Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bulletin #150 - Rio Grande Valley, Texas

I got away for a weekend in the RGV of Texas. This area along the Mexico border hosts a number of species and occasional tropical vagrants that occur nowhere else in the USA.

One of my target species was the Black-vented Oriole (Icterus wagleri). This species had been present for most of last winter but I wasn't able to get away to see it. Fortunately, the bird came back to Bentsen Rio Grande State Park in Mission Texas again this winter. The adults of the species are similarly colored with black hood, back, wings, undertail, and tail. He was very cooperative, coming frequently to the feeders and providing all the appreciative birders great views. Notice also there is no white on the wings.

Black-vented Oriole - adult
 2 other orange and black oriole species are regulars in the RGV. The large (10")  Altamira Oriole (Icterus gularis) is a favorite of everyone. They are orange with black throat, back, wings and tail. They wings also have white bars. This bird can be seen in many parks across the valley. It has an orange shoulder patch that differentiates this species from the next.

Altamira Oriole - adult

Altamira Oriole - adult
The immature of this species still has some orange feathers on his back.

Altamira Oriole - immature

The Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus) is smaller but similar. It lacks the orange shoulder patch.

Hooded Oriole

The 4th oriole in the valley is the yellow and black Audubon's Oriole (Icterus graduacauda). This bird has black head, wings and tail. The back is yellow.

Audubon's Oriole - adult
The Green Jay (Cyanocorax yncas) is another colorful tropical species that causes oohs and aahs from the spectators. Again, this bird is widespread across the valley and readily seen at any park with feeders. Is is green bodied with yellow tail and black and blue face. It has to be seen to be believed and the guide books don't do it justice. Here is a group of 4 on a feeder at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park.

Green Jays
And here is one that took a bath in the water feature at Laguna Atascosa NWR and then perched 15 feet away to preen.

Green Jay
Another jay is the Brown Jay (Cyanocorax morio). This crow sized (16") jay was at Salineno for the first time in 5 years. Many years recently, it hasn't appeared in the USA anywhere. It isn't a showy bird, but a needed bird for listers in the USA. It has a cream belly and the rest of the bird is dark brown. This is an adult bird with the dark beak. The juveniles are similar, but the beak is yellow.

Brown Jay - adult
Brown Jay - adult
The last bird is another very colorful (and noisy) bird, the Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus). Despite seeing it coming to bird feeders, it is a member of the flycatcher family. It has a striped head, reddish brown back and wings and incredible yellow underparts. Seeing a half dozen of these almost 10" birds together in a tree, is a real treat.

Great Kiskadee
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

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Monday, January 2, 2012

LaFitte's Cove Bird Report 1-2-12

It was a beautiful sunny cool day with a moderate north wind. The wind kept some of the birds hidden in the woods. Sparrows were the most common birds present with Savannah, Harris's, Field and Chipping seen. Winter birds included a single Cedar Waxwing, American Robins, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and this stunning male Black-headed Grosbeak that was first found last week. To locate the bird, it is feeding just behind the yellow rope on Jibstay Court just before the loop at the end of the street. There are some wispy bushes with white and pink flowers. It is eating the flowers and buds on these bushes. Here are 3 photos of this very cooperative bird.

 The ponds had a pair of Lesser Scaup, 7 female Buffleheads and numerous Northern Shovelers. I just saw a single Green-winged Teal today.

Raptors were Red-shouldered, Red-tailed and Northern Harrier. As I was looking for the grosbeak, this Osprey struggled againt the wind with a large fish.

Osprey with fish
As he came overhead he showed yesterdays lunch as well as todays.

Osprey with yesterdays and todays lunch
Elsewhere on the west end of the island, there were only Savannah Sparrows seen on Settegast Road. 8 Mile Road had a flock of 44 Sandhill Cranes.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Bulletin #149 - 2011 the year in review

At years end, I have always provided a top 10 of my favorite photos of the year. 2011 was a lot different as I was unable to travel and only made a single trip to Tucson AZ in November. Consequently, I added only 6 species to my photo list. I did get a number of rare species in the local area.

So my favorite photo has to be this Costa's Hummingbird. It is the same photo that I cropped and showed in an earler bulletin, but this one is very artistic to me. It looks like a watercolor. It was amazing to me that the whole flower stem was in focus as the depth of focus of my 500mm lens is only about 3 inches.

Costa's Hummingbird
Several Mexican strays appeared in the Houston area this year. The first was this Fork-tailed Flycatcher in January.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher
In March, a Yellow-faced Grassquit showed up at Goose Island State Park.

Yellow-faced Grassquit

At the end of the year, a couple of northern migrants showed up that were unexpected. This Harris's Sparrow on Galveston Island gave me my best photos of this species.

Harris's Sparrow
Yesterday, I ended the year with a lifer, a Smith's Longspur. This was a target bird on the 2010 Alaska trip, but we missed it. A small flock was found just before Christmas, about 20 miles from home. Normally they don't appear this far south and they are not even on the Upper Texas Coast bird checklist.

Smith's Longspur
Among the most difficult birds to photograph are the nocturnal birds - owls, nightjars etc. One has to be lucky to find them in daylight. Thus I consider this photo of a Chuck-will's-widow a very lucky capture. I happened to have my camersa ready when the bird flew into view and perched for a few moments before seeing me and flying off.

I got a number of good photos of hawks and falcons this year that made my cut into the top 10. This beautiful Peregrine Falcon was having breakfast on a pole in Tucson.

Peregrine Falcon
The Prairie Falcon was a target bird for the Tucson trip and this was one of about 10 birds seen.

Prairie Falcon
Another falcon, a Merlin was finally seen and photographed in 2011. This dark taiga morph bird was also seen on the Tucson trip.

Lastly, this adult and juvenile pair of Red-shouldered Hawks were photographed in my yard. Each has a foot in the air and the juvenile is looking over at the adult. I called this photo 'Learning to Dance' as it appears the juvenile is following the lead steps of his parent.

Learning to Dance
Red-shouldered Hawks
I am looking forward to 2012 and being able to travel more frequently. Thank you to all of you for all your comments last year. It makes worthwhile the time and effort to put these newsletters together.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2011 David McDonald

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