Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bulletin 173 - end of migration birds

I had a birding buddy from the Big Apple and his son from LA visiting on the weekend of April 27th for migration. We had a grand time and saw an incredible variety of migrants, both songbirds and shorebirds.

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge on the coast by Freeport was absolutely inundated with birds including as estimated 400 - 500 Wilson's Phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor). Phalaropes are shorebirds that also swim. They pick food off the waters surface with their dainty thin beaks. They are unusual among birds in that the female is the brighter color. Three species of phalaropes exist in the world and this is the only one that occurs regularly on the upper Texas coast. The other two can be seen along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Here is a female in breeding plumage with bright red, gray and black markings.

Wilson's Phalarope - breeding female
The male in breeding plumage is gray with just a faint rusty wash on his neck.

Wilson's Phalarope - breeding male
A single breeding plumaged American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) was also found at Brazoria. These long-legged birds have rusty heads and necks, white bodies, black wings with a wide white stripe and upcurved beaks. The sexes are similarly plumaged, but the female has a more curved beak than the male. This is a male.

American Avocet - breeding male

There are 3 Ibis species in the USA, 1 white and 2 dark. Ibises are heron sized wading birds with long curved beaks. The usual dark ibis in Texas is the White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi). In breeding season, it has a white V behind the eye on the face. The rest of the year, the white is gone and it can be difficult to differentiate the 2 species as the only specific mark is the color of the iris of the eye and the bare facial skin. This bird was right beside the road at Brazoria and allowed a close up of his face to show the field marks. The white feathers can be seen on the face, as well as the red facial skin and iris. usually one is not lucky enough to get this close to a bird.

White-faced Ibis - breeding
The late migration brings in the thrush species. The Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) is ID by his reddish head, brown back and tail and large dark breast spots.

Wood Thrush
The Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus) is very similar to the Swainson's Thrush in the previous bulletin, but it lacks the eye ring. It has a uniform dull brown head, back and tail and spotted breast.

Gray-cheeked Thrush
The Veery (Catharus fuscens) has been a tough bird for me to find and photograph, but this spring, I had several. It is IDed be the uniform reddish-brown head back and tail, as well as a sparsely spotted breast.

The orioles always are a hit with birders due to their bright colors. The male Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) is bright orange with a black head and wings.

Baltimore Oriole - male
The female is duller.

Baltimore Oriole - female
The Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) is chocolate brown where the Baltimore has orange, but the first year male is yellowish with a black throat and often confuses novice birders. I showed one of these in an earlier bulletin this year, but this is the best photo I have ever obtained of this plumage.

Orchard Oriole - 1st year male
Lastly, a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) perched against the sky for a portrait.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - male

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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