Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bulletin #94 – October birds

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
November 1, 2009

Bulletin #94 – October birds

Hello friends,

Since back from my trip to Maine, I have gotten out to bird for at least a few hours each weekend. I am preparing for a talk on Winter Birds of the Houston area to be given at Webster Presbyterian Church on Nov 10th from 7-8:00 pm. This church is just of I-45 in the NASA/Clear Lake Area. If interested in attending , please call the church office at 281-332-1251.

As I talk about a number of birding locations, I am trying to visit most of them before the talk to see what winter birds have already arrived in the area.

Brazos Bend State Park (BBSP) had several interesting birds. It is the only place in the Houston area that regularly has Least Grebes (Tachybaptus dominicus). This tropical bird has been breeding in the park for only the past decade and always in the same small pond (Creekfield Lake) across from the visitor center, so they are easily found. Currently there are 2 adults and 2 juveniles in the family group. At only 9.5 inches, this cute bird is the smallest grebe in the world and reminds me of the rubber ducks we put in children's bathtubs.

Here is an adult covered with duckweed. The yellow eye and small size are an easy ID.

Here is a juvenile. It is distinguished by the striping across the face. He is really covered with the duckweed.

Another good bird at BBSP was a Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris). This was the first appearance of this tropical bird in the park in 5 or more years. It was also my first time to see it on the upper Texas coast. For those unfamiliar with this bird, it is a member of the cuckoo family and 'ani' is often used in crossword puzzles with the clue as cuckoo. It is a thin black bird (13.5" long) with large bill. The upper mandible had horizontal grooves. Sibley describes it as appearing disheveled. This one fits the description as it appears to need its breast feathers combed to smooth them.

A migrant in the park was this winter plumaged Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria). It is browner in basic plumage than breeding plumage, but the spotted back, prominent eye-ring and yellow legs confirm the ID. It was my first encounter with this bird in this plumage

There are Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) everywhere now. This is the only winter resident flycatcher except for an occasional vagrant or straggler. They bob their tails and call incessantly, so are easy to confirm the ID. They have no eye-ring and no wing bars and have a dark head.

A problem for many birders and especially novices, is fall plumaged warblers. If you look at Peterson's Eastern Birds field guide, he has a page called 'confusing fall warblers'. He coined that term, and everyone seems to have picked up on it and many birders fell intimidated by it. I know I was initially.
However, when I got the Peterson's Advanced Birding field guide written by Ken Kaufman, it gave me hope that I would be able to ID warblers in fall migration. In it, he states that the warblers all molt just before heading south in fall migration, so have fresh plumages. But more importantly, many adult warblers look exactly the same as in spring. So that leaves just the juveniles that may look drab, but they mostly have a few of the adult ID marks to help sort out the ID problem.

So, here are some fall warblers I found at LaFitte's Cove (#68 on UTC Birding Trail) on west Galveston Island. Here is a Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens). It is an easy ID as the yellow face, green back and some black on the throat are same as in the spring.

This Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus) looks just the same as in the spring - bright yellow, bluish wings with white stripes and the black line eye-line to the beak. It isn't an ID problem.

Palm Warblers (Dendroica palmarum) are duller in the fall, but they still have yellow rumps and yellow undertail coverts. They have a bit of a brown cap with white eye-stripe on their head. They also bob their tails unlike most other warblers. Here are 2 different birds, one much paler than the other(may be light differences as well).

Here is the Tennessee Warbler (Vermivora peregrina). They are among the plainest warblers even in breeding plumage with gray heads, pale eye-stripe and greenish backs. In the fall, the adults look almost completely green on their head and back, but they still have the pale eye-stripe. Also, notice the bright white undertail coverts. This is another important ID mark.

I was fortunate to have an expert birder with me yesterday when I took these 3 photos of the Tennessee Warblers, as I had not seen them in fall plumage before and probably would not have known what they were.

Here is another confusing plumaged Tennessee Warbler. It is mostly yellow, but the eye-stripe is still present. In Sibley, he calls this a 1st winter female.

Lastly, is a tiny bird that is often confused with warblers. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) is only 4" long vs almost 5" for warblers. However, they are insect eaters, so they flit through the branches and may fly-catch just like warblers. It is a very common winter resident here. It is IDed by small size, olive color with wing bars and yellowish tinge on wing feather edges, and broken eye-ring. Kinglets also have the habit of flitting their wings continuously as they move through the trees

Like many birds, they are named for their most obscure field mark. These birds only raise their red feathers when excited. Here is an old photo with the ruby crown feathers displayed.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonaldemail:

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