Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Red 'rope. Balmorhea Lake, Reeves Co.

31 October 2012
Balmorhea Lake, Balmorhea, Reeves Co., TX

Red Phalarope (Phaloropus fulicarius)

** Excerpt from TX-Birds list-serve**

RED PHALAROPE pics from this morning at Balmorhea Lake.  
Found initially (FOUND AND ID) by
Heidi Trudell, I like to think I was slightly distracted driving.  :)
This bird was first noticed on the eastern half of the lake, as we were on
the east dam.  Easily enjoyed through bins, a scope is great.
After a lunch break in town, we re-located the bird at 1:18 PM on the
western quarter of the lake.  Also could be enjoyed through bins during
this observation

NO Surf Scoter was seen.  In fact, the raft of scaup, ruddys, and redhead
the scoter sought refuge in was gone as well.
**Excerpt from TX-Birds facebook note originally from Heidi Trudell**

Seen from 11:20-noon at the dam, seen from 1:18-1:25 at the total opposite end of the lake (near reeds on west end) before it headed back toward the middle of the lake.

Here's the combined morning/afternoon list from Lake Balmorhea (apologies for lack of numbers here), perks from the town and cemetery are at the bottom!

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
Redhead (Aythya americana)
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata)
Common Loon (Gavia immer)
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
Clark's Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii)
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
American Coot (Fulica americana)
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)
Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)
Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
Franklin's Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Verdin (Auriparus flaviceps)
Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus)
Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis)
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila melanura)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)
Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus)
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)
Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)


Town highlight:
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) - heard only

Cemetery, complete list:
Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)
Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata)
Sage Sparrow (Artemisiospiza belli)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Balmorhea mystery bird

Until Tripp is able to post further details, this is the only shot we have at the moment of an all-dark gull with pale rump at Lake Balmorhea on Saturday, October 27.

The bird on the left is a Ring-billed Gull, and the dark bird was described as slightly larger and loosely associating with them. So far it sounds like a fairly good fit for a Heermann's Gull.


Tripp Davenport's Flickr album -

Edit: as of 2 pm on Sunday, October 28, that particular dark gull (Herring/CA type) was not refound in spite of three people searching. Two sub-adult Herring Gulls, one darker than the other, were present but very un-Heermann's like. That said, I was cooped up at work, so the following list is via Cameron Carver -

**Edit by MWYork:  NO ALL DARK GULL present during our obs. Three people gave it a heck of an effort.  HOWEVER, an excellent consolation prize was the later-in-the-day presence of a 1st winter SURF SCOTER.**

Date and Effort - Sun Oct 28, 2012 9:10 AM
Protocol: Traveling
Party Size: 1
Duration: 4 hour(s)
Distance: 5.0 mile(s)
Observers: Cameron Carver

Species - 67 species (+2 other taxa) total
11 Snow Goose - Counted
50 Gadwall - Est Likely undercount
10 American Wigeon - Est
20 Northern Shoveler - Est
2 Northern Pintail
20 Green-winged Teal - Est
10 Redhead - Est
14 Lesser Scaup
1 Surf Scoter - 1st winter female. photos and video. Bird had white on the side of the head and at the base of the bill. Bill was large and "roman". Bird was seen diving a few times and later associated with diving ducks.
2 Hooded Merganser - Adult Male and female.
44 Ruddy Duck
5 Pied-billed Grebe - Est
15 Eared Grebe - Est
15 Western Grebe - Est
30 Clark's Grebe - Est
5 Double-crested Cormorant
19 American White Pelican
7 Great Blue Heron
2 Great Egret
3 Snowy Egret
1 Golden Eagle - Adult bird being harassed by Ravens on north side of lake.
4 Northern Harrier
1 Cooper's Hawk
1 Red-tailed Hawk
25 American Coot
10 Sandhill Crane - Est by sound
18 Killdeer
1 Spotted Sandpiper
4 Least Sandpiper
3 Wilson's Snipe
3 Bonaparte's Gull - At least 2 adults and 1 immature. Smudgy thumbprint on side of head and tern like behavior.
4 Franklin's Gull - Appeared to be either first winter birds, or just winter birds. Slightly bigger than BOGU with some black in head and big white crescents around eye.
30 Ring-billed Gull - est
2 Herring Gull - 2 large, mottled gulls. Much bigger than RBGU
2 Eurasian Collared-Dove
3 Mourning Dove
2 Belted Kingfisher
3 Northern Flicker
1 Prairie Falcon
1 Black Phoebe
3 Say's Phoebe
2 Vermilion Flycatcher
4 Common Raven
2 raven sp.
1 Tree Swallow
2 Barn Swallow
30 Cave Swallow - Est
2 Rock Wren
2 House Wren
5 Marsh Wren
1 Bewick's Wren
1 Northern Mockingbird
2 Curve-billed Thrasher
9 American Pipit
1 Common Yellowthroat
11 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)
1 Green-tailed Towhee
3 Brewer's Sparrow
40 Lark Bunting
10 Savannah Sparrow
3 Song Sparrow
1 Lincoln's Sparrow
1 Swamp Sparrow
19 White-crowned Sparrow
1 Pyrrhuloxia
10 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Eastern Meadowlark
10 Eastern/Western Meadowlark
40 Great-tailed Grackle

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Varied Thrush, part two

After a mad dash on October 22, a more leisurely* trip was in order. Having finally slept like a rock, slept in late, and tended several batches of neighborhood creatures, one more trip to CMO seemed like a good idea - if the Varied Thrush stuck, more looks at a life bird would be icing on yesterday's cake.

* in this case, there was also an attempt to snag the wayward San Antonio racing pigeon, but it had superior evasive maneuvers - the alternate title for the post was "outsmarted by a pigeon" but the photos wouldn't be nearly so exciting

Upon arrival at just about 2 pm, a Northern Mockingbird chased a dark blur away from the water; the thrush was at least present! Settling in on the bench and getting distracted by Common Mestra antics was next on the agenda - sorry, no photos of the Common Mestras.

Varied Thrush, as seen from the bench.

Between intermittent pigeon antics and Varied Thrush sightings, the afternoon was a lovely combination of Western Scrub Jay visits, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher scolding (a pair were disturbed, but I'm not sure by what), and constant Pyrrhuloxia chipping. Goldfinches and siskins were also about. One black-necked garter snake was in the big tank. Very nice to see!

Several minutes of observation came from the other side of the water feature - the behavior was very reminiscent of the Swainson's Warbler from the spring; kicking, shuffling, flipping leaves and bark and mulch and generally fussing around in less than photogenic ways. There are dark, leafy blurs as evidence of this behavior, but they're a challenge to decipher.

Stunning markings are effective camouflage in dappled shade.

This is one lucky bird. Welcome to the oasis, buddy.

Extended eyeliner; this photo is for Tony.

Flight feathers are amazing from all angles.

The thrush was still present at 4 pm, when I headed out, and it headed back into the shade to kick around the mulch again.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Varied Thrush! Christmas Mtns Oasis!

Carolyn Ohl-Johnson's Christmas Mountains Oasis
Terlingua Ranch area 
south Brewster County.

^^click link above for her Christmas Mountains Oasis blog.  It is worth the look.^^

What an important area for Texas ornithology.  Carolyn has worked incredibly hard for her habitat over the years.
An important area.
An important person.

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)

Heidi and I got there in the heat of the afternoon.  We had to see this bird, but schedules weren't fitting together.  It was decided to push to go to Carolyn's this afternoon.

We got out of the car at around 2:50 in the afternoon.  We were on the bird by 3:00.

The thrush flushed up into the dead cottonwood and perched.
Actually showing some methods of thermoregulation.

Like lifting its leg, and thus foot off the surface, maybe catching some breeze.
Still regulating it's temperature, it was just about half asleep for a moment.  We observed the thrush half "shutting its eye", slow blinking on occasion.  The photo above shows the thrush's nictitating membrane.
nic·ti·tat·ing membrane 
A transparent inner eyelid in birds, reptiles, and some mammals that closes to protect and moisten the eye. Also called third eyelid.
Another commonly seen method of regulating temperature for birds is "panting."  This thrush is doing both in the pic above.

Anyways, after some great views it decided to drop down and we lost sight of it.  We likely could have found the bird but decided to let it be for awhile.

This gave us a chance to catch up with Carolyn and K.B. Bryan.

After awhile Carolyn and I decided to get more looks.
The thrush dropped down to one of the water features that is in its favored area

Check out the bead of water between mandibles near the tip end of the beak.  Might have to click to blow up the photo a bit to see it.

Eventually the bird hopped up and out, without much bother, and scampered away.

This is a bird I definitely needed for Texas.  'Twas a lifer for Heidi.

A species I haven't seen east of the Pacific Crest of mountains in western portions of North America.  A secretive bird, perhaps I've hiked right by it in moist montane woodlands out west.

Nevertheless, at Christmas Mountains Oasis, Heidi and I sat, watched it, and eventually left it.

Great bird.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Confusing Fall Warblers

What happens when you take two decent birders, a yard with regular MacGillivray's Warblers, some bright evening light, and a "Mac" in size and behavior that has no gray on the throat?

7 pm - Something in the giant mallow - very brown back... Wow, that's a BRIGHT MacGillivray's...! Wait, it's not a Mac... or do you see any gray on the throat? Look at those eye arcs... and the bicolored beak, that's too big for yellowthroat. Bright yellow vent and belly, must be a Mourning! *scrambling around kitchen window with bins and books while puppies whine about a late dinner*

[They walk dogs, return when light is fading and take photos. And then all ID chaos breaks loose.]

8-9 pm - this:

...but its vent was bright yellow? Why is the beak so thin and short and dark?

...the throat was so BRIGHT. Why is the belly faded?
The bill looks quite different from that first photo...
Why doesn't the bill appear bicolored? What happened to the YELLOW belly?

 ...and that is how bright light and a positive ID at 7 pm, followed by photos around 8 pm, turned a perfect-on-paper Mourning Warbler into a Common Yellowthroat. 


Could there have been two birds yesterday?  A bright yellow undersided and a duller one.  The one in the photos was far duller than the bright bird we watched.

This morning?  The duller bird, quite like the photos at times, still inhabited the area.

We did not see it this evening to compare its looks in bright light.

It is important we check ourselves from time to time; even those among the most confident.  In reality, perhaps most importantly among the confident.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mourning in the Evening, Marathon, Brewster Co.

**first fall Common Yellowthroat, more later.** 11:16 pm - MWY

**Confusing fall warbler identification currently being discussed.** 10:36 pm - MWY

Mourning Warbler
Brewster Co.
PM of 9 October 2012

There have been at least 6 accidental records for this species in the trans-Pecos region.
None of which occurred later than late-August. (Birds of the Trans-Pecos, K.B.Bryan, 2002)

The above statement is in motion.  Not static.  We'll find out more, hopefully, and revise.

Mourning Warbler (Geothlypis philadelphia), immature, likely female

All of these photos are taken in low-light from this evening.  This bird was first seen foraging in the 6-foot tall globe mallow (Mallow-Zilla) that has hosted several warblers this summer - fall.  We anticipate it hosting many more.
Our little patch is "overgrown" with globe mallow,  cowpen daisy, etc.  Lots of butterflies and moths in all stages of life.  Lots to see for Lepidoptera-enthusiasts.  Lots to snack for insectivores migrating or coming home.

There is a nice tangle of allthorn and other shrubby vegetation near a slow drip.  The elaborate drip set up is an old garden hose.

Below is a rendition of a map depicting the range of the Mourning Warbler:

It is incredible to think that this bird, hatched from a nest in ... say Alberta, Canada, made it all the way down to this rectangle patch of high-desert called Marathon.  

Looking at this map, it is also satisfying to think that before it flies off to winter in Panama or further south that it found a quality pit stop.  Shelter, food, just a bit of water in abundance; well, at least shelter and food.

"Man, you two, your yard is really getting overgrown"


It only took two years for it to recover.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rare gull, two actually ... adult and a juvenile.
Balmorhea Lake
Reeves County
2 October 2012
Sabine's Gull, adult (Xema sabini)

First found by someone else (M. Lockwood) on the afternoon of 22 September, there may only be about five records of an adult of this species ever in the state of Texas.

Sabine's Gulls spend the summer breeding season at the furthest northern reaches of the continent near tundra ponds.

When not on breeding grounds, Sabine's Gulls are pelagic.  In other words spend their time over open ocean.

Sabine's Gulls of all ages, including young birds, sport this striking black-white-gray patterning on the upper-side of the wings and back that we see in the photo above. 
If you see this conspicuous pattern, it is diagnostic for this species.  
Beautiful bird.

Though difficult to see clearly in this photograph, Sabine's Gulls sport a forked tail.

Feeding behavior of this species was particularly enjoyable to observe yesterday.  
There are scores of minnows near, and at, the surface of the water.  Quite noticeable through the first hours after sunrise.

The Sabine's Gulls, as well as several other avian species on the water, gorged themselves on these minnows.

The Sabine's have a feeding methodology of flying to one point of the lake and landing at rest.  
Then, opening/flashing/shading reflection from the Sun with the wings. They do this once, twice, or thrice...
... fairly rapidly. Then...
This feeding methodology is incredibly enjoyable to observe.  I found myself imaging this very foraging behavior on ponds way up North in the tundra spring and summer. **Again, refer to map above**

The gull would then fly off, though not too high nor far, toward another location that looked promising for minnows.

What a wonderful species to have the privilege to observe.  It would be great to have that opportunity anywhere.

It was very special to have been granted that chance here in the trans-Pecos of far-West Texas.