Thursday, March 30, 2017

Texas trip - Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR - 29 March

On the way from Houston back to the Austin area we went via the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Reserve. A splendid place, it is one of the last strongholds for the Attwater subspecies of the Greater Prairie Chicken. The morning I went there was an enormous thunderstorm so I had to wait until about 10:00am, by which time the birds weren't calling. It was still a good spot, with quite a few Loggerhead Shrikes, plenty of Eastern Meadowlark (but no Western unfortunately), and 6 Northern Bobwhites, one of which posed for a picture.

Northern Bobwhite.
Eastern Meadowlark.
Eastern Hog-snouted Snake, found in the pool at the motel we stayed at in Sealy.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Texas trip - South Llano River State Park - 23 to 25 March

This is a fabulous site in the "Texas Hill Country" west of Austin which has both Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, the two highly range-restricted specials in this habitat. They are fairly inobtrusive unless singing, so dawn is best, and I got them both after quite a bit of effort. The vireo was easier than the warbler, mainly as its area is closer to the main road.

Several other specials occur in this habitat including Canyon Towhee, Canyon Wren, Scott's Oriole, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, and they were all pretty straightforward. I also caught up with Black-chinned Hummingbird (common at every feeder), Cassin's Sparrow and Lark Bunting (both in open fields along the entrance road).

A feature of the park was the amazing number of sparrows and allies. In various places I saw 10 species of sparrow; Rufous-crowned, Cassin's, Black-throated, Field, Clay-coloured, Chipping, Savannah, Lark, White-crowned and Lincoln's.

Golden-cheeked Warbler.Quite a little cracker!
Black-capped Vireo.
Scott's Oriole.
 Canyon Wren.

Field Sparrow.
Lincoln's Sparrow.
Lark Sparrow.
Black-throated Sparrow.
Clay-coloured Sparrow.
Rufous-crowned Sparrow.
Cassin's Sparrow.
Canyon Towhee.

Spotted Towhee.

Lark Bunting.
Black-chinned Hummingbird. Male...
...and female.
Lesser Goldfinch.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Texas trip - W. G. Jones State Park - 23 March

At a site just north of Houston is a site that contains the westernmost populations of two birds I missed on last summer's east coast road trip, Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Brown-headed Nuthatch. This being probably my last opportunity to catch up with these I took a detour and spent the morning tracking them down. The woodpecker was easy enough. The nesting colonies are well marked (green rings painted on the base of the trees). They are pretty quiet, but woodpeckers stand out and I got views of 4 different birds.

The nuthatch was much harder, though I did eventually catch up with one exploring a nesting box (which I'm pretty sure was intended for the Eastern Bluebirds in the area.

On the way north I spotted a Swainson's Hawk hunting over a field.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The red cockade is the only thing separating males from females, but it's virtually invisible, so I've no idea of the sex of this bird. Quite nice though!
Brown-headed Nuthatch.
Swainson's Hawk

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Texas trip - Falcon State Park and surrounding area - 21/22 March

The habitat here is much drier than other sites visited so far. Lots of cactus and other prickly things, a birding environment I actually quite like. There are several specials in the area. First up was a Red-billed Pigeon roost in a county park adjacent to the main state park. They were pretty easy to find, but quite flighty. Chapeño is a site on the Rio Grande here that regularly has flocks of White-collared Seedeaters that cross the river. No luck there, though I did watch a Grey Hawk cross from Mexico to the US. Cactus Wren is another local special that I picked up outside the main park in an area with lots of cactus. Other birds included a surprising number of Verdin, Bewick's Wren, Pyrrhuloxia, my first Northern Bobwhites, Black-throated Sparrows, and more Olive Sparrows.

A bridge on highway 83 driving north from the park on the 22nd had a large colony of Cave Swallows.

Red-billed Pigeon. Several found roosting in trees in Star County Park

Pyrrhuloxia. Quite common in the whole area
Bewick's Wren
Cactus Wren. Harder to find than I expected. I finally tracked this down in the very cactusy area behind the Star County Sheriff office.
Black-throated Sparrow. In the same kind of dry habitat as the Cactus Wren
Verdin. Quite a few in the state park itself.
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Grey Hawk at Chapeño. I watched it soaring on the Mexican side of the river before it headed across to the US. Yet another illegal immigrant!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Texas trip - Santa Ana NWR - 21 March

Santa Ana is one of my favourite spots on the Rio Grande with a wide variety of habitats, plenty of not overly-maintained trails and loads of birds. The birding started at the HQ with a Clay-coloured Thrush coming to the feeders at 8:00am. Plain Chachalaca were also present there, as was a Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

I joined a guided walk with one of the volunteers, and it was excellent. The guide knew her stuff, particularly the calls, which was a real boon. The walk produced a host of good birds, with highlights being; Northern Beardless Tyrranulet, Olive Sparrow, Verdin, Swainson's Hawk, Green Kingfisher, Cinnamon Teal, American Avocet, Solitary Sandpiper, Hooded Oriole and Altamira Oriole.

White-faced Ibis

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Harris' Hawk
Olive Sparrow
Wilson's Snipe
Long-billed Dowitcher
American Avocet
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Black-crested Titmouse

Rio Grande Leopard Frog.
Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake
Texas Spotted Whiptail

Monday, March 20, 2017

Texas trip - Estero Llano Grande State Park - 20 March

This small park is an absolute beautywith a wide variety of habitats and excellent birds. I only spent an afternoon there, but managed to find a lot of great things including a roosting Common Pauraque along one of the trails, with a Curve-billed Thrasher nearby. The main pond had White-faced Ibis along with Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Roseate Spoonbill and White Ibis. The hummingbird feeders attracted a Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

Common Pauraque. This roost site has had one of these birds (the same individual?) for many years, and finding this was a matter of accurate map-reading. Nonetheless it's a spectacular creature

Least Grebe
Couch's Kingbird
Inca Dove
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Blue-winged Teal
Curve-billed Thrasher
 Roseate Spoonbill