Sunday, January 21, 2018

All I Want for Christmas... are Some Year Birds

Guess what, folks – New Year’s resolutions work. If they didn’t there’s little chance you’d be reading this. Back in August we took an epic road trip throughout California, and around the same time we bought our first house, so there’s been plenty to keep us busy over here in Hipsterland. We’ll tackle CA in due course, but recently we’ve been sorting through photos from our holiday circuit, which brought us over to Upstate NY to visit my parents, and then down to Houston to see Maureen’s family.

Black-capped Chickadee

(Slate-colored) Dark-eyed Junco

We usually don’t have a lot of time to bird when we fly to NY, but the one patch we visit reliably is Schodack Island State Park, which BirdLife International deems an Important Bird Area because of its status as a breeding ground for Cerulean Warblers. No chance of seeing them in December – someday we’ll have to make it up there in spring – but we can usually turn up an American Tree Sparrow or two. Or in this case, 30.

American Tree Sparrow

In Texas we stayed in Missouri City, a bit southwest of Houston-proper. The manmade ponds in the local neighborhood are a sure bet for scads of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and assorted herons. The herons are a special treat, since we don’t get to spend much time with Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, or Tricolored Herons these days – also herons are what got me into birding initially, given the diversity of the eastern varieties.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks

Little Blue Heron

Snowy Egret

Bad hair day, or best hair day?

On our way out to the ponds, a pair of Black Vultures were picking over the remains of a roadkill squirrel. The vultures were crushed in turn by Maureen, who mercilessly slayed them with her lens. Circle of life. The vultures scarfed down their Sciurid lunch in the road, but scooted out of the way whenever a car passed. Seems like a crow would know better, and maybe remove the corpse to a sidewalk where it could enjoy its squirrel guts in peace. Vutures: they’re no crows.

Black Vulture

"Have Fun"

A stroll through Sienna Plantation is a major boon to our year lists and we can generally turn up birds we won't see anywhere else in our annual travels. Neotropic Cormorants are present in smaller numbers than the Double-cresteds, but we've been able to find them pretty reliably over our past few visits. As for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds -- I can't believe we used to live where we only had one species of hummingbird. As spoiled as we are to live out west now, I sure miss these guys. At least we still have a chance to find them now and again.

Neotropic Cormorant
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

One Houston park we’ve enjoyed in the past is Bear Creek Park where we visited last spring and picked up some good stuff, like Acadian Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Prothonotary Warbler. When I was looking through eBird reports this time around, I saw there were recent sightings of Couch’s Kingbird, LeConte’s Sparrow, and, oh yeah… Greater Pewee! (Spoiler, we didn’t find any of those)

Pileated Woodpecker

Pine Warbler

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

But we did still manage to leave perfectly satisfied with ourselves after tracking down a female Vermilion Flycatcher. We saw our first and only Vermilions in 2014 during our cross-country move. We’d hoped to find some at Joshua Tree this summer without luck, so this was a bit of a redemption.

Next time we'll pick up with a day-trip to Brazos Bend State Park to finish off our Texas trip.

Northern Mockingbird with a cutworm of some kind. Maybe we should import some mockingbirds to our yard while we still have some grass left.

Northern Cardinal

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