December 21, 2009
Bulletin #98 – Misc birds of upper Texas coast
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
First of all, I have a correction from the last Bulletin #97. The bird listed as a Chipping Sparrow is actually a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow. Thanks to guide Darrell Vollert for pointing out my mistake. Let me try and explain the subtle difference between these birds. Here is a Chipping Sparrow - juvenile. Notice the black line goes through the eye to the bill. That area in front of the eye is called the lores. In a Chipping Sparrow, the lores are dark or black. In the photo posted, which was actually a White-crowned Sparrow, the lores are light gray. I have relabeled the photo correctly.
One of the other birds on my to do list for this winter, is the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow (or just Nelson's Sparrow) (Ammodramus nelsoni). This bird is very similar to the LeConte's Sparrow highlighted in Bulletin #97. However, the differences include a gray midline crown stripe and gray back of neck. The habitat in winter is also different, with the Nelson's strictly in salt marsh and the LeConte's in fields.
I arrived at Surfside Beach in the early morning to find the sparrows when they became active at daylight. There were a number of other marsh birds, that photographed beautifully in the early morning light.
Here are a couple of photos of an adult Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris). I was only 15 feet from this bird, my closest encounter yet with a rail. The photos are full frame. The gray cheek differentiates this rail from the closely related and very similar King Rail.
The juvenile birds are almost completely gray. This was my first time to see one. Also, these rails swim at times as shown in Sibley, and I caught this juvenile swimming.
Another bird was the Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus). This bird was practically at my feet.
On the way back home, I drove through Brazoria NWR. One of the special birds there is the White-tailed Hawk (Buteo albicaudatus). This large hawk (23") is a resident of the Texas coastal area from Houston to the Rio Grande valley. The adult has a snow white breast, gray back and rufous shoulders. The tail is white with a terminal black band.
In contrast, the juveniles are often completely brown with just a white spot on the breast. Here is an old photo from my files.
Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) have bare pink heads. I was unaware, until Joe Kennedy posted some photos on Texbirds, that the juveniles have black heads just like a Black Vulture, but they gradually turn pink. I looked for such a bird and found one beside the road at Brazoria NWR.
I gave 2 talks in November on the subject of winter birds along the upper Texas coast. One of the items I mentioned was the chance of getting a wintering hummingbird in your yard, if you take the time to leave your feeder up and change the food regularly. I have had the pleasure of a Buff-bellied Hummingbird in my yard last winter and once in the mid 1990's at my previous house in Seabrook, Texas.
As everyone who lives here knows, we had a freeze and snow on Friday December 4th. This killed many of the flowers in our gardens that the hummers depend on, so they are even more likely to come to your feeder.
The fates have smiled upon me as I had 3 different birds in my yard the week of Dec 9-13th. I had my first ever Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). This was a beautiful male, who is still here. He is roosting on a wilted hibiscus bush, which is their preferred plant in winter.
I also had a female Archilochus species (either Ruby-throated or Black-chinned) as I haven't been able to differentiate yet.
The third bird was a Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia yucatanensis) again. I did get a good look at him on the feeder and he appears to be banded on his right leg. The one I had last year was also banded, so I think it is likely the same bird. Hummingbirds have excellent memories and will often return to the same place, year after year. The bird disappeared for a while and reappeared yesterday, when I was able to get a photo. What a beautiful creature!
So if you haven't put up a hummingbird feeder, and want to try to attract one, this winter would be ideal. I have only had 2 birds in winter in 20 years, and now 3 this year already! Good luck, and if you do attract one, I would love to photograph it, if it is an unusual bird. Please email me with the details. Thanks.
All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.
Happy birding and photography,
photos copyright 2009 David McDonald
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