View of Centennial Mountains at Red Rock Lake NWR

View of Centennial Mountains at Red Rock Lake NWR
View of Centennial Mountains at Red Rock Lake NWR

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Remembering the Birds Part I

I try to spend a lot of my time looking at birds for fun or work.  Right now I'm in the midst of Christmas counts and had one yesterday and will have three more next week. This is free time birding.

But at this time of year, I always like to reflect back on what I've done.  A lot of my time was spent birding with friends, especially while I was recovering from three surgeries and thus not working.  January saw me going off on several short to long birding trips, as well as birding while traveling.

I was very surprised to find a juvenile wintering purple gallinule at Anahuac NWR. I took a picture of it in January, and again in April, just before the rest of his species was supposed to arrive to breed there. And on a trip there with several friends, we found a completely albino pie-billed grebe, complete with pink eyes.


Purple gallinule in January

Albino pie-billed grebe

Several of us went to Rockport to take the Skimmer out to look for whooping cranes and other wintering birds on the Central Texas Coast.  I HAVE to do this trip every few years and can't recommend it highly enough. Some years, I take it in late March or early April, so I can get the whooping cranes and the first of spring migration. Whether in the winter, or early spring, we usually see more than 60 species in about 4 hours. Sometimes we even see small groups of passerines flying just above the waves as they come in on their last energy stores.


A pair of whooping cranes

It's not often we get to see American white pelicans and brown pelicans together
 so I really like this picture

Another great memory was of a trip I took by myself to Bolivar Flats, getting there for the golden hour before sunset. Watching the birds and their reflections felt like a dream. And I watched hundreds of skimmers come in to roost. These are some of my favorite pictures from that trip.


Willet and greater yellowlegs. 

A lot of marbled godwits were feeding in that beautiful light

I ended up doing a couple of birding trips to the valley and some of my favorite places, including South Llano River State Park. The birds there are always fabulous but this year, I got to see a black capped vireo for the first time, WHILE in the presence of Greg Miller, who was one of the birders portrayed in the movie, The Big Year.  (But couldn't capture it's picture.) Greg was a featured speaker at a local bird festival and was preparing to lead a tour of the park. And I got my first ever - for the park - picture of a road runner.  Otherwise the park was full of all kinds of sparrows, orange-crowned warblers,  painted buntings, hummingbirds, flycatchers, chats, verdins, and lots of other wonderful birds, including those signature birds, bell vireos that come in to nest there and sing all day.


The roadrunner near the camping area at South Llano River State Park

Bell's vireo taking a breath between songs

I did a two week trip across several sections of Texas.  The only sad part about it was that I planned it for a special friend and then she had a family emergency and couldn't come. But several other friends were on different parts of it, so, I at least got to have fun.  I got several special birds there, including some new life birds.


First year altimira oriole

Green jays - I get them regularly but only in the valley or just outside it

My first ever rusty blackbird

The olive sided sparrow - a valley special

A bird I love - and often see in other parts of Texas  - the fulvous whistling duck


A first for me - a white -tipped dove - now expected to invade the US, following the path
of the white- winged dove - which I saw in Montana this year.  And now the
white-winged dove is being reported in North Carolina

Common pauraque  at Estero Llano Grande - although we know where it is,
within a few feet, we still have to hunt for it

Some other birds that were firsts for me or almost firsts included several birds we saw on the all day King Ranch bird tour. This was a wonderful experience and a tour I highly recommend. I got several friends to go and fill up the van and we all had a fabulous time. Then we had a slumber party at the friend's house who lives nearby.

I've only seen dicksessels a few times - this is first photo


Grooved-bill anni

Ferruginous pygmy owl - another lifer

For more great blogs on wild birds, click on the picture.



I wish all of you the happiest of Holidays and the hope for lots of chances next year to get outside and marvel at our natural world, and maybe also to do something to help save our plants and animals. And I hope I can wish all of you Merry Christmas Bird Counts. There is probably a few count circles near you.  If you haven't registered for one or more already, there may still be some near you.  Click here to check.   Remember  this is one of the best ways to gather data on how well each species of bird is doing. And you only need to be able to tell a bird from another animal to be useful.