Monday, December 26, 2011

Bulletin #148 - local birds

I have had a few good photos of local birds over the past month.

(Click on the photo to enlarge it)

This winter has seemed to have an influx of western birds into the Houston area. There have been several Sage Thrashers, Green-tailed Towhees and Harris's Sparrows. I have only seen Harris's Sparrows (Zonotrichia querula) on 2 occasions, both times in the far west Houston area. I can never remember reports of them on Galveston Island. So I was very surprised to find this adult at LaFitte's Cove in November. This 7.5" bird is our largest sparrow. He is IDed by the black face and pink bill.

Harris's Sparrow - adult
A flock of 6-7 birds was found a short distance away. The 1st winter bird has a white throat.

Harris's Sparrow - 1st winter
Also at LaFitte's Cove was this very pale American Robin (Turdus migratorius). I suspect this is probably a first winter female.

American Robin
Another bird I had not previously seen in Galveston was the Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus). Usually one sees their bulky stick nests on transmission towers and the birds perched on wires. I was surprised to see a flock of about 20 birds on a grassy median in the road, as I drove through Galveston. I stopped and got out to take a photo, but the flock spooked and flew away. I couldn't refind them. 2 hours later as I drove back the same way, the birds were back on the ground in the same place. Fortunately, it was Sunday morning with no traffic and I just stopped the car and took some photos through the open window. This bird is IDed by the gray face and breast and bluish wings.

Monk Parakeet
Fortunately, the fall has brought us a normal amount of rain and all the usual wet areas and ponds have filled up again. I had 2 duck species at LaFitte's Cove that were unusual. The first was 2-3 female Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola). Buffleheads at 13" in length are our smallest ducks. The females are IDed by the small size, and brown head with a  horizontal white patch.

Bufflehead - female
The other was a small group of Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis). The females are brown with a white patch at the base of the bill. The bird in front shows a peak or corner at the rear of the head. This is the most reliable field mark to differentiate Lesser from Greater Scaup.

Lesser Scaup - female
For only the second time in 14 years, I had some Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) in my yard. I happened to look out and see 3 birds in the bird bath. I got my camera ready and they returned several times to drink over the next couple of hours. Unfortunately they didn't stay around, but I did see one bird again several weeks later.

Eastern Bluebird - male

Eastern Bluebird - female
Happy birding and photography,
David McDonald

photos copyright 2011 David McDonald

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bulletin #147 - Southeast Arizona#3 - other birds

I spent a 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.

I got some nice photos of the red-shafted form of the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). I had not realized until I saw these birds that the red was under the tail as well as the wing linings. The male has a red malar stripe and the female in the second photo does not.

Northern Flicker - male

Northern Flicker - female
The two Meadowlarks occur in the Tucson area and it gave me a chance to get better photos and compare the differences. The Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) has a bright yellow throat and only has white on the edges of the tail. It took over an hour to finally get a closeup photo of this bird.

Western Meadowlark
The Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) that occurs in Arizona is known as Lillian's Meadowlark and may in fact be a separate species.In any event, the voices are different between the 2 species. The throat is white rather than yellow. Also, when the birds fly and fan the tail, it is mostly white with just a few central brown feathers. This is my best photo of a Lillian's subspecies.

Eastern Meadowlark (Lillian's)
A cute tiny (4.5") bird of the arid southwest is the Verdin (Auriparus flaviceps). This bird is all gray except for a yellow head and small red shoulder patch.The sexes are similar.

This photo shows a bird eating the fruit of a prickly pear cactus.

The western race of Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) was formerly known as Audubon's Warbler. It differs from the eastern race by having a yellow throat.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Audubon's
The only other warbler we found was a stray from the east - a Chestnut-sided Warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica). This is a first winter female bird as she has no brown sides at all.

Chestnut-sided Warbler
Several species of thrashers make their home in the arid southwest. The most common of these is the Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre). This large (11") bird is gray with a spotted breast, curved bill and yellow eye.

Curve-billed Thrasher
Lastly we had 2 species of goldfinches. The male Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria) has a black face, wings and tail, green back and yellow underparts

Lesser Goldfinch - male
The male Lawrence's Golfinch (Carduelis lawrenci) is mostly gray with black face and yellow breast on wings.

Lawrence's Goldfinch - male
 Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2011 David McDonald
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

LaFitte's Cove Bird Report 12-11-11

Today was mostly sunny & cool with moderate breeze. I spent about 3 hours this morning at LaFitte's ansd elswhere on Galveston.

LaFitte's Cove was quite quiet. The woods had the usual  resident birds including the Brown Thrasher. The male Downy Woodpecker was seen, but not the female Ladder-backed. Winter birds were Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Flicker was heard and seen flying away. Several Sandhill Cranes were heard also. Raptors were Sharp-shinned Hawk and Northern Harrier. This very pale female American Robin was the most unusual bird in the woods.

American Robin - female
The ponds were also quiet except for many Green-winged Teal. There were also Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal and 3 each of Bufflehead and Lesser Scaup. This is an increase of 1 each from last week. There were scarcely any shorebirds..about 12 yellowlegs and 2 peeps only! No dowitchers or willets were seen.

The resident Loggerhead Shrike posed on one of the signs by the gazebo.

Loggerhead Shrike
Elsewhere on Galveston Island today, Settegast Road had a flock of 6-7 Harris's Sparrows. Mostly they were 1st winter birds with the white throats like this one on a fence post.

Harris's Sparrow - 1st winter
This adult on the ground has a black throat and blacker face.

Harris's Sparrow - adult non-breeding
The flock enjoyed eating weed seeds.

Harris's Sparrow
A moment later he craned his neck up to look down on the weed.

Harris's Sparrow
Eight Mile and Sportsman's Road had usual birds. The docks had just 2 American Oystercatchers when I was there. The most unusual bird for me was a Spotted Sandpiper. I can't recall seeing one so late, but the checklist shows that they are here in small numbers in the winter.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bulletin #146 - Southeast Arizona#2 - hummers and sparrows

I spent a 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 last common North American hummingbird that I had not yet photographed. Melody took me to an arboretum with lots of flowers. She always found the bird here and we were not disappointed. The male Costa's Hummingbird (Calypte costae) is a real stunner with purple crown and throat extending onto the breast. He is a magnificent bird.

Costa's Hummingbird - male
The long extensions of the purple gorget are just long feathers as they stick out when the bird changes positions as can be seen in this male, while grooming.
Costa's Hummingbird
The female has a clean white throat, but grayish cheeks. Notice she has some yellow pollen on her bill.

Costa's Hummingbird - female
The juvenile male is starting to get some throat feathers. He also has pollen on his bell.

Costa's Hummingbird - juvenile male
As you all know, the beautiful gorget feathers of a male hummingbird appear gray or black until they catch the sunlight and then the color flashes. I assumed that when I started to photograph them, that using a flash would cause the gorget to show its color. Unfortunately, this doesn't usually happen. In most photos, the gorget appears dark, unless it is flashing when the photo is taken. This makes hummingbird photography even more challenging. Here is the male in shade with flash. the gorget just appears black.

Costa's Hummingbird - male
I took some photos of other hummers that we found. Here is a male Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris). This bird is IDed by blue throast, green back and breast and red bill.

Broad-billed Hummingbird - male
The Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) is the only North American hummer with a red crown. This juvenile male has a start on his red throat and crown.

Anna's Hummingbird - juvenile male
Another target bird was the Baird's Sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii). This genus of sparrows all are distinguished by having flat heads and being very secretive and hard to see. The Baird's Sparrow nests in the southern prairie provinces of Canada as well as Montana and the Dakotas. It winters in west central Mexicao as well as the borders area from Big Bend in Texas to Arizona. This was a lifer for me as I had missed it on my Big Bend trip 2 years ago. It is IDed by the flat head, a necklace of black streaks that has a horizontal lower border - doesn't extend down onto the breast and some tan coloration under the streaks. I would have had a tough time figuring out this bird without Melody finding it for me.

Baird's Sparrow
Now, compare that bird to this Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) that was seen in the same location. This very common sparrow can be very darkly streaked on the breast to fairly lightly streaked as this one is. It appears quite similar to the sparrow above, but the streaks extend onto the central breast and it lacks the tan color under the streaks. The head is more rounded as well.

Savannah Sparrow
The Brewer's Sparrow (Spizella breweri) at 5.5" in length is the smallest North American sparrow. This drab bird of the southwest is difficult to ID except by voice. Both times I have seen it was with a guide.

Brewer's Sparrow
From the smallest, hard to ID sparrow to one of the larger (7") easy ID sparrows, the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). This is an easy ID with large size, black and white striped crown, pink bill, and plain gray underparts.

White-crowned Sparrow
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2011 David McDonald
To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask for subscribe.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

LaFitte's Cove Bird Report 12-3-11

LaFitte's Cove was quiet in the woods with just Yellow-rumped Warblers, a House Wren and several hummingbirds. Other birders have reported 2 Anna's Hummingbirds in the woods this week, continuing the string of western birds showing up. There weren't even any Kinglets or Gnatcatchers seen.

The ponds had the expected shorebirds - both yellowlegs, willets, peeps but no dowitchers. This Dunlin was a first for me this winter.


Green-winged Teal were the most numerous of the ducks. I have never seen so many before at LaFitte's Cove. Others were Blue-winged Teal, N. Shoveler, Mallard, Mottled, and 2 I had not seen at LaFitte's before - Bufflehead and Lesser Scaup.

Lesser Scaup
A Peregrine Falcon made a couple of passes over the ponds and seemed to delight in scaring the shorebirds and ducks as he dove down twice, but never attempted to catch anything. A Red-shouldered Hawk drifted over the ponds as well.