My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Bird Tours

Since December, I've been running tours on third Thursdays and Saturdays. This has been my favorite job, if I can actually claim it as a job. (Is there a limit on the fun you can have working?) The tours  haven't been advertised widely but usually I have at least a few people on them.  The hours were 9 - 11 or whenever I got finished. So they usually ran until after noon. 

This past week,   I ran my last pair of tours. I had one person on Thursday and seven people on Saturday.  We don't have many birds here because that is the way summers are and because this summer is so dry (we are in an extreme drought here with only about 1/5 of our expected rain and only 1/2 inch this month) that the birds are leaving. However, we are getting lots of looks at rails, especially king rails, and least bitterns.  There are also white-rumped, stilt, semipalmated, and spotted  sandpipers as well as a couple of lingering yellowlegs to be found around Shoveler Pond. And we had the green herons that were still on the nest to observe and enjoy.  So the few people that are coming to the refuge can find interesting birds.

On Saturday, I gathered up my group and first stopped to see the green herons and whatever else was hanging out at the Willows. One baby was already out of the nest but still near it, while the other three still sat their crowded nest. Orchid orioles were around, both singing and giving us good views of them. Imature white ibises were sitting high in the fallen dead trees.  We had a flyover of white-faced ibis there as well. Eastern kingbirds were abundant.

The green heron chicks early last week

An eastern kingbird taken around Shoveler Pond

Then we did a slow turn around Shoveler pond where I found the numbers of least bitterns were way down from my Thursday pass.  We only got quick looks of two of them flying. But the king rails were still around  and out feeding, and we saw several baby killdeer as well as most of the expected sandpipers.  A willet was also around and several laughing gulls came by.

One of the many king rails on Shoveler Pond

A least bittern hunting around Shoveler Pond earlier in the week

A tri-colored heron hunting around Shoveler Pond

 Then I took them to the Skillern Unit where we all walked down to the rookery overlook on the recently opened handicap-accessible sidewalk trail. I took my scope so we could see the nesting neotropical cormorants and other birds using the far end of the large pond. We were excited to find Anhingas in with the cormorants. Great egrets and little blue herons, most in their teen-age colors of white with blue streaks were abundant. Lots of fulvous whistling ducks came and went along with a few black-bellied whistling ducks and a few teal. A small flock of coots were also using the refuge. I didn't get my expected look at a purple gallinule (I think there is one that has a territory almost due west of the overlook) but a few of us got a glimpse of one back by the cormorants. We also got good looks at Eastern Flycatchers as well as a quick look at some little flycatcher I couldn't identify. There were lots of green herons around but we didn't find the night herons that are usually sleeping along East Bayou. There were black-necked stilts both in the rice fields and the pond.

A black-necked stilt

Fulvous whistling ducks, blue-winged teal and a sora have had to leave the VIS pond and move to other places where there is still water

Purple Gallinule taken in March - and seen again today - around Shoveler Pond

Everyone in the tour planned to continue on to the east so they had followed me in their cars.  One participant had gotten lost and finally caught up with us near the end of the Shoveler Part of the tour. She planned to go to High Island and asked me to go with her. So I just changed vehicles and continued birding until  late in the afternoon. The rookery is rocking with the oldest babies starting to fledge but  with lots of smaller babies. Babies of all sizes are begging their parents for food. The cattle egrets are either building nests or sitting on eggs. We didn't find any nests of tri-colored egrets although several are sitting around in the rookery. I wonder if, with the nest sites in such short supply, if some birds will nest late in second-hand nests.

Nests at the rookery are built so close they are sometimes touching

Great egret feeding chicks

We also got to see two alligators swimming around with their kills sticking out of their mouths. One, in Shoveler Pond had a strange mammal in its mouth.  We could only see that it had a gray body with white back feet and a thick tail. It looked most like a dog.  The other alligator was at the rookery and had large bird feet sticking out of it's mouth.  I think it had eaten a roseate spoonbill.  Buy I hadn't taken my camera so you are spared the pictures.