Friday, August 21, 2009

Bulletin #89 – Misc upper Texas coast birds

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
August 21, 2009

Bulletin #89 – Misc upper Texas coast birds

Hello friends,

This summer has been exceptionally hot and dry in Houston. In fact most of Texas is an a moderate to extreme drought. I have not been out in the field as it is just too hot. However, there have been a few interesting birds in the area and some at my house.

Two birds in the area are quite rare here. The first was an American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber). This bird was found in Freeport Texas in mid May and was only there for 24 hours. Fortunately I got there in time for a photo.

The other unusual bird was a Brant goose (Branta bernicla). This dark goose is usually only found in cooler climates, yet there was one found in Brazoria NWR at the end of July.

One result of the drought was that many of the small ponds, ditches etc have dried up, so feeding spots for waders have decreased. Normally, I have a few Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (Nyctanassa violacea) in the neighborhood. They catch crawfish, tadpoles etc in these small watery areas. Because of the drought, I had 1-2 every evening in June and July just walking around on the my lawn. Occasionally, they picked up something in the grass.

Because, this is also crawfish season here, the stores had plenty of the live crustaceans in stock (people here eat them for those of you not from LA or TX). So I decided to try and experiment to see if they would eat them. I bought some and placed them along a path in the grass when the birds were present. The first evening, they just looked at them, but the next night one of the birds ate them. Subsequently, every night he would show up along the path between 6:30 and 7:30pm. I would put out some crawfish and he would eat them. He was obviously feeding young in the nest as he would fly away with 4 in his crop and return 15 minutes later. One night, he ate 16 of them in 4 separate trips. By the third week he was quite tame and I could walk to within 6 feet of him, as I set out his meal.

The method of eating the crawfish was always the same. He would break off the claws, then crush the exoskeleton from tail to head and then swallow it whole. On one occasion, a particularly large crawfish wouldn't go down. He was forced to regurgitate it. He didn't attempt to pull it apart and eat it piecemeal like a hawk would do. Instead he crushed it again and swallowed it whole. The second time it went down OK.

I was hoping to continue feeding him all summer and that he would bring the babies to feed once they fledged. Alas, the stores stopped stocking crawfish after mid-July. Also, fortunately, we started having some rain, so the natural sources of their food returned.

I had never read of anyone feeding these herons in this manner, so my experiment was a success.

Here are a couple of photos. The whole series I posted to Texbirds can be seen here. Click 'next' 8 times to see all 9 photos of him eating the crawfish. In the last 2, he is regurgitating the stuck one.

Spring and summer, bring babies to our local birds. I always have some Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) nesting around the patio. When the babies fledge and leave the nest, there is about a 30 minute window when they can be seen. The parents take them away from the house. This year I was lucky as I had just arrived home from work and heard the commotion as the parents were calling the babies. There were only 2 babies. One actually got under the screen door into our verandah. I had to catch him and put him back outside.

Of course I grabbed the camera to photo the 2 fledgelings. They appear to be all legs and beak. There is just a stub of a tail. How cute can you get? - the miracle of life. Here's 4 photos of these adorable babies.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonaldemail:

photos copyright 2009 David McDonald

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