Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bulletin 189 - winter birds

The Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) is a winter visitor to Anahuac NWR. The gray face and rufous wings ID this 5.75" sparrow.

Swamp Sparrow
This Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) posed in the early morning sunlight to give a beautiful reflection.

Pied-billed Grebe
Anahuac NWR hosts thousands of wintering Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens). I noticed the juvenile plumaged birds for the first time. They have brownish heads and necks and gray backs and wings.

Snow Goose - juvenile light phase
Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) are also winter visitors to Anahuac, but I cannot recall seeing them before. One other birder posted that he saw several at the refuge, and then I found about 12-15. I guess I just missed them for 20 years! They are 15" long and have stiff tails, that they often carry upright. The non-breeding males have a dark cap, white cheek and brown body.

Ruddy Duck - male non-breeding
The females are similar, but have a dark stripe across the face. She has her tail upright as well, an important field mark for this species.

Ruddy Duck - female

I also found a Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) at Anahuac, again my first time to see one in Texas. I looked at the Anahuac list and they are listed as common in winter. I guess my vision is improving with age? The reddish-brown head, white body and forehead sloping down to the bill ID this duck.

I watched a pair of Neotropic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) fishing at Anahuac and they each caught a catfish. This one struggled to move the fish around to be able to swallow it, but here he is with the fish in position to swallow it head first.

Neotropic Cormorant
A birder is northwest Houston had an Eastern Towhee in his yard that he posted on Texbirds. I have never seen this bird, despite looking extensively in Maine, Michigan and Florida with guides. I went to his house twice and waited for a total of 6 hours..still no luck.

However, I did photo some other birds at his feeders. Here is a Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum). They are normally pretty shy, and I have never seen one on a feeder before. The rufous body, curved bill, streaked breast and bright yellow eye are the field marks.

Brown Thrasher
There was also a House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). This small (4.75") plain brown wren is a winter resident here. This is my best photo ever of this species.

House Wren
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2014 David McDonald

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bulletin 188 - Anahuac NWR winter birds

I have made several trips to Anahuac NWR recently and found some great birds.

A first for me was to see and photograph Krider's color morph Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) Sibley lists the Krider's as a 'scarce' prairie variant. It is very pale, almost white. One was found at Anahuac and I went to see and found a second bird as well.

Here is the first one that was seen and photographed. It has a bit of brown on the cheeks. There is also a bit of reddish wash on the tail. The eye color is yellow. This is probably a sub-adult bird as adults have brown eyes and red tails.

Krider's Red-tailed Hawk - subadult
The second bird is definitely a juvenile as it has no red on its tail and a yellow eye. This one is almost pure white on its head.

Krider's Red-tailed Hawk - juvenile
Here he is from above. Notice how light the end of the wings are, and how they are sharply demarcated from the central wing. This is exactly like the illustration in Sibley of the juvenile.

Krider's Red-tailed Hawk - juvenile
Another hawk was this juvenile White-tailed Hawk  (Buteo albicaudatus). They are almost completely brown, but have a white spot on their chest. But from the back as in this photo, it is just a big brown hawk. So how do you know this species form the photo? It has very long wings that project beyond the tail.

White-tailed Hawk - juvenile
Merlins (Falco columbaris) have always been a tough bird for me to find and photograph, but I found 2 in the past week at Anahuac. This small (10") falcon has a gray to black colored back and streaked breast. This one was perched on a fence post.

The second one I found first thing in the morning on a low branch. The sunlight at dawn gave it a brown coloration.


A female American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) stayed perched in a tree long enough for photos. Usually they fly off as soon as the car stops beside them. Kestrels are our smallest falcon at 9" in length. The female is all rufous - wings, back and tail and has 2 vertical black facial stripes. She even fanned her tail for the photo.

American Kestrel - female

A pair of Crested Caracaras (Caracara cheriway) atop a bare tree completed a wonderful group of raptors.

Crested Caracara
An interesting sight was scores of migrating Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) perched on a fence.

Tree Swallows
A beautiful male Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) gave me some beautiful eye-level shots on 2 different days. These are the best ever for me of this species.

Vermilion Flycatcher - male

Vermilion Flycatcher - male

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2014 David McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask to subscribe.