Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: warblers

An Unusual Suspect

Yellow-rumped warbler

A month ago, I wrote that all of the usual suspects had made appearances in my 2010-2011 Project FeederWatch counts except the northern cardinal. Within days of that post, the cardinals seem to have remembered the fine seed in my yard and started coming back, thus all of the usual winter visitors have now made at least one appearance in my yard this season.

About two weeks ago, I started catching glimpses of something that wasn’t one of the regulars. I would see out-of-focus of underwing stripes on a bird among the chipping sparrows or a quick flash of yellow (and not enough for a lesser goldfinch) in a tree. I couldn’t make a positive ID, but I saw enough for me to think yellow-rumped warbler. I kept looking and getting short flashes that reinforced my hunch. Then one day, I guess he just decided not to hide and for the past two weeks this warbler has joined the backyard crew.

It’s not really surprising that there should be a yellow-rumped warbler visiting the yard. They’re quite common around the pond down the street this time of year, but I’ve never seen one in my yard until two weeks ago. Now, I get to watch him more closely and regularly than I do when they’re high in the trees around the pond. It’ll be interesting to see, too, when he leaves. One of the things I love about doing Project FeederWatch is the way it tunes me into migration by making it quite clear when different species come and go. For instance, according to my records, I’m unlikely to see much of the ruby-crowned kinglet after this week, and I’m very curious to see if he follows the same schedule he has the past few years.

Here’s what I’ve recorded so far this season. The numbers in parentheses are the highest numbers of the species seen at one time:

  1. White-winged dove (24)
  2. Mourning dove (1)
  3. Blue jay (3)
  4. Carolina chickadee (2)
  5. Black-crested titmouse (3)
  6. Carolina wren (2)
  7. Bewick’s wren (1)
  8. Ruby-crowned kinglet (2)
  9. Northern mockingbird (1)
  10. Orange-crowned warbler (1)
  11. Yellow-rumped warbler (1)
  12. Chipping sparrow (23)
  13. Northern cardinal (3)
  14. House finch (2)
  15. Lesser goldfinch (3)
  16. American goldfinch (2)
  17. House sparrow (12)

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

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.

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.



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.

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