Monday, February 28, 2011

Blue Bunting - Bentsen State Park

Blue Bunting

We got up early and headed to Bentsen State Park. We got to the park before the visitor center opened and walked on in to where the Blue Bunting had been seen. It didn’t take long before he showed up. He didn't get very close but we got some good looks. We watched him for about 20 minutes then headed back to the visitor center to catch the 8:30 bird walk. There were a lot of people waiting for the bird walk so we decided to skip it. We walked back in and walked down to the Kiskadee blind and sat there for a while. There wasn’t much at the bird blind so we walked on down to the hawk tower. There is a lot of water by the hawk tower but no new birds. We caught the tram and headed out.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Green Jay - I never get tired of looking at these colorful birds!

Great Kiskadee

Black-crested Titmouse

Altamira Oriole

Friday, February 25, 2011

Laguna Atascosa - birds and other things of interest

Congress designated the Refuge in 1946 to protect waterfowl, particularly the common Redhead. About 80 percent of the entire world Redhead Duck population spends the winter on the Laguna Madre.

An impressive 415 species of birds have been recorded at this refuge, more than any other National Wildlife Refuge in the United States.

Redhead Duck

We left the house at 6:30 this morning and drove to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Since we have decided we would like to volunteer there next winter, we wanted to go out and look at the volunteer campground and talk to some of the volunteers.

I went into the visitor center and talked to some of the ladies there. They all were very nice and told me they really enjoyed volunteering at Laguna.

Mark was outside and talked to Ed who was going to lead a bird walk at 8:30. We were the only ones on the walk so he gave us a tour of the volunteer RV sites and we chatted quite a bit about what he did there as a volunteer.

Mark with Ed (bird guide for Laguna)

Bewick Wren

After walking around with Ed, we drove the loop trail. The fog started rolling in and the wind was nice and cool!

Greater Roadrunner
The Roadrunner can run 15 miles per hour, probably with much faster spurts when chasing a fast-running lizard!

Overlook at Redhead Ridge (Bayside Lake)

Loggerhead Shrike
The Loggerhead Shrike is gradually disappearing from many areas. The reason is unknown.

Eastern Meadowlark

Long-billed Curlew
The Long-billed Curlew is the largest of our shorebirds.

Caspian Tern
The Caspian Tern is the largest of the terns and larger than many gulls!
When foraging it flies high over water, hovers, then plunges to catch fish below the surface.

Snowy Egret
Known by its contrasting yellow feet which some refer to as 'golden slippers'.

Northern Harrier
The only Harrier in North America.

White-tailed Hawk (immature)
A hawk of tropical grasslands and savannas, the White-tail is fairly common in places on the coastal prairie of Texas.

White-tailed Kite
In the 1940s this graceful hawk was considered rare and endangered in North America. It has increased greatly in numbers.

Greater Roadrunner

Laguna - Part 2

More critters from Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge:

This alligator lives in a concrete trough by the walking trail!

"Gator" food.
This Leopard Frog also lives in the concrete trough by the walking trail.
Our guide informed us that there aren't as many Leopard Frogs in the trough as there use to be. Hummmm...

We saw several Cottontail Rabbits on our walk.

There were lots of these beautiful Spanish Dagger's starting to bloom.

This Indigo Snake was so close Mark couldn't get a picture of all of him. He was wider than the trail (which is 5 feet wide) and his head was across one side before his tail had started over the opposite side!

Missed photo op:
While walking the trail around the visitor center we heard a lot of noise in the brush. It turned out to be a Coopers Hawk that had taken a Chachalaca! The Hawk was trying to walk on one foot while grasping the dead Chachalaca with the other claw! It was an amazing site. We didn't want to disturb or scare the hawk any more than necessary so we quietly walked away to leave him to his catch.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

The Osprey is one of the largest birds of prey in North America. It eats almost exclusively fish. It is one of the most widespread birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica.

Pandion haliaetus
The scientific name comes from the mythical king of Athens, Pandion, whose daughters were turned into birds, and the Greek words halos, which refers to the sea, and aetos, meaning an eagle. The common name is from the Latin word ossifragus, meaning "a bone breaker."

It is often seen flying over the water, hovering, and then plunging feet first to catch fish in its talons.

Ospreys have an opposable toe that can face forward or backward. While the bird is perched, it usually has three toes in front and one in back. When an Osprey catches a fish, its feet and toes are positioned with two toes on either side of the fish, one foot ahead of the other. The head of the fish faces forward in a streamlined position for transport through the air.

Barbed pads on the soles of its feet help it grip slippery fish.

They were seriously endangered before DDT and related pesticides were banned in 1972. Since then they have made a good comeback in many parts of North America.

Mark took these pictures at Laguna Atascosa.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Birds and Their Bills and other Programs

We were on a field trip one day and I mentioned to the Refuge Manager that Mark has a really fun presentation that he calls “Birds and Their Bills.” She asked him if he would give this program at Santa Ana on a Saturday. She also let him know that if he had other programs he would like to present to let her know.

Out of this came a four part series to be presented in the Santa Ana Auditorium on Saturdays at 3:00 p.m.

The first presentation (Birds and Their Bills) was a program that he has given a couple of times and it is a really fun way to look at birds and the shapes and sizes of their bills. He talks about how bird species have developed bills that give them an important advantage when competing with other species for food. He tells how a bird’s bill gives us important clues as to their food preferences, feeding behavior, and habitat requirements.

The boxes on the table hold replicas of bird skulls that we passed around for the audience to examine.

The programs are free, about one hour, and open to the public.

Here is a schedule and info on the upcoming programs:

March 5, 2011 - Bananas and Blacklights, What Goes on When the Sun Goes Down – There are more insect species in the world than any other group of organisms, yet we see only a few of them in our everyday lives. With many insect species being nocturnal, the use of baits and lures at night can be a great way to attract them for photography and identification. Santa Ana NWR field trip leader Mark McClelland used bananas and blacklights over a two year period at his home in Central Texas to attract a wide variety of insects. Come and share the pictures of bugs, beetles, butterflies and moths that were a result of this effort.

March 12, 2011 - Butterflies as Nature's Botanists – Most of us enjoy the colorful butterflies that grace our gardens year round in South Texas. And some have gone so far as to plant special gardens to attract the adult butterflies with flowers and nectar. Santa Ana NWR field trip leader Mark McClelland will reveal the amazing relationships that butterfly larva (caterpillars) share with specific host plants, requiring the female butterfly to be nature’s botanist in order to lay her eggs on exactly the right plant. This butterfly and host plant relationship is so specific that it may also be used to locate hard-to-find plants by following the correct female butterfly as she searches for a place to lay her eggs!

March 19, 2011 – Birding Northwestern Ecuador – Santa Ana NWR field trip leaders Mark and Teri McClelland traveled to Northwestern Ecuador in November, 2008, and spent two weeks finding and identifying the birds of this amazing region. From tropical lowlands to the high-elevation Paramo region, they enjoyed nearly 450 species of birds, including 49 different hummingbirds. Join Mark as he discusses the landscapes,

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Additional photos from Hugh Ramsey and Estero Llano

Here are some more really nice photos from Hugh Ramsey World Birding Center and Estero Llano Grande World Birding Center:

Green Jay

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Common Pauraque

Northern Shoveler

Spotted Sandpiper

Tricolored Heron

Pied-billed Grebe

Least Grebe

Hugh Ramsey Nature Park - World Birding Center

Mark got a new extension for his new camera lens and wanted to try it out so we drove out to the Hugh Ramsey Park in Harlingen. It’s another World Birding Center. It’s part botanical garden, part nature park.

The Ebony Trail is the portion of the park that has been developed into a botanical garden, going past different gardens, such as medicinal plants, and gardens dedicated to individuals. The trail splits into an upper portion and a lower portion. The upper portion is dryer; the lower portion is right on the banks of the arroyo.

There is a nice bird feeding area that we sat at for quite a while. There was a wonderful water feature but, unfortunately, all the water was shut off to the park and the small pond was almost empty.

We saw a few new birds and some old favorites.

Pine Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Lincoln's Sparrow

Hermit Thrush

Curve-billed Thrasher

On the way home we popped into Estero Llano Grande for a quick walk around the trails. With Mark's new camera lens, we feel we need to go to all the birding places again and get new pictures!

Ring-necked Duck

Wilson's Snipe


Blue-winged Teal

American Coots - Sparring

American Coots - displaying

Guess where we found this guy?

Alligator Pond, of course!