March 21, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-03-21

This morning would have been the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run. But like so many other group actives, HCC wisely (but sadly) cancelled it to help "flatten the curve" of the infection rate of the new corona virus pandemic. Wow, what a strange time we are in! Instead of the group walk, a couple HCC staff members took video and photos while I walked around and did more-or-less my usual tour. The result isn't posted yet, but when it is I'll update this journal entry.

It was a cool overcast morning, but the forecasted rain held off until the afternoon and the Bunny Run was birdy! It's a fun time of year. In the early spring we have a mix of our year-round resident birds, most of our winter-resident birds that haven't migrated north yet, and a few summer-resident birds who have already started migrating north from further south. And many birds are singing and figuring out their breeding territories!

One of the few photos I took was of this male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, an early returning summer-resident species that nests on the Bunny Run. It briefly foraged low beside a large kidney wood bush while we watched nearby:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I was happy to find Red Buckeye in bloom, a beautiful native plant also known as Firecracker plant:

Red Buckeye - 1 - 1

Here's our complete eBird list:

And here are a few more photos on Flickr:

Posted on March 21, 2020 22:08 by mikaelb mikaelb | 3 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

February 18, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run 2020-02-15

On Saturday February 15, 2020 eight people joined me for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. I was happy to see so many people on the walk; we haven't had this many people in a long time. We spent a little over 2 hours walking around the preserve and here are a few highlights.

Except for Northern Cardinals, the birds were few and far between. We could almost always hear a cardinal singing, and it wasn't too hard to see one if we tried. I estimated we heard or saw at least 20 individuals. On the sandy prairie area down by the water we got to see an American Kestrel twice, once when it landed in the top of a cypress tree near us, and later when it called repeatedly and seemed to catch up with us to land nearby and give us another look. Here it is on the cypress tree:

American Kestrel

Shortly after when we started back up the hill we got to see an Orange-crowned Warbler and two Ruby-crowned Kinglets foraging in low bushes next to the driveway. Most of the other birds we recorded were either heard-only or only briefly seen.

Probably the two most common shrubs on the property are Yaupon Holly and Agarita. Some of the female Yaupon Holly bushes were just beautiful with their bright red berries and here's one we encountered on the west half of the preserve in the parkland habitat type:

Yaupon Holly

We are having an early spring this year, and I noticed a couple Agarita bushes were starting to bloom. But I was surprised when we found one bush covered in open yellow flowers. I was happy the group got to see this event that usually only happens for a week or two in March. And look, you can just see the Penneybacker Bridge in the background:

Blooming Agarita - 1 - 2

Here's our complete eBird list.

And here are the same photos on Flickr.

Posted on February 18, 2020 21:17 by mikaelb mikaelb | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 16, 2020

White Wagtail in Austin 2020-02-09

On Saturday, 2/8/2020, Janet Davis and Jeff Osborne found a White Wagtail on the Colorado river in Roy Guerrero Park in southeast Austin. This species had never been found in Texas before, and as the word got out to the birding community, birders raced to the location to try and see the wagtail for themselves.

I was able to chase this bird late Saturday afternoon 2/9/2020. Almost as exciting as seeing the bird was experiencing the camaraderie of fellow birders also trying to see it. Figuring out where to park was easy: an area along the trail was full of cars with a few people standing around with binoculars, cameras, and tripods. They told me the bird was being seen from a spot about a mile down the trail, so I set off at a fast pace in the direction they indicated. It was a little after 4 PM on a wet and unseasonably warm overcast day. Luckily rain had subsided for the afternoon.

As I walked I met a couple people on their way back who reassured me I was on the right path. A little before 4:30 I found the group watching the bird. I smiled and took a couple iPhone photos:

Group watching White Wagtail

Group watching White Wagtail

I joined them and within 3 or 4 minutes I was seeing a White Wagtail in my spotting scope. A lifer without having to leave Austin! To me, the bird looked like and acted like a big fancy American Pipit, bobbing its longer black and white tail as it walked around on a rocky island in the riverbed. Indeed, this species is related to our local pipits and two were foraging with it on the rocks. It was so far away and blended in with the rocks so well that finding the bird was difficult. We were constantly helping each other locate it via describing land marks. And those with spotting scopes shared them often.

A tall, lean, heavily bearded young man called me by name and introduced himself as Christian Walker, a fellow central Texas birder I hadn't seen since he was a teenager. Now he was in his late 20s! After watching the bird and enjoying the group of birders for about 30 minutes I started preparing to leave when Austin-area birder Wendy Harte showed up. I started trying to find the wagtail for her when Christian almost casually mentioned it had left with the two pipits. We first thought he was joking but Christian was the only one alert enough to observe the wagtail and two pipits fly off downriver. He even heard their flight call notes. I started the walk back to my car, and Christian and Wendy went off to try and find the wagtail again.

Because of the long distance to the bird and poor light that day, my photos were terrible. The best turned out to be this digiscoped photo taken with my iPhone through my spotting scope:

White Wagtail - 1 - 2

You can at least see its black bib.

Attached is my iNaturalist observation with a couple more equally poor photos, and my eBird list is here.

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Posted on February 16, 2020 18:05 by mikaelb mikaelb | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 19, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run 2020-01-18

Only three folks joined me this morning for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. What was originally forecasted to be a cold and rainy morning turned out to be beautiful: a little foggy at first, then cloudy and in the 60s with no wind and the sun peeking out a few times. We found 23 species of birds and here are some highlights.

A mixed species songbird flock appeared before we left the parking area and we spent a few minutes watching a couple Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a Blue-headed Vireo, and listening to Carolina Wrens and Black-crested Titmice. Carolina Wrens were one of the most numerous birds this morning and we never saw one. We only heard their songs and calls.

By the spring we found this neat yellow fungus growing on a dead juniper trunk. Its common name is Witch's Butter and I'm hoping to learn more about it from folks here on iNaturalist:

Witch's Butter Fungus

Birds were active but pretty difficult to see until we got down to the sandy prairie area by the lake. There it was easier to pick out some Northern Cardinals, a couple Yellow-rumped Warblers, House Finches, a single Ring-billed Gull flying over, and this beautiful American Kestrel perched on the fence line. That fuzzy vertical line is one of the cables making up the Pennybacker Bridge over Lake Austin:

American Kestrel

We heard plenty of Carolina Wrens but still never saw one!

On our way back up the hill from the sandy prairie we spent some time enjoying the waterfall. While we were there a mixed-species foraging flock arrived and it was great fun to finally get some good looks at Carolina Chickadees and Black-crested Titmice. An Orange-crowned Warbler also appeared.

Following the path through the western half of the preserve, bird activity was a little lower. But we enjoyed seeing some neat plants like Anacua Tree, Kidneywood, Brasil, and Blackjack Oak. Yaupon Holly full of bright red berries was all over the place, and I took this photo of one holly bush when the sun briefly came out:

Yaupon Holly

Almost back at the gate we spotted and watched an Eastern Phoebe looking for insects.

Here's our complete bird list on eBird.

And attached are my iNaturalist observations.

Posted on January 19, 2020 00:14 by mikaelb mikaelb | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 22, 2019

Guadalupe Delta CBC 2019-12-19

On Thursday I was fortunate to be able to again participate in the Guadalupe Delta Christmas Bird Count on the Womack Ranch near McFadden, TX. Every year the Womack Ranch generously has a staff member take me up and down a section of the Guadalupe River in a small boat. I bird from the boat and we make many stops where I hop out, walk a little ways into the riparian woods, and play an Eastern Screech-Owl recording to see what songbirds respond. One of the goals of this count is to find lingering neotropical migrant songbirds, and this year was one of my most successful years in that regard.

The morning was extremely cold and clear. Weather predictions were for temperatures in the middle 30s but it was 23 degrees when we started out on the river at about 7:30! The river had a thick layer of mist:

Mist on River

At one of our first stops a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was one of the only birds to fly in to the owl recording. Something seemed strange to me about it, and it wasn't until I looked at my photos a few days later that I realized it had a black crown. Females usually have a red crown, and my Sibley guide describes this black-crowned variation as "seen occasionally." It was a first for me.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 1 - 2

I counted more Green Kingfishers than any previous year. We encountered at least 6. Here's a female that let us get close enough for a photo:

Green Kingfisher - 1

Lingering neotropical migrants are migratory songbirds that usually spend the winter south of the United States, but that can be found in small numbers in south Texas. Through the morning we found a few Black-and-white Warblers and Wilson's Warblers. Just before lunch I heard the "zeet" call and briefly saw an Indigo Bunting. The afternoon was slow until about 3 PM at our very last stop before we had to turn around. I had the best mixed-species foraging flock of the day which included a male Northern Parula , a male Black-and-white Warbler, and a male Black-throated Green Warbler. There were also expected winter resident Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and Pine Warblers. Six warbler species in one flock! In Texas in the winter! The parula was the least expected species, and I was happy to get a pretty good photo of it:

Northern Parula - 1 - 2

And here are the Black-and-white Warbler and the Black-throated Green Warbler:

Black-and-white Warbler - 1 - 2

Black-throated Green Warbler - 1 - 1

By middle afternoon the temperature was in the low 60s. There was little or no wind and it was an absolutely beautiful day to be on the river. This was my view most of the day:

View from the Boat - 3

And this short video shows what it was like to glide along:

View from the Boat - 2

Here's my complete eBird checklist.

And here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Below are most of the same photos as iNaturalist observations.

Posted on December 22, 2019 21:15 by mikaelb mikaelb | 21 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 18, 2019

Port Aransas CBC 2019-12-16

I was happy to help out on the 43rd Port Aransas Christmas Bird Count yesterday. I covered the Aransas Pass area for the second year. The count circle is centered between Port Aransas and Aransas Pass since many year-round and winter-resident songbird species don't occur on Mustang Island. I had limited success finding them this year. I'm still discovering the secrets to birding Aransas Pass.

Judging from Google Maps, Aransas Pass has lots of dense woods that looks like good songbird habitat, but very little of it is publicly accessible. It's mostly divided up into large residential lots in semi-rural neighborhoods. In the few areas where I could actually enter some woods and at several roadside spots I played an Eastern Screech-Owl recording to see what songbirds it attracted. The woods were loaded with Gray Catbirds, Hermit Thrushes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Cardinals, Lincoln's Sparrows, and Eastern Phoebes.

After I'd left one of the few publicly accessible areas, the local transfer station (AKA the dump), I saw a flock of dozens of Yellow-rumped Warblers crossing one of the residential streets (appropriately named Myrtle). I quickly pulled over to look closer and found a Couch's Kingbird, two Eastern Bluebirds, and a single Pine Warbler. I think there were probably more Pine Warblers and maybe more species mixed in this large flock, but it was scared away by a large truck and I could not relocate it.

Among the many (sometimes scary) no trespassing signs, it made my day when a resident asked what I was doing and then invited me onto her property to look for birds. I found my only White-eyed Vireo, Black-crested Titmouse, Chipping Sparrows, and Great Kiskadee of the day there, and got her contact info for next year. I emailed her a list of the 15 species I found on her property.

Here are my photos from the day on Flickr. Most of these are also attached as iNaturalist observations below.

Here's my eBird summary of the day, and attached are some observations.

eBird Checklist Summary for: Dec 16, 2019

Number of Checklists: 17
Number of Taxa: 73

Checklists included in this summary:
(1): AP - RV Park 128 E Myrtle Ave, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9149,-97.1366)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 7:30 AM
(2): AP - 650–656 W Matlock Ave, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9118,-97.1482)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 7:49 AM
(3): AP - 354 N 9th St, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9149,-97.1513)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 8:02 AM
(4): AP - transfer station - 750–848 W Myrtle Ave, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9195,-97.1453)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 9:05 AM
(5): 328 W Myrtle Ave, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9169,-97.1403)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 9:36 AM
(6): AP - cemetery - 2140 Highway 35 N, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9368,-97.1222)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 9:51 AM
(7): AP - 1902 N McCampbell St, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9332,-97.1298)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 10:45 AM
(8): AP - 2302 N McCampbell St, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9390,-97.1254)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 10:57 AM
(9): AP - 483–523 Rabbit Run Rd, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9432,-97.1318)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 11:06 AM
(10): AP - 1109–1273 Longoria Rd, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9489,-97.1341)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 11:26 AM
(11): AP - 1109–1273 Longoria Rd, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9489,-97.1341)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 11:27 AM
(12): Ingleside--FM1069/Elephant Wallow Pond
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 1:18 PM
(13): AP - Prairie View Cemetery - 2218–2498 McMullen Ln, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.9186,-97.1812)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 1:34 PM
(14): Aransas Pass Community Pk (CTC 054)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 2:15 PM
(15): AP - 592–698 E Ransom Rd, Aransas Pass US-TX (27.8884,-97.1479)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 3:01 PM
(16): Conn Brown Harbor, Aransas Pass (Aransas Co. portion)
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 3:13 PM
(17): AP - Aransas Pass general area
Date: Dec 16, 2019 at 7:21 AM

5 Northern Shoveler -- (1)
2 Mottled Duck -- (16)
540 Redhead -- (16)
15 Ring-necked Duck -- (11)
2 Lesser Scaup -- (15),(16)
1 Bufflehead -- (14)
14 Red-breasted Merganser -- (16)
40 duck sp. -- (16)
32 Pied-billed Grebe -- (11),(14),(16),(17)
17 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) -- (2),(14),(15),(16),(17)
10 Eurasian Collared-Dove -- (1),(11),(17)
17 White-winged Dove -- (2),(3),(5),(17)
37 Mourning Dove -- (3),(5),(6),(12),(13),(16)
1 Common Gallinule -- (1)
3 American Coot -- (11)
8 Sandhill Crane -- (17)
5 Killdeer -- (7),(13),(14),(16)
76 Laughing Gull -- (1),(11),(14),(15),(16),(17)
10 Ring-billed Gull -- (14),(15),(16)
2 Royal Tern -- (14),(16)
3 Common Loon -- (16)
37 Neotropic Cormorant -- (1),(14),(15),(16)
21 Double-crested Cormorant -- (14),(16)
16 American White Pelican -- (3),(17)
56 Brown Pelican -- (14),(15),(16)
8 Great Blue Heron -- (1),(13),(14),(16)
6 Great Egret -- (11),(14),(16),(17)
15 Snowy Egret -- (1),(11),(14),(17)
2 Little Blue Heron -- (14),(16)
4 Tricolored Heron -- (14),(15),(16)
30 Black-crowned Night-Heron -- (1)
5 White Ibis -- (16)
18 Black Vulture -- (1),(13),(16)
51 Turkey Vulture -- (1),(4),(11),(12),(13),(14),(16),(17)
6 Osprey -- (3),(13),(15),(16)
1 Northern Harrier -- (16)
1 Red-shouldered Hawk -- (12)
3 Red-tailed Hawk -- (13),(17)
1 Belted Kingfisher -- (11)
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -- (3)
4 Ladder-backed Woodpecker -- (7),(13)
2 Crested Caracara -- (3)
2 American Kestrel -- (13),(17)
15 Eastern Phoebe -- (1),(2),(3),(4),(5),(6),(9),(12),(14),(15),(16)
1 Great Kiskadee -- (11)
1 Couch's Kingbird -- (5)
1 White-eyed Vireo -- (11)
2 Loggerhead Shrike -- (13),(16)
1 Black-crested Titmouse -- (11)
17 Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- (1),(2),(3),(4),(6),(7),(8),(9),(11)
2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher -- (6),(11)
14 House Wren -- (3),(4),(6),(11),(16)
6 Carolina Wren -- (3),(4),(6),(8)
21 European Starling -- (13),(17)
21 Gray Catbird -- (1),(3),(4),(6),(7),(11)
24 Northern Mockingbird -- (1),(2),(3),(4),(6),(7),(9),(11),(16)
2 Eastern Bluebird -- (5)
16 Hermit Thrush -- (3),(4),(9),(11)
3 House Sparrow -- (3)
6 American Pipit -- (14)
3 American Goldfinch -- (5)
2 Chipping Sparrow -- (11)
15 Field Sparrow -- (3),(6),(11)
1 Savannah Sparrow -- (14)
31 Lincoln's Sparrow -- (2),(3),(4),(6),(11)
1 Western/Eastern Meadowlark -- (16)
559 Red-winged Blackbird -- (4),(6),(13),(14),(16),(17)
400 Brown-headed Cowbird -- (13)
211 Great-tailed Grackle -- (6),(11),(13),(14),(15),(16),(17)
10 Orange-crowned Warbler -- (2),(3),(4),(6),(9),(11)
1 Pine Warbler -- (5)
71 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) -- (1),(3),(4),(5),(6),(7),(9),(11),(13),(14)
31 Northern Cardinal -- (2),(3),(4),(6),(7),(9),(11),(13),(17)

Posted on December 18, 2019 00:54 by mikaelb mikaelb | 16 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 17, 2019

Corpus Christi CBC 2019-12-14

I was again fortunate to be able to participate in the Corpus Christi Christmas Bird Count on the Angelita Ranch with Joan and Scott Holt and Mel Cooksey. We split up into two groups to cover the ranch, and Mel and I drove the truck trails in his subaru. We frequently stopped to bird, playing an Eastern Screech-Owl recording to see what it attracted. Highlights included southern and western species like Verdin, Green Jay, Long-billed Thrasher, Great Kiskadee, and Pyrrhuloxia. At the end of the day driving off the ranch Joan and Scott and I found a single Green Kingfisher at a creek crossing.

Attached are a few observations.

Posted on December 17, 2019 22:27 by mikaelb mikaelb | 23 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 07, 2019

Nalle Bunny Run 2019-12-07

Only two people joined me for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve this morning. A few other folks had registered for the walk but didn't show up, and they missed an absolutely beautiful morning on the preserve! It was my favorite kind of winter morning in central Texas: clear and cool. When we started at 9:00 AM temperatures were in the upper 40s, and three hours later when we finished the walk it had warmed up to the mid 60s. Here are some highlights of the walk.

Birds were active but a bit hard to see. (And I was unable to get any decent photos of them this morning.) Before we left the gate we got a brief look at a male Red-bellied Woodpecker. And towards the end of our walk we got a better look at a male Golden-fronted Woodpecker. These similar species are one of several examples of a pair of an eastern species (Red-bellied) and a southwestern species (Golden-fronted) whose ranges overlap in central Texas. The Bunny Run is one of the few places around town where both can sometimes be seen!

Between the gate and the spring we ran into a couple mixed species foraging flocks that included Bewick's and Carolina Wrens, Black-crested Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Orange-crowned Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. On the sandy prairie we saw Northern Cardinals, a couple Eastern Phoebes, heard and then briefly saw a Song Sparrow, and a few Northern Mockingbirds. A single Field Sparrow was by the cowbird trap.

Starting back up the hill we left the trail to spend a few minutes by the sometimes waterfall. After hearing it call for awhile, we finally got to watch a Canyon Wren foraging in the rocks for a bit. This was my favorite bird of the morning!

On our way back through the western half of the preserve we found this Checkered Skipper that stopped briefly to feed on some of the Bitterweed flowers blooming in the trail.

Checkered Skipper on Bitterweed (Helenium amarum)

Here's our complete bird list on eBird.

Attached is the Checkered Skipper photo twice, first to represent the butterfly and again to represent the flower.

Posted on December 07, 2019 21:09 by mikaelb mikaelb | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 22, 2019

Nalle Bunny Run 2019-11-16

Six people joined me on a cold Saturday morning, November 16, for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. Despite clear conditions in other parts of Austin, the fog was thick early on the preserve. It thinned and finally became sunny during our walk from 9:00 AM until about 11:30. We observed 23 species of birds and here are some highlights.

In the cemetery as we listened to subtle calls of a few different songbirds, a strange honking started from across the fence. It turned out to be 5 Egyptian Geese that flew right over us. This exotic species seems to have established itself around Lake Austin, probably from escaped pets.

Down the hill on the sandy prairie habitat area we were lucky to get to watch a bunch of native sparrows foraging on the ground. Since sparrows specialize in looking for food on the ground, their plumage is cryptic and they are very wary of possible threats. Usually birders see sparrows when the birds are flushed off the ground and fly up to a nearby bush for safety. But these birds didn't seem to mind our presence, and we got to watch about 15 Chipping Sparrows and 5 Field Sparrows hop around looking for seeds in the low plants in the sand. Here's one of the Chipping Sparrows. See the dark line through the eye:

Chipping Sparrow - 3

And here's one of the Field Sparrows. See its pink bill and white eye-ring::

Field Sparrow

As we watched them, a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in and tried to catch one. We got to see how the sparrows reacted, flying into dense bushes nearby for safety. The hawk moved on and gradually we got to see the sparrows come back and resume their baseline foraging behavior.

Also over the sandy prairie we got to see a beautify Red-tailed hawk fly in and perch on a cypress tree. And a group of Double-crested Cormorants flew by in the distance, migrating south.

On our way back through the west half of the preserve we got to see a nice mix of songbirds including Yellow-rumped Warbler, Carolina Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, and Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Here's our complete bird list on eBird.

And here are a few more photos on Flickr. Most of these photos are included as iNaturalist observations below.

Posted on November 22, 2019 23:32 by mikaelb mikaelb | 8 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 28, 2019

EPIC Campout on Cherry Springs Ranch 2019-10-26

I was fortunate to be able to join Hill Country Conservancy's EPIC group on another of their fantastic campouts on a conservation easement property. This time it was on the Cherry Springs Ranch west of Austin. Attached are some observations I made on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

Posted on October 28, 2019 22:25 by mikaelb mikaelb | 27 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment