Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bulletin #52 – Houston summer/fall birds #1

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
September 28, 2008

Bulletin #52 – Houston summer/fall birds

Hello friends,

We are now 2 weeks post Hurricane Ike. I hope that all of you who were affected are safe, along with your families. I presume most of you have your power back as well and have sustained minimal damage other than downed trees and fences etc.

I just got the last 5 trees removed yesterday. Now, the putting back together begins – waiting on trash pickup, fences put back up, and replacement of kitchen ceiling sheetrock and painting.

This was a large storm over a wide area, but fortunately only a category 2 with winds 105 mph. The power was out over an area the size of the state on New York. The mountains of broken trees and limbs is estimated at 5-10 million cubic yards just in the Houston area alone. It will take months to haul it all off.

I was supposed to go on vacation on Sept 12th, the day before the storm, but the airports were closed and I wasn’t going to leave in the face of a hurricane anyway. This had to be my worst vacation ever, as I worked ½ days in the office and spent the afternoons cleaning up around the house.

So here are some birds that I photographed in August and September at home and around the Houston area.

I actually have had some good hawk photos at my house. I always keep my camera in the laundry room of the kitchen, so I can grab it at a moments notice if I see something interesting.

The first was a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (Accipter cooperii). I happened to look out the kitchen window on 8-23-08 and saw this bird sitting on the driveway. Accipters are short winged, long tailed hawks that pursue other smaller birds and take them on the wing. The juvenile has dark streaks on the breast along with a buffy orange head. It has a rounded tail with terminal white band. It is similar to the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk, but the latter has a square tail. This was the best look I have ever had of this bird. The photos were taken out the kitchen window so as not to disturb the bird. What a ferocious looking bird!

I have several bird feeders in the area and I assume that he had caught and lost something and landed to look for it, as he proceeded to look all around and under a small shrub.

The last photo shows the rounded tail.

And here he was in a tree on Sept 1st. I had seen him about 5 times in 2 weeks at the end of August, but haven’t seen him since the hurricane. I hope he is still around.

The resident hawk at my house is the Red-shouldered Hawk RSH(Buteo lineatus). Here is an adult who was sitting 10 feet off the ground across the driveway from my garage. I took this photo from inside the garage.

This bird is somewhat unusual as eastern RSH are supposed to have the horizontal orange stripes all the way down the breast and belly. This individual has a solid orange breast with stripes on the belly. This is characteristic of California birds, but they also have orange heads.

The last individual hawk was a juvenile RSH taken 3 days ago when he landed on my lawn and caught a lizard. As he tried to manipulate the lizard, the lizard bit him on the tongue, and the hawk dropped his meal and took off.

Here is the post with the sequence of photos that I uploaded to Texbirds. The post says salamander, but someone ID’ed it as a Ground Skink – a lizard, not a salamander.

I saw this juvie RS Hawk 2 days ago in a tree in my yard and grabbed the camera for some photos.

He then flew down on the lawn beside my patio and captured what looks like a salamander. He has it in the middle as legs can be seen on both sides of his mouth.

3 frames later, he grabs the salamander with his right foot and changes it's position.

4 frames later, all four legs can be seen hanging out the near side of the birds mouth.

2 frames later the bird suddenly opens his mouth wide. The salamander can be seen in its entirety with the head inside the birds beak.

And a close up suggests that the salamander has a hold of the hawk's tongue.

A second later, the hawk has his mouth closed and no salamander is to be seen. Presumably the salamander let go of his grip and dropped to the ground.

Several seconds later, the hawk flew off revealing underwing pattern.

Photography is so much fun, as I didn't see this process in action as I was taking the pictures.

Some other birds seen in August and September include the Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger). This unmistakable bird has the lower mandible longer than upper mandible. In breeding plumage shown here, the nape of neck is black, continuous with head and back. In basic plumage, the nape of neck is white.

I showed some photos of the Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) in Bulletin #48. I obtained better photos of this elusive bird in 2 visits to Anahuac NWR in August. click ‘next’ twice

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2008 David McDonald

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bulletin #51 – South Padre Island TX pelagic trip

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
September 7, 2008

Bulletin #51 – South Padre Island TX pelagic trip

Hello friends,

This was my second pelagic trip this year. This one was into the western Gulf of Mexico departing from extreme south Texas. I enjoy pelagics as one gets to see marine mammals along with birds and occasionally some neat fish, sea turtles etc. I so far have been immune from seasickness which is a hazard on these boat trips.

The first interesting bird we found was on an offshore platform soon after departure. The male Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) is all black with a red throat pouch. Frigatebirds are seabirds that steal food from gulls and terns by bombing them and harassing them until they drop their catch. The frigatebird then swoops down and catches the meal before it hits the water.

The next bird was a Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra). This is a huge seabird (32” with 5 foot wingspan) that dives into the water to catch fish. This adult flew up to the boat and then followed right above the stern of the boat about 10 feet up. I was taking the photos right under the bird. It is white with a black mask and black on the wings and tail. Here are 2 photos. click ‘next’ once

The next bird seen was a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma castro). These small (9”) seabirds are purely oceanic, coming ashore only to breed on remote islands and at night.They are dark brown, with a white band above its tail. This bird flew across in front of the boat at about 25 yards distance when I got these photos. Prior to this it was about 50 yards away and really out of photographic range for such a small bird. click ‘next’ once

We also found 2 shearwaters. The first was the Greater Shearwater (Puffinus gravis). This bird is 18” in length and had a mostly white head and neck, but with a sharp black cap and dark bill. This was a life bird for me.

And the other was a Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedia). This bird is also 18” long but has a dusky gray head and yellow bill. Here are 2 photos. click ‘next’ once

The last bird seen was a Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus). Jeagers are gull like seabirds that also harass gulls and terns to steal their food.

I admit, these seabirds are dull colored, but the ability to live offshore almost completely is rather interesting. And most people have never seen these birds at all!

We also came across 2 mammal species.

The first was Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus) This is a blunt nosed gray dolphin that with age, develops whitish streaks on its body. They live in deep water (600’) off the continental shelf. Here are 3 photos. click ‘next’ twice

The other was a Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus). We came upon a pod of about a dozen of these 15 foot whales.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2008 David McDonald