David McDonald Photography
April 6, 2010
Bulletin #106 – Spring in Texas
There are 3 birds that inhabit the pine forests of Southeastern USA from east Texas to Georgia. One of these, the Brown-headed Nuthatch is rather common and can be readily seen.
The other two have specialized requirements within the pine forests. These birds are the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker and the Bachman's Sparrow. I had not seen the sparrow before, so I went on a tour, led by guide Darrell Vollert, to east Texas.
We saw several of the Bachman's Sparrows (Aimophila aestivalis) and heard their beautiful song. The specialized habitat of this bird is a section of forest that has been recently burned to wipe out the underbrush. After a few years as the brush grows up, the birds move to different breeding sites.
They have rufous head and back, dark wings and buffy breast. This was a lifer for me. Here are 2 photos.
We did also see several of the tiny (4.5") Brown-headed Nuthatches (Sitta pusilla). We think of nuthatches climbing down the tree trunk in the search for insects in the bark. However, unlike the larger Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, the Brown-headed gleans insects from the pine needle clusters at the ends of the branches. We saw a pair at a tiny nest hole in a dead stump. I estimated the hole to be about 1.5" diameter from the size of the bird.
The best birding on the upper Texas coast is spring migration and it has started. It will build in number and variety of birds to a peak at the end of April and early May.
Here is the beautiful male Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina). The ID is easy with the black hood and yellow face
There were many Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers (Dendroica coronata). This is a common non-descript warbler in winter, but breeding plumaged males in spring get quite handsome with the black facial mask and black on the chest. Many years ago, this was considered two species in the USA (Myrtle and Audubon's). The western Audubon's form has a yellow throat. Just recently, I read that they will likely be split once again into the two species.
One of my favorite warblers is the Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia). This bird has nuthatch like feeding habits, climbing up and down the tree trunk or large branches, taking insects from crevices in the bark. It is all black and white striped with a striped top of the head as well. This would be a male with the black cheeks.
Shorebirds are starting to arrive in numbers as well. Here is an American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica). They are still in winter (basic) plumage when they pass through Texas on their way to the arctic. The small bill, prominent white line over the eye and brownish plumage IDs this bird. Normally they also have a black cap, but this bird had been scalped somehow and lost all the feathers on top of his head. This is only my second time to find this bird.
Another fascinating phenomenon in breeding season is the color change of facial skin on some of the wading birds. As you all know, herons and egrets grow long plumes for breeding season. But the hormones produced for breeding season, also cause a change in the color of the bare skin between the eye and bill (lores). Normally this patch of skin is yellow on the Great and Snowy Egrets.
Here is a breeding Snowy Egret (Egretta thula). The lores are now bright red.
In the Great Egret (Ardea alba), the lores turn an olive green as in the first photo. However, at the High Island rookery, I saw several birds in which the lores were more blue-green or aqua as in the second photo.
Roseate Spoonbills (Ajaja ajaja) by the scores were also at the rookery. These pink birds have orange tails! Also, when flying, they keep their neck extended, unlike herons and egrets.
I will be leading a 9 day bird photography tour to Costa Rica in conjunction with Lillian Scott-Baer of Baer Travel March 3-11, 2011. We have worked out an itinerary to visit La Selva Preserve, Savegre Mountain Hotel in the central mountains for Resplendant Quetzal and other montane species and Wilson Botanical Gardens (Las Cruces). We have also retained the services of local guide Rudy Zamora to accompany us and locate and ID the birds for us to photograph. We will also have beautiful flowers and hopefully some mammals - tamanduas, monkeys etc.
I will be giving several talks in the evening on bird photography, Photoshop etc.
The price will be $1960 double to $2380 single. This includes hotels, all meals, guide, transportation in Costa Rica etc. The only other cost will be airfare and personal purchases (alcohol, souvenirs etc) . Space is limited to 10 persons to maximize our opportunity to see and photograph the birds. I have birded in Costa Rica previously. It is a wonderful country to visit and the bird life is exceptional. I hope that you can join us.
Here is the schedule of payments for the trip.
$ 25 reservation fee (not refundable)
$ 575 due April 30, 2010
$ 600 due July 30, 2010
$ 740 due January 15, 2011
Please send deposits to:
34 Galway Place
The Woodlands, TX 77382
Note - we will try to pair up singles and triple would be $1890 per person.
There are only 2 spaces left for this trip as of today, so please email me, if interested.
All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.
Happy birding and photography,
photos copyright 2010 David McDonald
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