Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: i and the bird (page 1 of 2)

Posts I’ve contributed to I and the Bird

What Is a Vulture?

I and the Bird is up with an issue devoted to vultures:

The Cherokee nation called them “Peace Eagles” owing to the fact that they never killed a living thing – and also that they tended to show up in numbers after battles when peace treaties were being signed, though admittedly that may have been for a slightly more macabre reason. In any case, our hang-ups with vultures clearly stem from our own issues rather than any inherently bizarre trait of the species themselves.

It’s a great issue full of links to all kinds of vulture photos and posts including my video “While Sitting in Church,” which is based on one of the Birds Nobody Loves poems. Go pay a visit and learn more about our fascinating carrion-eating friends.

Like an Asteroid Toward the Earth

Dusk ripples
across the pond.

A great blue heron
stalks sunlight
along the reeds.

He snags a fish,
from the water.

He flips and swallows
the fish, which falls
down his gullet
like a rabbit
through a snake.

His neck straightens;
the fish is gone.
He shadows dark
along the shore.

Don’t you wonder
if that fish
ever believed
in herons?

This post in included in I and the Bird # 149 over at Twin Cities Naturalist. Sadly, this looks to be the last edition of I and the Bird. I’ve been participating off-and-on for 5 years and even hosted it once. Sad to see it go…

Grackle Ghazal

I stroll the streets and dodge mangy grackles,
fluttering birds in trees, those angry grackles.

Black feet and dark beaks snap at my sandwich—
I’m surrounded by the grabby grackles!

I sit a bench and study pawns and queens
‘til “checkmate’s” called by the cagey grackles.

At dinner parties, I near drop my drink
shocked by the sins of the feisty grackles.

I hang for hours on back porches, strumming
old guitars, swapping lies with folksy grackles.

At night, I roost in city trees and sing
croaking wild songs, toasting jolly grackles.

This is in response to Big Tent’s prompt about alliteration. There’s some in there, but the process led to a ghazal and some grackles.

Go to the Big Tent to see what others came up with.

For those who may not know, grackles are, like blackbirds, members of the icterid family. Here in central Texas, we see two species: the common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) and the great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus).

This post was included in I and the Bird #142 hosted at Birds O’ The Morning.

I and the Bird #126

Today we’ll travel with I and the Bird
to discover the most amazing birds.

We’ll marvel at Rio Blanco shots
of Colombian sylphs and hummingbirds.

We’ll see colors galore in Singapore
on a camera-ignoring sunbird.

We’ll have to get stuck in the mud to see
Avocets, Willets and burrowing birds.

Supporting birding teams, we’ll stop to know
the beautiful woods surrounding birds.

Flammulated Owls live beyond rough trails,
but we learn the wild when surveying birds.

Stop for a moment to consider the
vultures, our maligned highway-cleaning birds.

The vibrant beauty of nature’s revealed
by children carefully coloring birds.

Near a hole on a familiar shore, see
Bank Swallows, brown-and-white scolding birds.

In Zion park, we’ll learn the stories of
certain condors, those distant soaring birds.

We’ll brave the coldest snowy days for owls
and hope all life birds will be living birds.

Viewer warning:  “Sex and the City Bird”
documents the habits of mating birds.

In a blooming sage garden, time stops for
close looks at Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Recall nature’s red in tooth and claw when
we see crows are squirrel-tongue-eating birds.

Burrowing Owls and roadrunners remind
us of the simple joy of finding birds.

Spend a good day searching for Golden-winged,
Cerulean and other warbling birds.

A witty Straw-necked Ibis has some words.
(Who knew we’d find poetry writing birds?)

We can observe a Red-tailed Hawk’s high nest
and learn all about digiscoping birds.

Strange orange colors on Mallards’ tails pose
questions when we’re closely studying birds.

On the Gulf, pelicans will break our hearts
when we confront loose oil killing birds.

Shearwaters, jaegers and petrels will lead
us to boats for looks at seafaring birds.

We’ll see a Little Gull and lovely terns
on the southwest Queens coast while listing birds

In Madras, we’ll meet pittas and plovers
and sandpipers among the wading birds

“Always be birding,” that’s what we’ll say.
Even in parking lots, we’re finding birds.

That’s it for this trip, I’m signing off. Send
links for the next one to The Drinking Bird.

I and the Bird # 126: Call for Submissions

I’ll be hosting the 126th edition of the blog carnival I and the Bird right here at Coyote Mercury on May 27th. I and the Bird seeks posts focused on encounters with birds so it’s pretty open in terms of what you send: stories, observations, essays, photos, poetry. It just needs to be something about birds that you’ve recently posted on your blog. You can send me a link at j_brush (at) coyotemercury (dot) com or use the contact form. The deadline is May 25th.

If you want more about I and the Bird, visit 10000 Birds for the full guidelines or drop by Twin Cities Naturalist to enjoy IATB #125 hosted by Kirk Mona.

Now, send those links and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

Morning at Hornsby Bend

Painted Bunting

I slammed on my brakes when I saw the painted bunting. I’ve never seen such a bird, but I knew what it was immediately, so unmistakeable are these little guys. After he flew into the brush along the road to the Pond 2 blind at Hornsby Bend, I could have easily convinced myself I hadn’t see him.

I stopped the car and scanned the brush with my binoculars and found him perched on a swaying branch. I remembered I had my camera and started shooting, wishing I had run my car through the wash since I didn’t want to open the window and spook him. I took a lot of blurry shots and two or three in which you can’t even discern a bird, but I think you can see Big Foot. Somehow, the one above came out.

I could have gone home then, full of one little bird wearing his beauty so casually, or stayed in that spot watching him until dark, but eventually he flew off and I continued down to the blind to see what was on the ponds.

Most of the winter waterfowl have left Hornsby, though I did see a pair of blue-winged teals a couple of northern shovelers still hanging around. The long-legged waders of summer hadn’t arrived so I decided to wander down the river trail.

Empress Louisa

The birds were a little more secretive than usual on the river trail, but where the birds were hiding, the butterflies were out like I’ve never seen. We had a cool, wet winter and early spring and thus our wildflowers have been spectacular beyond what I’m used to and I suspect that’s led to this explosion of butterflies. Walking along the trails, watching the ground to avoid surprising rattlesnakes, my peripheral vision filled with the flickering colors of butterflies giving me the impression I was being followed, which I was, in so far as butterflies follow people.

Summer is coming quickly and the temperature started creeping into the mid-nineties so I decided to head back up to the ponds and on to the rest of my day.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Across one of the ponds, I could see a lot of black-necked stilts in the mudflats, and closer in there were grackles, killdeer and this lesser yellowlegs; at least I’m pretty sure it’s a lesser and not a greater yellowlegs mainly because he was a little smaller than the killdeer who came around and stood next to him long enough for me to get a few lousy shots. The killdeer and the lesser yellowlegs are listed as the same size in my guidebooks so I’m guessing this is a lesser.

And then, it was time to go. On the way out, I saw bank, cliff and cave swallows, scissor-tailed flycatchers, and even a pair of eastern kingbirds, which with the painted bunting was my second life bird for the day.

I think I’ve seen at least one (usually more) life bird every time I’ve ever been to Hornsby Bend. It always amazes me how once I’ve seen a new bird I start seeing it more frequently. Perhaps, to see a new bird is to learn how to see it and so my eyes and mind are open to it in the future. Over time I see smaller, better, slower and more.

A pond at Hornsby Bend

Lesser Yellowlegs

Update: This post is included in I and the Bird #125 at Twin Cities Naturalist. Check it out.

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.

Project FeederWatch – Month 2

Carolina Wren waits for breakfast


The above recording is a Carolina Wren followed by a response from a Black-crested Titmouse. The wren follows and then they sing together after which the titmouse gets in the last word. I recorded it on my iphone so it’s nothing fancy and doesn’t sound professional by any means. I edited it down from 55 seconds to cut the dead space between songs.

I’ve been trying to record some of the backyard bird sounds hoping this will help me learn their songs over time in much the same way that photographing them has helped me learn their names.

Project FeederWatch contines. Last month, I noted I hadn’t seen any cardinals or Mourning Doves since the count period began, but in the past month both birds have checked in. I also had a European Starling visit the back porch to investigate one of the feeders. They’re common here, but I rarely see them in the yard. Last year, I only had them show up once. Three came by for a swim in the birdbath.

American Goldfinches are the only birds from last year that haven’t come around. I’ve talked to a few people around here who say they haven’t seen many this year either.

Here’s the current tally with the highest number of individuals in parentheses.

  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 (15)
  13. Northern Cardinal (1)
  14. Lesser Goldfinch (5)
  15. House Sparrow (17)

Here’s a picture of a Black-crested Titmouse leaving the feeder. It’s not a good picture, but I like the motion.

A Black-crested Titmouse takes flight

Update: This post was included in I and the Bird #117 at the Marvelous in nature. This week’s host, Seabrooke Leckie, actually drew all of the featured birds including my wren and titmouse singing it out and linked to all the posts from her drawing. It’s awesome. Check it out.

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.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

A Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Today was an exciting day. I finally got to see the Golden-cheeked Warbler, the only bird that nests only in Texas. Sadly, it is also an endangered species.

I went on one of the Two Hour Tuesday walks sponsored by the Travis County Audubon Society. Our guide, Stan, was great. Not only did he show us these birds, but by the time I left I felt I had learned enough to possibly find one on my own someday.

Walking along Turkey Creek near Emma Long Park, we heard more of them than we saw and for the most part, we only saw quick glimpses until, walking back towards the parking lot, we got some good looks, including the one I photographed, which was right above us on the trail.

I was surprised by how vocal they are, a fact that makes them surprisingly easy to find. Apparently, though, as soon as nesting activities are finished, they become very quiet and secretive and so, March and April are really the only time one might expect to find them.

It’s a bittersweet thing to see such a beautiful and unique creature while knowing that it is also an endangered species. The threats to the Golden-cheeked Warbler’s existence seem to come mainly in the form of habitat loss. It nests only in the mixed oak/juniper forests of the Texas hill country, and according to Texas Parks and Wildlife:

Golden-cheeked warblers are endangered because many tall juniper and oak woodlands have been cleared to build houses, roads, and stores. Some habitat was cleared to grow crops or grass for livestock. Other habitat areas were flooded when large lakes were built.

These little birds only nest here. They winter in Mexico and Central America, but according to All About Birds, their winter habitat is being cut down for timber. It seems they can’t catch a break.

Golden-cheeked Warbler 2

This bird was a rare treat to see and a potent reminder of the importance of conservation and doing all one can to ensure that we leave room for all the wild things with whom we share this planet.

Update: Be sure to check out I and the Bird #96 at The Birdchaser.

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