Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: birding (page 1 of 6)

Birding Central Park

We spent a few days in New York City last weekend and early this week, and I spent Monday exploring and birding Central Park. I’d read that the park is a major stopover point for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway and since this is migration season, I figured it would make for a good day.

A guidebook in the hotel suggested that The Ramble would be a good place for birding since it’s the wildest corner of Central Park, featuring landscapes similar to what might have existed in Manhattan before Europeans came. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the area certainly was wilder than the rest of the park and to my surprise the birds most common in the rest of the city—pigeons, starlings, and house sparrows—were virtually absent in The Ramble.

The weather was beautiful, a cool and crisp autumn day, of the kind I especially love and haven’t seen since leaving Rhode Island 22 years ago. I’ve been back up to the northeast several times since then, but never in the fall. Unfortunately, the leaves were only just starting to change, but some of the trees had come into their fall reds, oranges and yellows and after all these years in Texas, that was a real treat.

We were staying in Midtown so I came up Park and entered the park at 59th, bought a map and headed toward The Ramble to lose myself. I’ve been in Central Park before, but this was the first time I’ve been able to spend time slowly exploring it, and discovering for myself what a treasure it is.

Once I got to The Ramble, I immediately noticed that the pigeons were gone. You can hurry through those looping and winding trails and probably not see much more than the ubiquitous gray squirrels, but when you stop for a few minutes, quiet and patient, the ground comes alive with white-throated sparrows digging in the leaf litter or jumping onto weed stalks to shake some seed loose as they ride the stalks to the ground. At first, I saw only the occasional weed dipping and then popping back up, but on closer inspection, I realized that it was the sparrows doing this.

White-throated Sparrow

It wasn’t long before I forgot the city all around me; I suppose that’s part of the point of Central Park, creating an illusion of wilderness and a connection with nature that I think would seem pretty dear to me if I lived in a place like New York. Occasionally I would notice the tops of the big apartment buildings of the Upper West Side and feel almost surprised by the sight… oh, yeah, that’s there. I’m in the middle of this giant city.

American Robin

I saw several birds that were new to me: hermit thrush, white-throated sparrow, winter wren, golden-crowned kinglet, black-capped chickadee, and (I think) rusty blackbird. I also saw a couple of species I have only seen once or twice before:  dark-eyed junco and white-breasted nuthatch. I spent a lot of time focusing on and trying to watch these new birds that are rarely, if ever, seen in Texas.

Hermit Thrush

At one point, I heard what I think was a red-shouldered hawk. The gray squirrels bolted for the trees and the birds froze when the hawk flew over. The hawk’s voice was similar to what I’m used to hearing from the red-shoulders down here, but there was a slight difference in accent. I only got a quick glimpse through the trees as he soared overhead, but size and shape were about right for a red-shoulder.

Northern Cardinal

Coming out of The Ramble, I came to a meadow filled with dark-eyed juncos. I watched them for a while, trying not to appear too interested in the scene in the middle of the meadow where a guy on his knees was clearly proposing to a woman. It was a beautiful scene with the light slanting through the trees and golden leaves drifting down all around them. I wanted to try for some shots of the juncos, but the couple would have been in the background, and I didn’t want to appear to intrude on their moment, so silently wishing them all happiness, I moved on.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

After The Ramble, I headed back toward the east side again to go to the Guggenheim Museum, one of the New York things I’d never done in all the times I’ve been up there and so I left the park at 90th and went to the museum. It was interesting, but my heart wasn’t in it. I walked quickly through the exhibits, stopping to study a few of the pieces here and there, but after a morning among changing trees, migrating birds, and foraging squirrels, the art in the museum seemed somehow empty to me and so I left the museum and headed back to the park. Perhaps I’ll give it a closer look if I ever find myself up there on an inside kind of day.

I walked around the reservoir back toward the west side. I considered, briefly, walking all the way to the northern end of the park, but I was starting to get tired and the hike back to Midtown already seemed like it would be long enough so I saved that part of the park as something to look forward to for next time.

After a tasty dog at a Shake Shack on the Upper West Side, I headed back for The Ramble, quickly losing myself in its meandering trails. This is where I found the golden-crowned kinglet and a blackbird that I think is a rusty. I got this picture and some good looks, long enough to tell he wasn’t a red-wing or a grackle. I’ve heard rusties are getting scarce, and I hoped that that wasn’t why he was alone.

Common Grackle or perhaps a Rusty Blackbird?

Eventually, it was time to go and so I left The Ramble and walked through The Mall and out of the park at Fifth and 59th back into the bustle of Midtown where I saw the damndest thing: a line of people waiting to get into Abercrombie & Fitch, which really surprised me since I can’t imagine waiting in line to get into a store that has a website especially when something as magnificent and lovely as Central Park is only a couple of blocks away and the day was so autumn perfect.

Here’s my list with stars by the ones that were lifers for me:

  1. Winter wren *
  2. White-throated sparrow *
  3. Red-shouldered hawk
  4. American crow
  5. European Starling
  6. Rock dove (pigeon)
  7. House sparrow
  8. Downy woodpecker
  9. Black-capped chickadee *
  10. Tufted titmouse
  11. Mallard
  12. Ruby-crowned kinglet
  13. Hermit thrush *
  14. Blue jay
  15. American robin
  16. White-breasted nuthatch
  17. Golden-crowned kinglet *
  18. Red-bellied woodpecker
  19. Canada goose
  20. Northern cardinal
  21. Mourning dove
  22. Common grackle or perhaps a Rusty (?) blackbird *

Here’s a link to a .pdf checklist of the Birds of Central Park.


Ladder-backed Woodpecker

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker, which did not show up in these counts

Since finishing my small year, I’ve enjoyed going back to not counting birds quite so much. I’m still participating in Project FeederWatch and I did the Great Backyard Bird Count the weekend before last, but it’s good to just enjoy the birds for what they are instead of as checks on a list.

Still, I do like participating in these citizen science projects and so I’m list blogging, which seems hardly worthy of the Kreativ Blogger Award kindly bestowed on my by Angie at woman, ask the question.

For the GBBC, I counted along the pond trail after work on Friday and then stuck with my backyard on Saturday and Sunday, which are my Project FeederWatch count days anyway. I didn’t do a GBBC count on Monday.

This year’s count yielded no surprises. I haven’t seen anything new in the neighborhood or in my yard this year, and I haven’t seen any American Goldfinches. Maybe the Lesser Goldfinches have claimed the yard, but last year I regularly saw both species.

And here are the counts. The numbers in parentheses indicate the greatest number of individuals seen at one time…

GBBC Day 1 (2.12.10): Pond Trail:

  1. White-winged Dove (4)
  2. Northern Mockingbird (1)
  3. Carolina Wren (1)
  4. Eastern Phoebe (1)
  5. American Crow (4)
  6. American Coot (1)
  7. Ring-necked Duck (3)
  8. Gadwall (30)
  9. American Widgeon (9)
  10. Pied-billed Grebe (1)
  11. Yellow-rumped Warbler (1)
  12. Blue-winged Teal (3)

GBBC Day 2 (2.13.10): Backyard:

  1. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  2. Chipping Sparrow (13)
  3. House Sparrow (3)
  4. Carolina Wren (2)
  5. Bewick’s Wren (1)
  6. White-winged Dove (10)
  7. Lesser Goldfinch (3)
  8. Blue Jay (1)

GBBC Day 3 (2.14.10): Backyard:

  1. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  2. Blue Jay (2)
  3. Northern Mockingbird (1)
  4. Mourning Dove (1)
  5. White-winged Dove (9)
  6. Carolina Wren (2)
  7. Lesser Goldfinch (5)
  8. Chipping Sparrow (23)
  9. House Sparrow (1)

Project FeederWatch – Month 3 (a running total):

  1. White-winged Dove (23)
  2. Mourning Dove (1)
  3. Blue Jay (3)
  4. Carolina Chickadee (2)
  5. Black-crested Titmouse (2)
  6. Carolina Wren (2)
  7. Bewick’s Wren (1)
  8. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
  9. Northern Mockingbird (1)
  10. European Starling (1)
  11. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  12. Chipping Sparrow (24)
  13. Northern Cardinal (1)
  14. HOuse Finch (2)
  15. Lesser Goldfinch (7)
  16. House Sparrow (17)

Be sure to check out the latest edition of I and the Bird (#119) hosted at Somewhere in NJ, which includes my poem “Hummingbird Heading Out to Sea.”

Neighborhood Small Year 2009

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

During the second week of January 2009, while walking along the trail that runs down to the little pond in our neighborhood, I decided to make it a point to come out at least once a week and count birds to try to get a sense of what birds are in the neighborhood, when they’re here and how many I could see.

I jokingly called it my Pond Trail Big Year, mainly because I didn’t expect to see all that many birds on our little stretch of trail. It turned out to be more of a medium or even small-sized year, but still worth every moment. Keeping counts and lists is cool, but for me it’s more of a memory tool since I’ve never been terribly competitive about such things.

I managed to keep my commitment to birding the trail at least once per week, expect for a week in May when we were in Missouri and a week in August when we were working at Camp Periwinkle. In all, I counted 61 species on the pond trail and if I also include the birds I saw at my house and the birds I saw on the regional trail (with which the pond trail connects) leading to the lake where Double-crested Cormorants, Ring-billed Gulls and Greater Roadrunners can be seen, the number jumps to 67 birds seen on foot, which is a decent number, I think, for someone still learning to find birds.

Ring-billed Gull

It wasn’t long before I started paying attention to more than just the birds. There are trees, wildflowers, rabbits, turtles, deer, butterflies, snakes, and frogs out there. I started to try to pay more attention to those things as well, and it wasn’t long before I went beyond just birding to a different kind of seeing that seemed more a witnessing the little patch of nature just beyond my yard.

Blotched Water Snake

Some of my most memorable days include the day after one of our hailstorms when I saw an Osprey and a Black-and-white Warbler on the same day; the day I discovered the Blotched Water Snakes that live under the bridge; or the time I watched a Yellow-crowned Night Heron catch and kill a crawfish (which made me realize that being boiled alive is probably the easy way out for a crawfish compared to the hard way administered by the night heron).

American Robin

There were times, particularly during last summer’s especially brutal drought-ridden days of infernal heat, on which I had to force myself to get out, knowing I would see only grackles and vultures, but even that was fun since I really do like those birds quite a bit.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

I learned a lot about the seasonal migration patterns of my local birds. Things like when the different duck species come and go from the pond, which ones just pass through and which ones stay. I learned where to look for different kinds of birds and what to listen for and how to let my ears guide my eyes when trying to find something.

Ring-necked Ducks and Gadwalls

In addition to learning a lot about birding, I realized some things about the kind of birder I am. I rarely drive to go birding and when I do, it’s usually just to go somewhere else in Austin like Hornsby Bend. There’s something immensely satisfying about walking out one’s door and seeing the birds that live nearby. Considering the toll taken on all wildlife by cars and roads, birding by foot just seems a bit greener, and getting to know an area inspires a deeper understanding of a place that goes beyond the superficial. I think I’d rather know every bird in my neighborhood than see every bird in the state (which isn’t to say I don’t try to see as many birds as I can; rather, I’m just not going to kill myself—or anything else—to do it).

Other people joined me on these walks: my wife (quite frequently), my parents, my father-in-law, various houseguests. It was fun to be able to share some of the discoveries I’ve made, and those were some of my favorite walks.

Here’s the final 2009 Neighborhood Small Year list with stars next to the ones that were life birds:

  1. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck *
  2. Gadwall
  3. American Wigeon *
  4. Blue-winged Teal *
  5. Northern Shoveler
  6. Northern Pintail *
  7. Ring-necked Duck *
  8. Pied-billed Grebe *
  9. Double-crested Cormorant
  10. Great Blue Heron
  11. Great Egret
  12. Little Blue Heron
  13. Green Heron
  14. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  15. Black Vulture
  16. Turkey Vulture
  17. Osprey
  18. Accipiter sp. *
  19. Red-shouldered Hawk
  20. American Coot
  21. Killdeer
  22. Ring-billed Gull
  23. White-winged Dove
  24. Mourning Dove
  25. Greater Roadrunner
  26. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  27. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  28. Belted Kingfisher *
  29. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  30. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  31. Downy Woodpecker
  32. Eastern Phoebe
  33. Ash-throated Flycatcher *
  34. Western Kingbird
  35. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  36. Blue Jay
  37. American Crow
  38. Purple Martin
  39. Barn Swallow
  40. swallow sp.
  41. Carolina Chickadee
  42. Black-crested Titmouse
  43. Carolina Wren
  44. Bewick’s Wren
  45. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  46. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  47. Eastern Bluebird
  48. American Robin
  49. Northern Mockingbird
  50. European Starling
  51. Cedar Waxwing
  52. Orange-crowned Warbler *
  53. Yellow-rumped Warbler *
  54. Black-and-white Warbler *
  55. Common Yellowthroat *
  56. Chipping Sparrow
  57. Song Sparrow *
  58. Northern Cardinal
  59. Red-winged Blackbird
  60. Common Grackle
  61. Great-tailed Grackle
  62. Brown-headed Cowbird *
  63. Baltimore Oriole *
  64. House Finch
  65. Lesser Goldfinch *
  66. American Goldfinch
  67. House Sparrow

I’m looking forward to my next walk. I’ll probably keep walking the trail weekly since I did that anyway, but if I don’t feel like it, I won’t. It will also be nice to enjoy walking without listing and counting, though I’ll still list occasionally and continue posting those numbers to ebird for whatever scientific value it may serve.

This was a good exercise for me, but I’m glad to be able to just get back to walking and enjoying the birds, which is what it’s supposed to be about anyway.

Update: This post was included in I and the Bird #118 at Ben Cruchan – Natural History.

More Trees & Winter Trail

Twisted Branch

I noticed this tree the other day while I was walking along the neighborhood trail looking for birds. As to birds, I mostly saw the usual suspects, though I did see Cedar Waxwings, which was the first time I’ve seen them in the neighborhood. The Ring-necked Ducks finally returned as well, but this time, I tried to see the trees and spend some time with them.

It was cold here last week, the coldest it’s been since 1976 according to the paper, and so I set out to see if things looked different in that brittle winter light we see so rarely here.

It’s been dry so no snow or freezing precipitation, but I did see some ice along the muddy edge of the stream. I doubt I would have seen it if I hadn’t first heard my boots crunching through it. Nothing too impressive as far as ice cover goes, but ice outside of a drinking glass is a novelty around here.

This is the view looking up the stream (southwest). I still can’t get over the damage last summer’s hailstorm did. Most of the trees that lost their fight with the sky that night have been cleared away, but I like that this one was left over the creek like a little bridge for night-scurrying animals.

I wonder if a small tornado came through this part of the trail since so many trees were felled. If you draw a line from this spot to our house and a few blocks beyond, most of the roofs along that line had to be replaced (including ours). I guess the trees didn’t stand much of a chance.

I’ll write about the birds and my big medium small year that concluded with this icy walk in the next few days.

Just for grins, I recoded my site so that the sidebar loads after the posts, a thing which needed doing for quite some time. It’s nothing a reader would likely notice except that the site might load faster now, but what prompted me to do it is this nice enhanced gallery feature in WordPress 2.9. Here’s a gallery of pictures from my walk. Clicking on them will display them at a higher resolution on their own image pages.

In non, tree, bird or WordPress news, I was happy to see that my prose/poetry piece “The Man Who Spoke the Law” (originally published at qarrtsiluni back in October) was included on Adam Ford’s January 2010 Poetry Mixtape. Check it out. He says nice things about “The Man Who Spoke the Law” and there are links to some really terrific poems on the same mixtape.

Solstice Birding at Hornsby Bend

Trail at Hornsby Bend

River Trail leading to Pond 3 at Hornsby Bend

I started winter (and Christmas vacation) with a morning at Hornsby Bend. I hadn’t been since July when I came to check on the swallows and long-legged waders that own the place in summer. In winter it’s all about ducks, and Monday was a perfect day for birding so I headed down.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

As expected, I mostly saw American Coots, Northern Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks, though I did see a few Buffleheads on Pond 1 East. I parked on the road between Pond 1 East and Pond 1 West and using the car as a blind, I was able to watch a flock of Least Sandpipers poke around the edges of 1 West while a few Killdeer hung around the periphery like avian shepherds, or perhaps overlords, watching their smaller kin.

Around the road to Pond 2, I saw more of the above-mentioned ducks, but as the road entered the woods, the Ruby-crowned Kinglets appeared, flitting across the road and sometimes stopping to have a look at me as I drove by. I stopped too.

On a winter branch,
a kinglet inclines his head,
shows his ruby crown.

I parked at the blind at Pond 2 where I watching the coots and ducks paddle around, forming great circular clusters (clusterducks?) in the pond, probably to conserve heat since unlike me, they were without coffee.

I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk nearby, so I headed down the river trail to see if I could find him. I never saw him, and when I heard him again he was farther off down the Colorado, but the trees were singing with birds, shaking off the cold and starting up for the day. In addition to the kinglets, cardinals, Song Sparrows, chickadees and wrens were everywhere. Though I didn’t actually see a Carolina Wren, there was one singing loud nearby and he seemed to be following me along the trail.

From the upper island view blind, I saw a mixed flock of Gadwalls and American Wigeons floating on the slow-moving river. I hung out at the upper island view for a while, digging the beautiful crisp morning and waiting to see what presented itself.

That’s one of the great things about birding, that waiting. Even though I tend to list (and upload my lists to ebird for whatever value they may have to the ornithologists at the Cornell Lab of O) I don’t tend to go hunting with the mindset of I’ve-got-to-find-this-bird. Once in a while, but not often. It’s best to see what birds come along and just enjoy what nature serves up on any given day.

Soon, the ducks flew upriver and out of sight, but watching the river drift by is good too so I did that for a while before I started to hear my coffee calling from the car. I went back and drove along Pond 2 to the greenhouse and parked there to walk out to Pond 3.

As I approached the river trail a small flock of something darted out of the sky and into the treetops. I glassed (I don’t know if that word has been used by anyone other than Cormac McCarthy, but it’s a great verb for this kind of thing) the treetops and saw my first life bird of the day: Cedar Waxwing. They say they’re common here in winter, but I’ve been looking for three years now and Monday was the first time I’d seen one.

They were high in the tree, almost beyond the useful range of my telephoto lens, but for what it’s worth here’s a picture.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

I watched the waxings for a while, admiring these lovely little birds that seemed content just to ride the slow waving branches at the tops of the trees. Soon enough, they departed and so did I, continuing along the trail to Pond 3 on which there were more Northern Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks.

I did see a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in a tree. They seemed to be hollering at each other. Like the waxwings, they were almost beyond the reach of my camera gear, but for what it’s worth, here’s a picture.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Close to lunchtime, I headed back to the car and drove out along Pond 1 West, where I saw perhaps thousands more ducks poking around on the mud flats. Among the shovelers, I saw a few glimpses of something new to me. I parked and searched through the horde of ducks until I found life bird number 2 for the day: Green-winged Teal.

It never ceases to amaze me how many and what variety of birds can be seen at Hornsby Bend right here in the Austin city limits. Every time I’ve been, I’ve seen something I’ve never seen before. Amazing considering I never go there looking for anything.

Here’s the list:

  1. Gadwall
  2. American Wigeon
  3. Northern Shoveler
  4. Green-winged Teal
  5. Bufflehead
  6. Ruddy Duck
  7. Great Blue Heron
  8. Great Egret
  9. Red-shouldered Hawk
  10. American Coot
  11. Killdeer
  12. Least Sandpiper
  13. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  14. Eastern Phoebe
  15. American Crow
  16. Carolina Chickadee
  17. Tufted/Black-crested Titmouse
  18. Carolina Wren
  19. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  20. Northern Mockingbird
  21. European Starling
  22. Cedar Waxwing
  23. Orange-crowned Warbler
  24. Song Sparrow
  25. Northern Cardinal
  26. Red-winged Blackbird
  27. meadowlark sp.
  28. House Finch

Update: This post was included at I and the Bird #116 at Listening Earth Blog. Check out the rest of the birds there.

Project FeederWatch – Month 1

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

I learned so much about my backyard and its avian visitors last year that I decided to participate in Project FeederWatch again. Plus, it’s good to be a part of this citizen science project sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Unlike last year, I won’t be posting my weekly counts here. Instead, I’ll do updates monthly or so.

I started counting for this feeder watch season on the weekend of November 14th. Most of the usual suspects have checked in, though I haven’t seen any Northern Cardinals or Mourning Doves yet.

American Goldfinch hasn’t stopped by either, though they didn’t show until January last time. The Lesser Goldfinches have grown scarce since I moved the feeder. I guess they don’t approve of the new location, so I’ll probably move it back.

The Chipping Sparrows returned for the winter, right on schedule in early November, and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Orange-crowned warbler, the other winter residents, are enjoying the suet feeders.

An accipiter, probably Sharp-shinned Hawk, swooped through the yard too, but not on a count day. I haven’t seen a hawk in the yard since March so I’m assuming it’s one of the migratory sharpies.

Here’s the tally after one month with highest counts in parentheses:

  1. White-winged Dove (23)
  2. Blue Jay (3)
  3. Carolina Chickadee (1)
  4. Black-crested Titmouse (2)
  5. Carolina Wren (2)
  6. Bewick’s Wren (1)
  7. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
  8. Northern Mockingbird (1)
  9. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  10. Chipping Sparrow (6)
  11. Lesser Goldfinch (4)
  12. House Sparrow (12)
Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Birding the Neighborhood Trail

Reflections 1

They said it would snow today. The blizzard of aught-nine was on its way. There were some flurries around lunchtime, enough to enjoy the feeling of being snowed upon, but soon the temperature dropped and the sun came out to create the kind of brilliant and crisp day we so rarely see here. A great day for hiking while wearing a coat, another novelty of sorts.

I followed the north-running stream through the neighborhood greenbelt, stopping on the little footbridge to try to ID a bird call I wasn’t familiar with. Soon, I saw the bird, which turned out to be a Belted Kingfisher. It’s only the second time I’ve seen one and the first time on this little stretch of trail.

I stood on the bridge, kind of losing track of time and letting it flow along with the water below me, content to be outside and cold and remembering those fierce days we had last summer on which cold and water seemed such impossibilies.

Reflections 2

After coming back to reality, I took a few pictures of the play of colors on the water and tried to figure out where that kingfisher had got to. I knew which tree he was in, but from where I stood, he was too well hidden, but I was treated to the surprise of a Great Egret hanging out in a nearby tree. These guys are pretty common around here, but they’re usually a little farther downstream at the pond rather than around the bridge.

Great Egret in a Tree

I spent a little more time looking around for the kingfisher since they’re relatively new birds for me and I’ve never gotten a picture of one, but it was not to be. I continued along the trail to the pond where I counted 51 Gadwalls dabbling and quacking around in circles. I’m sure there were more as I could see the silhouettes of a number of ducks in the glare on the pond, but I couldn’t tell what they were. Among the Gadwalls, I saw three American Wigeons. It’s nice to see the ducks are filtering back for the winter.

Speaking of coming back for the winter, the other day I saw an accipiter (most likely a Sharp-shinned Hawk) like the one that lurked around my yard last winter make a pass over the bird feeder. I wonder if it’s the same one.

In addition to the ducks, I saw Yellow-rumped Warblers and, I think, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but he flew off before I could be sure.

It wasn’t long before the cold seeped through my coat and my hat and heading home seemed like a good idea, though I wanted to stick around and look for that Red-shouldered Hawk who’s been refusing to let me get a good picture of him all year. Maybe next time.

Reflections 3

Birding the Pond Trail, First Week of Autumn

Last week, the first day of autumn brought a cold front and rain so it actually felt like fall for a few days. I took a walk down the trail that runs through our neighborhood and was surprised to see that some of the winter residents had started to come back. I didn’t bring my camera since it was raining so no pictures.

I wasn’t expecting to see anything more than the grackles, vultures, jays and doves that I’ve been seeing all summer on these weekly counts down the trail so I was happily surprised by the tapping of woodpeckers. Ladder-backs and Red-bellies are fairly common in the neighborhood during fall and winter, but other than a Downy I saw back in July I hadn’t seen one or heard a woodpecker since early April, but I saw at least 2 Ladder-backs and I think I heard a few more farther down. Welcome back, woodpeckers.

As I approached the pond, I saw one of the Red-shouldered Hawks swoop out over the trail. He had some unfortunate something in his talons. Based on size and color, I suspect it was a dove. I saw him again a little farther along. This time he was sitting in a branch about 30 feet off the trail. He stuck around long enough for me to get a quick look and wish I’d brought the camera since it had stopped raining. This hawk has been teasing me all year and one of these days, I’m going to get a decent picture.

When I got to the pond, I was surprised to see a few ducks. I counted 3 Blue-winged Teal in the reeds on the far side. A few days later, I spotted 6 of them, so the ducks are starting to filter back in from points north. I also spotted 3 Pied-billed Grebes swimming in tight formation a little closer to my side of the pond. I can’t help but wonder if these are the same 3 that spent last winter here. These are the first grebes on the pond since May and the first ducks since early April. Welcome back, waterfowl.

For those who may have forgotten (or for any newcomers), I started a so-called Big Year (really more of a committed small year) back in January to see what birds I could see along the trail within a mile of my house. Here’s the updated list as of last week, the first week of fall:

  1. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  2. Gadwall
  3. American Wigeon
  4. Blue-winged Teal
  5. Northern Shoveler
  6. Northern Pintail
  7. Ring-necked Duck
  8. Pied-billed Grebe
  9. Great Blue Heron
  10. Great Egret
  11. Little Blue Heron
  12. Green Heron
  13. Yellow-crowned Night Heron
  14. Black Vulture
  15. Turkey Vulture
  16. Osprey
  17. Red-shouldered Hawk
  18. Killdeer
  19. White-winged Dove
  20. Mourning Dove
  21. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  22. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  23. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  24. Downy Woodpecker
  25. Eastern Phoebe
  26. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  27. Western Kingbird
  28. Scissor-tailed Flycathcer
  29. Blue Jay
  30. American Crow
  31. Purple Martin
  32. Barn Swallow
  33. Carolina Chickadee
  34. Black-crested Titmouse
  35. Carolina Wren
  36. Bewick’s Wren
  37. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  38. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  39. Eastern Bluebird
  40. American Robin
  41. Northern Mockingbird
  42. European Starling
  43. Orange-crowned Warbler
  44. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  45. Black-and-white Warbler
  46. Common Yellowthroat
  47. Chipping Sparrow
  48. Song Sparrow
  49. Northern Cardinal
  50. Red-winged Blackbird
  51. Common Grackle
  52. Great-tailed Grackle
  53. House Finch
  54. Lesser Goldfinch
  55. American Goldfinch
  56. House Sparrow

Along the Pond Trail and a Bird List

I took a walk along the trail down to the pond today. It was only about 95°F outside, so I counted it a cool day. Still, I figured I’d see what birds were out, do my weekly count for my Pond Trail Big Year and have a look at what the hailstorm did last week. I forgot to charge my camera battery, so no pictures.

The storm ripped up and beat down most of the undergrowth so walking off the trail was easier, though it was weird with all the leaves that shouldn’t have fallen until autumn on the ground instead of still in the trees. Several trees had fallen across the little creek near the footbridge so it was a lot more open in an area where I’m used to deep shade this time of year.

The reeds near the pond were decimated, and I didn’t see any Red-winged Blackbirds around. That’s where they had been nesting so I wonder if they’ll be back. The herons were away as well so I wonder if their nests got flooded or destroyed in the storm. This was this first time all year that I didn’t see any kind of water bird around the pond.

As to birds, I saw the usual suspects for this time of year: grackles, Blue Jays, mockingbirds, cardinals. In the non-avian category, I saw a rabbit and some kind of a garter snake. Nothing special to add to the bird list, but here’s the updated list for the pond trail, about halfway through 2009:

  1. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  2. Gadwall
  3. American Wigeon
  4. Blue-winged Teal
  5. Northern Shoveler
  6. Northern Pintail
  7. Ring-necked Duck
  8. Pied-billed Grebe
  9. Great Blue Heron
  10. Great Egret
  11. Little Blue Heron
  12. Green Heron
  13. Black Vulture
  14. Turkey Vulture
  15. Osprey
  16. Accipiter sp
  17. Red-shouldered Hawk
  18. Killdeer
  19. White-winged Dove
  20. Mourning Dove
  21. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  22. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  23. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  24. Eastern Phoebe
  25. Western Kingbird
  26. Blue Jay
  27. American Crow
  28. Purple Martin
  29. Barn Swallow
  30. Swallow sp.
  31. Carolina Chickadee
  32. Black-crested Titmouse
  33. Carolina Wren
  34. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  35. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  36. Eastern Bluebird
  37. American Robin
  38. Northern Mockingbird
  39. European Starling
  40. Orange-crowned Warbler
  41. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  42. Black-and-white Warbler
  43. Common Yellowthroat
  44. Chipping Sparrow
  45. Song Sparrow
  46. Northern Cardinal
  47. Red-winged Blackbird
  48. Common Grackle
  49. Great-tailed Grackle
  50. House Finch
  51. Lesser Goldfinch
  52. American Goldfinch
  53. House Sparrow

A Springtime Walk

Cardinal singing for spring

Every tree along the trail to the pond wears its own cardinal, each claiming territory and attracting mates, filling the air with song. Gnatcatchers and kinglets hop through the branches with the chickadees. Blue Jays build a nest by the pond where the ducks had been until yesterday when they got the migration call and departed for points north. With all the birds alive and calling attention to themselves, the deer skeleton was quite a shock.

on a bed of leaves,
a deer skeleton picked clean,
save one furry hoof

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