Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lapland Longspur, struck again!

The post would be "Lapland Longspur strikes again!" but unfortunately our luck with LALOs out here involves less them striking than actually being struck. Case in point: our March find was 'cat struck' (it could have been the last day of February also, though, based on estimated time of death being accurate, give or take 48 hrs). The November 30 creature, however, was car-struck approximately 12 miles west of Marathon and found in a reasonably fresh state.

Horrible puns aside, here's their range map, via -

Our local checklist shows them as "accidental" (having 1-3 records per DECADE).

The most recent fall/winter beauty:

While the top photo shows enough to be diagnostic, a bit of long-spur is always fascinating!
* Edit: one reader asked if all male birds have a longer 'spur' - this one is a female, and all 'long spurs' have it regardless of age/sex.

For comparison, Hwy 90 also coughed up a few Vesper Sparrows - LALO is on the left, VESP is on the right - size may be distorted due to the camera angle, but take a look:

* eyebrow/line is strong and buffy on LALO, VESP lacks it but has a white eye ring
* auricular (ear/cheek patch) patterns is pronounced on LALO, streaky on VESP
* throat/breast is blurred and buffy for LALO, everything is fine, crisp and contrasty for VESP

Next up, tails!
Apologies for the birds not being *exactly* side by side - roadkill doesn't always pose on command. This shot does compare back streaks nicely, and in case you ever need to ID VESP vs. LALO by tail only, you can make out the rounder tips of VESP (L) and compare them to the sharp points of the LALO (R) tail. How deeply they are forked seems pointless with this combination. Amount of white (and brightness of it) is kind of interesting, however.

And a shot from below the tail:

Finally, a wing comparison.

The longspur wing (R) blocks the VESP primaries a bit, but note how much longer the LALO primary flight feathers are (for non-bird people, that's the wing tips from the outermost feathers until the ones with rufous edging, for our current purposes) compared to the secondary flight feathers (the rufous-edged wing feathers along the outermost edge of the wing). Vesper, at left, has a much rounder looking wing because the primaries are only slightly longer than the secondaries.

Unfortunately none of these show a nice leg/foot sample for VESP, but trust us - they have pinkish legs and their 'spur' is not particularly jaw-dropping. But until next time...

Please remember that picking up dead birds requires state/federal permits. Ours are through Texas A&M University and we strongly suggest checking every roadkill, every time (if it's safe to do so!) You never know what's out there. If you don't have permits and find something interesting, pick it up first (and bag it, tag it with date/location/cause of death if known), freeze it and contact someone with permits second. Call around, e-mail your nearest academic collection (TAMU is interested in things state-wide), but please do so with discretion - and get the specimen to the permit holder ASAP.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Townsend's Solitaire in the Davis Mountains

More specifically, at Davis Mountains State Park.

This is one of the species generally charted as Irruptive in the trans-Pecos Region of Texas.
Irruptive : may be abundant some years, but absent or rare in all other yrs. Can also denote regularly occuring species in one specific part of the greater-region but exhibit irruptive movements to areas not normally occupied.

Hopefully, it will be an Irruptive species' - type season this winter. Though none of these species have yet been abundant, they are beginning to be reported.

Here's one I came across during today's visit to Davis Mountains State Park a few miles north of Ft. Davis in Jeff Davis County. There were recent reportings of many way up in the Guadalupe Mountains of Guadalupe Mountains National Park; fairly well north of the tri-county Big Bend Region.

Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi)

I happened upon this mountain-western species behind the bird blind/water-feature that is adjacent to the Interpretive Center at the state park.

Townsend's Solitaire bathing and drinking at the water-feature.

We know trees and mid-story shrubs are important for birds. Also, water is an extremely strong attractant to birds. Most (not all) need water to drink and just the sound of a trickle can bring them in.

Townsend's Solitaire are pretty much food specialists. That means they don't have any variety to their diet. They've evolved, at this point in time, to forage on a singular item. For this bird, that's juniper (Juniperus spp) berries.

I enjoyed observing this bird's behavior off-and-on for maybe 20 minutes. It would drink and bathe and preen then repeat. It would also occasionally fly over my head to the large Redberry Juniper (Juniperus pinchotii) just behind me. That makes sense, right?

The Townsend's Solitaire.

Very muchly, a mountainous western-portion of this continent dwelling bird.
A great far-West Texas species.

However, a species we don't see all the time, everywhere, every year.

We do see it with an Uncommon-type frequency .... sometimes, in some years; and only out in this far portion of the state.

What will this winter show us?

Monday, November 28, 2011

A whole lot of West Texas!

While we ventured north for family commitments during the Thanksgiving week, our dear friend covered the region. Check out this fantastic (and quite photogenic) trip summary from Steve Gross. His 6-day trek rummaged up 124 species, though he did cover just about every 'hot spot' west of the Pecos. If only he'd made it into Big Bend National Park, the trip would have had seven species of grebe! (Least Grebe is still rumored to be loitering near Daniel's Ranch)

Many thanks to Steve for sending us his trip list and keeping us posted about other regional sightings! We are grateful to hear (and share!) these lists and keep folks current on local bird life - please do e-mail us when you've been in the region, we can credit you for reports, allow you to remain anonymous, or not re-share the sightings at all (in case your boss is checking up on sick days that you were out birding...)

Back to Steve's trip!

Primary locations included:
Lawrence E. Wood (Davis Mts)
Davis Mts. State Park
Franklin Mountains
Guadalupe Mountains

Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Neotropic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Snow Goose
Ross's Goose
Cackling Goose
American Wigeon
Green-winged Teal
Northern Pintail
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Harris's Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Scaled Quail
Gambel's Quail
American Coot
Long-billed Dowitcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Ring-billed Gull
Bonaparte's Gull
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
White-winged Dove
Inca Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Williamson's Sapsucker
Red-naped Sapsucker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
American Pipit
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Cactus Wren
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Sage Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Western Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Townsend's Solitaire
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Mountain Chickadee
Juniper Titmouse
Black-crested Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Loggerhead Shrike
Western Scrub-Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
European Starling
House Sparrow
Cassin's Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Green-tailed Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Canyon Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Black-chinned Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Sage Sparrow
Lark Bunting
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Common Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gage Hotel - Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival was a fantastic spot for West Texas to show up and make a splash. The folks in charge of booths worked a small miracle and shuffled things so the Texas Mountain Trail / TPWD booth was on an end and our corner of Gage Hotel / Marathon / Big Bend National Park info was right next to them. Brilliant! Thankfully there were plenty of Gage brochures to go around and the TMT booth had extra Marathon and BBNP fliers as well, so with our presence combined, we were able to provide very specific information about Marathon and very general regional highlights at the adjacent booth.

The general response was overwhelming - most folks who visited the booth had fond memories of staying at the Gage or had heard about it from friends and had not yet made the trek out to Marathon. Only a few knew that the Gage Gardens existed; more knew about the fantastic restaurant and bar, which was really no surprise! We did our best to get everyone caught up on the 30 acres of gardens and fields and generally wildlife-friendly adventures across the tracks from the main Gage property.

In case y'all missed our little corner of the world at the RGVBF:

We also nerded out over the newest National Geographic guide and fantastic artists on hand, but there's a separate blog post for that! (make that two) In addition to the other artists on hand, a local staple in the art community was present: Gerald Sneed. He stopped by the booth with a sneak preview of his West Texas mug (spoiler: Acorn Woodpecker, Blue-throated Hummingbird and Montezuma Quail are on it) and a shirt and greeting card sample (both pictured below). The poster and cards are available, shirt and mug still pending. Sneed's work is iconic for Texas and we're thrilled to have a preview!

(This post was technically posted on 11/26/11 but dated earlier for archive context.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

No bird walk on Nov. 27, 2011 birding festival excuse this time, but we're in the land of Rough-legged Hawks! NW Missouri is a gem this time of year, even if the only birding we're doing is accidental =)

Happy Thanksgiving, safe travels and good birding to you and yours!

-Heidi & Matt

Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Bend National Park - Least Grebe, Summer Tanager, Golden Eagle

Texbirds post -
Subject: LEAST GREBE, late Summer Tanager, BBNP, Brewster Co. 21 Nov. 2011
Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2011 15:54:52 -0600

Heidi and I decided to go down to the park this morning before Thanksgiving madness. That madness is already at the park.

Anyhow, months ago Byron Stone asked publicly about a Least Grebe report from Big Bend NP. I think Bill Tarbox and a friend found it way back whenever.

LEAST GREBE was seen and photographed in the ponds NNW of Daniel's Ranch, Rio Grande Village, BBNP this morning by Heidi and me.

Also at Rio Grande Village, back near the campgrounds, an American Bittern flew over. We also saw Brown Creeper heard Golden-crowned Kinglets, had all three phoebes, really nothing out of the ordinary. Truthfully, it wasn't terribly birdy this morning out there.

At Dugout Wells, we had an incredibly late Summer Tanager male.

Golden Eagle was seen ~ 10 miles north of Panther Junction, in the park, as we headed home.

-Matt York & Heidi Trudell
Brewster Co.


Foreground: ponds behind Cottonwood groves at Daniel's Ranch, Least Grebe.
Background: Sierra del Carmens

Big Bend NP--Rio Grande Village, Brewster County, Texas, US

From campgrounds to Daniel's Ranch (of Tufted Flycatcher fame). Least Grebe found in ponds around Cottonwood Grove (NNW) from adobe house.

Species - 31 species (+1 other taxa) total

1 Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
1 Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus - ponds NNW of cottonwoods grove at Daniel's Ranch.
1 Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
1 Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
1 American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus
1 Green Heron Butorides virescens
2 American Coot Fulica americana
3 Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus
1 hummingbird sp. Trochilidae sp.
7 Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
1 Black Phoebe Sayornis nigricans
4 Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
4 Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya
3 Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
1 Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
1 Brown Creeper Certhia americana
3 Rock Wren Salpinctes obsoletus
1 Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
2 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Polioptila melanura
X Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa - heard only
3 Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
1 Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
4 Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) Setophaga coronata coronata
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) Setophaga coronata auduboni
1 Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
X White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys - heard only
3 Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus
3 Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
5 House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus

Big Bend NP--Dugout Wells, Brewster County, Texas, US

Species - 5 species total

1 Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus
1 Verdin Auriparus flaviceps juv.
1 Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
1 Black-throated Sparrow Amphispiza bilineata
1 Summer Tanager Piranga rubra - Aye. Very late. Male seen easily.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nov. 20 - Gage Gardens and Post Park

This morning's late start at Post (10 am!) was due to a thorough perusal of the Gage Gardens. While sparrows were abundant, diversity was relatively low - Brewer's Sparrows being of primary interest this time around. Post Park, on the other hand, had fairly good diversity along with good numbers - a few Green-tailed Towhees were still present and the mixed flocks at the headwaters covered included almost all of our wintering sparrow species. Highlights for the morning included BROWN CREEPER, MERLIN and a dozen Ring-necked Ducks at the Post.

Pictures, e-bird lists, etc will be added as possible!

*** Due to travel, there will be NO bird walk next Sunday, November 27 but that shouldn't stop anyone wishing to visit either location!

Marathon- Gage Gardens, Brewster County, Texas, US
Species - 13 species total

1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
3 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) Colaptes auratus [cafer Group]
1 Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya
2 Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
3 Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) Setophaga coronata coronata
50 Lark Bunting Calamospiza melanocorys
4 Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
2 Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
12 Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna
25 Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus
6 House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
X House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Marathon- Ft. Peña Colorado Pk (The Post), Brewster County, Texas, US
Species - 31 species total

13 Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
14 Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo
1 American Kestrel Falco sparverius
1 Merlin Falco columbarius
5 American Coot Fulica americana
20 White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
30 Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
2 Inca Dove Columbina inca - not usually found in park, but in town
4 Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina - high count for this sp.
9 Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
2 Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
5 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) Colaptes auratus [cafer Group]
1 Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
2 Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya
1 Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
1 Brown Creeper Certhia americana
1 Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris
X Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea - heard only
2 Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
2 Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre
2 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) Setophaga coronata coronata
3 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) Setophaga coronata auduboni
X Green-tailed Towhee Pipilo chlorurus - heard only
1 Canyon Towhee Melozone fusca
10 Brewer's Sparrow Spizella breweri
60 Lark Bunting Calamospiza melanocorys
5 Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
20 White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
1 Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
5 Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus
2 Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

West Coast Lady Sing This Song...

.. doo da...
Alright, enough.

While looking for the Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea) in the huge elm along the front walk at the Gage Hotel, here in Marathon. I stumbled upon a more reliable species out here in far-West Texas. Well, it doesn't fly all yr and generally the trans-Pecos region of Texas is the only portion of the Lone Star that this species' range includes.

West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella)

Certainly a familiar species in western longitudes as the common name would emply, they utilize mallows and other lovely not-weeds-to-all-of-us (yep, just made that up) as a hostplant.

Heidi and I leave in our yard the beautiful globe-mallows family (Malvaceae), gauras family (Onagraceae), and others for this reason. For numerous reasons actually; I would have to compose a lengthy and extremely-likely incomplete species list. Also, they belong here.

This afternoon was quite windy from the south, making photograghing this insect, nectaring within this particular flower bed, difficult. This caused fewer satisfactory photos to choose from.

I arrived at this location not expecting to be photographing leps. I actually was there to quickly view, once again, this guy:

Bay-breasted Warbler, fall male, Gage Hotel, Marathon, TX
*photo of warbler courtesy of Carolyn Ohl-Johnson*

All this, and I wasn't even in the Gage Gardens across the tracks.

See you all at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival down in Harlingen, TX.
Heidi and I will be at the Gage Hotel booth proudly representing our region, county, town and my employer; seeing old friends, and making new ones.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

No bird walk on Nov. 13th!

Our weekly bird walks at Post Park have been somewhat chilly lately due to cold, dark mornings - but next week there won't be one at all!

We've already posted about the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and our soon-to-be-unveiled new business card design (for the last year we've exclusively used the horned lizard icon in the sidebar), but now it's crunch time and there's packing to be done.

So next week, in lieu of a bird walk, we'll see y'all in south Texas!

(image yoinked from 10,000

The "why" of window monitoring

Birds hit windows. It's pretty much impossible to overstate the  extent of the issue. Pretty much everyone knows that it happens but very few people look beyond face value of the smudge on glass.

This is more eloquent than anything I've seen yet, so please take a look at
Tim O'Connell's piece: A window into the perils of migration. He beautifully outlines the "how" and "why" of dead birds as educational tools, as well as one example of the mind boggling architecture that causes such high mortality rates. Flat-sided buildings are bad enough, but a horseshoe with a 'corridor effect' cluster at one end? Yikes!

On a coincidental note, I'm about half way into a paper on the complexities of North American window collisions - they've been my constant companion since 2003 and I need to get my thoughts out of my head and into writing. Unfortunately it's a rather dry, sciency sort of writing, but I think the discussion will be helpful. It's just terribly difficult to keep citations sorted out since there are about 20 papers that cite each other ad infinitum and the resulting citation loop is frustrating. One paper that I criticize lists my paper in its citations, too, for that matter!

Anyway, here are some lovelies - Tennessee Warblers - from Principia, circa 2004-2005 (a tiny fraction of the actual species diversity and even fewer of the overall body count.)


External link: dead bird album

This is also cross-posted over at SeeTrail.