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 25, 2012

Hanging in the Balance

So far,birding along what I am calling Bella Vista creek, there are a handful of birds dominating the aural landscape. Two of these birds are Vireos, the White-eyed and the Red-eyed species. I have written about the former in previous posts, but not so much about the latter. It's common name suggests a key field mark for identification, but I have found the eye color not all that evident depending on lighting conditions and other factors. On the other hand, you can also go by the distinctive markings of its supercilium. In addition to both these unique characteristics, the Red-eyed Vireo is also true to its Latin name, Vireo olivaceus. A good look at this little bird and I think you will appreciate its rich olive upper parts. But sight is not the only way to appreciate the Red-eyed Vireo. In truth, you often hear it long before you see it, much like the closely related White-eyed Vireo. Here is a recording of its song I captured the other day (hopefully the wind is not too interfering). Red-eyed Vireo Song After listening to this little feller for a little bit, I happened to catch a glimpse of him moving. I followed him up the path for about 50 feet and found him at a nest. As his nest looked fully formed, (can you see it in the photo below?), I am guessing he may have been bringing food for either an incubating mom or hatched little ones. If all goes well we should hear 3-5 more Red-eyed Vireos along the creek soon!

May 22, 2012

Quick-with-the-Beer, Chick!

This past weekend I was intending on being at a birding workshop at a place called Bamberger Ranch. Due to lack of interest, however, it was cancelled. Instead, I took the opportunity to take my 8-year-old son, OK birding. He was a little skeptical at first. Even though he has been out with me before, for short periods (followed by a stop for donuts), this would be more of a commitment. Seeing dad come home with chiggers two weeks ago only added to his anxiety. When we got to the ranch he was still quiet but his mood was improved with some root beer while I unpacked and got us set up. After that he was willing to explore the trails along the creek, and we set out with our binoculars around our necks. I'm glad we got there in time to go out the first evening, because I had a real close encounter with a male Golden-cheeked Warbler. This endangered songbird is famous in the Texas Hill Country, as it's the only small area left that it breeds in every summer. It spends most of the year down in Central America. I do not know why it chooses to come to TEXAS for the Summer, but I'm glad it does. My son, unfortunately, missed the bird as he was messing around with water spiders along the creek. The Lesser Goldfinches and Eastern Phoebes were out in great numbers. And we were really excited to see an Ash-throated Flycatcher guard its nest--at one point fanning its tail in a nice display. One of the noisiest birds of the day was the one I recorded for Quiz #3. No matter where we went these guys seemed to be singing. Even driving the property on our way out we would here the bird every time we stopped the car. At one point we stopped to watch a group of Wild Turkeys move up a hill, and my son said listen that's the...A proud dad, indeed! As a final note, the bird app iBIRD, gives the clue that this bird's song has a phonetic description of "Quick-with-the-Beer, Check!" I think it makes more sense, even if more misogynistic, as, "Quick-with-the-beer, chick!"

May 18, 2012

Slow Day (with Quiz #2)

Unexpectedly, and unfortunately, the last time out birding turned out to be a slow day. It seems as though many of the migrating birds may have already passed through the area, or maybe the amount of sun was keeping a lot of them down. Either way, it was the 1st time in a month that I didn't see a single Warbler. On the plus side, I got great looks at both Red-eye and Warbling Vireos. I recorded a few of their "voices", some of which might appear in later quizzes, but not the one this week. Bird vocalizations can be roughly sorted into two groups, Songs and Calls. Songs are almost always done by males and usually are used to claim territory or find a mate. Calls serve other various functions. David Sibley's book, Birding Basics, will tell you everything you need to know about bird vocalizations--and about everything else birding too. Let me know what you think after you listen to Quiz #2.

May 16, 2012

Bird of the Day ID Audio Quiz #1

The sounds of Spring are certainly alive and one of the major contributors are birds. Adult birds that breed here in the summer use their voices to stake territory claims. Young birds might be asking for food. Others might be signaling other birds about possible predators (you know, all these strange guys pointing at them and holding objects up to their faces). Birding this week I was inspired by all these songs and calls. I thought of all the time we focus on capturing birds in photographs. We are impressed by their various shapes and colors, but rarely appreciate what their sounds do for our environment. I thought I might try to capture a little bit of what I heard the other day birding, and share it here on Bird of the Day. A couple of bugs may need to be worked out before it goes smoothly so be patient. Extra points go to the person who can identify what brand of leaf blower is providing the annoying background track. I think the bird still comes through, however. Click HERE and adjust the volume accordingly--probably up!)

May 13, 2012

Birding Locally

Local--it's all the rage right now, right. And for good reason. There are enormous benefits from living your life in as small a circle as possible. And whatever the activity is, the benefits are usually the same: protect the environment and create a better sense of community. This applies to birding as well, and it also follows the order to how one naturally learns to bird. You usually start with the birds in your backyard, then your neighborhood, your county, state, etc. The great thing is that as seasons change the birds in your neighborhood might change, and in varying years you might see species that were not there, or seen, the year before. Certainly, as your birding skills increase you will likely begin to notice all the variation "right outside the back door." I actually stumbled upon a great place in my area earlier this year when geocaching with my son. This is an area that you can not see from the window of your car, nor even if you were walking right next to it. From what I an tell there are about four entries into various sections along the creek, some less accessible than others. Once down along the creek the walking is relatively flat and easy, however. You could probably walk two miles total if you went up and down the whole length. There are a few small open areas, but mainly it is mostly narrow with mature trees: oaks, cottonwoods, chinaberry, cedar, etc. At one point the paved path elevates and you are almost canopy high on one side. There are a few spots up away from the creek where the ground dries out and becomes more arid scrub land. This variation is important because it also supports differing species. Like everywhere on earth these days there are people walking dogs off leash, but I long ago admitting to losing this battle. On Saturday, I went out and walked the length of the creek, mainly looking for migrating birds coming through, but trying to catalog all the birds I saw as well. A Downy Woodpecker, which is here year-round but a first on the creek for me, moved up and around a nearby tree. Lots of mothers on walks walked back and forth asking questions of what I was seeing. I told them about all the Warblers and Vireos and "Happy Mother's Day!" And it being that time of year, I saw adult Northern Cardinals feeding juveniles and other pairs of birds working on nests. This is a picture I took with my phone through my binoculars of the cavity nest being worked on by two Great Crested Flycatchers.
I saw a bunch of Summer resident birds including Summer Tanagers and Painted Buntings. The Bird of the Day, however, was a Yellow-throated Warbler that I saw high in the canopy where the path elevates. If it were not for this topography I don't think I would have seen this bird. If you are interested in know about the other birds I've see on the creek click on the link to the right that says "birds of bella vista". There is only a brief time left in migration, but still more Summer birds to see along the creek. Soon Winter will return a new wave of species will arrive. Hopefully, I'll see you on the creek. Gideon

May 6, 2012

It All Depends on the Day (within reason)

This morning, in the light rain extended from a pretty major electrical storm the night before, I attended a monthly bird hike in a nearby neighborhood. Locally, this a hotspot for birding within the city. It being early May, the peak of migration in Central Texas, I expected (hoped may be a better word) to see at least a few Warblers coming through the area. The overnight storm had interrupted some persistent southerly winds which increased our chances. Long story short, I was not disappointed. By the end of the morning we had tallied a Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia, Nashville, Tennessee, and Yellow Warblers. Add to this list a few Vireos, including a rare for the area Philadelphia Vireo, and it turned out to be a very productive morning. Two weeks ago, we were visiting family in Corpus Christ, and I drove up to Paradise Pond in Port Aransas, to see some migratory birds fresh in from their flights across the Gulf. Also expected, I saw some great Warblers there as well. (Canada and Northern Waterthrush not from the group above, and also a Veery, Swainson's and Grey-cheeked Thrush.) As great as all these birds were to see, the big migration story for me this year so far has to be yesterday morning in a neighborhood park not a mile from my house. I have only been to this location a few times and have lately though I might spend more time there cataloging what birds I see there through the year. I figured I needed to make sure I checked it out at least a few times during migration for sure. It wasn't long before I saw my first Yellow Warbler. With minutes the obvious black hat appeared on another and I had a Wilson's. Soon a Black-throated Green Warbler appeared in my binoculars and I was still in the spot I started. I thought about moving on but the birds seemed to be fine coming to me, so I just stayed put. A beautiful male Chestnut-sided Warbler flew into a tree to my left and after it a Male Magnolia. Some other birds flew into some nearby undergrowth and I gave chase, coming up with pant-leg caught on Dewberries, an great look at a White-eyed Vireo, and, errr, how do I put this, legs full of chiggers. The latter is the only thing I could have done without, obviously! (And I'll spare you the photos!) What's is your favorite Warbler? Any good birds this Migration? Let me know. Gideon