Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bulletin #47 – Houston TX summer birds #1

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
July 27, 2008

Bulletin #47 – Houston TX area summer birds #1
Hello friends,

The summers here are very hot. The birding is not as exciting as spring or fall migration. However, with young birds, nesting etc, it can still be rewarding to head out to the field. This summer, I tried to photograph some birds that I missed in migration as well as some permanent residents that I had been unable to find on previous excursions.

Rails tend to be secretive birds that hide out in marshes etc. In Texas, we have the resident Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris) in the salt marshes. On a trip I found this bird walking out into the wide open mud flat and he proceeded to bathe in a puddle, completely oblivious to me and several other birders watching him from 50 feet away. The second photo shows him having a great time bathing. click ‘next’ once

Related to the Clapper Rail is the beautiful Purple Gallinule (Porphyria martinica). One weekend I found the downy chick with parents at Brazoria NWR. The baby is black and nowhere in any field guide is it illustrated. The following weekend at Anahuac, I found the juveniles. They are tan colored with bluish wash on the wings. So here the chick, a second photo with a chick between the legs of the parent and then the a pair of juveniles. click ‘next’ twice

This next bird is an endangered woodpecker. No it isn’t the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (I wish – that would be a $1 million photo!). It is the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis). This bird is resident in pine forests of the southeastern USA. It is IDed by the ladder back striping and white cheek. The male has a small red feather above the ear area that is never seen in the wild.

This has been one of the more difficult birds for me to find. There is a sanctuary for them north of Houston about 1.5 hours drive from my house. I went twice in the 90’s and didn’t see the birds. Last year in Florida I drove to a refuge for them and missed them again. So finally on my 4th trip and expending probably more than 24 hours total time, I found the bird (a lifer) and managed some photos. click ‘next’ once

Their nest is easy to find as they drill holes around the opening so sap runs down the tree. This is supposed to prevent snakes from attacking the young in the nest cavity. Here is a photo of a nest.

There are 3 species of these ladder-backed picoides woodpeckers in the USA. All occur in the southern states. From east to west, they are the Red-cockaded (Florida to east Texas), Ladder-backed (Texas to Arizona) and Nuttall’s (California). Interestingly, the face has more black and less white as we progress for east to west. Here are the 3 birds from east to west. (Red-cockaded, Ladder-backed and Nuttall’s)

Least Terns (Sterna antillarum) are the smallest species of terns in the world. They nest along the Texas coast by just scraping a small depression in the sand on the beach. Well of course, the beaches on the upper Texas coast are heavily used by humans as Houston with a population of 5 million is only 30 miles form the coast. Several areas are set aside for them, but some birds insist on nesting on heavily trafficked areas, so ropes are put up to keep people and vehicles away from the eggs.

Here is a parent bird bringing a fish back for a baby and the second is a nest with 2 eggs just laid on the beach. click ‘next’ once

I also got photos of 2 other juvenile terns. The Royal Tern (Sterna maxima) is a large (20”) bird. The adult has a bright orange beak, but the juvenile has a yellow beak and interesting black spotted plumage.

The juvenile Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri) is smaller (13”) and he has brownish spots for the first couple of months of life.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2008 David McDonald

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