June 15, 2019

Nalle Bunny Run 2019-06-15

Despite nine registrations, only four people showed up for this morning's monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. It's too bad since we had a fun morning seeing some great birds! We had barely started walking down the hill when we got a distant but pretty good look at this male Painted Bunting that had been singing for at least 30 minutes:

Painted Bunting

This group was very fortunate to see this bird. On many previous group walks we've heard this species singing all morning but could never get a look at one! This wasn't the only Painted Bunting on the preserve. Later down by the lake we heard another singing that turned out to be an all-green first-year male. There could be two pairs of Painted Buntings breeding here.

When we inspected the spring box we found this small toad clinging to the inside wall. Despite it literally having red spots, I think this is the much more expected Gulf Coast Toad rather than Red-spotted Toad. There were many tiny young Gulf Coast Toads around. (It would be very exciting to find a Red-spotted Toad since they historically occurred in the Austin area, but they haven't been seen around here for years.)

Gulf Coast Toad

Other good bird observations made on the walk included pretty close looks at Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a male Summer Tanager, a White-eyed Vireo, and female Ladder-backed Woodpecker. By the large cottonwood trees on the eastern fence line we saw a Red-shouldered Hawk missing some tail feathers. (This is a seldom observed species on the preserve, even though I'd expect them to be common here.) We got to hear Canyon Wren, Red-eyed Vireo, and Northern Parula. This female Eastern Bluebird was down by the lake, near a juvenile bluebird it might have been feeding:

Eastern Bluebird

Near the end of the walk almost back up by the gate this bright orange beetle caught by eye as it flew in and landed on a Mexican Hat wildflower:

Orange Beetle on Mexican Hat

I made a very preliminary identification of its species, and I'm hoping more knowledgeable iNaturalist users will help me confirm or correct it.

I ended up recording 25 species of birds. Here's our complete eBird list.

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

And the same photos are attached as iNaturalist observations to this journal post.

Posted on June 15, 2019 21:25 by mikaelb mikaelb | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 01, 2019

Walburg BBS Scouting 2019-06-01

I scouted the USGS Walburg Breeding Bird Survey route today. In 2017 I volunteered for this route and have surveyed it twice since then. No issues were encountered along the route this morning, and I hope to survey it officially next weekend. Only one Northern Bobwhite was heard, and only three Eastern Meadowlarks. Attached are some iNat observations I made along the way. And here are a few eBird checklists I made:


Posted on June 01, 2019 21:42 by mikaelb mikaelb | 22 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 26, 2019

Tony Amos Beach 2019-05-26

Tony Amos Beach

I started off my birthday birding the Tony Amos beach on Mustang Island just south of Port Aransas. Starting at Access Road 1, I drove south for just over 7 miles to Access Road 2 and counted birds along the way. It was the middle of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and the beach was packed with campers. For the first 2 miles south of Access Road 1 the beach was full of cars, tents RVs, and travel trailers. It seemed like every third or fourth RV or trailer had a running generator. And sometimes folks were happily sitting right next to a running generator, seeming to not mind the noise at all! I had to look for gaps between all the vehicles and tents to check the edge of the water for birds. I'm sure I missed many. And I'm surprised there were still any birds using the beach among all those campers.

Between 2.5 and 3 miles south of Access Road 1, the campers finally started thinning out. By 3 miles the beach was mostly too narrow for camping and the birding was much easier. As expected, the dominant shorebird on the beach was the Sanderling. Many like this one were sporting their dramatically different alternate (breeding) plumage, making them a little harder for me to recognize since I'm so used to their gray basic (winter) plumage:


Surprisingly to me, the second most numerous shorebird on the beach was the White-rumped Sandpiper, a species on a long northward migration from southern South America up to the arctic. They were usually in groups ranging in size from 5 to 20. Sometimes one or two Semipalmated Sandpipers were with them.

White-rumped Sandpiper - 2

In the entire stretch of beach, just over 6 miles south of Access Road 1, I was excited to find 2 Red Knots. This is a migratory shorebird species that is in steep decline in population. I wish I'd found more, but I was glad to at least see these two:

Red Knot - 1 - 3

Here's my complete eBird list.

Posted on May 26, 2019 21:41 by mikaelb mikaelb | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 24, 2019

Government Canyon State Natural Area 2019-04-21

I spent Easter Sunday with Meredith Edgley O'reilly visiting Government Canyon State Natural Area just northwest of San Antonio. What a fun day! We covered about 5 miles of the Lytle's Loop front country trail. Highlights included an unseen singing Olive Sparrow (which only got identified here on iNat), a Texas Wafer Ashe tree full of swallow-tail butterfly caterpillars, and a Pipevine Swallowtail laying eggs! See the attached observations.

Here's our complete eBird list.

And here are the same photos on Flickr.

Posted on April 24, 2019 00:38 by mikaelb mikaelb | 24 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 20, 2019

Nalle Bunny Run 2019-04-20

Four people joined me this morning for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. We spent nearly 3 hours finding 35 species of birds and enjoying beautiful weather and lots of blooming wildflowers. This preserve was loaded with this tiny pink flower which the iNaturalist Seek app identified as Slender Hedeoma. I'm curious to see if the iNat community agrees with this!

Slender Hedeoma ((Hedeoma acinoides)

One aspect of springtime birding in central Texas is that not all of our winter resident species have left yet, and some of them have started to sing after having been silent all winter. We got to experience this today when we heard and finally saw this Orange-crowned Warbler singing while it foraged on the east fence line of the preserve:

Orange-crowned Warbler

Down the hill from the Orange-crowned Warbler near the lake we got great looks at a newly returned summer resident warbler, the Yellow-throated Warbler. I first heard it singing in the cypress trees on the other side of the fence line so I tried playing a recording of its song. After a few minutes it flew right up to us, counter-singing to what it thought was a competing male:

Yellow-throated Warbler

When we were back up at the gate, before we left we enjoyed watching pollinators in a stunning patch of Indian Blanket wildflowers. Here's an American Lady butterfly on one of them:

American Lady on Indian Blanket

Here's our complete bird list on eBird.

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

And attached are the same photos as iNaturalist observations.

Posted on April 20, 2019 23:04 by mikaelb mikaelb | 11 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

April 15, 2019

Puryear Ranch 2019-04-13 to 14

I was fortunate to be able to join Hill Country Conservancy's EPIC camp out last weekend on the Puryear Ranch just west of Austin. I spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning taking photos and listing birds, mostly along Rocky Creek. The ranch has these cool old stone fences that I can't imagine building:

Rock Wall - 1

Rock Wall - 2

The wildflowers were stunning, and I got lots of help identifying plants from iNaturalist's recently updated Seek app. Here are my eBird lists from Saturday afternoon, a few heard-only birds over night, and Sunday morning:


Sunday morning I climbed a nearby hill and took this panoramic photo:

Panorama - 2

Posted on April 15, 2019 22:19 by mikaelb mikaelb | 41 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 31, 2019

Inspiring Oaks Ranch 2019-03-30

I was privileged to attend Hill Country Conservancy's celebration of its latest conservation easement, on the beautiful Inspiring Oaks Ranch southwest of Austin. Here are a few photos from an amazing creek on the property:

Descending to the creek:
Landscape - 1

Limestone cliff:
Landscape - 3

Waterlilies (genus Nymphaea)

Cypress Trees:
Landscape - 4

Mexican Buckeye:
Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa)

Here are a few photos from around the barn where the party was.

Landscape - 6

Landscape - 7

Yellow-rumped Warbler

It made me happy to learn how interested the current owners and their young adult children are in conservation and good land stewardship of this amazing property!

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

And see the attached observations.

Posted on March 31, 2019 21:44 by mikaelb mikaelb | 15 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 16, 2019

Nalle Bunny Run 2019-03-16

Out of nine registered people, only four showed up to join me on the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve this morning. The no-shows missed out on a beautiful cool and birdy morning! We found 39 species of birds and here are some highlights.

With the spring, the birds are singing, and we heard birdsong through the entire walk. The most common songs were Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, and Black-crested Titmouse. We also heard songs from Bewick's Wren, Lesser Goldfinch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Chickadee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Field Sparrow, Yellow-throated Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, House Finch, Northern Parula, and Eastern Phoebe at one point or another.

We found three birds flagged as rare for the Austin area by eBird, a briefly heard Yellow-throated Warbler, an early Yellow-throated Vireo, and a female Eastern Towhee, probably the same one I saw back in January. Here's the Towhee:

Eastern Towhee

After several fleeting glimpses of newly returning Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, we finally got great looks at two foraging low near the lake. Here's one of them, a brilliant male sporting the dark brow of its breeding plumage:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Near the end of the walk, we were treated to brief looks at a newly returned White-eyed Vireo. This summer-resident species is much more easily heard than seen. It prefers to stay hidden in low dense brush. So we were fortunate to see one singing out in the open. Here's a so-so photo I got of it. You can just see its white eye:

White-eyed Vireo

Right before we got back to the preserve gate, we finally got a good look at a few Cedar Waxwings, a species we had been seeing flying over us in large flocks all morning. I got this photo of three of them:

Cedar Waxwings

See the attached observations, and here are a few more photos on Flickr.

And here's our complete eBird list.

Posted on March 16, 2019 22:31 by mikaelb mikaelb | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 24, 2019

Port Aransas Whooping Crane Festival 2019-02-19 thru 2019-02-24

I was fortunate again this year to participate in the Port Aransas Whooping Crane Festival. This journal entry covers my time in Port Aransas from a few days before the festival to the last day of the festival.

On Tuesday 2/19 I birded around Port Aransas in cold, wet, overcast weather. My favorite observation was from the Wetlands Park. This stunning white-phase Reddish Egret came in close and was sporting amazing colors on its bill and lores:

Reddish Egret (White Phase)

On Wednesday 2/20 Ray Dillahunty and I scouted the Lamar area for the Birds of Lamar Peninsula field trips I led on Friday and Saturday. We had an amazing morning that included an early Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and a few close fly-overs by Whooping Cranes:

Whooping Crane - 2 - 1

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - 1 - 1

When we returned to Port Aransas we checked the Turnbull Birding Center and were treated to this stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher, which was seen there again on Sunday morning (2/24):

Vermilion Flycatcher

On Thursday afternoon I led my first field trip of the festival, a 1.5 hour bird and nature boat tour around ship channel. These short tours are always fun and I was disappointed I only got to lead one this year. Highlights included a first-year White-tailed Hawk, Northern Harriers talon-grappling, Common Loons, and these American Avocets with their bright blue legs:

American Avocets

Friday morning and Saturday afternoon I led field trips to the Lamar area. On both trips we were able to get good looks at Whooping Cranes, despite heavy fog on Friday morning. Very special thanks to Goose Island park ranger Sarah Nordlof for taking both groups into the newly acquired Big Tree Natural Area where Friday's group saw the early Scissor-tailed Flycatcher we saw on Wednesday, and Saturday's group got to see nine Whooping Cranes. Here's part of Friday's group walking through the fog:

First Lamar Field Trip

And here are some of the cranes that Saturday's group got to see there:

Whooping Cranes - 8 - 4

On Saturday morning I got to attend a bird walk led by field guide author and expert birder Richard Crossley. The walk was called "Learning to Look" and Richard presented a very well structured and passionate approach to observing birds in extreme detail, with and without optics. He emphatically explained that if you rely on gestalt bird identification (general impression, size, and shape) and cannot articulate what you are basing your identification on, then you are not really looking at the bird.

On Sunday morning I slept in, and did some casual birding later in the morning at Paradise Pond and the Turnbull Birding Center. I enjoyed seeing and sharing many of the common birds including this amazing Red-winged Blackbird:

Red-winged Blackbird

Here are a few more photos on Flickr:

Here's my eBird summary, and below are attached observations.
Can't wait for next year!

eBird Checklist Summary for: Feb 19, 2019 at 12:00 AM to Feb 24, 2019 at 11:59 PM

Number of Checklists: 11
Number of Taxa: 92

Checklists included in this summary:
(1): Port Aransas - Beach Access Road 1
Date: Feb 19, 2019 at 9:18 AM
(2): Port Aransas- Charlie's Pasture South Boardwalk (off TX-361)
Date: Feb 19, 2019 at 10:15 AM
(3): Port Aransas Wetland Park (CTC 059)
Date: Feb 19, 2019 at 10:42 AM
(4): Port Aransas Jetty (CTC 058)
Date: Feb 21, 2019 at 8:02 AM
(5): Port Aransas Community Park
Date: Feb 21, 2019 at 9:37 AM
(6): Copano Bay State Fishing Pier (CTC 049)
Date: Feb 22, 2019 at 8:25 AM
(7): 4th Street, Lamar
Date: Feb 22, 2019 at 8:45 AM
(8): Copano Bay State Fishing Pier (CTC 049)
Date: Feb 23, 2019 at 1:57 PM
(9): 4th Street, Lamar
Date: Feb 23, 2019 at 2:06 PM
(10): Port Aransas--Holt Paradise Pond
Date: Feb 24, 2019 at 9:13 AM
(11): Port Aransas- Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Ctr. (CTC 057)
Date: Feb 24, 2019 at 10:14 AM

44 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck -- (7),(9)
9 Blue-winged Teal -- (7),(11)
26 Northern Shoveler -- (3),(7),(9),(11)
1 Mallard -- (3)
6 Mottled Duck -- (3),(5)
30 Northern Pintail -- (2),(9),(11)
104 Green-winged Teal -- (11)
2 Lesser Scaup -- (5)
1 Red-breasted Merganser -- (8)
1 Ruddy Duck -- (11)
10 duck sp. -- (5)
5 Pied-billed Grebe -- (5),(7),(10)
20 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) -- (4)
2 Eurasian Collared-Dove -- (10)
2 Mourning Dove -- (7)
1 Common Gallinule (American) -- (11)
137 American Coot -- (5),(7),(9),(11)
12 Sandhill Crane -- (7),(9)
18 Whooping Crane -- (7),(9)
1 American Avocet -- (3)
7 American Oystercatcher -- (1),(4)
6 Black-bellied Plover -- (1),(5)
6 Piping Plover -- (1)
6 Killdeer -- (5),(9),(11)
2 Long-billed Curlew -- (2)
5 Ruddy Turnstone -- (1),(7)
52 Sanderling -- (1)
6 Dunlin -- (5)
17 Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher -- (3),(7),(9)
2 Wilson's Snipe -- (11)
1 Greater Yellowlegs -- (9)
45 Willet -- (1),(2),(4),(5),(9),(11)
6 Lesser Yellowlegs -- (5),(7),(11)
7 Bonaparte's Gull -- (4)
191 Laughing Gull -- (1),(3),(4),(5),(7),(8),(9),(10)
93 Ring-billed Gull -- (1),(2),(3),(4),(5),(7),(10),(11)
7 Herring Gull -- (1),(4),(7)
1 Lesser Black-backed Gull -- (1)
3 Gull-billed Tern -- (3),(5)
2 Caspian Tern -- (9)
17 Forster's Tern -- (1),(3),(9)
66 Royal Tern -- (1),(4)
3 Common Loon -- (6),(7),(8)
2 Anhinga -- (7),(9)
18 Neotropic Cormorant -- (3),(9)
56 Double-crested Cormorant -- (1),(4)
128 American White Pelican -- (3),(5),(6),(7),(8),(11)
156 Brown Pelican -- (1),(3),(4),(5),(6),(10)
6 Great Blue Heron -- (4),(5),(7),(9)
13 Great Egret -- (3),(4),(9)
78 Snowy Egret -- (3),(4),(5),(9)
2 Little Blue Heron -- (2),(9)
4 Tricolored Heron -- (9),(11)
21 Reddish Egret -- (3),(4),(5),(11)
41 White Ibis -- (2),(3),(5),(9),(11)
3 Glossy/White-faced Ibis -- (3),(9)
101 Roseate Spoonbill -- (3),(4),(5),(9),(11)
10 Black Vulture -- (7),(9)
8 Turkey Vulture -- (5),(7),(9),(11)
1 Osprey -- (5)
1 Northern Harrier -- (5)
1 Red-tailed Hawk -- (5)
1 owl sp. -- (5)
1 Crested Caracara -- (2)
2 American Kestrel -- (5),(7)
1 Peregrine Falcon -- (11)
2 Eastern Phoebe -- (7),(11)
1 Vermilion Flycatcher -- (11)
2 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher -- (7),(9)
2 Loggerhead Shrike -- (5),(11)
19 Purple Martin -- (5),(6),(7)
5 Tree Swallow -- (9)
1 Cliff Swallow -- (8)
7 Sedge Wren -- (2),(5)
1 Carolina Wren -- (7)
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- (10)
3 Gray Catbird -- (5),(7)
9 Northern Mockingbird -- (5),(7),(11)
5 European Starling -- (10),(11)
1 American Pipit -- (11)
1 American Goldfinch -- (5)
1 Vesper Sparrow -- (7)
5 Savannah Sparrow -- (7)
20 Western/Eastern Meadowlark -- (7)
62 Red-winged Blackbird -- (7),(10),(11)
6 Brown-headed Cowbird -- (7),(10)
276 Great-tailed Grackle -- (1),(2),(3),(4),(5),(7),(9),(10),(11)
1 Orange-crowned Warbler -- (10)
1 Common Yellowthroat -- (5)
26 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) -- (5),(7),(10),(11)
4 Northern Cardinal -- (7)
3 House Sparrow -- (6)

Posted on February 24, 2019 23:08 by mikaelb mikaelb | 35 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 16, 2019

Nalle Bunny Run 2019-02-16

Twelve people joined me this morning for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. Despite record-setting high temperatures in the low 90s yesterday, this morning it was 42 degrees with a light north wind blowing when I arrived at around 8:15 AM, and it did not warm up much more all morning.

The group was lucky to see two very short-lived seasonal events on the preserve. The first was the presence of hundreds (maybe thousands) of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings in the air and in the trees. This time of year (late winter or early spring) robins and waxwings that have been wintering further south than central Texas have started moving north and join the robins and waxwings who were already here for the winter, creating huge flocks of these two species. We could almost constantly hear the robins, and large numbers flew overhead almost continuously. For my eBird list I estimated 1000 robins and 500 cedar waxwings but this could have been low. Photos really couldn't capture this phenomenon, but here's a shot of one robin and one waxwing perched together I took before the group arrived:

American Robin and Cedar Waxwing

The second event was the blooming of Agarita, one of the most common shrubs on the preserve. This prevalent native species is popular among people and wildlife for the sweet berries it produces. (Some people create jam out of them.) But its yellow flowers only bloom for a week or two once a year. We were lucky to catch the tail-end of this year's bloom!

Agarita in Bloom

Near the lake we spotted probably the same Merlin I've seen previously this winter, perched in a partially dead cottonwood it's been in before. As we gradually got closer to it I stared hearing Common Ravens, and then we saw the ravens chasing a Red-tailed Hawk. These three birds passed close by the Merlin which flew away from them and towards us, letting us walk almost right under its new perch where I got this photo:

Merlin - 1

Near the same spot we found a pile of feathers from a Ring-billed Gull, probably killed by a predator. And soon afterwards we saw about a dozen Ring-billed Gulls fly over us in a loose V formation.

Here's our complete bird list on eBird.

And here are a few more photos on Flickr.

See the attached observations or the photos on Flickr for photos of the gulls.

Posted on February 16, 2019 22:47 by mikaelb mikaelb | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment