and eye line. In spring, the female is similar but has a shorter side stripe, less back striping and an olive tinged crown. In the fall, the plumage is much less colorful with chestnut and yellow all replaced with pale lime green. We actually saw one bird in May with this "basic plumage" giving rise to some discussions. We saw this foraging actively mostly in bushes and low trees. We got a brief glimpse of one last year at the Packery Channel so this was one of the species I most wanted to see this year. I got a distant view at Rosehill Cemetery in a group of warblers moving high in the trees in April. We saw a second in the undergrowth at Paradise Pond near the end of the April trip. Early in the May visit they were numerous. We listed 12 on May 2.

Common Yellowthroat (M) - The adult male in all seasons is very distinctive. It is shaped like a wren with long legs and tail. The upper and crown is a low contrast olive-brown. The throat and breast are bright yellow. The forehead and cheeks are a dark black mask bordered above and behind with a pale grey band. We have always found this species skulking in the undergrowth around water sometimes coming out to perch on a branch or reed. This species can be found in the area most of the year except summer and we have seen them consistently, though not numerously, on all of our trips.

Common Yellowthroat (F) - The female and young males are much less striking. The shape and behavior is similar but plumage is drab. There is a small yellow throat patch and there is yellow in the under-tail coverts. I have seen the female much less frequently. Perhaps it does not come out as readily.

Golden-winged Warbler (F) - Both male and female in all seasons are pale gray on uppers and paler gray in the belly and vent. The throat, lores, and cheeks are darker, or black in the male. There is a broad white malar stripe. The front of the crown and forehead are bright yellow as are the two wing bars. There is also a wash of yellow on the breast. I only saw this bird in May. Once as a brief flash at Paradise Pond early in the week and again for a few seconds shown here on May 2. As such, I did not observe any behavior.

Hooded Warbler (M) - The adult male in all seasons has a low contrast olive back and wings. The breast, belly, vent, and under-tail coverts are yellow. Only the under-tail is white. The forehead and face are yellow bordered by a rich black hood and collar. This was a very small warbler. This was one of the species I had really hoped to see in April and it was the first bird I saw at the birding center! This male remained visible for several days. It was typically found low to the ground in the willow trees or in the tall grass near the water. We saw a few more at other sites including Rosehill.

Hooded Warbler (F) - The adult female is similar in pattern except that the hood is a slightly darker olive than the back. We saw one immature female at Rosehill in April and a trio of them in May at the Willows foraging for several days in the grass above the pond. Both the male and female were very low in numbers.

Kentucky Warbler (M) - The adult male in all seasons, as shown here, is a larger chunky upright warbler with long legs. It has a low-contrast olive back, yellow underside and distinctive yellow spectacles against a contrasting black cheek and neck patch. The crown is mottled black. This species is extremely skulky, never venturing out of the dark undergrowth. It is typically ground-dwelling. We only saw them on the May trip, first at Bluecher Park, once at the birding center and once behind the orange feeders at Paradise Pond. Always a quick glimpse when it came out of cover.

Louisiana Waterthrush - Both male and female are similar in all seasons. A larger upright warbler with low contrast brown upperside and streaked buffy to white underside. The face has a bold pale supercilium flaring toward the back.  It has long pink legs. We found it typically bobbing on the ground, always in boggy areas. This bird is very similar to the Northern Waterthrush in appearance and behavior and differentiation was the topic of many debates. I found these two markings most helpful: The throat on the Louisiana is mostly clear of spots or streaks. The supercilium of the Louisiana narrows and darkens in the lores. We only saw this species during the April trip as it migrates early in the season.

Magnolia Warbler (M) - The adult breeding male is a striking bird. It has bright yellow underparts from throat to vent with several bold back side stripes emanating from a black collar. Its uppers and crown are gray. The center of the back has bold streaking with a black nape. The wings have contrasting white edges on the flight feathers and a broad white wing patch merging in with wing bars. The face has a dark mask over cheeks and forehead. There is a white patch in the rear of the supercilium and a small white lower eye-arc that give the bird a "sad teddy-bear" look. These forage actively at all levels of the tree. We saw these regularly at the birding center and Paradise Pond all through our May visit.

Magnolia Warbler (F) - Overall the female or non-breeding male looks like a pale version of the male. The black mask is replaced with same gray as head. The white supercilium is less pronounced and the white lower eye-arc does not stand out as much. At first glance, the head looks like a Nashville with less pronounced eye-ring. However, the back and wings are much more contrasting in the Magnolia. Behavior and foraging are similar to the male. We saw fewer females than males.

Nashville Warbler - In all seasons the male and female are a very low-contrast bird with olive back, wings and upper tail. The lower underside is yellow except around the vent where it is white. The head and nape are light gray. There is a very bold white eye-ring with no spectacles. Sometimes a reddish crown patch can be seen. These often foraged high in the trees or in especially leafy parts of the tree. They were constantly poking underneath leaves, often hanging upside-down. It was very difficult to get an unobstructed view of the bird. We saw them on both visits but never common or numerous. I found the Nashville to be one of the more frustrating photographic targets.

Northern Parula (M) - The spring male is shown and is very similar to the female. It has yellow throat and breast transitioning sharply to white belly, vent, and under-tail. The rest of the head, back and wings are blue-gray. There is a distinctive bright olive patch on the back and strong white wing bars. The face has black lores and forehead with two broken eye-arc above and below. The breast has a distinctive but diffuse rust colored band with black tinging above. The prominence of the band varied widely across individuals and is said to be more pronounced in males. The more southerly Tropical Parula is similar but has no white eye-arcs. The foraging behavior was very similar to the Nashville, very actively poking under and around leaves, hanging upside-down, and sallying out to grab insects from leaves in flight. We saw a number of these during the April visit but only one straggler at the end of the May visit. Ironically, the best photos were from the one May bird!

Northern Waterthrush - Both male and female are similar in all seasons. This bird is very similar to the Louisiana Waterthrush with same general appearance and behavior, but is much more common in this location. The most readily distinguishable feature the Northern's consistently broad supercilium with the same coloration in its lores. It also has streaking all of the way up into the throat. Other traditional field mark differences were less obvious to me. We saw this species on both of our trips.

Ovenbird - Male and female are similar in all seasons. It has a low-contrast olive-brown back, wings and head. The throat and lower parts are white with broad striping on breast and sides. The face has a bold complete white eye-ring and dark malar stripes. The head has a distinctive orange crown stripe bordered by black stripes. Observed bobbing along on the ground in the undergrowth. Scurried back out of sight when startled. Never saw it fly. Bird shown here, seen at Willows, was more cooperative and came out on lawn. We only saw these during out May trip.

Prairie Warbler (M) - The adult male or female has bright yellow underparts. It has olive crown, back, and wings. The wings have low contrast wing bars. It has a rufous, streaked back patch. The sides have bold black streaking. The face has a dark eye-line joined to a distinctive dark semi-circle under the eye. This individual was agreed to be an immature male. It has a more subtle orange back patch and olive striping and face patterning. I first saw a Prairie in full adult coloration in December at the Aransas NWR, but that was only a brief glimpse. This one remained throughout our May visit at Paradise Pond where we saw it once along the front sidewalk and once along the back boardwalk. Both sightings were reported as rarities.

Tennessee Warbler (M) - The male in spring is shown. It has a low-contrast green back, white throat and underside, and a pale gray head. The bill is small and sharp. The face has a thin, strong black eye-line bordered above by a thin white supercilium and below by a white eye-arc. The head in the male has no yellow making the gray stand out. This made the male easier to identify than the female. We observed these feeding actively, especially in the willow trees. We saw a few in April and they were the most numerous warbler in May.

Tennessee Warbler (F) - The female is similar in shape and patterning to the male but drabber overall with yellow wash in the sides and head. The gray of the head is much less pronounced. As such, these drab birds were my most repeatedly misidentified birds of the trip. At a quick glance they looked variously like an Orange-crowned Warbler (out of season) or a Philadelphia, Warbling, or Red-eyed Vireo (all in season). We observed these in about equal proportion to the males.

Wilson's Warbler (M) - The adult male is a small warbler with bright yellow underparts and olive upperparts. The wings are low contrast with no apparent wing bars. The male has a dark black crown like a beret. The cheeks are slightly darker giving the effect of a bright yellow supercilium. We observed this species foraging actively though rarely in the open or on the outer edges of the bushes.We saw a few in winter and in April but only two in May. We saw no females, which lack the dark black cap, this spring.

Worm-eating Warbler - The adult birds are all similar with no sex or season differences. It has a very plain olive-gray back and wings and buffy underparts. The head is caramel colored with two broad, black crown strips and two narrow eye-line stripes. Sibleys describes it as "specializing in picking insects from hanging dead leaves." We, however, found it forging under dead leaves on the ground, peeking under them like a wren. Along with the Hooded Warbler, this was one of the first warblers we saw in our April trip.  By the middle of that week, they had moved on. In total, we only saw a few individual birds at different locations.

Yellow Warbler (M) - The adult male shown is yellow throughout with olive tinging on back and wings. The flight feathers have yellow edging to them and, diagnostically, the under-tail coverts and tail are both yellow. The face looks very plain and open with a bold black eye bordered by a yellow eye-ring. Different individuals show differing amounts of red streaking in the breast and sides. Females have very pale streaking with little contrast to the body. This was another active, high tree forager. We only saw these during the May trip and saw mostly males.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Audubon's (M) - The Yellow-rumped warbler is a bird we have in abundance in Austin during the winter season. We also saw many in winter at the birding center. In that season, it is brown and buffy with the characteristic rump and side yellow patches. The bird shown is a male transitioning into breeding plumage and is of the "Audubon's" sub-species as indicated by the yellow throat patch. It has deep blue-gray uppers and breast and a contrasting white belly and vent with side streaking. The yellow rump and side patches are present as is a yellow crown stripe and throat. The face has dark lores and a pronounced white eye under-arc. We only saw one of these transitional males at the birding center during the April trip. It remained mostly undercover. Unlike other species migrating through Port Aransas, this one is likely migrating from the area.

Yellow-throated Warbler - Last but not least is the Yellow-throated. Prior to our trips, we had repeatedly chased a report of this species in the Austin area, finally getting a view. During our April trip they were numerous giving us much easier photographic pickings. This bird is very distinctive in all seasons and both sexes. It has a silver gray back and crown, white belly, vent, and under-tail, and a bright yellow throat and upper breast, bordered by rich black cheek patches, lores, and eye-stripe. The face also has a long white supercilium stripe and white neck patch. The bird also has an elongated body with very long bill. We did not see this as an active feeder but rather more methodical in foraging along branches.

Over the two trips, I listed 147 species including 21 new entries on my "life list."