Bella Vista Creek

Welcome to Bird of the Day!

You might notice some recent changes to the blog. For one, the banner image above has changed from Mustang Island on the Gulf coast to a picture of a local birding spot near my house. Likewise, I plan to focus many of the upcoming posts on birding that area. On the right hand side of the page you will also see the addition of a new gadget that lists what birds have been seen in that area in the last 30 days. Further below, there is a link to ebird for more historic information about the birds seen at Bella Vista Creek. Feel free and contact me on the blog about what you think. Click on images to enlarge. (All photos by gbmcclure)

Jun 27, 2010

Enchanted Rock

I meet people all the time out birding that are traveling for their job and found a little time to bird the local area. Unfortunately, I don't get the chance to do that with my job often. Last week was different though, as I attended a conference in Fredericksburg, TX.

One of the evenings I was there I headed out to Enchanted Rock State Park. This is located in a section of Texas called the Edwards Plateau, or "The Hill Country" in marketing terms. It is a beautiful section of Texas and the State Park itself is very nice. The main attraction for most visitors is the hike to the top of Enchanted Rock, 425 ft. in 0.6 miles, which is really only challenging if it is wet. The attractions for me, however, were the various birds flitting through the trees and shrubs around the creek at the base of the rock.

I first arrived after a brief rain and the park was still a bit wet. This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was one of the many birds eagerly trying to dry off.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

As the name of the park suggests, you are constantly walking on either trail or some large rock as you make your way around the park. Some birds are doing the same. I found this Inca Dove and female Northern Cardinal going from rock to rock, as well.

Inca Dove

Northern Cardinal

Soon after, I heard a flutter in the tall grass just to my left. As I turned, a male Painted Bunting popped-up about ten feet away and at eye-level. Before I could take his picture he was gone, and it was getting dark. I snapped this picture of sunset over the park with the intent of returning early the next morning.

Enchanted Rock SP at sunset

I arrived the next morning, early and dry. I missed almost the same photo opportunity with another Painted Bunting but was rewarded with good looks at Cassin's Sparrows and Bell's Vireos. The BOTD was this female Orchard Oriole. She flew into a tree to my left with another female and one male. Of the three, she was the the one who stuck around for a picture.

Orchard Oriole

On my way out, this Lark Sparrow seemed to announce the exit of the only human in the park.

Lark Sparrow

For more pictures of this birding trip click here.

Jun 25, 2010


OK, so it's not a bird, but is this guy portraying a human feeling or not? Is attributing human emotions to an animal (still) anthropomorphism?


Jun 23, 2010

Where to Begin?

Usually, I am able to blog the same day or within a day after I go birding. This time, however, I went birding over two days down on the coast and was unable to get on the computer. In addition, I had hundreds of photos to sort through as the birding is quite good on the coastal bend--even this time of year. Because of the large number of quality birds, I have broken up this blog post into sections based on the birding location. Also, I have updated the main header with a new picture of the coast.

The first place I visited was Hans Suter Wildlife Area. This was a beatiful place to bird and a great variety of bird species were present. Perhaps my favorite bird was also the BOTD from this area--The Black Skimmer. Here I managed to get a good picture of its typical feeding behavior.

Black Skimmer two

Also of note that morning was this wonderful Wood Stork.

Wood Stork

Unfortunately, he was a little far out for the lens, so the photo does not match how absolutely unique this bird is. To me, he is a cross between a Great Egret and a Turkey Vulture.

Also, rare for this time of year was this Ring-billed Gull.

Ring-billed Gull with crab

Here he is seen with a crab in his mouth. Later, I came back to this spot and found this Tricolored Heron. I captured the following series of him catching and eating a fish. It reminded me of the snakes we kept as kids.

Tricolored Heron 1

Tricolored Heron 2

Tricolored Heron 3

Tricolored Heron 4

Mustang Island State Park

As you can tell from the new header photo, the view of the coast from Mustang Island State Park is beautiful. I was there on a Monday morning and I was the only person on the beach. The only other thing around was this group of gulls and terns. We stood for a few minutes, it seems, both enjoying the view.

Sandwich Tern

This particular photo is of a Sandwich Tern and two Royal Terns. The key distinguishing fieldmark between the two being the beak color. In this next photo there is also a Caspian Tern.

Between the various locations I birded, I also saw Forster's Terns and Least Terns.

Assortment of Terns

Packery Channel Park

Of all the places I went, Packery Channel was probably the least active with birds. Most likely, this was due to the boaters and fishermen in the water. But just across the road I was lucky to find this Osprey with a nice catch.

Osprey with fish

This next one is not a great photo, but it's a pretty good look at how these birds rotate the fish lengthwise in flight in order to decrease drag. You can see this alignment taking place as the Osprey is taking off.

Osprey with fish two

Mollie Beattie

The last place I visited was one of the more interesting. From the road it does not appear as a prime spot, but once I started the walk down the sandy road I was pleasantly surprised. The first bird I spotted was this Long-billed Curlew.

Long-billed Curlew

From the edge of the trail I was teated to the sights and sounds of Eastern Meadowlarks and this Horned Lark.

Horned Lark two

All in all, it was a great summer trip to the coast. I saw and photographed a great deal of birds, as well, that are not in this post. To see many more photos from this trip click here.

Jun 19, 2010

Spotty Birding

One of the challenges in birding is identifying birds that have variations in coloring. Most of the time, birds either look like they are SUPPOSE to (pictures in a field guide)or look like they USUALLY do (those you see in backyard regularly). Most of the field guides do a pretty good job describing juvenile appearance, and often A juvenile bird resembles the female adult closely enough that identification is not a problem. Unfortunately, age is only one factor in variation of appearance. Birds feathers can also change by wear, fading, and staining. Some species come in different morphs, such as the white morph of the Reddish Egret. Huh?! Other birds also show up with leucistic plumage in which patterns maybe recognized but colors appear washed out. And last but not least birds also molt once a year, the process in which they drop and grow an entirely new set of feathers. (Like getting a whole new wardrobe without having to go to the store and try anything on-WOW!) Each species molts at their own time, and never during breeding or migration when feathers are needed. Whew! Sorry. That was a long introduction to the fact that I saw quite a few birds yesterday with various variations.

There were at least 10 American Robins (Turdus Migratorius)in juvenile plumage. Most were on the ground, but a few like this guy popped-up into the tree. Robins are thrushes and can often be identified by breast color and pattern. As adults, American Robins have the more familiar red breast, but in the juvenile stage have the spotted breasts as in the picture.

american robin

Another abundant bird yesterday was the State bird of Texas, the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus Polyglottos). Let's also go by numbers and call this the BOTD as I'm sure I saw at least 20 or more of these guys. The one pictured below, like the Robin, is marked as a juvenile by the spots on the chest.

northern mockingbird

Finally, a number of Lesser Goldfinches were also in the area. Many of these were in different stages of either molting or development. In previous posts I have pictured adult lesser Goldfinches and described the color variations between those in Texas and elsewhere. The following pictures show even more of the variation that can exist within this species depending on the day you see them.

lesser goldfinch

lesser goldfinch

lesser goldfinch?

Jun 13, 2010

Better Days

It's summer. It's hot. The bugs are out. Sure, there are better days to bird, but at 7:00 this morning I was not prepared to wait for the next one to come around. And besides, it's all a trade-off. The birds need the bugs, and when there are birds I don't mind the bugs (as much). The summer heat, well it's Texas, and it's going to be here for a while (forever). On a positive note, the wind stayed down. So all in all, a day just nice enough to head out a little farther than I typically go.

The first bird I saw, or should I say heard, this morning was a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks. The first flushed pretty quickly as he saw me coming, but the second remained still and allowed me to fire off a couple shots. At the time, I chalked it up to the fact that he was a more mature bird and perhaps not quite as quick to abandon his post. When I got home and downloaded the picture, I noticed he was missing his left eye, which also could have been a factor. Definitely, he's had better days.

red-shouldered hawk with one eye

The last, new bird I saw of the day was also the BOTD. This Prothonotary Warbler crossed the river, bounced around the foliage, and finally appeared as I was walking back up the trail to my car. Definitely, she's had better hair days.

prothonotary warbler

Other than the hawk, the Prothonotary Warbler, and a first-year male Summer Tanager, other birds were out and looking their best. This was one of a number of Eastern Bluebirds out this morning. I cranked up the exposure a tad to make him stand out.

eastern blubird exposed

Also out in good numbers were Eastern Kingbirds and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

eastern kingbird

red-bellied woodpecker two

All in all, a Better Day (than I expected).

Jun 12, 2010

Lay-Z-Boy Birding

So, in case you are wondering (care), there is a difference between Bird Watching and Birding, with the latter requiring a more active rather than passive approach. Today's BOTD was the result of Bird Watching. Actually, I am not sure I could have been less active, and if not for taking the picture would have been content to watch them through the window from the comfort of the recliner. Nevertheless, among the Black-crested Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, House Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, and Northern Cardinals that were active at my feeders this morning, these Lesser Goldfinches stole the show. Although they are year-round residents here, they have steadily increased in numbers in my backyard over the last month. With each day they become more confident. They are also great little fliers, and fun to watch chase each other through the branches and around the feeder. For those who might be interested in the photograph, this was taken from the same location as the digiscoped picture from the post a few days ago. I shot both from the same location inside my house, this time using a regular lens instead of the spotting scope.

lesser goldfinches

Jun 11, 2010

Seeing Double...and Triple

Once you have birded the same small location, during the same season, the chance of seeing a different bird becomes less and less. So this morning was an excellent opportunity to experiment with a new photography technique.

Early in the morning I was lucky enough to see this Painted Bunting. He soon saw me too and took off, but I figured if I was patient he might come back. Sure enough, he returned, and this time he hung around just long enough for me to change the settings on the camera. Here is the resulting picture.

painted bunting multiple exposure

He was cooperative, but not enough for a third exposure. A little later I came across this Carolina Wren singing from a nearby branch. I have found these wrens to be real show-offs and willing to repeat their calls for quite sometime before they will fly away. As you can tell from the following photo he sat for the full three frames.

wren multiple exposure

Jun 9, 2010


As you might be able to tell I'm a little frustrated with the blog format. For my taste, there are too many date and time stamps that show up by default. The one above and below each blog entry cannot be removed. All is fine and well unless you are writing about an event from a previous day. I had been putting the date as my title to indicate the day I saw a certain bird. If this was the same day it was redundant and if it was a different day it was confusing. Hence my frustration. Anyway...

I am writing today, June 9th, about yesterday's BOTD, which was actually first spotted Sunday, June 6th, but was not eager to have its picture taken. Frustrated yet? So I had seen the bird, but had no picture. Intent on getting the photo, I went out in the very early hours on Tuesday to my usual spot. Unfortunately, the wonderful folks at the County Parks and Recreation did not receive my telepathic message to get to work on time. So when I arrived, the parking lot to the access point was still blocked. Oh well, TGFLB. Assuming, it would be a waste of a trip I set out in the heat and humidity to recheck the spot. As luck would have it, one BOTD was still there and the energy sapping climate made him more cooperative.


The Chuck-Will's-Widow gets its name from the sound it repeats over and over again at night. Austin is on the southwest end of its summer range. These Nightjars are odd birds. They are active at night and roost on the ground during the day. This is also where they lay their eggs and do not build nests. When flushed they fly lamely away and take the position seen in this photo. It is so awkward, it makes you take pity on them. I snapped a few pictures and moved on. Lunch-break over.

When I got home from work in the evening I found these gals enjoying a bath. Perhaps they didn't get the weather report of the 2+" of rain that was about to fall in just a few hours.

lesser goldfinches in the bath

I took this photo by a method called digiscoping. For those that don't know, that is the process of taking a picture using your spotting scope as the lens. There are a variety of ways to do this from using your phone's camera to buying a special connector. These female Lesser Goldfinches are year-round resident here. The males have a black back in Texas.

Jun 7, 2010

June 7th, 2010

I am always amazed at how animals are at the same time both completely fragile and super tough. Perhaps an argument could be made, but I think the drastic swings between these two possibilities is much less for tamed animals, say humans. Dogs seem to be right in the middle, all the time. Maybe that's why we love to have them around.

I was walking over a small creak in a city park today where a concrete bottom had been poured to create a small drop-off. Clinging to the incline was this horrible creature.

In some ways a crawfish (basically a freshwater lobster) is pretty tough: it can cling to the side of a rock with water rushing over it for hours and it has a wicked exoskeleton. On the other hand, in a moment it can be plucked from the water and eaten by a Great Blue Heron (or someone from Louisiana).

Likewise, this Fiery Skipper butterfly can fly with more agility than modern jet planes but just as easily be plucked from midair by a passing bird. Grass Skippers can be identified by the big black eyeballs position of wings at rest (Back and up like a jet).

So next time the going gets tough I'm going to try and remember, that the possibility of something 20-times my size reaching down and eating me is pretty slim. And hopefully that will provide some comfort.

Jun 5, 2010

June 5, 2010 (Breakfast)

I had got in the habit of keeping a box of Poptarts in my truck as I often found myself rushing out the door to go birding and forgetting to eat. In the preceding week, however, I failed to replenish my stash, and with a short outing in mind I was not worried. Birds are lucky in the fact that food for them is usually readily available. As I was pondering my lost opportunity, I came across this Northern Mockingbird getting ready to enjoy his breakfast of fresh caterpillar.

Under an overpass near the same spot I noticed that an Eastern Phoebe nest, which had been "knocked down" a few days before, was back up. Two phoebes as usual were perched on the fence just outside the overpass.

As activity settled down, I decided to walk across the park to small meadow on the other side. On one side there were a few trees with a good amount of shrubs grown up around the base--ideal habitat for some good birds. I did not have to get that close before I could hear the vireos and see the buntings.

Among the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Painted Buntings, and Carolina Chickadees sharing this spot, I could hear a call that was distinctive among them and different from the White-eyed Vireos I heard earlier in the morning. Soon, from relatively deep in the foliage, I spotted the BOTD--this Bell's Vireo. Sorry for the poor photo, but it never did feel comfortable coming farther out.

I hung around for another 30 minutes hoping for a better shot. I even tried the old "look away and pretend I don't care" technique, but had no luck.

Jun 3, 2010

June 3, 2010 (The Slide Show)

This is one of those things that when presented to you as a kid was unappetizing. Now, later on in life, it seems more than just palatable, but healthy, even indispensable. I am not talking about vegetables, but the slide show. Part of it, I think, has to do with it being "my" selection of content. But more, I think maybe being a certain age lends itself to certain activities. This is helped by the fact that at 40, say, you are in a position to buy your own camera, take your own trips, etc. Nevertheless, though activities across generations may stay the same, the technology and mediums change drastically. So are we still having slide shows? Are they accomplishing what they did in the past?

As a kid, I can remember my parents and their friends gathering at a house to see the photos of a trip. My parents' Ireland vacation comes to mind. The carousel was loaded and coffee was served. (Lengthy) conversation took place at every slide. Today, photos are collected on Flickr, Picasa, etc., and "friends" are invited to look at them. Conversations are "comments", usually brief and cliched.

Now don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of Flickr. Heck, there is a link to it at the left of this blog post. But as much as I want to take the picture, I want to talk to somebody about it. And for every excellent picture I see, I want to ask the photographer a hundred questions. Truth be told, I also want a cup of coffee.

If I go out and take some photos, if I wanted--with the technology at my touch today--I could have them downloaded and in a slide show in 30 minutes. I could project them onto a 26" monitor, zoom in, and even show them to you in black and white. The coffee, however, is still going to take 15 minutes to brew.

So, by all means, share and store you pictures online with friends far away, but don't forget the good, old, healthy slide show. Oh yeah, and if you want me awake, I'll need the coffee.

Jun 1, 2010

May 31, 2010

Even though I got a late start this morning (7:30), I tried to hit three spots within the Balcones NWR and be back in time for lunch. This also required car travel to and from the refuge, and car travel between the three locations.

As I pulled into the parking lot at the first spot, a beautiful male Lesser Goldfinch alit on a large wildflower 20ft. from my truck. Lesson learned: assemble your camera before you leave the house! Oh well, I was mainly there to look for the Golden-cheeked Warbler. After hiking the 1.5 mile trail I was able to get brief looks at three, and one picture of tail feathers exiting the top of the frame. Close by there was a Lark Sparrow and a Rufous-crowned Sparrow on a power line. As I was driving away, a Greater Roadrunner crossed the gravel road. I don't believe this carries the same significance as a black cat.

From the first location I took a scenic road that follows a creek and headed toward my next stop. Along the way, I noticed a number of birds in the trees next to the creek and what seemed like hundreds of furry caterpillars crossing the road. Toward the end of the road, I also saw my BOTD--this relatively cooperative Painted Bunting. Fortunately no one was behind me as I stopped the truck in the middle of the road to takes some pictures.

At the next stop, I was looking particularly for the Black-capped Vireo. After a very quiet 30 minutes, and the sun and temperature rising, I abandoned the attempt in hopes of finding some other summer residents at my third location. It turned out to still be surprisingly active at 11:00 in the morning. Just off the parking lot Lark Sparrows were using the paved walkway and hummingbirds were visiting the flowers. On the closest trail, this Ash-throated Flycatcher was perched nicely on a open branch.

As I slowly made my way back to the car, a group of wrens, a Summer Tanager, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo also made brief appearances. The drive home, of course, seemed twice as long as the one going out there (why does it always seem that way?), but I made it home just in time for lunch.