Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bulletin #63 – Misc. TX birds

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
January 15, 2009

Bulletin #63 – Misc. Texas birds

Hello friends,

I have really had some photographic excitement to start 2009. On Saturday Jan 3rd, the Texas birding website (Texbirds) had a post that a Mexican species was discovered south of San Antonio, in Choke Canyon State Park. The bird was a Pine Flycatcher. This was the first time this species had been found in the USA. I looked on Google maps for the location of the park and estimated driving distance. I guess I misread the mileage as I thought it said 204 miles. I figured out a more direct route that I thought would decrease the distance by 25 miles. So I decided to go on Sunday morning the 4th to try and see the bird and photograph it. I knew there would be a few others there looking for it, so it might already be spotted when I arrived. Well, the distance turned out to be 250 miles, so Google maps must have said 304 miles! I probably would not have gone if I knew the actual distance.

Anyway, when I arrived about 10:15am, there were perhaps a dozen birders there and they had seen the bird. The weather was foggy and gray, but by 12:00 noon, the bird had showed up and I got some reasonable photos of the bird in a leafless bush. I returned home.

I processed the photos and posted them on Texbirds. Additionally, I sent them to the Houston Audubon Society webmaster, as HAS also maintains the NARBA (North American Rare Bird Alert) website. The photos were put up on NARBA Sunday evening.

On Monday, I received an email from the American Birding Association asking to use the photos in their newsletters and on their web site. I sent them the photos. scroll down to Jan 3rd.

But the real fun started on Thursday 7th, when I received a call from the Associated Press (AP) in Dallas. They were going to put out a story on this rare bird and asked if they could use some photos. I sent them Thursday night as I had to complete them to their size specifications. I was told the story would go out on the newswire on Friday.

All day Friday I checked the AP web site for a story about a Pine Flycatcher in Texas – nothing. Finally at 4:30 in the afternoon, there it was. It made the web sites of many papers, TV stations, radio stations across the USA. Here is one of them – Monterey CA.

The next day, it made the major web sites – Yahoo, MSNBC, AOL, USA Today etc. I even found it on a Taiwan newspaper web site! However, the funniest one is this.

This was a life bird for me. However, it is very similar in appearance to several USA birds, and there is some skepticism whether the ID of the bird is correct. I’m sure the experts will be debating this bird all year.

So, here are my Pine Flycatcher (Empidonax affinis) photos that were sent and seen around the world.

The Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilla yucatanensis) at my home is still present and it is a real treat to have such a beautiful bird as a winter visitor. I thought it would be interesting to put up a back-drop for the photos. I had a bright yellow piece of poster board and here are a couple of photos. In the first photo, I noticed that the bird had a band on his right leg. One of the bird banders contacted me to attempt to catch the bird to read the band and discover where he had been banded. They came to my house on New Year’s Day, but the bird was too smart to go into the trap. We may try again later with a different type of trap.

Just northwest of Houston, a lady posted on Texbirds that she had 2 winter hummingbirds coming to feeders in her yard. I went to see them on Dec 28th.

The first is a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus). This bird is similar to the common Ruby-throated Hummingbird of eastern North America, but has some rufous on his tail feathers. If you look closely, you can see it on the outermost tail feather.

The other was a female Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). She is the same genus as the previous bird but has much more rufous coloration.

In this picture, you can see the band on her right leg and even read the number ‘92’ on the band. These bands for hummingbirds are about 1/3 inch in length, so I was amazed to be able to read it!

I made several trips to Brazos Bend State Park, southwest of Houston. The best bird was a life bird for me, the Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus). It is a typical blackbird, but in winter plumage turns a rusty brown. It also has a yellow eye.

This bird is a woodland species that feeds in bogs in the forest, eating insects, snails etc. It summers in the boreal forests of North America from Alaska to Newfoundland and winters in the southeast USA. It is becoming rare, with the population estimated to have plummeted 90% since the 1970s. No one is quite sure why it is declining and studies are being undertaken to find out why. Here is an article on the Smithsonian web site.

The first photo is an adult male. He just has a little rust on him.

The next photo is of a 1st year male. He is considerably browner.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2008-09 David McDonald

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