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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