Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bulletin 211 - winter birds and herps

I have been birding several times since Thanksgiving and here are some of the local wintering birds.

The American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) is a large (17.5") brightly colored shorebird that is readily IDed by the bright orange bill.

American Oystercatcher - adult
The juvenile has a black tip on the bill. This is the first time I have photographed a juvie.

American Oystercatcher - juvenile
The Willet (Tringa semipalmata) is a large (15") sandpiper, who is just dull gray in winter. There are 2 subspecies, eastern and western that are likely to be split soon as separate species. The birds in the winter on the Texas coast are the western birds. They have a completely gray bill. The eastern birds breed here in the summer and they have some pink at the base of the bill. Here is a winter western subspecies.

Willet - western
Another shorebird that was my most exciting find so far this winter is the Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus). This 9" plover breeds in the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. It winters in Mexico and extreme southern USA. It occurs on the upper Texas coast perhaps once or twice per decade. I have only seen it once before in the mid 1990's in Galveston. Since I started doing photography 8 years ago, I have looked for it several times in south Texas and once in California without success. So to have one show up on Bolivar flats, the famous shorebird location, across from Galveston was fantastic. In the non-breeding plumage, he is IDed by the brown back, no breast bands, grayish legs, and white all around the eye.

Mountain Plover - non-breeding

In the sun, he appears even a warmer brown color.

Mountain Plover - non-breeding

Have you ever had a fish bone get stuck in your throat? You know how uncomfortable that is. Well I can't imagine what this Brown Pelican must be feeling with a whole fish stuck sideways in his throat. I saw this pelican with a pink swelling in his neck and couldn't believe my eyes when I looked at the photo.

Brown Pelican

These is a very tame Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) at Anahuac NWR who perches on the road signs around the Shoveler Pond loop drive. He allows one to approach closely in your car. The guide books do not show that he has a crest, but in certain positions, he has a really great bushy crest.

And in this photo, he appears very menacing, as his preening was interrupted.

The next group of pictures are for my herp-loving friends. I got some up close and personal photos of a Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus). This pit viper is also known as a Water Moccasin. This is only the second I have found on the road to photograph. This guy was only about 24" long so I wasn't too afraid of him. They can get to 7 feet in length. I was surprised to see how thin his tail is compared the rest of his body.

When I approached him, he opened his mouth and showed the white lining. I had not seen that before. But I had my long lens, so when I backed up to get him in focus, he closed his mouth. However, I was able to get a couple with his mouth partially open to show the white 'cottonmouth' lining. One can also see the 'pit' in front of his eye, and the vertical slit pupil.

Cottonmouth - detail

The common turtle at Anahuac NWR is the Pond Slider (Trachemys scripta). The subspecies here is the Red-eared Slider. They can 5-11 inches in length.

Pond Slider
A short distance away I saw another turtle but he lacked the red ear. I asked a Texas reptile expert for the ID and it is a River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna). They can  range in size from 6 to 16 inches.

River Cooter
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald

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

No comments: