Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Day of Sparrows

A couple weeks ago, we went out in the general area of the Katy Prairie to see what we could find. The day started off with a nutria and some gadwall and shovelers in a small pond.

We carried on some back roads until we came to a spot where we saw a small bird perched on a fence. We got out of the car, and before we knew it, there was a flurry of activity all around us. At least 25 White-crowned Sparrows mixed in with 5 or more Harris's Sparrows, 10 Field Sparrows a couple Chipping Sparrows and a Song Sparrow.

Field Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Immature White-crowned Sparrow

After enjoying this burst of activity, we walked down the road for a bit, where we were astonished to see a Lark Sparrow sitting on a telephone wire. We also saw Vesper and White-throated Sparrows, giving us a total of 8 sparrows for the day.

We finished off the day with a close sighting of 3 Caracaras.

This trip brought my year total to a meagre and disappointing 130, however, with a few sightings last week ( Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Purple Martin, Snow Goose, Brewer's Blackbird), I am now at 134. 
Stay posted.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Monitoring a Flicker nest

As spring approaches once again, I like to reminisce about the previous year and all of its most exciting moments.
For the past several years, flickers have nested in my neighbor's tree. I had never really observed this nest closely before; however, last year, I did just that.  Flickers usually excavate nest holes in dead or dying tree trunks or large branches. These nest holes are most often found at 6-15 feet off the ground and will often be reused.  By late May/ early June in Calgary most flickers have laid their 5-8 white eggs. I started to notice that the flickers were more active around the nest in early June and it is my belief that on around the 3rd or 4th of June, "my" pair laid their eggs.

This is the nest hole with the female looking out on June 10. The flickers had been in and out of the hole since late May
    Incubation of the eggs ranges from 14-16 days and I had been closely following all the bird's actions in attempt to discover when the eggs would hatch. On June 24, I heard the first sounds coming from the hole. The flickers had been born! I think that we can assume that there is a possibility that the young flickers were born a day or two earlier and I had not heard them until then.

If you compare this shot with the photo above, you can see that the leaves around the hole grew a lot as the summer progessed, adding even more security and privacy to the flicker residence.
The first visible evidence of the young flickers was the clean-up crew. As all parents can attest to, there is a lot of cleaning up involved with kids.  The adult flickers, both male (pictured in photo above) and female, had to work constantly to ensure that their young were well-fed, safe from predators and, perhaps most importantly, in a clean home.
July 1st came around and I had still not seen the young flickers, though I had definitely heard them. Each and every day they were getting louder and louder and soon I could hear them from across the alley, in my yard, maybe 35 feet away. The young flickers cry is often described as a hissing noise and is uttered for two weeks, day and night, growing stronger as the birds grow older.  I was not worried about not having seen the flickers yet as their eyes do not open until they are ten days old, so  wouldn't be seeing them until then. July 3, I was up in Banff, where I happened upon a flicker nest with two young already poking their heads out of their hole. At that point, I couldn't help but wonder how my flickers were doing.
July 5th, marked a special day for my monitoring project. That day, I got my first glimpse of the young flickers. I took my first photos of the young flickers on July 9th, and they were looking healthy and fit; all 3 of them!

But that's where it went all wrong. The nest holes of flickers (and often of many other species of birds) are the scenes of very fierce battles. Three young birds with very sharp bills, duking it out for supremacy and the right to remain looking out of the nest hole, therefore receiving the most food. The stronger birds almost invariably end up on top, and maintain their authority by jabbing the others with vicious pecks of their beak. The opening is only big enough for two heads and the third one gets pushed to the bottom. There, the young flicker receives very little food and consequently, it perishes. July 9th, I took the photo above, showing 3 young flickers. By the next day, July 10th, I was only seeing 2 young flickers.

Disappointed though I was, I realized that sometimes, this is the way nature must work. I continued to watch the flickers for several days, amazed at the rate at which they grew. After about 4 weeks, the flickers would fledge and would begin to leave the nest; my flickers started appearing out of the nest around July 16th. The two young birds started hopping about and practicing flying, getting ready for the day when they would leave the nest altogether.
Than one day, I did not see the flickers. Nor did I see them the next day. Or the day after that. It would seem that the two young flickers that I had watched for a nearly a month had successfully fledged. I don't think I ever saw these two again, though I was seeing flickers in the neighborhood, which might just have been one of the young. From time to time, I did hear the distant call of several Northern Flickers and I couldn't help but wonder if it was the fledgelings, calling away.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Meadowlark Mania

The local Eastern Meadowlark have been getting ready for spring these last few days; their drab winter yellows being replaced by a vibrant gold.

They have also been singing their hearts out, adding to the spring atmosphere.

Signs of spring are definitely in the air!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Washed out turtles

Recently, we have received quite a bit of rain and this has had some negative effects for the local turtles as they have been washed out of their regular homes. Unfortunately for these turtles, they are being washed into deep drainage ditches, where there is no hope for escape. These ditches don't have very much water either, so it doesn't allow the turtles to dive and allows for some good photography.

Here are some photographs of a large Red-eared Slider that was in the ditch, there were also several smaller Red-eared Sliders and a large Snapping Turtle which I did not manage to photograph well.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Birding Galveston and Bolivar Flats

This past weekend, I took a trip out to Galveston, Texas, about an hour south of Texas on the gulf of Mexico. Galveston has many world-reknown birding spots in and around it and is a great spot to observe birds year-round. This weekend was rainy and cool, but that didn't stop the birds! On a short ferry ride to Bolivar peninsula, home of the famous Bolivar Flats shorebird sanctuary, we saw many birds, including both species of pelicans and Common Loons and Red-breasted Mergansers, the latter two which winter down here.

Brown Pelican
Upon arriving on Bolivar, we stopped at a small pond and got great looks at many birds, including an American Avocet in winter plumage (a little different than what I am used to seeing up at Frank Lake in Alberta in the summer!) and a Texas specialty; the very bright Roseate Spoonbill.

Roseate Spoonbill
From a distance, the spoonbill is gorgeous, and even from close up it's amazing plumage is simply stunning, yet I found that its head was somewhat unnerving. Its face looks almost extraterrestrial, I find!
From the pond, we went to the Bolivar Flats shorebird Sanctuary where we saw some Black-bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones and... All I could myself was, "What the heck are those little shorebirds?" Why did I ask myself this? Because these little guys ran and ran and ran. They did not quit running! I soon got closer and identified them as Sanderlings, which I had seen before, yet never acting quite as comical. Never had I seen a bird run so much!

Running Sanderling

Ruddy Turnstone
We birded Bolivar for a while longer before returning to the ferry and heading back to Galveston. On the ferry back, we were treated to views of 4 species of Gulls (Herring, Laughing, Ring-billed and Bonaparte's) and 3 species of tern (Forster's, Common and Royal).

Bonaparte's Gull

Royal Tern
Birds weren't the only wildlife seen from the ferry however, as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins made an appearance towards the end.
It was an exciting trip with close to 70 species seen; this excursion really got me excited for spring migration here, which is absolutely fantastic, from what I've heard!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Oyster Creek Park

Last weekend, I took several trips out to a park in Sugarland called Oyster Creek Park. I was not expecting much but with a very good sighting of a Barred Owl the day before in a spot I wouldn't have expected to see one, I was hoping for some good birds.

I got some really good birds, including a pair of Wood Ducks, a Wilson's Warbler, a Marsh Wren, and a lifer Blue-headed Vireo, which I failed to photograph.

A good spot and was also interesting to see many fox squirrels and cottontails. One of the cottontails was nearly lunch for a hungry Red-tailed Hawk.

Fox Squirrel

 I am now at a total of 97 species