Group Walk Report for December 7, 2013

By central Texas standards, it was a cold morning for the monthly group bird walk. Few people registered this month and even fewer people showed up. It ended up being only HCC staff member Laura Maddox and I that toured the property in temperatures that never got out of the mid-twenties. But at least it wasn't raining. And even though the birding was uneventful most of the morning, we made two exciting observations late in the hike that made the whole effort worthwhile.

In the northeast corner of the property Laura noticed ice at the base of almost all of the Frostweed plants. It was cold enough that the Frostweed had demonstrated how it got its common name! During the first hard freeze of the season, water will exude from the stem of this plant and freeze into amazing delicate patterns as it does. Here's a better description of this phenomenon with references to web sites with more information than you'd ever want to know:

http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=VEVI3

Here are a couple of the more dramatic ice formations we saw:

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) with Ice Crystals - 5

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) with Ice Crystals - 8

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) with Ice Crystals - 9

Here's the observation we made, including several photos of different plants' ice crystal formations:

http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/477696

I announced that this was definitely the coolest observation of the morning. But about five minutes later while we were watching Song Sparrows and an Eastern Phoebe at the edge of a nearby pond, a dramatically colored black and white and reddish-brown bird flew into view. I thought it was a Spotted Towhee, an expected winter bird in central Texas. But I got a closer look and realized it was the eastern counterpart to this species -- an Eastern Towhee. This is a rare bird in the Austin area, and was my first for the Bunny Run and central Texas! It was a brilliant male that was initially chased away from the pond by a mockingbird. But it flew into some nearby brush and I was able to coax it out into the open with some pishing. Here's the observation with some photos:

http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/477697

And here are a couple photos of the Eastern Towhee:

Eastern Towhee (Male) - 2

Eastern Towhee (Male) - 3

Eastern Towhee is species #162 I've observed on the Nalle Bunny Run. It was a complete surprise to me. Which was a cooler observation, the Frostweed or the Eastern Towhee? I don't know!

Here's our complete bird list:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15885799

Posted by mikaelb mikaelb, December 07, 2013 21:56

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