Monday, May 28, 2012

Call of the wild: More Red-shouldered Hawk photos

Went back to see the young Red-shouldered Hawk today. I went up to the grove of trees, looking for him on one of the branches only to be startled to see him perched on a metal pavilion merely 15 feet away from me, watching my every move. He is starting to fly pretty well now.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Inside the life of a young Red-shouldered Hawk

In my community, there lives a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks.  A common raptor of the east, the Red-shouldered hawk is perhaps the most vocal American hawk.

Nesting in forests with open understory, this predator builds a large bowl for a nest made of sticks, dried leaves, strips of bark, Spanish moss, lichens and live conifer twigs while lining the nest with fine bark, mosses and lichens. This nest is placed in the main crotch of a tree and is often found near water. The pair near my home bulit their nest near the bayou in some conifers with an open understory.

Red-shouldered Hawks normally lay from 2-5 eggs but upon finding the nest, I only saw one young one and only one fledged. Above is what the little guy looked like on May 6th. Below is what he looked like on May 26th, twenty days later. He grew fast!

Already, he's started to leave the nest and flap around. The incubation of Red-shouldered Hawk eggs is from 28-33 days. The hatchlings are brooded for up to 40 days, leaving the nest at around 6 weeks of age. However, they remain dependent on their parents until they are 17-19 weeks old. Seems like this guy will be hanging around his parents for a little bit longer as he only just left the nest a week and a half ago.


Here are some of the locals, taken on a walk the other day in my neighborhood.
Crested Caracara

Green Heron

Green Heron

Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Green Heron

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Deceptively Dangerous

Though this big guy doesn't quite look the most dangerous being with his eyes closed, I still would never want to get too close to him!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Catching up at Huntsville

Great day at Huntsville state park today. Lots of birds singing and I managed to add 9 to my year total, all 9 were lifers. Those 9 were:

  • Summer Tanager- 1 male seen and heard, several others heard
  • Great Crested Flycatcher- a pair seen and heard
  • White-eyed Vireo- lots singing, observed as well
  • Hooded Warbler- singing
  • Swainson's Warbler- singing
  • Norther Parula- singing
  • Louisiana Waterthrush- singing
  • Yellow-throated Vireo- 1 seen, several singing
  • Yellow-throted Warbler- singing
It really pays off to come here in the summer, especially if you know your bird songs. I'm not very good with songs but after several nights listening to the calls of these species, I was able to identify them today though there might have been several species that I missed.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bird Profile: Western Tanager

Each year, spring migration brings something different. The year I first bought my camera, back in Canada, migration brought to me several brilliant male Western Tangers. This was the first time that I was really enthusiastic about birding and, with birds like this in my backyard, it is not difficult to see why.

The Western Tanager has to be, in my honest opinion, one of the top 5 most beautiful species that we can see in Calgary. Its red, yellow and black plumage make it stand out during migration, when the trees are still bare of leaves, but be warned, once the leaves come out, this brilliant songster all but disappears into the forests, becoming rather inconspicuous despite its bright colors.

A bright-red head combined with black wings, back and tail and canary-yellow underparts and neck are what make the male so beautiful. The female, considerably duller, is green olive above and yellow below. Arriving in southern Alberta in early to mid-May (they arrive later in the month in the mountains), the Western Tanager heads to boreal and montane forests to breed. Though the species prefers coniferous and mixed forests for nesting, during migration, it frequents a wider range of forests.
The Western Tanager can be seen in the city in areas such as Bebo Grove in Fish Creek or Edworthy Park during the summer. Outside of the city, they can be seen in the mountains and in the Water Valley area, among other locations. During the month of May,you might even spot one in your own yard- they are most often seen among the higher branches of trees so remember to look up!

Did you know...
The red on the Western Tanager's face is formed by the pigment rhodoxanthin, a pigment not usually found in birds. The other tanagers (such as the Scarlet Tanager) make the pigments that give them their bright colors however, rhodoxanthin is not manufactured by the Western Tanager  meaning that they must obtain it from the food that they eat (probably insects who in turn gain this pigment from the plants they eat).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Another great day birding today; both at the local patch and at Kleb Woods Nature Preserve. Birds seen near home included Tennessee, Black-throated Green, Magnolia and Chestnut-sided Warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, American Redstarts and Swainson's Thrushes.
Female American Redstart

Couldn't help but take a photo of the local Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks

First time I have ever seen the males; and I saw a lot of them!

Common Grackles have fledged their young and are being very noisy currently

Oo! Whats that migrant in the tree? What!? A Green Heron!?

2 most prolific warblers of the day? Magnolia, above, and Chestnut-sided, below.

Not quite the tanager I was looking for but still a very pretty bird

A distant Tennessee Warbler
 At Kleb Woods, I added Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Red-eyed Vireo, among others. Not a bad weekend- definitely the best of the year so far!

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Saturday, May 12, 2012

It's been a long time coming

Finally, we had a fall-out at the local patch. It has been definitely a long time coming. Migrants seen included 60+ Eastern Kingbirds (most migrating overhead), 1 Baltimore Oriole, 3 Indigo Buntings, 2 American Redstarts, 1 Chestnut-sided Warbler, 1 Canada Warbler, 1 Wilson's Warbler, 1 Common Yellowthroat, many Least Flycatchers, several Willow Flycatchers, 1 Olive-sided Flycatcher and 2 Gray Catbirds.

Also saw some Spotted Sandpipers and some Pectoral Sandpipers today at the local pond and on a bayou.
Baltimore Oriole- looking the other way!

Female Chestnut-sided Warbler

Indigo Bunting

Magnolia Warbler

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Birding has highs... and it occasionally has lows

Sometimes, birding can exceed your wildest hopes. For me, this happened last year when I stumbled upon a Northern Hawk Owl on a midday walk in Fish Creek. Sometimes though, birding can let you down. For me, this happened just last week on a birding trip with the Houston Audubon down to the Texas coast.

Spring migration in Texas is world-famous among birders. Millions of  neotropical birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico heading north to their breeding grounds land at various spots along the Texas coast, exhausted from their non-stop trip across the gulf. When the weather is right, a fall-out can occur, in which many different species of migrants all drop into the trees of the first bit of land they see after the trans-gulf flight. This trip with the Houston Audubon down to the coast was supposed to witness one of these fall-outs. Except the birds never came.

When we arrived at the tiny but well-known Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary, the treetops (which should have been swarming with warblers, orioles, buntings, flycatchers and tanagers) were silent. Completely silent. We soon discovered that the strong south wind was blowing the migrants right on by. You see, with a powerful wind at their backs, these birds can conserve energy and travel faster; so why stop? Realizing that we weren't going to see much we started to leave, seeing both Brown-headed Cowbirds and Bronzed Cowbirds (neither is a migrant) on the way out.
Just as we were exiting, things started to pick up a little and we saw an Eastern Kingbird, 2 female Orchard Orioles and a very brief glimpse of a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, meaning that things weren't too bad.
From there, we headed down to the beach and jetty, where we were happy to see all 8 species of terns commonly seen on the upper Texas coast. As our group toured the surrounding beach, we observed many different species of shorebirds including pretty Black-necked Stilt, many Sanderlings, striking Ruddy Turnstones in breeding plumage and intriguing Dunlin. We also were given an opportunity to view Wilson's and Semipalmated Plover and tried our hand at the tricky identification of Western And White-rumped Sandpipers. All of these were just out of camera range but were beautiful up-close in our spotting scopes.

After gobbling down a quick lunch, our Houston Audubon group decided to explore the nearby Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge to see what else we could see. Brazoria, a refuge of grasslands and salt marshes quickly yielded up a lifer for me, a Least Bittern, which flushed from some reeds. We also saw Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Black-necked Stilt and good views of Sora (though the same cannot be said for the photos!)
As our group drove the auto-tour loop, we saw some more great birds such as Dickcissel. One car  had 3 handsome male Bobolinks singing. We even managed to spot a female Magnificent Frigatebird, which is always a highlight.
We finished our trip with about 80 species and though the songbird migration was definitely a low, the shorebirds and the activity at Brazoria were definitely highs and the trip was well worth it.