Sunday, November 27, 2011

LaFitte's Cove Bird Report 11-27-11

I had a quick trip to LaFitte's Cove this morning. The most unusual bird was a Harris's  Sparrow. There has been an iruption of western birds into the Houston area this winter including Sage Thrashers, Green-tailed Towhees and now Harris's Sparrows. This was the first one reported on Texbirds, and the first ever for me on Galveston. In the following days, several more were seen at other places on the island.

Harris's Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bulletin #145 - Southeast Arizona - raptors and rare birds.

I spent last weekend in the Tucson, Arizona area with guide Melody Kehl. I was attempting to finish photographing the local birds, that I had missed on 3 previous visits.

One of my target birds was the Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus). I had seen this bird only once before and that was soaring overhead. Melody was able to find about 10 of these birds, most of which were on telephone poles. Like most raptors, they spook easily and thus it is hard to get a good close-up photo. These birds are the same size as the Peregrine Falcon (16"), but they are brown overall, have a thin brown mustache, and the wing tips don't project to the tip of the tail as seen in the second photo.

Prairie Falcon - adult
Prairie Falcon - adult

In flight, this falcon has black axillae and underwings, which are diagnostic.

Prairie Falcon
Here is the similar sized Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). The adults are gray backed with creamy underparts, streaked with black. In the second photo, one can see that the wings almost reach the tip of the tail. The mustache is very wide, not just a streak as in the bird above. What a majestic bird this is!  

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon
2 weeks before I went to Arizona I finally got some good photos of the small (10") falcon, the Merlin (Falco columbarius). The color morph was the light prairie form. As usual with birding, once you finally find a bird, they seem to be everywhere. Here is the darker morph called the taiga race that we found in Arizona.

Merlin - taiga
The Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) is our largest buteo at 23" in length.  90% of the birds are the light phase with white chest, rufous belly and legs,  and rufous back with heavy black streaking.

Ferruginous Hawk
The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) comes in all colors form almost white to almost black. Here is what Sibley calls the intermediate form or other authors call the rufous morph. The chest and belly are red-brown.  

Red-tailed Hawk - rufous morph
The dark morph appears black, but you can see a reddish wash on the tail.   

Red-tailed Hawk - dark morph
The first of the rarities for the trip was a Rufous-backed Robin (Turdus rufopalliatus). This rare visitor to the USA from Mexico is similar to the common American Robin, but the back and shoulders are reddish as well. This was a life bird for me. It was in view for only about 90 seconds, so I was lucky to get a good picture.  

Rufous-backed Robin - Patagonia AZ
The other rarity was the Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti). This small (6.75") dove is a sporadic visitor from Mexico to Arizona, New Mexico,  and Texas. It has a gray head and reddish brown body with dark streaks on the wings.  Here is a photo of 2 birds on a fence. The bird with less coloration may be a juvenile.   

Ruddy Ground-Dove - pair
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2011 David McDonald
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LaFitte's Cove Bird Report 11-26-11

It was a beautiful morning on Galveston Island toady. The mosquitos weren't a problem.

The woods were pretty quiet. Birds seen in the woods included Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers, Gray Catbird, Hermit Thrush, House Wren, Swamp Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a couple of hummers. Locals were Mockingbird, Cardinal, Blue Jay, Downy Woodpecker.

The ponds were full of birds. Ducks included Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Mottled, Northern Shoveler. A few Am. Coots were present. Shorebirds were both Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitchers, peeps, Willets and the first ever seen by me in this location was an American Avocet.

There were several raptors hunting over the woods and ponds..No. harrier, Cooper's, Merlin, and Red-shouldered. If you add the Red-tailed, White-tailed Kite and Am. Kestrel seen on Stewart Road on the way to LaFitte's it was a 7 raptor day.

Here are some photos.

Merlin on house
American Avocet - male non-breeding
House Wren

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bulletin #144 - miscellaneous birds

I have finally been able to get out and do some birding this fall. Winter birds are starting to arrive and the last of the fall migrants are about passed through the upper Texas coast.

I have had a number of good photos of hawks since the last bulletin

This beautiful Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) was perched in a low dead tree beside the road on Galveston Island as I was heading to LaFitte's Cove, early one morning. I stopped the car and took the photo out the opened window so as not to disturb him. A number of beginners or non-birders see the white head and think this is a Bald Eagle. However, notice the brown stripe through the eye. On a Bald Eagle, the head is entirely white.

Osprey - Galveston
 On November 5th, on a trip to Brazoria NWR south of Houston, a White-tailed Hawk (Buteo albicaudatus) was in a small dead tree beside the road. This large (20") hawk is a specialty of coastal Texas. It is IDed as an adult by gray back, red shoulders and white underparts. The tail is white with a black terminal band as seen in the 2nd and 3rd photos.
White-tailed Hawk - adult

 One of my nemesis birds to photograph is a Merlin (Falco columbarius). This 10" falcon is just slighly larger than the common American Kestrel. Last year I got my first photo of this bird (only a fair photo), but yesterday, I had one in a tree beside the road and got my best photo. The female is brown backed with brown striped breast. The male has a gray back.

Merlin - female at Brazoris NWR
The Northern Caracara (Caracara cheriway) is a common raptor in Mexico and south Texas. The adults have a black body and yellow legs, but the juvenile and 1st year birds have a brown body and gray legs. I found a family group of 3 birds yesterday and got a photo of the juvenile for the first time.

Northern Caracara - juvenile
I found this weird looking duck at LaFitte's Cove yesterday. I think it is a hybrid between Green-winged and Blue-winged Teals. No one has commented on Texbirds yet to refute my guess.

Hybrid Teal - ?Green-winged x Blue-winged at LaFitte's Cove, Galveston 11/6/2011
The drought all summer has caused most of the damp marshy areas to be bone dry. Thus any remaining wet areas have attracted the migrating shorebirds. One such area is El Franco Lee Park in SE Houston. They kept it wet by pumping water into the area from a creek. In any event, this Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) was spotted about a week ago and hangs out right in front of the observation gazebo. This is the second Ruff in the past 3 years in the Houston-Galveston area and the first record ever for the city of Houston. It is a Eurasion shorebird that does show up regularly in North America, but mostly on the east coast. This bird is IDed by the plump body, small head and short bill. I must admit, I wouldn't have known what it was. Usually they are found by birders from Europe who are very familiar with it. This particular bird is a juvenile because of the beige unstreaked breast.

Ruff - juvenile at El Franco Lee Park, Houston TX

Lastly, the Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata) is another shorebird. It usually is difficult to see and photograph as it stays hidden in wet grassy areas. However, with a shortage of marshy places this year, many have been forced to forage in the open. This has given us birders our best looks at numerous birds as well as good photo ops. It is IDed by the long bill, striped head and 3 long beige stripes down the back.

Wilson's Snipe
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2011 David McDonald

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

LaFitte's Cove Bird Report 11-6-11

Another overcast warm day on Galveston Island. On the way to LaFitte's Cove, there was a family of 3 Northern Caracaras. I was able to get a photo of the juvenile. They are brown backed and have gray legs.

Northern Caracara - juvenile
There were more migrants today than yesterday. A pair of Warbling Vireos were seen as well as 3 Indigo Buntings. The only species of warbler was FOS Yellow-rumped.
Indigo Bunting
The local Brown Thrasher is in the open more and allows good looks and some photos. This is normally a species that stays hidden in deep brush.

Brown Thrasher
A couple more winter species were found for the first time today beside the YR Warbler mentioned above. There were 2 House Wrens found as well as a single Cedar Waxwing in a flock of 3 robins?

Cedar Waxwing

I didn't see any new waterfowl or shorebirds in the ponds today but did see this unusual Teal that I think may be a hybrid Blue-winged x Green-winged. If anyone has any thoughts on it parentage or is it just a late molter. However, it seems to have blue feather above and behind the eye.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

LaFitte's Cove Bird Report 11-5-11

Today was still, overcast and quiet in the woods. I saw only 1 warbler species..Orange-crowned. Other birds were Am Robin, Brown Thrasher, BG Gnatcatcher, RC Kinglet. A late female plumaged Painted Bunting was also seen briefly.

There were a few sparrows in the bushes between the ponds and the only one I saw well enough to ID was a FOS Swamp Sparrow.

The ponds had the usual peeps, Killdeer, yellowlegs and Long-billed Dowitchers. Several FOS Wilson's Snipes were found and some were in the open allowing good photos of this normally hidden species.

Wilson's Snipe
The ducks were Mottled, Blue-winged Teal, and FOS Green-winged Teal and FOS No. Shoveler.