November 17, 2018

Nalle Bunny Run 2018-11-17

Six people joined me this morning for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. It was a beautiful morning, with a starting temperature in the mid 40s at 9 AM, and rising to the low 60s when we stopped at 11:15 AM. There was little or no wind and there were few clouds.

I ended up recording 32 species of birds, but most were heard-only or only briefly seen. The ones we did see were too distant or briefly seen for photographs. Our most exciting bird observation was on the sandy prairie area. A few minutes after we had flushed about a dozen Mourning Doves from the ground to a large pecan tree, all the doves exploded into flight out of that tree, flying in the same direction. A moment later a Cooper's Hawk landed in the same tree. We had just witnessed the doves detecting and then fleeing from this predator.

We indirectly observed lots of mammals this morning. In the parking area by the gate were probable coyote tracks. On the trail to the spring there was a big patch of mud with lots of White-tailed Deer tracks, a few unclear raccoon tracks, and these neat Nine-banded Armadillo tracks:

Nine-banded Armadillow Tracks

The top one is a hind track, and the bottom is a front track. Armadillo front feet almost always leave just two toe marks like this.

On the sandy prairie there were more raccoon tracks, coyote tracks, deer tracks, and a few probable Gray Fox tracks. Near the lake this young cypress tree had been scraped near the base of its trunk. This was probably from a White-tailed Deer buck rubbing the velvet off its antlers:

Deer Rubbing on Cypress Tree - 1

On our way back on the west side of the preserve there were many little brown American Snout butterflies. This time of year, this species often makes big dispersal movements away from population eruptions. A couple weeks ago there were hundreds streaming north over Austin. Here's one on a blooming frostweed plant:

American Snout on Frostweed

And here's one spreading its wings. They're quite drab and camouflaged when their wings are folded up. But look at the orange and white on their open wings! I think they deserve a prettier common name!

American Snout on Branch

Here's our complete bird list on eBird.

And here are the same photos on Flickr.

Posted on November 17, 2018 09:46 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 30, 2018

Texas Master Naturalist Annual Meeting 2018

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Texas Master Naturalist Annual Meeting 2018 in Georgetown this weekend. Every session I attended was great, and a day later I'm still full of inspiration and reassurance that my volunteer efforts are helping conservation in our state.

Here are some quick points that really stuck with me from each session I attended.

Connecting the land and water; influences of land practices on river and stream health

Stephan Magnelia, Melissa Parker; Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Native riparian grasses like Switchgrass often have root systems longer than the grass is tall, and help surface water seep into the aquifer. Non-native grasses usually have much shorter root systems.

They gave everyone a copy of Your Remarkable Riparian field guide, which is a big beautiful field guide to our Texas riparian plants. And it describes a simple protocol for assessing the health of a riparian system. This looks like an invaluable guide for land owners with water on their land.

The principles of water slowing and retention that are so important to a rural riparian system are often at odds with urban and suburban creeks which have to be managed by urban engineers to move as much water through as fast as possible to avoid flooding.

Camera Trapping for Science

Tania Homayoun and Richard Heilbrun, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

This was a fun practical overview of using camera traps or game cams to capture images of wildlife for a variety of reasons. We even got hands-on experience! Here's my team's best effort:

Game Cam Training Photos - 1

You can see more of the amazing observation we captured of a taxidermied badger here. :)

Tania runs TPWD's Texas Nature Trackers citizen science program. They will lend you camera traps! As long as you have a plan to use them and agree to post your observations to iNaturalist and share locations with TPWD's iNat projects.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the TMN Program – Leveraging the Whole Community

David Buggs Chief diversity and inclusion officer with TPWD

Get out of your comfort zone to reach out to different communities. Any effort is worthwhile!

This quote from The Nature of Americans study resonated with me:

Americans face a significant gap between their interests in nature and their efforts, abilities and opportunities to pursue those interests in their lives.

We are helping Americans cross that gap, and we need to reach as many kinds of Americans as we can!

The Geography of Grassland Bird Conservation: How International Bird Conservation Efforts are Linked to Actions in Your Backyard

James Giocomo, American Bird Conservancy

Our grassland birds are in steep decline, and Jim Giocomo is working on the Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture to try and save them. A large part of planning for this program is based on data from Breeding Bird Surveys, Christmas Bird Counts, and eBird. It's satisfying to contribute to all three.

Is this City for the Birds? Tracking Grassland Birds in an Urbanizing Texas

Tania Homayoun, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
James Giocomo, American Bird Conservancy

Urban and suburban hike and bike trails, athletic parks, and sometimes even parking lots (with scattered trees) can provide habitat for some of our grassland birds. Jim and Tania are working on a citizen science program to learn more about this. I hope I can participate with Lake Creek Trail!

How iNaturalist Guides Policy

Sam Kieschnick, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

iNaturalist provides us with a tool we can use to influence local policy, but not in the way I expected. Its scientific power is secondary to its social power. Local parks can be championed by dedicated iNat users to document the plants and animals there. iNaturalist makes it easy to show off this diversity with lots of photos. First build awareness and community among other people who live near a park. Then share with park management, then local politicians and leaders. Policy makers will initially be attracted to the photos, then take notice of the dedicated community.

In iNaturalist, the data is secondary to the constituency.

Posted on October 30, 2018 12:54 AM by mikaelb mikaelb | 1 comments | Leave a comment

October 23, 2018

Nalle Bunny Run 2018-10-20

Only three people joined me on the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve last Sunday morning. After two weeks of rain and overcast skies, we were thrilled to experience a dry cool breezy morning during which the sun just barely came out a couple times! The birds were a bit slow, but two of the birds we saw were extremely cooperative. The first was the Eastern Phoebe on the trail to the spring. After struggling to see it through a couple layers of juniper trees, it flew down and hunted insects about 15 feet in front of us for a few minutes:

Eastern Phoebe

The second was a newly returned American Kestrel, perched a the top of a dying cottonwood near the houses. It was there all morning, and we got to watch it make a few flights out to catch dragonflies.

American Kestrel

In the same tree, we were treated to a group of 5 Eastern Bluebirds who nervously shared perching space with the kestrel. Eastern Bluebirds are a resident central Texas species, but I have very few records of them on the Bunny Run, and this was the first group that got to see them here. Here are three of them:

Eastern Bluebirds

The preserve was as wet as I've ever seen it, and hiking through the sandy prairie area there was one spot where we just couldn't keep our feet dry. The spring was overflowing and the downhill pools were as pretty as I've ever seen them:

Drainage under Spring

Waterfall Limestone Pools

Some other highlights of the morning were some beautiful coyote tracks the sand, Texas Leafcutter Ant trails, a distant group of migrating gulls, and finding a deer antler! See the attached observations, and a few more photos on Flicker here.

Here's our complete eBird list.

Posted on October 23, 2018 12:21 AM by mikaelb mikaelb | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 06, 2018

Nalle Bunny Run 2018-10-06

I spent a little more than an hour on the Bunny Run this morning. The birds were few and far between, but the mosquitoes were everywhere! Notable bird observations included an Eastern Bluebird heard and briefly seen near the houses, and my first House Wren of the season, heard and then briefly seen near the spring. House Wrens are a winter resident in central Texas.

Yesterday the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife started their annual Pollinator Bioblitz, so I made a few plant and pollinator iNaturalist observations.

Here is my complete eBird list.

See the attached observations.

And here are the same photos on Flickr.

Posted on October 06, 2018 11:49 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 30, 2018

Tony Amos Beach 2018-09-29

On 9/29/2018 starting at 12:19 PM I drove 7.4 miles in about 2.5 hours on the Port Aransas beach, starting at Access Road 1 and stopping at Access Road 2. This is Tony Amos' old survey route. I only counted birds, photographing a few. Here's my complete eBird list.


11 Common Terns, in a mixed group of terns and gulls about 1 mile south of Access Road 1. Here's one of them:

Least Tern

UPDATE: I did see a group of Common Terns, but several birding colleagues have pointed out that this bird is actually a first-year Least Tern.

A little further south in a group of about 20 Red Knots, 4 were banded. I photographed the banded birds, with all but one having codes on the flag bands mostly legible. See attached observations. I counted 67 Red Knots in total.

Red Knot - 4

I found 3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, far apart from each other. See attached observations. Here's one of them:

Lesser Black-backed Gull - 2 - 1

About 2 miles south of Access Road 1, a Peregrine Falcon flew by heading south over the beach carrying a bird that it caught that looked like it might've been an American Coot. Much further down, maybe 6 miles from Access Road 1, I saw a Peregrine flying out over the surf chasing terns or gulls. I got a few distant photos.

Peregrine Falcon - 1 - 1

I counted 27 Piping Plovers and photographed 7 banded ones. See attached observations.

Piping Plover - 8

I counted 351 Sanderlings, including this small group of resting birds. There was also a group of about 100 birds resting, which I narrowly avoided scaring into flight. Before I noticed them I got too close and caused about half of them to walk away from the group closer to the water. Here's the smaller group of sleeping birds:

Sleeping Sanderlings

Snowy Plovers were few and far between. I counted only 5, including these two using seaweed as a wind-break:

Snowy Plover - 3

And here are the same photos on Flickr.

Posted on September 30, 2018 04:43 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 24 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 15, 2018

Nalle Bunny Run 2018-09-15

This morning was the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run. Only three people had registered for the walk and no one showed up! So for the first time in ages I got to tromp around the place by myself. There have been recent rains, including last night, and the preserve was quite wet. Nearby rain on the weather radar caused me to leave my big camera behind, so I only took iPhone photos.

I was happy to find this little Lace Cactus off trail. There's a small patch of them on the westernmost trail that I always point out to visitors, and I'm glad they're growing in more spots!

Lace Cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii) - 2

Near that patch of other lace cactuses, I found two strange fungi that looked like whitish brains! A naturalist friend told me they're probably puffballs:

Puffballs (Family Lycoperdaceae) - 2

I was hoping to see south-bound migrating birds and there were a few around. The most numerous were over 20 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers throughout the preserve, usually in the tree canopy. Briefly, I spotted a soaring Osprey, the first I've seen this fall. A Belted Kingfisher flew by, also a first-of-fall observation for me. And down on the sandy prairie I found a Baltimore Oriole, a common migrant moving through Austin right now.

A few interesting resident bird observations: Two Common Ravens flew over the gate while I was waiting for attendees. On the lake in front of the rental house I saw a Wood Duck that at first I thought was a juvenile bird. But actually it was a male in non-breeding plumage, something I was not familiar with! The Northern Cardinals I saw were almost exclusively on the sandy prairie. I've noticed before that there seems to be some seasonality to where cardinals occur on the preserve. In the spring and summer they're spread out all over it. In the fall and winter they're almost exclusively on the sandy prairie area. A "micro migration" perhaps?

Water was flowing in the drainage just east of the main driveway, and there were some beautiful little pools, sometimes rimmed with cedar elm leaves:

Flowing Water - 1

Flowing Water - 3

I made a few plant observations (see attached) including one I was especially happy about. Back in May 2013 I found this Southern Catalpa tree in the dense oak-juniper woods just east of the gate. I haven't been in this area for a long time since it's usually not so interesting to visitors, and the trail through it has become overgrown. But today I decided to try and find this tree again and I did! Now it's over 12 feet tall!

Southern Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides) - 3

See the attached iNaturalist observations.

Here's my complete eBird list.

And here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Posted on September 15, 2018 08:55 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 10 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 20, 2018

Nalle Bunny Run 2018-08-18

On Saturday morning only three folks joined me for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve in west Austin. It was a very quiet morning, warm and mostly still. By midway through the 2 hour walk there was a little breeze blowing. Birds were difficult to observe, and we recorded only 19 species, most heard only. But it was nice to experience such a quiet place inside of Austin. And we saw some other neat stuff too.

I was excited to make a new snake observation on the preserve: a small Eastern Blackneck Garter Snake that was in the spring. Look at the dramatic pattern and bright colors!

Eastern Blackneck Garter Snake (Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus)

On the sandy prairie area we saw several robber flies of the same species, often with one hovering over another. I assumed this was some kind of mating ritual with the male hovering over a perched female. The iNaturalist community identified them as Painter's Bee-Killer. See the attached observation for more info. Here's one of the hovering males:

Hovering Robberfly

Also on the sandy prairie we found this feather that turned out to be a primary flight feather from a Cooper's Hawk:

Cooper's Hawk Primary Flight Feather

Many dragonflies were around, including Common Whitetail, Roseate Skimmer, Neon Skimmer, Wandering Glider, Spot-winged Glider, and this female Eastern Pondhawk that Kent Ellington photographed:

Green Dragonfly

On our way back up the hill, Kent got another amazing photo of this panting female Black-chinned Hummingbird. Birds don't sweat, and panting is a primary way they shed heat. We weren't the only ones feeling the temperature rising that morning!

Panting Hummingbird

I made an interesting but sad observation before I got to the preserve this morning. On nearby Cedar Street I pulled over when I saw a road-killed Ringtail. It turned out there were two of them! Ringtails are secretive nocturnal mammals similar to raccoons but smaller and more delicate. They are common but rarely observed. HCC has recorded them on the Bunny Run with game cams, but I hadn't seen one in years. I photographed them on the road for the record, so if you're curious see the attached observation. Just be warned the photos are a little gory and sad.

Here's our complete bird list.

Posted on August 20, 2018 06:57 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 7 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

July 21, 2018

Nalle Bunny Run 2018-07-21

Six people joined me this morning for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. When I arrived at the preserve a little before 7:00 I heard a Painted Bunting singing nearby and I was able to get a couple photos. Here it is at the top of a Cedar Elm tree:

Painted Bunting - 2

Unfortunately when we started the walk with the group, we heard this bird a few times but were unable to see it. We heard many more birds that we actually saw this morning, but we saw plenty of cool stuff. On our way down the hill we found a pair of Lesser Goldfinches, and I briefly saw the female go to a spot where I heard juvenile begging. And after looking closely I realized it was a nest! (See the attached observation.)

At the spring I found this feather that really puzzled me for awhile. I consulted @davescott who co-wrote this great field guide to feathers, and his opinion is that it's from a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. Also at the spring @natashahaggard found this Texas Cave Scorpion! So cool, and a first for the Nalle Bunny Run!

Down on the sandy prairie we got to watch a (probable) family group of five or six Western Kingbirds. Here's one of them:

Western Kingbird

Insects and plants were much easier to observe this morning. Some of the plants the group enjoyed seeing, feeling, smelling and tasting included Mustang Grape, Toothache Tree, Camphor Weed, croton, Gum Bumelia, Anacua tree, Kidneywood, and Blackjack Oak.

Cool insects included a lifer dragonfly for me, this male Five-striped Leaftail we found down by the Chimney Swift tower:

Five-striped Leaftail - 4

Four-striped Leaftails are much more common, and @greglasley has this great web page explaining the difference. Look at those blue eyes!

See the attached observations for a few more cool things, including a very scary robber fly.

Here's our complete bird list on eBird.

Here are my photos on Flickr.

And here are all the observations Natasha Haggard made this morning. Thanks Natasha!

Posted on July 21, 2018 11:14 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 8 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

June 17, 2018

Nalle Bunny Run 2018-06-16

Four people joined me for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve yesterday morning. We started at 8 AM and enjoyed partly cloudy skies until about 9:30 when the sun finally came out and made it fee like summer. Birds were active, and the air was full of songs and calls from Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, White-eyed Vireos, and White-winged Doves. But they were much more easily heard than seen. There was one Painted Bunting we heard singing and in the deciduous woods habitat area we started catching glimpses of it foraging. With very little coaxing from a recorded song on my iPhone, it came in to investigate and gave the group good looks. I got this poor photo:

Painted Bunting

Despite the poor quality of the photo, I was very happy that the group got to see this colorful Texas summer resident.

Two fun mammal observations were hearing White-tailed Deer warning snorts, and then seeing this Rock Squirrel by the irrigation pipes on the sandy prairie area:

Rock Squirrel

My favorite observation of the morning was along the east fence line. At the edge of the woods there, I saw a large black and yellow dragonfly flying around. It landed nearby and I got this photo:

Swift River Cruiser - 2

It turned out to be a species I haven't recorded on the Bunny Run before: a Swift River Cruiser. It's very similar to the Royal River Cruiser which I recorded here last August at almost the same exact location. (See this iNaturalist observation.)

Here's our complete bird list on eBird.

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

And see the attached observations.

Posted on June 17, 2018 03:52 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 20, 2018

Nalle Bunny Run 2018-05-19

Only two people joined me yesterday morning for the monthly group walk on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve in west Austin. The temperature stayed in the 70s thanks to staying cloudy for most of the morning, and there was a nice breeze most of the time. The theme of the morning was bird families! We saw family groups of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Black-crested Titmice, and Eastern Phoebes, all with fledglings following their parents and begging for food. We saw evidence of Northern Cardinal and Red-eyed Vireo reproduction as well. Here is one of the fledgling gnatcatchers I found by the gate before the walk started:

Fledgling Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 2

Down by the lake not quite under the cypress trees I scared a female Northern Cardinal off her nest. I got the quick iPhone photo showing 4 speckled eggs in it:

Northern Cardinal Nest

Among the tall cedar elms uphill from the buildings, we heard the single male Yellow-throated Warbler singing. We played a recording of its song hoping it would come investigate and we could see it. The warbler didn't come, but unexpectedly, a pair of Red-eyed Vireos came in to investigate. Here's a poor photo I got of one of them. If you look closely you can see it's holding a small twig in its bill, evidence of nest building:

Red-eyed Vireo

Back up by the gate I was ready to thank everyone for coming and say good-bye, when I heard a buzzy song, and I knew there was a migrating warbler nearby. We soon spotted this stunning male Black-throated Green Warbler:

Black-throated Green Warbler

This was the only north-bound migrating bird we found. It was loosely associated with a family group of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, maybe the same family we'd seen at the beginning of the walk. I got another photo of one of the fledglings, this time actively begging:

Begging Fledgling Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

We ended up finding 24 species of birds. Here's our complete eBird checklist.

And here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Attached are all my iNat observations.

Posted on May 20, 2018 09:45 PM by mikaelb mikaelb | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment