Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Houston Area from the Holidays: Brazos Bend State Park

Less than an hour drive from where we were stay in Missouri City, TX when we visit family, a big beautiful park has been hiding right under our noses. A lovely drive down some country roads, much like the back roads we drive around here in Oregon, led us to Brazos Bend State Park.

Oaks and Spanish Moss

Cypress tree

Little Yellow

As soon as we stepped out of the car, a bright male Vermillion Flycatcher greeted us as he flew back and forth from his little stand of branches in the lake, catching some tasty, Texas-sized bugs for sure. Although we had recently seen a female VEFL at Bear Creek Park a couple of days before, it’s really quite breathtaking to see a gorgeous, vibrant male.

Just moments after we saw this little guy, we were graced with the presence of our lifer Least Grebe! They were actually in the same field of view. I just kept zooming in and out with my binoculars and scope to toggle between checking out the handsome flycatcher to ogling the adorable Least Grebe! I could have just wiped my hands together in a satisfactory manner and said, “Well, we’re all done here!” But of course, we had just gotten started.

Least Grebe in the background, and that splotch of red is a Vermillion Flycatcher!

Least Grebe

Least Grebe

Least Grebe (chased by a Pied-Billed Grebe)

Here's that mean Pied-Billed Grebe

This is a big park, but we did not have all day, so we had to prioritize where to go. We decided to first walk the 1.7 mile loop trail around Elm Lake. We were on the hunt for some Eastern warbler species that had recently been seen there, but we didn’t have luck with those. But the Little Blue Heron, Common Gallinule, and Eastern Phoebe were kind to us.

Little Blue Heron

Eastern Phoebe

Common Gallinule (Still want to say Moorhen)

Common Gallinule

"I'm so pretty, oh so pretty!"

We also had quite an exciting moment when we had a fly by Crested Caracara!! It happened all so fast that we didn't get any photos. These are such handsome birds, and we had not seen them since our South Florida days. And even then, we had only seen them a couple of times. This was also a target bird for us once we saw that there were recent sightings for it. We couldn’t believe it was so close and accessible to us! Since I have no photos to share, enjoy these lovely Blue-Winged Teal and Alligator instead. :)

Blue-Winged Teal

Blue-Winged Teal

Blue-Winged Teal


Walking around the lake, we had some nice views of some other old friends, like Anhingas and White Ibis. They politely posed for us as we strolled around the trail. Also, it was an eerie sight to see the waterline from when it had likely flooded during the recent Hurricane Harvey. It’s good to know that these natural spaces can bounce back, especially with the help of dedicated employees and volunteers.

Evidence of how high the flood waters rose 

Notice the dark layer showing the flood line across the trees

White Ibis
White Ibis checking his pulse

Anhingas (aka Snakebirds) are really quite striking, especially when they are spreading their wings. And contrary to what many believe, Anhingas do have an oil gland! We saw it! I've read that the spread-wing posture may be more for thermoregulation rather than drying off.

We had a little bit of time to check out Creekfield Lake before heading out. We heard a Barred Owl asking, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” But as hard as we tried, we could not find him up in the tree to answer him! Along the swampy area, we mostly heard more of the appropriately named Swamp Sparrows. We really could only see obstructed views of them in the tall grasses. They know just how to fly high enough to get us excited, but duck down low again just enough to frustrate us. Just let us love you and see you!

Swamp Sparrow

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-Headed Vireo (such a cutie!)

Well, at least another handsome male Vermillion Flycatcher was much more obliging – leading us along the trail and posing ever so nicely for us as we crept up on him.

This place was so special, and we will definitely be back!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Enjoying an Early Spring at Sauvie Island and Newport

A welcome bout of warmish, sunny days meant we had a couple of days last weekend to plan a couple of semi-ambitious daytrips (ie, we left town). On Saturday we drove up to Sauvie Island to get our crane fix. Sandhill Cranes bugled away in big numbers, while we also counted Snow Geese in the hundreds, and Canvasbacks in the dozens. It’s always worth a winter tirp to Sauvie, even though we typically only make it up there once or twice a year.

Sandhill Cranes

The view of Mt. Saint Helens from Rentenaar Road

Afterwards, we decided to take a look for the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that had been found earlier in the week, not far from there. Not to be confused with the one in Beaverton that’s been hanging around reliably for months. This new one, in Columbia County, had been found along a paved trail that runs just behind the residential area. Sure enough, it turned up at the precise intersection (with Bird Rd., appropriately enough) where others had seen it.

It was nice to get YBSA for the state to complete our sapsucker set for Oregon. I miss seeing them reliably like we did when we lived back East, but at least we still manage to see them every year when we travel to Texas for the holidays. This one flew a circuit between only three or four trees, and never left the tiny perimeter it established for itself.

The sapsucker sees a couple of saps

While the sapsucker was busy sucking sap on high, the lower trunk had a couple of Brown Creepers creeping, until one of them stopped creeping and started sunning. It found a cushy patch of moss and spread itself to soak up some rays. It's hard enough just to catch one staying in one spot for more than a second, it was unprecedented that we found one in good light and posing in all its Certhiid glory.

Brown Creeper

We were heading to Beaverton next to run some errands and pay a visit the best noodle house around (Frank’s), so we figured we might as well pull a twofer, and see if we could turn up the other Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. We pulled up to Commonwealth Lake Park, and found the sweet gum trees easily enough. We even spotted a sapsucker right off the bat, but it ended up being a Red-breasted. We walked the path around the lake and found the resident ducks and grebes totally, ludicrously photogenic.

Pied-billed Grebe

American Wigeon

The American Wigeon were as tame as domestic Mallards, either swimming right up to the edge of the lake, or feeding en masse on the lawn and chasing breadcrumbs. A pair of Green-winged Teal even got into the action and rooted around in the mud and the puddles while I crouched down a few feet away.

Green-winged Teal

The following day we drove over to Newport for a quick coast trip. We strolled around Hatfield Marine Science Center where we picked up some year birds, but nothing mind-blowing. Our best find of the day came later at Ona Beach State Park, and it did actually blow our minds, even if it looked like it had been dead awhile (R.I.Petrel). From a distance it looked like a sub-adult gull, but up close we made out the naricorn. The bill was too short and stout for a shearwater, and eventually we figured out we had a Northern Fulmar on our hands. Pretty damn cool.

Northern Fulmar

From there we visited the Beaver Creek Natural Area where the clever Steller's Jays were finding a way of getting around the suet baffle

Just a couple of birds hanging out

We wrapped up the weekend by heading over to Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, where you can always see the pair of Peregrine Falcons that call the cliffs outside the visitor's center home. One of them had a small bird that it spent some time plucking and tucking into. Not a bad finale to a pretty packed weekend.

Peregrine Falcon

Underneath its tail you can see a leg and foot of its prey sticking out