November 01, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run with Bill Carr 2020-10-31

Last weekend on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve I noticed that a certain plant on the sandy prairie area was blooming, covered in tiny white flowers. Over the years of leading group walks here, this plant would catch people's eyes since it's growing in a tight bunch with nothing else similar around. They'd ask me what it was, and I didn't know. Since plants are often much easier to identify when they're blooming, I took some photos. Here's one:

Yankeeweed (Eupatorium compositifolium) - 1 - 2

Back at home I posted it to iNaturalist and to the Texas Flora Facebook group. Pretty quickly Floyd Waller identified it as Yankeeweed (Eupatorium compositifolium). And pretty soon after that, Bill Dodd (@billdodd) realized it might be a new plant record for Travis County. He contacted Bill Carr, longtime Texas botanist who as been tracking plant species in Travis County since the 1980s. Bill Carr confirmed that yep, it was new for his county list! Here's part of the context he emailed us:

To cut to the chase, sandy-loving species are uncommon in our area simply because they don't grow on the limestones and clays that cover 95 percent of our landscape. Eupatorium compositifolium is one such species. It's common as dirt on the Eocene Sands in Bastrop County (and elsewhere in the southeastern US), but hasn't been reported here because of the paucity of sand. It will be really interesting to document its occurrence at Bunny Run and to find out what other sand-loving species might grow with it. Well, interesting to me, at least!

Well it was interesting to me, Bill Dodd, and Hill Country Conservancy too! So we made plans to visit the Bunny Run the following Saturday. We enjoyed a beautiful cool morning, starting at about 40 degrees at 9:00 AM and ending up in the mid-60s when we were done at noon. Bill Carr was impressed with the botanical diversity of the Bunny Run, and I can't wait to see his list and comments for the morning. I tried recording a few of the plants he pointed out, and they are attached to this journal entry below.

And of course we enjoyed seeing the Yankeeweed, which was still in bloom. Here are a few video highlights from the morning:

I kept an eBird list as well:

And below are more attached observations, mostly plants that Bill Carr pointed out.

Posted on November 01, 2020 18:48 by mikaelb mikaelb | 25 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 25, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run 2020-10-24

Today I enjoyed a cool morning in the 50s with a north wind blowing on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. Bird activity was a little slow to start but I enjoyed two mixed-species foraging flocks in the denser areas of the parkland habitat area. On windy days little songbirds find areas sheltered from the wind, so that's where I went. Returning winter residents included Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Orange-crowned Warblers, a heard-only Northern Flicker, and a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I got this photo of the sapsucker while I was playing an Eastern Screech-Owl recording to attract one of the flocks:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The two flocks included several Nashville Warbler too, which are just passing through on their way further south, but I was unable to get a photo of one.

Down on the sandy prairie I was excited to discover that the croton (dove weed) was full of sparrows! Lincoln's Sparrows were most numerous but there were also Savannah Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, and a few White-throated Sparrows. The sandy prairie area is great habitat for these sparrows. They forage on the ground and in the low mix of native plants like croton and Camphorweed. But there are plenty of scattered trees and shrubs around that they can fly into when alarmed. A few winter-resident House Wrens were also using this habitat.

Here's one o the Savannah Sparrows, a species I don't have many records of for the Bunny Run:

Savannah Sparrow - 1

Another much larger returning winter resident flew over me as I looked for sparrows, this Osprey:


Near the northeast corner of the preserve, still on the sandy prairie, I noticed an interesting plant. People have asked me about it before but I've never been able to tell them what it is. Today it was flowering, so I took some photos and later got it identified as Yakeeweed (Eupatorium compositifolium). It might be the first record of it in Travis County!

Unknown Plant - 1 - 2

On my way back up the hill I spent some time in the sometimes waterfall that the spring drains into. In the last large pool at the bottom I was surprised to find a dead floating Red-tailed Hawk! I made a video of the experience. Be warned it contains footage of the dead carcass that some might not like to see:

Here's my complete eBird list.

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

And see my attached observations.

Posted on October 25, 2020 16:59 by mikaelb mikaelb | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 16, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-10-10

Here's the latest virtual tour of Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve:

Here's our complete eBird checklist:

Here are photos on Flickr:

And attached are the same photos as iNaturalist observations.

Posted on October 16, 2020 21:33 by mikaelb mikaelb | 13 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 26, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-09-19

Here's the latest virtual tour of Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve. We recorded it last weekend and we're learning more and more each month. Love the way this one turned out!

Here's my complete eBird list:

Here are the same photos and videos on Flickr:

And attached are some observations.

Posted on September 26, 2020 13:22 by mikaelb mikaelb | 8 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 13, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-07-12

Hill Country Conservancy staffers Sarah Dean and Carolyn Stephens met me on their Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve Sunday morning to record our fifth virtual tour of the property. Here are some highlights from this very warm and humid morning. (I'll update this post when the video is posted.)

Near the gate we heard a Painted Bunting singing. We waited a bit and the bird flew into view, and then a second Painted Bunting joined it. This was surprising because both were mature males, who normally would be chasing each other off each other's territories. But they seemed to coexist just find and even flew away still loosely associated and going in the same direction. Maybe it's late enough in the season that they've stopped being territorial until next year? Here's one of them:

Painted Bunting - 1 - 2

On the sandy prairie near the northeast corner of the preserve, we had just finished photographing a Neon Skimmer dragonfly when another large insect flew in and landed on a grape vine. While it flew we were stunned by its metallic green and blue colors. After it landed we saw it also had orange legs and incredibly long antennae. It looked like a member of the Long-horned Beetle family (Cerambycidae) but I had never seen one like this! It turned out to be a Bumelia Borer and I can't wait to learn more about this dazzling animal. Here's one of my photos:

Bumelia Borer - 1 - 4

One of the prevalent plants on the sandy prairie area is croton, and it was in bloom and being pollinated by a variety of insects including bees, flies, and wasps. Many people don't realize that many wasps feed on nectar and pollen as adults, and thus are important pollinators. Here's one I photographed that the iNaturalist community has tentatively identified as a Five-banded Thynnid Wasp:

Wasp on Croton - 2

The most exciting part of the morning came on the west side of the preserve in the deciduous woods habitat area. Carolyn and I were looking at an empty cicada shell when Sarah spotted a large bird flying through the woods. I was too late to see it but then we all saw a second bird fly in the same direction. It was a juvenile Great Horned Owl. We went into the woods to see if we could find these birds and we were lucky to find one, awkwardly perched on a tree trunk and nervously watching us. In the middle of the photo, you can just barely see one of its massive talons!

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls are amazingly adaptable birds of prey that can live in urban and suburban habitats as well as more natural areas. Juvenile birds are seen more often because they haven't learned how to be as sneaky and wary of people yet.

In addition to the owls, I ended up recording 27 species of birds.
Here's our complete list on eBird.

Here are these photos and more from the morning posted on Flickr.

And attached are most of these same photos as iNaturalist observations.

Update 2020/07/17: Here's the video:

Posted on July 13, 2020 20:27 by mikaelb mikaelb | 18 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 09, 2020

Walburg BBS 2020-06-07

Among many other much greater disappointments and concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the USGS Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) was officially cancelled for 2020. At the time (April 10), USGS staff could not enter their offices and most of the country was shut down. But by late May the world had learned a little more about the virus, and we all had learned more about how to do things safely. I started thinking about running my BBS route anyway. This would be the fourth time running this route, which is northeast of Austin on 25 miles of back roads south of Granger Lake.

On May 30 Joanna Rabiger and I scouted the route, and on June 7 I did the survey according to protocol. (The protocol is to drive the 25 mile route and stop at 50 specific points. At each point record all the birds you see or hear for 3 minutes.) Here are some highlights from the survey, starting with this moonlit agricultural field at the first point just before 6 AM. The lights of Weir, TX are in the background. (Where? Weir!)

Moon from Survey Point 1

For the fourth year in a row, at point 3 a local guineafowl confronted me and expressed its disapproval. This time I captured it on video. Click to watch:

Guinea Fowl at Point 3

Here are some species that I don't usually see in my neighborhood in Austin, but that breed out here in the more open habitat. Most are in decline, especially Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Meadowlark, and Loggerhead Shrike. I included how many points I detected at least one:

Northern Bobwhite: 1 (at point 11)
Horned Lark: 1
Eastern Meadowlark: 3
Dickcissel: 14
Lark Sparrow: 7
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: 9
Painted Bunting: 13
Loggerhead Shrike: 2

The bobwhite, Horned Lark, and meadowlarks were heard-only during the survey. But a week earlier Joanna and I were treated to this view of a Horned Lark. Maybe it was the same one I heard on the survey!

Horned Lark - 1 - 3

For each point, there's a box you can check on the survey form if some kind of "excessive noise" affected your ability to hear birds. I had to check this box for point 36 because this contraption was circling above me:

Helicopter at Point 36 - 1 - 2

A few points later I parked on the shoulder of the road in tall grass, which is often necessary during this survey. When I drove back onto the road, I heard a rubbing sound and felt resistance. When I got out of the car to inspect, I saw a partially folded tire sticking out of my right front wheel well. I briefly panicked thinking it was a catastrophic flat tire! But when I looked closer I realized that my tire was still on the rim and just fine. I had driven over an abandoned tire hidden in the tall grass, and it had rotated up into the top of the wheel well where it was crammed between the top of my tire and the fender. It was stuck in there good, but I tried slowly backing up, and the old tire came right back out the way it had gone in. I briefly thought about tossing it back in the tall grass, but I threw it into the back of my Subaru instead. I didn't know how I was going to dispose of it yet but I'd figure something out.

The rest of the survey was uneventful. I finished point 50 at about 11:30 and had a picnic lunch on the side of the gravel road. I took this selfie:

Survey Point 50 Selfie

On my way home I stopped at a big tire store on the highway and they accepted the old tire I'd found to dispose of it properly.

I don't know if the USGS will accept my data this year, but it's here if they want it. I could also enter it into eBird if I feel ambitious enough to create 50 eBird locations. Regardless, I considered it a morning well-spent. The beautiful views, the ritual of the survey protocol, and the nature connection temporarily overcame my pandemic worry.

Attached are observations from both the scouting day and the survey day.

Posted on July 09, 2020 23:05 by mikaelb mikaelb | 13 observations | 4 comments | Leave a comment

June 23, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-06-21

On Sunday morning Joanna Rabiger and I met with HCC staff member Sarah Dean on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve to create another virtual tour. I'll update this post with a link to the video when it is available.

A highlight of the morning was a brief sighting of a silent Golden-cheeked Warbler that Joanna spotted at the beginning of the trail to the spring, at the edge of oak-juniper habitat. I was unable to photograph this bird but it was exciting to see. We don't get many observations of this species on the preserve, even though the preserve is managed for Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat. We think the habitat is a bit too small and isolated to attract a breeding pair. This might have been a post-breeding wandering bird, or even a bird already on its way south.

Attached are some other observations.

Here are the same photos on Flickr:

And here is our complete bird list on eBird:

Update 6/30/2020. Here's the video:

Posted on June 23, 2020 13:11 by mikaelb mikaelb | 9 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

June 20, 2020

Blue Jay Croaks as Alarm Sounds

639 - BLUE JAY (2-8-2016) tradwinds park, broward co, fl -01

(Above is a beautiful public domain photo of a Blue Jay vocalizing that I found on Flickr. Click on it to go to the photographer's photo stream.)

I've been interested in a body of knowledge call "Bird Language" ever since Jon Young wrote the book "What the Robin Knows" in 2013. It describes and organizes patterns of bird behavior and sounds around perceived danger that he calls "alarms." If you can recognize when birds are exhibiting alarm behavior, you can sometimes determine what the source of that alarm is. I've found snakes in trees by first recognizing songbirds alarming around a particular area in the canopy. And I've gotten to see a few more Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks over the years by recognizing other birds' alarms that the hawks trigger.

Blue Jays have always been difficult to interpret in this context. Sometimes you see them mobbing a hawk while making their "jeer" calls. But it seems like just as often, maybe even more often, they get together and jeer and jeer and jeer for no apparent reason.

But recently I made a discovery about Blue Jay alarms. Back in November one morning on Lake Creek Trail, I heard a nearby Blue Jay making jeer calls. And then I heard a low croak from the same direction. I found the Blue Jay and saw it make a few more croaks as it concentrated on a small area of low dense brush. Looking into this brush I was excited to see a roosting Eastern Screech-Owl!

Since then, I've been listening for these croaks from Blue Jays. And when I hear them, I can usually find both the Blue Jay and a hawk that it's harassing. The croaks seem to be a pretty reliable indicator that a Blue Jay is actively confronting some kind of predator. Much more reliable then the jeers.

A couple days ago I was able to record one of these croaks. A Broad-winged Hawk was perched in my neighbor's backyard and a Blue Jay flew in to harass it. I started recording audio on my phone hoping to record a croak, and I did! See the attached audio observation of Blue Jay. The audio clip starts out with some jeer calls, and then at about 10 seconds there is one croak. The Blue Jay made this croak as it dove at the hawk. It's the last Blue Jay sound on the clip.

I also attached the Eastern Screech-Owl observation from November when I first noticed this croak and wondered what it was.

Posted on June 20, 2020 19:04 by mikaelb mikaelb | 2 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

May 23, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-05-23

Hill Country Conservancy staffers Sarah and Carolyn met me this morning to create another virtual tour of their Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve.

My complete eBird list is here.

Here are my photos on Flickr.

The same photos are also attached as observations.

Will update when the virtual tour is posted on YouTube.

Updated 2020-06-04 with YouTube virtual tour:

Posted on May 23, 2020 23:52 by mikaelb mikaelb | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 21, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run 2020-05-16

Saturday May 16, 2020 would have been when I led the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. But thanks to the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic, it was just me. I would rather have been leading a group, but I also appreciated the opportunity to spend a morning on the Bunny Run by myself. Heavy rain the night before increased the possibility of seeing spring migrating birds, and we don't have many records of migrants on the preserve so I was excited for the possibilities. It turned out to be a fantastic morning and here are some highlights.

Breeding Birds

Summer- and year-round-resident birds were singing and reproducing! I heard songs of Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, three different Northern Parulas, and a Painted Bunting. Two juvenile Canyon Wrens came right up to me as I was trying to photograph another bird. When I realized how close they were I got this photo:

Juvenile Canyon Wren - 2 - 1

This Red-eyed Vireo was carrying a small twig to add to a nest somewhere:

Red-eyed Vireo - 1 - 4

And this pair of Eastern Bluebirds was perched on one of the Purple Martin nesting cavity installations. I suspect they were using one to nest, but I could not verify it.

Eastern Bluebird Pair - 1 - 1

Migrating Birds

There weren't many, but I did manage to find and photograph a few birds that were on their way further north. Down by the lake this Least Flycatcher was hunting in shrubs in front of the cypress trees:

Least Flycatcher

There were two Magnolia Warblers in the deciduous woods habitat west of the driveway. Both were stunning males and here's one of them:

Magnolia Warbler - 2

I was most excited to finally photographed this Chestnut-sided Warbler. I first heard it in the same area as the Magnolia Warblers, and I saw it but never got close enough for a good photo. Finally near the end of the morning I found it foraging with the Magnolia Warblers and got a few decent photos. Here's one:

Chestnut-sided Warbler - 1 - 4

Other Highlights

While standing on the dock by the boat ramp, a Spotted Sandpiper flew in and landed on the ramp. We don't have many shorebird records for the preserve so I tried to get a photo but the bird saw my movement and took off. At that same moment I heard a loud repeated call and saw a Ringed Kingfisher flying west over the lake. These huge kingfishers have been expanding their range north from south Texas over the last few decades. I've only seen them a handful of times on the Bunny Run and I was happy to at least get a poor photo of this female bird as it flew past:

Ringed Kingfisher - 1 - 1

Rains the night before had left the pond in the northeast corner of the preserve full. As I walked by it I thought I heard something different and went closer to investigate. Sure enough, as I approached I heard several Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toads calling from the edge of the pond. This was the first time I've observed this species here, and while I could never spot one floating in all the debris at the pond's edge, I made an audio recording and saved it as an iNat observation here.

On my way back up the hill I checked out the drainage feeding this pond and enjoyed seeing lots of water flowing over the limestone:

Waterfall Flowing

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Here is my complete eBird list.

And attached are a few iNaturalist observations.

Posted on May 21, 2020 00:12 by mikaelb mikaelb | 20 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment