Friday, 31 May 2019

Texas 19 - The final run in!

OK, it's now May 2nd, so only three days left. What to do and where to go?

My main hope (unsurprisingly) was for a late "fall". The forecast didn't look favourable but things often change.

The day was spent on Galveston Island. A later start after yesterday's long drive. I checked out a few sites down the West of the island. One spot had reported an Anhinga (rare on the Island) but I could only see Cormorants. I also tried (for a fourth time) to connect with the Great Kiskadee that had been present for over a week. I heard it briefly but couldn't manage a view. 8 mile road had a Wilson's Phalarope present the day before but I couldn't find it. There was a lone FWD doing a balancing act though. A very smart Duck indeed!

Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Late afternoon I spent an hour at the Eastern tip hoping for my Frigatebird (I'm a tryer!). Still no luck there BUT I did score with a lone Black Scoter.

March 3rd started with an early trip again on the Ferry to bird the lower half of the Bolivar...





A wonderful 3 hours were spent soaking in the awesome spectacle that is Bolivar Flats.

As most/all of us do I'd created a list of possible birds I would/might see on the trip. This species was on my list but I'd overlooked it. So it was a nice surprise when one popped up on Rettilon Rd (the approach road to Bolivar Flats)...

Horned Lark
Also present were a couple of Common Nighthawks in a familiar pose...


Hundreds of Black Terns were present, a fine sight...



Large numbers of Least Terns were nesting...




Royal Terns were also present in numbers...


Tricolored Heron


...and of course Reddish Egret...


Time for one more stop before returning to Galveston. Another smart sparrow was my target. I was going to try a location (thanks to eBird) that I hadn't been to for years...namely Tuna Rd. Time was tight so I drove slowly North along the road scanning the sea grass at regular intervals. Lots of small birds shooting around...and then disappearing!

I continued towards the end were the Intracoastal Canal loomed. A couple of brief glimpses and then a decentish pic...

Nelson's Sparrow
Time to head for the Ferry. On the way back I noticed a Roseate Spoonbill fly into a ditch by the road. Worth a look. Glad I did...


A prime example of why I come here!!!




Wonderful birds...

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Local breeders

Nice to see juvenile House Sparrows (3) being fed in the yard this evening. They've bred in our porch. Our "resident" Great Spotted Woodpecker is still paying regular visits to our feeders. I've just seen it on the site from the bedroom window.

A grim Spring migration wise. Still time for a June special I guess.

Promised myself a good rummage around the Patch, starting Saturday.

Time for the BAIKAL TEAL to move on...

Monday, 27 May 2019

Serin

Popped down the road this afternoon, to meet Phil and try for the Serin that was lingering on the seed, in the garden of the Old School, on the South side of the Gas Terminal. A rare bird in Yorkshire and hard to connect with on most occasions. A Lifer for Phil.

We had a good chat and managed to dodge the showers. Oh...and we saw the bird reasonably well in poor light...

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Birding issues

Saw this post on Texbirds. Some excellent points IMHO...

In point of fact, the exploding “birding community” in China mostly uses cameras to view their birds, not binoculars.  The same is true for many South American countries (Argentina, Brazil) as well as other birder hotspot countries like Malaysia and the Philippines.   If their peers are not carrying $2000 binoculars, why should they?

In the TexBirds thread about the Slate-throated Redstart nesting, I was interested to read that “field notes” were being taken about the nesting observations.   I daresay that in today’s birding world, field notes are not only a lost art, in the eyes of a Records Committee they inevitably come up short vs. a photograph when it comes to acceptance / confirming a species sighting or behavior.  Yes, the traditionalists will grumble about the importance of keeping notes, sketches and records, but in reality the “New Field Notebook” is eBird or iNaturalist, and the “modern Sketchbook” is an iPhone, SuperZoom camera, or DSLR camera.   Honestly, I think it is for the best – there are reams of data that show how unreliable “eyewitness accounts” can be.   At the same time, a single, badly focused and poorly exposed photograph of a bird can be useless for identification purposes.  There is no ONE right way to do it.

Yes, we “birders” are carrying more camera gear every year, and at the same time the “bird photographers” are continually finding out about and “invading” “our” birding spots.   This trend will definitely continue.

There are core differences between the actions and expectations of birders and bird photographers, and often times those differences cause friction:
-        Noisy groups of birders chatting as they come through the forest will always drive birds away and make photographers grumble.
-        Said same noisy birders wearing a rainbow array of clothing (and standing out like a sore thumb in whatever natural environment they happen to be visiting) also tend to keep birds at a distance – more grumbling from the photographers.
-        Photographers continually inching closer to a feeding / resting / nesting bird in order to get a better photo, while the birders watch from a distance through spotting scopes and grumble
-        Photographers setting up their equipment right in the line of sight of the feeder / drip / nest so as to block the birders’ view
-        Photographers with Better Beamer-type Fresnel lens-equipped electronic flashes definitely DO bother birds, especially when they are coming to drips or feeders.  
-        Photographers wearing head-to-toe camouflage clothing in order to allow the birds to approach closer (or make the approach themselves), thus offending the birder’s kakhi-ettiquette.  Yes, we birders ARE “hunters”, we just do not kill things on purpose.  

BTW - If you have never birded your backyard / local patch while wearing full camo, I suggest that you try it once.  You will be surprised at how much closer the birds will approach you, and how much longer they will stay near you, allowing for longer periods of observation.  It really works!


Tours:
On an organized tour, once the birders see their target species, they are ready to move on to the next species / spot, while the photographers want to stay put and get better photos – neither group is happy with the other’s actions.

Tour companies like Tropical Birding and Lindblad Expeditions have created tours expressly for photographers, and take pains to vet photographers away from bird-listing trips.   A bird-lister that signs up for a photo tour should know better, and if not, they find out quickly.  

The solution?  It’s not that easy, but we can all do things to help:
-        Birders, nicely inform rogue photographers about field etiquette, and if they ignore or defy the wishes of the birding group(s), report them to the owners of the property.  If they are REALLY unrepentant, post their photos on the appropriate FaceBook / social media pages and shame the heck out of them.
-        Photographers, nicely request that noisy birders please keep walking around and talking to a minimum, as “the birds will come closer if we all stand still and stay quiet”, or “we might not see the bird again today, and if so, I would hate to think that it stayed away because of all the talking”.  
-        For drips, feeders, and stakeout spots, establish a minimum approach boundary, or designate a “tripods / photographer’s area” that is fair to the birds as well as the observers.  Houston Audubon does a good job of this at their High Island spots.
-        Establish “photographer-only” spots (blinds, etc.) that will be chatty-birder-free zones.   Birders that defy these spots can be similarly ostracized as in Point 1.


Thursday, 23 May 2019

BAIKAL TEAL at Kilnsea Wetlands

News broke at 8.05am...

MEGA E.Yorks BAIKAL TEAL drk north of Kilnsea on Kilnsea Wetlands

One problem...I was working! I looked at my timetable, a two hour break in With' from 11.30. So unlucky...yet lucky? The morning passed quickly and I was in my car and heading home by 11.40. A quick word with Louise and after grabbing my gear, I was heading for Kilnsea. A made a briskish walk to the hide, passing a couple of Birders informing me it was "showing well".

It was showing quite well...


A striking Drake.

Now then...yep...provenance!!! You've heard the speech before. This bird is almost certainly the bird seen previously further South....now moving North? "Suspect origin" always appears amongst other clich├ęs. Wildfowl is especially susceptible to doubt. This bird has been seen well. I missed the Flamborough bird...was that of "suspect origin"? What's the difference?

Then we have Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads...er Chinese Pond Herons bla de bla...

Committees make decisions. I abide by them for listing purposes...doesn't mean I always agree. Does that make me a hypocrite? Possibly...but then I don't take this crazy game too seriously...

Pending...

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Texas 19 - Port Aransas

I checked out the two migrant traps before Breakfast. The hoped for "fall" hadn't materialized so nothing new of note was observed...except this chap...


A long time resident apparently.

We toured Mustang Island again ending up at the Southern end for lunch...



This area can be superb on the right day. Today wasn't one of those days...unfortunately!

The street around the corner can be even better, I found out from a couple of local Birders. I did manage to see Black and White, Magnolia and Tennessee Warblers in a brief watch. The birds were fairly distant and in a private garden, so I didn't pursue them. Just as I was leaving the owner of the property came out and started chatting. Turned out he was a Birder and professional photographer from Canada. He'd got lucky and acquired the place for 50% of the asking price!!! He'd already built an enviable list.

It was time to head North back to Galveston. I'd learnt a lot about the area even though my "haul" was slightly disappointing this time. A pair of superb Fulvous Whistling-Ducks bade us farewell...


Monday, 20 May 2019

Texas 19 - Port Aransas

April 29th and time for our second mini-trip down the coast to Port Aransas...


It's an area I've always liked. Plenty of different habitats and some excellent migrant traps. Again a bit of a self-indulgent trip down memory lane but hey...just glad to be able to do it!

We stopped off at Goose Island to try for a late Whooping Crane but no luck there...

Big Tree
NB. I realize there's repetition here!

Onto Port Aransas for a couple of nights. I just intended to bird the peninsular. Things never work out as planned...well rarely.

One of my favourite places to bird in this area is Paradise Pond, not 5 minutes from our Motel...


On previous visits I'd enjoyed many an hour getting "crippling views" of many species of Warbler. I was in for a shock...




Hurricane Harvey had visited!


A tragedy.

As you can see plans are afoot to restore the habitat but it will obviously take some considerable time. On a brighter note birds were still being recorded in the fringe vegetation, including Magnolia Warbler (not seen) and this female Rose-breasted Grosbeak...


...and this beautiful Scarlet Tanager...


The other major site at the North End of the magnificently named Mustang Island is the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Centre...


A grand title and a superb reserve...but it is by the Sewage Works! It can get pretty ripe in sub-tropical temps!!

The bushes by the car park have an excellent reputation for migrants. We spent some time here...

Blackburnian Warbler...


Yellow-billed Cuckoo...

Seen briefly in thick cover initially...




...then further views as we were leaving...




Superb Bird!

...as was this Chestnut-sided Warbler...


Out on the Marsh I added Ruddy Duck to the trip list...


There was an impressive number of White Pelicans present...


A dapper American Avocet in the early morning light...


Then as we made our way back to the car for lunch I got lucky with amazing views of the remaining Scarlet Tanager...


The afternoon was a pleasant affair checking out various sites but it was very quiet migration wise. I did manage to add a distant White-tailed Hawk to the trip list...


Sunday, 19 May 2019

Texas 19 - Pineywoods

April 28th and it was time for some woodland birds...hopefully!

After a few thought shifts I decided to try W.G.Jones State Forest North of Houston...



I've visited this special woodland on numerous occasions but never had good views of the star bird...namely Red-cockaded Woodpecker. As with so many species, habitat loss has sadly restricted opportunities to view this bird. This site is the "go to" site in Texas...so why should I be any different!



We arrived around 9am. Being very familiar with the site I made my way to the prime area and started the well marked walk. Some tracks were blocked off...for obvious reasons. There were a few other Birders around. Other key species were on offer here, including Pileated and Red-headed Woodpeckers.

Typical habitat...



Nesting trees are marked with green dye, which I guess gives you a chance, at the right time. Dawn and Dusk improve your chances, but you can't be...etc etc. I chatted with a passing Birder who also wasn't having any luck. It was his fourth attempt! I then heard some "tapping". Eventually I spied the culprit...

Red-headed Woodpecker
A less than satisfying view admittedly!


 The other Birders had disappeared down the track by now. I decided it was time to follow. As I rounded the bend I could see them all returning with big smiles! Yep, they'd connected. After congratulating them, I asked for directions and continued down the track. I was on my own, hoping I'd understood the directions...I'm sure you know the feeling!!

I stood in the described area...and waited...and waited. There was a marked tree in the area which was encouraging but after an hour...nothing. It was midday and getting hot by now. I must admit to losing hope. I decided to give it a little longer...and it paid off!!! A movement, a Woodpecker...but which one?

Red-cockaded Woodpecker
A great moment. Things then got even better as the bird moved to nearby trees, amazingly ending up on the tree right by the track. My lucky day!

A special bird indeed!
Another undoubted highlight of my trip.

After another wonderful picnic lunch in the woods we headed East to try for my other main target for the day in the Liberty area. The municipal Park was out destination which would hopefully give me panoramic views over the adjacent woodland. It did. I was soon observing, albeit distantly a pair of superb Mississippi Kites, my first of the trip. No sign of my main target yet though. I decided to try an area around the back of the woodlands outside the Park.

Here comes the "deja vu" moment. I drove around the estate eventually deciding on an empty church car park...



It then hit me that I'd been here before! I'd been taken here by a friend of a friend some 15 years previous. The moment was enhanced by the sight of my target Swallow-tailed Kite floating over...


Very satisfied with how this special day panned out...