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)

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.