Monday, November 4, 2013

Bulletin 184 - Anahuac NWR birds

Anahuac NWR east of Houston has always been a favorite destination of mine for birding and photography. 2013 is their 50th anniversary year.

I haven't been there this year until the summer and then several visits this fall. I am happy to see that they have recovered from the effects of Hurricane Ike in 2008 and the devastating droughts of the last 2 years.

The Fulvous Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna bicolor) is often seen there is large numbers, when it is uncommon elsewhere on the upper Texas coast. It is identified by the rusty color, dark back and white flank stripes and rump. The sexes are similar.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Another secretive bird that is easily seen at Anahuac is the Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis). This bird is our smallest member of the heron and egret family at just 13" in length. This one was walking in the wide open. This is likely a female. The male has a mahogany colored back.

Least Bittern

An identification problem that I often have is with the juvenile night-herons. There are normally a lot of Yellow-crowned at Anahuac, but seldom do I see a Black-crowned. On a visit on 8-11-13, I found both. They are easy to tell apart if flying or standing completely in the open. But if they are in weeds or grass, so that you cannot see the leg length, it is more difficult.

The Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) has extensive yellow on the bill and large white spots on the wings.

Black-crowned Night-Heron - juvenile

Here is the facial detail showing the yellow on the beak.

Black-crowned Night-Heron - juvenile detail
In contrast, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) has a solid black bill and small white spots on the wings.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - juvenile

Here is a first summer Yellow-crowned. It is grayish, but the white facial stripe is starting to appear.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - 1st summer
An interesting sight was a group of 5 Neotropic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) on a dead bush in the middle of the pond. There were 4 on the branches and as I was taking the photos, a fifth bird flew in to land in the center between the others.

Neotropic Cormorants

At the old destroyed visitor center, many swallows nest. There are 2 species, barn and cliff and although they both build mud nests, the nest differences are readily apparent. The barn swallows have a typical nest with the opening on top. the cliff swallows build a gourd like nest with the opening on the side. Here is a Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) nest with 2 babies at the opening.

Cliff Swallows in nest

An unusual find was this European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) molting from his drab gray-brown juvenile plumage to the spotted adult non-breeding plumage. An illustration is shown in Sibley with just the gray head. This one really looks ragged.

European Starling - juvenile molting
I have about exhausted the USA birds, so it is time to extend my travels further afield and bring some new birds to the blog. Stay tuned.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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