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)

Dec 29, 2011

Southmost Texas (almost)

This past week I was down in the Brownsville, Texas area visiting some of my wife's family and doing a little birding on the side. Basically the routine is as follows: wake up real early, dress in the dark, shuffle down to the lobby for a waffle in the shape of Texas and an over-ripe banana with the long-haul truckers, then head out the door to get to the birding spot by sun-up. I try to be home within a couple of hours--about when the family is becoming restless. It's rushed but better than nothing.

The great thing about far south Texas is that you can bird while doing just about anything. A trip down to the local taco shop might net 20 species. Also good are trips to the beach, because then family activities and serious birding are no longer separated. I photographed the following Ruddy Turnstone with my portrait lens while while I watched my kids build sandcastles at the same time.

I spent most of my mornings, however, at a nearby state park near Olmito, Texas, Resaca de la Palma. This park has a few species that reside there that are rare or hard to see: the Olive Sparrow and the Long-billed Trasher. Both of these birds love to hang out on the ground in dense brush. Even so, had I not sold my ultra zoom lens, I could have had some great shots as they were not nearly as shy as I would have expected them to be. Nevertheless, these birds are extremely entertaining and were a ton of fun to watch.

The Ebony Trail

Dec 15, 2011

Dec 14, 2011

Ringed Kingfisher

(My apologies to those that may have already read a similar version of this post, but a glitch in my Blogger application deleted it this afternoon.)

This past Fall there have been a number of sightings of birds typically not seen this far East. Green-tailed Towhee, Lark Buntings, and Sage Thrashers have all been reported. Why this is happening is a matter of debate (at least in some very small circles). My guess is that it has to do with the record drought we have been experiencing and maybe climate change overall.

Nevertheless, I have always found birding field guides to be amazingly accurate at describing ranges for each species, and also remaining accurate even after ten years or more since the time of last publication. These days, birders are using some really great technology to capture information of where certain species are likely to be at what time of year. Ebird is easily the leader in this field. Birders can upload lists of which species they see by date and GPS coordinates. From this stored information, other birders can look up lists of what they expect to see before they head out the door. Iphone applications such as BirdsEye allow you to see this information while out in the field. Many apps, including this one, allow you to also keep track of a life list, and call up bird songs and field guides. One company is even in the process of using recent technology to allow you to use your device to analyze bird calls for purposes of identification.

I used some of this technology to track the Fox Sparrows I mentioned in a previous post. I also saw on BirdsEye a week or so ago that someone had spotted a Ringed Kingfisher cot to far from my house. I had always been under the assumption that the three North American Kingfishers had fairly clear range boundaries. The most common Belted Kingfisher can be seen just about everywhere in country at some point of the year. The Green Kingfisher and the Ringed Kingfisher, on the other hand, more contained to the south of Texas. Each of the latter I extending just into Southern Travis county. Being a cynic, I had assumed that someone had mistaken a female Belted Kingfisher near my house (the Northwest side of Austin, by Mansfield Dam) as a Ringed Kingfisher. It turns out I was pleasantly proved wrong, as I flushed this female Ringed Kingfisher after walking the side of the Colorado River for merely a 1/4 mile. I had only brought my wide-angle zoom lens for some landscape shots unfortunately, yet I believe the photo is still good enough for identification purposes.

So what might the lesson be? I will be a little disappointed if it's to trust technology over my old Kaufmann field guide.

Nov 27, 2011

The Kids are All Right

Birding with the kids along Is a trade-off. I almost always see less birds than I would have alone but the iodized are numerous and important. If we get one good look at a species it is usually worth it.
The day after Thanksgiving we went for a small hike northwest of San Antonio. The kids spent much of the morning running ahead and screaming, which managed to flush most of the birds away prior to me catching up to them. It wasn't until we got back to the parking lot that we settled down and spotted a nice small group of Inca Doves on the ground under a small oak. The kids got great looks from about 10 ft. away.

Nov 24, 2011

Sparrow Hunting

Yesterday I went birding with a very specific bird in mind that I wanted to see--the Fox Sparrow. I spent most of the morning walking the land at Tejas Camp that was off the beaten path with no luck on the hunted bird. I did see a ton of other birds though, including a record number Spotted Towhees.
As you can see, Tejas Camps is beautiful on a Fall morning (that would be a summer morning for you non-Texas folks). Along the creek there were cottonwoods with the expected winter American Goldfinches, and a lone Crested Caracara flew silently overhead.
Toward noon, I had almost abandoned my search for the Fox Sparrow and at the last minute decided to take the more manicured trail near the campsites and along the river. Withing a hundred feet, I heard the scratching on the ground in the dense brush and knew they were there. Sure enough, a pair of Fox Sparrows appeared through a somewhat clear section of the low, tangled branches. I watched their signature scratching for a moment and then chased a couple more down the trail. Soon, I had walked about a mile and kept delaying my turn back around by another sparrow. By the time got back to the car I seen 9 different species of Emberizids.

Nov 3, 2011

Soccer practice

Huddled in the fields
Little groups chirp and scatter--
Children and sparrows

Nov 1, 2011

Walnut Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

Had a nice beltless, Belted Kingfisher this morning among the reliable flock of Black-bellied Whistling ducks in the front pond.

Oct 30, 2011

Butter Butts

If the arrival of the butter butts (yellow-rumped warblers) in my back yard this morning is any indication, I think the weather has shifted to Fall for good. Let's hope. I hate being cold on Halloween only to find myself hot again on Thanksgiving.

Oct 29, 2011

Fall Mornings

Out at a Lake Creek this morning briefly. The drought has resulted in less vegetation but in turn more pathways to explore. Had a nice vireo I have yet to ID and one of the nicer looking Loggerhead Shrikes I have seen in the last few years. This was especially sweet as last year or so I saw almost none.

Oct 25, 2011

Dawn of a New Era

Finally broke down and bought my first decent pair of binoculars. The cynic in me has a sneaking suspicion that they are little better than the $30 dollar Bushnells I've been using but who knows (check back later for a review). The good thing is, they do come with an unconditional lifetime warranty so I will never have to buy another pair (actually either will anyone I give them to as they're good for the life of the bins no matter who purchased them).

Since I have the new binoculars, I plan on leaving the camera home for awhile. Hopefully, I can still make posts fairly interesting, or at least be more prolific.

Jul 21, 2011

Two new projects

I've stalled a little bit with my me a fair-weather birder if you wish, but it is too dang hot to go look at the same Texas summer birds.

Instead, I am using this heat as an excuse to tackle some artistic projects that I have been meaning to do for quite some time. Although the second project is a slower process and will be a time before anything is finished, I have begun the 1st and already have a few done. Here is one example below, and you can find more here as they are completed.

Pine Siskin

Jun 28, 2011

On the Road

It seems as though my blog entries have become longer yet less frequent. This makes sense as I think I am birding less often on quick trips around my house. The same holds true this time and I apologize ahead of time for its length.

This past weekend we were visiting family in Houston and decided to leave a few days early to take the kids to the beach in Galveston and the Houston Space Center. During contract negotiations about itinerary I managed to preserve one morning of birding. Friday morning (my favorite time to bird by the way) I headed out early knowing I only had a few hours. I grabbed a quick Texas-shaped waffle, yogurt, and coffee from the hotel lobby just as it opened and headed for the car. I pulled out of the parking lot to this sunrise.

Sunrise in Galveston

Not sure what the saying is but I'm going with "Red sky at night, birder's delight." My plan was to hit about four spots on the Upper Texas Coat (UTC) Birding Trail that were on the island within ten or so miles from the hotel. The first stop, toward the city, held twice as many transients as birds (2 homeless men - 1 pelican). Without getting out of the car, I quickly moved on to my next spot which was scheduled to be a location on the bay between the airport and Moody Gardens. Unable to find it and losing valuable time, however, I kept traveling West on the island on a commercial street through the center of town. As business became fewer and father in between, I began to notice a few more birds but at this point I was worried that it was going to prove to be a very uneventful day of birding. Not long after, however, a large Crested Caracara took off from some tall grass in an open field to my right. As I pulled over he alit on a telephone pole granting me a few nice pictures.

Crested Caracara

With my hope restored I continued on the road until the turn off to my next stop, a section of agricultural fields and marshes stretching out toward the bay. Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls continued to fly overhead and a few Eastern Meadowlarks briefly popped up on to grass stalks and fence posts. On of the more common birds that day, Willets crossed to road and called down to youngsters from telephone poles.



As I continued down the road the tall grass on both sides of the road were dotted with various egrets and herons. As I past one turn in the road I came across a small pond that almost abutted the pavement. To my surprise nearly every type of wading bird I could have expected to see was sharing the water. I rolled the car to a stop, rolled down the windows, and shut off the engine. The 50 or so birds for the most part ignored me. For half an hour I was able to watch and listen as the birds ate, bathed, and communicated with each other, each in their own evolved way.

A Roseate Spoonbill made its way through the shallower parts moving its large bill from side to side.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Undeterred as he was forced to move around a Great Egret.

Roseate Spoonbill

A Reddish Egret pranced through the water in its unique feeding dance.

Reddish Egret

Its shaggy neck feathers fluffing up as other birds approached his space.

Reddish Egret

Eventually, the spoonbill flew away and I decided to move on to see what else I could find in the time I had left that morning. On the road back I finally stopped to take a picture of one of the hundreds of White Ibises I had seen that day.

White Ibis

In the next field over a Cattle Egret shared a pasture with a grazing cow.

Cattle Egret

At the entrance to a nature preserve a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes were perched on the rail to the boardwalk. I saw quite a number of these birds that morning which was great because I had seen only one around Austin in the last year.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike 1

By this time, I needed to return to the hotel. After picking up the family, I wanted to drive back by the pond to see if the kids could see all the different types of large wading birds. Unfortunately, fishermen had come and the birds had scattered. We drove a little further down to where the road ended at the bay and the kids got out of the car to stretch before the drive back to Houston. In the five minutes we were standing on the rocks looking out at the bay I saw two birds I missed in the morning.

First, a Magnificent Frigatebird flew overhead.

Magnificent Frigatebird

And as we got back into the car I noticed the distinct orange bill of an American Oystercatcher in the grass to my right.

American Oystercatcher

Jun 6, 2011

Warming up...

Here in Central Texas we have reached high temperatures earlier than even usual. We were well into the 90's in early may and I believe hit the century mark right around June 1st. It is already too hot to do most things outside after eleven and it is not even officially summer.

Anyway, early mornings tend to be OK and that is when you want to go birding anyway. As I had my daughter's dance recital early in the afternoon and still had quite a few things to do I decided I would stay close to home and limit myself to a hour or so.

It turns out this was more than enough time as nothing was really out, and all the usual species made themselves known early and often. Near the pedestrian bridge where I planned to turn around, however, I got a great look at a Downy Woodpecker and two very patient Inca Doves. Unfortunately, the doves were perched on top of a gigantic metal hand rail which look terrible in photos. I am always shocked at how much smaller they look than the more common White-wing and Mourning doves, although you probably can't tell from the picture below.

Inca Dove

May 14, 2011

Back in Action

As you might know from the previous post, my birding lens broke the week before peak migration. Even more unfortunate, as an Ovenbird fell into my backyard after a streak of southerly winds suddenly changed to nice northern breezes. Luckily I had one day left on the 1 year warranty and I had it shipped off, repaired and back to me in less than 2 weeks. It was waiting for me on the front porch yesterday afternoon, and though many of the migrating birds had passed already, we were due a cold front (lows in the 50's , highs in the low 80's) for the weekend. I had heard that Mikael Behrens had been seeing quite a bit over in his neighborhood so I though I might head over there and check out the repairs.

The weather was as good as promised and the birds were obviously loving it too. Around the pond by the parking lot the Red-winged Blackbirds were busy making noise and flying their colors. I took a series of one of the males, but this is one of my favorites.

Red-winged Blackbird

From there I wandered down the edge of the creek flushing larger birds as I went: Great egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, Green Herons, Killdeer, and even a couple of Little Blue Herons. When I got to the first little dam a Spotted Sandpiper was pacing back and forth bobbing along. This Green Heron is one of at least 5 I saw.

Green Heron

Heading through some tall grass into a wooded area I saw a few female Painted Buntings munching on seeds. I was able to get close enough to take this picture through the grass.

Painted Bunting (female) 4

To my right I noticed quite a bit of activity up in the trees. At first I saw other buntings traveling between the treeline and the tall grass, but as I got closer the colorful flashes of the Yellow Warblers were unmistakeable. After a few minutes they seemed to forget I was there and slowed down enough to pose for a few shots.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler 3

Although their coloring is beautiful what I really like about these birds is the intense contrast of their pure black eyes.

As I was sitting there, a few cardinals and wrens bounced in and out, and then this Least Flycatcher flew in as if to say, "Hey, don't forget about me!"

Least Flycatcher

After getting my fill of the Yellow Warblers, I followed a less worn trail along the edge of the creek. In a dead tree on my right I spied this Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron 4

Typically, I find these guys to be pretty skittish, and I assumed he would take off after I got the first picture. But as I moved closer to the tree, he seemed to be pretty confident he was safe. By the time I was almost right underneath him we were still checking each other out. This has to be one of my favorite bird photos to date. And it's so nice to have my lens back (even if I could have got this shot with a 50mm).

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

May 2, 2011

On the Edge of the Pineywoods

Since my aunt moved Waller County (@30 miles northwest of Houston) I have been meaning to make a trip out to survey what birds might be on and around her property at different times of year. I thought late April might be a good time to see if any migratory birds were around, as well.

For the last two weeks in Austin there has been a fairly strong southern wind, almost continuously, and many people are reporting seeing fewer migrants, as they are thought to be using this tailwind to get further north with less effort. The case was true for east Texas as well, as there was not a lot of evidence of them in Waller. I need to look at the various internet bird tracking sites to get a better idea if this is true across the state. Nevertheless, I was up early, and after some coffee, ready to make my way around the acreage to see what else was up.

The first bird I saw (actually from through the kitchen window) was an American Crow. It was one of at least 20 that I saw throughout the day. They also provided a sort of background music in the air and appeared to be almost constantly at war with Red-shouldered Hawk(s) in the trees around he house.

Not soon after, as I made my way outside, I saw a few Northern Cardinals bouncing around the fence line on the edge of the horse corral. I am almost positive, by the way, that country cardinals are move vibrant in color than city cardinals but I can't prove it. As I followed the edge of the fence down the side of the woods, I was also able to see the expected Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice. As I was standing there two different pairs of ducks flew low and overhead. The first, coming from and open area by the ponds were Blue-winged Teals, a duck that winters here. The second pair were less easy to identify and disappeared over the second stand of trees before I could get binoculars on them. As I chased another Red-shouldered Hawk to woods behind the house my aunt pointed out a nest by her horses pens and near to the back door of the house.

carolina wren nest

I got closer and closer trying to see if anything was in it until my nose was probably a foot away. Just about the time I saw the distinct supercilium (eyebrow), the Carolina Wren burst out, flying right past my face.

After that we made our way down the long, country driveway to look at the pasture fields, and then the big pond on the south end of the property. Telephone wires and fencing run along the side of the drive from the main road to the house and in the short stretch birds took turns landing on the wire: Eastern Bluebirds, House Sparrows, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds and an American Kestrel. 20 or so Cattle Egrets in breeding plumage also flew from herd to herd depending on how close we got. I managed these few pictures that show the rusty breeding plumes and their size compared to the cows.

cattle egret 3

cattle egret 2

cattle egret

About this time the lens on my camera quit working in auto-focus mode. After trying a few things to jog it, as I have done in the past, I was forced to go to manual focus for the rest of the day. If I were taking portraits from 10ft away or landscapes with a large f-stop this might not have been that bad; however, with tiny birds at 30ft it is near impossible to judge correct focus on manual--especially in the brief amount of time you are likely to have. It became more frustrating when we got to the pond and had decent looks at a Baltimore Oriole, Little Blue Heron, Carolina Chickadees, and even three Indigo Buntings. After taking some time to hope for a few migrating warblers (with no success), I headed back through the pasture to the driveway. As I was looking at a Meadowlark on a cedar post, I saw a woodpecker fly onto the top of one of wooden utility poles to my left. At first I assumed that it was another one of the many Red-bellied Woodpeckers that I had been seeing all morning. Such as this one (remember, manual focus now)...

red-bellied woodpecker

Despite its name, this bird rarely is identified by a red belly, but more by its "ladder-back" and the red on its head. In contrast, the bird I was looking at appears true to his name.

red-headed woodpecker

This Red-headed Woodpecker has brilliant markings, and the large white patch on the wings bisect them horizontally when spread out. I got a great look at this after he spotted me and flew on to the next pole.

After a cup of coffee and tallying up the total back at the house it was time to head home. As I turned out of the gate an Eastern Kingbird alit on the barbed-wire fence. A Green Heron and a Great-blue Heron flew over head.

Apr 29, 2011

A Quick Trip

The weekend before Easter we drove out to Palmetto State Park to meet some friends that had invited us to go camping for the night. A bonus is that the state park, which is just south of Luling, in a hot spot on the Texas Birding trail. I figured I would be able to literally roll out of my sleeping bag and be on the trail at sun up. We arrived the night before, and after getting camp set up and dinner made (and eaten) I had just a few minutes to scout the area for the next morning. I couldn't resist taking this picture of this male Northern Cardinal singing on top of this nearby tree.

cardinal palmetto

It appeared as though a small .5 mile trail around the oxbow lake might be promising as I heading back to the campsite. Unfortunately, as I approached our spot my wife told me that our son was having a severe asthma attack and that we needed to head home. I'll have to return another time as more than 200 species have been spotted at that state park.

Apr 6, 2011

Tantalizingly Close

Over the weekend I was out near Smithville, TX (between Bastop and La Grange) for a trail running race. This is an area that is relatively close to where I live and a place that I had wanted to bird for some time. Unfortunately, the short of it is that while I was out there nothing ever quite came together for me to bird. Although I was seeing tons of bird activity from the car (Crested Caracara, Crow, Kestrels, Swallows, etc.) by the time I got to where I was going the sun was going down.

Sunday morning, on the way home, I did stop quickly at a public boat ramp on the Colorado just off the highway. I got a good look at this Red-shouldered Hawk and about 15 cattle Egrets in a nearby tree.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Unfortunately, my feet hurt so bad from blisters and bruised toes that I was unable to much more than parking lot birding. The next morning, I joined Mikael Behrens group for a walk through a local neighborhood trail where he sees some excellent birds. My hopes were high but my feet couldn't match them. On the way back to the car, however, there was this male and female Brown-headed Cowbird.


Mar 23, 2011

2 Birds with 1 Stone

The story behind this blog entry is a familiar one over the past six months; birding as it occurs in conjunction with running. Because I mostly run the pavement I am usually limited in the species of birds I see. But on days like last Thursday, an opportunity to trail run out of town afforded me the chance to see some new species after my run.

In this case, I headed out to a nearby National Wildlife Refuge with a couple 20oz. water bottles and a morning off of work. There are plenty of hills in this area and I have run the small back highways before in order to find long-runs with serious more serious total elevation gain...oops sorry forgot this was the birding blog for a minute...

Anyway, while running the birds were really vocally active but the sky remained overcast and gusts of winds kept push 15mph. I decided I would keep running hoping the clouds wold burn off and the winds would die down even though I knew the bird activity might also fall off as the morning went by. As it turned out, the clouds and the wind remained, the morning wore on, I wore out waiting, and by the time I got back to the camera it seemed as the though the birds had disappeared. Lesson learned: Bird First!

Nevertheless, on my way home I did notice a small group of Eastern Bluebirds on the powerlines and ranch fences. As i stopped my car on the side of the road, they flew back into the oaks, but I did manage to get a few pictures of both males and females, such as these ones.


Mar 2, 2011

Birders of a Feather...

This past weekend, feeling guilty from all the hours I've spent weekend mornings running, I invited the whole family to come birding with me. Two things helped seal the deal: donuts for the kids and leaving out the part that we were headed to a smelly waste-water treatment plant.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to this location was to try and see any wintering ducks still hanging around, but I also wanted to try and get a decent photo of American Coots running on the water. Unfortunately, the day was windy and overcast, but you can see the series of photographs in the previous post. Interestingly, The Birdwatcher's Companion states that there may be some relationship between their name and the pejorative for the elderly--a slow and awkward head-bobbing.

In addition to the coots, I was also able to get this poor photograph of a Loggerhead Shrike. I have not seen one in almost a year after seeing a bunch last year. These guys are also referred to as butcher birds, I believe, due to their habit of impaling bugs on barbed-wire in order to more easily devour.

Loggerhead Shrike

When I went back to check the Loggerhead reference in TBC I was interested to find that the word also can be used to refer to a "dunce". In the case of this bird, I think it more likely refers to the size of its head. Hopefully, I can get a better picture of one soon.

Feb 28, 2011