Close encounter.

Apologies for all the bird pictures of late.   But I’ve had a lot of birding moments since the new year began, so they dominate my thoughts.

This one was sweet.  I visited Pedernales Falls State Park today, which has a wonderful pair of bird blinds.  While I was inside one of the bird blinds, a little ruby-crowned kinglet hit the roof and fell inside the bird blind.  He was stunned, and stuck in a narrow opening in the wall.   I picked him up and set him on the floor.  He eventually got his wits about him again and flew off.

It is rare that I can even lay eyes on these guys long enough to identify them.  So I enjoyed getting an up close look at this little one.  I had my telephoto lens on my Olympus, so I had to take this macro shot with my iphone.  So tiny!

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First lifer of 2018.

I went for a hike today around our neighborhood greenbelt and pond.  I came across this white-throated sparrow, who posed just long enough for me to raise the camera, focus and press the shutter.   It’s a rare thing for me to have the sun at my back when I try to get an unexpected shot off.

It’s a pretty bird, with an even prettier song.

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By the way, “lifer” just means it is a first in my lifetime sighting of the species.

My modest year.

Birder’s track the number of bird species seen in their lifetime (a life list), and also keep track of those seen in a given year.  Sometimes, a birder sees an incredibly large number of species in a year, which is lauded as a “big year.”  This past year, 2017, was my first year of really paying attention to birds.  I have sought them out, listened to them, tried to lay eyes on them, and have learned much.  And…I am happy to tally 167 species that I have seen in 2017.  Not a big year, really, but a fantastic one in my book.  I can recall where I saw each of these birds this year; some, but not all, captured on film.  I look forward to more birding in 2018.

Here is a pic of a some of my common backyard birds on the fountain today.  Temperatures have been in the 20s for a couple of days.  Since the pump keeps the water moving, it is the only unfrozen source of water in the yard.  I see two female house finches, three male lesser goldfinches, and a female northern cardinal.

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And, there they go.  You have to be quick to capture the birdies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

CBC 2018.

Yesterday, I participated in the 118th annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for an area around the Pedernales River out in the Texas Hill Country.   This was my second time doing it.   The first time, last year, was my first real birding experience and I enjoyed it immensely.   In the year since, I must admit that I have officially caught the birding bug and have many hiked many miles and logged hundreds of hours seeking out and identifying birds.

So, yesterday,  I was a much better birder.  And because of that, I enjoyed it more, and saw some new (for me) birds – aka “lifers.”   Thankfully, while the collective consensus weather forecast was for downpours all day long, it only rained a bit in the morning, and we were left with just fog and humidity for the rest of the day.  We hiked through woods, canyons, river and creek-side trails from about 8AM to 4PM.   Our group logged 40-50 species, most of which I was able to spot in my binoculars.

Yes, the birding was nice, but it is just good for my soul to get out and experience places like this…

A damp and foggy overlook above the Pedernales River:

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A sparrow-laden native prairie on an uplands section:

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There is still time to join in on a CBC in your area – going on through January 5th.  Check out the Audubon website to look for sign ups in your area.

Backyard visitor.

Nearly every day I see a Cooper’s Hawk in the backyard.  I think there is a juvenile and an adult that visit.  I watched this adult in the birdbath on Thanksgiving Day Eve.  It may be a female, as they are larger than a male, and this bird is pretty big.  Not a great quality photo because it was taken through a window, but what a beautiful bird.

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Desert bird report.

In addition to having a wonderful visit with old friends, I did see birdies while visiting Palm Desert last over the weekend.

Right outside our house there were 2 palm trees on an island in a large pond on the golf course.  Every night cormorants and egrets would come and roost.   They came late and left early.  I counted at least two dozen at one point.  This is a shot from one morning as the sun was rising.

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An American Kestrel visited me while I was drinking coffee one morning; he’s backlit by the rising sun.  This is the first picture I have ever gotten of one.

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A blue heron made an appearance.  There were a number of mallard ducks in the ponds at the golf course.  I saw a belted kingfisher flying away from the pond every night.  We had a couple of bewick’s wrens scolding us when were out on the patio.  We had many hummingbirds buzzing around.  A flock of Canada geese flew over us on the way to the airport.  There was a flock of unidentified colorful birds that stopped in a Joshua tree while we were in the park, but I didn’t get a good look.  I also saw a verdin, and a cactus wren;  both firsts for me.

 

DOWO.

With the Cooper’s hawk flying through regularly, my backyard bird activity has dropped significantly.  But the resident Downy woodpeckers are not phased by it.  I have at least one male/female pair.  They frequent the feeder all day, every day.   This is a photo of a female downy woodpecker (DOWO) on the finch feeder.  They love to pick the sunflower chips out of the mix.  Downy’s are notoriously difficult to ID versus the similar looking, but larger, Hairy woodpecker species.  In this photo, though, you can see a couple of the markers that confirms it is a downy:  the relatively short beak, and the black flecks on the outer white tailfeathers.  Here’s a link to Audubon guidance on differentiating the two species.

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Second chance.

I was sitting on the back patio today when four beautiful warblers decided to take a bath in the fountain, about 10 feet away from me!   I was treated to a yellow warbler, two black-throated green warblers, and a mourning warbler.  I had my binoculars so I enjoyed a nice long look.  But of course, the camera was in the house.   After they had moved on, I went back in for my camera.   The earlier photo opp didn’t repeat, but I did get a shot or two of a beautiful yellow warbler that dropped down to the fountain for a drink.   Fall migration is on!

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Who’s here?

Keeto often asks us, “Who’s here?”   Well, this morning, when I opened up the blinds to look at the back yard, I was excited to see a flock of baltimore orioles in the bird bath/fountain that I put out in the spring.  There were many more in the trees above, taking turns bathing.   The orioles are currently migrating south for the winter.  In the spring, on their way north, I only got a moment’s glance at a single male baltimore oriole.  Today though, I got to enjoy them for about 15 minutes.   And then, poof, they were gone.   I hope they remember to stop here on their way back next spring.

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Messing with my mojo!

Since coming home from our road trip, I have noticed a marked decrease in my backyard birdie population.   I suspected a hawk was the reason.  And today, sure enough, while sitting out back I saw one swoop through the backyard scattering the few birds that were at the feeders.   Later in the day, the hawk flew in again and perched on an oak across from me for a few minutes.  It is huge.  I believe this is a juvenile Cooper’s hawk.   Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks, both accipiters, are very hard to distinguish from one another.   Based on field guidance I’ve read online (e.g., here, here, here and here), the overall size, head shape, tail shape, thick legs, and breast streaking lead me to lean towards a Cooper’s ID.  Either way, it’s a beautiful bird, but I wish it would find another yard to terrorize.  I miss my abundance of birdies.  

Sweaty betties.

I went birding and hiking today with my friend, Doray.  We started early, at Reimer’s Ranch Park, and then did the guided tour of the canyon and grotto at Westcave Preserve.  After that, we went back to Reimer’s to hike their River Trail.

Let me just say, “Whoo dogie, it was HOT!”   Whew!  100 degrees or so.  But it was beautiful, we did see lots of birdies, and we enjoyed a lovely day in our hill country.  Pretty good day.

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