February 18, 2018

Nalle Bunny Run 2018-02-17

Only four people participated in the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run yesterday. We enjoyed a cool overcast morning, seeing the preserve and finding 22 species of birds. Before we even started walking a group of 80-100 Cedar Waxwings dramatically flew in and briefly landed almost over our heads by the gate. A few of the flock stayed behind and we were able to watch them through our binoculars closely and hear their subtle calls.

Our year-round resident birds have started to reflect the nearness of spring in their behavior by showing more territorial aggression and by singing! Northern Cardinal song was almost a constant background sound, with Black-crested Titmice and Carolina Chickadees often joining in.

By the lake on the sandy prairie habitat we found two of our three wintering falcon species: a beautiful male American Kestrel and this Merlin, likely the same one the group saw last month.


A little bit later we found this Osprey across the lake, perched in a dead tree:


Here's our complete bird list.

Posted on February 18, 2018 10:47 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 28, 2018

Baker Sanctuary 2018-01-28

I spent a couple hours walking about 3 miles on Travis Audubon's Baker Sanctuary in northwest Travis County this morning. I wasn't expecting to find exceptional birds, and I didn't. But it was fun encountering an occasional mixed species flock in the quiet dense oak-juniper woods that make up most of the preserve. There's always something new to learn, even about the common species. Today I learned that Oranged-crowned Warbler can make a soft flight call that sounds very similar to the soft high whistle call notes that titmice and chickadees make to each other in mixed-species foraging flocks.

I wanted to see a little spring that I found on the eastern edge of the preserve last June. Near the spring where the trail went along the fence, I heard two Lesser Goldfinches singing. I realized one was mixing American Robin calls in with its song. I've heard Lesser Goldfinches imitate other birds before, but not this species.

The spring was just as pretty as I remembered, although most of the ferns were brown from our hard freezes this winter. It was still flowing out of the limestone wall. Nearby was this interesting block of limestone:

Limestone Block

On the north side of Lime Creek Road there is an old quarry site where blocks of limestone have been blasted out with dynamite. But this was on the south side of the road, near the eastern border of the preserve. Just one block sitting crookedly in the hole it presumably came out of.

Here's my complete eBird list.

Posted on January 28, 2018 09:59 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 20, 2018

Nalle Bunny Run 2018-01-20

This morning 7 people joined me for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve. We spent 2.5 hours finding 30 species of birds. The most diversity was in the deciduous woods area where the tall cedar elm trees had Cedar Waxwings, Carolina Chickadees, Black-crested Titmice, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Lesser Goldfinch, Downy Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Northern Cardinal.

Down the hill near the houses was the most exciting bird of the morning, a Merlin perched at the top of a large cottonwood. I've seen one here several times before over the years. I wonder if it's the same bird. My camera didn't perform well in the overcast conditions, but here's my photo of it:


On the sandy prairie the birds were mostly quiet, but there was just the right amount of moisture in the sand to hold some detailed wildlife tracks. These included Common Raccoon, Gray Fox, White-tailed Deer, and Nine-banded Armadillo. Among the dense cover of the vine-covered junipers we found a group of mostly sparrows that included Field Sparrows, Lincoln's Sparrows, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrow, and a nice male Spotted Towhee.

Here's our complete eBird checklist.

Posted on January 20, 2018 09:30 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 1 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

December 25, 2017

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge CBC 2017-12-23

I was fortunate again this year to be able to participate in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Christmas Bird Count. We were fortunate to have the count with fewer volunteers and staff available and damaged facilities in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Special thanks to Paul Swacina and Rick Laughlin for organizing the count again this year under challenging conditions.

My team covered the non-public Area 5 again which included Burgentine Lake, part of Saint Charles Bay, and some area south and inland of both. The weather was mild, in the 60s and 70s. A strong south wind increased through the morning, reaching gusts of 30 mph I guessed out over the coastal prairie habitat. The highlight was this Great Horned Owl, which was roosting nearly on the ground at the base of a mesquite tree right by the road. I completely missed it but my teammates somehow spotted it as we drove by.

Great Horned Owl at base of Mesquite

When most of the teams convened at lunch time, we realized that songbirds were very difficult to find. Where last year my team counted hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers, we only recorded one or two this year. And no one had found a Hermit Thrush or a White-eyed Vireo.

For the afternoon I was on my own and decided to try and find some of these songbirds in the dense patches of woods in the public areas of the refuge. I had the best luck in the Youth Education Area where I walked about 1.5 miles of road and trail, stopping at spots sheltered from the wind to play an Eastern Screech-Owl recording. The birds were few and far between, but I did find two White-eyed Vireos and a single Hermit Thrush.

At one spot I'd stopped because I heard two Blue-gray gnatcatchers calling. After playing my owl recording they came in to investigate and I got this photo of one of them:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

As I was watching the gnatcatchers I occasionally heard a soft call note that reminded me of a Cave Swallow. I kept looking in the sky but never saw anything. Finally, I saw another bird deep in the brush, a female Eastern Towhee! After getting a look at me she moved away and I could not get a photograph. Even after playing some Eastern Towhee call recordings she never returned. But I realized that this was the bird making the faint calls I'd heard before.

I only used eBird for my afternoon birding. Here's my complete list from the Youth Education Area, showing how hard it was to find songbirds!

Here's my account of last year's count for comparison.

Attached are a few iNaturalist observations, and here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Posted on December 25, 2017 03:04 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 21, 2017

Tony Amos Beach 2017-12-21

This morning starting a little after 8:00, I counted birds on the Tony Amos Beach in Port Aransas. Starting at Access Road 1, I drove the 7.4 miles to Access Road 2 in about 1.5 hours. The weather was extremely foggy, the temperature was about 64 degrees F. Compared with when I last counted birds here on 9/30, numbers were much lower. But looking at some of my past checklists for late December on this beach, today's numbers only seemed a little low.

The biggest surprise was not finding any Piping Plovers or Snowy Plovers, and finding only 4 Ruddy Turnstones. Interestingly, 3 days ago on the Port Aransas Christmas Bird Count I found Sanderlings, Piping Plovers, and Ruddy Turnstones in higher than expected numbers out on the lagoon-side of the island. Maybe these species have a seasonal preference for the mud flats over the beach this time of year.

Most fun this morning was finding 40 Red Knots, a long-distance-migrating shorebird in sharp decline. I hope we can save it. They were clustered in 4 groups. Here are three of them:

Red Knots

True to their name, they actually do turn red in the summer, but they're not red for very long in Texas.

Also fun was finding two Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Here's one of them:

Lesser Black-backed Gull - 2

Here's my complete eBird list.

Update 2017-12-24: On Facebook Lynn Amos posted this comment: 'You found Tony's "gap", when the PIPLs disappear from the beach for a bit, but do return before going north to nest.' Very interesting!

Posted on December 21, 2017 10:09 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 20, 2017

Port Aransas Christmas Bird Count 2017-12-18

Continuing a long tradition, on Monday, 12/18/2017 I, Warren Pulich, and Beau Hardegree participated in the Port Aransas Christmas Bird Count, covering the city's nature preserve at Charlie's Pasture. I arrived in Port Aransas about a week before the count and was able to scout Charlie's Pasture a few times. These were the first times I had been on the preserve since Hurricane Harvey devastated the town on August 25. There used to be over a mile of boardwalk out over the mud flats on this preserve. It was all gone. Here are some of the few pilings that were left:

Boardwalk pilings

The wall separating the preserve from the ship channel was breeched in three places, so now salt water from the channel flows in and out of the mud flats with every passing large ship. Here's the break nearest to the nature preserve's pavilion and main trail head:

First Cut

The lack of a boardwalk and the new cuts in the ship channel wall made accessing the mud flats to count birds much more difficult. I spent two mornings slogging through the mud looking for birds and for the best paths to get close enough to count them. The first time I went out shorebirds were nearly absent on the mud flats. But the second time, after a significant rain, there were thousands of sandpipers out there. So on the morning of the Christmas Bird Count I went out to count them.

Starting at about 7:30 AM, it was a little after 9:00 AM that I arrived at a spot just west of Salt Island where I started counting shorebirds. It was lightly raining and I had left my big camera behind since it's not waterproof. The numbers of shorebirds to the west and south was overwhelming, and I struggled to create a plan to count them. Shortly after starting, looking to the south I saw two birds I assumed were Black-bellied Plovers. But one was smaller and darker than the other. Looking more closely at the smaller one through my spotting scope I could see that the bill was also slimmer. I started to think this was an American Golden Plover, a species usually only seen during spring or fall migration. I took several photos of the bird with my iPhone held up to my spotting scope. They were all bad, but here's the best one:

American Golden Plover

After taking the photos and writing a few notes in my notepad, I went back to counting shorebirds. Here's what I came up with:

Black-bellied Plover 7
Semipalmated Plover 7
Piping Plover 40
Ruddy Turnstone 70
Sanderling 100
Dunlin 725
Least Sandpiper 540
Western Sandpiper 110
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher 125

The numbers for Piping Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, and Sanderling were higher than I've seen before out on these mud flats. These birds are normally more numerous on the beach, but the teams counting birds on the beach saw fewer of these species than expected.

When I started heading back I found a dead sea turtle in the shallows and realized it must have come in through on of the new cuts in the ship channel wall and gotten trapped as the water level fell. I reported it to the ARK and hope they find the observation useful.

I made it back to the Charlie's Pasture pavilion around 11:30 and met up with Warren and Beau who had been birding the grassland and thicket habitats all morning. They had found some good birds too, including Indio Buntings. Before we stopped for lunch Warren and his son Mark also found a Short-eared Owl, a species not seen here in years.

After lunch we returned and walked out into the salt marsh south of the mud flats in search of Nelson's Sparrow. After checking a few spots we have seen them in years past, we finally had a single bird respond to our recorded song:

Nelson's Sparrow

The unofficial species total for the count is 145, which is great considering the post-hurricane condition of many birding sites, and the loss of some of our participants from past years. Additional rarities included Brown Booby and Greater Black-backed Gull observed by Clay Taylor at the south jetty. And for the first time ever on the Port Aransas CBC, Joan and Scott Holt observed two Whooping Cranes on San Jose Island!

Here's my eBird list for the morning.

Here are are a few more photos on Flickr.

Posted on December 20, 2017 02:47 AM by mikaelb mikaelb | 3 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

November 19, 2017

eBird Mobile App Updated for iOS to Support Keeping your Tracks

eBird recently updated the iPhone eBird Mobile app to record your path via your phone's GPS. Yesterday I was annoyed when the app was updating while I was leading a group bird walk. But today I gave the new functionality a try. I walked from my house to Lake Creek Trail (my neighborhood hike-and-bike trail where I do most of my birding), birded part of Lake Creek Trail, then walked back to my house via a different route. The app made it pretty easy to make 3 separate checklists out of this trip. And eBird prefers to have multiple checklists for shorter distances (less than 1 Km).

Interestingly, the app still lets you edit the total distance travelled for your traveling checklists because (1), the GPS path might be flawed, and (2), eBird still wants you to only record "the unique distance you covered." See the "Recording Distance" section of the above linked page for a good explanation of this.

Using the new was pretty easy, and you can look at your path at any time. After submitting a checklist from the mobile app, I can still access its path from the app. But I cannot access the path from the eBird website. I assume this will be possible in the future.

I've gotten into the habit of recording my trail with another GPS app when I'm eBirding, Gaia GPS. This app has been working well for me, and I have lots of recorded paths that correspond to eBird checklists. Right now there does not seem to be a way to add any of these old GPS paths to their corresponding old eBird checklists. My phone's battery usage didn't seem to be different than when I use Gaia GPS to record the trail.

Here are the checklists I recorded this morning:

Posted on November 19, 2017 07:35 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 18, 2017

Nalle Bunny Run 2017-11-18

This morning 15 people joined me on the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run nature preserve in west Austin. 11 of them were a cub scout group with 3 girls, 4 boys, 3 moms, and 1 dad. The kids were between the ages of maybe 7 and 10. The ages of the kids and low bird activity resulted in less serious bird-finding this morning. But we did see a few birds and everyone enjoyed seeing the preserve on a beautiful mild and breezy morning.

Just downhill from the gate we ran into a mixed flock of songbirds that included Chipping Sparrows, Carolina Chickadees, Black-crested Titmice, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a single Pine Warbler (my first of the season) and this female Downy Woodpecker:

Downy Woodpecker

I think most of the kids eventually saw the woodpecker, even though it was a challenging spot for people not used to using binoculars.

On the sandy prairie "beach" area I was excited to find and photograph an unusual dragonfly. It turned out to be a male Turquoise-tipped Darner, an uncommon species in Texas. This was only the second time I've ever seen one, and a first for the preserve. You can see the turquoise color on the underside of the very tip of the abdomen in this photo:

Turquoise-tipped Darner

Another fun bird we found was a beautiful male American Kestrel that perched on top of the large mostly dead cottonwood tree near the houses.

On our way back uphill to the gate, most of the group went straight back to leave a little earlier, but three of us took an additional loop around the western part of the preserve. Soon after we split up I heard the unmistakeable sound of Sandhill Cranes calling to each other in flight! I ran around trying to see them in the sky but I never did. We could hear them moving south over our heads. They were probably riding the cold front that was just starting to arrive. Sandhill Crane was my 170th bird species for the preserve! Keep your ears open for this unique sound right now in central Texas

.Also on this loop trail we found a first-year Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and got to watch a Red-tailed Hawk use the northwest wind to stay stationary in the air:

Red-tailed Hawk

Here's our complete bird list.

Attached are a few observations.

Here are the same photos on Flickr.

Posted on November 18, 2017 09:06 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 10, 2017

Fort Davis 2017-07

I was very fortunate to be able to spend July 8-16, 2017 with fellow birders and naturalists Cecilia Riley and Mike Gray in Fort Davis, Texas. Here's a short account of each day. See attached observations.

Saturday July 8

I left Austin at about 8:45 AM and arrived at Cecilia and Mike's at about 5 PM. I took Highway 29 out of Austin to Mason, and then took 190. There was very little traffic and lots and lots of high fences and mesquite trees on both sides of the road. At a picnic area east of Iraan I found some Gray Fox tracks.

Sunday July 9

Morning: Looked for kit foxes on 166 west of Fort Davis. eBirded Crow's Nest Ranch.
Evening: Watched hummingbirds in Madge Lindsey's yard.

Monday July 10

Morning: Birded James King's property adjacent to TNC preserve and Lawrence Wood picnic area.
Evening: Road cruising with Lee Hoy.

Tuesday July 11

Light day. Slept in after road cruising. Birded Limpia Creek next to neighborhood entrance, Painted Tree area, and McDonald Observatory. Looked for Painted Damsels but things were just too dry.

Wednesday July 12

Spent time in Davis Mountains State Park. Birded Seep Trail with Cecilia, then hiked long loop up to peak by myself. In the late afternoon birded the two bird blinds in the park and drove up Skyline Drive.

Thursday July 13

Great day. Mike drove me down to Caroline Ohl's Christmas Mountains Oasis just north of Big Bend national park. Then drove "river road" between Terlingua and Presidio. Then up to Marfa where we met Cecilia and her sister for dinner.

Friday July 14 and Saturday July 15

TNC Davis Mountains Preserve. Partially rained out.

More photos are on Flickr here.

Posted on October 10, 2017 12:40 AM by mikaelb mikaelb | 126 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 03, 2017

Banded Shorebirds on Tony Amos Beach 2017-09-30

I made a quick trip down to Port Aransas last weekend to attend Tony Amos' memorial Saturday night. I spent that morning birding the 7.3 mile stretch of beach between Access Road 1 and Access Road 2, which he surveyed every other day for decades.

Here's my complete eBird checklist.

I'm thinking about creating an iNaturalist Project for banded shorebirds in Port Aransas (maybe for a wider area) so amateur birders like me can log them in a place banders and other scientists can easily access.

Each banded bird has "banded" as a tag on the observation, and a code representing what kinds of bands it has in the comments. (This code was described to me by David Newstead.)

Piping Plover

I accidentally discovered that the single banded Black-bellied Plover observation is the same bird that @greglasley found in almost the exact same spot in November 2015! Here's my observation:

And here's Greg's:

Posted on October 03, 2017 12:06 AM by mikaelb mikaelb | 27 observations | 9 comments | Leave a comment