David McDonald Photography
Nov 22, 2007
Bulletin #21 – Upper Texas Coast – Fall 2007 – part 3
Fall migration along the upper Texas coast is another exciting time as there are several species of birds that are more numerous than during spring migration. Also, many birds are in non-breeding plumage which can make for difficult identification problems.
I went to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on a Saturday when they had an open hose for the public and many demonstrations. One of them was a wildlife rehabilitation lady who brought 4 owl species for display.
These 4 owls are year round residents of the Houston area.
The smallest is the Eastern Screech-Owl (Otus aiso). It is 8.5 inches in length and has small ears tufts. There are several color variations – red, brown and gray. The only one I have seen is the gray phase like the one here and in the previous photo from the Rio Grande Valley trip.
The Barred Owl (Strix varia) is the owl popularly known in the southeast USA as the hoot owl. It is closely related to the endangered Spotted Owl of the northwest USA. It is the only dark owl in our area with dark eyes. It has vertical barring on the breast. It is a big bird at 21 inches in length.
And here is a face close-up.
The next owl is the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). This bird lives all through the Americas – from Alaska in the north to Tierra del Fuego at the extreme southern tip of South America. It is another large owl at 22 inches. It has large ear tufts or ‘horns’. According to the handler, their favorite prey is skunks!
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The above 3 owls are called typical owls. The other family of owls is the barn owls of which there is only one in the USA. It is appropriately called the Barn Owl (Tyto alba). If you see a large beige bird flying at dawn or dusk, it is likely this bird. The face is the heart shaped disk including the mouth of the bird. It is a medium sized owl at 16 inches. It also has no ear tufts.
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There are several other species of owls that occasionally winter along in the Houston area. A Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) spent the winter near Galveston and I was able to get his photo. This is one of my favorite photos ever. It was after a very rainy day and his feathers were soaked. The sun had come out and he was trying to dry out. He looks ‘like a drowned rat’. The very long legs are characteristic of this owl that lives in burrows in the ground. He is a small owl at 9.5 inches in length. This bird became quite tame and was approachable to within 20 feet!
Here is another photo of this bird on a dry day. This photo is on the Houston Audubon web site under their bird gallery.
Texbirds is a web service devoted to birds and birders in Texas. Several photographers post pictures of local birds and I have learned much on difficult bird identification, but also that some birds occur locally that I wasn’t aware of.
One of these is the Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritis). This was another life bird for me this week. But it was only because of posted photos, that I was able to correctly identify the bird as it closely resembles the Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) in the non-breeding plumage. There are 4 Horned Grebes currently along the Texas City dike. So here are the 2 birds for comparison in non-breeding plumage.
The Horned Grebe has all white below the eye, white neck anteriorly, and white tip on the bill. Lastly, the peak of the head is well behind the eye. This photo was taken yesterday.
The Eared Grebe also occurs on the upper Texas coast, although I have not seen it here. This photo was taken in California. Notice the dark face extends well below and behind the eye and the anterior aspect of the neck is dark. The tip of the bill is dark. The peak of the head is right above the eye.
All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.
photos copyright 2007 David McDonald