Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: pond (page 1 of 2)

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ever since I started birding I wanted to see a woodpecker, so I was quite happy when I saw a Ladder-backed Woodpecker in a tree in my yard in Oct 2007. Since then, I’ve learned how to see these little guys and now, I’m getting to where I can find them on the trail fairly easily.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Yesterday, while doing my GBBC count by the pond, I heard the drumming and so walked in its general direction, stopped and waited for my ears to guide my eyes. It turns out, he was right in front of me, tapping away on the lower trunk of a tree, which gave me a new appreciation for the effectiveness with which his striped back camouflages him.

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker hides in plain sight

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker hides in plain sight

Once they start pecking, woodpeckers seem to be pretty single-minded birds and so as I was not deemed a threat, he let me get pretty close for a few pictures.

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker lets me get close

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker lets me get close

I watched him for a while as he pecked and tapped at the tree searching for bugs. They have a tendency to spiral around a tree, but this one stayed in place and let me take pictures. I guess he knew the only real threat was that I wouldn’t get a decent shot and there was no way he was going to be out of focus. Eventually I stopped shooting and just watched him do his thing, which is really the whole reason for going out to look for birds in the first place. Eventually, this tree grew tiresome and he flew off to the high branches of another one.

The info about Ladder-backed Woodpeckers on All About Birds is interesting. They eat mostly insects and arthropods that they pry and tap out of trees. The page also describes their habitat as “desert and desert scrub” neither of which really describes my neighborhood, though this is the northeastern portion of their range. They are considered year-round residents, and according to All About birds are declining in Texas. Despite any declines, here at the edge of their range, they are the woodpeckers I see most frequently in the neighborhood. The others are Red-bellied, Golden-fronted, and Downy Woodpeckers.

Update 2.21.09: Be sure to check out I and the Bird #94 at The Birder’s Report as well as The Weekly Woodpecker Roundup at Picus Blog.

Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 4

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yesterday was grey and cool, the sky wanting to rain, but I walked down to the pond anyway for Day 4 of The Great Backyard Bird Count and managed to avoid the intermittent rain. It’s not my backyard, but it doesn’t have to be. I also brought the camera this time and got some decent pictures including some of my best of this Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker strikes a classic pose

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker strikes a classic pose

The trail didn’t yield many birds. I searched for the bluebird and goldfinches I had seen on Friday, but they weren’t around, though I did get to watch a single Lesser Goldfinch sing from the top of a leafless tree. Most of the action was down on the pond.

Ring-necked Ducks and Gadwalls

Ring-necked Ducks and Gadwalls

I really enjoy watching the ducks paddle around the small pond. It’s especially amusing to watch the Gadwalls dabble like the one in the picture with his rear end in the air. They’ll bob like that for a short time before righting themselves.

Gadwall

Gadwall

I counted more Gadwalls than anything else, but I know I undercounted them. It’s hard to count ducks when they’re always moving around so I tend to err on the side of undercounting. Still, I didn’t realize how many there were.

Official GBBC Day 4 Tally:

  1. Turkey Vulture (2)
  2. American Crow (1)
  3. Lesser Goldfinch (1)
  4. Ring-necked Duck (20)
  5. Eastern Phoebe (1)
  6. Ladder-backed Woodpecker (1)
  7. Yellow-rumped Warbler (2)
  8. Gadwall (74)
  9. American Wigeon (3)
  10. Pied-billed Grebe (3)
  11. Carolina Chickadee (1)
  12. House Finch (1)

All in all this was a good Great Backyard Bird Count for me. Hopefully next year I’ll be better at this and will see even more birds.

Check out these other Great Backyard Bird Counters: Heather of the Hills and Austin birder Mikael at Birding on Broademead who got an awesome shot of an Osprey.

Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 1

It’s time again for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, which doesn’t actually have to be done in a backyard. I’ll be birding all four days and submitting this weekend’s Project FeederWatch counts to the GBBC as well.

Last year, I had this to say by way of explaining the GBBC:

The Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology are sponsoring The Great Backyard Bird Count running from today through Feb 16. Anyone can participate. All you have to do is count birds over a span of at least 15 minutes and record the number of individuals you see. This helps the Audubon Society “create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent.” You don’t even have to do it in your backyard.

Today, I started out by going down to the pond since I’ve got my pond trail big year going. It’s also where I birded on Day 1 of the GBBC last year. I’m happy to report that I was able to ID substantially more birds this year. I guess I am getting better at this. I even saw an Eastern Bluebird, which while not a new bird is a new one for this trail.

I also finally got a really good look at the Least Grebes in the pond. Turns out they’re actually Pied-billed Grebes, the crafty devils. I’ll need to go back and change my ebird data for the past few weeks, but the upside is that I get a new life bird.

Still, a fine list for an hour’s stroll:

  • Turkey Vulture (3)
  • Northern Mockingbird (2)
  • House Finch (4)
  • Eastern Bluebird (1)
  • White-winged Dove (4)
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker (2)
  • Gadwall (57)
  • Ring-necked Duck (41)
  • Pied-billed Grebe (3)
  • American Wigeon (2)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (2)
  • Chipping Sparrow (2)
  • Eastern Phoebe (1)
  • Mourning Dove (2)
  • Blue Jay (1)
  • American Crow (1)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler (1)

No pictures today. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll bring the camera along on my GBBC adventures.

A Short Walk to the Pond

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

It was beautiful out yesterday, a good day for a quick bit of birding along the pond trail. Saw some goldfinches – American and Lesser high in a leafless tree feasting on seeds. I watched them until they flew in brilliant yellow streaks across the sharpest of blue skies.

A few minutes later an accipiter flew overhead. He was almost gone before I even noticed him. Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned, I couldn’t tell and probably couldn’t even if I could have hit pause on life. Call him Stan. He was beautiful, quick and silent. He ducked and wove the air through the trees and was gone faster than a dream.

Probably heading to my house to eat the rest of the House Sparrows.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

A Pond Trail Big Year?

A House Finch

House Finch

I spend a lot of time birding the trail that runs parallel to our street down to the pond. I usually stop at the pond (the trail goes on and connects to an extensive network of trails) and on school days, I typically turn around and head home. It’s a short (maybe half-mile) walk from the door to the pond and back. I typically see a good variety of birds but never counted the species.

This year, starting with curiosity about what kinds of overwintering ducks are on the pond, I began listing the birds I saw and entering my counts into ebird. If I do this for an entire year, I should have a good sense of what birds pass through here and at what times of the year. I’m also curious as to how many species I can find within this short range from my house.

Call it my pond trail big year. Or maybe, it’ll be a small or medium year. I don’t know what to expect, but that’s part of the fun.

I’m not shooting for any specific number since I have no idea what all species are around here. I just want to see how many I see. I’ve already ID’d some life birds on the trail and hopefully a few more will pop up over the next 11 months so there’s that to look forward to also.

Most important, is the excuse to get outside, enjoy nature and watch the world do its thing. Not that I need an excuse for that.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  1. Gadwall
  2. American Wigeon
  3. Northern Shoveler
  4. Northern Pintail
  5. Ring-necked Duck
  6. Blue-winged Teal
  7. Least Grebe Pied-billed Grebe
  8. Great Blue Heron
  9. Great Egret
  10. Black Vulture
  11. Turkey Vulture
  12. White-winged Dove
  13. Mourning Dove
  14. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  15. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  16. Eastern Phoebe
  17. Blue Jay
  18. American Crow
  19. Carolina Chickadee
  20. Black-crested Titmouse
  21. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  22. Northern Mockingbird
  23. Orange-crowned Warbler
  24. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  25. Northern Cardinal
  26. House Finch
  27. American Goldfinch

Along a Neighborhood Trail on a Foggy Day

From the footbridge on the trail

From the footbridge on the trail

Fog silences everything on the way down to the pond. The trees hold still, making way for the muted quacks from the ducks farther down.

I watch a flock of Blue Jays descend on a tree, screeching at something. I don’t see any owls or hawks, and eventually they leave, their work finished.

A Great Blue Heron watching the pond

A Great Blue Heron watching the pond

Above the trail, I notice a Great Blue Heron, solitary and watchful. My eyes drift from him to the shapes of the ducks drifting through the fog. One tree over, a Red-bellied Woodpecker squawks at the heron. I’ve never seen a Red-bellied Woodpecker in the neighborhood so I study him through the binoculars, his red nape leaping out of the surrounding gray.

I make a note in my bird book and watch him watch the heron, until, having had enough, the heron jumps off the tree and slowly flies up the creek back toward the bridge.

Tree and Cedar

The trail disappears in both directions, and I walk back toward home, stopping along the way to admire the texture of some broken trunks. What happened to shear off these branches and leave the gaps in the trees? Was it sudden like lightning or just the slow erosion of time?

I can hear birds chirping in the reeds, but they’re not to be seen. The fog diffuses the sound and their voices could be coming from anywhere.

Along the trail

A gentle fog and
brief graying of the familiar
renders the world new

Four Good Walks, Four New Birds

Gadwall over the Pond

Gadwall flying over the pond

I usually go walking around the building at lunch. My classroom has no windows and it’s just good to get out, breathe real air for a few minutes. I try to look for new birds as I go, and I’ll often bring some small binoculars in case something catches my eye. I’ve seen a few life birds this way, but this has been a lucky week.

On Monday, I saw a White-crowned Sparrow. Yesterday, I saw an American Kestrel. Both of those are life birds for me. In addition to those two, I also saw the usual Eastern Meadowlarks, Killdeer, and Mockingbirds.

When I got home, still feeling fortunate, I took a walk down the trail towards the little pond down the street. On the trail, I saw Black-crested Titmice and Carolina Chickadees chirping in the trees. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet darted around in a stand of cedar, and an Orange-crowned Warbler flitted about in an oak. Those last two are relatively new for me so it’s exciting to see them.

I walked to the little footbridge over the creek and watched the birds from there when a flash of something red darted out of a hole in a dead tree towards a stumpy cedar. I waited to see if it would return, but I didn’t see anything. Getting cold in the shade, I decided to get back in the sun and walk down to the pond.

Just before the pond, a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers caught my attention as they drummed some avian beat poetry into a leafless tree. As if only waiting for the woodpeckers’ drumroll, a Great Egret swooped out of the reeds and away up the trail.

Around the pond, I saw a mockingbird, Eastern Phoebe, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler, my third life bird for the week. I had seen the warbler before, but never got a look good enough for an ID until today.

On the pond, Gadwalls, Ring-necked Ducks and a pair of Least Grebes swam patterns into the still water. The number of ducks surprised me. I didn’t count, but I would guess there were between 30-40.

I also saw a mystery sparrow (I think) on top of a tree. The light was as bad as my angle so I quit trying to ID, and with three new birds in two days, I didn’t want to get greedy.

Other than those, the only birds I saw on my walk were vultures, both Turkey and Black, circling endlessly over the pond.

Today, I took my usual lunch walk and saw the kestrel again in the same place at about the same time. Like me, he must a schedule that brings us together around noon. This time I got an even better look, and since I knew what he was, I was able to really watch him without the buzz of “whatbirdisthishwhatbirdisthis?” running through my mind. The knowing enables the seeing.

After work, wondering how well the pond birds keep a schedule and wanting another crack at that mystery sparrow, I went back to the pond. One of the ladder-backs was working the same tree as yesterday, keeping his appointments, obviously. I didn’t see the sparrow, but the rest of the birds from yesterday were there as were a few Northern Shovelers and an American Goldfinch. I got a better look at the Yellow-rumped Warbler, and I saw a fourth new bird, an American Wigeon, preening out on the pond.

This time I took a rough count of the Gadwalls and got 45. Then I just sat down in the cool blue evening and watched while the egret hunted along the far shore, his feathers glowing bright in the fading sun, while ducks swam through the shadows of the trees. Couting and keeping lists of birds in fun and, when entering the data into ebird, scientifically useful, but it’s just the sitting and watching them be birds that’s really magical.

It’s the birdwatching, more than the birding, that makes for the perfect end to a day.

Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaup

I’ve heard it said that you should write what you know. I think it’s just as useful to write what you want to learn. That’s part of why I enjoy writing about my birding experiences.

The day before Thanksgiving I walked to the pond down the street to see what kinds of ducks were around. Mostly Gadwalls and some Northern Shovelers. I saw a Lesser Scaup too, or so I thought. Had I looked closer I would have seen that it wasn’t a Scaup, but rather something new to me.

I posted some pictures and Ted commented and pointed out the error I had made. I consulted my Sibley guide and found that while Lesser Scaup and Ring-necks are similar, there are differences such as the white ring on the Ring-neck’s bill and the white spur on his side. Also the scaup has a grey back while the Ring-neck’s back is black.

I went back and compared pictures from a few weeks ago with a Lesser Scaup picture from last year and saw the difference.

Since I had never seen a Ring-necked Duck before (at least while knowing what it was) I walked back down today to see if there were any still there.

It’s a cold day today, but there were actually more ducks than usual. I didn’t count, but I suspect there were 20 or so Gadwalls and at least 10 Ring-necked Ducks.

Ring-necked Ducks in the pond down the street

Ring-necked Ducks in the pond down the street

I watched for awhile and tried a few pictures, but it was dark and so I had trouble getting a stable shot. Still, this one was passable and now that I know the field marks well enough to distinguish Ring-necks from Scaup, I’m confident in adding this new bird to my life list.

And then there’s the beauty of writing what you want to learn. I think I’ve learned a good bit about birds just from writing about what I’m seeing and experiencing in the field. Or in my backyard as the case may be. But, it’s easy to get overconfident and not notice what should be obvious (ie: that wasn’t a Lesser Scaup) and so the writing and posting what I think I know helps me nail down what I do know and still need to learn. I still have a lot to learn about ducks, for instance, which I’m discovering are kind of tricky.

Soon, the cold started to get to me and it was time to head home and feed the pups, but as I was going I noticed a buck nibbling the grass on the far side of the pond.

A White-tailed Deer checks me out

A White-tailed Deer checks me out

Amazing what else you can see when going out to look for birds. Of course, seeing deer around here isn’t that amazing. Had I been awake the other night I would have seen the one that came to our front porch to eat our plants.

For more bird blogging, be sure to check out I and the Bird #90.

Ducks in Flight

These are Gadwalls circling the little pond down the street.

Ducks in Flight 1

Day Before Thanksgiving Birds

But, not turkeys for which, I’m certain, these birds at least are thankful.

Great Egret by the pond

Great Egret by the pond

Yesterday, I walked down to the little pond at the end of our street to check out the ducks.

A Great Egret was hunting along the far shore and I saw at least 15 Gadwalls. You can see one in the above picture above the word ‘great’ in the caption.

I also saw one Ring-necked Duck. Lesser Scaup. I only ever saw one last winter so I wonder if it’s the same one.

Lesser Scaup

Ring-necked Duck

A Great Blue Heron flew overhead out of the reeds behind me and I saw a few vultures, but that was it.

The Great Egret again

The Great Egret again

Update: Ted pointed out that the Ring-necked Duck had been mis-ID’d as a Lesser Scaup. I have corrected the post accordingly.

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