Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bulletin 180 - Texas summer birds

Summer is a slow time for birding, but baby birds can be interesting and are readily found.

I had a quick trip to Kerrville in the hill country of Texas. That is the location of 2 special birds, the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, both of whom are endangered. I had only seen them each once before, but before I was doing photography.

We went to the Kerr Wildlife Management Center outside of the town of Hunt. Both birds can be found there.

The Golden-cheeked Warbler (Setophaga chrysoparia) is a Texas specialty bird, as it only breeds in Texas and winters in Mexico. The male has a black throat, cap, and back. the bright yellow face has a black line through the eye. It superficially resembles the Black-throated Green Warbler, but the green is replaced by black. This bird was preening and pulled a small feather out which was stuck in his bill.

Golden-cheeked Warbler - male
He flew to a lower branch and I got another photo.

Golden-cheeked Warbler - male
I wasn't as lucky with the Black-capped Vireo (Vireo atricapillus). I found a pair of them, but they did their best to avoid any photographs. I finally got a single photo, but will need to go back. This vireo is IDed by the black head with white lores.

Black-capped Vireo
A pair of Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) on the fence allowed close up photos. The distinctive pink bare skin head is the field mark. Although they look black at a distance, the body is brownish in the sunlight.

Turkey Vulture - adult
Back home in July, I made several trips to Anahuac NWR. This is one of the best spots to find the Least Bittern  (Ixobrychus exilis). I saw about 6 this trip and this one sat in the open for an extended period of time.

Least Bittern
Anahuac is also a great place to find Common Nighthawks  (Chordeiles minor) roosting on fence posts at eye level. Notice the primary wing feathers have no markings beyond the white patch. The Lesser Nighthawk I found in the spring has buffy spots all the way along the primary feathers.

Common Nighthawk
I found a very young rail, which is most likely a King Rail (Rallus elegans) in the marsh at Anahuac. Notice how gray he is. The primary feathers are just about 1/2 inch long starting to sprout. There was a pair of them walking around below the boardwalk. He appeared to be fully grown in size.

King Rail - juvenile
I went back the next week, and refound one of them. The wing feathers are now perhaps 2" long.

King Rail - juvenile
Common Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) downy chicks are black with red bills and a black ring around the bill. This one appears to have feet way too big for his size.

Common Moorhen - downy chick
I found a family with fully grown juveniles sitting up on some adult with 3 young.

Common Moorhen - family group

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bulletin 179 - Birds of the Big Island Hawaii

Lisa and I had a return trip to the Big Island in June. As luck would have it, we missed several birds on our trip in December and had to return to try and find them. Darn..LOL.

The native Hawaiian forest birds have been decimated, as I recounted in December in previous bulletins.

There were 3 of these birds on the Big Island that we missed on our previous trip, so we hired a guide, Jack Jeffrey, to take us to the Hakalau Forest NWR. Jack was, for many years, the resident biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service at Hakalau. This refuge is only open at certain times to the public, but guides have access virtually any time. As you can see on their web site, Jack took all the photos and is an excellent photographer. You can reach Jack by email

All 3 of our target species were in the refuge. It is very definitely a rain forest as it rained almost all day of our visit. We were soaked before we even got there! Below 4000' elevation, Hakalau receives 250" rain annually, but above it is only 150". There are endangered plants as well, including some lobelias that Jack showed us that have less than 5 plants existing in the world.

The first bird is the Hawaii Creeper (Oreomystis mana). This small (5") endangered bird is olive to gray above and lighter below. It has a dark mask and straight bill. It is an insectivore, and creeps nuthatch-like up and down tree trunks and branches. Here is one that caught a large caterpillar. It is endemic to the Big Island.

Hawaii Creeper
The Akepa (Loxops coccineus) is small (4.5") honeycreeper that is unique in that it nests in holes in trees. This bird is found on both Maui and the Big Island. The Big Island males are bright orange with dark wings. We finally saw one in the mist, just before leaving for the day. Jack said that there only 2 other totally orange birds in the world.

Akepa - male
We did not find the 3rd bird. We also saw some other forest birds and of course took their photos. The Iiwi (Vestiaria coccinea) is the classic Hawaiian honeycreeper seen in all the travel brochures with its long curved red bill. The adults are red with black wings and tail. They can usually be found at the blooming Ohia trees. This one was completely upside down, while feeding on the nectar. The juveniles are green. We saw one this time, but were unable to get a photo.

Iiwi - adult
Interestingly, the Ohia trees also come with yellow blossoms. I don't recall seeing one before, so they must be much rarer than the red.

Ohia - yellow flowers
Another red bird with black wings is the Apapane (Himatione sanguinea). It is IDed by the short black beak, black legs, and white belly and undertail coverts.

Apapane - adult
The juvenile is brownish.

Apapane - juvenile
The male Hawaii Amakihi (Hemignathus virens) is bright yellow-green with a black mask. This one was preening and just once stuck his head out from under his wing.

Hawaii Amakihi - male
Females and juveniles are more olive coloration. The juveniles may lack the black mask entirely. I think this bird may be a juvenile.

Hawaii Amakihi - juvenile
There are many introduced birds in Hawaii as well. We found 3 that we did not see on our first trip. The only songbird was the Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis). This 7" streaked brown bird is seen frequently on fence posts in open country. It is also on the ABA check list as it was introduced in Vancouver BC, but may already have died out.

Eurasian Skylark
The Chukar (Alectoris chukar) is an introduced gamebird in the partridge family. The large (13") bird is easily IDed by the gray overall color, black markings, and red bill and legs. The sexes are similar. It is also on the ABA check list as it has been introduced widely in American west as a game bird.

The Hilton where we stayed has a lagoon that is used by Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) to feed and rest. It was exciting to see these gentle reptiles up close. The Hawaiian name is Honu.

Green Sea Turtle or Honu

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

hotos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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