January 19, 2015

Group Walk Report January 17, 2015

Three folks joined me for the first group walk of 2015. It was a beautiful morning and we found 23 species of birds. Here are some highlights.

In the dense oak-juniper woods just east of the gate we found White-winged Dove feathers scattered over about 20 square feet. This was probably a kill site where an avian predator caught the White-winged Dove and/or partially ate it from a perch. In the winter, small birds have to watch out for several birds of prey that specialize in hunting other birds, including Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks, and three kinds of falcons. Since White-winged doves are pretty large and we found the feathers in dense woods, my best guess was that a Cooper's Hawk was the predator in this case.

Near the spring we watched 30-40 Ring-billed Gulls fly over us heading west. We saw another group later and I estimated the total we saw to be about 70. Ring-billed Gulls spend the winter in Texas, and I think many have a daily commute from the roosting site at one of the land fills in east Austin to Lake Travis in the mornings and then back to the land fill in the late afternoon.

Near one of the houses we heard and then got far looks at a Canyon Wren. These are year-round residents that are only found in canyon habitats. They are much easier heard than seen, so we were fortunate to get a look at one and to get this distant photo:

Canyon Wren

Uphill on the western part of the preserve we encountered a sparse mixed species foraging flock of small birds in the cedar elms. This group included two Golden-crowned Kinglets, an uncommon winter species in central Texas. These were the first I've seen this season, and here's a photo I got of one:

Golden-crowned Kinglet - 1

On our way back we found a group of Chipping Sparrows and as we watch them we noticed that gentle gusts of wind were blowing visible clouds of pollen off of the nearby cedar trees! I I was able to capture this in a photo:

Cedar Pollen Blowing off Juniper Tree

By the time we made it back to the gate my throat was starting to itch!

Here's our complete bird list.

And here are the iNaturalist observations I made during the walk.

Posted on January 19, 2015 00:49 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 21, 2014

Group Walk Report December 20, 2014

Only one person joined me for the monthly bird walk yesterday morning. Conditions were cool, calm, and overcast. The birding was mostly quiet with expected year-round and winter species, with one exception. On the sandy prairie area near the northeast corner of the preserve we found a single male Pyrrhuloxia. This arid southwestern species is common in Big Bend but rare in Austin. Last winter there was a female on the preserve that I periodically saw up until April. And this winter several of these birds have been seen by Austin-area birders. I was able to get this decent photo:

Pyrrhuloxia - 3

Most of our other bird observations were from this same area on the preserve. We got good looks at Song Sparrows, Field Sparrows, many Northern Cardinals, and one Osprey. Here's one of the Song Sparrows we saw:

Song Sparrow

We found 29 species. Here's our complete list.

Posted on December 21, 2014 20:07 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 16, 2014

Group Walk Report November 15, 2014

We had eleven people on this month's group bird walk on the preserve. We started at 9:00 and enjoyed about two and a half hours touring the property and finding 23 species of birds. On the trail through the western half of the preserve I was able to call up a nice mixed-species foraging flock of songbirds. There were 12-15 individuals that included year-round residents Carolina Chickadees, Black-crested Titmice, Northern Cardinals, and newly returning winter residents Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a single Orange-crowned Warbler, and Hermit Thrushes.

On the northern "sandy prairie" area of the preserve we got pretty good looks at a beautiful male American Kestrel perched on top of the Purple Martin houses. Further east we saw and heard a Common Raven perched in one of the dead cottonwoods. And we got to see more than one Eastern Phoebe hunting insects close to the ground. Here's one of them:

Eastern Phoebe

Where the sandy prairie area meets the oak/juniper woods near the eastern edge of the preserve, we found a large leaf-cutter ant colony with a few coyote tracks on it. Here's one of them:

Coyote Tracks - 2

Coyote tracks are very similar to dog tracks, but dog tracks usually have much larger and blunter claw marks than these tracks had.

Here's our complete bird list:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/email?subID=S20568779

And here are the above photos as iNaturalist Observations.

Posted on November 16, 2014 20:26 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 19, 2014

Group Walk Report October 18, 2014

Five folks participated in this month's group bird walk. We started at 9:00 AM and got back to the cars by about 11:30. Things were a bit slow, but I ended up recording 26 species of birds and the group got to see some neat stuff. All morning we observed Monarch Butterflies, both high in the sky on their migratory journey south to Mexico, and feeding on mostly Frostweed which is in bloom in shady areas all over the preserve. Here's one we got pretty close to in the northeast corner of the Bunny Run:

Monarch on Frostweed - 2

We only got a few good looks at birds that morning. The first was this Golden-fronted Woodpecker that landed at the top of a dead cottonwood tree:

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are a southwestern species that just barely occurs in the Austin area, on the west side. One neat thing about the Bunny Run is that both this species and the very similar Red-bellied Woodpecker, an eastern species, can be found.

Nearby close to the lake's edge, we were lucky to get pretty close looks at four Wood Ducks, two males and two females. These are one of the few species of wild duck that is resident year-round in the Austin area. The ornate males are always a treat to see. Here's one of the pairs:

Wood Ducks

The last neat bird we got a good look at was a beautiful male American Kestrel. These exotic looking little falcons are newly returning winter residents in central Texas. The one we saw was perched high and eating something that we couldn't quite identify. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of it.

The bare patches of sand near the northeast corner of the preserve continue to hold interesting wildlife tracks! I'm pretty sure these were made by a coyote:

Coyote Tracks - 1

The size is right, and they are narrower and have much less pronounced claw marks than the very similar tracks made by domestic dogs.

At first I thought this large bird track was from a vulture:

Common Raven Track

But when I got home and looked it up, I think it matches a Common Raven track better. Hopefully someone on iNaturalist will help me figure it out!

Here are the same photos posted as iNaturalist observations.

And here is our complete bird list on eBird.

Posted on October 19, 2014 21:07 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 20, 2014

Group Walk Report September 20, 2014

Three folks participated in this months group walk. We enjoyed a relatively cool and overcast morning and ended up finding 27 species of birds. Here are some highlights. I was excited to find a few south-bound migrants including a brilliant male Black-throated Green Warbler that was part of a mixed-species foraging flock in the western part of the preserve. Another distinctive migrant was a Olive-Sided Flycatcher that was hunting flying insects from the very top of one of the cottonwoods by the houses. There were increased numbers of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in the trees and we got brief looks at Yellow Warblers a Nashville Warbler, and a female or juvenile Indigo Bunting.

The only bird I photographed was this year-round resident male Ladder-backed Woodpecker that gave us great looks as it foraged on a dead tree:

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

We got a distant look at this Rock Squirrel, a species only found on the west side of Austin in rocky habitats:

Rock Squirrel

And after the heavy rains earlier in the week we found a few mushrooms here and there, including these tiny yellow ones. If you look closely they have orange highlights!

Yellow Mushrooms

Here is our complete bird list:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/email?subID=S19885099

And here are the same photos as iNaturalist observations.

Posted on September 20, 2014 20:32 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 19, 2014

Group Walk Report July 19, 2014

Five folks participated in the monthly group walk and enjoyed unseasonably cool temperatures this morning. We found 34 species of birds and here are some highlights.

Downhill from the spring there is still at least one juvenile Great Horned Owl which we briefly saw after noticing two American Crows and two Blue Jays calling in the area. After one owl flushed, we saw several smaller birds as well as the jays and crows follow it. They were all instinctively mobbing the owl. Loosely associated with this group of mobbing birds were Carolina Wrens, Northern Cardinals, a family group of Downy Woodpeckers, Black-crested Titmice, and a single Eastern Phoebe.

In a large dead cottonwood near the east fence line we got decent looks at a singing male Summer Tanager and later a single Bronzed Cowbird. Here's a distant photo I got of the cowbird, a species that has been expanding its summer range north from the Rio Grande Valley for the past couple decades.

Bronzed Cowbird

In the pond that sometimes forms at the base of the drainage on the east side of the preserve we saw two Mallards. The male was molting and was in something called "eclipse" plumage. Mallards are rare in the Austin area during the summer, and most seen are birds that have bred with domestic ducks that hang around ponds or creeks in parks where people feed them. But based on the location of these birds (where no one feeds them) and on their foraging behavior, I believe these were wild Mallards. Here's a photo:

Mallards

On the sandy prairie area we got some distant looks at Western Kingbirds, Mourning Doves, a single Lark Sparrow, and several hummingbirds. I photographed this one which I believe is a female Black-chinned Hummingbird, the most common kind that breeds in the area.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Uphill a bit near the driveway we heard and then finally saw a singing Canyon Wren. This species has a distinctive loud descending song which is often heard in the right habitat, but they can be difficult to see. I was glad we found this bird perched on top of one of the garages and I got this distant photo.

Canyon Wren

Here's our complete bird list:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S19149652

Posted on July 19, 2014 21:50 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 21, 2014

Group Walk Report June 21, 2014

Nine folks participated in this morning's group walk on the preserve. We changed to our earlier summer 8:00 AM start time this weekend and enjoyed a balmy 2.5 hours making a loose circuit around the preserve. Bird activity was high, but getting good looks at birds was difficult. We recorded 34 species of birds and here are some highlights.

In the spring we found 2 dead Giant Desert Centipedes. These are impressive beasts even when dead, and seem unreal because of both their size and bright colors. We fished one out of the water and I took this photo that shows its large fangs.

Giant Centipede

Downhill from the spring we flushed and briefly saw 2 juvenile Great Horned Owls. Soon crows found them and for the next half hour we could hear and partially see at least 4 crows chasing and harassing the owls over the eastern half of the preserve. This is the same area I've observed juvenile Great Horned Owls for the past two years. Shortly after we initially saw the owls we found a perched Mississippi Kite perched in a large dead cottonwood. This is late to see migrating Mississippi Kites and might mean this bird is breeding in the area.

As we left the sandy prairie area we found this very nice example of a Texas Spiny Lizard on the side of one of the sheds.

Texas Spiny Lizard

On our way into the western half of the preserve we finally got a good look at a bird -- a male Summer Tanager that was eating the yellow berries on an Anacua Tree. I got this photo:

Summer Tanager eating Anacua Berries

Here's our complete bird list:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S18853201

Posted on June 21, 2014 20:38 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 24, 2014

Group Walk Report for May 24, 2014

Eleven folks participated in this month's group bird walk this morning. We enjoyed pleasant, overcast conditions and a good amount of bird activity. Unfortunately the male Golden-cheeked warbler recorded last month was not heard or seen. But here are some highlights from other observations we made.

Below the spring there was a nice flow of water that supported several large tadpoles. I assume from their size and a past observation of a Rio Grande Leopard Frog that these were the same species. Here's a fuzzy photo of one:

Tadpole

Nearby, this sprawling plant with huge yellow flowers and gourds caught our attention. It turned out to be Buffalo Gourd:

Buffalo Gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima)

On the sandy prairie area we got to hear and then see the single male Yellow-throated Warbler that has spent the last two summers here. We also found some nice Gray Fox tracks in the damp sand. And we got great looks at this female Summer Tanager holding some nesting material in her bill:

Summer Tanager (Female with nesting material)

On the west side of the preserve we found this male Summer Tanager feeding on Agarita berries:

Summer Tanager (Male with Agarita berry)

We observed 25 species of birds total. Here's our list:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/email?subID=S18535330

Posted on May 24, 2014 22:57 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 19, 2014

Group Walk Report for April 19, 2014

We had a total of ten people this morning for the monthly group walk on the preserve. It was a beautiful sunny morning and we enjoyed a leisurely 2.5 hours looking for birds and other wildlife on the preserve.

An early highlight was hearing a male Golden-cheeked Warbler singing in the oak-juniper woods on the east side of the preserve. This was a special moment because this is the first Golden-cheeked Warbler to claim a territory on the preserve. (It has been observed singing in the same patch of woods since April 1.) And this was the first group to observe any Golden-cheeked Warbler here.

Other highlights included a beautiful Osprey flying over us on the Sandy Prairie area, good looks at a couple singing Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and seeing and hearing at least 6 Summer Tanagers.

We saw a few butterflies too, including many Checkered Whites like this one:

Checkered White

And briefly, this colorful species called Question Mark:

Question Mark

Here's our complete bird list:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S17960204

Posted on April 19, 2014 22:10 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 16, 2014

Group Walk Report for March 15, 2014

Ten folks braved the light rain on Saturday morning and joined me for the monthly group bird walk. Here are some highlights.

When I arrived, as soon as I opened my car door I could smell the blooming Agarita. This prickly native shrub grows all over the western half of the Bunny Run. It's important to local wildlife both as cover and as a source of food when its berries ripen. It blooms for a relatively short period in early spring and we were fortunate to experience it on Saturday. The preserve was full of Agarita bushes with bright yellow flowers. Before anyone arrived I photographed this White-lined Sphix Moth feeding on some of them.

Sphinx Moth - 2

After the group walk got started, birds were scarce until we got down to the sandy prairie area in the northeast corner of the preserve. We got distant looks at a Merlin, a small falcon that spends the winter here. I initially mis-identified it as a Sharp-shinned Hawk, but the lack of a black cap and red barring made me suspect it was a Merlin. And when it flew a short distance its pointed wings made me sure.

Merlin

We saw a pair of Wood Ducks near one of the Wood Duck nest boxes. The female was perched on top of it and we got a few quick looks at the male on the ground below. We gave them a wide berth. I hope they use the box this spring!

Wood Duck on Nest Box

The sandy prairie area was full of Northern Cardinals and sparrows. We found Song, Lincoln's, White-throated, Chipping, and Field Sparrows. And we got good looks at the wintering Eastern Towhee that was still there. We were unable to find a female Pyrrhuloxia that I've observed a couple times in this area. But while we were looking for it this Lincoln's Sparrow perched nearby and gave us great looks.

Lincolns Sparrow - 1

Other highlights included watching an Osprey across the lake, many Cedar Waxwings flying overhead, singing Ruby-crowned Kinglets, many Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a great look at a male Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Here's our complete eBird list:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S17451711

And here are a few more photos on Flickr:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikael_behrens/sets/72157642407148954/

Posted on March 16, 2014 23:41 by mikaelb mikaelb | 0 comments | Leave a comment