September 21, 2019

Nalle Bunny Run 2019-09-21

Five folks joined me this morning for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. We enjoyed a warm cloudy morning and here are some highlights. Birds were present but much easier heard than seen. Before we even started walking we heard Upland Sandpiper flight calls, evidence of at least one of these birds (and probably more) high overhead flying south. (You can hear their subtle flight call here.) These amazing birds were on their way from the northern states and Canada where they breed to their winter range in middle and southern South America.

As I was showing everyone a map of the preserve two hawks flew over us so I dropped the map to watch them. A juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk was chasing a juvenile Cooper's Hawk back and forth. Both species are year-round residents (although there are more Cooper's Hawks here in the winter.) Different species of hawks recognize each other as competitors and often try to chase each other away. Then a few Chimney Swifts flew over (also on their way south) and we still hadn't even started walking!

As we made a circuit of the preserve, we heard more birds than we saw, including many Northern Cardinals and Carolina Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Black-crested Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, occasional White-eyed Vireos, and even a few Eastern Bluebirds. Near the northeast corner of the preserve in the sandy prairie area a group of 5 Egyptian Geese flew over us. This escaped exotic species has established itself along the lake in small numbers.

The only bird I managed to photograph was this male Carolina Wren that was singing on top of a post next to the cowbird trap:

Carolina Wren

Here's our complete bird list on eBird.

And below are just two attached observations.

Posted on September 21, 2019 23:09 by mikaelb mikaelb | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 14, 2019

Banded Plovers on Tony Amos Beach 2019-09-13

I birded the Tony Amos beach in Port Aransas yesterday, starting at Access Road 1 and very slowly driving the 7.5 miles to Access Road 2, counting all birds seen. This journal entry is to collect the observations of banded plovers I found. I was able to photograph all the banded birds I saw. There were 6 banded Piping Plovers and 1 banded Snowy Plover. Here's one of the Piping Plovers:

Piping Plover - 3 - 1

Piping Plover and Snowy Plover numbers might have been the highest I've ever recorded on this beach: 84 Piping Plovers and 25 Snowy Plovers. Here's my complete eBird list:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59781651

Does anyone know the best and easiest way to report these birds? Or are they worth reporting? This beach might already be surveyed regularly.

UPDATE 2019-09-24: I have heard back from three different entities I reported these birds to, and added their comments to the descriptions of each observation below.

Posted on September 14, 2019 21:03 by mikaelb mikaelb | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 02, 2019

Davis Mountains State Park Primitive Area 2019-08-21

While staying in Fort Davis out in west Texas for the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Celebration, I spent one afternoon looking for odonates along Limpia Creek in the primitive area of Davis Mountains State Park. (Anyone can visit this primitive area, you just have to ask for the gate code at the park headquarters and let them know when you enter and exit it.) My target species was Painted Damsel simply because they're so beautiful. Despite them being described as common out here, I had not yet found one the last two summers I visited the Davis Mountains area.

Limpia Creek is usually dry but last summer I learned about a spring in the creek bed, and this was what I wanted to find again. From the primitive area's gate I found the dry creek bed and followed it downstream (east). It was about a mile before I finally encountered an isolated pool of water, and it was hopping with odonates! Most interesting to me were at least two male Plateau Dragonlets, a species I've only seen once before.

Plateau Dragonlet - 2

Despite a careful search, I did not see any Painted Damsels, so after about 30 minutes I continued downstream.

In another half mile or so I found a muddy area in the creek bed, and as I followed it further downstream a modest flow of water emerged from the mud. I had found the spring! Damselflies and mosquitos were suddenly common, and I was so engaged with he former I didn't mind the latter (too much). A little further downstream the spring's flow had created more substantial accumulations of water and at the edge of one was a patch of tall grass. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be great if I scanned that grass with my binoculars and found a Painted Damsel?" So I started to scan and a few moments later there it was, a single male Painted Damsel! I took a few initial photos from where I stood, then I crept up to it and took many photos from close range. Here's one of them:

Painted Damsel - 1 - 4

After a few minutes I photographed a nearby Desert Firetail, then tried to find the Painted Damsel again but I could not. This was the only individual I found.

There were some other fun western species, a few of which I did not know I'd seen until I got identification help here from folks like @greglasley. (Thanks, Greg!) In addition to Plateau Dragonlet and Desert Firetail, these included Arroyo Bluet, Mexican Forktail, and Flame Skimmer. Notably absent was Filagree Skimmer.

A lifer butterfly I found was this beautiful skipper, a Golden-headed Scallopwing. The amazing iNaturalist Seek app identified it for me when I pointed the app at my photo on my laptop screen.

Golden-headed Scallopwing - 1 - 1

See my attached observations for photos of the other species mentioned plus a few more.

Posted on September 02, 2019 20:00 by mikaelb mikaelb | 24 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

August 31, 2019

Pecos River east of Iraan, TX 2019-08-26

On my way back from the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Celebration last week I stopped at a neat looking access spot on the Pecos river, just east of Iraan (pronounced "Ira Anne") on highway 190. It was a clear hot day, the temperature was over 100 degrees at about 1:15 PM when I stopped there. Soon after I parked by the river I was glad I had my water shoes with me because the water was clear and flowing over a rocky bottom. I wanted to wade in it!

Pecos River Selfie

I was surprised to find a few species I normally associate with the Texas coast. Soon after I got out of the car I spotted a few Marl Pennant dragonflies "obelisking" on high branches:

Marl Pennant - 1

Obelisking is a behavior dragonflies use to regulate their heat. In sunny hot conditions they will often point their abdomens straight up at the sun to minimize the surface area presented to the sunlight. This keeps them a little cooler.

Soon afterwards I noticed many beautiful little fishes with sparkly blue napes and vertical stripes on their sides all over in the shallow water. I couldn't get my camera to focus well on them past the surface of the water, but here's one of them:

Sheepshead Minnow - 1 - 1

These were the males, all defending small territories above the gravelly bottom where they occasionally mated with less colorful females. They chased away other males and smaller fish who were trying to eat their recently fertilized eggs. Here's an iPhone video showing some of this behavior:

Sheepshead Minnows video

I'm still waiting for confirmation from more knowledgable folks than myself, but I'm pretty sure these were Sheepshead Minnows, a species associated with brackish water along the gulf and atlantic coast. What are they doing here?

There was a larger fish species, about six inches long, in the deeper water. My current best guess is that these were Gulf Killifish, another coastal species. Here's one of them:

Gulf Killifish - 1 - 4

One of the last animals I spotted was a small black dragonfly. I vaguely remembered that my Texas Dragonflies field guide showed some inland populations of Seaside Dragonlets, and I was pretty sure that's what this was. Seaside Dragonlets are usually very common on the coast and they are the only north American species of dragonfly that can reproduce in salt water. Here's the one I found:

Seaside Dragonlet - 1 - 2

So what are these coastal species that like brackish and salt water doing way out here on the Pecos river in west Texas?

This morning back in Austin I had the annoying and expensive chore of having to buy new car tires. I was waiting in line at Discount Tire and started chatting with they guy in front of me who turned out to be a geologist specializing in Texas ground water consulting (Allan Standen). While we were waiting for our cars at at a nearby coffee shop, I told him about my recent observations on the Pecos River near Iraan. He told me that back in the 1940s, just north of Iraan was an important area for oil production during World War II. Deep salty ground water was pumped up to flush oil reservoirs, and probably made the surface water brackish in that area to this day. (He's a remarkable guy, and has some amazing visualizations of aquifer levels here.) That explains why these coastal species like it out there on the Pecos.

My field guide for fresh water fishes in Texas shows Sheepshead Minnows and Gulf Killifish both occurring in this area and says their presence here is because of deliberate introduction. But I wonder how the Seaside Dragonlets and Marl Pennants got there.

There were a few more odonates I photographed and I got some great photos of a Swainson's Hawk soaring overhead. See that attached observations.

And here are the same photos on Flickr.

Posted on August 31, 2019 23:50 by mikaelb mikaelb | 14 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

August 18, 2019

Nalle Bunny Run 2019-08-17

Four people joined me this morning for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. Here are some highlights.

Before the group arrived a pair Summer Tanagers flew in with some interesting behavior. The male was in heavy molt, and he was "whisper singing" which is singing a quieter version of his normal song. See how uneven his tail feathers are in this photo:

Summer Tanager - 1 - 1

A female joined him and she was quivering her feathers like I often see begging juvenile birds do. I don't know if this was a young bird still begging from its parent or the male's mate reinforcing their bond. Here they are together:

Summer Tanager - 1 - 2

After the group arrived we enjoyed a slow walk covering about 1.5 miles and touring most of the preserve. Birds were present but mostly heard rather than seen. Here are some fun non-bird observations we made.

We found these armadillo tracks in the road shortly after we started:

Nine-banded Armadillo

This tiny Green Anole that we found by the graveyard must've been newly hatched:

Green Anole

One of several dragonflies we found was this beautiful male Roseate Skimmer:

Roseate Skimmer - 1 - 2

I was excited to find this White-striped Longtail butterfly feeding on Lantana flowers:

White-striped Longtail

One fun bird observation we made was this female Summer Tanager, chasing, catching, and eating a red wasp!

Summer Tanager eating Wasp

By the end of the walk I had recorded 22 species of birds. Here's our complete eBird list.

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

And attached are the same photos as iNaturalist observations.

Posted on August 18, 2019 00:00 by mikaelb mikaelb | 13 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 21, 2019

Nalle Bunny Run 2019-07-20

On Saturday morning only three people joined me for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve in west Austin. It's a shame we've been getting low attendance on these walks. Despite high summer temperatures later in the day, when we start these walks at 8 AM it's relatively cool. A nice breeze and some cloud cover helped as well. And it was a birdy morning! We ended up finding 27 species of birds and had some fun observations of other animals as well.

We started downhill and started hearing a Painted Bunting singing. The bunting flew west but as we stood there a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers flew in and landed on a dead tree nearby. After getting good looks at them they flew south almost right over our heads. We turned onto the path looping through the west part of the preserve when we saw a few Blue-gray Gnatcathers, and further down the trail we started hearing the Painted Bunting nearby. I played a Painted Bunting song on my iPhone a couple times and the bird flew in right over us to try and find its competitor. We all got good looks at this colorful bird before it lost interest and flew further west. A bit further down the trail we found two or three juvenile Painted Buntings foraging near the ground. It's likely that these were all siblings and the singing male was there father. Here's a juvenile bird I had seen before the group arrived which was probably one of the birds the group saw:

Juvenile Painted Bunting

The theme of juvenile birds continued when we found two Red-eyed Vireos in the deciduous woods habitat area. One was a juvenile bird following and constantly begging from its parent. Twice I saw it get fed high in the canopy. In this same area we were treated to a distant look at a Rock Squirrel, a western species that doesn't occur much further east than Austin, and is much less common to see then our Fox Squirrels:

Rock Squirrel

Down on the sandy prairie we saw another juvenile bird, this Eastern Bluebird by itself. We didn't see its parents:

Juvenile Eastern Bluebird

Dragonflies were out, and we were treated to some nice close looks at some, like this bright red male Neon Skimmer which was defending its territory just downhill from the natural spring on the preserve:

Neon Skimmer - 2

As the morning progressed the sound of cicadas became more and more prevalent, until it was nearly constant. The only one we actually saw was this big guy, near the end of our hike. It has been identified by the iNaturalist community so far as a Texas Dog-day Cicada:

Cicada - 1- 1

See the attached observations for a few more species we saw.

The same photos are on Flickr here.

And here is our complete eBird list.

Posted on July 21, 2019 20:55 by mikaelb mikaelb | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 29, 2019

Nature Day at Nalle Bunny Run 2019-06-22

Here are some highlights from Hill Country Conservancy's EPIC Nature Day at their Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve, which was on Saturday June 22, 2019. I was able to arrive early and go on a solo birding hike finding 29 species. Most notable were maybe two Yellow-throated Warblers, a rare summer breeding species in Travis county that prefers cypress trees in riparian habitats. For the last few years I have only detected one male returning each spring on the preserve, so I was excited to find one near the white house and then hear another much further west. At least two male Painted Buntings were heard singing on the property and I got this photo of one of them foraging in an agarita bush:

Painted Bunting - 1 - 2

A singing Northern Parula and calling Broad-winged Hawk were two other bird species I was excited to observe.

I flushed two White-tailed Deer does a couple times while walking around, and near the cemetery encountered this little fawn that might have belonged to one of them:

White-tailed Deer fawn

@jacobddowen found this Texas Map Turtle by the boat ramp which finally came out of its shell (literally!) to show everyone the cool markings on its head and neck:

Texas Map Turtle - 1 - 2

I got to lead a small group of attendees on a short walk around the preserve. During the walk I saw what I first thought was a large tarantula hawk wasp, but it turned out to be this Giant Prairie Robber Fly! This is the largest species of this predatory fly group in north america, and it was the first time I've ever seen one. It was over 2 inches long!

Giant Prairie Robber Fly

Here's my complete eBird list from my early morning solo walk.

Attached are nature observations from both the group walk and my solo walk.

And here are the same photos on Flickr.

Posted on June 29, 2019 21:56 by mikaelb mikaelb | 15 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 23, 2019

Walburg BBS 2019-06-08

On Saturday morning, June 8 2019, I officially ran the USGS Walburg BBS route that I scouted on June 1. The route is made up of 50 survey points on 25 miles on back roads south of Granger Lake in eastern Williamson County. Weather was just about perfect for a survey, clear skies and almost no wind. The temperature was 67º when I started at 5:57 AM and 86º when I finished at 11:15 AM. This was the third time I've run this BBS and this might've been the best so far for some of the targeted grassland species. Of the 50 stops, Eastern Meadowlarks were heard singing at 8 stops, Lark Sparrows at 6 stops, and Dickcissel at 14 stops. A nice surprise were singing Horned Larks at 2 stops. (See the attached audio observations.) Northern Bobwhite was only recorded at 2 stops.

I recorded a species new to this survey route (which started in 1980). At stop 5 I heard a Wild Turkey. And it sure was fun hearing Great Horned Owls at the first 5 stops.

This was the first time I've run the survey on a Saturday morning instead of Sunday. Car traffic was not too different. 6 or 7 stops are difficult (and a little scary) because of the amount of highway-speed traffic, but all in all this route is on quiet roads and is pretty fun to do. The orange reflective vest that USGS sent me seems to be performing its intended dual purpose to improve safety and lend an air of authority to my presence. No one stopped to ask what I was doing!

Photos from this survey are on Flickr here.

Here are two photos, from the first stop and the last:

Walburg BBS Point 1

Me at Walburg BBS Point 50

Posted on June 23, 2019 15:11 by mikaelb mikaelb | 17 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

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:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56969253
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56969261
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56969267
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56969352
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56969365
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56969370
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56969375

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